The news of the conquest of Constantinople was received with horror throughout Christendom. As the refugees spread westward they carried the epic story with them; and the story lost nothing in the telling. The one point on which few could agree was the fate of the last Emperor of Byzantium. Inevitably, there were rumours that he had escaped; but the vast majority of sources - including Sphrantzes, who was his closest friend and with whom he would certainly have communicated had he survived - record with apparent certainty that he was killed during the conquest of the city. According to Cardinal Isidore, who had escaped disguised as a beggar and found his way to Crete, Constantine's body had been identified after his death and his head had been presented as a trophy to the Sultan, who had heaped insults on it and carried it back in triumph to Adrianople; and various versions of the cardinal's story were widely disseminated.
One of the most interesting accounts of the fall, written almost immediately after the events it describes, is that of a Venetian from Euboea named Nicolo Sagundino. He had been taken prisoner by the Turks after their capture of Thessalonica in 1430, and had subsequently served as interpreter at the Councils of Ferrara and Florence; later still he had represented the Serenissima on several diplomatic missions, so he should be a fairly reliable witness - though his version, like all the others, can be based only on hearsay. On25 January 1454 in Naples, in the course of a formal oration to King Alfonso V of Aragon, he gave a detailed account of Constantine's death because, he said, it deserved to be remembered for all time. According to his account, after Giovanni Giustiniani Longo had been wounded he told the Emperor that Byzantium was lost and urged him to escape while he could; Constantine refused to hear of such a suggestion and accused him of cowardice; he himself insisted on dying in the defence of his Empire. Advancing to the breach in the wall, he found that the enemy were already through it and, determined not to be taken alive, asked his companions to kill him; but none of them had the courage to do so. Only then did he throw off everything that might have identified him as Emperor and plunge forward, sword in hand, into the melee. He was cut down almost at once. After the fighting was over the Sultan, who had wanted him captured alive, ordered a search to be made for the body. When it was finally found he ordered the head to be impaled on a stake and paraded round the camp. Later he had it sent, together with twenty handsome youths and twenty beautiful virgins, to the Sultan of Egypt.
There is also a story, told by a certain Makarios Melissenos, a sixteenth-century Metropolitan of Monemvasia, who compiled the extended version of the chronicle of George Sphrantzes, according to which the Turkish soldiers searching for the Emperor's body eventually recognized it by the imperial eagles engraved, or possibly embroidered, on his greaves and boots. This is slightly at variance with the reports of Constantine having divested himself of all identifiable clothing, but such clothing may have been limited to the garments he could easily dispense with; he is unlikely to have had any alternative footwear immediately available, and he could hardly have fought barefoot. Melissenos adds that the Sultan ordered that the body should be given a Christian burial, a detail suggested by no other authority; but his work dates from over a century after the conquest and must be treated with caution. Would Mehmet, one wonders, really have allowed the Emperor a tomb, or even a simple grave, which would inevitably have become a place of pilgrimage and a focus for pro-Byzantine feeling in the city?
Such considerations notwithstanding, there is still perhaps the faintest possibility that the Emperor's body - or one believed to be his - might have been concealed by the faithful and buried secretly some time afterwards. We can dismiss Melissenos's claim that it found its final resting-place in St Sophia. Nor is it true that in the nineteenth century the Ottoman government provided the oil for the last Emperor's tomb near what is now Vefa Meydani; this story - totally without foundation but zealously propagated among the tourists of the time - almost certainly originated with the proprietor of the local coffee-shop. In the extremely improbable event that such a tomb exists at all, the most likely location for it is the church of St Theodosia - now a mosque and better known as Gul Camii - where, according to an old tradition, Constantine was buried in a small chamber concealed in the south-east pier. There is indeed such a chamber there, accessible by a narrow stair that leads up inside the pier itself. Within it is a coffin, and on the lintel of the doorway is a Turkish inscription reading 'Tomb of the Apostle, Disciple of Christ - Peace be unto him'. But the tradition, old as it is, comfortably postdates the conquest; the coffin is covered, as is usual in the Islamic world, with a green cloth; and there is another equally persistent tradition among the local people that it belongs to a Muslim holy man named Gul Baba. Of all the countless stories relating the fate of Constantine XI Dragases, by far the most probable is also the simplest: that the corpse was never identified, and the last Emperor was buried anonymously with his fellow-soldiers in a common grave.
The mystery that surrounds his body is almost equalled by that which concerns his sword. There is, in the Royal Armoury of Turin, a magnificent weapon engraved with Christian symbols and bearing a Greek dedication to an Emperor Constantine. Presented to the Armoury as part of a collection by a nineteenth-century ambassador to the Sublime Porte, it was examined in 1857 by the French scholar Victor Langlois, who identified it1 as being unquestionably the sword of Constantine, which had come from Sultan Mehmet's tomb. He does not explain, however, how the sword was extracted from the tomb, nor why there should have been another sword, said to have been presented to the Emperor by Cardinal Isidore in 1452, preserved throughout the nineteenth century in Constantinople. There was, moreover, a third sword, very similar to the other two, which was presented by the Greek community of Constantinople to Prince Constantine, heir to the Greek throne, for his coming of age in 1886. This too seems to have been considered by some to have been the Emperor's, although an Athenian newspaper of the time emphasizes that the claim cannot be proved.2
Thanks to his position and the dramatic circumstances in which he met his end, Constantine Dragases was the sort of man around whom legends inevitably arise, to the point where he himself becomes a legendary figure. It is right and proper that he should be so; besides, after nearly five and a half centuries, we can no longer hope to separate the man from the myth. All the historian can do is record such facts as are known, and indicate the broad areas of speculation. He can point the way to the labyrinth; but he knows that it can never be penetrated.
1 'Memoire sur le sabre dc Constantin XI Dracoses, dernier empereur grec de Constantinople', Revue de l’Orient et de l’Algirie et des Colonies, Paris 1858; also 'Notice sur le sabre de Constantin XI, dernier empereur de Constantinople, conserve a l’Armeria Reale de Turin', Revue archeologique, 14:1, 1857.
2 All this information - and much else - I have taken from The Immortal Emperor, by Professor D. M. Nicol, which gives by far the fullest account of the aftermath of the fall of Constantinople available in English.
Not all the nobility of Byzantium suffered the fate of their Emperor. The passenger-list of one of the Genoese ships that escaped from the Golden Horn on 29 May bears the names of six members of the house of Palaeologus, John and Demetrius Cantacuzenus, two Lascaris, two Comneni, two Notaras and many members of other families only slightly less distinguished. They were taken to Chios, where some of them settled; others found their way by various routes to the Morea, Corfu, the Ionian Islands or Italy, where Venice soon became the chief city of the Byzantine diaspora. For some years already it had been the home of Anna Palaeologina Notaras, daughter of the megas dux (or Grand Duke) Lucas Notaras, and her niece Eudocia Cantacuzena; thirty years after the fall these two ladies were the centre of a numerous Greek refugee community.
All those members of Byzantine noble families who had neither perished in the siege and its aftermath nor managed to escape to the West were brought before the Sultan on the day after the conquest. Most of the noble ladies he freed at once; only the loveliest of their daughters - and a number of their sons - did he keep for his own delectation. Among the men he found Notaras himself and nine other former ministers, all of whom he personally redeemed from their captors and released. But his benevolence did not last long. Only five days later, in the course of a banquet, it was whispered in his ear that Notaras's third son, then aged fourteen, was a boy of striking beauty. Mehmet at once ordered one of his eunuchs to fetch him from his home and, when the eunuch returned to report that the furious megas dux was refusing to let him go, sent a group of soldiers to arrest both father and son, together with a son-in-law, the son of the Grand Domestic Andronicus Cantacuzenus. Brought into the Sultan's presence, Notaras still stood firm, whereupon Mehmet commanded that all three should be beheaded on the spot. The megas dux asked only that the two boys should meet their fate first, lest the sight of his own death should weaken their resolution. A moment later, as they lay dead before him, he bared his own neck.
As for those ordinary Greeks who had escaped the massacre, the Sultan had decided that they should comprise a self-governing community within his Empire under a leader, elected by themselves, who would be responsible to him for their behaviour; and with the elimination of virtually the entire Byzantine aristocracy this leader could only be the Patriarch. The last incumbent, Gregory III, had resigned three years before and had fled to Rome. Since, however, he was a unionist this was just as well: Mehmet instinctively mistrusted any Byzantine who had links with the West. His choice now fell - wisely - on the monk Gennadius, the former George Scholarius who, having attended the Councils of Ferrara and Florence, had renounced his earlier unionist views and become leader of the pro-Orthodox party. Together with his fellow-monks, he had been sold off into slavery; but he was eventually run to earth as a menial in the household of a rich Turk of Adrianople and almost immediately appointed Patriarch. In January 1454 he was enthroned - not in St Sophia (which was now a mosque) but in the church of the Holy Apostles. His insignia of office - robe, staff and pectoral cross - being formally handed to him by the Sultan, just as former Patriarchs had received it from the basileus.
In this way Mehmet declared himself protector of his Greek subjects, granting them an accepted place within his Empire and guaranteeing them freedom of Christian worship. They might no longer have an Emperor; but at least they retained their Patriarch, to provide a focus not only for their religion but also for their national feelings.1 Gennadius was to serve three separate terms in the Patriarchal Chair, during which he strove successfully to establish a modus vivendi with the Turkish conquerors. He made only one serious mistake: a few months after his installation he voluntarily abandoned the church of the Holy Apostles in favour of that of the Theotokos Pammakaristos, thereby giving the Sultan the excuse to demolish it, replacing it on the summit of the fourth of the city's seven hills with the present Fatih (Conqueror) Mosque.2 The Pammakaristos remained the Patriarchal church until 1568; five years later it too became a mosque, and is now known under the name of Fethiye Camii.3
Not until 1601 did the Patriarchate settle in its present site in the Fener quarter on the Golden Horn. And yet, to the Orthodox faithful,
1 This act of the Sultan's set the pattern for the Greek Orthodox Church that is illustrated by such relatively recent ecclesiastics as the Archbishops Damaskinos, Regent of Greece 1945-6, and Makarios, President of Cyprus 1959-74 and 1975-7. For nearly five hundred years the Church fulfilled this dual religious and nationalistic function, and the tradition is still very much alive.
2 The church was originally erected by Constantine the Great as a burial-place for himself and his successors (see Byzantium: The Early Centuries, pp. 78-9). Rebuilt by Justinian, it was later restored by Basil I and decorated with a cycle of mosaics. The Fatih Mosque, with the vast complex of buildings around it, was built between 1463 and1470, and is the earliest major Ottoman monument in the city.
3 The Pammakaristos is still well worth visiting. The early fourteenth-century parecclesion on the south side contains a fine series of mosaics, roughly contemporary with those of Kariye Camii and recently restored by the Byzantine Institute of America.
far more important than its precise location is the fact that the Patriarch, now the Ecumenical Patriarch of the whole Greek Church, remains firmly based in modern Istanbul. His local congregation is minute: although until the end of the Balkan War in 1913 the Greeks living within the Ottoman Empire were far more numerous - and on the whole a good deal richer - than those in the Kingdom of Greece, they have now almost all departed. Today the principal responsibility of the Patriarch of Constantinople is to minister to the Orthodox communities in Western Europe, America and Australia. For this his place of residence is something less than ideal; but its symbolic value to every Greek is immense, being as it is a constant reminder of his Byzantine heritage. Though the imperial line ended with the death of Constantine Dragases, the line of Patriarchs stretches back over sixteen hundred years, in virtually unbroken succession to the fourth century. It was in Constantinople that the Orthodox Church was born; its heart is still there today.
Western Europe, for all its deep and genuine dismay, was not profoundly changed by the fall of the Byzantine Empire. The two states most immediately affected, Venice and Genoa, lost no time in making the best terms they could with the Sultan. The Venetian relief fleet - equipped largely by Pope Nicholas - was anchored off Chios, waiting for a favourable wind to continue its journey to Constantinople, when some of the Genoese ships that had escaped from Galata drew alongside with news of the disaster. Its captain, Giacomo Loredan, promptly withdrew to Euboea until such time as he should receive further orders. Not till 3 July did Alvise Diedo and the Venetian ships from Constantinople reach the lagoons. On the day following Diedo made a full report to the Senate. Now, perhaps for the first time, the Venetians began to appreciate the full significance of what had occurred. It was not just the fall of the capital of Eastern Christendom; that may have been an emotional shock, but Byzantium had long since ceased to have any real political importance. Nor was it the annihilation of a valuable trading post, although Venice could now estimate her casualties at some 550 Venetians and Cretans, killed during or immediately after the siege, and her financial losses at 300,000 ducats. There was a third consideration more serious still than these: the fact that the victorious Sultan could henceforth undertake any new conquests that he might choose. Everything now depended on securing his good will.
On 5 July further orders were sent to Loredan and to the selected Venetian ambassador, Bartolomeo Marcello. The former was to take whatever steps he thought necessary for the protection of Euboea ensuring that any merchandise passing through it bound for Constantinople would be diverted to Modone in the Peloponnese until further notice. As for Marcello, his orders were to emphasize to Mehmet the Republic's firm intention to respect the peace treaty concluded with his father and confirmed by himself, and to request the restitution of all Venetian ships remaining in Turkish hands, pointing out that these were not warships but merchantmen. If the Sultan agreed to renew the treaty, Marcello was to ask that Venice should be allowed to maintain her trading colony in the city, with the same rights and privileges that she had enjoyed under Greek rule, and was to press for the return of all Venetians still in captivity. If he refused, or sought to impose new conditions, the ambassador should refer back to the Senate. Meanwhile he was given authority to spend up to 1,200 ducats on presents for Mehmet and his court officials, to help the negotiations along.
Marcello soon found, as many another ambassador was to find after him, that Mehmet was a hard bargainer. It was only the following spring, after the best part of a year's negotiation, that an agreement was concluded. The remaining ships and prisoners were released and the Venetian colony allowed back under a new bailo; Girolamo Minotto had been put to death after the siege. No longer, however, would it enjoy those territorial and commercial concessions on which its former power and prosperity had depended. For two years Marcello stayed in Constantinople, trying to persuade the Sultan to change his mind. He failed. The Latin presence in the East had already begun its decline.
The Genoese had even more at stake than the Venetians, and had continued to play their double game. In Galata, their podesta — equivalent to the Venetian bailo - had opened the gates the moment the Turks had appeared, and had done everything he could to prevent his countrymen's unseemly exodus. At the earliest opportunity he had sent two envoys to Mehmet to congratulate him on his victory and to express the hope that the conditions governing the existence of the colony should remain unchanged; but the Sultan had driven them angrily away. Two days later, a second embassy found him in a more charitable mood. The Genoese of Galata would remain inviolate and in possession of their property, and might practise their religion unhindered so long as they rang no bells and built no new churches. They were free to travel and trade by land and sea throughout the Ottoman dominions; but they must surrender their arms and destroy their Land Walls and citadel. Every male citizen must pay a capitation tax; there would be no more special privileges as in the past. Galata would in future be in precisely the same position as any other Christian community which had made voluntary submission to its Turkish conquerors. Theoretically the Genoese trading colonies along the northern shore of the Black Sea - including the prosperous port of Caffa in the Crimea - would be allowed to continue; but since the death of Antonio Rizzo few sailors ventured through the straits and few merchants were prepared to pay the immense tolls demanded. With the exception of the island of Chios - which remained Genoese till 1566 - by the end of the century Genoa's commercial Empire was gone.
In Rome, Pope Nicholas showed none of the cynicism and self-interest of the merchant republics. He did his utmost to galvanize the West for a Crusade, a cause which was enthusiastically supported not only by the two Greek cardinals, Isidore and Bessarion, but also by the Papal Legate in Germany Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, the future Pope Pius II. But it was no use. The Western Emperor Frederick III had neither the means nor the authority to do more than write a few pious letters, France and England were exhausted after the Hundred Years' War, while Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy - the richest prince in Europe - made an impressive outward show of zeal but failed, when the moment came, to lift a finger. Only Ladislas of Hungary longed passionately for action; but he could do nothing without allies — and least of all without John Hunyadi, with whom he was unfortunately not on speaking terms.
From the point of view of Byzantium it hardly mattered. With the Turkish army at its present strength Constantinople could not conceivably be recaptured, nor was it possible to resurrect the Empire. The time for action was past. A century before, concerted action by the powers of Western Christendom against the Ottoman threat might have saved the situation - or, at least, have postponed the inevitable. Such action, though endlessly discussed, was not taken; and while Europe dithered, Byzantium died.
Among the Christians of the East there could obviously be no question of a Crusade; they could only strive to give what help they could to their defeated brethren and to obtain what terms they could for themselves. Their ambassadors arrived thick and fast at the Sultan's court - from George Brankovich in Serbia, from the Despots Demetrius and Thomas in the Morea, from the Emperor John Comnenus of Trebizond, from the Gattilusio lord of Lesbos and Thasos, from the Grand Master of the Knights of St John. To all, Mehmet's reply was the same: he had no quarrel with them, provided only that they recognized him as their suzerain and paid him increased tribute. All agreed except the Knights; they refused to do either on the grounds that they needed papal authority, which would obviously never be given. Mehmet let them go; there would be plenty of time to deal with them later.
In fact the Knights lasted longer than any of their fellow-Christians. Mehmet eventually moved against Rhodes in 1480 but failed to capture it and died the next year; it was left to his great-grandson Suleyman the Magnificent to take the island by storm in 1520.1Brankovich and Hunyadi both died in 1456. The Despotate of the Morea, already torn apart by the constant squabbling of the two brothers, was finally annihilated in 1460 and in the following year, on 15 August — two hundred years to the day since Michael VIII had regained Constantinople - David Comnenus, last Emperor of Trebizond, surrendered to the Sultan the last throne of the Byzantine world. Two years later he, his older children and his nephew were executed in Constantinople; their remains were thrown to the dogs outside the walls.
The house of Palaeologus, however, lived on a little longer. The Despot Demetrius died a monk in Constantinople; his only known child, a daughter named Helena, was taken with her mother into the Sultan's harem. His brother Thomas fled to Rome, bringing with him the head of St Andrew as a present to Pope Pius II.2 His baby sons were brought up by Cardinal Bessarion. The elder, Andrew, born in the year of the fall, proved something of a disappointment. While continuing to style himself imperator Constantinopolitanus, he married a Roman prostitute and died a pauper in 1502, having sold all his tides to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. The younger, Manuel, returned to Constantinople, where he married, had two sons - John and another Andrew (who adopted Islam) and lived quietly on a small pension provided by the Sultan. Thomas's younger daughter Zoe-Sophia was married to Ivan III, Grand Prince of Muscovy, in 1472. As niece of the last Emperor of Constantinople she brought her husband as part of her dowry the emblem of the double-
1 Even this marked no more than the end of a chapter in the Knights' long history. After a few years' wandering they settled in Malta until their expulsion by Napoleon. They are now based in Rome, where they still enjoy all the privileges of an independent state, maintaining diplomatic relations with many Roman Catholic countries.
2The presentation is depicted in relief on Pius's tomb in the church of St Andrea della Valle - better known, perhaps, as the scene of the first act of Tosca.
headed eagle and, it was thought, the spiritual heritage of Byzantium -thereby doing much to foster the image of Moscow as the 'Third Rome'. Ivan the Terrible was her grandson.
As we have seen, there had been Palaeologi in the Empire since at least the eleventh century, and long before the Turkish conquest there were many bearers of the name whose connections with the imperial line were so tenuous as to be virtually non-existent. After the diaspora many of them settled in the West; there were numerous Palaeologi in Italy, particularly in the three cities of Venice, Pesaro and Viterbo. Later the name came to be found in Malta, France and Cephalonia, as well as in many places within the Ottoman Empire, including Athens, Romania and the island of Syros in the Cyclades. It has even turned up in England; and it is difficult to read without a thrill of excitement the words inscribed on a brass plaque in St Leonard's church at Landulph, Cornwall, which run:
Here lyeth the body of Theodore Paleologvs of Pesaro in Italye descended from ye imperyall lyne of ye last Christian Emperors of Greece being the sonne of Camilio ye sonne of Prosper the sonne of Theodoro the sonne of John ye sonne of Thomas second brother to Constantine Paleologvs the 8th of that name and last of yt line yt raygned in Constantinople untill sub dewed by the Tvrkes, who married with Mary ye daughter of William Balls of Hadlye in Sovffolke gent: and had issue 5 children Theo doro, John, Ferdinando, Maria and Dorothy, & de parted this life at Clyfton ye 21th of Jan vary 1636.
How one would love to believe it; alas, there is no very persuasive evidence to suggest that the Despot Thomas ever had a son named John. George Sphrantzes, who took care to record the names of all the family members, mentions only the Andrew and Manuel referred to above. Interestingly enough, however, a certain Leo Allatius, admittedly writing as late as 1648, refers quite clearly to 'Andrea, Manuele et loanne Thomae Palaeologi Despotae filiis’ Clearly, his authority is not to be compared with that of Sphrantzes, but there remains a slender possibility that Thomas might have had a bastard son John, or even that the inscription is slightly inaccurate and that the John referred to was the
1 Leo Allatius, De ecclesiae occidentalis atque orientalisperpetua consensione, col. 956.
son of Thomas's younger son Manuel, whom we know to have existed and to have borne that name.
In either of these cases, Theodore would be the direct descendant of Manuel II Palaeologus, and it is of some interest to read1 that he and his two uncles were convicted in Pesaro - where they were subjects of the Medici Grand Dukes - of attempted murder. Theodore was exiled and found his way to England, where he took employment as a soldier and hired assassin in the service of the Earl of Lincoln. His marriage to Mary Balls was solemnized at Cottingham in Yorkshire - perhaps to avoid the Suffolk gossips, since their first child, Theodore, was born only ten weeks later. 'The register in Exeter Cathedral', writes Professor Nicol, 'gives the date of [the elder] Theodore's burial as 20 October 1636 and not, as in the inscription, 21 January. In 1795 his grave was accidentally opened revealing an oak coffin. When the lid was lifted the body was found to be in perfect condition; and it was possible to see that Theodore Palaeologus had been a very tall man with a strong aquiline nose and a very long white beard.'
One of Theodore's sons, Ferdinand, emigrated shortly before the Civil War to Barbados, where he married a lady called Rebecca Pomfret. He died in 1678 and was buried in St John's churchyard, where a tablet carved with Doric columns and the cross of Constantine bears the inscription: 'Here lyeth ye body of Ferdinando Palaeologus, descended from ye Imperial lyne of ye last Christian Emperor of Greece. Churchwarden of this parish 165 5-1656. Vestryman twentye years. Died Oct 3. 1679.' His son Theodorious [sic] married Martha Bradbury of Barbados, returned with her to England, setded in Stepney and died at Corunna in 1693, leaving a posthumous daughter eccentrically named Godscall Palaeologus. What happened to her is unknown; unless and until more is discovered, this fatherless litde girl in Stepney remains - given only the existence of the shadowy John Palaeologus - the last known descendant of the Emperors of Byzantium.
The Roman Empire of the East was founded by Constantine the Great on Monday, 11 May 330; it came to an end on Tuesday, 29 May 1453. During those one thousand, one hundred and twenty-three years and eighteen days, eighty-eight men and women occupied the imperial
1 In Professor Nicol's The Immortal Emperor, from which this information is taken. In his final chapter he discusses the claims not only of Theodore but of several other pretenders, providing full references. See also Patrick Leigh Fermor, The Traveller's Tree, pp. 145-9.
throne - excluding the seven who usurped it during the Latin occupation. Of those eighty-eight, a few - Constantine himself, Justinian, Heraclius, the two Basils, Alexius Comnenus - possessed true greatness; a few - Phocas, Michael III, Zoe and the Angeli - were contemptible; the vast majority were brave, upright, God-fearing, unimaginative men who did their best, with greater or lesser degrees of success. Byzantium may not have lived up to its highest ideals - what does? - but it certainly did not deserve the reputation which, thanks largely to Edward Gibbon, it acquired in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England: that of an Empire constituting, 'without a single exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilization has yet assumed'.1 So grotesque a view ignores the fact that the Byzantines were a deeply religious society in which illiteracy - at least among the middle and upper classes - was virtually unknown, and in which one Emperor after another was renowned for his scholarship; a society which had with difficulty concealed its scorn for the leaders of the Crusades, who called themselves noblemen but could hardly write their own names. It ignores, too, the immeasurable cultural debt that the Western world owes to a civilization which alone preserved much of the heritage of Greek and Latin antiquity, during these dark centuries when the lights of learning in the West were almost extinguished.
Finally, it ignores the astonishing phenomenon of Byzantine art. Narrow this art may have been in its range, restricted as it essentially was to the great mystery of the Christian faith; within this limitation, however, it achieved a degree of intensity and exaltation unparalleled before or since, qualities which entitle the masterpieces - the deesis in the south gallery of St Sophia, the great Pantocrator in the apse of the cathedral of Cefalu in Sicily, the Anastasis in the parecclesion of St Saviour in Chora in Constantinople - to a place among the most sublime creations of the human spirit. The instructions given to the painters and mosaicists of Byzantium were simple enough: 'to represent the spirit of God'. It was a formidable challenge, and one which Western artists seldom even attempted; again and again, however, in the churches and monasteries of the Christian East, we see the task unmistakably -indeed, triumphantly - accomplished.
One of the first and most brilliant of twentieth-century Philhellenes, Robert Byron, maintained that the greatness of Byzantium lay in what he described as 'the Triple Fusion': that of a Roman body, a Greek mind
1 W. E. H. Lecky, A History of European Morals, 1869.
and an oriental, mystical soul. Certainly these three strands were always present, and were largely responsible for the Empire's unique character: indeed, the personality of every Emperor and Empress can be seen as a subtly different combination of the three elements. For this reason as for many others, the outlook of the Byzantines was radically different from ours; at bottom, however, they were human like the rest of us, victims of the same weaknesses and subject to the same temptations, deserving of praise and of blame as we are ourselves, and in roughly equal measure. What they do not deserve is the obscurity to which for centuries we have condemned them. Their follies were many, as were their sins; but much should surely be forgiven for the heroism with which they and their last brave Emperor met their end, in one of those glorious epics of world history that has passed into legend and is remembered with equal pride by victors and vanquished alike. That is why five and a half centuries later, throughout the Greek world, Tuesday is still believed to be the unluckiest day of the week; why the Turkish flag still depicts not a crescent but a waning moon, reminding us that the moon was in its last quarter when Constantinople finally fell; and why, excepting only the Great Church of St Sophia itself, it is the Land Walls - broken, battered, but still marching from sea to sea - that stand as the city's grandest and most tragic monument.