Konstantinos Palaiologos: the last Emperor
The last Byzantine Emperor Konstantinos Palaiologos could be a character drawn from an ancient Greek tragedy. His heroic death during the siege of Constantinople on May 29, 1453, rendered him a legendary figure in Greek folklore while also essentially marking the end of the Byzantine Empire.
Following the death of his father, there were a number of succession disputes for the throne. Konstantinos successfully prevailed over his brothers and in 1449 he was crowned Emperor of the Byzantines. During this time, the capital was divided between citizens and clergy against or in favor of the Western Catholic kingdoms. The Byzantines had underestimated the Ottoman threat until they encountered the new Sultan Mehmet II ante portas (“at the gates”).
Mehmet was obsessed with the conquest of Constantinople and thus attacking the city was a priority. The assault started in April1453. Mehmet gave Konstantinos the opportunity to surrender the city in peace but instead he received some of the most valiant words in history: “To surrender the city to you is beyond my authority or anyone else’s who lives in it, for all of us, after taking the mutual decision, shall die out of free will without sparing our lives.”
The small Byzantine army inflicted serious losses to the massive Ottoman infantry. The Emperor, dressed as a common soldier, led the defense. On May 29th though, after a desperate and furious struggle Palaiologos died beneath the city walls. His body was decapitated by Mehmet’s soldiers and marched around the ruined city of Constantinople. And so began 400 years of the Ottoman…