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THE FALL OF CONSTANTINOPLE
HILE the Italian scholars were wishing that they had more of the
precious old manuscripts, there were exciting times in the
country known as Turkey in Europe. This country had
been part of the Eastern Empire even after the fall of Rome
in 476, but it had come to be so little Roman and so completely
that it is spoken of as the Greek, or Byzantine Empire.
It was destined, however, to belong to neither Romans
nor Greeks, for the Mohammedans were pressing hard upon its
boundaries. They had won Asia Minor and the lands lying
directly south of the Danube. Gradually they got Greece, north
of the Isthmus, into their power, and in 1453 Mohammed II.
led the Ottoman Turks, who were of the same race as
Attila and his Huns, against the capital of the Eastern
Empire, the great rich city of Constantinople.
Gunpowder had been invented before this time, but the cannon
were small. When the great Turkish gun fired its
heavy stone balls, men and women rushed into the streets,
beating their breasts and crying aloud, "God have mercy upon
us!" Day after day the besiegers continued the attack. They
used arrows, and catapults
for throwing stones. They wheeled a two-story
tower covered with hides near enough to
 so that archers in the second story could shoot at the
defenders on the walls. But the Greeks threw their
famous Greek fire upon it and it was consumed. Both parties
dug mines. Sometimes these were blown up, sometimes the
workers in them were suffocated by smoke or gas.
(THE FAMOUS CHURCH BUILT IN THE 6TH
CENTURY BY THE EMPEROR JUSTINIAN.
IT HAS BEEN USED AS A MOSQUE SINCE THE CAPTURE OF
CONSTANTINOPLE BY THE TURKS)
Finally the Turks dug a narrow canal five miles long from
the Sea of Marmora to the harbor of Constantinople.
They paved it with beams, well greased, and one morning the
Greeks found thirty Turkish ships lying almost under their
walls, for the oxen
of the Turks had dragged them to the shore during the night.
Then the people of the city were in despair and begged
their emperor to escape and flee for his life, but he refused.
"I am resolved to die here with you," he declared.
When it was seen that the city must fall, thousands of the
citizens crowded into the vast church of St. Sophia,
for there was an old prophecy that some day the Turks
force their way into the city, but that when they had
reached St. Sophia an angel would appear with a celestial
sword, and that at sight of it the Turks would flee. The
emperor knelt long in prayer, received the Holy Communion,
and then begged the priests and all the members of his court
to forgive him if he had ever wronged them. The sobs and
wails of the people echoed in the great building.
The Turks made their way without hindrance into the city.
They did not stop at the church; and no angel brought a
miraculous weapon to drive them back. The emperor fell,
sword in hand, fighting to the last for his empire and the
Christian faith. The Turkish commander gave over the city to
his soldiers, and they stole everything worth
stealing,—wonderful treasures of gold, silver, bronze,
and jewels. Thousands of citizens were roughly bound together and
dragged off to the boats to be sold as slaves. The cross was
torn down from beautiful St. Sophia, and the crescent, the
emblem of Mohammedanism, was put in its place.
The emperor's body, however, was buried by the Turks with all
honour. A lamp was lighted at his grave. It is still kept
burning, and at the charge of the Turkish government. This was
commanded by the Turkish ruler as a mark of respect and
regard for Constantine PalŠologos, the last
Christian emperor in the Empire of the East.
 At the coming of the Turks, many of the Greeks had seized
their most valued treasures and fled. The scholars carried
away with them the rare old manuscripts of the early Greek
writers. More went to Italy than anywhere else, and the
Italian scholars gave them a hearty welcome. There had been
learned Greeks in Italy long before this time, and the
Italian scholars had been interested in the Greek literature;
but now such a wealth of it was poured into the country
that the Italians were aroused and delighted. They read the
manuscripts eagerly; they sent copies to their friends; and
gradually a knowledge of the literature of the Greeks and a
love for it spread throughout Europe.