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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : History

Undergraduate Course: The End of an Empire: The Fall of Constantinople in 1453 (HIST10515)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe fall of Constantinople to Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in 1453 was a pivotal moment in the history of Europe and western Asia. Even today, the year 1453 is regularly used to signify the end of the Middle Ages. This momentous event will be explored through a range of sources, from eyewitnesses serving on the Byzantine and Ottoman sides, to the accounts of Latin Europeans in and around the city. By focusing on these different sources, students will be able to analyse this event not only in the context of the Western medieval world, but also from the perspective of the Byzantines and the Ottomans.
Course description In the early fifteenth century with most of Asia Minor, Greece and the Balkans under the domination of the Ottoman Turks, Constantinople, capital city of the shrunken Byzantine empire, held out behind its formidable defences. But how exactly were the Byzantines able to resist Ottoman pressure for so long, and how was Mehmed II ultimately able to conquer the city when so many others had failed? What role did the western European powers take in their dealings with the Byzantines and Ottomans and how important were factors such as religion, commerce and diplomacy in the fragmented world of the late-medieval eastern Mediterranean? These are some of the key questions which this course will tackle.

The first part of the course examines the background of the decline of Byzantium and the rise of the Ottomans in the eastern Mediterranean, with particular emphasis given to the key protagonists in the region: the Ottomans, the Byzantines, the papacy, the Genoese and the Venetians. The failed Crusades of Nicopolis and Varna will be discussed, along with Sultan Murad II's (r.1421-1451) unsuccessful siege of Constantinople in 1422 and the subsequent Byzantine attempt to secure western aid at the Council of Florence (1438-9). The second part of the course examines the many contemporary accounts of the siege of 1453 launched by Murad's successor, Mehmed II (r.1451-1481), and considers the political, strategic and military factors that enabled him to succeed. Finally, the impact and perception of Mehmed's victory will be considered in Europe and the Ottoman empire. The course will give students wide scope to pursue their own interests within the course topics, whether they be in the study of Italy, Byzantium and the Ottomans, or in cultural, military, art and intellectual history.

Content note: The study of History inevitably involves the study of difficult topics that we encourage students to approach in a respectful, scholarly, and sensitive manner. Nevertheless, we remain conscious that some students may wish to prepare themselves for the discussion of difficult topics In particular, the course organiser has outlined that the following topics may be discussed in this course, whether in class or through required or recommended primary and secondary sources: religious violence, enslavement. While this list indicates sensitive topics students are likely to encounter, it is not exhaustive because course organisers cannot entirely predict the directions discussions may take in tutorials or seminars, or through the wider reading that students may conduct for the course.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Students MUST NOT also be taking The End of an Empire: The Fall of Constantinople in 1453 (HIST10450)
Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 3 History courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses. Applicants should note that, as with other popular courses, meeting the minimum does NOT guarantee admission.

** as numbers are limited, visiting students should contact the Visiting Student Office directly for admission to this course **
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  0
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 174 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 80 %, Practical Exam 20 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Coursework:
2,000 word Exhibition Assignment (30%)
3,000 word Essay (50%)

Non-written skills:
Class participation (20%)
Feedback Students will receive feedback on their coursework, and will have the opportunity to discuss that feedback further with the Course Organiser during their published office hours for this course or by appointment.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. understand the relevant areas of the history of the eastern Mediterranean and Europe and of the fall of Constantinople;
  2. execute defined research and produce structured and analytical written assignments on aspects of the course;
  3. critically analyse the sources relevant to the course and be familiar with their strengths and limitations;
  4. engage with other students through class discussion;
  5. evaluate the historiography and debate surrounding the fall of Constantinople.
Reading List
Primary Sources:

Doukas, Decline and Fall of Byzantium to the Ottoman Turks, trans. H.J. Magoulias (1975). DF631.A2 Dou.

Michael Kritovoulos, History of Mehmed the Conqueror, trans. C.T. Rigg (1954). DR501 Kri.

Niccolò Barbaro, Diary of the Siege of Constantinople, trans. J.R. Melville-Jones (1970). DF649 Bar.

The Crusade of Varna, 1443-5, trans. C. Imber (2006). E-Resource.

The Siege of Constantinople: Seven Contemporary Accounts, trans. J.R. Melville-Jones (1972). DF647 Sie.

Tursun Beg, The History of Mehmed the Conqueror, trans. H. Inalcik & R. Murphey (1978). DR501 Tur.

Secondary Works:

Angold, M., The Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans (2012). E-Resource.

Harris, J., The End of Byzantium (2010). E-Resource.

Kastritsis, D.J., The Sons of Bayezid: Empire Building and Representation in the Ottoman Civil War of 1402-1413 (2007). E-Resource.

Necipoglu, N., Byzantium between the Latins and the Ottomans: Politics and Society in the Late Empire (2009). E-Resource.

Philippides, M. & Hanak, W.K., The Siege and Fall of Constantinople in 1453: Historiography, Topography and Military Studies (2011). E-Resource.

Phillipides, M., Constantine XI Dragas Palaeologus (1404-1453): The Last Emperor of Byzantium (2019). E-Resource.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Assimilate, process and communicate a wide range of information from a variety of sources.

Process and critically assess information derived from historical research, utilising theoretical and methodological knowledge and skills specific to the subject area.

Provide clear written analyses based on historical information.

Master practical skills in accessing and interpreting historical sources.

Construct and pursue a coherent argument driven by analysis of the primary source material.

Analyse, assimilate and deploy critically a range of secondary literature relevant and essential to the student's individual research subjects.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Michael Carr
Tel: (0131 6)50 2554
Course secretary
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