The Siege of Constantinople (1453), according to Nicolo Barbaro
The diary of Nicolo Barbaro is perhaps the most detailed and accurate eyewitness account of the siege and fall of Constantinople. Nicolo was a surgeon by profession, and a member of one of the patrician families of Venice. His account often focuses on the activities of his fellow Venetians, sometimes to the detriment of the Greeks and Genoese who were also defending the city. The work is written like a diary, with daily entries. Naval affairs are also prominent in this account. The portion republished below starts after Nicolo discusses the events leading up to the siege and the preparations made by the defenders to fortify the city.
Here begins the story of the siege of the city, and now there follows the battles from day to day, as shall be seen from what follows.
On the fifth of the month of April, one hour after daybreak, Mahomet Bey came before Constantinople with about a hundred and sixty thousand men, and encamped about two and a half miles from the walls of the city.
On the sixth of this month, the Turkish Emperor moved with half his force to within a mile of the walls of the city.
On the seventh of this month, he moved with a great part of his forces to within about a quarter of a mile of the walls, and they spread in a line along the whole length of the city walls, which was six miles, from the Cresca gate to the Chinigo.
Now that the Turks had taken the field with a great army against the city, preparations began to be made, so that this heathen enemy of Christendom should not succeed in his plans against us, and by the order of the Most Serene Emperor, every officer in charge of a gate or tower or any other command went to his post with his men to keep guard against our enemy.
On the sixth of April also the Most Serene Emperor left his palace and took his stand on the walls on the landward side at a gate called Cressu. This gate was weaker than any other land gate, and there was with the Most Serene Emperor a great part of his barons and knights to keep him company and support him, but nevertheless the Most Serene Emperor had grave doubts all the while concerning the treacherous Turk his enemy, who was waiting from day to day to join battle with him.
Again on the sixth of this month Jeruolemo Minoto, our Venetian Bailo, also left his palace and went to the palace of the Most Serene Emperor, because it was near the land walls. He came to see the arrangements which were being made around the walls, and also to make sure that no one entered the palace; and there were in the palace many of our noble merchants, who kept our Bailo company and gave support to him and to the city.
The Megaduke, the most important man in Constantinople apart from the Emperor, was guarding the shores on the side of the harbour, and he had a hundred horses in reserve, which were kept by him so that he could use them to send help wherever necessary in the city.
The monks were guarding about a mile of the circuit of the walls on the seaward side.
Also the Turk Dorgano, who was in Constantinople in the pay of the Emperor, was guarding one of the quarters of the city on the seaward side with the Turks in his pay, who had previously rebelled against their master; and so all the notable persons of Constantinople were guarding the principal points of the city, and there was a particularly strong guard at the Chinigo.
Also on this day, the sixth of April, by order of the Most Serene Emperor, we put into battle order the three galleys from Tana and the two long galleys, and they got under way from their anchorage and all went together to land in a place called Chinigo. All on board these five galleys, a thousand men altogether, disembarked fully armed and as well ordered as everyone could have wished, and each of the masters of the galleys went with the crew of his galley, their banners flying before them, and the captains of the galleys went ahead of the masters, and the captains with their men presented themselves before the Most Serene Emperor, asking him what orders he was pleased to give to these forces. The Emperor commanded them to go round the walls on the landward side, so that the faithless Turks, our enemies, could see them in such good order, and see that there were many men in the city. When they had gone once round the walls of the city, or at any rate along the side of the wall where the enemy's army was, a distance of six miles, everyone returned to the galleys and put off his armour, and the galleys returned to their anchorage near Pera. These troops appeared to give great comfort to those in the city, and caused some surprise to the enemy.
On the ninth day of April,
seeing that nevertheless the faithless Turks would come with their fleet and
army, to gain their accursed intention of completely destroying the wretched
city of Constantinople, preparations began to be made for this on the harbour
side, and so we put along the boom which ran across the harbour nine of the
biggest ships which were there and these ships
along the length of the boom stretched from Constantinople as far as
Pera; they were well armed and in good order, all ready to join battle, and one
as good as another. The ships and their masters were as follows:
Zorzi Doria of Genoa, 2,500 botte
In the harbour inside the boom
there remained seventeen square-rigged ships, the three galleys from Tana, the
two light galleys from Venice, and five galleys of the Emperor of Constantinople,
these last being without weapons; also many ships were disarmed and sunk, in
case of fire or being hit by cannon fire. Seeing that we were so
strong at sea, we felt very confident against the fleet of the faithless
Turks, particularly since we had the boom across the harbour, and also a tower
on the city side, that is, on the side
of Constantinople, and another on the Pera side, which were both useful for
On the eleventh of April the Sultan had his cannon placed near the walls, by the weakest part of the city, the sooner to gain his objective. These cannon were planted in four places: first of all, three cannon were placed near the palace of the Most Serene Emperor, and three other cannon were placed near the Pigi gate, and two at the Cressu gate, and another four at the gate of San Romano, the weakest part of the whole city. One of these four cannon which were at the gate of San Romano threw a ball weighing about twelve hundred pounds, more or less, and thirteen quarte in circumference, which will show the terrible damage it inflicted where it landed. The second cannon threw a ball weighing eight hundred pounds, and nine quarte in circumference. These two cannon were the largest that the Turkish Khan had, the other cannon being of various sizes, from five hundred pounds to two hundred pounds, and smaller still.
On the twelfth of April, between the second and third hours, the Turkish fleet arrived at the harbour of Constantinople, and came rowing on with determination, and went to the Anatolian side, because the land there was in the hands of the Turks, and if they had come over to the Constantinople side, they would have had great difficulty from our Christian fleet. At the seventh hour of the day, the whole of the fleet came to anchor at the anchorage called ‘The Columns’, two miles from Constantinople on the Black Sea side, and anchored in that place with many vehement cries, and sounding of castanets and tambourines, so as to fill our fleet and those in the city with fear. This Turkish fleet was made up of 145 ships, galleys, fuste, parandarie and bregantini, of which twelve were fully equipped galleys, seventy to eighty large fuste, twenty to twenty-five parandarie, and the rest bregantini; also in this Turkish fleet there was one ship of about 200 botte, which came from Sinopolis loaded with stones for cannonballs, hurdles and timber, and other munitions for their army of the sort necessary for making war. When all this Turkish fleet had anchored by the Columns, it made no movement through the rest of the day, and everyone stayed quiet; but we Christians, not knowing what our enemy might do, stood to our arms throughout the day and the night, and the ships and the galleys too, and the boom lying in the sea, waiting hour after hour for them to come to attack us, while their fleet stayed at the Columns. And so a system was arranged to prevent our; enemies from making a sudden attack by night or by day, and it was decided to keep two men in turn on the walls of Pera, to take note if the Turkish fleet began to move towards ours; and if these watchmen saw a single fusta or galley or bregantino move or signs of any fusta being about to do so, at once they came to tell the captain of the galleys from Tana, because he had been put in charge of the harbour. When news was brought to him of the movement of any ships, at once the captain had the battle trumpet sounded, and everyone sprang to arms, ready to join battle; and those on board the ships which were by the boom stood to their arms also, and we waited every hour for the Turkish fleet to come to attack us. So each day we were in this difficulty, and in great fear, as I have said previously, having by day and by night to stand to our arms, and yet their fleet never moved, or if a galley did move, it went in the direction of Anatalia, or towards the mouth of the Black Sea, to go to their newly built castle; and their fleet never came to attack us, but made us stand to our arms from fear of them, from the twelfth of April until the twenty-ninth of May, all day and all night.
From the twelfth day of April until the eighteenth day of the same month there was little movement by sea or by land, except the usual bombardment by day and by night, and some skirmishing which the Turks engaged in regularly with those on the walls of the city. They found the Turks coming right up under the walls and seeking battle, particularly the janissaries, who are soldiers of the Turkish Sultan; none of them are afraid of death, but they came on like wild beasts, and when one or two of them were killed, at once more Turks came and took away the dead ones, carrying them on their shoulders as one would a pig, without caring how near they came to the city walls. Our men shot at them with guns and crossbows, aiming at the Turk who was carrying away his dead countryman, and both of them would fall to the ground dead, and then there came other Turks and took them away, none fearing death, but being willing to let ten of themselves be killed rather than suffer the shame of leaving a single Turkish corpse by the walls.
On the eighteenth day of this month of April, a great multitude of Turks came to the walls. This happened at about the second hour of the night, and the skirmish lasted until about the sixth hour of the night, and many Turks died in the fighting. When they came it was dark, and so our men were not expecting their attack; and I cannot describe the cries with which they came at the walls, and the sound of castanets, so that there seemed to be even more Turks than really were there, and the sound carried as far as Anatolia, twelve miles away from their camp. At the sound of this great uproar the sorrowful and grieving emperor began to mourn, fearing lest the Turks should wish to make a general attack that night, because we Christians were not yet ready to withstand it, and this caused him great sorrow. But the Eternal Lord did not wish to allow so great a scandal at this time, and instead, at the sixth hour of the night, a calm fell over all the fighting, with great shame to the heathen, and also to their great loss, because there were killed of them at least two hundred or more, and by the grace of God none of our men were killed, or even wounded.
On the twentieth day of April, at the third hour, there came in sight
four large ships, which came up the Dardanelles from the West, and they were
believed to be from Genoa, coming to Constantinople to bring help to the city;
and also they came by virtue of an order which the Most Serene Emperor of
Constantinople gave to the Genoese, that every Genoese ship that came to the
help of Constantinople, whatever sort of merchandise it carried, should
be freed completely from any customs duty due to the Emperor. These four ships
came sailing along with a fresh southerly wind, and were already coming
close to the anxious city, but as it pleased God, when they were very near
Constantinople, suddenly the wind dropped, and they found themselves in a flat
calm. As they lay becalmed, the fleet of Mahomet Bey the Turk, that enemy of the
Christian faith, was stirred into great activity, and from where it was anchored
by the Columns it came with shouts and sounding of castanets towards the four
ships, rowing at full speed, like men expecting to conquer their enemies. But
their prayers to their Mahomet were not enough to give them victory, and
our Eternal God heard the prayers of us Christians, and we
won this battle, as you shall hear from what
As the four ships came along under sail and were becalmed, the Turkish fleet began to move and came in their direction. The Turkish admiral was the first to attack with great energy the stern of the ship of the Emperor of Constantinople, and all the rest of the fleet attacked as hard as they could among all four of the ships; but the galley of the admiral of the Turks never moved its ram from the stern of the Most Serene Emperor, that is from his ship, pressing it hard, with all the rest of the Turkish fleet pressing hard also; and of these four ships one had five galleys around it, another had thirty fuste, and another had forty parandarie, so that the Dardanelles were covered with armed boats, and the water could hardly be seen for the vessels of these evil dogs. The battle lasted between two and three hours, and neither side was victorious, but our four Christian ships won greater honour, because they had had on top of them a hundred and forty-five Turkish ships, and had survived their attack. After they had fought in this fashion, being becalmed, they had to anchor, and they did this near the city of Constantinople, those in the fleet being very fearful lest they should be attacked by night. But the night was a dark one, and we took steps to help the ships: Cabriel Trivixan captain of the two light galleys was sent, with the galley of Zacaria Grioni the knight, and they went outside the boom of the harbour of Constantinople with great activity and sounding of trumpets, and much shouting from the crews, to give the impression to our enemy that it was a much larger fleet than really was there: they had two or three trumpets on each galley, so that there seemed to be at least twenty galleys, and when the Turks heard this noise, they were very frightened, and our two galleys towed the four ships safely inside the harbour of Constantinople. The Turkish fleet of its own accord stayed in its place at the Columns, since the Turks thought that the whole of our fleet might have set out to go to find them.
The next day, the twenty-first of April, the Turkish Sultan moved from his position by the walls of Constantinople, and rode with about ten thousand horse, and came to the Columns where his fleet was, to see and find out the reason why the admiral of his fleet had not been able with so many vessels to capture a mere four ships. When the Turk reached the fleet, be made the admiral came ashore at once and come before him, and then the faithless Turk, full of anger against the admiral, said, "Traitor to the Faith of Mahomet, and traitor to me, your master, why were you unable, with all the ships which you had under your command, to capture four Christian ships, when they were easy to fight, being held by a dead calm? If you could not take them, how do you expect to take the fleet which is in the harbour of Constantinople?"
His admiral replied to the Sultan, "My Lord, look with your eyes, and then you will be able to believe with your heart, and I would beg you, do not rush into a fury; you see with your and fifteen followers of the Law of Mahomet, and you know, and all could see, that with the ram of my galley I never let go of the stem of the Emperor's ship, fighting fiercely all the time, and what happened is plain to the eye, the men of mine who are dead, and also there are many others on the other galleys, and on the fuste and parandarie without number, and bregantini sunk, and for my part I have tried as hard as I possibly could, and so, my Lord, I would beg you to pardon me, and not be enraged against me."
The Turk, like a man possessed and full of evil thoughts and badly disposed towards his admiral, without further ado said at first to him, "Traitor, I will myself cut off your head." The admiral was able by using the best words at his command to prevail upon him to spare his life, and he escaped the wild anger of his master. But the Turk deprived him of his office of admiral of the fleet, and when he had been deprived of his post, there came forward the son of the man who had been admiral at the time of Piero Loredan, when this present Sultan's father was defeated, and he said to the Turk, "My Lord, if you give me the command of your fleet, which is about to attack the Christians, I promise now to give you the whole fleet of the Christians safely into your hands, and take revenge for my father; and if what I have said to you is not true, now I say to you that without saying any more you may have my head cut off in your presence." The Turk approved of his words, and made him admiral in command of his whole fleet, and gave him the baton in his hand, and granted to him that he should have as much authority as his master to make and to cancel the appointments of his captains, as is generally done.
Now we leave the sea and come to the deeds that were done at the city walls. On this day, the twenty-first of April, there was a continuous bombardment all day of the walls by San Romano, and a tower was razed to the ground by the bombardment, with several yards of wall. This was the time when those in the city, and also those in the fleet, began to be afraid, since we feared that they intended to make a general attack on that very day; it was generally believed that Turkish turbans would soon be seen inside the city; but our merciful Lord Jesus Christ, who is full of compassion, was willing to delay the end, so that the prophecy might be fulfilled, and brought to pass, the prophecy which was made by Saint Constantine son of Saint Helen, who was Emperor of Constantinople. Now that such a great part of the wall was destroyed by the bombardment, everyone considered himself lost, seeing that in a few days they had broken down such a fine stretch of wall; in fact, I tell you, that if on this day the Turks had been willing to make an attack on the walls with only ten thousand men, without any doubt they would have succeeded in getting into the city, and would have taken it, and we would have lost it very cheaply. But it usually happens that in every part of the world there are valiant men full of courage; and so there were found a few men in the city of Constantinople, Venetian gentlemen, who were much more full of spirit than the Greeks were, and the Venetians set about making good and strong repairs where they were needed at the broken walls. These repairs were made with barrels filled with stones and earth, and behind them there was made a very wide ditch with a dam at the end of it, which was covered with strips of vine and other layers of branches drenched with water to make them solid, so that it was as strong as the wall had been. There was no need to be afraid of the Turks any longer in that place.
But still these evil Turks did not cease at any hour of the day or the night bombarding the gate called San Romano, where the repairs had been made, with all their force: their whole strength was concentrated on this gate, with shots from their great cannon, which had a circumference of fifteen palme, from their other cannon, and also from great numbers of guns, countless bows and many hand guns which continually fired at those who were making the repairs. The ground was completely invisible, being covered with Turks, particularly the janissaries, who are the fiercest of all the Turkish soldiers, and great numbers of the Sultan's slaves, who could be recognised by their white turbans, while the ordinary Turks wore red turbans, and are called axapi. On this day no movements took place elsewhere.
On the twenty-second of April the Sultan took thought, and saw that he could do no damage on the landward side, although he had tried with all his force, and so the evil pagan considered, and made a plan to send part of his fleet, which was at the Columns, inside the harbour of Constantinople, to gain his evil intention; and so that you may know how this dog carried out his plan, I shall tell you as follows? Since he intended to capture Constantinople completely, lie needed to have his fleet inside the harbour. It was anchored at the Columns, two miles from the city, and he made all the crews come on shore, and clear the whole of the hill above the city of Pera, beginning from the shore, that is, by the Columns where the fleet was, and on to the harbour, a distance of three miles. And when they had made a level way, the Turks put down a great number of rollers where the way had been levelled, these rollers being well greased with fat, because he planned to begin dragging some of his fleet into our harbour. They began with some small fuste which were put on the rollers, and with a great number of Turks they began to pull a fusta and pulled it in a very short time into the basin of Pera. And when the Turks saw that this idea was working well, they went on dragging more of these small fuste, which were of fifteen banks of oars up to twenty and even twenty-two banks. But no one would ever have thought it possible that dogs such as these should drag these fuste over the hill, bringing across as many as seventy-two into the harbour of Constantinople and settling them in the harbour in the basin of Pera, the reason for this being that the Turks were on good terms with the Genoese. When all the seventy-two fuste were in the basin, they made themselves strong there, being well armed and well ordered in every way.
When those in our fleet saw the fuste, you may he sure that they were greatly afraid, because they feared that one night they would come to attack our fleet, together with the fleet which was at the Columns, because our ships were inside the boom, and the Turkish fleet was both inside and outside the boom, and by this description it can be understood how great the danger was; also we were afraid of fire, in case they came to burn our ships which were lying at the boom, and those of us on the ships were forced to stand to our arms day and night in great fear of the Turks. We on the ships also decided to keep one light galley at the point of Pera as an advance guard, in case the fleet at the Columns moved. When this galley saw the fleet moving, at once it came to inform Aluvixe Diedo, the captain in charge of the ships, and immediately everyone went armed to his post; but this happened only a few times, because the Turks were afraid to come unprepared to the boom, and, venture on such an undertaking as to fight against the number of our ships which were there. The Turks were thinking only of making a night attack; but our Eternal God who took pity on us Christians did not wish such an evil thing to happen at this time, and put it into the hearts of us Christians that we should attack them, and you shall see later how we attacked the pagans, although our attack did not fall out as we wished.
On the twenty-third of April, action began to be taken quickly over the question of the Turkish fleet which had been moved over the hills into the harbour of Constantinople; and so on this day we held a council of the Twelve in the Church of Santa Maria in Constantinople, to undertake the task of going to burn the fleet of the Turks which was in the basin of Pera. It was put to the vote and agreed that such an attempt should be made, although it should be understood that there was much argument over the best way of doing it, and each member of the council gave his opinion. Some of them wanted us to move all our fleet from the harbour in full daylight, all the ships and all the fuste, and make a full-scale attack against their fleet, and not set fire to them; others wanted a land force to go and attack their tents on land, which were guarding their fleet, and use only two light galleys on the water. Jacomo Coco, who was master of the galley of Trebizond, gave his opinion also, and everyone agreed to try to burn the Turkish fleet, and this attempt led to the terrible events which followed, as you shall hear.
On the twenty-fourth of April, Jacomo Coco, master of the galley of Trebizond, took two ships of about five hundred botte each, and they packed sacks of cotton and wool around them so that it would be impossible for gunfire, however heavy, to damage them. When these two ships had been made ready, they could not attack the fleet without help from the galleys or fuste, and since the ships could not go without help from the galleys, two light galleys were prepared, and each large galley armed a fusta of the Emperor of twenty-four banks, and each ship armed one of its large boats. When the whole of this fleet had been made ready to attempt to set fire to the ships of the enemy, the order was given that at the first hour of the night everyone should be prepared with their vessels, ready to make the attack at midnight, and at the hour of midnight everyone came on board the galley of Aluvixe Diedo, the captain of the harbour, and there it was debated whether or not to make this attempt. The majority was in favour of making the attack at midnight and setting fire to the Turkish fleet there, as soon as the attack was made. At this point the Genoese of Pera, enemies of the Christian faith, came to hear of our plan to set fire to the fleet; at once the Podesth of Pera sent two of his Genoese as ambassadors to the Sultan, who was at San Romano by the walls of Constantinople; and in the discussion which the Genoese began on the galley of the captain, the treacherous dogs of Genoese said, "Master captain, you should not make this attempt alone tonight, but if you wait one more night, we Genoese of Pera offer our companionship to you, four the better burning of their fleet." When the captain heard these offers, he was quite willing to wait for another night; and when the Genoese saw that it was day, having their pact with the Turks, they opened one of the gates of Pera and sent a man out to the Turks, called Faiuzo, and this Faiuzo came to the Sultan's tent and told him how, the previous night, the Venetians had made themselves ready to go and set fire to the fleet in the basin of Pera. When the Sultan heard this, he gave hearty thanks to this ambassador sent by the people of Pera, and sent him back straight away. After he had gone, the Sultan at once sent a great number of men with guns to his fleet in the basin, and besides the guns he had two cannon placed close to the beach, and two other cannon on the other side of the basin, and all around the basin was well protected by homes, which could not be harmed by shots or bolts, so that they were safely defended; and this treachery was committed by the accused Genoese of Pera, rebels against the Christian faith.
From the twenty-fourth to the twenty-eight of this month, we waited to make this attempt, which I believe to be the will of God, who wished it to happen in this way to punish the sins of some of those who went; and you shall see from what follows the terrible thing which happened, remembering that we Venetians knew nothing of the treachery of the wicked Genoese.
On the twenty-eighth of April, in the name of our Master Jesus Christ, it was decided to make this attempt to burn the fleet of the faithless Turks. Two hours before daybreak, in the name of the Holy Spirit, the two ships left the harbour, their sides padded with sacks of wool and cotton, and together with them there was the galley of Cabriel Trivixan, and the galley of Zacaria Grioni the knight, both of them armed seagoing ships, and there were three fuste of twenty-four banks each, these fuste being manned by the three masters of the galleys of Romania with their crews, the masters being the following: Silvestrio Trivixan, Jeruolemo Morexini and Jacomo Coco.
Also a number of bregantini were armed by the masters of the ships and in some of them there were pitch and brushwood and gunpowder, so that they could be set on fire and sent towards the Turkish fleet. The order was given that the ships should go ahead, because they could stand up to cannon fire. But Jacomo Coco, master of the galley of Trebizond, was led by his courage and his evil fate to want to be the first to strike a blow against their fleet, to win honour in this world. As all our fleet was approaching the basin where the Turkish fleet was anchored, the ships should have gone ahead; but since a ship had only forty rowers on each side, and so could not go as quickly as a galley, Jacomo Coco master of the galley of Trebizond, like a man eager to win honour in this world, would not wait for the ships to be first to attack, and he wanted to be the first to strike a blow against the Turkish fleet. So he began to row at full speed, and headed for the fleet, and when he was near the Turks they opened fire with one of their cannon, and the shot fell near the poop of the vessel without doing any damage; then they fired again, and it landed in the middle of the fusta and went right through it; and it could not have stayed afloat long enough to say ten paternosters, but went straight to the bottom with the men who were on it. When all of us saw it sink, we were full of sorrow for them, but could not help them in any way. The most notable persons on the fusta that was sunk were: Jacomo Coco, the master; Antonio da Corfu, partner; Andrea da Ruodo, master; Marin Gebelin, mate, Polo Catanio mate; Andrea dall'Aqua, mate; Andrea Steco, mate; Zuan Marangon, crossbowman; Zuan de Chirato, crossbowman; Zuan son of Nicolo da Cataro, crossbowman; Nicolo Dandro, crossbowman; Nicolo Gulias, crossbowman; Lio Foxon, crossbowman; Renaldo da Ferara, crossbowman; Troilo de Grezi, crossbowman; Zorzi da Trau, crossbowman; Baiardo Gradenigo, crossbowman; Stefano de Sardaia, crossbowman; and there were seventy-two oarsmen. All these went down with the fusta and were all drowned, may God have mercy on them.
After the fusta had gone to the bottom, those on the light galleys did not at first realise that their protection was gone, and went on fighting, and thought that the fusta was following behind, thinking that all was going well, because they had not seen it go to the bottom. They could not have seen it sink, because there was so much smoke from the cannon and from the guns that it was impossible to see anything, and the air was full of cries from one side or the other, so that they could not believe what had happened. As Cabriel Trivixan's galley went on, suddenly the Turkish dogs fired two cannon and hit the galley in the middle going from one side to the other, and because below deck in the galley there were two wounded men, these two men at once plugged up the holes with cloaks, so that it remained above water, although it was half submerged, and they rowed as hard as they could, and finally reached the harbour where their anchorage was. When the other fuste, which should have been attacking, saw how badly things were going, they decided to turn back and anchor where they were before, and our plan for dealing with our faithless enemy was unable to be accomplished. So the Turks won this victory, and we Christians were weeping bitterly, and sorrowing greatly for the unfortunates who had been drowned, may God have mercy upon them all, and we were weeping for fear, lest the Turks should snatch a victory against us with their fleet, since we realised that if the Turks had given battle that day, we should all have been taken without any doubt, both on sea and on land, because we were all overcome with fear; but our Eternal God wished to postpone the capture of the city. But what did the heathen do? They went with their seventy-two fuste against the two ships that were padded with sacks of wool and should have attacked their fleet, these two ships being anchored close by the Turkish fleet. They were anchored only because they were expecting help from us Christians, but it was completely impossible to help them, because we should have been captured straight away by the Turkish fuste. When the Turks saw their good fortune, they made plans, and went with their whole fleet and attacked these two ships vigorously, and a terrible and violent battle took place. So loud were the shouts of these dogs that it seemed a veritable inferno; there were missiles and arrows without number, and frequent cannon shots and gunfire. This battle with the two ships lasted more than an hour and a half, and neither of the two sides could win. Our fleet returned to its anchorage, and the seventy-two fuste returned to their basin. Nothing else happened on this day, at sea or on land, except that there were great celebrations in the Turkish camp because they had sunk the fusta of Jacomo Coco. This was the outcome of the treachery of the Genoese, enemies of the Christian faith; and the Genoese committed this betrayal of the Christians to show themselves friendly to the Turkish Sultan.
On the twenty-ninth of April,
because Jacomo Coco, master of the galley of
Trebizond, had gone down with the fusta, a master of the galley
had to be appointed in his place, and so Aluvixe Diedo, captain of the galleys,
made Dolfin Dolfin master of the galley of Trebizond in place of Jacomo Coco,
may God have mercy on him. This Dolfin Dolfin was guarding the city gate called
the Palace gate, which was a strong one and well guarded. He left his position
there, and went to his post on the galley, and Zuane Loredan stayed at the
Palace gate in his place. For the rest of April nothing happened by sea or on
land, except a great deal of skirmishing and cannon fire directed against the
walls, which did not cease by day or by night. There were continual attacks on
the walls by land, putting the city in perpetual danger, and we inside made good
repairs with barrels and stakes and earth where needed, so that they were as
strong as proper walls, as they had been at first, and cannon shots could not
On the first of May, and on the second, there was no activity by sea or
on land, except for the continual bombardment and skirmishing and much
shouting according to the custom of the Turks. The city was in great
distress because of a growing lack of provisions, particularly of bread,
wine and other things necessary to sustain life.
On the third of May a plan was made to plant two fairly large cannon by one of the water gates near the cannon of the fleet in the basin, the same ones that sank the fusta, and so our cannon bombarded the Turkish fuste and gave them some discomfort by their fire. When the Turks saw that our cannon were sinking their fuste, and also that many of their men were being killed by our shots, they decided to prevent our cannon from being able to harm them; they placed three large cannon near their fleet of fuste, which were near ours, and kept up a continuous bombardment day and night, and caused much damage here because the cannon were so close to each other. This cannon fire on both sides lasted about ten days both day and night continuously, but neither side could be put out of action, because our cannon were within the walls, and theirs were well protected with breastworks, and the distance
the cannon had to carry was half a mile. During this violent fighting, the Most Serene Emperor Constantine said to our captains: "Captains and nobles of Venice, you see clearly that your Signoria of Venice is not sending a fleet to help me and my unfortunate city and so it will be a good thing to make ready to send a gripo in the direction of Negropont, to meet your Venetian fleet." And at once on the third of May a bregantino was equipped with twelve men, to go out through the Dardanelles as far as the archipelago, and there see if they could see any sign of our fleet; and if they found it, they were to tell its captain Jacomo Loredan to come quickly to Constantinople, because the city was still being held strongly by the Christians, and to come cheerfully without any fear of the Turkish fleet. The bregantino left on the third of the month in the middle of the night, and when it went outside the harbour boom, all the men on board were dressed as Turks, and they raised as ensign the flag of the Turkish Sultan, and in the name of God they went sailing on freely without any difficulty, and went as far as the archipelago, and could see nothing of our fleet or any place where they might have been. When the sailors on the gripo saw that there was no sign of our fleet, they discussed what they should do, and took different sides, and one of them said to the rest, "My brothers, you see clearly, that when we left Constantinople a general attack by the Turks was expected at any moment, and you see that the city will be completely overrun by the faithless Turks, because we left it poorly supplied with men of action; and so, my brothers, I say that we should go as quickly as possible to some Christian land, because I know very well that by this time the Turks will have captured Constantinople." His companions on the bregantino answered and said to him, "But see, brother, the Emperor has sent us to do this thing, which we have done, and so we wish to return to Constantinople; whether it is in the hands of the Turks or of the Christians, and whether we go to death or to life, let us go on our way." And so they did, and returned to Constantinople safe and sound and found the city still being held by the Emperor. When they reached the city, they made their report to the Emperor, saying that they had not found the Venetian fleet. At this point the Most Serene Emperor began to weep bitterly for grief, because the Venetians had not sent help; and when the Emperor saw this he decided to put himself in the hands of our most merciful Lord Jesus Christ, and of His Mother Madonna Saint Mary, and of Saint Constantine, Defender of his City, for them to guard it, "Since the whole of Christendom has been unwilling to help me against this faithless Turk, the enemy of Christendom."
On the fifth of May, the wicked and evil Turks went and placed great cannon on the top of the hill above Pera, and with these cannon they began to fire over Pera at our fleet, which lay by the boom. They continued this bombardment for several days, firing stones of two hundred pounds weight each, and the third shot which was fired sent to the bottom a Genoese ship of three hundred butte, which was loaded with silk, wax and other goods to the value of twelve thousand ducats, and it went straight to the bottom, so that neither the masthead nor the hull of the ship appeared, and a number of men on board were drowned. When the Turks saw this ship sink as a result of their cannon fire, because they had sunk it at only the third shot, they began to feel very confident, and thought that in a few days they would have sunk the whole of the Christian fleet with their cannon. But when the damage which the cannon were doing became clear in our fleet, we decided to unfasten the harbour boom, with the intention of moving only the ships, and these moved close to the walls of Pera so that cannon fire could not harm them, being ten ships, and our galleys did the same. While these ships and galleys were hugging the walls of Pera the Turks kept up their bombardment. Great damage was done and the men there were in fear of their lives, because every shot caused some casualties on our galleys, some shots killing as many as four men, others two, and hardly a single one failing to find a victim as they smashed into the galleys and the ships. This bombardment lasted for several days, and altogether did great harm. Afterwards the Turks moved them away, and put them on a point opposite a part of Constantinople called the Chinigo, and here they kept up a heavy cannon fire, but thanks be to God, this did no harm. After this the Sultan had them taken away from there and brought them up with the others to bombard the city walls.
On the sixth of May, neither during the day nor during the previous night did anything happen worth mentioning, except for the incessant bombardment of the city walls, and the usual cries and sounding of castanets to frighten the people of the city.
On the seventh of May, at the fourth hour of the night, there came under the walls of the city about thirty thousand Turks in very good order bringing a number of rams with the intention of treacherously entering the city, because we did not expect an attack to take place. But the Eternal Lord gave help and strength to our men, and they bravely drove them back, with great cursing and heavy losses on their part, and many of them were killed, a great number in fact.
The same night we heard on the ships the wild shouting which these cursed pagans made around the walls of the poor city, shouting which truly was heard as far as the coast of Anatolia, twelve miles from the Turkish camp, and when we heard it, we were quite sure that now they were trying to make a general attack, and with the sound of their castanets and their tambourines, it was a thing not to be believed, except by those who heard it; and as I have said previously, since we in the ships believed that they were going to make an attack that night, at once we stood to our arms and all bravely went to our posts, in the ships and on the galleys. The land battle lasted until the seventh hour of the night, no more than three hours. But the Turkish fleet showed no inclination to move, because they were afraid of our fleet which lay at the boom ready to meet them; so nothing else happened at sea that day, and on land there was no further movement for the rest of the night. But as soon as the Turks had gone away from the place where the fighting had been, and because they realized that they had not been able to do anything, they made another plan, and went with great shouts and threw fire at the gate of the palace, and quickly set it alight, and as soon as it caught fire, our men ran there, and beat them back, and blocked up that gate in the wall. Also on this day the ships went back to he by the boom, having previously left this place for fear of the cannon fire, and gone near the walls of Pera, and they guarded the boom as they had done previously.
On the eighth of May, we held a Council of the Twelve, and a vote was taken to land all the goods in Constantinople that were on the galleys from Tana and to sink these three galleys in the Emperor's arsenal, and when this vote was taken to unload these galleys and the unloading was about to begin, suddenly the crews leaped with their swords to the ports of the galleys, saying, "Let us see the man who will take the cargoes from these galleys! We know, that where our property is, there our homes are also, and we also know that as soon as we have unloaded these galleys and sunk them in the arsenal, at once the Greeks will keep us in their city by force as their slaves, whereas now we are at liberty either to go or to stay. So it would be better to give up unloading the galleys and place ourselves under the mercy of our Lord God, for Him to settle this matter, and for everything to happen as He wills, and for Him to do with us as He pleases; because we know, and see clearly, that no Christian who finds himself at present in this miserable city, will be able to escape the fury of this cursed pagan, and we shall all meet in the end at the point of a Turkish sword. So we of the galleys have decided to die here on the galleys, which are our home, and we will not die on land." This protest of the crews was so effective that they stayed on the galleys, and so the captain of the galleys felt very confident and stayed in his galleys by the palisade of Pera with all the crews. But all through this day, the Turks never stopped bombarding the walls of the city by San Romano with their big cannon and with all the other ones.
On the ninth of May we held a Council of the Twelve, and a vote was taken in this Council that Cabriel Trivixan, captain of the two galleys, should go on land by the city walls with forty men from his own galley, and disarm his two long galleys and leave them in charge of Aluvixe Diedo, captain of the galleys of Tana, and Cabriel Trivixan obeyed the orders given him by the Council and disarmed his galleys, and went on land to the walls with four hundred men from the galleys, and these stayed, as I have said previously, in the charge of Aluvixe Diedo.
On the tenth of May we held a Council of the Twelve, using the Church of Santa Maria of Constantinople for the purpose:
"Considering that in the present danger it is a praiseworthy thing to make provision for action by sea, and since everyone sees clearly that the fleet of these faithless Turks is very strong and powerful in opposition to our own, and since in this harbour of Constantinople and Pera there are ships, galleys and other vessels of various nations and from various places; in order that matters may proceed in an orderly fashion in the battles which will have to be fought at sea, and in order that we Christians may have victory and honour in this world against the Turks, a vote will be taken by authority of this Council, that the noble Aluvixe Diedo, captain of the galleys of Tana, should be made captain general at sea of the fleet which is at present in the harbour, and that the said captain shall have complete power to give orders concerning all the vessels in the harbour."
The vote was taken, and on this day Aluvixe Diedo willingly accepted the captaincy and at once began to put the ships and galleys in good order in the harbour, and particularly the boom across the harbour, because the safety of our fleet and our harbour depended upon it. When the harbour had been organised in this way, we were rather more confident without having to think of the sea.
On the eleventh of May nothing happened on land or at sea except a great deal of cannon fire against the walls from the landward side, and nothing else worth mentioning happened.
On the twelfth of May at midnight there came to the walls of the palace fifty thousand Turks well ordered, and these Turkish dogs surrounded the whole palace with fierce cries according to their custom, and with sounds of castanets and tambourines; and on this night they made a strong attack against the walls of the palace, so that the majority of those in the city thought that night that the city was lost. But our merciful Lord Jesus Christ did not wish that the city should be lost so cheaply that night, and also God wished the prophecy to be fulfilled. This prophecy was made by Saint Constantine, the first Emperor to hold Constantinople, and he prophesied that Constantinople should never be lost, until the moon rose darkened when it was at the full, that is, lacking the half of it; so the present time was not that at which the city was to be lost, although it is true that its destruction and the loss of the empire which belonged to it was drawing near.
On the thirteenth of May Cabriel Trivixan, captain of the light galleys, left his galleys in the charge of the captain of the harbour, and went to stand at the city walls with his men, to guard the walls where they had been repaired after having been damaged by cannon fire; and he stayed at the walls until the Turks captured the city. Also on this day there came a number of Turks to the walls skirmishing, but nothing significant happened during the whole day and night, except for cannon fire continually bombarding the unfortunate walls.
On the fourteenth (the events described above took place on the thirteenth) of May at the third hour, the Turkish Sultan had the cannon moved, which had been placed on the hill of Pera, and up to that time had been bombarding our fleet; the stones which these cannon fired at our fleet were counted, and were two hundred and twelve in number, all of a weight of at least two hundred pounds each. And after taking these cannon from the hill of Pera, he placed them at a point where they could fire at a gate called the Chinigo, a place near the palace of the Most Serene Emperor. The Turks fired their cannon a great deal, but were not able to do any harm, and so they took these cannon away from that point, and put them by the city walls close to the others to bombard the city by San Romano, where the weakest part of the city was; and day and night these cannon did not cease from firing at the unfortunate walls, breaking down large portions of them, while we in the city were engaged day and night in making good repairs where the walls were broken, with barrels and brushwood and earth and whatever else was needed for this, so that they were as strong as they had been originally, and we had no fear that the Turks would break them down. At this gate, which was more damaged than the others, we had placed for the greater security of the place three hundred fully armed men in good order, all foreigners with not a Greek among them, because the Greeks were cowards, and these three hundred men had with them some good cannon and good guns and a large number of crossbows and other equipment.
On the fifteenth of May there was no other movement by sea or land except for the cannon, which never stopped firing at the walls. And as soon as the walls were broken down, we set about repairing them with their internal ditches, as I have said. On this day the Turks stayed very quietly in their camp without any of their usual skirmishing around the walls.
On the sixteenth of May at about the twenty-second hour, several Turkish bregantini separated themselves from their fleet which was at the Columns. These bregantini came at full speed towards the harbour boom, and we Christians who were at the boom awaited them with great pleasure, thinking that they were Christians who had escaped from the Turkish fleet and wanted to come to us for greater safety; but when they came near the boom, they let loose several shots at the ships which were there, and those of us who were on board, when we saw this happen so deliberately, decided to counter-attack with our bregantini; and when the Turks saw that we were counter-attacking, they began to make their escape, with our men pursuing them and nearly catching up with them. They were almost upon the Turks, when they hurriedly took to their oars and escaped to their fleet, and our vessels returned inside the harbour boom, and nothing else happened by sea on this day.
On this day, the sixteenth of May, there took place on land the following events. The Turks had dug a mine, to get into the city under the walls, and the mine was discovered on this day. The Turks had begun to dig it half a mile from the city walls, and it passed under the foundations; but our men in the city heard them working at night, with the digging of this mine, which had already passed under the foundations of the walls. As soon as this noise was heard, the Megaduke at once informed the Most Serene Emperor of it, and he was told of the stage which the mine had reached. The Emperor wondered greatly at this, and quickly arranged for action to be taken about the mine. At once a search was made throughout the city for all the men experienced in mining, and when they were found, they were sent for by the Megaduke, who had them dig a mine inside the city, to find the Turkish one, and one tunnel met the other in such a way that ours found theirs, and our men were prepared for this, and quickly threw fire into theirs and burned all the props supporting it, so that the earth collapsed on top of the Turks and suffocated those who were in the mine or they were burned in the fire. This mine was at a place called Calegaria, and the Turks put it there because there were no barbicans. It caused great fear in the city, because it was thought that the Turks might make an attack any night by way of their mines, although on this occasion they were discomfited. Nothing else happened on this day, except for a great deal of cannon fire in the usual way, and such shouting that the very air seemed to be splitting apart.
On the seventeenth of May, an hour before sunset, five fuste approached the harbour boom, to see in what condition our fleet was, and how they were ordered, and to see if we were afraid of them; and when our men saw these five fuste approaching the boom, at once those on the ships began to fire their cannon at them. Altogether those in Constantinople and those on the ships and on the galleys fired more than seventy shots, but unfortunately none of them scored a direct hit, and the Turkish fuste, seeing this cannon fire, decided to retreat to their own fleet, which was anchored at the Columns, and there they reported to their captain what they had seen of our fleet, and from that time onwards the Turks were in great fear of us at sea. On this day nothing else happened by sea, although there was much cannon fire on land and a little skirmishing, but nothing worthy of note, except that everyone on land was in a state of great fear, expecting a general attack from day to may, as a result of which everyone expected to be enslaved by the Turks, as in fact did happen.
On the eighteenth of May at night the Turks built a very fine tower in the following way. All through the night a great number of them were working away, and in the one night they made a tower built on the lip of the ditch and reaching higher than the walls of the barbicans, near a place called Cresca. This tower was made in such a way that no one would have believed that it could be done, and no work of this kind had ever been done by pagans before, nor so well constructed. In fact, I tell you, that if all the Christians in Constantinople had wished to build anything on such a scale, they could not have done it in a month, but these did it in a single night. This notable tower was ten paces distant from the main walls of the city, and on the walls there gathered a great number of armed men, all amazed at this tower, and although I said that it was built in a single night, in fact it was built in less than four hours. They built it so quickly that those on the walls who were guarding the place did not realise that it was being built, except that in the morning they saw it finished, and were very frightened when they saw what had been done. When they had inspected this remarkable piece of work, they went instantly to tell the Most Serene Emperor that it had been built. At once the Emperor came with his nobles to see this wonderful thing, and when they saw it they were like men struck dead for fear, and as a result they were continually afraid that this tower might cause the city to be lost, because it overtopped the barbicans.
The tower was built in the following way. First of all there was a framework of strong beams, protected all around with camel skins which covered it, and inside it was half full of earth, and with earth around it outside half way up, so that cannon or gunfire could not harm it, or crossbow bolts, and they had put hurdles outside and over everything else, with camel skins covering them; and they had also made a road to their camp, a good half mile in length, beginning from the tower, and on both sides of it, and over the top there was a double layer of hurdles and over them camel skins, so that they could go from the tower to the camp under cover without being in any danger from guns or crossbow bolts or fire from the smaller cannon; and the Turks inside the tower were excavating earth and casting it into the ditch, and kept on heaping up earth in this way. They heaped up so much earth that they overtopped the walls of the barbicans, and this tower was of great assistance to them in gaining the city. When the Turks in the camp had made this remarkable tower, and filled all the ditch with earth where it was necessary, they thought that they had made a great advance, and on this day nothing else happened at sea or on land, by day or by night. But, it is true, on this day the Turks shot a great number of arrows into the city from the place where the tower was, firing them, it seemed, from sheer high spirits, while our men were all very sad and fearful.
On the nineteenth of May these cursed Turks, full of every wickedness, set about making and finishing a bridge across the harbour from the neighbourhood of Pera to Constantinople, by the palisade, made of large barrels tied together, with long beams laid across and fastened tightly to make a fine strong bridge. They kept it ready in this form to stretch across the harbour when a general attack was made, to make their attack more effective, and also to make, our men spread themselves around the city, to give themselves a great chance of success on the landward side where the walls had been damaged by cannon fire. If the bridge had been stretched across the harbour before the general attack, a single cannon shot would have broken it and made it useless, but as I have said, the principal purpose of it was to make our men spread themselves around the walls. It would have stretched to the Chinigo gate, but it never was stretched across, because the Turks never needed to do so. This was all that happened on this day by sea and on land, except that on land the cannon fire continued by day and by night, with sections of wall being continually knocked to the ground, while our men all the while made good repairs with barrels and earth to make them as strong as they had been before. Also the Turks fired innumerable arrows and shots, and day after day we suffered the fire of these and their bombardment and their usual shouting.
On the twentieth of May there were hardly any attacks or skirmishings by sea or on land, except for the usual cannon fire which continually brought stretches of the walls down to the ground, while we Christians quickly repaired the damage with barrels and withes and earth to make them as strong as they had been before. Men and women, the old and the young and the priests, all worked together at these repairs because of the urgency of the matter, since they had to be strong: the cannon would have stripped the whole of the city of its defences, except that when the shots struck, they landed in the repaired sections which were of earth. The cannon were very large, but one was of exceptional size, throwing a ball twelve hundred pounds in weight, and when it fired the explosion made all the walls of the city shake, and all the ground inside, and even the ships in the harbour felt the vibrations of it. Because of the great noise, many women fainted with the shock which the firing of it gave them. No greater cannon than this one was ever seen in the whole pagan world, and it was this that broke down such a great deal of the city walls. Nothing further happened on this day.
On the twenty-first of May, two hours before daybreak, the whole of the Turkish fleet which was anchored at the Columns got under way, and came rowing vigorously as far as the harbour boom, sounding their castanets and tambourines with great energy to frighten us. And when they were near the boom they came to a stop close to the harbour, and we sailors waited bravely for them to make an attack on our fleet. We were all well armed and well equipped, particularly the ten ships which were at the boom, which were very well equipped and well ordered in preparation for a Turkish attack. It seemed as if they would attack, in spite of the large number of armed men on board our ships; but just as their vessels were coming near the boom, the whole city began to sound an alarm, thinking that this day they intended to make a general attack. The tocsin was sounded and the whole city rushed to arms, and everyone went to stand at his post where he had been placed by the Most Serene Emperor. When the Turkish fleet saw that ours was so well ordered, and heard the alarm signal sounded throughout the whole city, they had second thoughts and suddenly turned around and returned to the Columns where they had been anchored previously. So two hours after sunrise there was complete calm on both sides, as if no attack by sea had taken place. At noon on this day in the city we found a mine by the Calegaria which the Turks had dug under the foundations of the walls and into the city, with the intention of breaking in and surprising us one night; but it was not very dangerous. When our men discovered this tunnel, they went and threw fire into it, and the Turks outside realised that we were intending to set fire to it, and lit a fire on their side, so that it was being burned out from both directions. The result was that we won the tunnel with honour for ourselves, and there was no further danger there. Also on this day the Turks bombarded the poor walls terribly and knocked down great stretches of them, and one section of tower, and we made good repairs quickly with barrels and other things, so that we had a great deal to do by sea and on land, and in the evening we were completely exhausted with all our troubles.
On the twenty-second of May, at the hour of Compline, we found a tunnel at the Calegaria which the Turks had dug under the foundations of the walls and into the city, near the one which had been discovered on the previous day and dug in the same way, and our men threw fire into it and burned it bravely with much honour for us. Several Turks were burned inside it, who were caught inside and could not get out quickly enough. Also on this same day there was discovered another tunnel in the same place, at the Calegaria, where there are no barbicans. This tunnel was difficult to find, but by the grace of God it was granted that it should collapse of its own accord, killing all the Turks inside. To make clear the way in which they worked, these tunnels were dug into the earth, and the men made their way with the earth being supported above with stout props of good wood until they reached the foundations of the city, and then they were dug under the foundations and came up again inside the city, and this was the way in which they dug their tunnels.
On this same day, the twenty-second of May, at the first hour of the night, there appeared a wonderful sign in the sky, which was to tell Constantine the worthy Emperor of Constantinople that his proud empire was about to come to an end, as it did. The sign was of this form and condition: at the first hour after sunset the moon rose, being at this time at the full, so that it should have risen in the form of a complete circle; but it rose as if it were no more than a three-day moon, with only a little of it showing, although the air was clear and unclouded, pure as crystal. The moon stayed in this form for about four hours, and gradually increased to a full circle, so that at the sixth hour of the night it was fully formed. When we Christians and the pagans had seen this marvelous sign, the Emperor of Constantinople was greatly afraid of it, and so were all his nobles, because the Greeks had a prophecy which said that Constantinople would never fall until the full moon should give a sign, and this was the reason for the fear which the Greeks felt. But the Turks made great festivity in their camp for joy at the sign, because they believed that now victory was in their hands, as in truth it was.
On the twenty-third day of May at daybreak a tunnel was discovered at the Calegaria, near the place where the others had been found, and for your information, this Calegaria is near the Emperor's palace. When we found this tunnel, we threw fire into it straight away, and it all caught fire quickly, and as it burned it collapsed at once, suffocating a number of Turks who were in it. Two of them were brought out from the tunnel alive, who were the men in charge of it. These two men were tortured by the Greeks and made known the whereabouts of the other tunnels, and after they had given this information, their heads were cut off, and their bodies thrown over the walls on the side of the city where the Turkish camp was; and when they saw these Turks thrown down from the walls, they were very angry, and felt great hatred for the Greeks and for us Italians. Also on this same day, an hour before daybreak, a bregantino which was to all appearances Turkish, came sailing up the Dardanelles, and it was the one which had been sent to the archipelago to meet our fleet and tell it to come with all speed, since Constantinople was still being strongly defended. The Turkish fleet, which was anchored at the Columns, saw this brig come rowing strongly, and thought that it was the vanguard of our fleet, because they knew perfectly well that it was not a Turkish vessel, and so they left the Columns and rowed towards it. But when they saw the brig reach the boom, which was opened for it, and it entered the harbour safely, they all turned back again and anchored in their usual position. Meanwhile, the men in our fleet were all at their posts, armed in the usual way, in case the Turkish fleet attacked the boom, and we stayed in this way until an hour and a half after daybreak, when we finally put down our weapons. Little else happened on this day, except that in the city there was a general alarm, to call people together at the harbour for fear of the Turkish fleet, as I have said. There was also a great bombardment of the city walls, and some sections of wall were knocked down, and we quickly repaired them, so this day was one of great labour and troubles, both by sea and on the side of the city which faced the enemy.
On the twenty-fourth of May at midday a tunnel was discovered at the Calegaria, near the others, and these wicked Turks had put half a tower on props and about ten paces of wall, to throw fire inside, and get into the city. But our Lord God did not wish us to suffer such an evil at this time, and did not wish the city to be taken in this way. When the Greeks had found this latest tunnel, they began to dig at once, and walled it up straight away, and make everything as strong as before, so that there was nothing more to be feared there. This day the Turks made frenzied attacks on the city walls with cannon fire and gunfire and countless arrows, so that we had a very bad day indeed. By sea we had no trouble, but nevertheless we stood to our arms for fear of their fleet, in case it should make an attack on us without warning.
On this day there was great festivity in the Turkish camp, with music and other kinds of merriment, because they knew that they were soon going to make a general attack.
On the twenty-fifth of May at the hour of Vespers, another tunnel was discovered in the same area of the Calegaria near the first tunnels. It was a strong one and might have been very dangerous indeed, because they had put props underneath a piece of the wall, and when they set fire to their tunnel it would have collapsed, and after this the Turks would quite certainly have been able to get into the city and take it without difficulty. This was the last tunnel which they dug, and the last to be discovered, and it was the most dangerous of any of the tunnels which were found. On this same day the Turks bombarded the walls of the city heavily and knocked down a great deal of them, and we quickly made them good with repairs of barrels and earth; also they fired innumerable arrows. By sea, the Turkish fleet made no movement, and neither did ours, except that on the ships and on the galleys we stood to our arms day and night.
On the twenty-sixth of May, an hour after sunset, the Turks set fires blazing brightly through the whole of their camp. Every tent in their camp lit two fires of great size, and the light from them was so strong that it seemed as if it were day. These fires burned until midnight, and the Sultan had them lit in the camp to encourage his men, because the time was coming for the destruction of the city, and for making a general attack. As the pagans made their fires, they shouted in their Turkish fashion, so that it seemed as if the very skies would split apart. The whole city was in a state of panic, and everyone was in tears and praying to God and to the Virgin Mary that we should escape the fury of the pagans. I cannot describe the damage done on this day by the cannon to the walls at San Romano, particularly by the big cannon, so that at this time our suffering were great, and we were very fearful. By sea nothing happened worthy of note, except that we saw the fleet assembling.
On the twenty-seventh of May these wicked pagans kept fires going all night, as many as they had made on the previous night. The fires lasted until the middle of the night, with most terrible shouting which was heard as far as the coast of Anatolia twelve miles away, and we Christians were very fearful. This frightening thing lasted until full day, but all the next day they did nothing except bombard the poor walls and bring stretches of them down to the ground, and half of them were badly damaged. By sea nothing happened, and this was all that took place on this day and night.
On the twenty-eighth of May the Turkish Sultan had instructions given to the sound of the trumpet throughout his camp, that under pain of death, all his pashas and their lieutenants, and all the rest of his captains and men of any other condition who had the Turks as their rulers, should be ready at their posts all day, because tomorrow he intended to make a general attack on the wretched city. When these orders had been passed through the camp, they all went quickly to their posts with as much speed as possible, but all the rest of the day from dawn until nightfall the Turks did nothing except bring very long ladders to the walls, in order to make use of them on the next day, which was to be the climax of the attack. There were about two thousand of these ladders, and after these they brought up a great number of hurdles to protect the men who were to raise the ladders up to the walls. When this had been done, the Turks went sounding trumpets through their camp, and castanets and tambourines, to encourage the people there, saying: "Children of Mahomet, be of good cheer. Tomorrow we shall have so many Christians in our hands, that we shall sell them into slavery at two for a ducat, and we shall have such riches that we shall be all of gold, and from the beards of the Greeks we shall make leashes to tie up our dogs, and their wives and their sons shall be slaves; so be of good cheer, children of Mahomet, and be ready to die with a stout heart for love of our Mahomet " And in this way the pagans went about their camp giving encouragement. After this, they had an order cried throughout their camp, that every Turk under pain of death should stand, and move, and do everything as ordered by his officers. As evening came on all the Turks went in good order to their posts with their weapons, and great mountains of arrows; and by the time the evening had come, they had all reached their positions, all of a good heart and eager to join battle, and all praying to their Mahomet to help them to victory. This day they bombarded the poor walls so heavily that it was a thing not of this world, and this they did because it was the day for ending the bombardment. On this day we Christians made seven cartloads of mantelets to put on the battlements on the landward side. When these mantelets had been made, they were brought to the piazza, and the Bailo ordered the Greeks to carry them at once to the walls. But the Greeks refused to do so unless they were paid, and there was an argument that evening, because we Venetians were willing to pay cash to those who carried them, and the Greeks did not want to pay. When at last the mantelets were taken to the walls, it was dark, and they could not be put on the battlements for the attack, and we did not have the use of them, because of the greed of the Greeks. At midday the Bailo ordered that everyone who called himself a Venetian should go to the walls on the landward side, for the love of God and for the sake of the city and for the honour of the Christian faith, and that everyone should be of good heart and ready to die at his post. And everyone with a good heart obeyed the orders of the Bailo, and we put ourselves in order as best we could, and in the same way we put the fleet in order, particularly the harbour boom and all the ships and galleys.
The Turkish Sultan also rode with ten thousand horsemen to his fleet at the Columns, to see what condition they were in, and to put them in order for the general attack on the next day, and he made arrangements with his admiral for the way in which they should attack. When this had been done, the Sultan proceeded to make merry with his admiral and all his officers, and they all got drunk together according to their custom. Then the Sultan returned to his camp, and continued to make merry at his post. All this day the tocsin was sounded in the city, to make everyone take up their posts, and women, and children too, carried stones to the walls, to put them on the battlements so that they could be hurled down upon the Turks; and everyone went weeping through the city from the great fear of them which they had. One hour after dark, the Turks in their camp began to light a terrifying number of fires, much greater than they had lit on the two previous nights, but worse than this, it was their shouting which was more than we Christians could bear; and together with their shouting, they fired a great number of cannon and guns, and hurled stones without number, so that to us it seemed to be a very inferno. Their celebrations and festivities lasted until midnight, and then the fires died out, and all this day and night the pagans were praying to their Mahomet that he should give them victory and the capture of this city of Constantinople, and we Christians all through the day and night prayed to God and to His Mother, the Madonna Saint Mary, and to all the Saints in the heavens, praying tearfully to them that they should give us the victory, and that we should escape the fury of these wicked pagans. And when each side had prayed for victory, they to their god and we to ours, our God in Heaven determined with His Mother which of us should be successful in this battle which was to be so fierce, and was to be concluded on the following day.
On the twenty-ninth of May, the last day of the siege, our Lord God decided, to the sorrow of the Greeks, that He was willing for the city to fall on this day into the hands of Mahomet Bey the Turk son of Murat, after the fashion and in the manner described below; and also our eternal God was willing to make this decision in order to fulfill all the ancient prophecies, particularly the first prophecy made by Saint Constantine, who is on horseback on a column by the Church of Saint Sophia of this city, prophesying with his hand and saying, "From this direction will come the one who will undo me," pointing to Anatolia, that is Turkey. Another prophecy which he made was that when there should be an Emperor called Constantine son of Helen, under his rule Constantinople would be lost, and there was another prophecy that when the moon should give a sign in the sky, within a few days the Turks would have Constantinople. All these three prophecies had come to pass, seeing that the Turks had passed into Greece, there was an Emperor called Constantine son of Helen, and the moon had given a sign in the sky, so that God had determined to come to this decision against the Christians and particularly against the Empire of Constantinople, as you shall hear.
On the twenty-ninth of May, 1453, three hours before daybreak, Mahomet Bey son of Murat the Turk came himself to the walls of Constantinople to begin the general assault which gained him the city. The Sultan divided his troops into three groups of fifty thousand men each: one group was of Christians who were kept in his camp against his will, the second group was of men of a low condition, peasants and the like, and the third group was of janissaries in their white turbans, these being all soldiers of the Sultan and paid every day, all well-armed men strong in battle, and behind these janissaries were all the officers, and behind these the Turkish Sultan. The first group, which was the Christians, had the task of carrying the ladders to the walls, and they tried to raise the ladders up, and at once we threw them to the ground with the men who were raising them, and they were all killed at once, and we threw big stones down on them from the battlements, so that few escaped alive; in fact, anyone who approached beneath the walls was killed. When those who were raising up the ladders saw so many dead, they tried to retreat towards their camp, so as not to be killed by the stones, and when the rest of the Turks who were behind saw that they were running away, at once they cut them to pieces with their scimitars and made them turn back towards the walls, so that they had the choice of dying on one side or the other; and when this first group was killed and cut to pieces, the second group began to attack vigorously. The first group was sent forward for two reasons, firstly because they preferred that Christians should die rather than Turks, and secondly to wear us out in the city; and as I have said, when the first group was dead or wounded, the second group came on like lions unchained against the walls on the side of San Romano; and when we saw this fearful thing, at once the tocsin was sounded through the whole city and at every post on the walls, and every man ran crying out to help; and the Eternal God showed us His mercy against these Turkish dogs, so that every man ran-to ward off the attack of the pagans, and they began to fall back outside the barbicans. But this second group was made up of brave men, who came to the walls and wearied those in the city greatly by their attack. They also made a great attempt to raise ladders up to the walls, but the men on the walls bravely threw them down to the ground again, and many Turks were killed. Also, our crossbows and cannon kept on firing into their camp at this time and killed an incredible number of Turks.
When the second group had come forward and attempted unsuccessfully to get into the city, there then approached the third group, their paid soldiers the janissaries, and their officers and their other principal commanders, all very brave men, and the Turkish Sultan behind them all. This third group attacked the walls of the poor city, not like Turks but like lions, with such shouting and sounding of castanets that it seemed a thing not of this world, and the shouting was heard as far away as Anatolia, twelve miles away from their camp. This third group of Turks, all fine fighters, found those on the walls very weary after having fought with the first and second groups, while the pagans were eager and fresh for the battle; and with the loud cries which they uttered on the field, they spread fear through the city and took away our courage with their shouting and noise. The wretched people in the city felt themselves to have been taken already, and decided to sound the tocsin through the whole city, and sounded it at all the posts on the walls, all crying at the top of their voices, "Mercy! Mercy! God send help from Heaven to this Empire of Constantine, so that a pagan people may not rule over the Empire!" All through the city all the women were on their knees, and all the men too, praying most earnestly and devotedly to our omnipotent God and His Mother Madonna Saint Mary, with all the sainted men and women of the celestial hierarchy, to grant us victory over this pagan race, these wicked Turks, enemies of the Christian faith. While these supplications were being made, the Turks were attacking fiercely on the landward side by San Romano, by the headquarters of the Most Serene Emperor and all his nobles, and his principal knights and his bravest men, who all stayed by him fighting bravely. The Turks were attacking, as I have said, like men determined to enter the city, by San Romano on the landward side, firing their cannon again and again, with so many other guns and arrows without number and shouting from these pagans, that the very air seemed to be split apart; and they kept on firing their great cannon which fired a ball weighing twelve hundred pounds, and their arrows, all along the length of the walls on the side where their camp was, a distance of six miles, so that inside the barbicans at least eighty camel-loads of them were picked up, and as many as twenty camel-loads of those which were in the ditch. This fierce battle lasted until daybreak.
Our men of Venice did marvels of defence in the part where the bastion was, where the Turks were concentrating their attack, but it was useless, since our eternal God had already made up His mind that the city should fall into the hands of the Turks; and since God had so determined, nothing further could be done, except that all we Christians who found ourselves at this time in the wretched city should place ourselves in the hands of our merciful Lord Jesus Christ and of His Mother, Madonna Saint Mary, for them to have mercy on the souls of those who had to die in the battle on this day. One hour before daybreak the Sultan had his great cannon fired, and the shot landed in the repairs which we had made and knocked them down to the ground. Nothing could be seen for the smoke made by the cannon, and the Turks came on under cover of the smoke, and about three hundred of them got inside the, barbicans. The Greeks and Venetians fought hard and drove them out of the barbicans, and a great number died, including almost all of those who were able to get inside. After the Greeks had fought this fight, they thought that they had indeed won the victory against the pagans, and we Christians were greatly relieved. But after being driven back from the barbicans the Turks again fired their great cannon, and the pagans like hounds came on behind the smoke of the cannon, raging and pressing on each other like wild beasts, so that in the space of a quarter of an hour there were more than thirty thousand Turks inside the barbicans, with such cries that it seemed a very inferno, and the shouting was heard as far away as Anatolia. When the Turks got inside the barbicans, they quickly captured the first row of them, but before they managed this, a great number of them died at the hands of those who were above them on the walls, who killed them with stones at their pleasure. After having captured the first row, the Turks together with the axapi made themselves strong there, and then there came inside the barbicans a good seventy thousand Turks with such force that it seemed a very inferno, and soon the barbicans from one end to the other, a full six miles, were full of Turks. As I have said before, those on the walls killed great numbers of Turks with stones, casting them down from above without stopping, and so many were killed that forty carts could not have carried away the dead Turks who had died before getting into the city. We Christians now were very frightened, and the Emperor had the tocsin sounded through the whole city, and at the posts on the walls, with every man crying, "Mercy, Eternal God!" Men cried out, and women too, and the nuns and the young women most loudly of all, and there was such lamentation that even the most cruel Jew would have felt pity. Seeing this, Zuan Zustignan, that Genoese of Genoa, decided to abandon his post, and fled to his ship, which was lying at the boom. The Emperor had made this Zuan Zustignan captain of his forces, and as he fled, he went through the city crying, "The Turks have got into the city!" But he lied in his teeth, because the Turks were not yet inside. When the people heard their captain's words, that the Turks had got into the city, they all began to take flight, and all abandoned their posts at once and went rushing towards the harbour in the hope of escaping in the ships and the galleys. At this moment of confusion, which happened at sunrise, our omnipotent God came to His most bitter decision and decided to fulfill all the prophecies, as I have said, and at sunrise the Turks entered the city near San Romano, where the walls had been razed to the ground by their cannon. But before they entered, there was such a fierce struggle between the Turks and the Christians in the city who opposed them, and so many of them died, that a good twenty carts could have been filled with the corpses of the first Turks. Then the second wave followed the first and went rushing about the city, and anyone they found they put to the scimitar, women and men, old and young, of any condition. This butchery lasted from sunrise, when the Turks entered the city, until midday, and anyone whom they found was put to the scimitar in their rage. Those of our merchants who escaped hid themselves in underground places, and when the first mad slaughter was over, they were found by the Turks and were all taken and sold as slaves.
The Turks made eagerly for the piazza, five miles from the point where they made their entrance at San Romano, and when they reached it, at once some of them climbed up a tower where the flags of Saint Mark and the Most Serene Emperor were flying, and they cut down the flag of Saint Mark and took away the flag of the Most Serene Emperor, and then on the same tower they raised the flag of the Sultan. When they had taken away these two flags, those of Saint Mark and of the Emperor, and raised the flag of the Turkish dog, then all we Christians who were in the city were full of sorrow because it had been captured by the Turks. When their flag was raised and ours cut down, we saw that the whole city was taken, and that there was no further hope of recovering from this.
Now I shall tell of the events at sea, since I have told of what happened on land. One hour before dawn the fleet got under way from the Columns where it was anchored, and it took up a position by the harbour boom ready to give battle there. But their admiral saw that our harbour was well defended with ships and galleys, particularly at the boom where there were ten large ships of eight hundred botte and upwards, and since he was afraid of our fleet, he decided to go and fight behind the city on the side of the Dardanelles and leave the harbour without fighting, and so they went on land there, part of them disembarking by the Giudecca, so as to have better opportunity of getting booty, there being great riches in the houses of the Jews, principally jewels. The seventy fuste inside the harbour which had been dragged over the hill of Pera, commanded by Zagan Pasha, all went together and attacked the city at a place called Fanari, and the Christians on this part of the walls bravely drove them back.
But when the men in these ships
saw that the Christians had lost Constantinople, and that the standard of
Mahomet Bey the Turk was raised over the principal tower of the city, and that
the standards of Saint Mark and of the Emperor had been cut down and lowered,
then they all disembarked. And at the same time all those in the fleet on the
Dardanelles side disembarked and left their ships by the shore without anyone in
them, because they were all running furiously like dogs into the city to seek
out gold, jewels and other treasure, and to take merchants prisoner. They sought
out the monasteries, and all the nuns were led to the fleet and ravished and
abused by the Turks, and then sold at auction for slaves throughout Turkey, and
all the young women also were ravished and then sold for whatever they would
fetch, although some of them preferred to cast themselves into the wells and
drown rather than fall into the hands of the Turks, as did a number of married
women also. The Turks loaded all their ships with prisoners and with an enormous
quantity of booty. Their practice was, that when they went into a house, at once
they raised up a flag with their emblem on it, and when other Turks saw this
flag flying, they left this house alone, and went in search of another house
without a flag, and so they put their flags everywhere, even on the monasteries
and churches. As far as I can estimate, there would have been two hundred
thousand of these flags flying on the houses all over Constantinople: some
houses had as many as ten, because of the excitement which the Turks felt at
having won such a great victory. For
the rest of the day these flags were kept flying on the houses, and all through
the day the Turks made a great slaughter of Christians through the city. The
blood flowed in the city like rainwater in the gutters after a sudden storm, and
the corpses of Turks and Christians were thrown into the Dardanelles, where they
floated out to sea like melons along a canal. No one could hear any news of the
Emperor, what he had been doing, or whether he was dead or alive, but some said
that his body had been seen among the corpses, and it was said that he had
hanged himself at the moment when the Turks broke in at the San Romano gate.
Now that Constantinople had fallen, and since there was nothing further to be hoped for, our own people prepared to save themselves and our fleet, all the galleys and ships, and get them out of the harbour, breaking the boom across the entrance. So Aluvixe Diedo, officer in command of the harbour and captain of the galleys from Tana, seeing that the whole of Constantinople had been captured, at once disembarked at Pera, and went to the Podesta of Pera, and discussed with him what should be done with our fleet, whether it should make its escape, or prepare itself to do battle with all its ships and galleys. And when Aluvixe Diedo asked the advice of the Podesta of Pera, the Podesta said, "Master captain, wait here in Pera, and I shall send an ambassador to the Sultan, and we shall see whether we Genoese and Venetians shall have war or peace with him." But while this discussion was taking place, the Podesta had the gates of his town shut, and shut the captain inside, with Bartolo Fiurian the armourer of the galleys of Tana, and Nicold Barbaro the surgeon of the galleys. We who were shut up there realised that we were in a serious position: the Genoese had done this, in order to put our galleys and our property into the hands of the Turks, and no ambassador was sent.
Now that we were shut up in their town, the galleys at once began to set up their sails and spread them out, and bring their oars inboard, with the intention of going away without their captain. But the captain, who realised that he was in danger of being imprisoned, was able by dint of fair words to persuade the Podesta to release them, and they got out of the town and boarded their galleys quickly; and as soon as they had done this, they began to kedge themselves up to the boom which was across the harbour. When we reached the boom, we could not get past it, because it stretched all the way between the two cities of Constantinople and Pera. But two brave men leaped down on to one of the wooden sections of the boom, and with a couple of axes cut through it and we quickly hauled ourselves outside it, and sailed to a place called the Columns behind Pera, where the Turkish fleet had been anchored. Here in this place we waited until midday, to see if any of our merchants could reach the galleys, but none of them were able to do so, because they had all been captured. So at midday with the help of our Lord God, Aluvixe Diedo, the captain of the galleys from Tana, made sail on his galley, and then the galley of Jeruolemo Morexini and the galley of Trebizond with its vice-master Dolfin Dolfin did the same. This galley of Trebizond had great difficulty in getting its sails up because a hundred and sixty-four of its crew were missing, some of them drowned, some dead in the bombardment or killed in other ways during the fighting, so that they could only just manage to raise their sails. Then the light galley of Cabriel Trivixan set sail, although he himself was still in the city in the hands of the Turks. The galley of Candia with Zacaria Grioni, the knight, as master, was captured. Then behind these galleys there sailed three ships of Candia, under Zuan Venier and Antonio Filamati, "The Hen," and we all sailed safely together, ships and galleys, out through the straits, with a north wind blowing at more than twelve miles an hour. Had there been a calm or a very light breeze, we would all have been captured. When we set sail for Constantinople, the whole of the Turkis fleet was unarmed and all the captains and crews had gone into the city to sack it. You can be sure that if their fleet had been in action, no a single vessel could have escaped, but the Turks would have had them as prizes of war, because we were shut up inside the boom, but they abandoned their fleet. Fifteen ships stayed inside the harbour, belonging to the Genoese, to the Emperor and to the people of Ancona; also all the Emperor's galleys, numbering five, which had been disarmed, and also there stayed all the other vessels which were in the harbour, and the ships and galleys which could not escape were all captured by the Turks. But apart from these fifteen ships, seven belonging to the Genoese which were by the boom escaped, and one which was off Pera, belonging to Zorzi Doria of Genoa, of about two thousand four hundred botte, escaped with the other seven towards evening.
The fighting lasted from dawn until noon, and while the massacre went on in the city, everyone was killed; but after that time they were all taken prisoner. Our Bailo, Jeruolemo Minoto, had his head cut off by order of the Sultan; and this was the end of the capture of Constantinople, which took place in the year one thousand four hundred and fifty-three, on the twenty-ninth of May, which was a Tuesday.
[The text continues, with Nicolo adding a list of those killed and taken prisoner during the siege.]
This text is from Nicolo Barbaro, Diary of the Siege of
Constantinople 1453, trans. John Melville-Jones (New York, 1969). We thank
Professor Melville-Jones for his permission to republish this translation.