Faced with the certainty of death it is said that experienced soldiers are ready to make that last leap into the fray, knowing that they have only one fate. A man schooled in princely duties such as Constantine XI Dragases Palaeologos knew his duty and on this day, 29 May in 1453 he died fighting for his empire, his people, and his faith.
By Tom Sawford
After a series of unrelenting attacks by the Ottomans since 1.30 am, Constantine was at his post at the Lycus valley at aaround 7.00 am but it was clear that all seemed lost now. He gave final orders to his friends John Dalamata and Don Francisco de Toledo, and weighed in to fight hand to hand beside his troops fighting desperately in one last bid to throw back the enemy.
How tired he must have been. Covered in the blood of friend and foe alike, his sword arm feeling like a lead bar, slipping on mud and blood and tangled bodies he was now just another soldier fighting for this life and his country in the intense and frenzied conditions of hand to hand fighting where the only instincts are to kill, slash, stab, butt, kick, and scream, only thinking about the next blow and where the next enemy may come from.
Finally the last Emperor of the Romans realised that it was over. He flung off his imperial regalia, and with his friends made one last charge into the body of the enemy. He was never seen again.
The morning of 29 May was given over to rape, pillage and destruction. Those that could headed for the harbour where Genoese and Venetian ships were desperately preparing to leave the city. Hundreds of refugees joined the sailors and made their way down the Bosphorus.
Late in the afternoon the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet, entered the city and ordered the looting to stop. He headed straight for St Sophia, placed a handful of earth on his turban as a gesture of humility and entered the great church. The senior imam mounted the pulpit and proclaimed the name of Allah, the All-Merciful and Compassionate, there is no God but God and Mohammed is his Prophet. The Sultan knelt, his head to the ground in prayer and thanksgiving.
The city was his at the age of just twenty one. The Empire of the Romans was finished.