The most controversial figure in fall of Constantinople: Giovanni Giustiniani

Karthick Nambi
Feb 10 · 4 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Siege of Constantinople : Source-https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2016/12/01/constantinople-prepares-for-siege/

The massive Ottoman army is hitting the walls of Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire’s capitol, with its entire force.

The army inside the city is a mix of Byzantines, Venetians, and Genoese mercenaries. The civilian population is holding on during the siege hoping for a miracle .

However, there was a miracle happening in front of them every day. The name of the miracle is Giovanni Giustiniani. Giovanni Giustiniani is the only hope of stopping the Ottoman army from entering the city of Constantinople. He was also the reason the multi-ethnic Byzantine army is holding together.

Image for post
Image for post
Sultan Mehmet II.Source :Wikipedia

It is 1453, and Sultan Mehmet II is just got back on the throne of the Ottoman Empire.

Mehmet II inherited the throne when he was 14, but his father; Murad II, retook the throne to achieve his ambition of capturing Constantinople. Murad II led a vast army to capture Constantinople; with his son Mehmet II, but failed to capture the city, due to its colossal wall.

Once back to the throne, Mehmet II started his plan to capture Constantinople. The royal court of the ottoman empire had mixed reactions on the decision to capture Constantinople.

Some courtesans of the ottoman empire had commercial ties with the Byzantine empire, and a war would affect their interest. Sultan Mehmet II, was determined to capture Constantinople.

For a start, the Sultan constructed a fort right at the entrance of Constantinople to choke the city.

The Sultan sent an emissary with terms to Constantine XI; the Byzantine emperor. The negotiations didn’t go well, and the Ottoman Empire declared war on the Byzantine Empire.

Constantine XI asked for help from Europe to save Constantinople from being overrun by the Ottoman troops. Support came from the Italian city of Genoa, with 700 soldiers under the able leadership of Giovanni Giustiniani.

Giovanni Giustiniani was a famous mercenary from Italy. He was an expert in defending besieged cities. Upon his arrival, Constantine XI gave control of the city’s defenses to Giovanni Giustiniani. Giustiniani assessed the situation and started reinforcing the defenses.

The Ottoman army began the siege by bombarding the city walls with massive cannons made by Orban. Orban shifted his loyalty from Constantine XI to Sultan Mehmet II because Constantine XI couldn’t pay him.

My article on this topic: https://medium.com/lessons-from-history/orman-and-the-unpaid-byzantine-salary-8367f1c6e56f

Whenever the bombardment ceased, Giustiniani and his troops repaired the walls quickly. With repairs keeping up with the destruction, the Ottomans find the walls to be impenetrable.

Image for post
Image for post
Ship crossing Galata .Source:Wiki

Sultan Mehmet II faced the embarrassment of not able to stop four Venetians ships with cargo from entering the Golden Horn. The Golden Horn is the waterway that leads to Constantinople’s port.

The Byzantines protected the Golden Horn with a giant chain they raised only for friendly ships. The chain stops any enemy ship trying to enter the Golden Horn.

Sultan Mehmet II came up with a brilliant plan of going around the chain; rolling ships over the hill and dropping them into the Golden Horn. The presence of Ottoman ships inside the Golden Horn was a massive shock to the citizens of Constantinople.

Giustiniani planned to ram the Ottoman ships with fire ships. A fire ship is a boat filled with flammable materials. Sailors used fire ships to set wooden fleets on fire.

But the plot was leaked to the Sultan. Consequently, the Ottoman cannons blew the Byzantine fire ships out of the water.

My article on this topic : https://medium.com/lessons-from-history/when-ships-crossed-by-land-in-war-6ffc9975df57

Giustiniani and his troops were able to ward off Ottoman attacks.

The Ottomans set May 29, 1453, as the day of assault and charged with their entire force. Giustiniani was able to hold the city walls for an extended period, but an arrow hit him.

The injured Giustiniani was moved out of the city to the port. Giustiniani abandoning his post weakened the morale of his defending troops, and they too fall back. Giustiniani took a ship to Greece and died from his wounds a few days later.

Though Giustiniani fought valiantly and safeguarded Constantinople for six weeks, his escape at the last minute bought shame to his name. Even though he escaped the Ottomans, he can’t escape death inflicted by the Ottoman arrow.

Lessons from History

Lessons from History is a platform for writers who share…

By Lessons from History

Lessons from History is a platform for writers who share ideas and inspirational stories from world history.  Take a look

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Karthick Nambi

Written by

A human with interest in history and technology

Lessons from History

Lessons from History is a platform for writers who share ideas and inspirational stories from world history. The objective is to promote history on Medium and demonstrate the value of historical writing.

Karthick Nambi

Written by

A human with interest in history and technology

Lessons from History

Lessons from History is a platform for writers who share ideas and inspirational stories from world history. The objective is to promote history on Medium and demonstrate the value of historical writing.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store