The Forty Sieges of Constantinople – The Great City’s Enemies and its Survival, John D Grainger

The Forty Sieges of Constantinople – The Great City’s Enemies and its Survival, John D Grainger

For the best part of a millennium Constantinople was the capital of the eastern Roman Empire, and one of the most famous, wealthiest cities in the world. At the same time it was also one of the most often attacked cities in history, with its status as the Imperial capital making it the target of enemies coming from just about every direction. However the city had existed for just as long before Constantine chose it for his new capital, and its position at the junction of Europe and Asia also made Byzantion a popular target. It was only under the Ottomans that the city saw long periods without an external threat, with the first serious threats to the city since its fall to Ottomans not coming until the 20th century!

This book covers the entire known military history of the city, from the earliest recorded attacks on Byzantion to the First World War and its aftermath. The bulk of the attacks came during the millennium of Constantinople, when the city was the target for every ambitious power in the region (and of course for any rival for the current Emperor). Not all of these forty sieges are what would normally be considered as sieges. Some would generally be classified as blockades, others as prolonged periods of military pressure on the city, with enemy armies operating close to it, but not putting it under direct attack, and some as internal political disputes. However all of them are periods when the city was threatened, and most of them do include enemies sitting outside the city’s defences, if not always risking an attack on the impressive Theodosian Walls.

Although the great siege of 1453 tends to get the most attention, it is the attacks by the Fourth Crusade in 1203 and 1204 that come across as the most damaging. The fall of the city to the Crusaders shattered the Byzantine Empire, which until then was still a fairly powerful and viable state, with significant lands in the Balkans, Greece and Anatolia. Although various Byzantine successor states were formed, and fairly soon regained control of the city, the Empire never recovered from that shattering blow. By the time the Ottomans finally took the city, its Empire had been reduced to a handful of cities on the Black Sea Coast and isolated pockets in the Peloponnese, while the city itself was a shadow of its former self. Ironically the decline of the city’s population was one of the reason it was able to survive for two and a half centuries after the Fourth Crusade, as the reduced population left plenty of room for food production inside the massive Theodosian Walls.

As well as the descriptions of the various attacks, we also get some interesting background information, with chapters looking at issues such as the foundation of the original city, the great Theodosian Walls and the wider defences they were part of or how the population and religious balance changed after the Ottomon takeover. For the sieges we get an account of the events that led up to the attack on the city, how the current occupants defended it, how it was attacked (if it was), and why the attack failed (or in a few, rare, cases succeeded).

This is an unusual approach to the history of Constantinople, giving us a wider picture of the military significance of the city, how that changed over time, and just how often the great Imperial city was attacked. One gets the impression of a city where life was rarely restful or all that safe!

Part I: Byzantion
1 – Enemies from the East – The Persians
2 – Enemies from the South – The Greeks
3 – Enemy from the West – the Macedonians
4 – Enemies from the North-West and the East – The Galatians and the Seleukids
5 – Enemy from the East – Antiochos II

Interlude I: Polybios on Byzantion

6 – Destruction from the West – the Romans
7 – Enemies from the North – Goths and Heruli
8 – Conqueror from the West – Constantine the Great

Interlude II: The Five Walls of the City

Part II: Constantinople
9 – Enemy from the North-West – the Goths
10 – An Enemy from Within – Vitalian
11 – Enemy from the North – the Kutrighur Huns
12 – Enemies from the Northwest, the East and from Within – Avars, Persians and Greeks
13 – Enemies from the East – Muslim Arabs
14 – Two Civil Wars: Artabasdas versus Constantine V, Thomas the Slav versus Michael II

Interlude III: Conversions

15 – Enemy from the North-west – the Bulgars
16 – Enemy from the North – the Rus
17 – Enemies from the West – the First Crusade
18 – Enemies from the West – the Fourth Crusade

Interlude IV: The Latin Empire

19 – Recovery from the East – The Empire of Nikaia
20 – Enemies Within – Civil Wars
21 – An Encircling Enemy – The Ottoman Turks
22 – Success for the Ottoman Turks

Interlude V: Islamization of the City

23 – Enemy from the Balkans – the Bulgarians
24 – Enemies from the Sea – The Great War Allies


Author: John D Grainger
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2022

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