Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Today we note the passing of the Middle Ages

Mental Floss and several other Internet sources claim that today is End of the Middle Ages Day. Several sources even explain why: On May 29, 1453, Constantinople (nee Byzantium), the city reconstituted by the Emperor Constantine as the New Rome -- the capital of a Roman Empire that, over the centuries, largely withered away around it -- fell to the Ottoman Turks.

According to Wikipedia's account, after taking the city, Sultan Mehmed II styled himself "Kayser-i Rum, literally 'Caesar of Rome.'" The Sultan's Wikipedia biography notes that there were Byzantine royals in his family tree. His predecessor, Orhan I had married a Byzantine princess and Mehmed himself claimed descent from the nephew of a Byzantine emperor (a nephew who had tried, and failed to overthrow his uncle). All families have problems.

But if Mehmed had a blood claim to imperial succession, Wikipedia reassures us that his "claim was not recognized by the Patriarch of Constantinople, or Christian Europe."

One of the reasons why historians claim that the Middle Ages ended with the fall of Constantinople is that many well-educated Christians fleeing the Turks went west, most of them to Italy, sparking a revival of classical scholarship that came to be called the Renaissance.

Another reason, of course, is that Turks hiked tolls for goods -- spices, silks, and other fripperies -- passing from the Mystic East across their new domains to luxury-craving Europe. The price increases spurred some in Western Europe to begin thinking about possible alternative shipping routes. The Portuguese started sailing down the coast of Africa; the Spanish began gazing out across the Atlantic....

In thinking about the end of the Middle Ages, here's a possible musical selection for the jukebox tonight -- "It's the End of the World" by R.E.M:

No comments: