The History of Constantinople: From a Small Town to a Great Empire
1. Byzantium: from a small town to a great empire
The history of Constantinople is full of numerous historical events, both failures and successes, blooming and decline. It all started in the middle of the 1st century AD when the Roman emperor Constantine the Great decided to build a new capital for the rapidly growing Roman Empire – Constantinople. The site for the new city was chosen very wisely – it was an excellent strategic location on the Bosporus strait which connects the Black Sea with the Mediterranean. The construction of Constantinople lasted for more than ten years and was completed in 330 AD.
From that moment, the history of Constantinople is inseparably linked with the history of the Byzantine Empire which reached its peak in the 5th-12th centuries and then slowly declined until its fall in 1453. Even though during those centuries Constantinople repeatedly changed its owners (it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453), it still remained one of the most important cultural and economic centers of Eurasia.
2. Constantinople – the capital of the empire
During its more than one thousand years of history, Constantinople served as the capital not only of Byzantium but also of several other empires, such as the Latin Empire (1204-1261) and Ottoman Empire (1453-1922). It was also one of the largest cities in Eurasia with a population that sometimes reached one million people.
The city was divided into two parts – an inner part which was located on a small hill and an outer part which spread outwards from it. The inner part was further divided into two – an upper and a lower one. The upper part housed the imperial palace, while the lower one was occupied by wealthy citizens and public buildings. The outer part was divided into quarters, each inhabited by different social groups or ethnicities.
The streets of Constantinople were narrow and winding, and they were often in bad condition since they were not repaired very often. Many houses did not have any windows facing the street in order to prevent thieves from breaking in. Instead, they had windows facing courtyards or inner walls which separated different houses from each other.
3. The influence of Byzantium on the cultures of Slavic peoples, Rus’, Muscovy, and Anglo-Saxons
The Byzantine Empire had a significant impact on the cultures of many Slavic peoples who lived within its borders or were under its influence. For example, it was through Byzantium that Christianity spread among Slavs. In addition, many Byzantine customs and traditions were adopted by Slavs, such as genitalia mutilation, ear piercing, use of cosmetics, etc.
The same can be said about Rus’, Muscovy, and Anglo-Saxons who were also influenced by Byzantium to varying degrees. For instance, Muscovy borrowed many aspects of Byzantine culture and even used the term “tsar” instead of “khan” which was more common among other Turkic peoples. As for Anglo-Saxons, they were heavily influenced by Byzantine art and architecture – both elements can be seen in Anglo-Saxon churches and manuscript illumination.
4. The Varangian Guard – the imperial bodyguard
The Varangian Guard was an elite imperial bodyguard which consisted of foreign mercenaries, mostly Scandinavians and Anglo-Saxons. The Guard was first formed in the late 10th century and existed until the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
The primary duty of the Varangian Guard was to protect the emperor and his family, but they also took part in military campaigns and battles. The members of the Guard were extremely loyal to the emperor and were often used as a personal security detail.
5. The Eparch – the head of the city administration
The Eparch was the head of the city administration in Constantinople. He was responsible for issuing laws, collecting taxes, maintaining public order, and supervising construction projects. The Eparch was also in charge of the city’s food supply and its distribution among the citizens.
6. Byzantine corporations – merchants and public baths
Byzantine corporations were associations of merchants or artisans who pooled their resources in order to engage in trade or manufacture certain goods. These corporations were very important for the economy of Constantinople as they allowed for a division of labor and a specialization of production.
Public baths were another type of corporation which existed in Constantinople. They were usually large buildings with numerous rooms and facilities, such as swimming pools, saunas, massage rooms, etc. The baths were open to everyone and served as a place to relax, socialize, and keep clean.
7. The decline and fall of Constantinople
The decline of Constantinople began in the 13th century when the city was sacked by the Fourth Crusade. This event marked the end of Byzantine power in Eurasia and resulted in a long period of decline which culminated in the city’s fall to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
The Ottomans turned Constantinople into their capital and renamed it Istanbul. The city flourished under Ottoman rule and became one of the largest and most important cities in the world. However, after World War I and the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, Istanbul lost its status as capital to Ankara. Even though it is no longer the capital, Istanbul remains an important cultural and economic center of Turkey.
The history of Constantinople is full of interesting events and fascinating facts. It is a history of a great empire which had a profound impact on the cultures of many peoples. Even though the city has changed its owners several times, it still remains one of the most important cities in Eurasia.