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Constantinople is the name of the Byzantium. It was a capital of Roman Empire thanks to Constantine Constantine I, who chose it as its headquarters. In the years 330-395 CE, Constantinople was the capital of the Roman Empire; in the years 395-1453 the capital of the Byzantine Empire and the Latin Empire (1204-1261); the capital of the Ottoman state in the years 1453-1922.

Panorama of Constantinople.

The name Constantinople means City of Constantine.

The city had a perfect location at the intersection of two great ancient trade routes: the sea from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea and the land from the Balkan Peninsula to Asia Minor. Thanks to its location, the city grew fast. Optimistic estimates indicate that at the peak of its development, the city could count up to one million inhabitants. More prudent estimates indicate a number between 250,000 and 500,000.
For sure the reason to move the capital was not only the economics but also better defensive location. The city was built on the coast of south-east Thrace, at the connection of the Bosphorus and Prophetta Strait. It was situated on a peninsula with a hilly surface, which is flooded from the south by the sea, and from the north by the waters of the Golden Horn bay.

Constantinople was founded in areas inhabited mostly by the Greeks, they also constituted the basic group of its inhabitants until the fall of the city. However, it should be remembered that from the beginning of its existence, Constantinople was the capital of a vast empire, inhabited by many different nations. In the early Byzantine period, many Syrians, Egyptians and Jews also lived there. At the beginning, there were also many newcomers from the western provinces of the Roman Empire who used Latin on a daily basis. In the Middle Ages, the ethnic composition of the city has changed. Przybyszów from the eastern provinces of the empire, which the Arabs occupied in the 7th century, were replaced by Slavs, Varangians and Italians. The latter were permanently bitten over the Bosporus at the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries, and they were mainly merchants from Venice and Amalfi. At the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Genoese also appeared who, behind the Golden Horn – in Galat established their colony.

As was already mentioned, the city from the north and from the south was secured by Propontyda and the Golden Horn. From the land side, the city was protected by a double line of walls erected by Theodosius the Great. What’s more, within a radius of 65 km from the city, the Emperor Anastasius ordered to build an additional line of fortifications, which was supposed to protect the city against sudden land attacks. All these safeguards enabled Constantinople to resist attacks of various peoples for hundreds of years after the fall of Rome.


In the place of the former Byzantium, at the end of the Roman road Via Egnatia in 324, Constantine the Great founded a new city and named it Constantinopolis, City of Constantine. His contemporaries called him Nea Rome (New Rome). Konstantyn built new walls (completed by Constantine II), which covered the area of ​​the city with an area of ​​approximately 700 hectares. The ceremonial inauguration of the city took place on May 11, 330 CE. During the time of Constantine, intensive construction works were carried out, including was enlarged to the Hippodrome (the arena was 450 m long), the Emperor’s Palace, Senate building, Zeuksipp baths and new forums were created: Forum Augusteum, on which stood Million, a gold obelisk from given distances to the most important cities of the Empire, Forum Constantine with the central column on which stood the statue of Apollo Helios with the head of the emperor and Forum Taurus. There was also Forum Bovis and Forum Arkadiusz in the city. The forums were connected by the main, 25 meters wide, Mese street (middle street), flanked on both sides by colonnades, leading up to the Golden Gate, which was followed by Via Egnatia. Before Bovis Forum, a Mese branch was reflected to the left, leading to the Charisma Gate. North of her, in a place where the walls reached the Golden Horn, was the district of Blecharna.

In 360 CE the construction of Hagi Sophia, the most famous temple in the city, which became the cathedral of the Bishop of Constantinople, was completed. From 359, the city became the prefect. In 362 CE Emperor Julian built a new Port Julian, later named Port of Sophia, named after the wife of Emperor Justin II.

Further development of Constantinople is connected with the government of Theodosius I, who built a large port (Port of Theodosius) on the southern coast of the city, the coast by the Sea of ​​Marmara , near the Akacjusz church, and marked Theodosius Forum, on the street Mese. In 413, during the reign of Teodosius II, a new double line of defense walls was built, the so-called Theodosia walls, 1, 5-2 km west of the walls of Constantine. The area between the two walls remained poorly urbanized, and there were the largest water cisterns there, including Aspara, Aetiosa and Mokiosa, monastery complexes, among others St. basilica John the Baptist and great garden premises. It is estimated that all of Constantinople’s cisterns could hold 1, 5 million cubic meters of drinking water. In addition to the cisterns, the city’s supply of water was provided by numerous aqueducts from which the Walens aqueduct is still active today.

The area of ​​the city protected by walls was then 1,400 hectares. In the mid-5th century, Constantinople had around 300-400,000 inhabitants and was already the largest city in the Mediterranean world.

Importance of city

During the late Roman Empire, mainly due to the strategic location at the interface of the great ancient trade routes, Constantinople was the largest and richest urban center in the eastern Mediterranean. The city remained the capital of the eastern, Greek-speaking part of the Empire for over a thousand years. Constantine the Great built a university on the city hill, which next to Athens and Alexandria became a new center of science. It was called Kapitol (Καπιτωλιον) and was located at the big market (Tauri Forum), surrounded by porticos. They lectured here, among others: Akakios, Harpokration, Heliodor, Ammonios, Helladios, and Syrianos; and also sophists – Bemarchios, Zenon, Didymos, Kikokles, Gymnasios, Priscjans. There was no difference between Christians and pagans in the staffing of the teaching staff. Salaries were paid in kind (grain, oil). From Constantine to Valens he was concerned about the resources of the university library, employing full-time copyists and antiquarians. We know the professors of philosophy from the names of Temistios and Celsus. During its most prosperous period, it was the richest and largest city in Europe that radiated its culture and dominated economic life throughout the Mediterranean. Foreign wanderers and merchants were especially impressed by the beauty of local monasteries and churches. A special effect was evoked by Hagia Sophia: the Russian fourteenth-century explorer Stefan of Novgorod wrote: “Once church of Saint Sophia is considered, the human mind can neither comprehend nor describe it”1.

In the 5th century, the city provided defense to the eastern provinces of the old Roman Empire against numerous barbaric invasions. The walls, 18 meters high, built during the reign of Teodosius II (413-414), were practically impossible to gain for the barbarians, who attacked from the lower Danube and found much easier targets in the west. The city also had other fortifications mentioned above. Many scientists believe that this system of fortifications allowed for essentially uninterrupted development of the eastern provinces of the empire, when at the same time both Rome and the west fell under the pressure of the barbarians. Constantinople survived after the fall of Rome in 476 e.e. still for nearly a thousand years and it was only in 1453 that he got into the hands of the Turks.

  1. Own translation.
  • Jonathan Harris, Constantinople: Capital of Byzantium, Londyn 2007
  • Mirosława Leszka, Teresa Wolińska (red.), Konstantynopol: Nowy Rzym. Miasto i ludzie w okresie wczesnobizantyjskim, 2011

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