Constantinople, Fall of

   In the year 330, the first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine the Great (306-337), dedicated a new capital of the Roman Empire on the site of the Greek town of Byzantium. After his death, it came to be known as Constantinople, "the city of Constantine." By the sixth century, though the western empire at Rome had ceased to exist, his successors had reorganized the eastern provinces into a powerful and fervently Christian state that became a bulwark of Christendom against the expansion of the Muslim Arabs and Turks into Europe. This empire always referred to itself as "Roman," but modern scholars generally call it "Byzantine."
   After a disastrous military defeat by the Seljuk Turks in 1087 cost the empire control over the Anatolian peninsula, the empire became increasingly weak. The Western crusades from the 11th through the 14th centuries never tilted the balance of power back in favor of the Byzantines, and the misdirected Fourth Crusade (1203-1204) ended by attacking and plundering Constantinople itself. From 1204 to 1261, a puppet regime installed by the crusaders ruled at Constantinople. This foreign domination was overthrown in 1261, but the enfeebled empire gradually lost control of its Balkan, Greek, and island territories, some to the Turks and some to Italian cities like Venice.
   By mid-15th century the emperors controlled only the immediate environs of the capital city and a few scattered outposts in Greece and the islands. In 1453 the Turkish sultan Muhammad II (1451-1481) made a final attack on the city, which fell to the Turks on 29 May 1453 and, renamed Istanbul, became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453 has sometimes been misinterpreted as the cause of the Renaissance, which supposedly was begun by Greek scholars who fled with their books and their knowledge to western Europe. It would be more accurate to say that the fall of Constantinople marks the beginning of the end for direct influence of Byzantine scholars on the development of Renaissance civilization. The establishment of Greek studies by the teaching of Manuel Chrysoloras at Florence from 1397, followed by a flow of scholars, diplomats, churchmen, and teachers, had by 1453 made the Westerners largely self-sustaining in terms of access to Greek literature.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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