HISTORY OF MEHMED THE CONQUEROR BY KRITOBOULOS
Mehmed II the Conqueror (1432-81) reigned as Sultan of the Ottoman Empire 1444-46 and 1451-81, during which time he greatly expanded it, most notably by capturing Constantinople, the capital of what remained of the old Roman Empire.
Michael Kritoboulos Μιχαήλ Κριτόβουλος (ca. 1410-ca.1468) was the author of the most detailed account of the first seventeen years of Mehmed’s second reign, ie. the years 1451 to 1467. He knew the Sultan, who made him governor of his native island of Imbros and described him with admiration despite, as a Greek, mourning the triumph of the Turks over his people.
The extracts from Kritoboulos’s History presented here all concern the pederasty of Mehmed II and his army, but none of them are forthright about it, very likely because the work was dedicated to the Sultan. The sexual implications of what is described only becomes clear when one refers to two other contemporary accounts, the Decline and Fall of Byzantium by Doukas and the Histories of Laonikos Chalkokondyles, which the reader is urged to look at first. In particular, Kritoboulos avoids explaining how the Sultan was “persuaded” to kill “Notaras, the Commandant of the City” and his two sons. Everything he did say about Notaras is included here as a valuable supplement to the story because those other two writers make it clear that the cause of the trouble was Notaras’s defiance when faced with the Sultan’s passion for his handsome, third, son, variously described as twelve and fourteen, who was sent to the imperial seraglio in Adrianople.
The translation from the Greek is by Charles T. Riggs and was published by the Princeton University Press in 1954.
Including the beginning of the reign of the Great Sultan Mehmed, his accession, his works and deeds, the building of the new fortress on the Bosporus, the battle for Constantinople and its capture. Period included: three years [a.d. 1451-1453].
Describing the ransacking of Constantinople immediately following its capture by the Sultan Mehmed’s army on 29 May 1453:
Here, too, a Sad Tragedy
§ 242. They say that many of the maidens, even at the mere unaccustomed sight and sound of these men, were terror-stricken and came near losing their very lives. And there were also honorable old men who were dragged by their white hair, and some of them beaten unmercifully. And well-born and beautiful young boys were carried off. […]
§ 277. The Sultan Mehmed, when he had carefully viewed the City and all its contents, went back to the camp and divided the spoils. First he took the customary toll of the spoils for himself. Then also, as prizes from all the rest, he chose out beautiful virgins and those of the best families, and the handsomest boys, some of whom he even bought from the soldiers. He also chose some of the distinguished men who, he was informed, were above the rest in family and intelligence and valor. Among these was Notaras himself, a man among the most able and notable in knowledge, wealth, virtue, and political power. The Sultan honored him with a personal interview, spoke soothing words to him, and filled him with hope, and not him only but the rest who were with him.
[…] § 284. He contemplated making Notaras the commandant of the City, and putting him in charge of its repopulation, and he had advised with him previously regarding this. But the arrows of envy laid that man and his sons low with mortal wounds, and they were condemned to an unjust death.
Advice of those in high position to the King to remove the men. The fate of the family
§ 285. For some men of great influence, I know not whence, moved by envy and hatred toward those men, persuaded him, since he had them in his power, to put them out of the way, saying that Romans, and especially prominent ones, not only ought not to live in this City or occupy any positions but even should not live at all, or go about the place. For, they said, after recuperating a little and having become free from slavery, those men would no longer hesitate to plot in their own interests and seek to get back what they formerly had, and especially their freedom. Thus they would do all they could against the City, or else would desert to our enemies, even while remaining here. Persuaded by these arguments, or rather being dissuaded from his intention, the Sultan ordered the men to be removed. And they were all killed, and among them were executed the Grand Duke and his two sons.
§ 286. They say that when this man was taken to the place of execution, he begged the executioner first to kill his children before his very eyes, so that in terror at his death they might not abjure their faith. And so, as he waited to be sacrificed with his children, he watched attentively while his sons were being executed, without turning his eyes, and unterrified in mind. Then, after praying and thanking God for taking home his children and himself, he bared his neck to the sword. Thus bravely and with firm and lofty sentiments, he died with the spirit of a hero.
An Estimate of the Grand Duke
§ 287. This man was devout in all relations with God, and of signal prudence, known for the loftiness of his sentiments and the sharpness of his intellect and the freedom of his spirit from all trammels. Through it all he exhibited both physical and moral greatness. Through these he attained political reputation, secured power in public affairs, and attained great glory and wealth. He was in the front rank in the estimation not only of the Romans but also of many from other nations. And his companions, nine in number, died bravely, with steady and manly courage.
§288. Later on, the Sultan discovered the under handedness and wickedness of those who had persuaded him to put these men to death, and in disgust at their treachery he removed them from his sight, condemning some of them to death, and depriving the rest of their positions and honors. Thus they were not long in paying the penalty for their injustice to these men. But all this we shall refer to a little later.
Arrival of Embassies to the Sultan at Adrianople
[…] § 292. After this he appointed some of the youths of high family, whom he had chosen according to their merits, to be in his bodyguard and to be constantly near him, and others to other service as his pages. He admired them for their prudence and other virtues and for their training. They were indeed of signal physical beauty and nobility and talent of soul, and in their manners and morals they were outstanding, for they were of high and renowned ancestry and splendid physique, and well trained in the royal palace.
This includes the history of the expedition into Enos, the fight with the Triballi and their total defeat and enslavement, and the capture of the islands of Lemnos, Thasos, and Samothrace by the Italians. Time involved: four years [a.d. 1454-1457].
The Surrender of the City of Enos to the Sultan
Describing events in 1455:
§ 82. After staying three days in the city, having arranged its affairs as he desired, he chose out 150 boys of the highest families.
 These brief summaries at the head of the five books are written in the manuscript in purple ink by a different hand, and are evidently not by the author himself. [Translator’s note]