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The Causes and Consequences of the Fall of Constantinople (1453)


Value: two units


Dr Jonathan Harris


Taught through weekly two-hour seminars and supervisions of dissertation through a series of 1-to-1 meetings


Taught unit: 3-hour exam (70%), best two of three coursework essays (20%), oral presentation (10%); dissertation unit: 10,000-word dissertation (100%)

NB – Not to be taken in conjunction with Group 2 course unit: HS2127 Byzantium and its Neighbours, 641-1081

In the early fifteenth century with most of the Balkans under the domination of the Ottoman Turks, Constantinople, capital city of the shrunken Byzantine empire, held out behind its formidable defences. The first part of course examines the background of the decline of Byzantium and the rise of the Ottoman Turks and takes as its starting point the accession of Sultan Murad II (1421-1451). It examines Murad’s unsuccessful attack on Constantinople in 1422 following the ill-judged attempt by the Byzantine emperor to back a rival candidate for the Ottoman throne and the subsequent Byzantine attempt to secure western military aid at the Council of Florence. The second part makes a detailed examination of the many contemporary accounts of the siege of 1453 launched by Murad’s successor, Mehmed II (1451-1481) and considers the political, strategic and military factors that enabled him to succeed where so many before him had failed and to break through Constantinople’s Land Walls. Finally the political and cultural repercussions of Mehmed’s victory will be considered: the response of Italy and the failure to mount any effective counter-attack, the impact of Ottoman success on Italian art and the contribution of refugees from Constantinople to Greek studies in Italy during the Renaissance.


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