Facsimile edition of the ms. of Critoboulos’ History of the Fall of Constantinople to be published

I have written before about the history of Kritoboulos of Imbros, which describes the sack of Constantinople in 1453.  The author was a Greek renegade who entered Turkish service.  The text was published in a critical edition in 1983. An English translation from an earlier edition exists by Charles Riggs.  From the latter I learn that:

The original manuscript of this valuable work is one of the treasures of the Seraglio Point Museum Library in Istanbul today, and it is carefully guarded as such. It was discovered in the Library in 1865, and five years later was transcribed by Herr Karl Mueller and printed in Paris in Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum, Vol. V. The dedicatory Epistle to Mehmed was published separately by Tischendorf in 1870.

It seems that the Greek consul in Istanbul, Vasilis Bornovas, is an enterprising man who is interested in promoting the study of Greek in Istanbul.  According to this report, he started a school in Istanbul to teach Greek in 2009:

The General Consul of Greece in Istanbul Vasilis Bornovas, realized the Greek language and cultural interest by the Turks.  He opened a Greek language school in Sismanogleio Megaro, in Istanbul. According to the Greek Consul: “The first year of opening we had 50-60 students, but last year their number reached 200. This year we expect to have 500-600 students. As I am informed, Greeks express great interest about learning Turkish and in Greece there are 150 schools, while many people come to Istanbul in order to have lessons in TOMER (Turkish Language Learning Center)”.

From the website of the Canellopoulos Foundation here, I learn that he has now arranged for the publication of a photographic copy of the Istanbul manuscript, with Turkish facing translation, doubtless in the same cause of promoting mutual understanding.  The funding is mainly coming from this foundation, who are to be commended for such an interesting project.

The Paul and Alexandra Canellopoulos Foundation is contributing to the costs of publishing the Histories of Critoboulos of Imbros, in response to a proposal by Vasilis Bornovas, Embassy Attaché First Class and former Greek Consul General to Constantinople.

The book contains a Turkish translation of the historical writings of Critoboulos, and is expected to deepen understanding of the historical period of transition from the Byzantine to the Ottoman era.

I learned of all this today when I encountered a rather confused article here, which makes an announcement about this work.

An important manuscript was discovered in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. … The manuscript found is of significant meaning, because it consists of information regarding the years before the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, but it also describes the early years after Constantinople was turned into Istanbul and became capital of Turkey.

The document belongs to Michael Critovoulos, a Greek politician, scholar and historian, who lived between 1410 and 1470. His birth-name was Kritopoulos, but he changed it to sound more ancient Greek-like.

He experienced the Siege and Fall of Constantinople and wrote about Mehmed II the Conqueror. … The chronicle of destruction and looting of the city by the Ottomans, in order to make it their capital, is also mentioned.

His book, according to the Turkish website Hubermonitor.com, was printed with the contribution of the Pavlos and Alexandra Kanellopoulos Foundation. This will be a bilingual issue, having the original manuscript and the Turkish translation by Aris Tsokonas on the one page and the colourful photocopy of the text on the other.

The consul is to be commended.  Fostering understanding is doubtless part of his job; but what an imaginative way to do this!  Long after all diplomatic endeavours have proven vain, and perhaps in centuries to come, when the names of Greece and Turkey have become merely a historical curiosity to some Chinese overlord of the world, the book that he made possible may transmit the work of Critoboulos to a remote future.


The sack of Constantinople (part 2)

Just over a week ago I posted here about a supposed eyewitness account of the sack of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 which was travelling around the web.  The source was Critoboulos, or Kritovoulos as it is also spelled. 

I now have the Riggs English translation before me, and a comparison is interesting.  For it seems that the online “quotations” — supposedly from Halliday’s translation of R. Guerdan, Byzantium: its triumphs and tragedy do not correspond that well to what Kritovoulos wrote.  They are true in substance, I think — but I do not see how the text in Greek can possibly agree with both.  One or the other is deviating from the text.

Here is the complete text from Riggs.

(p.71) § 237. Then a great slaughter occurred of those who happened to be there: some of them were on the streets, for they had already left the houses and were running toward the tumult when they fell unexpectedly on the swords of the (p.72) soldiers; others were in their own homes and fell victims to the violence of the Janissaries and other soldiers, without any rhyme or reason; others were resisting, relying on their own courage; still others were fleeing to the churches and making supplication-men, women, and children, everyone, for there was no quarter given.

§ 238. The soldiers fell on them with anger and great wrath. For one thing, they were actuated by the hardships of the siege. For another, some foolish people had hurled taunts and curses at them from the battlements all through the siege. Now, in general they killed so as to frighten all the City, and to terrorize and enslave all by the slaughter.

§ 239. When they had had enough of murder, and the City was reduced to slavery, some of the troops turned to the mansions of the mighty, by bands and companies and divisions, for plunder and spoil. Others went to the robbing of churches, and others dispersed to the simple homes of the common people, stealing, robbing, plundering, killing, insulting, taking and enslaving men, women, and children, old and young, priests, monks-in short, every age and class.

§ 240. There was a further sight, terrible and pitiful beyond all tragedies: young and chaste women of noble birth and well to do, accustomed to remain at home and who had hardly ever left their own premises, and handsome and lovely maidens of splendid and renowned families, till then unsullied by male eyes-some of these were dragged by force from their chambers and hauled off pitilessly and dishonorably.

§ 241. Other women, sleeping in their beds, had to endure nightmares. Men with swords, their hands bloodstained with murder, breathing out rage, speaking out murder indiscriminate, flushed with all the worst things-this crowd, made up of men from every race and nation, brought together by chance, like wild and ferocious beasts, leaped into (p.72) the houses, driving them out mercilessly, dragging, rending, forcing, hauling them disgracefully into the public highways, insulting them and doing every evil thing.

§ 242. They say that many of the maidens, even at the mere unaccustomed sight and sound of these men, were terror-stricken and came near losing their very lives. And there were also honorable old men who were dragged by their white hair, and some of them beaten unmercifully. And well-born and beautiful young boys were carried off.

§ 243. There were priests who were driven along, and consecrated virgins who were honorable and wholly unsullied, devoted to God alone and living for Him to whom they had consecrated themselves. Some of these were forced out of their cells and driven off, and others dragged out of the churches where they had taken refuge and driven off with insult and dishonor, their cheeks scratched, amid wailing and lamentation and bitter tears. Tender children were snatched pitilessly from their mothers, young brides separated ruthlessly from their newly-married husbands. And ten thousand other terrible deeds were done.

§ 244. And the desecrating and plundering and robbing of the churches-how can one describe it in words? Some things they threw in dishonor on the ground-ikons and reliquaries and other objects from the churches. The crowd snatched some of these, and some were given over to the fire while others were torn to shreds and scattered at the crossroads. The last resting-places of the blessed men of old were opened, and their remains were taken out and disgracefully torn to pieces, even to shreds, and made the sport of the wind while others were thrown on the streets.

§ 245. Chalices and goblets and vessels to hold the holy sacrifice, some of them were used for drinking and carousing, and others were broken up or melted down and sold. Holy vessels and costly robes richly embroidered with much gold or brilliant with precious stones and pearls were some of them given to the most wicked men for no good use, while (p.74) others were consigned to the fire and melted down for the gold.

§ 246. And holy and divine books, and others mainly of profane literature and philosophy, were either given to the flames or dishonorably trampled under foot. Many of them were sold for two or three pieces of money, and sometimes for pennies only, not for gain so much as in contempt. Holy altars were torn from their foundations and overthrown. The walls of sanctuaries and cloisters were explored, and the holy places of the shrines were dug into and overthrown in the search for gold. Many other such things they dared to do.

(p.75) § 256. After this the Sultan entered the City and looked about to see its great size, its situation, its grandeur and beauty, its teeming population, its loveliness, and the costliness of its churches and public buildings and of the private (p.77) houses and community houses and of those of the officials. He also saw the setting of the harbor and of the arsenals, and how skilfully and ingeniously they had everything arranged in the City-in a word, all the construction and adornment of it. When he saw what a large number had been killed, and the ruin of the buildings, and the wholesale ruin and destruction of the City, he was filled with compassion and repented not a little at the destruction and plundering. Tears fell from his eyes as he groaned deeply and passionately: “What a city we have given over to plunder and destruction!”

§ 257. Thus he suffered in spirit. And indeed this was a great blow to us, in this one city, a disaster the like of which had occurred in no one of the great renowned cities of history, whether one speaks of the size of the captured City or of the bitterness and harshness of the deed. And no less did it astound all others than it did those who went through it and suffered, through the unreasonable and unusual character of the event and through the overwhelming and unheard-of horror of it.


One evening

“Alas, alas!” I cried.  For I thought that I had found a treasure, and it was brutally jerked from me at the last moment!  I am inconsolable.

The history of Mehmet the conqueror sits in my scanner, and I turn the pages as I type.  The library lent it to me today.  It is a scarce volume.  The author, Kritovoulos, witnessed the fall of Constantinople to the Turk, and their mercy to the fallen city. 

Rarely do I sit at my scanner now.  Somehow I am more tired in the evenings, than I was even ten years ago.  Then I would merrily dedicate a weekend to wrestling with some huge volume.  Now a pile sit on the side, that I would rather have in electronic form, and simply gather dust.

The scan is for my own reference.  A PDF shall be created, and sit on my hard disk. 

But as I sat, and scanned, and surfed, I noted that the translation was made in 1954.  A glimmer of hope crept into my heart.  Perhaps, I thought, perhaps they did not renew the copyright?  Perhaps it is out of copyright?  Perhaps it could go online?

So I thought, and hoped and reasoned.  And I surfed around, searching for the copyright renewals.  I found that renewals for 1982 — when such a book must be renewed or become public domain — were accessible and searchable at www.copyright.gov.  And a search for “mehmed  the conqueror” in the title brought nothing back!

Alas!  I rejoiced too soon. A closer inspection of the search page revealed curious features of the title search.  So I searched again on keyword.  And … woe … a record appeared.  A copyright claimant, a Sarah R. MacNeal, appeared, claiming to be the child of Charles Riggs the translator, and her claim was allowed.

Of course in 1982 the web was not thought of.  All that Mrs MacNeal wanted was to ensure that she got a share of whatever was going.  But now the work will be in copyright until 2049, when I shall be in my grave.  Not that this profits anyone.

But in the meantime, I consoled myself with a volume of poems by R. C. Lehmann.  He wrote light verse, and charms.  But in his portrait of a village, he gave this shrewd picture of the local squire, written in days when the class hatred and political spite of these days were unknown.  Read it aloud, so that you can hear the melody of the words.

He talked of his rights as one who knew
That the pick of the earth to him was due:
The right to this and the right to that,
To the humble look and the lifted hat;
The right to scold or evict a peasant,
The right to partridge and hare and pheasant;
The right to encourage discontent
By raising a hard-worked farmer’s rent;
The manifest right to ride to hounds
Through his own or anyone else’s grounds;
The right to eat of the best by day
And to snore the whole of the night away;
For his motto, as often he explained,
Was “A Darville holds what a Darville gained.”
He tried to be just, but that may be
Small merit in one who has most things free; …

My favourite among his verses is the Ramshackle Room, about remembering his college days.  My eyes too grow dim as I read it, for his thoughts are mine.

Meanwhile the last page is done, and the scanner is silent.  I must unplug it and place it back in my cupboard.  9 minutes, it took me.  Now to make my PDF.  Alas, that I cannot share it with you all! 

The library copy had marginalia written in pencil, in Arabic.  A first, that!


More on Critoboulos of Imbros

Looking at the introduction to the German edition of Critoboulos’ history, I find that a German translation is promised.  And it was so:

Das Geschichtswerk des Kritobulos von Imbros, Reihe ‘Byzantinische Geschichtsschreiber’, Bd. XVII, hg. von J. Koder, übersetzt, eingeleitet und erklärt von Dieter Roderich Reinsch, Graz, Wien, Köln 1986.

Useful to know, anyway.


The sack of Constantinople in 1453

I happened across the following item online, described as an “eyewitness”, but not properly referenced.  We all know how unreliable such things can be, so I started to hunt around.  The text is given on this website here, and then repeated on various other sites.  Pajamas Media gives it in an article Turkey celebrates 558 years of illegal occupation of Constantinople.

Nothing will ever equal the horror of this harrowing and terrible spectacle. People frightened by the shouting ran out of their houses and were cut down by the sword before they knew what was happening. And some were massacred in their houses where they tried to hide, and some in churches where they sought refuge.

The enraged Turkish soldiers . . . gave no quarter. When they had massacred and there was no longer any resistance, they were intent on pillage and roamed through the town stealing, disrobing, pillaging, killing, raping, taking captive men, women, children, old men, young men, monks, priests, people of all sorts and conditions . . . There were virgins who awoke from troubled sleep to find those brigands standing over them with bloody hands and faces full of abject fury. This medley of all nations, these frantic brutes stormed into their houses, dragged them, tore them, forced them, dishonored them, raped them at the cross-roads and made them submit to the most terrible outrages. It is even said that at the mere sight of them many girls were so stupefied that they almost gave up the ghost.

Old men of venerable appearance were dragged by their white hair and piteously beaten. Priests were led into captivity in batches, as well as reverend virgins, hermits and recluses who were dedicated to God alone and lived only for Him to whom they sacrificed themselves, who were dragged from their cells and others from the churches in which they had sought refuge, in spite of their weeping and sobs and their emaciated cheeks, to be made objects of scorn before being struck down. Tender children were brutally snatched from their mothers’ breasts and girls were pitilessly given up to strange and horrible unions, and a thousand other terrible things happened. . .

Temples were desecrated, ransacked and pillaged . . . sacred objects were scornfully flung aside, the holy icons and the holy vessels were desecrated. Ornaments were burned, broken in pieces or simply thrown into the streets. Saints’ shrines were brutally violated in order to get out the remains which were then thrown to the wind. Chalices and cups for the celebration of the Mass were set aside for their orgies or broken or melted down or sold. Priests’ garments embroidered with gold and set with pearls and gems were sold to the highest bidder and thrown into the fire to extract the gold. Immense numbers of sacred and profane books were flung on the fire or tom up and trampled under foot. The majority, however, were sold at derisory prices, for a few pence. Saints’ altars, tom from their foundations, were overturned. All the most holy hiding places were violated and broken in order to get out the holy treasures which they contained . . .

When Mehmed (II) saw the ravages, the destruction and the deserted houses and all that had perished and become ruins, then a great sadness took possession of him and he repented the pillage and all the destruction. Tears came to his eyes and sobbing he expressed his sadness. ‘What a town this was! And we have allowed it to be destroyed’! His soul was full of sorrow. And in truth it was natural, so much did the horror of the situation exceed all limits.

The reference given is “Routh, C. R. N. They Saw It Happen in Europe 1450-1600 (1965).”

The book is in Google books, and searching for the first line gives us something even in the snippet.  It comes from p.386:

Source: On May 29th the city fell and there ensued the wildest scenes of butchery and destruction by the Turks.  Critobulus, op. cit., English version from Guerdan and Halliday, op. cit., p.218.

This is then followed by our text.

Critobulus is a writer new to me, but a German edition exists: Critobuli Imbriotae historiae (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 22), De Gruyter (1983). Incredibly these muppets printed it without a translation, presumably to show how clever they were.  Of course the rest of us know that anyone can print a text; if you have to write a translation, you do have to work out what the words mean! Apparently the autograph ms. exists in the library of the Seraglio in Istanbul.  It seems that C. Muller was the first to print it in part 1 of vol. 5 of Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum, 1870, p.40 f.  This is online and can be consulted, but again is Greek only.

A further search on the snippet view reveals that “op.cit.” means A History of the Deeds of Mohammed II.  Critobulus of Imbros was, it seems, a renegade who converted to Islam. 

Likewise I find that “Guerdan and Halliday” means Byzantium: its triumphs and tragedy, by R. Guerdan, trans. by D. L. B. Halliday, Allen and Unwin (1954). 

Further searches reveals that a translation does exist of the source text: Charles T. Riggs, Michael Critobulus (Kritovoulos), History of Mehmed the Conqueror, Princeton (1954).  It would be nice to check the above against this, and see to what extent it is accurate.  Because the subject is a politically loaded one, it needs to be checked carefully.  I’ve ordered a copy of the Riggs translation by ILL, and we will see!