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Constantine XI Palaiologos

Constantine XI Palaiologos
Κωνσταντῖνος ΙΑ' Παλαιολόγος
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Constantine XI Palaiologos
Reign 6 January 1449 – 29 May 1453
Coronation 6 January 1449
Predecessor John VIII Palaiologos
Successor Office abolished
Spouse Theodora Tocco
Caterina Gattilusio
Issue None
Dynasty Palaiologos dynasty
Father Manuel II Palaiologos
Mother Helena Dragaš
Born (1405-02-08)8 February 1405
Died 29 May 1453(1453-05-29) (aged 49)
Religion Eastern Orthodox

Constantine XI Dragaš Palaiologos, Latinized as Palaeologus (Greek: Κωνσταντινος ΙΑ' Δραγάσης Παλαιολόγος, Kōnstantinos XI Dragasēs Palaiologos; 8 February 1405[1][2] – 29 May 1453) was the last reigning Byzantine Emperor,[3][4][5] reigning as a member of the Palaiologos dynasty from 1449 to his death in battle at the fall of Constantinople. Following his death, he became a legendary figure in Greek folklore as the "Marble Emperor" who would awaken and recover the Empire and Constantinople from the Ottomans.[1][6] His death marked the end of the Roman Empire, which had continued in the East for 977 years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.[7][8]


  • Biography 1
    • Despot of the Morea 1.1
    • Marriages 1.2
    • Reign as Emperor 1.3
    • Fall of Constantinople and death 1.4
    • Legacy 1.5
  • Unofficial saint 2
  • Ancestry 3
  • In popular culture 4
  • References 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • External links 7


Constantine was born in Constantinople[2] as the eighth of ten children to Manuel II Palaiologos and Helena Dragaš, the daughter of the Serbian magnate Constantine Dragaš. He was extremely fond of his mother and added her surname (Dragases) next to his own dynastic one when he ascended the imperial throne. He spent most of his childhood in Constantinople under the supervision of his parents. He later became governor of Selymbria for a time, until surrendering the role to his brother Theodore in 1443. During the absence of his older brother in Italy, Constantine was regent in Constantinople from 1437–1440.

Despot of the Morea

Constantine became the Despotes of the Morea (the medieval name for the Peloponnesus) in October 1443, ruling from the fortress and palace in Mistra. At the time, Mistra, a fortified town also called Sparta or Lacedaemon due to its proximity to the ancient city,[9] was a center of arts and culture rivalling Constantinople..

After establishing himself as the Despot, Constantine worked to strengthen the defence of the Morea, including reconstructing a wall across the Isthmus of Corinth called the "Hexamilion" (Six-mile-wall), on the suggestion of the famous scholar and teacher of his, Plethon.[10]

In summer 1444, he launched an invasion of the Latin Duchy of Athens from the Morea, swiftly conquering Thebes and Athens and forcing its Florentine duke to pay him tribute. The Duchy was ruled by Nerio II Acciaioli, a vassal of the Ottoman Sultan.

The Turks, frustrated by the attempt of the Greeks to expand from the Morea into central Greece[11] started raising an invading army. Two years later, in autumn 1446, Sultan Murad II who had come out of retirement, led an army of 50–60,000 soldiers into Greece to put an end to the pretensions of Constantine.[12] His purpose was not to conquer Morea but to teach the Greeks and their Despots a punitive lesson.[12] Constantine and his brother Thomas braced for the attack at the Hexamilion, which the Ottoman army reached on 27 November 1446. While the wall could hold against medieval attacks, Sultan Murad used bombards to supplement the usual siege engines and scaling ladders, leaving the Hexamilion in ruins by 10 December. Constantine and Thomas barely escaped, and Morea was invaded. This put an end to Constantine's attempt to expand his Despotate.


Constantine XI married twice: the first time on 1 July 1428 to

Constantine XI Palaiologos
Palaiologos dynasty
Born: 8 February 1404 Died: 29 May 1453
Regnal titles
Preceded by
John VIII Palaiologos
Byzantine Emperor
Office abolished
Claimed by Demetrios Palaiologos
and Thomas Palaiologos in exile
Preceded by
Theodore II Palaiologos
Despot of the Morea
Succeeded by
Thomas Palaiologos
  • Great Martyr, the Emperor Blessed Constantine XI Paleologos

External links

  • Roger Crowley, 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West. Hyperion, 2005; ISBN 1-4013-0850-3
  • Jonathan Harris, The End of Byzantium. Yale University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-300-11786-8
  • Donald M. Nicol, The Immortal Emperor. Cambridge University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-521-46717-9
  • Donald M. Nicol, The Last Centuries of Byzantium. Cambridge University Press, 1993, 2nd edition. ISBN 0-521-43991-4
  • Murr Nehme, Lina (2003). 1453: The Fall of Constantinople. Aleph Et Taw.  
  • Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, 1991.
  • Steven Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople, 1453. Cambridge University Press, 1965. ISBN 0-521-09573-5
  • Georgios Frantzes, Ioannes A. Melisseides, Rita Zavolea Melisseidou, " Ealo I Polis, To Chronico tes halose tes Konstantinoupoles " ( Constantinople has Fallen. Chronicle of the Fall of Constatinople : Brief History of Events in Constantinople during the Period 1440-1453, Georgiou Frantzi, Ioannis A. Melisseidis - translator : Ioannis A. Melisseidis, Rita Zavolea Melisseidou ) 1998/2004, Ekd.Vergina, Athens. ISBN 9789607171917 (Worldcat, Greek National Bibliography 1999/2004, Biblionet)


  1. ^ a b c Donald M. Nicol, The Immortal Emperor (Cambridge: University Press, 1992)
  2. ^ a b Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1991
  3. ^ Donald MacGillivray Nicol, The last centuries of Byzantium, 1261–1453 (Cambridge: University Press, 1993), p.369
  4. ^ A.Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire, 324–1453, volume 2 (1958), p.589
  5. ^ William J. Duiker, Jackson J. Spielvogel, World History, Volume I (2009), p.378
  6. ^ David Nicolle, John F. Haldon, Stephen R. Turnbull, The fall of Constantinople: the Ottoman conquest of Byzantium, Osprey, 2007, p.191
  7. ^  
  8. ^ George W. White, Nationalism and territory: constructing group identity in Southeastern Europe (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000), pp.124
  9. ^ Elizabeth Rawson, The Spartan tradition in European thought (Oxford: University Press), p.120
  10. ^ N. Nikoloudes, Laonikos Chalkokondyles: a translation and commentary of the "Demonstrations of histories", Books 1–3, Volume 16, Historical Publications, 1996, p. 391
  11. ^ William Leonard Langer, H. N. Abrams, The new illustrated encyclopedia of world history, 1975, pp. 273
  12. ^ a b Donald M. Nicol, Byzantium and Venice: A Study in Diplomatic and Cultural Relations (Cambridge: University press), p. 386
  13. ^ Nicol, Immortal Emperor, p.45
  14. ^ Nicol, Immortal Emperor, p.46
  15. ^ a b Byzantium and Venice: A Study in Diplomatic and Cultural Relations, Donald M. Nicol, Cambridge University Press, p.390
  16. ^ Brett D. Steele & Tamera Dorland, The heirs of Archimedes: science and the art of war through the Age of Enlightenment (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2005), p.128
  17. ^ Philip Sherrard, Constantinople: iconography of a sacred city (Oxford: University Press, 1965), p. 139
  18. ^ Constance Head, Imperial twilight: the Palaiologos dynasty and the decline of Byzantium, Nelson-Hall, 1977, p. 168
  19. ^ Lost to the West: the forgotten Byzantine Empire that rescued Western Civilization, 2009, p. 299
  20. ^ Marios Philippides; Walter K. Hanak (2011). "The" Siege and the Fall of Constantinople in 1453: Historiography, Topography, and Military Studies. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 100.  
  21. ^ The Marble King (in Greek)
  22. ^ Odysseas Elytis's poem on Constantine XI Palaeologos
  23. ^ Niles' Register, "Russia and Turkey", February 1834. Page 426.
  24. ^ The Marble King (music/video) on YouTube
  25. ^ Μαρμαρωμένος Βασιληάς/The Marble-Petrified King (music/video) on YouTube


  • Emperor Constantine XI was portrayed by Cahit Irgat in Turkish film İstanbul'un Fethi (1951).
  • Recep Aktuğ portrays Emperor Constantine XI in the Turkish film Fetih 1453 (2012).
  • Emperor Constantine XI is the protagonist in Constantinopolis, a novel by James Shipman (2013).

In popular culture


Some Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholics consider Constantine XI a saint (or a national martyr or ethnomartyr, Greek: ἐθνομάρτυρας). However, he has not been officially canonized by either Church, partly due to controversy surrounding his personal religious beliefs and partly because death in battle is not normally considered a form of martyrdom by the Orthodox Church. An Orthodox martyr is one who voluntarily accepts death for his faith, typically in a situation where he has the option to give up Christianity and live, but chooses death instead.

Unofficial saint

Constantine Palaiologos' legacy is still a popular theme in Greek culture. The well known contemporary composers Apostolos Kaldaras and Stamatis Spanoudakis have written elegies for the Marble King.[24][25]

During the Balkan Wars and the Greco-Turkish War, under the influence of the Megali Idea, the name of the then-Greek king, Constantine, was used in Greece as a popular confirmation of the prophetic myth about the Marble King who would liberate Constantinople and recreate the lost Empire.

Constantine XI's legacy was used as a rallying cry for Greeks during their war for Independence with the Ottoman Empire. Today the Emperor is considered a national hero in Greece.

While serving as ambassador to Russia in February 1834, Ahmed Pasha presented Tsar Nicholas with a number of gifts, including a jewel-encrusted sword supposedly taken from Constantine XI's corpse.[23]

An icon of Palaiologos

A legend tells that when the Ottomans entered the city, an angel rescued the emperor, turned him into marble and placed him in a cave under the earth near the Golden Gate, where he waits to be brought to life again to conquer the city back for Christians.[21][22]

A statue in Athens.


Soldiers were sent hastily to search amongst the dead. The first body that was believed to be the emperor's, a body that had silk stockings with an eagle embroidered in it, had its head decapitated and marched around the ruined capital. However, it failed to gather any recognition from the citizens of Constantinople.[19] There were no known surviving eyewitnesses to the death of the Emperor and none of his entourage survived to offer any credible account of his death.[20]

He died on 29 May 1453, the day the city fell. His last recorded words were: "The city is fallen and I am still alive."[17] Then he tore off his imperial ornaments so as to let nothing distinguish him from any other soldier and led his remaining soldiers into a last charge where he was killed.[18]

He led the defence of the city and took an active part in the fighting alongside his troops in the land walls. At the same time, he used his diplomatic skills to maintain the necessary unity between the Genoese, Venetian and the Greek troops.

To surrender the city to you is beyond my authority or anyone else's who lives in it, for all of us, after taking the mutual decision, shall die out of free will without sparing our lives.

Before the beginning of the siege, Mehmed II made an offer to Constantine XI. In exchange for the surrender of Constantinople, the emperor's life would be spared and he would continue to rule in Mistra; to which, as preserved by G. Sphrantzes, Constantine replied:

A popular depiction of Palaiologos.

Fall of Constantinople and death

He managed to raise funds to stockpile food for the upcoming siege and to repair the old Theodosian walls, but the poor state of the Byzantine economy did not allow him to raise the necessary army to defend the city against the massive Ottoman army. Desperate for any type of military assistance, Constantine XI appealed to the West reaffirming the union of Eastern and Roman Churches which had been signed at the Council of Florence, a condition the Catholic Church imposed before any help could be provided. The union had been overwhelmingly criticized by the strong anti-union ("anthenotikoi") part of his subjects, while it dangerously estranged him from Loukas Notaras, his chief minister and military commander who was a leading anti-union figure. Finally, although some troops did arrive from the mercantile city states in the north of Italy, the Western contribution was negligible compared to the needs, given the Ottoman strength. Constantine also sought assistance from his brothers in Morea, but any help was forestalled by an Ottoman invasion of the peninsula in 1452 which took place exactly for that reason. The siege of the city began in the winter of 1452. Constantine faced the siege defending his city of 60,000 people with an army only numbering 7,000 men. Confronting the Byzantine forces was an Ottoman army numbering many times that, backed by state-of-the-art siege equipment provided by a very competent Hungarian arms maker named Orban.[16]

Sultan Murad died in 1451, succeeded by his 19-year-old son Mehmed II. Soon afterwards, Mehmed II began agitating for the conquest of Constantinople. Constantine responded to this by threatening to release Prince Orhan, who was a pretender to the Ottoman throne, unless Mehmed met some of his demands. Because of this, Mehmed considered Constantine to have broken the truce and the following winter of 1451–52, Mehmed built Rumelihisarı, a hill fortress on the European side of the Bosporus, just north of the city cutting the communication with the Black Sea to the east. This complemented the Anadoluhisarı fortress on the Anatolian (Asian) side of the Bosporus, built between 1393 and 1394 by Sultan Bayezid I. For Constantine that was a clear prelude for a siege and he immediately started organizing the defence.

Murad decided in favor of Constantine and on 6 January 1449 Constantine was crowned in the cathedral at Mistra by the local bishop. It was rare but not unprecedented for an emperor to be crowned in a provincial city. The founder of the dynasty of Palaiologos had been crowned at Nicaea, Asia Minor, John Cantacuzene at Adrianople, Thrace. But they had been thought proper that a second coronation ceremony be held also at Constantinople, performed by the patriarch. Constantine was the exception. The patriarch at the time, Gregory III, was a unionist, (see East–West Schism) shunned by most of his clergy. Constantine knew that to receive his crown from Gregory would add fuel to the existing fires of religious discord in the capital.[15] He sailed from Greece on a Venetian ship and arrived in Constantinople on 12 March 1449.[15]

Despite the foreign and domestic difficulties during his reign, which culminated in the fall of Constantinople and of the Byzantine Empire, contemporary sources generally speak respectfully of the Emperor Constantine. When his brother, Emperor John VIII Palaiologos, died childless, a dispute erupted between Constantine and his brother Demetrios Palaiologos over the throne. Demetrios drew support for his opposition to the union between the Orthodox and Catholic churches. The Empress Helena, acting as regent, supported Constantine. They appealed to the Ottoman Sultan Murad II to arbitrate the disagreement.

Marble relief of a double-headed eagle in the Church of St Demetrios in Mystras, marking the spot where Constantine XI was crowned.

Reign as Emperor


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