Constantinople was the ancient city named after Constantine the Great (a.k.a. Constantine 1), who made the site the capital of the Byzantine Empire from 330 to 1453 CE (Common Era). Today, the ancient city of Constantinople is known as Istanbul, the most populous metropolis in modern-day Turkey, and the cradle of the country’s cultural and historical heritage.
The earliest known settlement in the location came in 7th century BC, and was called Byzantium. The settlement went on to develop as a burgeoning port because of its strategic geographic location. It straddled the border between Asia and Europe, allowing control over ships passing through a narrow, natural strait called Bosphorus. Moreover, a natural harbor on the inlet of Golden Horn permitted lucrative trading between east and west.
When the seat of the Roman Empire shifted to Byzantium, Emperor Constantine called the port haven as the “New Rome.” Some time later, the city was renamed as Constantinople, and much later, into Istanbul.
Although the citizens were known as Byzantines, they preferred to call themselves Romans, in light of the city’s “New Rome” title. Yet the common language spoken was Greek, and in cultural and historical terms, the influence was also mostly Greek.
The Rise of the Byzantine Empire
The transformation of Byzantium as the new seat of the Roman Empire was a turning point in the history of Rome, as it marked the beginnings of the Byzantine Empire.
The Byzantine Empire or the Eastern Roman Empire covered territories located in Asia Minor, in the Balkans, in Greece, Italy, Levant and in North Africa. The Byzantine rule was the longest enduring sovereign, spanning more than 1,100 years of power wielded across regions, whilst instilling Byzantine influence in the fields of architecture, art, economy, literature and laws.
The empire was distinctively built, not as an extension of the ancient Roman rule, but as medieval sovereign that developed its own religious beliefs, traditional practices, political systems and cultural heritage. When Constantine the Great became the first Roman emperor to convert into Christianity, the Byzantine Empire had evolved into becoming a Christian sovereign with distinctively Christian culture combined with medieval Western and Byzantine influences.
The Byzantine Empire flourished through a thousand and one hundred years, turning the capital city of Constantinople into a cosmopolitan center regarded as the wealthiest and most important Christian city throughout the globe.
The glory and grandeur though came with a price, as Constantinople became the object of many horrific sieges. In 413 BC, massive Theodosian Walls were built around the capital city, giving the empire protection against marauders attacking from both land and sea.
However, the Byzantine Empire fell in 1453, when the City of Constantinople was overrun by Mehmed II a.k.a. Mehmed the Conqueror, a sultan of the Ottoman Empire.