The origin of the Ottoman Empire, located on the eastern periphery of Anatolia, is linked to the Seljuk in 1299 when the Turkic tribe broke off. The Ottoman quite soon engaged in conflict with the Byzantium Empire located in the Constantinople, the Ottoman fought the first battle with Byzantium in 1302 and then remained in engaged conflict for the next 150 years, finally in 1453 the Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman.
For centuries, conquering the Constantinople seemed like an impossible task. The city is incredibly well-defended, being a peninsula with a giant wall on its land-side that deterred most conquerors. The city was laid siege to by Muslim armies during the Umayyad Caliphate, but those sieges were unable to defeat her mammoth walls.
By the time Sultan Mehmed II takes the throne in 1451, the Ottomans have expanded to control land in both Europe and Asia, thus surrounding the city of Constantinople. Sultan Mehmed made it his goal from the moment he took the throne to finally capture the legendary city. He ordered the building of a fortress on the Bosporus Strait, north of Constantinople to control ship movement in and out of the city. To honor the Prophet (peace be upon him) who declared the Muslims would conquer Constantinople, Mehmed had the fortress built in a way that its shape spelled out “Muhammad” in Arabic when seen from above.
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) promised his followers in the Arabian Desert that they would one day conquer the most powerful and legendary city of the day, Constantinople.
Shortly after ascending to the Ottoman throne in 1451, Mehmed II began formulating plans for a major assault on Constantinople. With the overwhelming size of his armed forces, and additional advantages gained by the use of gunpowder, he succeeded where his predecessors failed, claiming Constantinople for Muslim rule on May 29, 1453. The chronicler Sphrantzes was very specific about the disparity in forces when Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II mounted the final siege that resulted in the taking of the city on May 29, 1453: “He surrounded the entire 18 miles of the City with 400 small and large vessels from the sea and with 200,000 men on the land side.” The last Emperor died on the walls and the Patriarch, the head of the Byzantine Church, was taken captive.
The city of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul – as the city is now renamed) was the capital of the Byzantium Empire, the Constantinople was regarded as Eastern Rome you might hear about it. The city of Istanbul (previously, the Constantinople) remained the capital of the Ottoman Empire until its collapse in World War I in the 20th century.
Later in the 16th century, the Ottoman defeated the Mamluk Sultanate (in 1517), scholars refer to a variety of local, regional and global changes leading to the Ottoman triumph. Thereby, the Ottoman Empire became an Islamic power that expanded on three continents. The Ottomans were interested in expanding the area governed by Muslims, but they were not interested in converting the population to Islam. Instead, it is very important to know that all of the minorities – particularly, the Jewish and Christians – were involved heavily in the administration; the administrative tradition that goes back to the way of early Muslim conquerors.
The most important part of this historical event was Mehmed II’s treatment of the defeated Byzantines. He did not kill the residents of the city and in fact, encouraged them to stay in Constantinople by absolving them of taxes. He insisted that the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate stay in the city and rule the Christians of the city on his behalf. While to the rest of Europe, the idea of religious tolerance was a foreign concept, Mehmed followed the Islamic principles on the treatment of non-Muslims and gave religious freedom and rights to the Christians of Constantinople. His abilities in battle and his virtuous qualities earned him the nickname “al-Fatih” or “the Conqueror”.
- Constantinople/Istanbul. The Simpson Center at the University of Washington.
- CONSTANTINOPLE: The History Channel.
- Mehmed II and the Prophet’s Promise by Firas alKhateeb.
- University Document on Medieval Arab-Islamic History.
- George Sphrantzes, The Fall of the Byzantine Empire: A Chronicle by George Sphrantzes 1401-1477. Tr. Marios Philippides (Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 1980).