Constanti'nus Xiii. Palaeo'logus or Constanti'nus Dragases
surnamed DRAGASES (ὁ Παλαιόλογος ὁ δραγάσης
), the last emperor of the East, A. D. 1448-1453, was the fourth son of the emperor Manuel II. Palaeologus.
He was born in A. D. 1394, and obtained the throne after the death of his elder brother, the emperor John VII., in 1448.
He first married Theodora, daughter of Leonardo, count of Tocco, a lord in the Peloponnesus, and, after her death, Catharina, daughter of Notaras Palaeologus Catelusius, prince of Lesbos, by neither of whom he left issue.
Previously to his accession, Constantine was despot or lord of a small remnant of the Byzantine empire in the Chersonnesus Taurica, and during the reign of his brother John he was invested with the principality of, or more correctly a principality in, the Pcioponnesus, which he bravely defended against the Turks.
After the death of John, the throne was claimed by his surviving brothers, Demetrius, the eldest, Constantine, and Thomas.
A strong party having declared for Constantine, this prince, who was still in the Peloponnesus, accepted the crown after long hesitation, as he saw that he had but few chances of defending it against the overwhelming power of the Turks, who had gradually reduced the Byzantine empire to the city of Constantinople and a few maritime places and islands in Greece.
In his embarrassment he sent Phranza, the historian, to the court of sultan Mürad II., declaring that he would not exercise that power which the Greeks had conferred upon him, unless the sultan would give him his permission. Mürad having received the ambassador favourably, and given his consent, Constantine embarked on board a squadron, and soon afterwards arrived at Constantinople.
He made peace with his brothers by giving them his former domain in the Peloponnesus.
The beginning of his reign was quiet; but sultan Miirad died in 1450, and his son and successor, the ambitious and lofty Mohammed, was far from shewing the same sentiments towards Constantine as his father. Mohammed was then engaged in a war against the Turkish emir of Caramania, who made such a desperate resistance, that the councillors of Constantine thought this to be a favourable opportunity for making their master somewhat more independent of the sultan. They threatened to assist prince Urkhan (the eldest brother of Mohammed?), who lived at Constantinople and claimed the Turkish throne, to raise an army and to enter into a contest with Mohammed. Ambassadors having been sent to the sultan to inform him of the dispositions of the Greek court, the vizír Khalíl reproached them with their imprudent and presumptuous conduct in very severe terms, and concluded with the words, " If you will proclaim Urkhan as sultan, you may do so; you may call the Hungarians for assistance, you may try to reconquer all those countries which we have taken from you ; but know ye that you will succeed in nothing, and that instead of winning an inch of ground, you will lose the petty remains of your empire which we have left you. My master shall be informed of the subject of your message, and his will shall be done." (Ducas, p. ]32.) Soon afterwards, Mohammed made preparations for a siege of Constantinople, having declared that he would not make peace till he could reside in the capital of the Greek empire.
Constantinople was blockaded by land and by sea till the sultan's artillery was ready, which was cast at Adrianople by Urban. a Dacian 1
or Hungarian founder, and was of greater dimensions than had ever been made before. While it was casting Mohammed took Mesembria, Anchialos, Byzon, and other towns which still belonged to the empire. On the 6th of April, 1453, Mohammed appeared under the walls of Constantinople at the head of an army of 258,000 men, carrying with him, among other pieces of large size, a gun which threw a stone ball of 1200 pounds.
The city was defended by the Greeks and numerous Venetian, Genoese, and other Frankish auxiliaries or volunteers; and the Christian navy was superior to the Turkish, not in number, but in the construction of the ships and the skill of the Frankish marines.
Our limits do not allow us to give a history of this siege. Among the numerous works, in which the account is given with more or less truth or beauty, we refer to Gibbon, Le Beau, " Histoire du Bas Empire," continued by Ameilhon, and Hammer, " Geschichte des Osmanischen Reiches."
The contest lasted from the 6th of April till the 29th of May, 1453: prophecies had foretold its issue. On that day the last emperor of the East fell on the wall of his trembling capital: Θέλω θανεῖν μᾶλλον ἤ ζῆν
, he cried out in despair when the Turks stormed the wall and he was forsaken by his guards. Surrounded by a crowd of Janissaries, and foreseeing his fate, he cried out again, " Is there no Christian who will cut off my head?"
He had scarcely uttered these words when he was struck by two Turks at once, and expired unknown to them on a heap of slain. His body was afterwards discovered, and when Mohammed was in undisputed possession of the city, he ordered his head to be cut off, and had it nailed on the porphyry column on the place called Augusteum.
It was afterwards sent as a trophy to the principal towns in Turkish Asia. One of the first acts of the victor was the consecration of the church of St. Sophia as a mosque, and Mohammed was the first Moslem who prayed there standing on the altar.
It is said that he entered that church on horseback, but this is an idle story invented by monks.
He alighted from his horse at the principal gate, entered the church with visible respect and admiration, and was so far from committing any profanation, that he killed with his own hand a Turk whom he discovered breaking up the beautiful marbles of the pavement.
The conquest of Constantinople was an event of the greatest importance to the Sultans. During upwards of one thousand years that city had been looked upon by the nations of the East as the sacred seat of both the supreme temporal and spiritual power, and being masters of Constantinople, the Sultans at once were considered as the heirs of the Roman emperors. Until then the obedience paid to them was but submission to the sword of a conqueror: it was now both fear and habit, and the transient impression of victory acquired the strength of hereditary duty.
With the fall of Constantinople, darkness spread over the East; but the Muses flying from the Bosporus found a more genial home on the banks of the Arno and the Tiber. Almost four centuries have elapsed since the first Mohammedan prayer was offered in St. Sophia; yet all the power and glory of the Sultans have been unable to root out of the minds of the Greeks the remembrance of their past grandeur, and at the present moment the duration of the Turkish power in Constantinople is less probable than the revival of a new Greek empire. (Phranzes, lib. iii., &c.; Ducas, 100.34, &c.; Chalcocondyles, lib. vii., &c.; Leonardus Chiensis, Hist. Constant. a Turc. expugnatae,
1st ed., Nürnberg, 1544, 4to., a small but curious work, written a few months after the fall of Constantinople.)