chapter  3
22 Pages

The Greek reaction

The immediate aftermath of the fall of Constantinople was a time of desolation for the survivors. A few hundreds, mainly from aristocratic backgrounds and with good contacts with the Genoese and Venetians, managed to escape aboard Italian shipping, which slipped out of the Golden Horn while the Turks were taking possession of the city. But the majority were rounded up and herded off to the slave markets of Edirne, Gallipoli and Bursa. The experience of the scholar Michael Apostoles is instructive, for it deals in the shattering of an illusion. Captured at the fall of Constantinople, he was imprisoned and then released somewhere along the Black Sea coast. He took ship, buoyed up by the vision of his native city in all its splendour, but after a ghastly voyage found himself disembarking on the other side of the Black Sea, where the sight of the local inhabitants – Scythians and Sarmatians, as he calls them – left him in a state of deep depression. He again took ship and again his only hope was the thought of his native city. 1 Arriving there he quickly realised that he could not endure life under the new dispensation and preferred to go into exile. Another returnee found Constantinople in a far more miserable state than he was able to describe. 2 The Greeks he came across were sullen and quite demoralised. They had little time for Christianity, preferring to believe in the shades of their ancestors and in old wives’ tales. Recalcitrant monks roamed the streets in gangs terrorising the survivors. It signifi ed a complete breakdown of the old order. It was also an expression of loss. Not unnaturally, it was the Greeks who felt the fall of Constantinople more deeply than others. Their emotional attachment to Constantinople was overwhelming. Many, if not most, will have had direct experience of the event. How they felt is best conveyed through the despair of the Laments , which the fall of the city inspired. 3 Its loss left the Byzantines without a homeland. It deprived them of the core of their

identity. It also prompted a fi nal fl ourish of Byzantine historiography, which at the very least sought to put the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople into perspective and to provide explanations. In doing so the Byzantine historians of the fall revealed all the divisions within Byzantine society which had momentarily been forgotten in the struggle to save Constantinople.