Who Conquered Istanbul: The Life of Mehmet the Conqueror

Mehmet II or Mehmet the Conqueror (Fatih Sultan Mehmet in Turkish) is one of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire. In historical sources, his name is mentioned in the form of Muhammad, like the other sultans named Mehmet. Mehmet the Conqueror first ruled for a short period between 1444-46, then for 30 years from 1451 until his death in 1481. So, who is Mehmet the Conqueror and how old did he conquer Istanbul?

Mehmet II conquered Istanbul, the 1125-year-old capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, after four major attacks on April 19, May 6, May 12, and May 29, which lasted 53 days. He was only 21 years old when he conquered Istanbul. The conquest of Istanbul brought very important results. After the conquest of Istanbul, Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror organized many expeditions on Europe in order to consolidate the dominance in the west, to expand the borders, to spread Islam to the furthest places, and to destroy the Christian unity.

The Ottoman Empire consolidated its dominance in Europe with campaigns to Serbia (1454,1459), Mora (1460), Wallachia (1462), Moldavia (1476), Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Venice (1463-1479), Italy (1480), and Hungary. The Kingdom of Serbia was completely abolished and turned into an Ottoman flag, the Peloponnese was completely conquered, Wallachia was made the Ottoman province, Bosnia was taken under Ottoman rule again, Albania was captured. At the end of the 16-year Ottoman-Venetian Sea Wars, Venice agreed to sign peace. During the expedition to Italy, Otranto, which was a very important center for the conquest of Rome, was conquered but was lost back upon the death of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror.

Early Life of Mehmet the Conqueror

Mehmet the Conqueror was born on March 30, 1432, in Edirne. His father was the fourth son of Murad II, and his mother was Hüma Hatun. Murat II was a ruler who attached great importance to the education of princes. In addition to names such as Molla Gürani, Molla Hüsrev, Akşemseddin, Molla Hayreddin, who are among the most famous scholars of the period, Byzantine and Italian teachers also contributed to the good education of II Mehmet. Sultan Mehmet knew Greek, Latin, and Slavic as well as Arabic and Persian.

In the spring of 1443, he was sent to Manisa as governor with his Lala Kassabzade Mahmut and Nişancı İbrahim Abdullah Bey. The death of his brother, the Governor of Amasya, Prince Alaeddin Ali Çelebi, at the end of the same year, made him the sole successor to the throne. In the spring of 1444, upon the call of II Murat, who was planning to abdicate his throne, he went to Edirne with his father. He witnessed the signing of a peace treaty with the Hungarian king, Serbian despot, and the ambassadors of Hunyadi Yanos. Then II. Murat left the throne to his son. The empire was left to rule by an inexperienced 12-year-old young man, causing great troubles at home and abroad.

Places taken in the period of Murat II in the Balkans and Anatolia were abandoned. In Edirne, rivalry and conflict arose among the pashas. The demonstrations, the Hurufi uprising of 22 September 1444, and the fire that broke out in the city caused great damage. At the same time, under the leadership of the Papacy, the Crusader army consisting of Hungarian, Polish, Wallachian, and various Balkan nations crossed the Danube River. Sultan Murat II went to Varna to fight the crusader army. Mehmet and Grand Vizier Çandarlı Halil Pasha stayed in Edirne. Sultan Murad won a great victory against the Crusaders in Varna.

Although Çandarlı Halil Pasha wanted him to come back to the throne, II. Murat did not want to depose his son and went to Manisa. Vizier Şehabeddin Şahin, Lala Nişancı İbrahim, and Zağanos Pashas were in favor of Mehmet II’s reign. Especially Zağanos Pasha advocated the conquest policies and encouraged the young sultan in this direction. Çandarlı Halil Pasha, who is in favor of pursuing a pro-peace policy, accelerated his activities to bring II Murad back to power. Among the important conquests of Fatih Sultan Mehmet are the following:

  • Anatolia

Istanbul (1453), Amasra (1459), Sinop (1460), Trabzon (1461), Konya, Karaman (1466) Eastern Anatolia (1473 Otlukbeli War).

  • Balkans

Serbia (1459) except Belgrade, Peloponnese (1460), Wallachia (1462), Bosnia (1463) Herzegovina (1483), Moldavia (1476), Albania (1478).

  • The seas

Aegean Islands (Limnos 1456, Euboea 1470, Thassos 1457, Samothrace 1457, Gökçeada 1456, Lesbos 1462), Greek Islands (Kefalonia 1479, Lefkada 1479, Zakynthos 1479), Crimea (1475).

In 1446, a great janissary revolt broke out in Edirne. The rebels declared their support for Orhan Çelebi, who was in the hands of Byzantium. The Janissary revolt was hardly suppressed. With the help of Çandarlı and some other state officials, II Murad was secretly brought from Manisa and his throne was achieved. The two-year rule of the young sultan, who was sent to Manisa in August 1446, came to an end. Mehmet II married Sitti Hatun, the daughter of Dulkadiroğlu Süleyman Bey at a magnificent wedding in Edirne in December 1450.

Upon the death of his father on February 2, 1451, he ascended the Ottoman throne for the second time on February 18, 1451, at the age of nineteen. With the throne of Sultan Mehmet, the ideas of conquering Istanbul were revived. Young Mehmet had the idea of ​​uniting the Ottoman country divided between Anatolia and Rumelia by conquering Istanbul and establishing a solid-state. Çandarlı Halil Pasha, who thought that Istanbul would lose its current position when it was taken and that the state would be damaged if the conquest was attempted and failed, opposed the conquest. Therefore, he made a lot of effort not to get into this business.

Mehmet the Conqueror and the Conquest of Istanbul

The Sultan ordered the Grand Vizier Halil Pasha to build a fortress opposite the Anatolian Fortress. Thanks to the Rumeli Fortress (Boğazkesen), which was completed in August of 1452 after four months of construction, it was aimed to cut the aid from the Black Sea, to secure the passage of the navies between Anatolia and Rumelia, and to serve as a base for the siege army when necessary. Sultan Mehmet, who handed over Firuz Aga to the command of the fortress and gave 400 janissaries to his command, returned to Edirne and had architects Muslihiddin, Sarica Sekban, and Hungarian Urban, who escaped from Byzantium and took refuge in the Ottoman Empire, poured big cannons.

Aware of the dangers created by the Byzantine presence in the middle of the Ottoman lands for the state, the young ruler called his viziers, statesmen, and scholars in Edirne one day and learned their views. Finally, he said his thoughts about Istanbul: “The bottom line is, I would like to add this city to our state. If I fail to do this, I will make it superior to losing the state for it.” The Byzantine Emperor Constantine asked for help from everywhere to defend Istanbul with the construction of the fortress. During the siege, the defense army consisted of 8-9 thousand people, three thousand of this number was composed of auxiliary forces from Venice, Genoese, Crete and Chios Islands, Spain, and Provence.

The number of soldiers of the Ottoman army is estimated to be 100-150 thousand. There is no clear information as to how many of them are members of the military and how many volunteers came for plunder. Sultan Mehmet departed from Edirne on March 23, 1453. He stood in Keşan and took the Anatolian forces passing through the Dardanelles and came in front of the walls of Istanbul on April 5, 1453. The siege operation, which started on April 6, was completed in five days. Mehmet II sent Mahmut Pasha to the emperor in accordance with the Islamic custom and called for the city to surrender without spilling blood. XI Constantine declined the offer, declaring that he had sworn to defend the city but was ready to pay taxes.

As of April 12, the shooting of big cannons started. The same day, the navy arrived in front of the Istanbul port. The first offensive lasted six days. Byzantines stretched thick chains in front of the Golden Horn and prevented the navy from entering the Golden Horn. After the failure of the first attack, Halil Pasha offered to lift the siege on the condition that the emperor pays 70,000 ducats of gold annually. This proposal was not accepted by Sultan Mehmet and his commanders. On April 20, the aid fleet, commanded by captain Flantanellas, consisting of a Byzantine and three Genoese galleons approached Istanbul. Mehmet II sent Baltaoğlu Süleyman Bey to the aid fleet with 18 ships. The aid fleet, with the wind behind it, was advancing faster and the Ottoman ships could not dock.

Four galleons remained dormant when the wind cut off in the area known today as Yeşilköy; Ottoman ships reached the galleons by rowing. Due to the prolongation of the fighting, the Ottoman ships that came from behind also caught up, and the Genoese-Byzantine fleet of four ships surrounded about 150 Ottoman ships. However, superiority could not be established due to the galleons being higher than the Ottoman galleys and the inexperience of the crews on the foremost Ottoman ships. Baltaoğlu Süleyman Bey, who saw heavy casualties, ordered the navy to withdraw. Seeing defeat from a dominant hill, II. Mehmet got angry and tried to preach his orders to Baltaoğlu Süleyman by riding his horse into the sea.

However, the Ottoman navy was defeated, the aid fleet continued on its way, and when the darkness came, the chain that closed the Golden Horn was loosened, and successfully delivered its aid to Constantinople by taking shelter in the harbor accompanied by two Venetian ships. The next day, Mehmet II went to the naval command to account for the defeat with ten thousand horsemen. The angry sultan who wanted to execute Baltaoğlu Süleyman Bey gave up execution as a result of the begging of other statesmen, but he dismissed Baltaoğlu by beating him with his mace; Çalıbeyoğlu Hamza Bey was appointed as the vacant captain. Sultan Mehmet, who thought that the conquest would not be successful without the navy, had about 70 ships run on the road between Dolmabahçe and Kasımpaşa in one night (April 21-22) and landed them to the Golden Horn.

Cannon fire continued against the walls every day. Two more major attacks took place on 6 and 12 May. However, no result was achieved. In the fourth week of May, the news that Hungarians and a Crusader fleet were taking action spread throughout the army. The Sultan’s attempts to capture the city peacefully aroused anxiety within the army. Considering that a general attack was necessary, Mehmet sent İsfendiyaroğlu Kasım Bey to the emperor as an ambassador to surrender the city peacefully for the last time on May 23 or 24. The emperor replied to Mr. Kasım that they would not leave the city but was ready to pay taxes and make other concessions.

It is said that the sultan who heard the news said, “It is not possible to go from here. Either I will take the city or the city will capture me dead or alive.” After two attacks that started on the night of 28 May and continued until close to morning, a general attack started on Tuesday, 29 May. After four great attacks that lasted for fifty-four days on April 18, 6, 12, and 29 May, the 1125-year-old capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, Constantinople, was conquered on Tuesday, 29 May 1453, before the Crusader army could come to help.

The conquest of Istanbul, which made the twenty-one-year-old Sultan Mehmet known as “the Conqueror” in history, is considered the definitive establishment of the Ottoman Empire. This historical development, which caused the Byzantine Empire to be erased from history, enabled the next great conquests of the Ottoman Empire.

Battle of Otlukbeli: The Rise of Mehmet the Conqueror

The hostility between the Ottoman and Akkoyunlu dynasties stretched back to the times of Yıldırım Bayezid and Kara Yölük Osman. While the Ottomans were allied with the Karakoyunlu, the Akkoyunlu State, on the other hand, supported Timur. Uzun Hasan married Katerina Despina (Theodora Megale Komnena), the daughter of Trabzon Emperor IV Yuhannes in 1458. Uzun Hasan sent his nephew Murat to Istanbul. He asked the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, apart from the forgiveness of the Trabzon Empire tax, the Kayseri region, and precious gifts that were given to Katerina Despina as a dowry. Fatih stated that he would personally come to the region and handle the tax business.

Fatih, Uzun Hasan, and his ally Trabzon Greek Empire took action against the Georgians in 1461. He took Koyulhisar, which Uzun Hasan captured in 1459. The Akkoyunlu army was defeated by the Ottomans in the Munzur Mountains in Erzincan. Uzun Hasan sent his mother to Fatih and an agreement was reached. Uzun Hasan remained neutral and Fatih conquered Trabzon on 26 October 1461 and ended the Greek domination in the region. From 1466, Ottoman forces entered Central Anatolia and followed the Karamanids. While the Karamanoğlu forces fled to the east, the Akkoyunlular crossed the border, and in 1472 clashes took place with the Ottoman troops. The following year, Mehmet II personally took the head of the army and marched east.

Uzun Hasan’s army was reinforced with the remnants of Karamanids. The army was a large but irregular Turkmen army. Its main strength was light cavalry and lance infantry. Uzun Hasan’s aim was to overthrow the Ottoman cavalrymen with speared pedestrians and to clamp and destroy them with his cavalry. The horsemen of the Ottoman army were Turkmen like Uzun Hasan’s. However, the janissaries, who were Ottoman infantry, were much more professional soldiers. Mehmet II wanted the cannons, which proved their strength during the conquest of Istanbul, to be used in the field war. For this purpose, light mortars were produced for the first time and they were taken to the eastern expedition.

While the Ottoman army was advancing through the Eastern Black Sea mountains, Uzun Hasan’s troops sneaked closer. Hasan had planned to raid in the mountains. The Ottoman reconnaissance units noticed the enemy who had been placed very close at the last moment and Mehmet II immediately ordered the order of war. The land where the two armies met was a valley split by the stream and was not at all suitable for war. The use of horses was very difficult due to the rocks and roughness. Although the Ottoman lords offered to retreat and find the plain, Mehmet II, thinking that the withdrawal maneuver would be dangerous when the enemy was so close, decided to go to war.

Prior to the war, Rumelia Governor Murat Pasha fell into the trap of Uğurlu Mehmet Bey and drowned in the Euphrates River. Although this caused great distress among the soldiers, the main battles were fought in Otlukbeli, in the Tercan Plain. In the battle with the vanguard units, Davut Pasha was victorious and defeated the Akkoyunlu vanguard troops. Later, when Zeynel Mirza, the right-wing commander of Akkoyunlu, attacked Davut Pasha, the Ottoman left-wing commander, the Governor of Karaman, Prince Mustafa, defeated their right flank and killed Zeynel Mirza by tormenting him. Thus, the Akkoyunlu right wing was defeated and dispersed. Meanwhile, the Ottoman right-wing commander, the Governor of Amasya, Prince Bayezid, first attacked Uğurlu Mehmet Bey and caused him to flee from the battlefield.

After Uğurlu Mehmet Bey withdrew, Akkoyunlu left flank Mehmet Bakır was in command. Prince Bayezid attacked Uzun Hasan after attacking him, defeating the left side of Akkoyunlu and capturing him. Unable to resist the attacks of both Prince Mustafa and Şehzade Bayezid, Uzun Hasan left a soldier who resembled him and fled from the battlefield. The land was suitable for ambushing, and Mehmet II, taking into account the delay of the reconnaissance troops to detect the enemy, let the enemy go.

The Death of Mehmet the Conqueror

Although Mehmet the Conqueror was sick, he went to Üsküdar for a new expedition. It was unknown where it was targeting. In some sources, it is claimed that he started an expedition over the Mamluks. According to some, the secret target is Italy. He died on May 3, 1481, at the age of 49, in a place called Hünkarçayırı between Üsküdar and Gebze. His death was attributed to gout. Allegations that he later died of poisoning were also made. It was alleged that the Venetians, of Jewish origin, bribed the Italian-born physician Yakup Pasha, poisoning the Conqueror. It was claimed that the men of Bayezid, who was not liked by the Janissaries, but the popular masses, madrasahs, and people of the sect, made this.

His death was kept secret for a while. His body was brought to Istanbul and was buried in his tomb in the courtyard of Fatih Mosque on Tuesday, May 22, 1481. His son Bayezid II took the throne. Fatih had two sons alive. His 34-year-old elder son Bayezid was the governor of Amasya and his younger son, 23, Cem, Konya. My vizier immediately sent messengers to both princes and informed them that their father had passed away and that they should come to Istanbul in a hurry. Prince who came to Istanbul early would ascend to the throne. The body of the Conqueror was immediately taken to Istanbul and abandoned in a deserted, unlit place in Topkapı Palace. While his sons were fighting with each other for the throne, Fatih’s body was left to rot.

In the Topkapı Palace, the sultan’s body began to smell as he was left in his clothes on hot spring days. Before the corpse was completely decomposed, Baltacilar Kethüdası Kasım and two physicians stripped the clothes, removed the internal organs, and then disinfected the body, and then buried it. Prince Bayezid buried the body in the courtyard of the mosque, which Fatih Sultan Mehmet had built in his name, right after he was declared sultan, that is, 19 days after the death of Fatih. Fatih Sultan Mehmet was the first Ottoman sultan to have his portrait painted. Gentile Bellini (1429-1507), the famous Venetian painter of the Renaissance period, came to Istanbul in 1479 at the invitation of Sultan Mehmet after the Ottoman-Venetian War that lasted for 16 years.

Bellini’s portrait of Fatih Sultan Mehmet, who painted portraits of different people who lived in the palace for a while, is among his most important works. The date 25 November 1480 is written in Latin letters in the lower right corner of his table. In the same period, Nakkaş Sinan Bey, one of the important names of Ottoman miniature art, was sent to Italy for education. The “Smelling Rose” portrait of Sinan Bey, who worked on the art of painting here, on his return to Istanbul bears the traces of Renaissance painting art. In the words of Halil İnalcık, Fatih Sultan Mehmet is “the greatest statesman among the Ottoman sultans”.

In addition to his statesmanship and command, he gave great importance to the mental sciences of the period in the madrasas he opened. He wanted to revive the historical religion-philosophy debate between Ghazali and Ibn Rushd among the Ottoman messengers. Adnan Adıvar writes in his work “Knowledge in Ottoman Turks” that “With the ascension of Fatih to the throne, we begin to be a testament to the development of philosophical scientific thought among the Ottoman Turks”. In 1463, Pope Pius II wrote a letter inviting Fatih Sultan Mehmet to Christianity, who ascribed the title “Kaiser” used by the Roman emperors after the conquest of Istanbul. Whether the letter was sent is still controversial. The letter was printed in Treviso in 1475, after the death of the Pope, while the Conqueror was alive.

The Military Aspect of Mehmet the Conqueror

Mehmet II, who transferred the throne to his father in 1446, ascended the throne again when he was 19 years old. He gained experience by participating in Albanian expeditions with his father in 1448 and 1450. In 1450, he married Sitti Mükrime Hatun, the daughter of Süleyman Bey, Dulkadiroğulları Bey. When his father died on February 10, 1451, he took the throne again. The greatest desire of the conqueror of Istanbul was to conquer Istanbul. When he came back to the throne, he started preparations to realize this dream. He started with the construction of Rumelihisarı.

He made a short-term peace with the rulers of Venice, Hungary, and Bosnia. He ensured that the Genoese were neutral. Increased the number of soldiers in the army to 70 thousand. The preparation for the conquest took close to a year. And it reached the walls of Istanbul on April 6, 1453. The great siege continued for 53 days. The gates of the city were finally opened on May 29, 1453. He conquered Istanbul at the age of 21 in 1453 and destroyed the Byzantine Empire known as “indestructible”, Mehmet II received the title of “Fatih”. During the conquest, Fatih Sultan Mehmet, who changed the course of the war by driving the ships from land and lowering them to the Golden Horn, closed the Middle Ages with this conquest and opened the New Age.

Fatih Sultan Mehmed organized consecutive campaigns during his reign. In 1454, Enez was taken from the Genoese. A year later the army marched to Serbia. At the end of the campaigns, Moldavia accepted the loyalty to the Ottoman Empire. In 1459, Serbia was taken to Semendire with the expedition and Serbia joined the Ottoman lands. Mora in 1460 and Amasra in 1461 was conquered. The Candaroğulları Principality was abolished in the same year. Trabzon Greek Empire also joined the Ottoman lands. The Bosnian and Lesbos victories in 1462 were followed by the conquest of Albania in 1466. After that, the Principality of Karamanoğulları was terminated.

The great struggle between the Ottomans and Venetians for many years began. Eventually, Venice had to sign an agreement with the Ottomans. During the reign of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, Ermanak, Aksaray, İçel, Konya, Laren, Crimea, Alanya, Albania, Georgia, Circassia, Kefalonia, Ayamavra, and Zanta Islands joined the Ottoman Empire. In 1473, the Battle of Otlukbeli was fought. At the end of the war, the Akkoyunlu ruler Uzun Hasan was defeated. Thus, the eastern borders of the empire were secured. Fatih Sultan Mehmet also developed the mortar system. The mortar was used at that time, but it was very important to develop it.

It is the first practice in history to shoot into the wall or to sink the ships in the navy by bouncing the fleet in the Golden Horn over the Galata walls. The first mortar cannon drew by him and the ballistic calculations made by him, the mortar invented by Fatih Sultan Mehmet in the history of military weapons, was used by the Turks for the first time in history during the conquest of Istanbul. On the other hand, even if the gun powder as a firearm does not have a serious destructive force in the general field, the fear it arouses in the soldiers and society has been the real application of psychological pressure in breaking the power of resistance in the war strategy.

It is a point that can cause serious morale to be able to bring a small force into the Golden Horn by bypassing the Byzantine strong navy, which was organized on the mouth of the Golden Horn, over the land. We see that before the success of Fatih Sultan Mehmet Han to launch these ships from land, Gazi Umur Bey, who carried 300 ships from land in the siege of Mora, was prepared to realize this success during the conquest of Istanbul. Fatih has performed and implemented the practices in the civilizations and military system before him in the most perfect and perfect way. It has proved that the success which it provided to the development of war techniques and technology can be implemented not only with firepower but also with a strategy and logistics, and set a precedent. Today it is the founder of the modern military system.

The location where Rumeli Fortress was built and the success in its construction are the biggest logistics success of the world in those centuries. It was built in a short time such as 3 months, not only the walls are built, but also the neighborhood, mosque, bath, bronze cannons, and waterways poured specifically for the fortress. In addition, while each of the three important towers that make up the Rumelihisarı exhibit a separate architectural plan and feature, the acoustic dome of the Saruca Pasha Tower, one of the most important original towers in the world, is completed within these three months. Bringing each stone by sea, especially the materials in the construction of Rumelihisarı, is an incredible example of logistics and organization.

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Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I love Istanbul. I have been to 10 different countries. Istanbul is in the top 3 cities. I like to play soccer too :)

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