The Siege Update – Moving the Navy by Road

We need to catch up a little on the siege which has been running for over six weeks now and, as we know, is soon to reach its bloody climax. 

A section of chain from the Golden Horn


After the defeat of Baltoglu and his fleet by the handful of Byzantine and Venetian ships, the Sultan realized he could not beat the Byzantines in naval warfare. He needed to press the siege harder, yet there was still one part of the area surrounding the city which was not under his control; the Golden Horn, partly because it was protected by a massive chain. 

The history books do not tell us how he came up with the idea, but Mehmet gave an order to build a road running behind Galata down to the Golden Horn at Kasimpasa. Upon this road he was to drag medium sized ships on specially made cradles. The ingenuity and the engineering can only be admired, and this is important. The Turks had long ago left behind them the simple tactics and warfare of nomadic cavalry. They were now a sophisticated fighting force. They may still have much to learn in some quarters, but they seemed to be learning quickly. 

The story is told that the Genoese colony of Galata was awoken on the morning of 22 April by the sound of men and oxen dragging ships overland and down to the Horn where they were carefully launched. The Genoese might have been amazed, but think what the Romans must have felt. Their walls had stood for centuries but now the Horn which had never fallen in combat was no longer theirs. They were well and truly surrounded. The Romans fought back and tried to sink the Turkish vessels in the Horn but during the attack only one ship was sunk. Forty Byzantine sailors who swam to the shore after their ship was sunk were executed immediately. In revenge the Romans brought 260 Turkish prisoners down to their shore and beheaded them. The message was clear; there would be no quarter now. It was a fight to the death and the Sultan had the advantage. [Edit: Regular contributor Dr Michael McAdams (he who runs the Anastasian Walls Project – see link) has suggested that using Google Earth you can get a good impression of the street and wall pattern of Galata as it was for the Genoese. Try it for yourself here. It is certainly quite clear.] 

Mehmet consolidated his position and took full control of the Golden Horn. He built a pontoon bridge across it to speed up communications from one side of the besieged city to the other. The Emperor now had one hope, that of a Venetian relief expedition. What must have been the thoughts of the defenders as May 11 approached, the anniversary of the founding of the City?

About proverbs6to10

Interested in Byzantium and Patrick Leigh Fermor
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2 Responses to The Siege Update – Moving the Navy by Road

  1. I enjoy these blog entries concerning the siege on Constantinople. Galata is still a neighborhood of the municipality of Beyoğlu. There are few surviving structures from the time of the siege. The Galata tower is the most prominent structure remaining from this era. Besides the tower there are some fragments of the city walls of Galata (in poor condition and threatened by urbanization), a few Geonoese houses and one former Roman Catholic, now a mosque (Arap Cami), which was built during the late Byzantine era. Also, the street patterns of Galata reflect the walls that once surrounded this Genoese enclave. (If one zooms into this area, using Google Earth, this pattern is easily discernible.)

    I do have one minor correction. Reference to Turks and Turkish is incorrect as it was the Ottoman Empire at this time which attacked Constantinople. Turks and Turkish are modern words which refer to those who are citizens of the Republic of Turkey ( Türkiye Cumhuriyeti) or those of Turkish ethnic background.

    I am looking forward to future installments!

  2. proverbs6to10 says:

    Thanks Michael – a Google earth image link is now in the post! Must do some research on the Turk bit. Certainly they were the people of Osman hence Ottoman, but must check when we see first references to Turks!

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