The Turks - Fall of Constantinople

We have already seen the weakness of the empire of Constantinople at the time of the Crusades we have seen the city sacked and the government seized by the champions of the cross. The Greeks regained their empire in the year 1261, but in a mangled and impoverished condition. For nearly two centuries it continued in a similar state. Andronicus, son of Michael Paleologus, who had restored the Greek empire, allowed himself to be persuaded that as God was his protector, all military force was unnecessary; and the superstitious Greeks, regardless of danger, employed themselves in disputing about the transfiguration of Jesus Christ, when their unfortunate situation made it necessary that they should have been studying the art of war, and training themselves to military discipline.

In the meantime, the Turks had become a powerful people. They had embraced the Mohammedan religion long before the time of the Crusades, and proved powerful obstacles to the success of those expeditions. About the beginning of the fourteenth century they established an empire of their own in Asia Minor, under Othman or Ottoman, and to this day the Ottoman Empire is a name given to the dominions of their descendants. By degrees they encroached on the borders of the empire of Constantinople, and they were only prevented from subverting it at a much earlier period than they did, by being called upon to defend themselves from the arms of an Eastern conqueror who arose at this time. Tamerlane, otherwise called Timerbek, was a prince of the Usbek Tartars, and a descendant from Ghenghis Khan. After having overrun Persia, and a great part of India and Syria, this great conqueror was invited by some of the minor princes of Asia, who were suffering under the Ottoman tyranny, to come and protect them. Tamerlane was flattered by the request, and having brought a great army into Phrygia, he was there met by Bajazet, the Ottoman emperor, who readily gave battle, but was defeated and made prisoner (1402). Tamerlane made Samarcand the capital of his empire, and there received the homage of all the princes of the East. Illiterate himself, he was solicitous for the cultivation of literature and science in his dominions; and Samarcand became for a while the seat of learning, politeness, and the arts, but was destined to relapse after a short period into its ancient barbarism. The Turks, after the death of Tamerlane, resumed their purpose of destroying the empire of the East. The honor, or disgrace, as it may be thought, of effecting this, fell to the lot of Mohammed II, commonly surnamed the Great. At the early age of twenty-one, Mohammed projected this conquest. His countrymen had already passed into Europe; they had possessed themselves of the city of Adrianople, and indeed had left nothing of all the empire of the East to the Greeks but the city of Constantinople itself. The preparations made for defense were not such as became the descendants of Romans, and the powers of Europe now looked upon the East with the most supine indifference. The Turks assailed the city both on the land side and on that of the sea; and battering down its walls with their cannon, entered sword in hand, and massacred all who opposed them (1458). Mohammed, like many other ambitious conquerors, showed himself unwilling to destroy unnecessarily. The imperial edifices were preserved, and the churches were converted into mosques; the exercise of their religion was freely allowed to the Christians, and this privilege they have never been deprived of. Constantine (for that was the name of the last, as well as the first emperor of the East) was slain in battle. From the time that it was founded by Constantine the Great, the city had subsisted 1123 years. Mohammed liberally patronized the arts and sciences. He was himself not only a politician, but a scholar, and he invited both artists and men of letters to his capital from the kingdoms of Europe. But the taking of Constantinople had an effect contrary to his wishes: it dispersed the learned Greeks, or Greeks who were called learned, all over Europe; and this, among other things, may be looked upon as a help to the great revival of letters which the fifteenth century witnessed. The taking of Constantinople was followed by the conquest of Greece and Epirus; and Italy might probably have met with a similar fate, but for the fleet of the Venetians, who opposed the arms of Mohammed with considerable success, and even attacked him in Greece; but the contending powers soon after put an end to hostilities by a treaty. By this time Europe was trembling at Mohammed's success, and was afraid, not without reason, that he might pursue his conquests westward. It was relieved from fear by his death, which took place in 1481. His descendants have continued to our own day to occupy one of the finest countries in Europe; and it was only in the present age that Greece was liberated from their dominion.