Skip to comments.Emperor Constantine's Last Walk
Posted on 08/17/2009 6:15:37 AM PDT by Nikas777
Osprey Media. - Peterborough Examiner - Ontario, CA
[Emperor] Constantine's Last Walk
Junior Fiction winner
Local News - Wednesday, July 11, 2007 @ 00:00
By Erik Blackthrone O'Barr
The cannon fire grew closer with each thundering belch of rock and iron, as the walls of Constantinople, wonders of the world that had never been breached save for treachery, groaned under the strain.
Buildings crackled with scorching heat, set ablaze by pitch- covered arrows. The shouts and screams of the dying echoed in the empty streets of the once great city.
And Constantine XI Palaiologos, last Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, last Emperor of the Romans, last Emperor of the greatest and most influential nation the world had ever seen, walked quietly amongst the rubble.
The formerly magnificent city, the largest and wealthiest in the known world, where peoples from three continents had mingled and traded and fought, was now little more than a collection of dusty, sleepy villages surrounded by the enormous walls of more glorious years past.
The crumbling homes and churches were empty and lifeless now, the few souls remaining like ghosts, flitting amongst the old marble and broken cobblestone.
As Constantine shuffled in his long purple robes for the last procession to the Hagia Sophia, the greatest church of Christendom, church bells rang mournfully throughout the city for the last time. The sky was deep crimson, like a fiery halo around the city. A sign of apocalypse, perhaps? Constantine neither knew nor cared.
His city was to fall, his empire crumble to dust and remain only in memories and texts: and he was to be remembered as the person who let it happen.
He had tried, of course. He desperately sought aid from the Latins, the people who had destroyed his great city before in 1204.
He desperately sought aid from the Venetians, the Genoese, the Pope even.
And now, trudging through the rubble-strewn streets, he sought aid only from God.
Crack. Another round of cannonballs smashed against the stone fortifications.
The buildings shuddered. The procession continued; the priests in front of him, carrying the last remaining holy relics of times past, shuffled like dead men, accepting of their fate.
The handful of citizens who had not fled in the last few years now lined the streets singing hymns. It looked like a funeral. It was.
Constantine paused in the street, cleared his throat, his voice trembling with regret, yet not without a hint of hope.
He spoke to the people now crowded around him, to the priests who had stopped in their tracks, and to the few soldiers left not defending the walls.
He told them that there are few things worth dying for, and that all of them were now present at Constantinople. He thanked them for staying, for fighting in the face of certain defeat.
He thanked the Italian soldiers who had remained for an empire not their own, the small band of people who had answered his call to save the last great city of the Romans.
He thanked them for their contributions for accepting the fate that he, too, would suffer.
He asked them to remember their ancestors, from Alexander to Trajan, who had gone to the ends of the earth.
He turned to Giovanni Giustiniani, the leader of the band of Genoese who had stayed, fought and died in the vain defense, and asked him to take his wife to safety by ship as the city was overrun.
And finally, he asked the people to forgive him, forgive him for any crimes he may have done, any people he may have wronged, and for presiding over the fall of the Roman Empire.
Constantine looked over his ruined city, his shattered people, and thought of the impermanence of it all. Perhaps it was brought on by the specter of death, but it seemed as if time was on a shorter scale.
The millennial history of Byzantium was destroyed by sword and fire in but two months. The life of the last Emperor would end in a day, perhaps a week, if Giovanni and his men could hold out.
Yet death, true death, Constantine felt, would not come to him. He would live on, if not in heaven then in memory, along with his Empire. And so he asked for forgiveness, so he could live eternally with a free soul.
He went to his palace, now with peeling plaster and chipped mosaics, and asked for the forgiveness of his family and friends, for all the wrongs he had done to them, and finally he went back to the Hagia Sophia, now filled with people in the last remaining house of God. He confessed his sins to the few emotionally shattered holy men, and under the red sky he went to the battlements to await his impending oblivion.
It took six hours. From midnight to the dawn of the sun, Constantine held the walls as they came crashing down under cannon fire. Giovanni Giustiniani had perished as the city burned, the flames matching the heavens above it.
Thousands had died trying to take the walls, and yet the Byzantines and their emperor held them off.
Yet finally, at six o'clock, on May 29th, 1453, the walls, which had stood strong for one thousand years, which had repelled invaders from the deserts of Arabia to the icy forests of Scandinavia, were taken. And at the main gate, the main gate to the Queen of Cities, the last army of the Romans stood their ground against a force twenty times their size. Constantine watched as they fought desperately.
His mind raced. He might be able to surrender to the Sultan. He could try to flee by ship. There had to be a way to escape. But his mind simmered and cooled: there was only one escape.
"The City has fallen, but I am alive," the Emperor whispered. He threw off his purple imperial regalia.
He took off his crown and laid it on the destroyed cobblestone ground. He removed his insignia, unsheathed his sword and charged at the swarm of enemy forces, swinging his weapon to and fro.
The last stand of an Empire and a fitting act of defiance for one who now is with his people once more, eternally.
This is magnificent.
Thank you for sharing this.
Historical fiction ping.
Every time I visit Athens i go to his statue which faces the national cathedral downtown nar Syntagma square. There are always a few people who want to talk about this amazing hero.
Constantine Paleologus Dragases emboides all Christian peoples fighting against Muslim Turks. His blood included Greek, Armenian, Anatolian Greek, Serbian, Italian, Bulgarian, Austrian.
A ninth grader wrote this? Amazing. That kid has a bright future.
Thanks so much for sharing this. May 29, 1453 is another date which will live in infamy.
Most people can’t write this well post college! (myself sadly included).
Faith of Our Fathers ping
The fall of Constantinople in 1453 marked the end not only of the last remnant of the Roman/Byzantine Empire, but also of a union between the Catholic and Orthodox churches which had been negotiated 14 years earlier during the Council of Florence. This union was a tenuous one at best and was bitterly resented by the Orthodox faithful.
if there was a book by this kid, I’d buy it
This is an amazing essay. I notice that it was written by a British student. Too bad that our US schools don’t teach history so brilliantly. Thanks for posting.
The student is from a Canadian school - though Peterborough Collegiate is modeled after the British schools so I can see why you would think that.
The author mentions the nationalities of Byzantium’s western allies, but not those of the besiegers, nor their religion.
Interesting omission, JMHO.
Now, now. You wouldn’t want this young up-and-coming historian to offend Muslims and Turks, would you?
I love that statue. I spend a part of each day in Athena sitting at the Zacharoplasteo on the square looking at the figure. And you are right, tourists are always asking who he is.
"Constantine Paleologus Dragases emboides all Christian peoples fighting against Muslim Turks. His blood included Greek, Armenian, Anatolian Greek, Serbian, Italian, Bulgarian, Austrian."
He was, as we know, the Despot of Morea at Mistras prior to being the Emperor. The first prayers said for him before he left for Constantinople were said in the main church of my maternal village. I've stood exactly where he stood when those prayers were said. My people were Kesaroi at Mistras and one died on the walls of The City with him.
Interesting point, but I don't think that it was written that way to be PC.
More that it assumes the reader already knows that Constantinople fell to the Muslims in 1453 -- but generally that's all they know.
Someday we will run into each other and have that coffee at the square...
His spirit is alive and well...within the hearts of many Christians.
“My people were Kesaroi at Mistras and one died on the walls of The City with him.”
Our heroic ancestors are brave and good. I can only hope that their courage continues ...
“Someday we will run into each other and have that coffee at the square...”
You know the spot...best store bought kataiffe (especially with ice cream) and frappe in town and in the morning the cafe is hot, thick and sweet with plenty of kaimaki!
Thanks Nikas777. I caught the Canadian part after my comment had already posted. That’s even more shameful fo rUS schools — to have schools on this continent that seem to inspire a love of history more than any of ours do. Am I wrong to assume that this is a private school?
Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School (PCVS) is a public high school located at 201 McDonnel Street in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. One of the oldest public schools in the country, PCVS was founded in 1827. As of 2006, it has 960 students and 73 teachers and support staff. It is a member of the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board.