European Reactions to the Fall of Constantinople

Authored by: Nancy Bisaha

Routledge Handbook on Christian–Muslim Relations

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138818712
eBook ISBN: 9781315745077
Adobe ISBN:


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The fall of Constantinople on 29 May 1453 marked the effective end of the Byzantine Empire and a period of rapid expansion for the Ottomans. This distant catastrophe quickly became a subject of immediate concern for western Europeans, demonstrated by the many written accounts and responses that circulated within months of it happening. Europeans regarded the news with a mixture of shock, anger, fear and fascination. It unleashed a flood of calls for crusade, religious sermons and a general preoccupation with the ‘Turkish menace’. At the same time, the conquest set in motion a complex range of political responses from military mobilisation to the pursuit of diplomatic ties, trade privileges and accommodations with the new masters of Constantinople. Nor can individual or state views of the Ottomans be easily separated into positive or negative. While some Europeans called for the Ottomans’ destruction, others sought to learn more about them, to procure their beautiful luxury goods and to visit the diverse lands of their empire; in fact, some later writers called for crusade and praised the Ottomans in the same tract (Bisaha 2004: 179–81). Finally, we must recall that millions of Europeans would come to know the Ottomans directly as rulers, partners and neighbours through the steady expansion of the empire into eastern Europe in the decades before and after 1453. Hence, European reactions to the fall of Constantinople comprised a range of immediate and long-term responses of varying force and subtlety. This chapter will provide an overview of these responses.

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