Front Page Titles (by Subject) SOURCES FOR THE SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE, 1453 — ( CHAP. LXVIII ) - The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 12
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SOURCES FOR THE SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE, 1453 — ( CHAP. LXVIII ) - Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 12 
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J.B. Bury with an Introduction by W.E.H. Lecky (New York: Fred de Fau and Co., 1906), in 12 vols. Vol. 12.
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SOURCES FOR THE SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE, 1453 — (CHAP. LXVIII)
For the siege of Constantinople, Gibbon had only three accounts by eye-witnesses, that of Phrantzes, that of Leonardus of Chios, and that of Cardinal Isidore (see above, p. 6, note 12). Several other relations by persons who were in the city during the siege have been published during the present century.
Chief among these is the Journal of a Venetian, Nicolò Barbaro: Giornale dell’ assedio di Constantinopoli 1453, edited by E. Cornet, 1856.1 It is invaluable for determining the diary of the siege; but it is marked by hostility and spite towards the Genoese, especially Giustiniani, and by contempt for the Greeks.
An “Informacion” sent by Francesco de Tresves to the Cardinal d’Avignon, and also by Jehan Blanchin and Jacques Tedardi (or Tedaldi) of Florence, on the capture of Constantinople. Edited in Martene and Durand, Thesaurus, i. p. 1819 sqq. (1717) and in Chartier’s Chroniques de Charles VII., iii. p. 20 sqq., 1858. Tedardi was an eye-witness. He escaped by throwing himself into the water, and was rescued by a Venetian boat.
Ubertino Pusculo of Brescia, who was also fortunate enough to escape, has left an account of the last episode of the history of the Empire in four Books of Latin hexameters. It contributes little enough to our knowledge of facts. The description of the siege does not begin till the middle of the Third book. In the First book there is an account of the battle of Varna, and much about the ecclesiastical antagonism of the Greeks and Latins. The Second begins with the death of John Palacologus and the accession of Constantine, and contains a virulent description of the moral degeneration of the people of Constantinople (v. 117 sqq.): —
The work is published in Ellissen’s Analekten, vol. iii., as an appendix, 1857.
An anonymous Greek poem, in political verses, under the title of Capture of Constantinople (Ἅλωσις Κωνσταντινουπόλεος), is misnamed, for it touches only incidentally on the facts of the siege and is in this respect of little historical importance. It is really an appeal to the powers of the West —
αὐθένταις εὐγενέστατοι, τη̂ς Δύσης μεγιστα̂νες —
French and English, Spanish and Germans
Φραζζέζους καὶ Ἀγκέζιδες, Σπανιόλους, Ἀλαμάνους —
to combine and recover Constantinople from the unbelievers. The Venetians are especially encouraged and urged to set the example —
Ὧ Βενετζιάνοι ϕρόνιμοι, πρακταɩ̂οι κ’ ἐπιδέξιοι.
The Hungarians, Servians, and Walachians are incited to avenge the defeat of Varna: —
The author, though orthodox, was not extreme in his ecclesiastical views. He probably lived within reach of Mohammad’s arm, for he will not disclose his name: —
but gives his friends the means of knowing his identity by mentioning two bodily marks — a black mole on the little finger of his right hand, and another of the same size on his left hand (vv. 10, 20 sqq.). The work was first edited by Ellissen in vol. iii. of his Analekten (1857), with introduction, translation, and analysis, under the title Dirge of Constantinople (Θρη̂νος Κωνσταντινοπόλεως — a misnomer, for it is not a dirge but a tearful appeal. Legrand published an improved text in 1880 in vol. i. of his Bibl. grecque vulgairc, p. 169 sqq.
A Slavonic account, written probably by a Slav of some of the Balkan countries, is also preserved, and has been published by Sreznevski under the title: Skazaniia o vziatii Tsargrada bezbozhnym turetskym sultanom, in the Zapiski of the 2nd Division of the St. Petersburg Academy of Science, vol. i. p. 99 sqq., 1854.
We have another Slavonic account, written in a mixture of Polish and Servian, by a Janissary of Mohammad, named Michael, who took part in the siege. He was a Servian of Ostrovića, and in his later years he went to Poland and wrote his Memoirs, which were edited, as “Pamietniki Janiczara,” by Galezowsky in 1828, in vol. v. of his collection of Polish writers (Zbior Pisarzow Polskieh). This relation is especially valuable as written from outside, by one who knew what was going on in the camp of the besiegers. It has been utilised by M. Mijatovich in his account of the siege (see below).
A report by the Father Superior of the Franciscans who was at Galata during the siege was printed by Muratori in vol. 18 (p. 701) of the Scr. Rer. It.: Rapporto del Superiore dei Franciscani presente all’ assedio et alla presa di Constantinopoli. It seems to have escaped the notice of Gibbon.
An account by Christoforo Riccherio (La presa di Constantinopoli) is inserted in Sansovino’s Dell’ Historia Universale dell’ origine et imperio de Turchi (1564), p. 343 sqq.
Abraham, an Armenian monk, who was present at the siege, wrote a “Mélodie élégiaque,” which was translated into French by Brosset and printed in St. Martin’s ed. of Lebeau’s Histoire du Bas-Empire (xxi. p. 307 sqq.) which Brosset completed.
Adam de Montaldo, of Genoa: De Constantinopolitano excidio ad nobilissimum juvenem Melleducam Cicalam, amicum optimum; edited by C. Desimoni, in the Atti della Società Ligure di storia patria, x. p. 325 sqq., 1874.
Besides these relations of eye-witnesses we have some additional contemporary accounts which were not accessible to Gibbon. The most important of these sources, Critobulus, has been spoken of in Appendix 1 of vol. xi.
Zorzi Dolphin wrote an account of the “siege and capture of Constantinople in 1453,” which was published by G. M. Thomas in the Sitzungsberichte of the Bavarian Academy, 1868. His sources were the reports of Leonardo of Chios, Philip da Rimano, and anonymous eye-witnesses. He adds little to the story.
A letter of the Genoese “Podestà of Pera,” written on June 23, 1853, giving a brief account of the capture, was published by Sylvestre de Sacy in Notices et extraits des manuscripts de la bibliothèque du Roi, xi. 1, p. 74, 1827.
Documents throwing light on the policy of the Genoese in the fatal year will be found in Vigna’s Codice diplomatico delle Colonie Tauro-Liguri, durante la Signoria dell’ uficio de S. Georgio (1453-1475), 1868.
Of little importance for the siege is the Amyris of Filelfo— on the life and deeds of Mohammad in 4 Books — published in Hopf’s Chroniques gréco-romanes. The Ἀνάκληματη̂ς Κωνσταντινόπολης (the anonymous writer of these verses was possibly a Cretan) published by Legrand, Collection de monuments, Nouv. sér., v. p. 85 sqq., and the Θρη̂νος on the capture, published by Lampros in Ἑστία, 1886, p. 821 sqq., tell us nothing. A Monody of Andronicus Callistus, in Migne’s Patr. Gr., 161, p. 1124, teaches us, as Paspates has pointed out, that there was water in the ditch outside the western wall.
The final scene of the siege is briefly described in Spandugino Cantacusino’s Della origine de principi Turchi (which is included in Bk. ii. of Sansovino’s Dell’ Historia Universale, p. 187 sqq.), p. 195-6.
There are a number of other documents extant which have not yet been printed. C. Hopf and A. Dethier had designed and prepared the publication of these in the Monumenta Hungar. Hist., along with many sources which had been already published. Four volumes lie in MS.; a description of their contents is given by Krumbacher in his Gesch. der byzantinischen Litteratur2, p. 311-12.
Brosset gathered some material from Armenian and Georgian sources; see the last vol. of St. Martin’s edit. of Lebeau’s Histoire du Bas-Empire.
The Turkish authorities are of very little value for the siege; they were utilised by Hammer. The earliest Ottoman historians belong to the end of the 15th century, viz. the History of the great-grandson of Ashīk-Pasha (who lived under Murad I.); the anonymous chronicle, Tarīkhi Ali Osmān; the World-view of Neshri. See Hammer’s Introduction to his History. These earlier works were used by the most famous of Ottoman historians, Sad ad-Dīn, in his Crown of Histories (written under Murad III., end of 16th cent.).
The following is a list of the chief modern accounts of the siege that have appeared since Gibbon wrote: —
Hammer, Geschichte des osmanischen Reiches, i. p. 398 sqq., 1834.
Zinkeisen, Geschichte des osmanischen Reiches, i. p. 811 sqq., 1840.
Stassulevich (J.), Osada i Vziatie Vizantii Turkami, 1854.
Sreznevski, Poviest o Tsargradie, 1855.
Mordtmann (A. D.), Belagerung und Eroberung Constantinopels durch die Türken im Jahre 1453; 1858. (This had two advantages over previous accounts. Mordtmann knew the ground; and he made use of the diary of Barbaro.)
Finlay, History of Greece, vol. iii. p. 503 sqq.
Broadribb and Besant, Constantinople, a sketch of its history from its foundation to its conquest by the Turks, 1879.
Vlasto (E. H.), Les derniers jours de Constantinople, 1883.
Paspatês (A. G.), Πολιορκία καὶ ἅλωσις τη̂ς Κωνσταντινουπόλεως ὑπὸ τω̂ν Ὀθωμανω̂ν ὲν ἔτει, 1453; 1890.
Mijatovich (Ch.) Constantine, Last Emperor of the Greeks, 1892.
The sources have been dealt with in an article by P. Pogodin in the Zhurnal min. narod. prosv., vol. 283, August, 1889.
A. van Millingen’s Byzantine Constantinople (1899), which appeared too late to be used in the preparation of this volume, contains much material for the study of the siege, and many difficulties in the episode are discussed. It may be observed that the author argues with considerable force from the view that the route of the Turkish ships across the hills was by the valley of Dolma Bagtchè, a distance of three miles. This is the view adopted above, p. 33, note 63.
[1 ]There is a good analysis of the contents in Ellissen’s Analekten, vol. iii., Appendix, p. 84 sqq.