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Constantinople Becomes the Capital

As Byzantium

Between the years 687 and 622 BC, the Greeks sought out and established new cities that extended in Asia Minor, located northeast of the archipelago. One of these new cities was called Byzantium, a fertile seaside city that became the gateway to the Black Sea and Mediterranean on the European side. The colonists of this new city were from Megara in the Attica region. They built the city of Chalcedon on the eastern side as Byzantium’s lesser-known twin. Apart from its fertile lands, the Greeks favored Byzantium as it was strategically positioned for defense and could only be attacked with relative ease on the western side. Byzantium was named Constantinople and the Roman capitol under Constantine the Great around 330 AD according to the Bible Timeline Chart with World History.

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The Greek city of Byzantium was dominated by the powerful Persian empire by the fifth century BC. This crossroad was the scene of bloody battles between the Greek and Persian armies. It was not until the fourth century that the Athenians and Spartans alternately controlled the city during the Peloponnesian War. Byzantium was annexed by Alexander the Great when he crossed from Europe to Asia to wrest territories from Darius III. It passed hands when Byzantium became a territory of the Roman Empire at the height of its power. Most of the people in this cosmopolitan city were Greek and spoke the language, but they considered themselves Roman citizens in every sense of the word.

“Aerial view of Byzantine Constantinople and the Propontis (Sea of Marmara)”

The City of Constantine the Great

It was during the reign of Constantine the Great when Byzantium was transformed from a regular seaside city to the Roman Empire’s eastern capital. Fresh from his victory over Licinius (one-fourth of the Tetrarchy led by Diocletian and former ruler of the eastern portion of the empire), Constantine wanted a new city to celebrate his success. Rome, the old capital, would not do as its people were stubbornly pagan, especially its ruling class. As he grew up and spent most of his adult life elsewhere, Constantine probably did not feel any attachment to the old capital. He needed a fresh start.

He first considered the city of Troy but favored Byzantium instead as his new capital. The city was a strategic hub of east-west trade which contributed to its wealth. The foundation was set in 330 AD. Just like Alexander the Great many centuries ago, he named the new capital after himself: Constantinople.

Constantine enlarged the city with magnificent construction projects, although none of the buildings survived into the modern times. All religions were tolerated in this cosmopolitan city, but Christianity had a special place in this city because of Constantine’s patronage. It continued to be the Eastern Roman Empire’s capital even after the fall of the Western Empire in the fifth century and until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

Picture By – digital file from intermediary roll film copy, Digital ID: pan 6a23442, USA memory collection, Public Domain,
Bauer, S. Wise. The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007.
Loverance, Rowena. Byzantium. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.
MacCulloch, Diarmaid, and Diarmaid MacCulloch. Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. New York: Viking, 2010.
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