Today marks the 565th anniversary of the Fall of Constantinople, the event that officially put an end to the Byzantine Empire, thus being considered today as one of the main dates in the transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Era.
The unstoppable rise of the Ottoman Turks throughout the Anatolia had brought great concern to the Byzantine since its early days in the 13th century: in an extreme attempt to seek help from the West, the Emperor John VIII Palaiologos thus traveled to Italy in order to offer his submission to the Pope and the union of the Greek and Roman churches, which was ratified in 1438. Due to the precarious situation of many European powers of the time, however, this effort soon proved not to be enough to save the Byzantine Empire.
The Ottomans finally closed in on Constantinople during the early months of the Sultanate of Mehmed II, who guided his army in the final siege of the city. Mehmed's military forces continuously attacked Constantinople during the course of April and May 1453, taking advantage of the most modern technologies and carrying out a number of successful strategies. The illumination above, for example, offers an especially accurate depiction of the siege. The Ottoman army, in fact, had access to numerous large cannons, among the biggest and most powerful at the time; the Byzantine, on the contrary, were forced to defend themselves with antiquated weaponry due to the fragility of the walls surrounding their city, which were unable to take the weight of more modern artillery. Other Ottoman tactics included a large siege tower, the building of a floating bridge between the two banks of the Golden Horn, and the construction of many underground tunnels in the attempt to reach the city; these elements were all depicted by the artist in the central section of the illumination.
The little help received from the West only sufficed in dragging the siege for a few days: in the morning of May 29, 1453, Mehmed II and his men entered Constantinople. More than a thousand years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire thus finally reached its end.
"The Fall of Constantinople", illumination from the manuscript "Advis directif pour faire le passage d'oultre mer", ms. Français 9087, f. 207v, 15th century, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.