Constantinople

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The capture of Constantinople by Turkish Muslims (Ottomans) in 1453 accelerated the age of oceangoing exploration. The Portuguese were interested in circumventing the overland trade routes to Asia as early as 1420, hoping to gain direct access to lucrative spices, silks, gold, porcelain, cotton, and opium. But with Christians controlling Constantinople up until 1453, the Venetians and Genoese enjoyed protection and monopolized Eastern trade. After 1453, Turkish middlemen did not sever European commerce, but they cut into already shrinking Italian profits. Europe’s primary conduit to the outside world shifted from Venice, still a power in the Aegean and Adriatic seas, to the Iberian Peninsula and more northerly ports. Portugal navigated around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and Cape Agulhas in 1487, and, by the 1510s, they had colonies along India’s Malabar Coast and in the East Indies (or Spice Islands). The Romans had control of the critical spot on the Bosporus Straits at the end of the classical age. With Rome in decline, the center of its empire shifted east. The city of Byzantium, renamed after Emperor Constantine in 330 c.e., became the cosmopolitan heart of Europe during the Middle Ages the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the nexus of an international trade in slaves, timber, furs, fish, wheat, wine, and salt. It commanded the allegiance of the Roman Empire until the eleventh century, but after the Crusades a schism developed between the eastern and western realms. By the end of the fourteenth century, the population of Constantinople had declined, and the Turks controlled Anatolia (Asia Minor) across the straits. The Ottomans crossed the Dardanelles and defeated the Bulgarians, Bosnians, and Serbians at Kosovo in 1389. Christian Europe was too splintered to offer them effective resistance in the fifteenth century. Only the Sunni Turks’ preoccupation with Persian Shiites to the east delayed their seizure of Constantinople. Led by Sultan Mehmed II (who maintained a network of spies in Europe, as well as a force of Christian mercenaries), the Turks assaulted the barricaded citadel for seven weeks during the spring of 1453, beheaded Constantine IX, and renamed the city Istanbul. Further expansion on the Balkan Peninsula followed throughout the 1460s, and the Ottomans controlled Egypt and western Arabia by the end of the century. After 1453, Venice retained an active Middle Eastern trade through the port of Alexandria, but Genoa’s geographic position and military weakness made its situation more precarious, as Constantinople’s fall severed its connection to the Levant and Black Sea. Columbus, born in Genoa in 1451, grew up in a port whose soldiers had fought at Constantinople and whose economic survival now depended on navigational breakthroughs. It was the Portuguese, however, led by Prince Henry and John II, who capitalized on the relative decline of the Venetians. The Portuguese were still unable to undersell the Arabs and Venetians, but their Asian colonies were profitable, and some Venetians even began to sail under Prince Henry’s charters. The Portuguese also took pride in promulgating Christianity. In 1453, Pope Nicholas V sanctioned a crusade against Islam, which emboldened explorers and even helped rationalize the African slave trade (although most African captives were not Muslims). While Muslims gained territory in Eastern Europe and Asia, Christians reasserted their control over the Moors (Muslims) in Spain, expelling them from the peninsula by 1492. Hoping to upstage Portugal, the Castilian monarchy granted Columbus ships to seek a western route to China, a scheme he had failed to sell to the Portuguese, French, and English. When New Spain yielded gold and silver to currency-starved Europe, England, France, and the Netherlands followed Spain’s lead to America. European expansion resulted from cultural, technological, and economic forces independent of the fall of Constantinople; however, the disruption of trade patterns in the eastern Mediterranean hastened those developments. In addition, there were two more indirect ways that the events of 1453 impacted European (and thus colonial American) history. First, the Ottoman takeover benefited from the spread of gunpowder from China to western Asia, anticipating developments that would revolutionize European weaponry and fuel expansion. Second, Muslim encroachments into central Europe affected the Protestant Reformation. If the Turks had not threatened Vienna in the sixteenth century, the Vatican could have cracked down more readily on Protestants and German princes allying themselves with Martin Luther. Because of the Turkish threat, the Holy Roman Empire could not afford to alienate those rulers, making it more lenient toward a movement that contributed to British colonization of the Americas. Cameron Addis See also: Exploration; Trade. Bibliography Parry, J. H. Europe and a Wider World, 1415–1715. London: Hutchinson, 1966. Runciman, Steven. The Fall of Constantinople, 1453. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1969. File:PZ 6192 Constantinople, Turkey, 1890s.jpg – Wikimedia Commons alltravel8AMAZING! Reconstructions of CONSTANTINOPLE alltravel8Constantinople photographs Abdullah Frères, ca. 1870The 19th … alltravel8

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