History of the Early and High Middle Ages and Auxiliary Sciences of History

Doctoral dissertation topic

Constantinople 1453 – conquest or fall? Constructions of history in the principal sources of late Byzantine historiography

supervised by Prof. Dr Andreas Bihrer

This dissertation examines the literarisation of the capture of Constantinople in 1453 AD in the four principal sources of late Byzantine historiography. In doing so, the work’s fundamental epistemological interest focuses on a basic problem of history, namely that of the perceptibility and depiction of historical realities. Since the authors selected were all contemporary witnesses, in some cases even eyewitnesses to the capture of Constantinople, the project distinctly focuses on their perspective on telling the events. Thus, the authors and their texts are considered in their socio-historical and structural contexts.

The capture of Constantinople in 1453 caused several shock waves in Europe. This is why the products of late Byzantine historiography can be seen as both a destructive as well as a productive and creative act. Having been associated with the fulfilment of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream in the Book of Daniel, the capture of Constantinople was considered as the end of the last of the four kingdoms which continued the rule of the Roman Empire following the historiographical concept of ‘translatio imperii’. This is one of the reasons why the events of 1453 had such an unsettling and profound effect.

This dissertation aims to analyse whether the principal Greek sources on the capture of Constantinople agree with such things as traditional Christian modes of perception and interpretation or whether they deny and re-interpret these modes in order to give them new meaning. Against the background of the given structures – relating to both the authors’ social as well as to the historical contexts taken as a whole – this project is interested in the narrative processing, interpreting and attribution of meaning in these works immediately after the events occurred.

The objective of this study is a synthesis of three different focal points: first, the narrative strategies to portray the military events in general. Second, the depiction of the Ottoman sultan against the backdrop of already existing or new concepts of enemies which were transferred to the Ottomans. And lastly, the literary re-enactment of the death of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI. Thus, from an intertextual comparison of the works and the interplay of the aforementioned elements, the aim of this dissertation is to create a nuanced description of the observation, explanation and interpretation of the capture of Constantinople in the four principal sources from a Byzantine, Greek-speaking point of view which has not yet been elaborated on in previous research.