February 09, 2006

Gratuitous Historickal Posting

Constantine XI.jpg

Today is the birthday in 1404 of Constantine XI, the last Emperor of the Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) Empire. (Go here for a brief description of Rome's imperial successor.)

By the time of Constantine, the Empire (which had reached its greatest power in the 9th and 10th Centuries, dominating the Eastern Mediterranean) was a mere shadow of its former self, consisting of not much more than the city of Constantinople itself, its immediate environs and one or two outposts. In 1452, the Ottoman Turks rolled in and, after a nearly two month siege, captured Constantinople, thus finally ending the Empire. Constantine fought until the end. When the Turks breached the walls of the city, he recognized its doom, tore off his cloak and charged into the mass of his enemies, never to be seen again. Steven Runciman's The Fall of Constantinople, 1453 is an excellent book on the subject.

I still remember the chill I got when I realized that the last of the Roman Emperors died a mere 49 39 (forgot to carry the one) years prior to Columbus's discovery of America and that Europe's westward exploration was the direct result of the panic caused by this symbolic victory of the rising Ottoman power in the East. We often think of ancient and modern history as being disconnected, but in learning about this I saw for the first time how closely sutured together they really are.

Man, I love history.

Posted by Robert at February 9, 2006 12:57 PM | TrackBack

1492-1453=39 not 49.

Oh, and this one interests me since I've spent time in Istanbul. Interesting place, highly underrated as a place to visit.

Posted by: Brian B at February 9, 2006 01:19 PM

Did you know there's graffiti in the Hagia Sophia left there by vikings?

Posted by: Brian B at February 9, 2006 01:20 PM

I've often heard the story of a Viking longboat showing up beneath the walls of the City and wondered what could possibly have been going through the heads of its crew.

Probably something akin to Eric the Viking and his mates finding Hy-Brasil.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at February 9, 2006 01:30 PM

The vikings came to raid, stayed to trade. they trekked overland from Scandinavia to Russia, built longboats and sailed downriver to the Black Sea. They so impressed the Emperor with their fighting prowess and bravery that he hired them as his bodyguard -- the Varangian Guard.

Two good fictional books that cover this are The Walking Drum by Louis L'Amour and Byzantium by Stephen Lawhead.

Posted by: Brian B at February 9, 2006 01:45 PM

Both Germany (Holy Roman Empire) and Imperial Russia claimed to be the third Rome. Cesear = Kaiser = Tsar. Tenuous claims at best, but if taken at face value, then one could say the last of the Roman Empire didn't fall until the 20th Cent.

Posted by: rbj at February 9, 2006 02:15 PM

I've noticed before that we tend to process history on different timelines, each with its own time scale. It's easy for us to miss the ways that events in the actual world overlapped and interwaved.

I find it a bit jarring to realize that Leonardo da Vinci was a baby when the last Roman emperor fell in battle. One of the oddest overlaps I've seen was in a book on Mesoamerica which pointed out that Harvard was already a going concern while Tayasal, the last Mayan city-state, was still holding out against the conquistadors.

Posted by: utron at February 9, 2006 02:29 PM

Oh, and here's a trivia note for rbj: the last claim to succeed the Roman emperors didn't expire until 1947. One of the official titles of the British monarch from 1876 to 1947 was Kaisar-i-Hind, "Caesar of India."

Posted by: utron at February 9, 2006 02:35 PM


Take your last comment, rbj's comment, and the fact that during WWI, the British, German, and Russian monarchs were first cousins, and you really start to go "Hmmmm...."

Posted by: Brian B at February 9, 2006 03:01 PM

Good point, Brian B. I'll bet that as soon as we tie the Rothschilds into all this, the rest of the puzzle pieces will fall into place....

Posted by: utron at February 9, 2006 03:08 PM

Yes, but then we'd have to kill you.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at February 9, 2006 03:30 PM

Nah, we're safe as long as we don't mention fnord.

Posted by: Brian B at February 9, 2006 03:35 PM

Good thing nobody brought up Fight Club.
Did not know that about the British Monarchy.

Posted by: rbj at February 9, 2006 03:49 PM

Rome has never fallen.

The office of Pontifex Maximus has been filled for over two thousand years in an unbroken chain. Oh sure, the city's been sacked a few times. But the Empire has never really gone away.

Robbo, if you haven't read it, you should pick up Umberto Eco's Baudolino. A great book, much of which takes place in Constantinople.

Posted by: The Colossus at February 9, 2006 03:56 PM