Project Canterbury

Theodora Phranza; or, the Fall of Constantinople

By John Mason Neale

New York: E.P. Dutton, 1913.
First published London: J. Masters, 1857.

Chapter XXXVI.

"Forgive, brave dead, the imperfect lay!
Who may your names, your numbers say!
What highest harp, what lofty line
To each the dear-earned praise assign:
From high-born chiefs, of martial fame,
To the poor soldier's lowlier name?"


A bright, blue morning. The leaves rustling and dancing in light: the southernly breeze breathing gently from the Asiatic shore: larks in the air; the glad waves of the Bosporus dancing as if for joy: the dew thick on lawn and bush; all nature waking up to the beauty of a May sunrise.

For the sun is not yet risen: there are hues of gold and crimson in the East, that announce his coming; even now the clouds that wander through the sky like sheep, are testifying his approach; even now grey is kindling into purple, and purple brightening into fire,--but he himself is yet below the horizon.

Dark, terrible squares of infantry, half-moons of cavalry, engines of unknown names and hideous shapes; piles of fascines, trenches, embankments, parallels; labourers plying the spade or pick-axe; carts rattling up with fresh loads of earth; here and there the quick sharp roll of a drum,--then the echo of a fife, further to the north-east, the distant blast of a trumpet; troops moving near to the bastions; files deploying into lines: lines connecting themselves into one extended girth of the city: the rabble of the army in the fore front; Croat and Bulgarian, the hunter of the steppes of Bessarabia, and the fisherman of the Sea of Azoff, the wild sons of Dalmatia, the banditti-like troops of Bosnia, the slim, dark, sallow Armenian; the brawny Wallachian, the well-knit, agile Arabian; the indolent Anatolian. Such was the scene to the north of the city, from the Seven Towers to the bastion of S. Nicetas.

On the walls, soldiers crowded closely together; the Roman forces thinly scattered among Varangian, Frank, and Barbarian: banners fluttering,--crosses glistening,--chiefs marshalling the defence,--engineers directing the ballistae,--the captains of the guns pointing their artillery,--trumpets braying,--bells pealing,--drays rolling through the streets with fresh cargoes of stones,--armourers riveting up armour,---knights once more hurrying round their posts,--here and there a monk exhorting to martyrdom,--here and there a wife reluctantly tearing herself from the arms of her husband,--a low, hushed tumult through the city,--streets empty,--roofs crowded,--churches thronged,--(the tidings of the three days' sack had spread like the Greek fire,)--mothers and daughters,--men on the verge of the grave, and boys scarce able to take care of themselves,--all laboured in tearing up paving stones and loading the carts.

To the east, the galleys resting close under the walls; their dark shadows dancing on the green waters of the Horn. Heaps on heaps of scaling ladders; piles on piles of pole-axes; wheel-locks; match-locks; snap-haunches; quick-match for the cannon; flints for the guns: the opposite side of the harbour deserted; boats plying busily from galley to galley; the Genoese arms flying from the Castle of Galata.

The sun is fast coming to the horizon.

Close to the Tower of S. Romanus stood the Emperor, Justiniani, one or two of the domestics, the Archbishop of Chalcedon, Choniates, and Sir Edward de Rushton; the latter of whom remained with the Caesar till the last moment. The Emperor that day wore chain armour, with his head defended by the coif-de-malles; just as a crusader might have done two hundred and fifty years before. As to the Acolyth, he was in a plain suit of plate; epaulieres on his shoulders; palettes below the arm-pit; from hip to thigh he wore taces of six lames; his knees were defended by genouailles; his feet by pointed sollerets; his hands by gauntlets, that had gadlings; his head by a plain bonnet, from which hung a tippet of mail; the sword-belt alone was ornamented with golden quatrefoils. His father had worn this suit at Agincourt, and his son wore it now. Manuel Chrysolaras was there; but he was not equal to the fatigue of armour, so he contented himself with a light helmet, and a Venetian brigandine.

"Gentlemen," said Constantine, "to your charges! and God be with you! My Lord of Chalcedon, we recommend ourselves to your prayers. It cannot be two minutes before the sun rises; and with the morning gun, I suppose, they charge."

As he spoke, there was a singular motion in the foremost line, compared afterwards by those that saw it, to the spiral twisting of a rope when suddenly stretched out to its full extent. The next moment, with one long, loud, discordant yell, combining a hundred languages in one shout, all round the city the lines fell in, commencing the general assault by sea and land. The cannons thundered from the galleys--the ballistBe whizzed from the walls--smoke rose high and volumed thick--a thousand shouts mingled together--multitudes, multitudes poured into the ditch: men and fascines rolled into it together,--the hinder ranks poured over the former, themselves poured over by the hindmost, treading and trodden on, crushing and crushed--the breath of life trampled out of the bodies that served but as a bridge--the ditches gradually filling with a mingled jelly of flesh, clay, and broken faggots. Volleys of stones from above--men hurrying on with rocks for the insatiable ballistBe--Varangians gorging cannon with their deadly load--marksmen aiming at the foremost assailants--a Babel of broken orders, hurried exhortations, shrieks, screams, execrations, shouts.

"Bid them point the artillery better from S. Nicholas's bastion, Justiniani." "I will, my Liege."--"Out of the way, there! Out of the way--red-hot shot!"--"Captain, another dray towards S. Margaret's bastion; they have no stones."--"I have none to spare."--"Where shall I get one?"--"God knows!"--whirr, whirr, from the next ballistae.--"Bravo! engineers! as dead as Adam!"--"Out of the way, my Liege; that imp of the devil is aiming here."--"Lord Hetseriarch, go to the angle of the Horn, and bring me word"--a roar of cannon from somewhere out by S. Peter's Port.--"Hot work, Justiniani."--"All right, sire; the pieces wanted depressing."--"S. George the Nicephorus! The Virgin the Protectress!"--"What's the shout?"--"Blown up a galley."--"Who?"--"De Rushton."--"There's a fellow at the wall."--"I'll make sure of him."--A shriek, as a well-directed stone crushed in his chest;--a heaving in the half dead, half living mass of mingled bodies and clay in the ditch--a fresh roar of cannon from the Horn--blinding clouds of smoke__cries of "S. Luke for Genoa!"--"What's that, Justiniani?"__

"I don't know, sire--run, some one--you, fellow, and inquire."--"Well, Lord Hetaeriarch? how goes it?"--"Gloriously, sire; they are beating them back everywhere."--"S. Edward for England!"---"Flanders and the Lion!"--"S. Christopher for Wolfenstein!"--A tremendous crash, as a discharged rock struck the bastion of S. Nicetas.--"Somebody down."--"Who's that?"--"Young Cantacuzene."--"Dead?"---"Dead as he can be."--"Don't let his father know."--"There's Mahomet!"--"Where?"--"Yonder, in a straight line with this side of S. Romanus."--Bang, bang, bang, from a new battery.--"The foul fiend seize those engineers!--"Nicephorus, cannot you do something there?"---"I'll try, my Liege. Peter!"--"He is just carried off, master."--"George, then, wind away--so--that's about it--loose all!"--A tremendous crash.---"Well aimed, Nicephorus!"--"I will but run to the Horn, sire, and be back again; they may want me more there."--"Do not be long."--"No, sire."--"We shall win the day yet, Justiniani."--"God willing, very soon, my Liege. Faster, men, faster, men! they are swarming thick up! Three days' free sack."--"They are getting too close; more stones this way."--"Are more coming in?"--"Here's another dray."--"That's well, that's well."--A fresh roar of cannon--a loud shout from the infidels--eight or nine large stones falling from S. Nicolas's bastion.

Such was the first onset on the north side.

Now we turn to see what was doing at the Horn.

When De Rushton, hurrying from the Emperor to his post, arrived on the harbour wall, the conflict was already in its full heat; and far more hand to hand, than in any other quarter of the city. The mariners and soldiers who served on board, absolutely reckless of life, were planting their scaling ladders on the parapet, and rushing up to the most assured destruction: the brave defenders of the city seized the tops of the ladders, and flung them back; or clove the mounting soldier in twain with the tremendous battle-axe.

"De Rushton! De Rushton!" came the cry, as he advanced to his post.

"S. Edward for England! De Rushton! De Rushton!"

"Phranza, who is at yonder petraria?"


"Burstow, to him, and bid him bring it here: we need it more."

"There's a man's head over the wall."

A struggle for the ladder: shrieks, cries; back it falls, splashing into the water.

"Aim at Leontius! aim at Leontius! engineer!"

"I have aimed at him four times already: the dog must have a charmed life."

"Master gunners, fire higher!" shouted Achmet. "You waste your shot."

"Carpenters, this way!" cried Leontius: "make fast this ladder to the deck while we hold it up."

"Back with it, men! back with it!" roared Choniates. "S. George the Nicephorus! Back with it!"

"Hold on, slaves, for your lives," from below.

"Stones this way, stones; pass them hand over hand."

Loud shrieks from the workmen and carpenters, as the volley crashed in among them.

"Try again! try again!" cried Achmet. "A province for him that first mounts the wall."

Eight or ten ladders, held up by main force; a huge Bulgarian by the parapet, grappling, struggling, with a Greek: he heaves him up: the Greek clutches at the breastwork. "Help! help! for God's sake!" "De Rushton! De Rushton!" The Bulgarian looses hold; the Acolyth is on him; they clasp each other in that deadly embrace. De Rushton is off his feet; he will surely be dragged over; his right arm is pinioned by his foe. Burstow is rushing up; ere he can reach him, the knight has disengaged his dagger of mercy; it is in the Bulgarian's throat; he falls, a senseless mass, into the sea.

And that was the conflict by the Horn.

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