Friday, November 15, 2019

Time after Constantinople: Apocalyptic Expectations and the Fall of Constantinople (1453 A.D.)

Time after Constantinople:
Apocalyptic Expectations and the Fall of Constantinople (1453 A.D.)

Research Master Thesis

By Joost van den Oever

Radboud University Nijmegen

(August 2012)


History is full of moments of extreme emotions, either of fear or of hope, during which sudden disasters or outbreaks of war and famine have led to increased speculations about the end times. From Persian, Zoroastrian expectations of a final battle between the forces of good and evil, Ahoera Mazda and Ahriman, up to recent predictions of nuclear warfare, the millennium bug, global warming and Mayan calendar calculations, apocalypticism has never fully receded from the human mind. Especially in the United States, using modern media as a tool for disseminating their message, apocalyptic preachers such as Hall Lindsey have their audiences not merely among the uneducated, lower classes, but also among middle class professionals. Indeed, even though modern man usually disdains the phenomenon as an obsolete idea belonging to the primitive cultures and religions of our ancestors, it is hardly so that only medieval Christian people were affected by it. To be fair, many of the widely circulating stories of today about terrified Christians awaiting the end of times around the year 1000 A.D., are later inventions of Renaissance thinkers trying to portray the Middle Ages as a time of darkness and ignorance.

Still, there have been certain events throughout history, definitely also in the Middle Ages, that have been regarded as signs of the end, predicting the appearance of the Antichrist, the return of Christ himself and the coming of the Heavenly Kingdom. From persecuting Roman emperors like Nero, to popes and emperors during the Investiture crisis, all have been likened to the Antichrist; likewise, both the fall of Rome in 410 A.D. and the fall of second Rome, Constantinople, in 1453 A.D. have been perceived as signs of the end.

It is to the nature and development of the apocalyptic traditions surrounding this last event, the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 A.D., that we shall turn our attention in the present study. The main focus will be on the Western perspective, although the subject will be approached in explicit interaction with the Eastern, Greek traditions. Before we can begin, we need to acquaint ourselves with the discussion surrounding this intricate subject. We shall do so by first describing the rise and development of modern studies into apocalypticism, and secondly by sketching the conceptual and methodological framework within which we shall discuss the topic. Next, we will give a brief historical overview of the fall of Constantinople itself, and of how the news was received in the West, to conclude by introducing the main aim of this study, to answer the following question:

How did the apocalyptic traditions concerning Constantinople influence the Latin eyewitness accounts of the fall of the city in 1453 A.D., and did the Latin West regard the event as apocalyptic?

This thesis has been realized not only by my own long hours of labour and the literature I have consulted, but also by the thoughtful supervision of dr. Bert Roest and professor Peter Raedts; the hospitality and facilities of the Dutch Institute in Turkey (NIT, Istanbul); the inspiring conversations and city walks I enjoyed there with dr. Ivana Jevtic (Koç University); and the helpful advice of professor Paul Magdalino (Koç University). But most of all, I owe the completion of my thesis to Anne van der Zon, because she was always there to tell me when to start and when to stop.