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March 31, 1991|Charles Solomon

THE FALL OF CONSTANTINOPLE 1453 by Sir Steven Runciman (Canto: $10.95, illustrated). Traditionally, historians have used the capture of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmet II to mark the end of Middle Ages; contemporary chroniclers believed that the destruction of the Byzantine Empire by the Turks was a sign of God's displeasure and the imminent destruction of the world. Although sympathetic to the plight of the last Emperor, Constantine XI Paleologus, Runciman demonstrates that the fall of the city was the inevitable result of broad, historical trends. The Turks already controlled most of the Balkans and the Middle East, and the Western monarchs couldn't or wouldn't answer the emperors' increasingly desperate appeals for aid. The fall of the "Second Rome" bolstered the position of the self-proclaimed "Third Rome": Moscow became the focus of Eastern Orthodoxy and helped legitimize the nascent Russian empire. By capturing Constantinople, Mehmet II inadvertently fostered the rise of one of the powers that would dismantle the Turkish Empire four centuries later. Runciman's exceptional history is one of the first releases from Cambridge University's new "Canto" imprint: Other titles include "Studies in Words" by C.S. Lewis, "Myth, Literature and the African World" by Wole Soyinka and "The Decipherment of Linear B" by John Chadwick.

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