Constantine XI Palaiologos

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Last Byzantine Emperor (1405 – 1453)

Constantine Palaiologos, the immortal Marble King, was born in 1405, at a time when the Byzantine Empire was at its final years. Having suffered from Iconoclasms, 2 bloody Crusades, the Latin invasion and countless raids by neighbouring clans, the Byzantine Empire had taken severe losses on its population, lands and its glory.

Before his time as an emperor, Constantine had liberated Peloponnesus from Frankian rule, together with his army and established a powerful operations center. He had then continued north and liberated parts of Steraia Hellada and Thessaly. His plans to continue and liberate northern parts of his empire, however, failed and he retreated back to Peloponnesus.

When John Palaiologos died childless in 1448, his brother Constantine succeeded him as Emperor of the Byzantine Empire. The coronation took place in Constantine’s hometown, the holy city of Mystras. He was the first and only Byzantine Emperor to be crowned outside of Constantinople. As soon as Constantine was crowned emperor, he was faced with a massive undertaking. With almost nothing left but Peloponnesus and a small part of Eastern Thrace, the empire was on the brink of collapse. His army was very small and his resources scarce. But the greatest challenge with which he was tasked was the enormous army of the Ottoman Empire that was rapidly approaching Constantinople, lead by Mehmed the Conqueror.

As emperor, he put all his efforts to keep the empire alive. His politics were different from those of his brother’s. John sought help from the West by participating in the Council of Ferrara-Florence. His attempts to reunite the Byzantine and Latin churches, however, failed. Constantine, on the other hand, was against the Latins, having been sworn enemies of the Byzantine Empire. His main concern was to defend Constantinople, otherwise, it would mean the end of a 1000 year old empire. When he arrived at Constantinople, he started organizing the army and strengthening the defenses of the city. He received help only from the Republic of Genoa, led by Giovanni Giustiniani.

The siege lasted for many days with huge casualties from the Ottoman army. Nevertheless, with an army of just 8500 against an army of 180.000, massive cannons and a fleet of 150 ships, it was only a matter of time before the city’s walls could hold much longer. Weakened, but determined, Constantine and his men showed unlimited courage and continued to defend the city with all their might. One day before the Fall, Constantine made his final speech, in which he addressed all his people in an effort to increase their spirit, saying among others that there were 4 reasons that they should prefer death over life: first for their faith, second for their homeland, third for their king and Jesus Christ and fourth for their families and friends. During the closure of his speech, with tears in his eyes, he prompted his men to fight till the death for Jesus Christ and their homeland.

On May 29, 1453, the Ottoman Turks breach the walls of the City and vast amounts of soldiers quickly surround Constantine and his faithful men. After having fought fiercely with a broken sword, Constantine falls like a lion beside his fellow men. It was the end of the Byzantine Empire, after nearly 1000 years of existence.

Legend has it that moments before his death, an angel appeared and took Constantine off his horse and into a cave, where he transformed him into marble. To this day, the Marble King awaits in his cave, the day that he will rise like the Phoenix to reclaim Constantinople and re-establish the Byzantine Empire, chasing the Turks faraway to the Red Apple Tree.

Bibliography

  1. “Palaiologos, Konstantinos XI”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
  2. TakJar. ΝΕΤ Η μήχανη του Χρόνου S02E16 Η Άλωση της ΠΟΛΗΣ. YouTube. February 2, 2012. Web. November 27, 2015.
Constantine XI Palaiologos

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