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May 29, 2021

The American Historian Who Testified to the Existence of the Grave of Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos

Edwin Augustus Grosvenor was born in 1845 in West Newbury, Massachusetts. After graduating from Amherst College in 1867, he served as a tutor at Robert College in Constantinople, which was then under the Ottoman Empire. After returning to the U.S., he obtained an M.A. from Amherst College and was ordained as a minister in Newburyport in 1872. That same year, Edwin Grosvenor returned to Robert College with his new wife and began teaching. Grosvenor then taught at Amherst College from 1892 to 1914, and was professor emeritus until his death in 1936. Today the house where he lived in Amherst is a sorority house of the college that bears his name.

Grosvenor was called "one of the most cosmopolitan of Americans" by author and abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson. His son, Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, was the first employee and longtime editor of National Geographic Magazine, as well as the son-in-law of Alexander Graham Bell.

Edwin Grosvenor wrote and translated much as a historian of Greece and Constantinople. His two volume Constantinople was "the most important treatise ... that has yet appeared in English," wrote a reviewer in the Springfield Republican. "One of the books of the year." The New York Times said that Grosvenor was "uniquely suited to the task."

Having lived in Constantinople for a number of years as a professor and historian, one of the most interesting sections of the first volume of Constantinople appears on page 47, published in 1895, where we are given a historians unique testimony of the existence of the grave of the last Roman Emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos, in the late 19th century. He writes:

"To-day, in the quarter of Abou Vefa in Stamboul, may be seen a lowly, nameless grave which the humble Greeks revere as that of Constantine. Timid devotion has strewn around it a few rustic ornaments. Candles were kept burning night and day at its side. Till eight years ago it was frequented, though secretly, as a place of prayer. Then the Ottoman Government interposed with severe penalties, and it has since been almost deserted. All this is but in keeping with the tales which delight the credulous or devout. History knows only that the pile of slain about him was the Emperor's funeral pyre, and that the Emperor and Empire have transmuted the soil about the Gate of Saint Romanos, where they died together, into holy ground." 
The time period of "eight years ago" falls in line with the fact that Grosvenor was teaching in Constantinople at the time before and after the Ottoman authorities interfered in the Greeks paying their devotions at the grave.