The Fall Of Constantinople Led To The ‘Discovery’ Of The Americas

A short history of Italian City-States And Privileged Trade Routes

Abhinav Dholepat
2 min readMar 29, 2020


Painting Depicting The Siege Of Constantinople

Between Apr. 6, 1453 and May 29, 1453, the capital of the Byzantine Empire — the last remaining connection to the once mighty Roman Empire — fell to an invading Ottoman Army, which was under the command of Mehmed II. The impact was far-reaching, it changed the structure of Christianity in Russia, led to the Islamisation of North Africa and modern day Turkey, and changed the conditions of established trade and political relationships.

Two Italian city-states, Venice and Genoa, had emerged from the long standing deadlock of Italian power balances as strong maritime and economic entities. Their trading network was far reaching and highly profitable. The fall of Constantinople led directly to the fall of Genoa, which in early 16th century voluntarily submitted itself to the Spanish Monarchy in order remain economically stable. The reason this occurred was due to a privileged deal that Genoa had set up with Constantinople when it was under the control of the Byzantine Empire. The deal provided Genoa with privileged access to the city and its land route, which connects modern day Europe to Asia. Hence Traders across Europe would use a combination of land and sea routes to transport their goods to Asia. They would have to use Genoese merchants and traders if they wanted to gain trading access through Constantinople. When Constantinople fell in 1453, this access was cutoff to the Genoese and the city slowly declined economically and politically.

Venice on the other hand, quickly negotiated privileged access to the Black Sea. However in 1479, the Ottoman Empire blocked off this access as well. Trading networks that had long been established between different Empires across Europe were now being affected due to uncertainty. The narrow access to Asia was becoming even narrower. Hence, it was in the best interest of each Empire to find a sea route to Asia. Advances in Maritime technology now enabled this to occur.

Since early 15th century Portuguese explorers had been navigating the African continent and nearby Islands. By the end of the century the exploration, which was fast tracked by change in control of Constantinople and the resulting changes in trade arrangements, led to the famous rounding of the Cape Of Good Hope, the setting up of a direct sea link with India and China, the ‘Discovery of the Americans’ and the mapping of the world. Hence the need to find a trade route to Asia, resulted in the Americas being found and mapped. This is not meant to imply that the explorations would not have occurred otherwise, however, the fall of Constantinople led to a sudden change in trade and commerce which incentivised each Empires efforts to discover the sea route to Asia.