Type: Critical Essays
Sample donated: Dorothy Kim
Last updated: April 10, 2019
To say that warfare has not shaped societies in a large part would be a harsh understatement, with its realization an acknowledgment of the sad but true plight of human nature. Man’s selfish, acquisitive, and competitive nature have shone forth time and time again through warfare. One may argue that a society’s dominance are a reflection of the culture it has nurtured, and civil- ization therefore being characterized by the arts, philosophy, music, science, religion, politics, etc.
Another more bold view would be to assert that society and history are marked not by its cultural innovations, but instead by its ability to harness these elements nto its overall scheme of power through war making. Thus history is largely marked by the effects of these wars. War can bring about the death or transfer of cultures and civilizations, as we have seen great empires and nations thrive and decline throughout history. Their reasons for decline are almost wholly attributable to war.
Thus, it would seem, that any perpetuation of cult- ure is only a meretricious display of influence on civilization.This is easily noticed by even the novice historian, as cultural remnants serve only as a distant mirror to the prog- nitors of modern civilization, whose existence today is a bizarre amalgamation of social conflict and confluence. The effects of war on civilization are not so readily noticed. The effects of a battle may not hearken the death of society immediately, but instead take a gradual toll, almost like the erosion of a boulder, or, to use a militaristic analogy, the cutting and hacking away at it. In the meantime, the efforts to improve the advantages of war making give a somewhat basal indication of how advanced a society is.Also, how it incorporates the various, and sometimes dissident, cultural factors into a cohesive whole are also just as ascinating. One such fascinating example would be the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 A. D.
This represents the culmination of forces over a period time, (i. e. erosion) to a decisive end of what was once a culture of eminence. It’s fall had global ramifications and repercussions that one can only speculate, mainly through the ad- mission of the end of a Western power in the Eastern world.
This paper will attempt to grasp the impact of the fall of Constantinople, which is clear testament to the power of war on civilization. Constantinople represented the capital of the Byzantine empire, which had through it’s nception struggled to survive. The date of the establishment of the empire is open to debate among historians.
Some would say it began in 527 A. D. under the reign of Just- inian, while others might say 330 A. D. when the Roman emperor Constantine established Byzantium as his capital, subsequently naming it Constantinople. Others might say 410 A. D. hen Rome (the original seat of power within the Roman empire) was sacked.
Finally, some say 476 A. D. when the Western empire physically ceased to exist, after falling to years of conflict with the Germanic barbarians tribes1 Thus the Byzantine empire retained the last vestiges of the officially “dead” Roman empire.
The capital, Constantinople, was a coastal city situated neatly on the Bosphorus strait and surrounded by the Sea of Marmara to its right and the Golden Horde to its left. The Bosphorus strait is the only entrance from the Meditteranean to the Black Sea, although the Danube to the north could also be another waterway entrance.So occupying a prime position in the flow of trade from western Europe to the Black Sea could be seen as a geographical advantage to which the Byzantine empire relied heavily upon. Unfortunately, the geographic positioning of Constantinople would play in role in the centuries to follow. Constantinople was too easterly a location for a European power base, and now occupied a central position in what marked the end of Europe and the beginning of Asia. This conflux would put it amidst various other competing societies, such as the nomads of Asia, the Turks (and other Muslim caliphates), the Bulgars, the Serbs, etc.
The crusades would only exacerbate this, and ultimately hasten its decline. Culturally, the Byzantines were still of Roman traditions. It was basically a re-located Rome to the east, and claimed all the imperial rights and power of the former. The westerly absorption of Rome into the barbarian tribes and subsequent formation of the Frankish kingdoms could also, arguably, be seen as evidence of Rome never dying, just re-locating or adapting to change. We therefore have a marked distinction of Eastern and Western Europe, each retaining its Roman influence.
The Byzantine empire was a Christian cosmopolitan empire that was, uniquely, very Greekish. The Byzantines were adamant about the continuation of classical studies and Byzantine education and philosophy reinforced this. The Latin Kingdoms of the west had largely dissipated Greek thought, while the Byzantines saw mastery of the classics a pre- requisite to education. The works of Homer, Aristotle, Plato and other Greeks are avail- able to us today only through the efforts of the Byzantines. Women also played a key part in the intellectual pursuits of the Byzantines, in stark contrast to the Greek, Roman and medieval Latin Europe.Emperor Alexius (1048-1118) daughter, Anna Comnena, would write one of the greatest historiographies of medieval Europe ever.
2 Also, the role of Christianity (and religion in general) in the medieval world is very mportant as a perpetuator of culture, and sought warfare as means of protecting it. The emergence of Christianity and subsequent adoption by the Europeans would play a lead role in this unfolding drama. Christianity, although scorned by Rome, would finally be adopted through the council of Nicea in 325 A.
D. by Constantine, the Roman emperor.Christianity and warfare were inextricably intertwined from the start. Constantine only adopted Christianity after being given a victory in battle under the auspice of his vision of the cross, in hoc signo vinces (in this sign you shall conquer).
Constantine, as we stated arlier, moved his capital to then Byzantium, renamed it, and indeed fostered territorial gains under the cross. Christianity was the new breath of the Roman empire, and would facilitate Byzantine influence in its new location on the Bosphorus. Byzantine, indeed, sought to convert the world around it to one rule.The Byzantine emperor was ruler by way of near divinity (echoing the mandate of heaven from the east), and church and state were almost the same.
Control by Byzantines meant subjugation to its form of Christianity as well. This was largely successful in the outlying regions of Constantinople, and the conquests of Justinian (527-565) were an partially successful attempt to bring the old Roman provinces back to the empire. Basil II (985-1025) was also largely successful and brought the Bulgarian Balkan peninsula under his control, along with alliances from the Vikings and Russians to the north.The Byzantines form of Christianity had been a source of content to its Latin neighbors to the west, and furthered the divisions farther. Latin Europe was lacking a central auth- ority and struggled with the church’s role in the state. The Holy Roman Empire was uccessful in gaining support of the church from the Pope in Rome. Otto I’s (962-973) acceptance of the imperial title was under direct implication of succeeding Charlemagne (742-814), holder of the original title over the now defunct Carolignian Franks. Byzantine and Latin Christianity were already divided by the iconoclastic controversy of the 8th and 9th century.
Destruction of idols was a way to combat idolatry, but also, gave some leverage with another competing faith, Islam. The Byzantines would make their version of Christianity similar in respect to icons as that of their Muslim neighbors o, in effect, make any religious transformation of conquered Muslim areas easier (the Muslims would play another lead, and fatalistic, role in Byzantine demise). As a finality of the division of the Eastern and Western churches was the Great Schism of 1054.
With this, the churches were permanently divided, each adopting different doctrines.Islam was also growing in its followers after Mohammed’s death in the 632. It too sought to spread its cultural vision to the world.
In fact Islam was the major faith of the world west of China, which by some standards, would seem “uncivilized”. However, the Abbasids were able to create a dynasty that extended what is now the modern Middle Eastern world, with caliphs ruling over a more legitimized Muslim state. Unfortunately, the Abassids would politically dissolve into fragmented caliphates like the Fatimids Qarmatians, Buyids, and Samanids.These too, would later be dissolved by the steppe Turks in the 11th century. The Muslim world would be of critical importance to the Byzantine empire due to simple geopolitics-they were neighbors fighting for the same lands.
The stage would now be set for the Crusades, which signaled some East/West Christ- an unity but ultimately would result in the betrayal of Constantinople. The Seljuk Turks now ruled a vast Muslim empire which rivaled the Byzantine. Militarily, the Turks were a force to contend, being originally steppe nomads now cultivated into a potent “civilized” army.The Battle of Manzikert (1071) would bring a loss for the Byzantines which result- ed in the almost entire loss of Anatolia, across the Bosphorus from Constantinople. Byz- antine’s pleas for help were met with the first Crusade (1095-1099), which was largely justified by the Christian need to occupy the holy land of Jerusalem. Thus began a series f five Crusades to retake the holy land by the soldier-citizens of western Europe.
Const- antinople would reap the benefits of the Crusades as an ally of the westerners by prov- iding a logistically secure base to operate from, resulting in increased trade and economic boom.Here we once again see how war and civilization intertwine, the Crusades provide a drastic means of acculturation from peoples of many ethnic origin. Battles of the Crus- ades served as forums for these distinctly different peoples. The utterly refined Knights Templar or Hospitallers vs.
the seedy light steppe cavalry, the citizen soldiers vs. the lave elites, chainmail armor vs. leather armor, etc. , would overall be a learning exp- erience for those involved. The expansionistic zeal of the Crusades would create unities, alliances, breaks, gaps, divisions, enemies and betrayals that are still traceable on a mod- ern map.Despite the influx of arms and food Constantinople, it’s economy was not, however, strong by itself. It relied heavily on Venetian sea merchants to import the goods used to sustain the Crusade, and slowly became more dependant upon it.
The Venetian merchants would monopolize on this, much to the dismay of the citizens of Constantinople, whose wn commercial interests were becoming increasingly stifled. In 1171, the Byzantine rul- ers decided to reduce Venetian interests which led to anti-Venetian riots. Now an enemy, the Venetians sought revenge.Under the urgings of the Venetian doge Enrico Dandolo, the fourth Crusade (1198-1204) was rerouted to conquer Constantinople instead of Jerusalem. Even the city’s mighty walls1 couldn’t stop the crusaders, and in 1204 Constantinople fell for the first time. It territory would annexed under a flag of Frankish, Latin, and Venetian interests. 3 Constantinople would be recaptured in 1261 by the Greek Emperor of Nicaea, Michael VIII Palaeologus.
Unfortunately, the city would still a puppet to the already dominating economic influences that brought its demise.Its links to Black Sea and the Meditteranean were crucial for western trade from Europe to the newly opened trade routes to China. However, Venetian and Genoese merchants would once again enact their supreme control over Constantinople’s international trading economy. Constantinople would at least be once again Eastern Orthodox, thanks to Michael VIII. The Mongols of Genghis Khan had taken the Asian steppelands, China and the Middle eastern Khwarezm caliphate by storm in the early 13th century.
Their domination of the middle eastern caliphates continued to grow among the already internally strug- gling Muslims.The Seljuk Turks would eventually be eliminated. Mongol domination had not reduced Muslim followings but instead adopted it, so therefore the Muslim ghazis (religious warriors) could still continue to flourish. One ghazi was Osman, who would go on to found the Ottoman Empire. This would be established by a small state on what was the disintegrating Seljuks Anatolia. Muslim states were still warring with each other but the Ottoman empire would soon emerge the winner, and by 1400 A.
D. ould hold much of Anatolia, and the former Byzantine territories of Bulgaria, Serbia and Macedonia.In 1402 they would move their capital to Edirne, slightly over one hundred miles from Constantinople. By 1453 the Ottoman Empire engulfed the last outpost of a once mighty empire, Constantinople, and its conquest would signal the ultimate dispersion and redistribution of an ancient culture. The Ottomans were a militarily cohesive society as evidenced by their rapid accession to power. Although the society was not largely embedded in the military, it did maintain a standing army through conscription or devsirme.
The sipahi were professional cavalry troops, and some of the Rumalia (European) sipahi were still Christians.The Kapi Kulu were the palace elites, of which the Janissaries were a part of. The azaps and akinci were irregular light infantry and cavalry, respectively, who could be summoned from the peasant Muslim peasantry and frontier peoples for a single use campaign. Prisoners of war were also subjected to military service, but the Kapi Kulu devsirme was becoming the preferred method for recruitment of elites. Although the Ottomans were of Turkish steppe nomad origin, their tactics no longer reflected this.
They had adopted the more sedentary way of society and had an organized military.This alone wouldn’t have taken Constantinople. This is where one of the newer innovations, the cannon, would come into play.
The Jannisaries were some of the first Turkish units to be equipped with handguns, however firearms were still in a fledgling phase of development. In battle, the guns would still have to be supplemented with the normal bow and sword weapons. Gun wielding Janissaries could be easily repulsed by the Romans (as were still called in Constantin- ople), without even breaching the mighty walls of the city.Walls could be a stubborn obstacle to any siege efforts and the Ottomans had previously failed in 1444 A. D. Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II’s cannon artilleryman were unrivaled in their day. The cannon was still in its infancy and was just as dangerous to its user as those being attacked.
The cannons were made of bronze or iron hoops and staves and the cast-iron cannon would still be several decades away. Mehmet’s own knowledge of ballistics (the new art of firing cannons) was formidable as well, and he is credited with inventing a new long-range mortar during the 1453 siege. 4The Christian forces under Emperor Constantine XI realized their plight, as the Otto- man’s navy and cannons clearly gave them a decisive advantage. Constantine had no navy and his army was relatively small, some estimates of the siege have it at 6,000- 8,500 at most. 5 Constantine’s requests to the Venetian for military support were given superficial consideration, and Constantinople was considered a lost cause.
It did however, serve as Venetian gateway to the Black Sea and their ships were already being harassed by the Sultan. One had actually been sunk by cannons mounted on the Sultan’s new astle on the Bosphorus, Rumeli Hisar.Only then, did the Venetians decide to send support by way of transports with soldiers and some galleys. The battle for Constantinople didn’t happen overnight.
Mehmet gathered his army and navy systematically from January to March 1453 and began a blockade of the city. His troops consisted of around 200,000 (only 60,000 combatants) according to one source6 and his navy around 18 war galleys, 60-70 smaller galliots, and 16-20 small craft (prob- ably horse transports)7. Placement of the cannons was a considerable undertaking, requiring 60 oxen to pull hem into position about 2 miles away from the walls.It is said there were 69 cannons arranged in 15 batteries8, the largest being the Basilica. This fired a ball weighing about 800 pounds, and there were other smaller, though not unsubstantially less powerful cannons.
The artillery bombardment began on 6 Apr 1453. One witness reports the sultan’s can- non being fired between 100-150 times a day, consuming 1,100 lb of powder9. The Otto- mans would pound the walls of the city with the enormous cannons until 29 May 1453. In between that time, various sea interludes involving the Venetian fleet and the Otto- ans would take place.The defenders of Constantinople would fight valiantly but on 29 May it was Mehmet who rose victorious in the Santa Sofia. 2 Consequently, the Byzantine empire was officially gone.
The Sultan proclaimed him- self Qaysar, or Caesar of the Roman people. Italian trade was cut to the Crimea. Many there would eventually convert to Islam, but there were also many Byzantine elites that fled to other countries like Crimea and Morea. The Byzantine fondness for classical Greek thought resurged in the Italian Renaissance. But overall, the once prosperousChristianity of the areas of Byzantine had been over ran by Muslims, this time for good.
Constantinople had failed to perpetuate its war ethos, instead relying on culture to en- able it to remain a power. This power, however great it’s culture, would only be symbol- ic for the latter part of its existence. It was simply a matter of time before its not so fragile shell was cracked, something that could only be brought about through war. Therefore, warfare can ultimately be seen as a determinant of a civilizations ability to exist. This was the case with the Byzantine Empire and Constantinople (now Istanbul).