1453 by Roger Crowley


The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West
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A fluent history of the annus horribilis in which impregnable Constantinople finally fell to Islam, a key moment in a 1,500-year-long clash of civilizations.

Constantinople was a multinational, multiethnic city at a great cultural crossroads. Its army and that of the threatening Turks were similarly various: as British writer Crowley, a sometime resident of Istanbul, remarks, the Ottoman Empire’s “crack troops were Slavs, its leading general Greek, its admiral Bulgarian, its sultan probably half Serbian or Macedonian.” Both sides were intent upon destroying each other. The Ottomans were further driven by the knowledge that Byzantium was the first Christian nation, psychologically important to the rest of Christendom, and they took a calculated risk that by attacking it—and this marked the first time Muslim armies had moved against the city in generations—they would not stir up all of Europe to come to its defense. At the dawn of the Renaissance and with religious and civil strife aplenty at home, the Europeans could not be bothered; as a disappointed Byzantine noted, “We received as much aid from Rome as had been sent to us by the sultan of Cairo.” The Ottoman sultan, Mehmet II, brought something new to the field: a 27-foot-long cannon that hurled wall-crushing shots against the city, backing his great fleets and ground forces. A six-day bombardment such as the world had not seen ensued, even as Muslims and Christians committed reciprocal atrocities on the prisoners in their hold. Because, by the Emperor Constantine XI’s order, the city would not yield, Mehmet tempted his troops with the promise of a good plundering of the city—though, as Crowley notes, there wasn’t much left to be hauled off, Constantinople having been pretty well picked over in centuries past. Still, the city fell, Constantine was killed and all of Europe mourned the loss of the Eastern Empire, which ushered in two centuries of Islamic warfare on European soil.

Swiftly paced, useful guide to understanding the long enmity between Islam and Christianity.

Pub Date: Aug. 10th, 2005
ISBN: 1-4013-0191-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Hyperion
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2005


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