The most controversial figure in fall of Constantinople: Giovanni Giustiniani
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.
The new Sultan:
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.
The start of siege:
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.
Ship crossing by land:
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
The Final Assault:
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.