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September 10, 2013 / Congau

Constantinople

What was it that actually happened on the 29th of May 1453? Did a world fall? No, just a city, but for centuries the historical imagination has granted a global significance to this local event.

Constantinople had once been the capital of Christendom. From there mighty emperors had imitated the greatness of Rome with the orthodox religion as a legitimizing force, and from here patriarchs had been shining as if from Jerusalem. Constantinople had been symbol of the victorious Christianity, and now it had fallen. No wonder the recollection of the 29th of May has troubled Christians for more than five hundred years, and been a sweet memory for Muslims. Yes, history certainly remembers the event, but history has since moved on. 560 years and still counting; history seems to have no end.

History is a circle. The wheel turns and comes back to its starting point. The events are repeated. Stories are told about victory and defeat and they look alike.

History has seen many falls; the fall of empires, cities, dynasties and walls. Something falls, and something new arises. Sometimes what comes is better than what has been and sometimes the loss weighs heavier. That of course depends on the perspective of the observer. When there is more improvement than deterioration, it’s called progress. Some say the world progresses.

On the great scale of history, we may try to weigh whatever has happened. Was it good or was it rather bad? An infinite number of elements may be taken into consideration, and we may not yet have seen all the consequences of something that occurred in a distant past.

We can quarrel over good and evil – history certainly knows a lot of evil but also goodness – but nothing in the human world is only good or only evil. The fall of Constantinople may have been bad for Christians and good for Muslims, but not even that is unambiguous.

The fall of an empire is generally preceded by a period of decadence. (At least that’s how the chroniclers present it to posterity.) The East Roman Empire

 

had seen dreadful excesses in court and society, and it had often been a mockery of own ideals. Maybe it was good for the Christians that it fell. Islam expanded, but that religion had long since been torn by internal strife. What good is a conquest if one cannot conquer oneself? Etc… Choose another historic event and other actors can be asked the same questions.

History repeats itself, and the fall of Constantinople was an event similar to many others. But still, its symbolic monument incites the imagination.

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