Reader Patricia asks if the Byzantine defeat in 1453 can really be blamed on ‘modern weapons’ since the Byzantines also had access to them. Was it really a matter of simply not having enough money to build them?
I think the Ottomans would have eventually been able to take the city in any case. It was far too exposed, depopulated, completely cut off from friendly Christian powers, and vastly outnumbered. But for all that, it still took 48 days of continuous bombardment. Given the tensions within the Ottoman army and the loss of face associated with each unsuccessful day, would Mehmed have been able to maintain discipline and morale if he had to wait on traditional siege machines? There were already serious challenges to his authority brewing by the time he broke in- and that was with the aid of ‘super’ weapons that could punch their way through walls. Constantine XI was fully capable of rallying his troops and did quite well with his limited forces. It’s always dangerous to speculate but I think he could have held the city against one or two standard Ottoman attempts.
So firepower was clearly important, but as Patricia correctly pointed out, it wasn’t just a simple matter of technology. The Byzantines actually did have a few guns- though they were smaller than the Ottoman’s and frequently damaged their own walls with the recoil. What they really lacked was the infrastructure needed to sustain the technology. Enough money couldn’t be scraped up to retain Urban much less pay for the powder, projectiles, and the specialists needed to fire and repair them. The Ottomans could afford to fully integrate massive new cannons into their army; for the impoverished Byzantines- even if Urban had built his great gun for free- they had to remain a curiosity.