By 350 A.D., Constantinople was one of the world?s greatest capitals. The city was located between Asia and Europe, making it a very diverse and strategic place. The many bodies of water surrounding the peninsula gave Constantinople many trade routes as well as protection. The famous walls were also built to further strengthen security. Constantinople eventually rose to a beautiful city of strength and wealth. Its Greek heritage separated itself from the West with their religion of Eastern Orthodoxy. Despite the power of Constantinople, unending attacks and problems would eventually weaken the city. The first major catastrophe took place in 542, when a plague struck and killed massive amounts of people. The recovery was very slow, and it allowed for countless attacks. For Constantinople, however, it was just the beginning.
Justinian ruled the Byzantine Empire during its height. His military faced strength from the East that greatly endangered his people. The Sassanian Empire of Persia was one threat that Byzantines needed to conquer. The Persians endangered eastern lands, so Justinian?s military prevented any conquest. The Sassanians were defeated and security was briefly gained. After his success, Justinian wanted to regain lands the Roman Empire once lost to invaders. Byzantine armies began a reconquest of Spain, Italy, and North Africa. Battles against various Germanic groups took place, and western lands were conquered by the Byzantines. The wars were expensive, and resources were low. Defense became weak and territories were lost increasingly after Justinian?s death.
During the early 700s, the Byzantine Empire was in turmoil and chaos. As Leo III took power, Constantinople was being attacked by Avars, Bulgarians, and Arabs. The Arabs from the Middle East were a main concern for Leo III because of their large conquests in the Asia Minor. The Arabs advanced to spread their faith of Islam and control resources. The Arabs slowly acquired land until their siege on Constantinople itself. Leo III made brilliant defense moves to stop the invaders. His military forces attacked the Arabs from the rear successfully while naval forces were repelled with Greek Fire. Greek Fire was the empire?s secret weapon that may have saved them from the Arab siege. Arab ships would burst into flames from contact with the ?liquid fire.? Fighting continued for a year until the Arabs retreated. Constantinople was defended successfully, but the empire suffered heavy losses and continued to loose land.
The era from about 1025 to 1453 witnessed the Byzantine Empire in its ultimate destruction. The empire was having trouble recovering from numerous defeats and were even having internal problems. New enemies from the east, the Seljuk Turks, were victorious at the battle of Manzikert and ended Byzantine control in the Asia Minor. Tensions between churches of Rome and Constantinople intensified due to the many differences they held on important doctrines. The Byzantine Empire was weakened even further by the Crusades. During the First Crusade, men would raid Byzantine lands before going to the Holy Land. Matters got even worse when Italian traders obtained a stranglehold over Constantinople?s trade and weaken the economy. To brake the monopoly, Italians were massacred, and the matter led to war with Venice. Among all the chaos, Crusades continued until a Latin Empire was established in the city. The famous Fourth Crusade weakened the empire greatly. However, in 1261 Byzantines reconquered Constantinople and destroyed the Latin Empire.
The end of Constantinople came on May 29th, 1453. Ottoman Turks, led by Sultan Mehmed II, invaded Constantinople with a strong 150,000 men. The Turks had overwhelming numerical advantages as well as cannons that traced the walls. The Ottomans used very important military tactics to take the city. Constantinople?s sea defense was cut by warships and gunpowder helped break through the heavily fortified city. The Turks possessed cannons that could fire 1200-pound cannonballs at the ancient walls. Extensive infantry was used to engulf the city. Mehmet?s favorite infantrymen, the Janissary Corps, were known as the world?s finest infantrymen. Each man was armed with a handgun and was very effective. Once the cannons broke through the weakest points in the walls, Janissaries as well as soldiers from the ships would storm the city and slaughter the few defenders. The Ottoman leader, Mehmed II, was full of determination and intelligence. He was a military genius combined with extreme cruelty. After weeks of assaults, his military swept into the city and the Byzantine emperor was killed. The Sultan entered the church of Hagia Sophia and prayed to Allah proclaiming the conversion of the church into a mosque by saying, ?Here after my capital is Istanbul.? The cross was replaced with the crescent symbol of Islam, and the great city of Constantinople came to an end.