Greek: Κωνσταντινος XI
Who: The last Byzantine Emperor.
Died: 1453 (48 years of age)
Place of birth: Constantinople
Constantine XI Palaiologos was the last reigning Byzantine Emperor. He was born in Constantinople and his mother was the daughter of the Serbian prince Constantine Dragas. He became the despot (tyrant) of Morea (the medieval name for the Peloponnese) in 1443 living at the fortefied town of Mystra. He strengthened the defence of Morea by building a wall across the Isthmus (modern day Corinth Canal) of Corinth called the “Hexamilion” (six mile wall).
He was able to re-capture territory from the Ottoman Empire, such as Athens and Thebes. Thisangered the Turks, who a couple years later sent an army of 50,000 soldiers to ‘teach’ the Greeks a lesson and invaded Morea. Fortunately, Constantine XI was able to escape and flee to Mystras. Interestingly enough, he was crowned the empror of Constantinople in Mystras in 1449 and a marble relief of the double headed eagle was built on the spot he was crowned.
After arriving in Constantinople Sultan Murad, thesultan of the Ottoman Empire, died and was succeeded by his 19 year old son Mehmed II who was intent on conquering Constantinople. Constantine XI immediately set out to defend his city and began a stockpile of foods and the repairment the old Theodosian walls. Unfortunately, Constantinople was under difficult economic times and did not have the proper means to help fund the war. Constantine XI then set out to persuade the West for help, but the West was still upset over the strong anti-union subjects that did not want the unification of the Eastern and Roman Churches. Therefore they sent minimal help to aid the Byzantines.
When the siege began, in the winter of 1452, the Ottoman army of 60,000 people was to face the Constantinople army of 5,000 people. Constantine XI fought alongside his troops but would eventually die on May 29, 1453. His last words were: “The city is fallen and I am still alive”, and tore off his imperial ornaments so that he could not be distinguised among the other solders. He is seen today as a national hero in Greece and his rallying cry for Greeks during the seige inspired the Greek revolutionaries during the Greek War of Independence who wanted to reclaim Constantinople as the new capital of Greece.
Famous Constantine XI quotes:
- “To surrender the city to you is beyond my authority or anyone else’s who lives in it, for all of us, after taking the mutual decision, shall die out of free will without sparing our lives.”
- “I would not go if there was any benefit to leave the city, but I can not go away. I will not leave you ever. I have decided to die with you!”
Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos tribute :