Apocalyptic prophecies, or prophecies about the Dday of Judgment, have an incredibly-old history in Istanbul. Apocalyptic elements from the Torah are depicted impressively in the Bible while prohecies adapted for the Roman Empire by the first Christians were partially altered when Rome became a Christian state. When the center of the empire was moved to Constantinople, the prophecies started taking on different tendencies. Prophecies stated that Constantinople would find its place among such sinful cities as Babel and Rome. Apocalyptic texts written at the eastern borders of the empire commonly assumed that threats against Constantinople would come from the east. Persians, followed by Muslims, were considered the main cause of these threats. An epistle written between 375 and 378 A.D. describes an Assyrian (i.e. Persian) attack on Roman lands thethat destroyed buildings—this was considered a sign of the coming end of the world. A later text predicted that Constantinople would collapse soon, only giving it 60 more years of existence. The imperial capital was mentioned as “Babel with Seven Hills” and defined as the source of all kinds of injustice. Constantinople was described as a sinister city in the Armenian text “Daniel’s Seventh Vision” from the fifth century. Similar texts that appeared over time were merely updated according to the period; the duration until Judgment Day was set all over again. The city’s collapse because of a final big war and the Apocalypse was constantly discussed, and the expression “Do not be proud Byzantine, because you can not prevail more than 60 years three times” was often repeated. The disaster the capital would face was massive. The city walls would completely collapse and the nation would die without leaving behind a single trace. People would eventually point to the ruined location and wonder, “Was this place really a city?”
In the Eastern Roman Empire, Justinianus in particular was considered an Anti-Christ because of his limitless ambition. Furthermore, his reign was full of long-term wars, earthquakes, domestic riots, and epidemics. The big earthquake of 557 was thought to confirm the rumors regarding the impending end of the world. These rumors were so influential that people ran away to the mountains in dismay. Some committed themselves to religion and became monks and some purified themselves from wealth by donating big sums to the Church. The expectation that disaster was coming was strengthened by certain events that took place during the early seventh century. The hopeless war with the Sassanians and the siege of the capital city by the Avars in 626 were interpreted as the last hours of the empire. The prophecy that referred to the Sassanian ruler Khosrow II was spreading effectively at the same time. A different prophecy stated that the domination of Babel over Rome would last until 612 and that the Romans would then defeat the Sassanians from 619-626. Yet another propechy said that “the Sun that does not have an evening” would rise over humanity when these events came to pass. Emperor Heraclius’s return from his expedition against Iran with a chance victory in 628 effectively confirmed this prophecy. However, the emergence of a new threat in the east would lead to the conclusion that disaster was coming by way of a different tribe. When Caliph Umar entered Jerusalem and wanted to go to Suleyman’s temple so Muslims could build their own sanctuary, Patriarch Sophronius said, “This is the revolting thing in the holy city just as approved by Daniel.” In other words, he said that the Anti-Christ had emerged. In the holy book,1 Arabs were considered the tribe that would realize the disasters of the last days. These prophecies were popularized by Arab advancment towards Constantinople. The Apolcalypse of Pseudo-Methodius is an Upper Mesopotamian epistle written in Syriac from 667-669 The Apolcalypse of Pseudo-Methodius during the Arabs’ siege of Istanbul. It has similarities to hadiths that mention the Day of Judgment and contains information about the probable conquest of Istanbul:
And then sons of Ishmael will come with thousands of carriages and horses; they will come in the first month of the ninth section; they will seize and invade Anatolian cities; they will divide into three branches, the first one will spend the winter in Ephesus, the second in Pergamo, and the third in Malagina. Curse your fate Phyrgia, Pamphylia and Bitinia because Ishmail will seize you due to frost, advance like a flame that burns everything on its way, and ravage the islands and coasts with his 70,000 marines. Curse your fate Byzantine because Ishmail will seize you; each of the horseman of Ishmail will cross the sea; the leader of those men will build a tent across and start a war and break Kselokerkos gate and advance until the Ox and then the Ox will roar…
In one prophecy, the Byzantine Empire’s victory is desribed as the Romans finally emerging victorious, following the Arabs and attacking Yesrib (Medina), and capturing the citizens of Jerusalem. The Judgement Day is not brought up.2 The apocalyptic prophecies based on Constantinople must be related to the city’s holy status as this place was the New Jerusalem; it was essentially a warehouse where Christianity’s most precious relics were protected. In response to a religious text stating the city would disappear, people said the city would live until the end of time fearing nobody and that nobody would be able to seize it. The city was entrusted to the “mother of God,” so nobody would be able to seize it even if its walls were damaged. However, this does not mean that the city would come to an end. The city would be turned in the air like a millstone and thrown into the well in Hell after all the events. Saint Andreas’ prophecy was unrelated to Arab domination over the city because the Arabs would be defeated immediately; however, that did not mean there would be a period of serenity along with this. Massacres and destruction would follow a welfare period lasting 45 years. Constantinople—where the holy souvenirs that reflected the suffering of Jesus were located—was a significant focal point of Judgment Day, which was considered inevitable by historians and religious scholars. Apocalyptic expectations included the theory that the city would not reach a new millenium. The belief that elements regarding the invasion of the city by the northern tribes appeared with the Latin invasion in 1204 was added to the prophecies. Old prophetic texts were rearranged according to these new elements and the time spans were rearranged according to that. The date given for the end of the world coincided with 1492. The progression of Ottoman Turks and their oppression in the city started appearing among the final signs. Even Scholarios, who had the status of being the leader of an anti-Latin group in the capital, assumed that the end of the world would come between 1493 and 1494. This belief led him to accept Mehmed II’s offer to lead the Orthodox sect after the conquest. Judgment Day was close after all and he needed to be a spiritual leader for his co-religionists during these last hours.3 While the apocalypse did not happen on these dates, expectations around it were very influential on the new owners of the city. While they were counting the signs of the apocalypse based on Christian texts, they also maintained in their literature Constantinople’s role as a sign of the apocalypse in referred the texts.
Some researchers believe that Christain ideas regarding such prophecies affected the Islamic apocalypse tradition as well. According to them, the first Islamic apocalyptic texts available were written after the Byzantine texts—or, at least, they certainly date back to the ninth century. It is inevitable to include such a religious emphasis as the end of the world in the hadiths as the words of the Prophet. The first known hadiths regarding the apocalypse were written by Abu Dawud (d. 889).4 The Qur’an mentions Gog-Magog, dabbat al-ard, the appearance of smoke, and the sun rising from the west as signs of the Judgment Day. All other Islamic signs are based on hadiths. The Qur’an also points to certain events that will occur in the future. Referring to the signs of Judgment Day, the 158th verse of surah An’ām states that it is, “the day when some of your God’s signs come.” Two to five verses of surah Rum say, “Romans have been defeated somewhere very close. However, they will have a victory a few years after the defeat.” The Qur’an also contains verses regarding how Muslims will struggle with both their lives and their property and will hear upsetting words from people of the book and polytheists. Other verses state that underdeveloped Bedouins will be called to fight against a strong tribe. Other verses say that they will enter Al-Masjid Al-Haram soon.5 [ ] must have led to a comprehensive literature comprised of the explanations of these verses and hadiths. This literature was nourished from non-Islamic sources. Interpretations of the Islamic apocalypse were probably used by nearby Christian sources. In other words, apocalyptic scenarios were enriched by mutual influence rather than one-sided influence. Just because the first hadiths related to the apocalypse were recorded by Abu Dawud does not mean they were dated from that period. The sources of hadith rumours can be traced back to older times.
Abu Dawud includes under a separate title the issue of “battle,” which refers to either the place where a big event happened in a period of unrest or wars with a high number of casualties. When Abu Dawudi explains the indications of the battle, he lists the repair of Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa, the destruction of Medina, the conquest of Constantinople, and the emergence of the Anti-Christ. He also calls the war against the Romans in a relevant surah of the Qur’an “the big battle” (malhamat al-kubra). He writes that the conquest of Constantinople and the appearance of the Anti-Christ will happen within six months of this big battle. There are other claims about the duration—some estimates say six years, others seven months.6
Islamic tradition puts the two hadiths that mention both Constantinople and the apocalypse at the forefront. The interpretations of these hadiths had a large place in Ottoman religious literature even before the conquest of Istanbul. In this regard, the two apocalyptic hadiths contradict the feature of Constantinople that was praised and heralded. However, this situation can be considered another expression of holiness in terms of Islam.
The first of the respective hadiths states that the apocalypse will not start until the Romans proceed to the regions of A’mak and Dabık. A Muslim army from Medina will fight against them. One third of the Muslims will be defeated, one third will die, and the final third will win and never be defeated. Muslims will seize Constantineople and as they are hanging their swords on the olive tree branches and sharing the booty, the Demon will yell and tell them that the Messiah has come down to earth. The Muslims will then leave, go to Damascus, and there see the Anti-Christ.7
The following is stated in the second one:8
The Prophet asks “Have you heard of the city, a part of which is on the land and a part of which is on the sea?” When people there say, “Yes, our Master Prophet” he says, “The Judgment Day will not happen until 70,000 people from Arabs attack that city.” When the soldiers arrive in the city, they camp but they do not fight with weapons; they do not shoot even one arrow. They say Lâilâha illallahu wallahu akbar. The land part of the city surrenders. Later, they say Lâilâha illallahu waallahu akbar and the other part of the city surrenders. Later they say Lâilâha illallahu wallahu akbar again. This time, the city opens to them. They enter the city from there and collect the booty. While they are sharing the booty among themselves an announcer approaches them and shouts “The Anti-Christ has emerged.” The soldiers leave everything and turn back.
These two hadiths were emphasized in the conquest letters heralding the conquest to neighboring states during Mehmed II’s reign. However, hadiths discussing the good news of the conquest and even stating the name of the commander who would conquer were not referred to at all in the Ottoman sources of the period; references to these hadiths can only be found in the following periods.9 There is an explanation that should be emphasized about the definition of the city and that should not be ignored regarding the fact that the two hadiths that were in the conquest letters which could be considered the only document about the conquest are somehow related with the apocalyptic scenarios. Taking this sentence as a starting point, the understanding that developed in Ottoman literature should be examined in relation to such apocalyptic scenarios because this subject is significant as it conveys an idea about the spiritual and political status of the city before the Ottoman conquest that would get an imperial transformation to modern day.
An examination of Ottoman literature before the conquest surprisingly reveals that such apocalyptic narratives often referred to Constantinople (Istanbul). Although it seems to contrast politically with all the attempts to conquer this archaic capital since Bayezid I’s reign, it can be said that the opinion regarding the appearance of apocalyptic expectations with the conquest of the city became very influential. In this regard, it is necessary to determine how Istanbul was viewed in Ottoman literature before the conquest. The two oldest Turkish sources that mention Istanbul on the eve of the conquest are translations based on the collection ‘Ajāib al-Makhlūqāt, which gathered a variety of interesting hadiths together and often offerred encyclopedic information on various issues. Ali b. Abdurrahman—who translated Geographer Qazvinî’s (d. 1283) work—wrote about cities, including Istanbul. Ali b. Abdurrahman writings about Istanbul were unrelated to anything Qazvinî had written. There iare also some small but interesting pieces of information on Istanbul in another translation of ‘Ajāib al-Makhlūqāt that was done in the name of the Ottoman Ruler Mehmed I (d. 1421) by an unidentified translator. Apart from these, translations done during the reign of Ottoman ruler Murad II (d. 1451) include those for Qâbûsnâma, which was written by Keıkâvus b. Iskandar (died about 1082)—it resembled a book of advice on religion—and three other works that were written by Yazıcıoğlu Mehmed and Ahmed Bîcân which were commonly read. These writings all illustrate people how Istanbul was perceived based on religious texts and hadiths.
The concept of Istanbul in the ‘Ajāib al-Makhlūqāt series was based on the works of Islamic geographers who were witnesses to the Arab experience or who depicted the city from that angle.10 It is unknown to what extent Ottoman intellectuals who saw these translations—which appeared towards the end of the fourteenth century—were aware that they were reading a description of Istanbul from 200 years ago. The information given by the Arab traveller Haravî on Istanbul after he saw the city in the mid-twelfth century11 was repeated first in the cosmography book of Qazvinî12 and later in the geography dictionary of Yâkut (d. 1229)13. The translators of ‘Ajāib al-Makhlūqāt were adding to this tradition of offering the public information about Istanbul by completing their free translation. In Ali b. Abdurrahman’s translation, which was certainly completed before the conquest, the following is stated:
The city of Constantinople is called Istanbul; it is a magnificient city with three districts; it is surrounded by sea on two sides and one side is on land. Its castle is steadfast and the city walls are 21 yards high. It has plenty of gates; one of these gates is golden. There is a big pavilion with four hundred poles in the city. Monsters were lined up at its gates; copper elephants, lions, tigers, etc are in a row. There is a minaret (in other words, pillar) around it; it is trussed with lead and iron. The tiles put at its base are crushed in whatever direction it bends when it swings with the wind. The other minaret is of copper. It has an institution in the middle; now, it is a church. People come to visit it. The king of Constantinople has his grave there and there is a copper horse on the grave. Its right leg looks as if it is walking on air. The rider on the horse has one of his hands open pointing to Damascus. This gesture shows that the city will be conquered by the army coming from this direction. He has a ball in his other hand, which means he has had the world but when he left the world, he could not take anything with him. They ride horses on a square in the middle of the city. There is a stone in the middle of it; they put the stone on a copper platform in an artistic way. Whoever climbs the stone can see the whole city.14
This short section reveals some of the oldest information about Istanbul in Turkish literature. In the overall work, it is possible to note where this translation differs from other texts. Those parts include the naming of Istanbul as a “Roman city” and the interpretation of the statue’s hand gesture. While the idea that this gesture pointed to Muslim lands is in other works—though not in Qazvinî’s—the translator chooses to express his wish for the city to be conquered from a particular direction. This unsubstantiated information did not really mean anything for people who targeted Istanbul; however, it clearly contributed positively to the city’s image. A miniature resembling the description did in fact exist. It is in the oldest Istanbul plan of Buondelmonti that has reached us today.15 The horse with four legs attached to the ground and the rider with his hands open were depicted, and the pillars are shown. The portrayal of one of the horse’s legs as if it is moving is an interesting detail.16 In his book, P. Gyllius also recounts information about the statue given by Byzantine historian Procopius, who lived in the fourth century. His depiction is just like the description of Arab travellers. Some details are undoubtedly different.
The depiction states that the face of the horse the emperor was riding looked towards the east. One of its legs was in the air as if it was taking a step forward while its other legs were on the stone. The horse stood as if about to break into a gallop. The emperor wore mid-calf boots in his enormous bronze statue and was dressed in the Achilles style. He carried a breastplate, had a helmet on, and was looking towards the east spreading lights. The emperor was riding his horse towards the Persians. He was carrying a globe in his left hand and wanted to announce that the world was under his hegemony. He had neither a sword nor a spear in his hands but there was a cross on the globe as a sign of his achievements. His hand was stretched out towards the east and he commanded barbarians to stay within their boundaries and not advance any further.17 Impressions of Istanbul based on Byzantine and Arab sources entered Ottoman Turkish literature with Ali b.Abdurrahman’s translation.
These positive expressions were altered in a Ajâibü’l-mahlûqât translation that was done on the orders of Mehmed I. The oldest copy of this translation dates back to April 1448 (Safer 852).18 After a short physical description, unflattering information about the city is summarized in this translation. This information was abridged from İbnü’l-Fakih’s work19. The following information was given under the title of “Constantinople” on the subject of cities:
Here is the capital city of the Roman king. It is located by a big sea and it is surrounded by sea on two sides and land on one side. Ka‘b al-Ahbār20 (d. 32/652-653?) from the indigenous people of the Prophet narrated that God would punish the people of Constantinople due to their rejoicing over the destruction of Jerusalem. The city would be completely destroyed. It would be in a condition that not even a single rooster would crow. It would be shaken by earthquakes and three fires from tar, naphtha, match/sulphur would burn the place with its people. Their cries would reach the sky. The treasure of two emperors would be shared with shields while they are in this condition. Thus, this city has many places to be amazed at and there are not any snakes in the city.21
This section shows that Istanbul was presented very negatively at quite an early date. The descriptions of the city and the image of the city based on these geographers form a very different frame in early Turkish religious texts. The two hadiths conveyed by Abu Hurayra are particularly important among the interpretations and annotations. There is no doubt that the men who listened to all speculations,as well as the Ottoman intellectuals and religious circles of the period, followed predictions about the apocalypse enthusiastically. The number of people who were influenced by the hadiths in question and who considered the conquest of Istanbul to be an apocalyptic sign is pretty high. The Yazıcıoğlu brothers’ books, which were written in Turkish colloquial language and were probably commonly read in that period, and the poetic work Muradnâme—a translation of Qâbûsnâme complied in 1427 and written with religious and moral aims right before the conquest—ıığdiscuss the conquest of Istanbul as a sign of the start of Judgment Dday of.
After the signs of the apocalypse are mentioned in Muradnâme, narratives in the hadiths are explored. The emergence of the Mahdi, the appearance of Banû Asfar, and their progress until Medina are depicted. Istanbul is mentioned after three troops from the Banû Asfar are defeated: “They should kill all of them so that there will be none alive/ They will conquer Istanbul/ The world shall be filled with people like them.” From here, the hadith is poetically phrased and narrated. The narrations are as follows:
The conquest of Constantinople:
Abu Hurayra narrates/He conveys the word of the Prophet/He utters have you ever heard/Have you ever tried to hear/That there is a flamboyant beautiful city/And it has fortified city walls/Most of the city walls face the land/And the rest face the sea/Yes, our Prophet, said the companians/There is no sorrow for your companions Prophet/The Prophet says there will be no apocalypse/ The time when the dead will revive will not come/As long as there is not a strong attack on this city/By the descendants of the Prophet Isaac/There will be 70,000 of them in total/Each of them will be honorable soldiers/When they arrive in this city/They will have their share without a war/They will not fight with weapons/The soldiers will not fight with each other/They will take the city by saying Allahu akbar/They will set people against each other in the city/They will say Allahu akbar in such a way/That the city walls will fall into pieces and be destroyed/The infidels who see this will die/The land side of the city walls will be destroyed with the second Allahu akbar/This city will be conquered easily/With the third Allahu akbar, hey the soldiers of love/Every part of the city will be ruined/They will go into the city once and get their war booty/They will respect each other/They will hang their weapons on olive trees/They will have happiness while others have sorrow/
The emergence of the Anti-Christ:
While these share the war booty//While the soldiers stock up all the bread/The Devil will come and scream/He will scream with all his power/Will let them know that the Anti-Christ has appeared/Will say that he has captured their children/It will be a lie but they will think it is true/ They will consult with each other about the situation/They will be moved and leave everything/They will return to Damascus…22
In Muradnâme, the hadiths were narrated in their original form without any additions or interpretations. However, they underwent changes with the interjections of the writer’s interpretation in Muhammediye. The passage in Muhammediye is as follows:
Two armies will start fighting there/Muslims will have three troops and one of them will be defeated/The second troop will die as martyrs and the third troop will be victorious/They will kill the infidel there, Benî’l-Asfar will be destroyed/The Prophet asked, have you ever heard/That there is such a wealthy city/One part of the city is land and the other part is the sea/They said, yes we have, will this prosperous city be ruined?/He related that Benî ’l-Asfar will be destroyed in A’mak/The Medîna army will kill and devastate them/70,000 people from the lineage of Isaac will come to the city/They say they will drag the city to the ground/They will never kill with an arrow or any weapon/But they will destroy it with prayers/They will survey the city from the land side/In the end they will say Allahuakbar/Firstly, the sea side will be destroyed/They will say Allahuakbar for the second time/ another side will be destroyed completely/Can the apocalypse happen without destruction?/They will cite Allah for the third time/They will enter the city whose city walls are completely destroyed/They will hear a voice while looting/A cry will be heard saying the Anti-Christ has emerged/They will put back everything they have taken/They will return to Damascus/The historians informed them/The prophet informed of what would happen/Until Constantinople is destroyed/It belongs to the sons of the Prophet Isaac/from the emergence of Benî ’l-Asfar to that moment/He said it would take six years/He said the Anti-Christ would emerge in the seventh year/Then listen how he will emerge...23
The subject is completely versified within the framework of relevant hadiths. Some little differences that were not in hadiths stand out—in particular, the poetic text of Yazıcızade. A different interpretation for the probable apocalypse after the conquest of Istanbul is brought to attention here. If the city were to be completely destroyed and ruined then the apocalypse would not happen. People who conquered the city left their work incomplete when they returned to Damascus with the appearance of the Anti-Christ. So the Prophet said that the signs for the Dday of Judgment appeared. When Yazıcıoğlu Mehmed’s interpretation is compared to the interpretation of Muradnâme’s writer, it is clear the people had some expectations regarding Istanbul. Expectations surrounding the conquest of Istanbul and the appearance of apocalyptic signs gained an important place in the Ottoman intellectuals’ world and were engraved in their minds. The most interesting part in these texts is the Banû Asfar, who are defined as the blond tribes just like in the narratives of the Byzantine period. The expression Banû Asfar/Benü’l-Asfar was initially used to define the Byzantines in Arab sources, but when the term became common it was used for all Westerners including the Byzantines.24 However, it is pointless that Yazıcıoğlu took this attitude consciously. After all, he narrated the source he took with his own verses. Enveri, one of the historians time during the rule of Mehmed II, used the term “Banû Asfar” first for the Byzantines and then for the Hungarians who had the claim of replacing the Byzantines. He wrote that the Hungarian king considered himself like the Banû Asfar after this.25 The use of “Banû Asfar” as referring to Westerners occurred after the conquest of Istanbul. A different problem stands out in other hadith texts where this expression is used. While “Banû Asfar” is used in some of the hadith narratives on the same subject, the expression “slant-eyed tribe” is in some of them, the latter interpreted as the Mongolians or Turks who came from the east.26 The similarity between “asfar” and “asgar,” both derived from the “sigar” points, needs to be clarified. The possibility that these two expressions—which are used in the hadiths with identical meanings—are the same shows the need to carefully reconsider the information provided by the hadith narrators.
Like Muhammediye, Envârü’l-âşıkîn—which was probably compiled during the reign of Mehmed II and became popular over time—gathered similar issues into prose. While based on various hadith sources and their annotations, the apocalyptic signs in Envârü’l-âşıkîn offer different interpretations on the same subject. These interpretations are given one after the other, which makes the text very complicated. The first interpretation states that unrest will rise among the Arabs, Muslims will seize the whole world, and they will make peace with the Banû Asfar. Then peace will be broken and the infidels will be victorious. Romans and Europeans will come together and attack from the west with 960,000 people. A second interpretation says Muhammad’s people will possess the whole east and west and they will take the whole world back from the infidel except for three cities: Istanbul, Roma, and Amorium. Then, later, the infidel will rule. A third interpretation—which is in line with a passage in Muhammediye—says that as long as the Banû Asfar do not arrive in A’mak, the apocalypse will not happen. A’mak is a village close to Damascus. The infidel will go there and the Islamic army from Medina in three squadronstroops will defeat them. One Muslim squadron will runaway and become hypocrites, one troop will become martyres, and the final troop will be victorious. Then 70,000 soldiers from the children of the Prophet Isaac will conquer Istanbul. They will first destroy the part of the city by the sea then they will tear down one wall. They will eventually destroy the remaining three walls. While the victors are sharing the war booty, the Demon will appear and say, “Muslims, the Anti-Christ has appeared and he is ruining your houses.” The Muslims will leave Istanbul for Damascus then, and people will start commiting bad deeds and all of those bad deeds will lead to apocalyptic signs emerging.27
The association of Istanbul with the apocalypse takes a completely different shape in the book Dürr-i Meknûn by Ahmed Bîcân. The nature of this association changes as it is reflected in stories about the construction of the city and the Hagia Sophia. Istanbul is presented as a city that was cursed even during its construction: “Since then, there have always been accidents and trouble in this city. The city has been ruined with either the plague, earthquakes, or fires and it never had a period without war.” An emperor called Constantine came and reconstructed the city but the ill-omen is implied to have continued as the book states that “many incidences like this would happen due to the malice of the end of the world.”28 The writer later states that the emperor of Constantinople had a masjid built as a counterpart to Prophet Suleyman’s Masjid in the Roman Empire. There were 10,000 cells in his chamber. The Demon seduced that tribe and made them abandon their religion. The emperor had a pillar built as an image of himself and made people worship it. A big earthquake happened after 400 years of infidelity and 60,000 monks were swallowed by this temple. Then, the book discusses the construction of the Hagia Sophia. Ahmed Bîcân depicts the shrine by decorating it with Islamic motifs. He even states that when the dome—which was demolished with the birth of the Prophet—could not be fixed, he gave them a handful of soil and told them to add it into the lime and so the dome was repaired. When his surprised companians asked why he helped them, he says, “I did not give it for the infidel. When the time comes, my people will pray there and recite the Qur’an.”29
Ahmed Bîcân mentions the apocalyptic signs in the same style as the Muhammediye and Envârü’l-âşıkîn, but different details stand out in his book. The books says the people of the time after 900 Hijra30 would become arrogant and refuse to listen to the ‘ulama (religious scholars) when discussing the Prophet. Eventually, plague and other epidemics would break out. There would be floods due to abundant rain, and infidels would seize the state after continous negations. Christians would seize Egypt first then Jerusalem. They would later come to the Roman country and seize Islambol.31 Muslim soldiers would withdraw to Aleppo where there would be a big battle. Banû Asfar would come after them and Islamic soldiers from Medina would stand against Banû Asfar with 70,000 people. Banû Asfar would send a messenger and state that they are not enemies and Muslims would have three squadrons and one of these would leave thinking their decision reasonable. Other soldiers would fight saying, “Even though you do not have hostility, we do.” These soldiers would chase away the infidel and trap them in Islambol. They would surround the city and start gathering war booty. The Demon would go up on a high place and tell them that the Anti-Christ had appeared and he was ruining their houses so they would leave Istanbul and turn back. After this, people would go astray and the signs of the apocalypse would be seen.32
The subject of signs was mentioned again in the translation of Ibn al-‘Arabî’s work Fusūs al-Hikam. The first version of this translate was completed by Ahmed Bîcân on the day Istanbul was conquered. The following quotation from Muhaddiths is given in the relevant section of the work called Müntehâ:
Firstly, the Banû al-Asfar emerges from the Mahgreb and they make an alliance with the Europeans. Eighty sanjaks will gather with 12,000 in each sanjak. In other words, 40,000 soldiers are missing when ten is multiplied with a hundred thousand. They advance until A’mak, in the vicinity of Damascus. The Islamic army from Medina comes on their way and they are comprised of three squadrons. They start fighting with the infidel. One squadron is defeated by the infidel, one squadron dies as the most fortunate martyrs, and the other squadron defeats the infidel. 70,000 people from the descendants of the prophet Isaac come to Istanbul and they say “Lâilâhe illallah wallahu akbar” (There is no other god other than Allah and he is the most supreme) once and the city’s seaside is destroyed. They say the same thing again and one more side gets destroyed. They say it again and one more side gets destroyed. They plunder Constantinople from there. The Demon comes and tells them that the Anti-Christ has emerged and captured their sons and daughters but they continue plundering. When the soldiers arrive in Damascus, the Anti-Christ emerges and apocalyptic signs begin to appear.33
Ahmed Bîcân felt the need to mitigate this hadith due to the conquest of Istanbul. He said, “Conquering Constantinople, in other words Istanbul, means destroying the evil cities by making faithful forces triumph.”34 This is how he tried to remove Istanbul from association with the signs of the apocalypse.
That the beginning of the apocalypse occurs right after the conquest of Istanbul in these texts is interesting in how it displays an attitude indirectly opposed to the conquest. This is slightly different from other texts. It is also an indication of how the two hadiths were interepreted by opponent writers. The opposition in question was strengtehened by not only political, social, and economical reasons but also religious concerns. The belief that Istanbul was cursed at its establishment and that apocalyptic signs would appear after its conquest were always brought up during the disasters constantly faced by a big city—like epidemics, fires, floods, and earthquakes. These beliefs were discussed even long after the conquest, as claimed by the groups who were opposed to the conquest for different reasons. This opposition gradually became more common and was engraved in the people’s minds. It is striking that people who were against these beliefs brought religious worries to the forefront and defended the idea that the curse would be lifted if the city was conquered and destroyed completely. This opinion shows the incredible influence apocalyptic scenarios involving Istanbul had on the city’s population.
The hadiths about Istanbul that were emphasized in the two conquest letters Mehmed II sent the sultan of Egypt and Karakoyunlu right after the conquest were the hadiths about the apocalypse. This situation is a reminder of the efforts to produce an antithesis. These hadiths were quoted only in part to suit Mehmed II’s purpose.
The first quote from the hadiths was, “Although they hung their swords on olive trees, they conquered Constantinople while sharing the war booty.” The next quote was a shortened version of the first: “Constantinople would be conquered while they were sharing the war booty.” The third quote from the hadiths was, “Did you not hear of the city a side of which is on the land and the other on the sea. They said yes, the messenger of God. He said an army of 70,000 will attack it.”35
The texts were skillfully sorted and unwanted subjects were completely removed from them. The two sentences omitted in the last hadith stated that 70,000 were from Banû Ishaq (Arabs) and the apocalypse would not begin until this army attacked the city. The first hadith above was prepared by Molla Güranî and was included in the conquest letter sent to the Mamluk sultan. This was the only hadith mentioned in that conquest letter.36 Molla Güranî preferred to include the hadith that was most easily understood, that was viewed as very reasonable, and that was definitely less dangerous compared to the other hadiths that mentioned the good news about the conquest. The third hadith must have been included—to provide emphasis a variation of example—in the text prepared by Khâja Karimî that was sent to Shah Cihan of Karakoyunlu.37 Khâja Karimî , who observed that the hadith put focus on more than just the good news, tried to emphasize his main purpose by omitting these two ill-omened sentences. The writer who included the hadith in the text must have considered it would be more reasonable not to mention these subjects by carefully sorting the emphasis on the start of the apocalypse with the conquest of the city as well as Benî Ishak whose identities were uncertain and more accurately the relation of whom with the Ottoman Dynasty was controversial. Khâja Karimî knew this curse and was aware of the apocalypse so he responded to those individuals who knew the hadith in its entirety as well as its intention, which was not to simply promote negative opinions about Istanbul. After he narrated the third hadith, quoted above, he included familiar elements from the texts on apocalyptic scenarios as he stated that this city had been the home of polytheists and a shelter for evil from its early times. There was no other fortress on earth that was so old and almost at the same age with time itself and that was known to be as strong as a wall and unconquerable.38 He also implied that—after the conquest of the city—the curse was lifted when the houses and centers burned down, the people were captured, and the pagan shrines were turned into the masjids of faithful people.39
The responses to these conquest letters was incredibly interesting. Although there was not any reference to the hadiths in the response sent by the sultan of the Mamlukss, the expression “…by rubbing the nose of Banû Asfar, the enemy of the messenger of God, to the ground…” is important evidence of who this definition was used for. On the other hand, the Mamluk sultan did not say anything about the rumors regarding the apocalypse.
The negative opinions about the city continued after the conquest, influenced by political rivalry. This rivalry probably had different features than being a capital rivalry, in other words, the Edirne-Istanbul conflict. An anecdote stating that groups from the border tribes openly expressed their objection to the centralization of the empire is mentioned in Saltuknâme, which was written in the name of Sultan Cem during his military expedition towards Akkoyunlular in the 1470s. While author Ebülhayr-ı Rumî informed Mehmed II—,who had decided to advance upon Istanbul—,about how difficult this decision was for some governors, he wrote that the city they were planning to conquer was ominuous. Evil first stepped here when he came down to earth so the city would be destroyed every period because of this curse. According to rumors, there would always be adultery, homosexuality, and corruption. Black water would come up from the ground signalling earthquakes. The source of the plague was located under the city and all of this was known from the hadith of the Prophet. Ebülhayr-ı Rumî also stated that there would always be famine, and peace and tranquility would never be restored in the city. He also relayed what the governors had said: If the sultan did not give up his decison to conquer the city in the face of all this, he should then destroy the whole city after putting a wall around the Hagia Sophia and its surroundings. He should also not attempt reconstructing the city because it would just be destroyed again eventually. After listening to all this, the sultan said, “Let’s first conquer it. We can destroy it eventually.”40
The period the text was written in coincides with the senescent years opf Mehmed II, which shows that there was a subtle political aim in the text. However, the real intentions of the governors was explained later while once again discussing the conquest of Istanbul. The governors objected to the conquest because they were worried that the country would be devastated when the city became prosperous; suspected the sultan who entered the city and made the city the capital would be prevented from fighting; believed podagra and other diseases would appear due to Istanbul’s heavy air; thought the demand for experienced warriors—veterans and raiders—would diminish; and believed the sea would become the focal point because it surrounded the city. As can be gleaned from Saltuknâme, negative opinions were still dominant and they were strengthened by various means—albeit with an anachronistic attitude. On the other hand, the source of this information was relevant hadiths and rumors that altered as they spread via the aforementioned Turkish books written about hadiths with religious and moral intentions.
Apocalyptic signs were mentioned without any interpretations in Menhecü’r-reşâd, which was written by Ottoman historian Şükrullah in 1460 in the form of a catechism. In it he discusses a variety of subjects. Among them is Constantinople’s conquest, which is brought to the forefront. Here, the identity of a caliph who would be sent to the end of the world is mentioned. He then says that 70,000 people from Ishakoğulları (Sons of Isaac) would conquer Constantinople, Rumiye-i kübrâ (Rome), and the Chinese cities, and that Islam would prevail everywhere. Furthermore, the emergence of the Mahdi is discussed and it is reported that he would conquer Constantinople and his army would be comprised of 70,000 brave men of Damascus from the lineage of the Prophet Isaac. This conquest would lead to the emergence of the Anti-Christ. Şükrullah mentions another account of the conquest and says there will be six months between the conquest of Constantinople and Rome and the appearance of the Anti-Christ. He says the accurate account—referring to Davud-ı Bicistanî—would be seven years between the conquest of Constantinople and the appearance of the Anti-Christ.41 Taking the book’s publication date into consideration, it is interesting that this date corresponds to 1460. Şükrullah was anxiously waiting for the predicted developments after the conquest to occur during his lifetime. It is significant that he prays for God’s mercy as he starts discussing the subject.
The story of Istanbul’s establishment and the long passages about the construction of the Hagia Sophia that were favored greatly by one group of the copies of Tevârîh-i Âl-i Osmân—written anonymously during the rule of Bayezid II—improved such narratives for different reasons. People close to Mehmed II—like Karamanî Mehmed Pasha—argued that the curse and the apocalyptic dangers presented by the city would be lifted because of its speedy construction. They also demonstrated that they were seriously affected by these rumors as the hadiths were well known. A similar atmosphere can even be seen implicitly between the lines in the topics regarding the conquest written by historians such as Enverî, Tursun Bey and even İbn Kemal etc. The following was written by Oruç Bey in the late fifteenth century:
There is also a narrative in the Commentary on al-Masabihthat if Constantinople is conquered with swords before the cursed Anti-Christ emerges, then the apocalypse will start. The person called the Mahdi from the sons of the Prophet Isaac will have a military expedition and conquer the city by saying Allahu akbar. The thing they are referring to when they mention a conquest by the sword is the emperor of Islam and the Muslims… Sultan Mehemmed… conquered Constantinople…42
The conquest of Constantinople/ Istanbul was brought to the forefront through the topic “Signs of the apocalypse” in cefr/cifr literature,43 which became a scientific branch and was thought to provide information about events that would happen in the future. This tradition was passed onto Ottoman literature through Arab and Persian literature. These topics were narrated and a miniature referring to the relevant hadith was even drawn in the translation of a cifr book estimated to have been written in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century. The expressions in the translation of Miftâhu’l-Cefri’l-câmi‘ by Seyyid Şerif b. Seyyid Mehmed are an example for attitudes regarding our subject in such books:
People who wish the destruction of Mecca are Ethiopian. They would destroy the Kaaba and scatter its stones. This poor man (the writer) says: If they ask why Allah protected Beytullah (the Kaaba) from the owners of the elephants (Abraha and his army) and inflicted Ethiopians upon them, the answer is this; while Beytullah was circumambulated and honored, this invader tribe was allowed to attempt to destroy the place so that his provision would not be void and inert at the end of the world. Soon after this, the apocalypse would happen. This idea has been written by hadith scholars.
And he said, “As long as the Zengi people do not start a fight, the apocalypse will not happen. Also, Beytullah will be destroyed forty years after the Anti-Christ. The destruction of Aleppo will be due to the invasion of the Turks. Jerusalem will be destroyed due to a fire. The destruction of Egypt will be due to the dryness of the Nile and, at the end of the world, Allah will conquer Constantinople through a truthful and honest man called Mehmed b. Abdullah from the house of the Prophet. If the inhabitants of this city stayed in their places (Eastern Rome), the lazy ones would not be able to get out of the city. This is the description of Istanbul and its conquest. The sharing of the war booty and appearance of squalor and the spreading of the news that the Anti-Christ appeared have been depicted…44
These sections reinforce the information regarding Istanbul and the apocalyptic signs. It is interesting that the translator kept the sentences in this book that were written in the thirteenth century the same while the subject of Istanbul—which had already been conquered—was not discussed at all. Likewise, the prophecy that the conquest would be realized by somebody named Muhammed b. Abdullah is also striking. The translator summarized the aforementioned hadith and its miniature without any interpretations. This miniature is the only description of the conquest of Istanbul. When the picture is observed closely, it is obvious that soldiers with Arab clothes and the commander who conquered the city were drawn within the context of the hadith which was diverted from the Ottoman style. The face of the commander sitting on a throne does not look like Fatih Sultan Mehmed’s face and the miniature describes the city being entered from the city walls by the sea in compliance with the hadith. The same arguments made by an Ottoman historian about Istanbul during the same century—in other words, nearly 200 years after the conquest of the city by the Turks—are significant in that they indicate that people still viewed the Ottoman capital city as ominous even long after the conquest.45 In short, the apocalyptic expectations and ill-omened themes surrounding Istanbul were a very common phenomenon among the people of that period.
1 Generally bkz. C. Mango, Bizans Mimarisi, translated by M. Kadiroğlu, Istanbul: Rekmay Yayınları, 2006, pp. 219-224.
2 For more information about the text presented here and other Byzantine prohphecis see: S. Yerasimos, Kostantiniye ve Ayasofya Efsaneleri, translated by Şirin Tekeli, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 1993, pp. 196-200.
3 Mango, Bizans Mimarisi, pp. 226-232.
4 Yerasimos, Kostantiniye, pp. 200-201.
5 Also see İlyas Çelebi, İtikadi Açıdan Uzak ve Yakın Gelecekle İlgili Haberler, Istanbul: Kitabevi, 1996, pp. 19-20.
6 Çelebi, İtikadi Açıdan Uzak ve Yakın Gelecekle İlgili Haberler, p. 23.
7 The hadith transmitted with Abu Hurayra’s narrative: Müslim, Sahih, Istanbul: Çağrı Yayınları, 1992, vol. 3, p. 2221.
8 Müslim, Sahih, vol. 3, p. 2238; also M. Canard, “Tarih ve Efsaneye Göre Arapların İstanbul Seferleri”, İstanbul Enstitüsü Dergisi, 1956, no. 2, pp. 238-240.
9 In the first edition of Târih, written by Neşri at the end of the fifteenth century (Menzel and Manisa copies), the well-known hadith starting with “La-tuftahanna al-Qunstantiniyya…” is not mentioned. It was mentioned in the second edition and the information related to the conquest was expanded (Cihannümâ, prepared by Necdet Öztürk, Istanbul: Çamlıca Basım Yayın, 2008, p. 314). Âlî who wrote his work at the end of the sixteenth century also refers to this; Künhü’l-ahbâr, edited by Ahmet Uğur et al., Kayseri: Erciyes Üniversitesi, 1997, vol. 1/1, p. 434.
10 Casim Avcı, “Arap-İslam Kaynaklarında İstanbul”, Uluslararası Bizans ve Osmanlı Sempozyumu, Bildiriler, edited by Sümer Atasoy, Istanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi Rektörlüğü, 2004, pp. 99-112.
11 See Semavi Eyice, “Bazı İslam Yazarlarına Göre Fetihten Önce İstanbul”, İstanbul Araştırmaları, 1997, no. 2, p. 11-12.
12 Âsârü’l-bilâd: Geography/Cosmography, edited by F. Wüstenfeld, Göttingen, 1848, pp. 407-409.
13 Mu‘cemü’l-büldân, edited by Ferîd Abdülazîz Cündî, Beyrut: Dârü’l-kütübi’l-ilmiyye, 1410/1990, vol. 4, p. 396.
14 Ali b. Abdurrahman, Acâibü’l-mahlûkât, İÜ Library, TY, no. 524, fols. 135b-136a.
15 See Kemal Beydilli, “XV. Yüzyıl Bir İtalyan Hümanistinin Gözüyle İstanbul ve Ege Adaları”, Osmanlılar ve Avrupa, edited by Seyfi Kenan, Istanbul: Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı İslam Araştırmaları Merkezi, 2010, p. 638.
16 For this miniature see Cogito, 1999, vol. 17, p. 302. For the notion of globe , the use of the statue in the making of cannonballs in 1461 expedition, the presence of many rumors around the statue, the fact that the Romans would stay there as long as the statue stands there, the parts of the horse were observed by P. Gyllius, see S. Yerasimos, “Ağaçtan Elmaya. Apokaliptik Bir Temanın Soyağacı”, Cogito, 1999, vol. 17, pp. 304-309.
17 İstanbul’un Tarihi Eserleri, translated by Erendiz Özbayoğlu, Istanbul: Eren Yayıncılık, 1997, pp. 85-86.
18 This copy is in Millet Library Ali Emîrî, Tarih, no. 897 in Istanbul. Another copy from late 16th century is in the Süleymaniye Library, Nuri Arlasez, no. 128. Ahmed Bîcân’s Terceme-i Acâibü’l-mahlûkât’ is in Millet Ktp., Ali Emîrî, Tarih, no. 897/1 but the content of this book is different.
19 Abrégé du livre des pays (Muhtasaru Kitâbi’l-Büldân), translated by H. Masse, Damas :Institut français de Damas, 1973, pp. 174-175. When the information in this text, which is the basis for the translation, was taken from İbnü’l-Fakih, it seems to have been abridged in a way that would lead to incoherency.
20 See Yaşar Kandemir, “Kâ‘b el-Ahbâr”, DİA, XXIV, 1-3 for this individual, who was criticised for his narratives regarding the Israiliyat (the body of narratives originating from Jewish and Christian traditions) and who was one of the first Muslims.
21 Millet Library, Ali Emîrî, Tarih, no. 897, fols. 126a; compare Süleymaniye Library Arlasez, vr. 171a-b.
22 Bedr-i Dilşad’ın Muradnâmesi, ed.ited by A. Ceyhan, Istanbul: Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı, 1997, vol. 2, pp. 1037-1038. These parts are not present in Qâbûsnâme: Keykâvus, Kabusname, translated by Mercimek Ahmed, prepared by Orhan Şaik Gökyay, Istanbul: Başbakanlık Kültür Müsteşarlığı, 1974; also Kitâb-ı Nasihatnâme: Kabusnâme, edited by P. Levy, London: Luzac and Company, 1951.
23 Muhammediye, ed. Amil Çelebioğlu, Istanbul: Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı, 1996, vol. 2, pp. 314-315.
24 For literature see. I. Goldziher, “Asfar”, İA, I, 664-665; Casim Avcı, İslâm-Bizans İlişkileri, Istanbul: Klasik, 2003, pp 18-19.
25 Düsturnâme-i Enverî, Osmanlı Tarihi Kısmı, 1299-1466, edited by Necdet Öztürk, Istanbul: Kitabevi, 2003, pp. 51, 54, 62, 64.
26 Sünen-i İbn Mâce Tercümesi ve Şerhi, edited by translated and şerh by Haydar Hatipoğlu, Istanbul: Kahraman Yayınları, 1983, vol. 10, pp. 359, 360, 362.
27 Âşıkların Nurları: Envârü’l-Âşıkîn, ed. Ahmet Kahraman, Istanbul: Tercüman Gazetesi, 1973, vol. 3, pp. 174-175.
28 Dürr-i Meknûn, Süleymaniye Library, Pertevniyal, no. 456, fols. 77b-79a. Criticised prose of this work: Yazıcıoğlu Ahmed Bîcân, Dürr-i Meknûn, ed. Ahmet Demirtaş, Istanbul: Akademik Kitaplar, 2009.
29 Dürr-i Meknûn, fol.. 84b-87b.
30 When the belief that the end of the world would come after 900 (1495) was supported by some hadiths that surfaced during Bayezid II’s reign, they became a source of worry. For this see Yerasimos, Kostantiniye, p. 210-211. A similar panic is understood to have been experienced in H 1000: see C. H. Fleischer, Tarihçi Mustafa Âlî: Bir Osmanlı Aydın ve Bürokratı, trans.lated by. A. Ortaç, Istanbul: Türkiye Ekonomik ve Toplumsal Tarih Vakfı, 1996, pp. 138-147.
31 It is difficult to say something certain about whether Islambol was particularly used in the text that was copied in 1092 (1681) or whether it was used like this in the first prints too.
32 Dürr-i Meknûn, fols. 146a-149a ; krş. Dürr-i Meknûn, edited by Demirtaş, pp. 211, 217-218.
33 Süleymaniye Library., Kılıç Ali Paşa, no. 630, fol. 102b-103a (This work has been the subject of a master’s thesis: Ayşe Beyazıt, “Ahmed Bican’ın Münteha İsimli Füsûs Tercümesi Işığında Tasavvuf Düşüncesi” (master’s thesis), Marmara University, 2008). About apocalypse in the two books of Ahmed Bîcân, also see Kaya Şahin, “Constantinople and the End Time: The Ottoman Conquest as a Portent of the Last Hour”, Journal of Early Modern History, 2010, no. 14, pp. 317-354.
34 Münteha, fols. 109b.
35 For these conquest letters see A. Ateş, “İstanbul’un Fethine Dair Fatih Sultan Mehmed Tarafından Gönderilen Mektuplar ve Bunlara Gelen Cevaplar”, TD, 1952, vol. 4, no. 7, pp. 11-50.
36 Ateş, “İstanbul’un Fethine Dair”, p. 18.
37 Ateş, “İstanbul’un Fethine Dair”, pp. 38-39.
38 Ateş, “İstanbul’un Fethine Dair”, p. 39.
39 Ateş, “İstanbul’un Fethine Dair”, pp. 42-43.
40 For this text, also see F. M. Emecen, Fetih ve Kıyamet, Istanbul: Timaş Yayınları, 2012, attachments.
41 Süleymaniye Ktp., Fatih, no. 2112, fols. 105a-110a. About Şükrullah see Sara Nur Yıldız, “Şükrullah”, DİA, XXXIX, 257-258.
42 Oruç Beğ Tarihi, prepared by Necdet Öztürk, Istanbul: Çamlıca Basım Yayın, 2007, p. 112.
43 Metin Yurdagür, “Cefr”, DİA, VII, 215-218.
44 TSMK, Bağdat Köşkü, no. 373, fol. 258a-259a. Şeyh Kemaleddin Muhammed b. Talha (v. 652/1254) can be presumed to be the real writer of the book. (Kâtib Çelebi, Keşfüz’z-zunûn, edited by Şerefeddin Yaltkaya and Kilisli Rifat Bilge, Istanbul: Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı, 1971, vol. 2, p. 592).
45 Mehmed Halîfe, Târîh-i Gilmânî, edited by Ertuğrul Oral, PhD thesis, Marmara Üniversitesi, 2000, pp. 77-78.