Today is a solemn historical anniversary. On Tuesday, May 29, 1453, after a siege lasting 55 days, Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, fell to the Ottoman Turks and their Sultan Mehmet II.
This was a truly pivotal event in history. It marked the end of an empire that had existed for 1,123 years (with one brief interruption). Byzantium–although it was not known by that term until the 1850s–was founded by Constantine the Great, as the eastern half of the Roman Empire, whose western half fell not long after, in 476. The Eastern Roman Empire, though, continued on for nearly another millennium, spinning a tapestry of complex and astounding history that is little understood today.
If you know me, you probably know that Byzantium is very near and dear to my heart. Not only do I run the historical Twitter account CryForByzantium, but of course my zombie book is set in the Eastern Roman Empire, in the 8th century AD.
It is unknown how many people–Byzantine troops, civilians, Venetians, and Turks–died in the final siege of April and May 1453, and after 560 years it’s easy to see those lives as drops in the bucket of history. But today let’s remember that there was an empire we now call Byzantium, and real people lived and died there. Their civilization came to an end on that day, but the people and their legacy live on, in modern Turkey, in Greece, and all around the world.