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Analysis of the Fall of Constantinople

As far as history can remember, humans have constantly engaged each other in warfare.
Struggles between societies for resources, power, and land make up most, if not all, of the
underlying causes for such turmoil. As war became more sophisticated, the need for strategy
developed alongside it: war being such a common event, societies would be foolish to avoid
contemplating and analyzing the circumstances surrounding these struggles. The same is true
today; although our methods for analyzing these events have changed, the goal remains the
same: build accurate theories and models to account for the differing forces of war in order to
better predict potential outcomes in the future. These theories, although contemporary, can be
used to analyze military action of the past as well as the present. This paper will utilize two of
our modern theories to examine the final battle for Constantinople, capitol city of the Byzantine
empire: the DIME model and Clausewitz's Paradoxical Trinity.
By the first half of the 15th century, the power and influence of the Byzantine empire had
drastically declined. Its capitol city of Constantinople, once a symbol of great imperial power
and ruling over many large territories, now stood virtually alone; the Muslims, particularly the
Ottoman Turks, had conquered a considerable amount of its former land. Outside of the city of
Constantinople itself, only a few scattered Byzantine islands and territories remained (Carlson).
Throughout the centuries, the capitol city and its heavily fortified walls had managed to
withstand many Muslim attackers looking to expand their Islamic influence and take down the
eastern-most symbol of Christianity.
The city's resilience would finally come to an end in the spring of 1453 (Carlson). Two
years prior, the reigns of the Ottoman empire were given to Mehmed II, son of the Sultan Murad
II, who was determined to finally take control over Constantinople and complete his flourishing

empire. Only nineteen years of age, Mehmed's ambitions and leadership ability were drastically
underestimated by the surrounding provinces, including Constantinople (Nicol).
They underestimated him at their own peril; by April of 1453, Mehmed had begun his
attack on the fortified capitol. Troops surrounded the city both by land and by sea, cutting off
many supply lines and routes by which to send and receive messages. Cannons bombarded the
city walls, terrorizing the city's inhabitants. Talks of peace proved futile; Mehmed's objective of
controlling Constantinople was in exact contradiction to King Constantine XI's objective: hold
the city at any cost.
Finally, in late May of 1453, Mehmed and his army executed an all out assault of the city.
Led by the Sultan's hired Christian mercenaries, they hammered at the city wall's weakest point
for hours. Spread thin trying to protect all of the city's borders, Constantinople's defenses began
to fall (Carlson). The Janissaries seized this opportune moment, charging forward and dealing the
city its final blow (Carlson). After centuries of influence the city of Constantinople had fallen,
with Constantine XI as its final king (Carlson).
Using the DIME model, we can categorize the struggle between these two empires in
terms of DIME's elements: Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economics. The first,
diplomacy, was highly influential to the outcome of this battle. This influence was not due to
diplomacy between the capitol and the Muslims, however; as mentioned before, the objectives
held by the Sultan Mehmed II were in direct opposition to those of King Constantine XI. No
amount of diplomacy could have found commonalities between the two opposing objectives: the
city's destruction and the city's salvation. Diplomacy's influence instead lies in each empire's
relationship with other provinces. Constantine XI made efforts to reach out to Christian Europe,
particularly Venice, to secure military aid in fending off the Turks. He was denied, save a ship

carrying 800 troops sent in April; but by then it was far too late (Nicol). Had these requests been
granted earlier, the result of the war could have been very different. Meanwhile, Mehmed's
diplomacy granted the Turks some advantage. Lucrative trade deals with Venice ensured that the
Sultan would not encounter any significant problems from the Venetians prior to the attack on
Constantinople; this was enough to secure a victory.
The element of information played a significantly lesser role. There was little known, or
even to be known, by either side that could have impacted the final outcome of the war. Emperor
Constantine had kept his communication line with Europe open, hoping to learn of military
assistance being sent, but to no avail. His knowledge of measures to take prior to a siege of the
city, such as harvesting fields in advance and asking supplies of neighboring provinces, may
have prolonged Constantinople's ability to fight; unfortunately it was not enough (Nicol).
The military aspect of the DIME model had the most influence on the war's result.
Mehmed's forces vastly outnumbered those of the Byzantine empire, by some accounts
numbering up to 80,000 strong against a city defense of only about 6,000 (Nicol). With this
overwhelming force at his command Mehmed could afford to gamble with his strategy; there
was no real need to consider loss of life when mounting offensives. In addition, Mehmed had
powerful technology as his disposal: massive bronze cannons, designed specifically for the siege
of Constantinople (Crowley).
The economic element's significance, while not as great as that of military force,
unquestionably impacted the war. Even prior to Mehmed's attack, the emperor of Constantinople
had been lacking the funds he needed (Crowley). Once the assault began, it was only a matter of
time before the Ottoman empire's great wealth and resources outlasted the capitol city's supplies.
With the city under siege, emperor Constantine ordered wealthy private citizens to give up their

money to its defense, promising to repay them four-fold when the war was over (Nicol). By this
time, however, more money was useless; aside from purchasing supplies from others within the
city walls, there was little to be bought that could aid the city.
Clausewitz's Paradoxical Trinity can bring further insight to this battle. Chris Bassford
and Ed Villacres explain the trinity's components as:

... made up of three categories of forces: irrational forces (violent emotion, i.e.,
"primordial violence, hatred, and enmity"); non-rational forces (i.e., forces not
the product of human thought or intent, such as "friction" and "the play of chance
and probability"); and rationality (war's subordination to reason, "as an
instrument of policy." (Bassford and Villacres)

They go on to state that these three forces have been assigned to human actors: the people
as irrational forces, military engagement as non-rational forces, and the government as a rational
The people of Constantinople certainly played the part of an irrational force. Already
divided by religious lines between members of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, there were
those of the latter who were heard claiming to prefer the Sultan's reign to that of the Latin
Catholics (Nicol). This division hurt morale in the city and affected the city's defenders will to
fight; the latter being part of the non-rational forces. When the famed hero Giovanni Giustiniani
Longo fell due to circumstance of his position, morale dropped even more drastically (Nicol).
The government of Constantinople, meanwhile, can only be said to have acted rationally
assuming the objective of maintaining the city. With this goal in mind, the emperor did all he

could do. However, substituting this objective with one of saving the city's inhabitants, the
rationality of the government may come into question. There were several diplomatic occasions
prior to the city's siege where Constantine could have struck a deal with the Turks, giving up the
city in exchange for survival.
Viewed through the lens of the DIME model in combination with Clausewitz's
Paradoxical Trinity, the lessons from the final battle for Constantinople can be seen more clearly.
Most blatantly lacking in emperor Constantine's war strategy was effective diplomacy and fully
rational consideration of his position. Had he taken the state of his military and economic
strength more seriously into consideration, he may have decided against the improbable
objective of holding the city. However, his vanity got the better of him: [Constantine XI] would
not go down in history as the Emperor who ran away (Nicol). While the other two components
of the trinity in relation to Constantinople certainly contributed to the city's demise, the fatal
error was a result of the rational force acting to pursue an irrational objective.
In the modern day, U.S. Military operations can benefit from an analyzation of
Constantinople's fall. Despite vastly more powerful technologies benefitting both the
informational and military elements of the DIME model, the issues that can arise from
Clausewitz's trinity are timeless. When deciding upon objectives, contemporary operations must
take into account whether the chosen objective is truly a rational choice. Governments must take
a step back and calculate whether it actually possesses the means to achieve this objective,
making the objective rational, or whether the objective has been decided upon prematurely based
on an irrational desire for a particular outcome.