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August 25, 2021

How a Miracle of the Mother of God Prevented the Fall of Constantinople on August 24, 1422

John Kananos was a Roman/Byzantine historian who lived during the first half of the 15th century. Kananos wrote a "a vivid eyewitness account" of the failed siege of Constantinople by the Ottomans under Sultan Murad II in 1422, the penultimate of four attempts on the city by the Ottomans. He attributes the survival of Constantinople to the miraculous intervention of the Mother of God on 24 August, when he says even the Ottomans saw her on the ramparts. The defeat was disastrous for the Ottomans.

The Roman Emperor was Manuel II Palaiologos. In July 1422, 10,000 Ottomans began looting the outskirts of Constantinople under the orders of Sultan Murad II. According to John Kananos, they started raping women, killing men and circumcising children. This was the vanguard of a huge army, which came a few days later. An army of 200,000 Ottomans was at the gates.

Later, the Sultan's engineer built a wooden wall in the form of an arch, at an archery distance from the city walls. The Ottomans built siege engines and towers while digging burrows to blow up the walls. The Romans, however, made their own burrows and killed the engineers inside the galleries. After pounding the walls for days, the Ottomans decided to launch a massive attack on August 24.

John Kananos gives a description of the Ottomans:

"Others carried ladders of all kinds, both small and large, and some had large and high beams, to climb, while others had sickle-shaped weapons on poles, which they called falcons, and some had large shields and others small and all were metallic."

Kananos also tells us that the Ottomans initially fired many shots with their bows, to make the defenders hide. Then hundreds of Roman prisoners were brought to the ditch and after putting them on their knees, they beheaded them all. This brought panic to the Romans. Then, the Ottomans made a massive attack, while at the same time drums and buccinas were beating behind them, making a lot of noise.

Then a miracle happened. While everyone was panicking, they saw on the ramparts a Lady in a porphyry dress standing alone. This was followed by an old-fashioned counterattack. Citizens, craftsmen, farmers, peasants, teenagers, priests, monks, women, merchants took what they found in front of them and joined Manuel Palaiologos and the professional soldiers and went to the walls and fought.

John Kananos writes:

"... and with the help of the Panagia their courage was strengthened and they armed themselves with swords in their hands and stones against the infidels… They fought with whatever they could find in their hands, others fought unarmed with their fists and others with swords and spears. Others, who had no armor at all, had made wooden shields from the barrel lids. Some who were not from the City but from the surroundings fought only with stones in their hands and yes they fought with so much courage as if they were armed with heavy armor…

And many women were transformed like the bravest men in the most frightening moment of the war. They did not hide, nor were they afraid, as an ordinary woman would do, instead they went to the ramparts and carried stones for the Roman soldiers who fought there. Others brought water for the defenders and others pressured them to fight. Others brought eggs and cloths to treat the wounded, others brought water and wine for the thirsty soldiers, and others came with their children to be with their husbands."

The battle lasted until sunset when the Ottomans retreated. The siege lasted three months and ended on the night of August 24, 1422 with an epic battle.

Doukas states that one reason for the end of the siege was the revolt of the Sultan's brother, since he had been secretly funded by Manuel II.

In this battle the Ottomans had 1,000 dead, while the Romans had 100 wounded and 28 dead.

The victory was attributed to a miracle of the Virgin Mary, protectress of the city of Constantinople.

For the full account of John Kananos, you can read a complete translation of his text here (click on Download PDF)