In terms of geopolitics, perhaps the most seminal event of the Middle Ages was the successful Ottoman siege of Constantinople in 1453. The city had been an imperial capital as far back as the 4th century, when Constantine the Great shifted the power center of the Roman Empire there, effectively establishing two almost equally powerful halves of antiquity’s greatest empire. Constantinople would continue to serve as the capital of the Byzantine Empire even after the Western half of the Roman Empire collapsed in the late 5th century. Naturally, the Ottoman Empire would also use Constantinople as the capital of its empire after their conquest effectively ended the Byzantine Empire, and thanks to its strategic location, it has been a trading center for years and remains one today under the Turkish name of Istanbul.
In the wake of taking Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire would spend the next few centuries expanding its size, power, and influence, bumping up against Eastern Europe and becoming one of the world’s most important geopolitical players. It would take repeated efforts by various European coalitions to prevent a complete Ottoman takeover of the continent, and one of the most important battles among those efforts took place in 1571.
The Battle of Lepanto is one of the great iconic military clashes of history, ranked with Waterloo, Hastings, Somme and the Battle of Britain. It was the last and largest great battle involving galleys - oared vessels that rammed and boarded enemy vessels - and also the first great naval conflict that effectively used cannons. It was a clash between two great civilizations fighting for supremacy in the world and for control of Europe: the Ottoman Empire and the Christian states of Europe.