Long misunderstood, eclipses have marked the course of history. This was the case during the siege of Constantinople in 1453.
A coveted city:
Constantinople was founded in the year 330 by Emperor Constantine I. He planned to make it the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, abandoning Rome, in full decline. Built on the ruins of ancient Byzantium, Constantinople indeed occupies a strategic position. The new capital, which commands access to the Black Sea, is also the junction point between two major military routes, one coming from Rome and the other from Ankara:
Very well protected by its walls and its geographical position (it is largely surrounded by the sea), the city resisted numerous sieges for several centuries. It ended up being sacked in 1204 by the Christian troops who made up the Fourth Crusade. Different Latin emperors will then rebuild and direct it, but the city is also of interest to the Ottoman Turks who gradually conquered all of Asia Minor. They try several times to seize it.
Divine sign in Constantinople:
On April 2, 1453, the young Sultan Mehmed II was at the foot of the walls with his soldiers. Over the following weeks, he launched several attacks, all successfully repelled by the Byzantines and their Emperor Constantine XI. But everything changes on the night of May 22, when the Moon rises partially eclipsed. In the city, there is panic. Four centuries earlier, the appearance of the supernova SN 1054 (at the origin of the crab nebula) strongly marked the spirits. To the point of appearing on coins, alongside Constantine IX Monomakh, the emperor at the time. This time, the besieged see in this new celestial phenomenon a divine sign announcing their approaching end:
Present on site, a Venetian surgeon, Nicolò Barbaro, would later write in his notebooks: “This sign indeed gave to understand to this illustrious sovereign (note: this is Constantine XI) that the prophecies were going to be fulfilled and that his empire was nearing its end, as also it happened. This sign, on the other hand, seemed a sign of victory to the Turks, who greatly rejoiced at it and made a great celebration in their camp. ». Among the besieged, morale was gone. The city fell to the Turks seven days later, marking the end of the Byzantine Empire and the beginning of the Ottoman Empire.
It is easy to imagine that an eclipse, whether of the Moon or of the Sun, has long remained a prodigious phenomenon for humans. A supernatural event during which the two stars disappeared, swallowed up forever. In Asia the cannibal was a celestial dragon, in India a decapitated demon. In America and Africa, terrible devils were invoked. And in ancient Greece, it was believed that only the gods were capable of bringing about these sinister events:
It seems that the mechanism of eclipses was evoked for the first time by Aristotle in his Treaty of Heaven around 350 BC. AD. And it was clearly exposed three centuries later by the Greek astronomer Geminus of Rhodes in his Introduction to Phenomena. Nevertheless: several centuries were then necessary to deprive the eclipses of their sulphurous reputation.
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