The Fall of Constantinople 1453 (Anglais) Broché – 13 septembre 1990
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'Runciman [is] eminently accessible and readable.' Evangelicals Now
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We read about the desperate attempts by the last Byzantine Emperors to look for help from an increasingly indifferent West. We note the internal strife between the Chrisitian kingdoms of the Balkans, both Latin and Orthodox, that created disunity and allowed the Ottoman sultans to conquer territories one by one until Constantinople was completely surrounded and isolated. We also hear of the sad accounts of the conditions within this once great City that was hailed as the Eye of all the World. By the time of the City's capture, it was a hollow shell of its former glory.
It is the last chapter in the thousand year history of Byzantium, and all its characters appear to face a noble and heroic end defending their capital. Yet, the Ottomans, Runciman says, brought a new breath of vitality to Constantinople and its conquered territories. The City was rebuilt, and the Greeks survived as best they could, up until the early 20th century. Runciman also suggests the Ottoman Turks were the better conquererors than the Latins might have been since the Greeks and Slavs were allowed to keep their Orthodox faith and culture, something that might have been forcibly lost under the Papal West.
With superb writing, excellent narration, and great historical analysis, Runciman has written a fantastic book, and one that has been the standard for decades now. Highly recommended
Runciman shows that the fall of Constantinople to the Turks on May 29, 1453 (550 years ago today!) was both inevitable and of mostly marginal historical significance (except, of course, to the people of the city itself). It had always seemed to me an event of epochal importance -- history's pages finally slamming shut on the Roman Empire. But in literally his first sentence, Sir Steven disabuses us of this notion, or that the fall marked the close of the Middle Ages. Indeed, "only the Papacy and a few scholars and romanticists had been genuinely shocked at the thought of the great historic Christian city passing into the hands of the infidel" (p. 179). For the most part, it was part of the rising tide of Turkish conquest, alarming in a general way, but not immediately catastrophic to the dying empire's fickle co-religionists in the West.
Runciman's narrative is engrossing, full of political tension, military conflict, and the religious disputes that always colored Byzantine history. His characterizations are insightful, his descriptions colorful, his writing elegiac -- at times even poetic -- well-sourced (both Christian and Muslim authorities are consulted), and frequently entertaining, even when discussing a sad and even horrific topic. His larger works may not be to everyone's taste (for topic more than style), but a short work like this one, on an interesting and oft-neglected theme, is a worthwhile read for any student of history. Highly recommended.
If you enjoyed any of Norwich's books on the rise and fall of Byzantium, then this book serves as an excellent conclusion. The author, Mr. Runciman, does a fantastic job of detailing the story, placing it in its appropriate historical time frame and setting the record straight on many elements. One of his central tenemants is the arbitrary nature of defining Constantinople's fall as the 'end' of the Dark Ages, and he does a convincing job of making his point that many of the effects often ascribed to the fall had long been in process. First published in 1965, this is by no means the latest re-telling of this event, but its ability to stand the test of time certainly reinforces that it is one of, if not outright, the best. The only disadvantage that may be age related is that it would be nice to have a few more, and perhaps better organized maps and figures that went along with the text.
I highly recommend this book, it would be of interest to anyone wanting to learn more about Constantinople, Greek history, Turkish history, Islaamic history, the early Renaissance, and the intricacies of Papal, Venetian and Genoan relations. This is also a great book for anyone who is just looking for a good book.
As with all his works, The Fall of Constantinople is both well researched, but more importantly, well written. He provides enough background on the decline of the Eastern Empire and the rise of the Ottoman Turks to place the fall in proper perspective. The Eastern Empire in 1453 was a mere shadow of its once glorious self. The conspiracies and plots between Emperors, Patriarchs, Popes and Kings, ultimately, between Eastern and Western Christendom doomed the heir to the Caesars.
Runciman's wonderful writing makes this come alive. He does not, like many historians, feel that a dry recitation of the facts alone is enough. Rather, his history reads almost like a novel. The characters have depth and emotion. The last Emperor is shown as a shrewd many trying desperately to save his people, even to the point of entering into an unpopular union with the Roman Church. The Sultan is no mere cartoon villain as often portrayed in medieval Europe or a politically correct Third World leader (as might be portrayed today) but rather a ruthless, though driven young man, determined to fulfill the goal of 8 centuries of Moslem leaders - the capture of "The City."
And as the story winds toward its inevitable conclusion, you root for the heroes and mourn their deaths.
Constantinople fell not because the Ottomans were the strongest empire in the world. Rather, it fell because the petty jealousies of the Western leaders made the defense of Constantinople impossible. Today, as the West finds itself again under attack, we should keep heed of our history, and avoid allowing our jealousies to cause another Fall of Constantinople.