Friday, May 30, 2008

A Historical Turning Point

(Yeah, it's a day late.)

May 29, 1453. Sometime that morning the armies of Mehmet II, Sultan of the House of Osman, gained a bridgehead through the walls of the ancient capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, Constantinople. Shouting the name of Allah, the soldiers swept in.

The last Emperor of Byzantium, Constantine XI, threw off his Imperial regalia, shouted "Is there no Christian here to cut my head off?" and plunged into the battle, never to be seen again.

By the time the tiny Christian army had been annihilated the city was in Turkish hands. Thousands were massacred or enslaved, homes, churches and palaces were looted. The Sultan forbade the destruction of the mightiest shrine in all of Christendom, the Basilica of Saint Sophia, and had the 900-year old church converted into a mosque to the glory of his god.

555 years ago, yesterday.

The loss of the moribund Eastern Empire threw the Balkans open to the Turkish advance as far as the gates of Vienna, and for another 300 years the Habsburgs would tremble at the idea of another Muslim avalanche. Rome panicked and the Pope called for a crusade.

Which didn't happen.

In Russia the idea of Moscow as the 'Third Rome' began to circulate; "Two Romes have fallen, but the third stands and will stand forever."

The influx of Greek refugees, bearing with them the accumulated knowledge of centuries, infused the intellectual life of Europe and stimulated the Renaissance and, a few hundred years later, the Enlightenment.

The Ottoman Empire would stand until 1920, until it was replaced by modern Turkey.


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