Year of Ottoman takeover of Istanbul/Constantinople

This week’s mailbag answer sez:

The early 1200s?! Since when? All my references say that Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453.

Plus, it’d be kind of hard for the Ottoman Empire to take over anything in the early 1200s, since as the same article later says, it wasn’t even founded until 1295.

Actually, the Ottoman Empire was founded in 1289 by Osman.

BTW - It was the Fourth Crusade that conquered Istambul (Constantinople at the time) in 1204.

A. “Istanbul” is the Turkish name for Constantinople, the new name given by Constantine the Great to the old city of Byzantium.

B. For as long as it had that name, Constantinople was Christian (and before that, it was dominated by the classical Graeco-Roman religion).

C. Any conquest of Constantinople by Crusaders was strictly a Xtian-v-Xtian affair.

D. The Islamic conquest of Constantinople was in 1453.

E. In short, the story given in the answer about the crescent and star is manifest nonsense.


John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

“Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on moonlit night”

– They Might Be Giants, “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”

John W. Kennedy said:

Can you make that “in long”? :slight_smile: I mean, can you explain why it’s nonsense?

I doubt that he can give valid reasons to prove it’s nonsense. I searched many encyclopedias, conferred with scholars of Hadith, and even checked a few anti-Islamic sites to research the answer given.

Being a query about a religion, I realized before writing my answer (slightly edited by Ed, but that’s his job, you know) that some folks would take umbrage at something “offending their preconceived notions” regarding any religion. Upon even a cursory reading, you will note that I addressed the historical facts of the situation.

You don’t like the answer? Sorry. But I did check reputable sources, most available at any decently fitted out public library.

The On-line Encyclopedia of Symbols at http://www.symbols.com/encyclopedia/ provides a very similar explanation to Monty’s. They indicate that the crescent moon (but on its back, like a shallow bowl) was the symbol of Constantinople and was adopted by the Ottoman Turks after their conquest of the city. They, then, turned it up to look like a waning moon at dawn and added the star to represent Venus, the Morning Star. They also note that some (unidentified) sources claim that the Turks were using the moon symbol prior to their conquest of Constantinople. The star was apparently added at the beginning of the 19th Century.
For the article in SYMBOLS, http://www.symbols.com/encyclopedia/24/2464.html .


Tom~

The On-line Encyclopedia of Symbols at http://www.symbols.com/encyclopedia/ provides a very similar explanation to Monty’s. They indicate that the crescent moon (but on its back, like a shallow bowl) was the symbol of Constantinople and was adopted by the Ottoman Turks after their conquest of the city. They, then, turned it up to look like a waning moon at dawn and added the star to represent Venus, the Morning Star. They also note that some (unidentified) sources claim that the Turks were using the moon symbol prior to their conquest of Constantinople. The star was apparently added at the beginning of the 19th Century.
For the article in SYMBOLS, http://www.symbols.com/encyclopedia/24/2464.html .


Tom~

Thanks, Tom; I agree that your response is worthy of repeating ;).

Constantinople (the correct pre-conquest name) had been a Christian capital for over a thousand years when the Turks conquered it, and before it was Christian, it was Graeco-Roman pagan. If (and I admit this much is possible, in the sense that I don’t actually know it to be false) the crescent moon was a symbol of Constantinople, any “sky-god” symbolism was long forgotten.

The Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453.

Now, just how many mistakes do I have to find in something to qualify it as nonsense?

No bafflegab, please, about this being a “religious” question. These are perfectly straightforward issues of basic historical fact that could be checked in any decent home library.


John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Not only are the dates missed up in the explaination, but it isn’t even logical from a political viewpoint. The Turks had been aspiring to conquer the Byzantine Empire for nearly 200 years before they actually succeeded. Why would they adopt Constantinople’s sybolism as their own? The first thing any invader does when he conquers an enemy fortification is tear down the colors and disicrate them.

My guess (which is no less valid than the answer given) is that the cresent and star were a family crest of sorts that the ottoman rulers brought to power with them.

One quite valid point was made, though. The cresent and star are not Islamic symbols, but are symbols of Turkish nationalism. Just as the Red Cross took it’s symbol from it’s founder’s national flag (Switzerland, not Christianity) it’s counterpart the Red Cresent took it’s symbol from the Turkish flag not Islam.

Well, my research notes do say 1493 so I’ll concede that. The rest of the story stands, IMHO.

Red Crescent & Star for ambulances and such come from the Turkish flag directly? I doubt that. As I showed in the response, that is where it comes from ultimately; however, the US Navy (feel free to check: www.navy.mil , www.militaryinfo.com , and www.bluejacket.com or even the Boatsain’s Mate, Signalman’s or MRPO, PO3, PO2, PO1 books for this) preaches (couldn’t resist, sorry) that the reason is Islamic lands would find the Red Cross offensive.

Damn typos. 1453.

The fault lies in my overly hasty editing of Monty’s research. I had confused the first appearance of the Ottoman Turks in the 1200s with their conquest of Constantinople/Istanbul in 1453 under Mohammed II the Conquerer. The history is a complicated series of wars over a two hundred to three hundred year period.

The origin of the star and crescent is pretty much unknown, with various theories proposed, but fairly certain that the Ottoman Turks took over the local symbol.

You have to consider how important Constantinople was in the world view of that period. Constantinople was the largest city in the western world and the heir to Rome and its empire. By capturing Constantinople, the Turks were making the political statement that they were now the most powerful people in the world.

Thanks, CK. Appreciate it.

Well, I think this may have been alluded in the last message post, but I want to try to clarify things as best I can. (Though it has been a little while and I know my notes on the subject are LONG gone) I know for a fact that Constantinople actually fell three times, unfortunately I cannot recal the dates as I only memorized them long enough to pass the final. The first time it fell was to the crusaders. (11th cent?) The second time it fell was to the Turks in the 1300’s. The seat of the Byzantium was moved to a much smaller town-SW in central Anatolia (Turkey). Within the next 20-30 years, the Byzantines recaptured constantinople and re-established thier ailing government. It was a short lived victory and the city fell for good in 1453. That date Im pretty well sure of.

I think the meat of the answer is correct ie: secular symbol that came to be permanently associated with the religion of the ruling body.

BTW all this was learned in on-site art history courses in Byzantine art history (thus the lack of dates)-the art being more fascinating to me than the history. Ask me about the apocalyptic imagery of the last 30 years before the final fall…

An interesting tangent:

The six pointed star is not truly a Jewish symbol either. It is typically referred to as the “Star of David” and that discription is actually far more accurate. The star was the sign or his royal house, much like a coat of arms.

There are two explanations I have heard as to how the star become David’s symbol

  1. The flower associated with his rule has six petals with a dot in the center of each. Connect the dots, get the star symbol. Can’t remember the name of the flower nor why it is associated with the house of David…

  2. The hebrew letter for “D” (Daled) in the old hebrew script (not the hebrew characters used today) is shaped like a triangle. In hebrew, vowels are typically omitted so David’s name would be written “DVD”. One can imagine David taking the first and last letter as his initials (no last names back then), inverting the second Daled on top of the first, getting a six pointed star, and using it as a royal symbol.

One other point, The hebrew phrase most often translated as Star of David, “Magen David”, literally means “The Sheild of David” which would typically have been painted with a personal symbol for easy identification in battle.

Can anyone confirm either of these hypotheses?

BTW The closest thing to a ‘religious’ symbol in Judaism would have to be the Menorah (a six branched candelabra used in the Temple in Jerusalem - a image of which can be seen on the Arc of Titus in Rome which commemorates the capture of Jerusalem). Ironically, the Israeli government chose the star for the flag specifically because it had no religious content (they were good socialists) but as a sop to the religious zionists, chose the Menorah as the symbol of the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament).