Byzantium (// bih-ZAN-tee-uhm; Greek: Βυζάντιον Byzántion) was the ancient Greek city on the site that later became Constantinople (modern Istanbul). It was founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 657 BC. The city was rebuilt and reinaugurated as the new capital of the Roman Empire by Emperor Constantine I in 330 AD and subsequently renamed Constantinople. The city remained the capital of the Byzantine Empire until 1453, when it was conquered and became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Since the establishment of modern Turkey in 1923, the Turkish name of the city, Istanbul, has replaced the name Constantinople in the West.
The name of Byzantion is believed to be of Thracian or Illyrian origin and may be derived from a Thracian or Illyrian personal name, Byzas. Ancient Greek legend refers to a legendary king of that name as the leader of the Megarean colonists and eponymous founder of the city. The form Byzantium is a Latinization of the Greek.
|O: Head of Alexander the Great with Amun's horns.||R: Seated Athena holding Nike with wreath, ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ / ΛΥΣΙΜΑΧΟΥ; monogram (ΠΩΛΥΒ) to left; ΒΥ below throne; trident in exergue|
|Silver tetradrachm struck in Byzantion 190 - ±100 BC. There were struck coins in the name of Lysimachus even nearly 200 years after his death.|
The origins of Byzantium are shrouded in legend. The traditional legend has it that Byzas from Megara (a city-state near Athens) founded Byzantium in 657 BC when he sailed northeast across the Aegean Sea. Byzas had consulted the Oracle at Delphi to ask where to found his new city. The Oracle told him to find it "opposite the blind". At the time, he did not know what this meant, but when he came upon the Bosporus he understood: on the opposite eastern shore was a Greek city, Chalcedon, whose founders were said to have overlooked the superior location only 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) away. Byzas founded his city there on the European coast and named it Byzantium after himself. It was mainly a trading city due to its location at the Black Sea's only entrance. Byzantion later conquered Chalcedon, across the Bosporus on the Asiatic side.
After siding with Pescennius Niger against the victorious Septimius Severus, the city was besieged by Roman forces and suffered extensive damage in 196 AD. Byzantium was rebuilt by Septimius Severus, now emperor, and quickly regained its previous prosperity. It was bound to Perinthos during the period of Septimius Severus. The location of Byzantium attracted Roman Emperor Constantine I who, in 330 AD, refounded it as an imperial residence inspired by Rome itself. (See Nova Roma.) After his death the city was called Constantinople (Greek Κωνσταντινούπολις or Konstantinoupolis) ("city of Constantine"). It remained the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, which is called the Byzantine Empire by modern historians.
This combination of imperialism and location would affect Constantinople's role as the nexus between the continents of Europe and Asia. It was a commercial, cultural, and diplomatic centre. With its strategic position, Constantinople controlled the route between Asia and Europe, as well as the passage from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea. On May 29, 1453, the city fell to the Ottoman Turks, and again became the capital of a powerful state, the Ottoman Empire. The Turks called the city Istanbul (although it was not officially renamed until 1930); the name derives from 'eis-tin-polin' (Greek: 'to-the-city'). To this day it remains the largest and most populous city in Turkey (the successor to the Ottoman Empire), although Ankara is now the national capital.
Though associated with the Sassanid Persians and with Mithradates VI Eupator (who for a time incorporated the city into his empire), by the late Hellenistic or early Roman period, the star and crescent motif had been associated to some degree with Byzantium. For example, some Byzantine coins of the 1st century BC and later show the head of Artemis with bow and quiver, and feature a crescent with what appears to be a six-rayed star on the reverse. According to accounts which vary in some of the details, in 340 BC the Byzantines and their allies the Athenians were under siege by the troops of Philip of Macedon. On a particularly dark and wet night Philip attempted a surprise attack but was thwarted by the appearance of a bright light in the sky. This light is occasionally described by subsequent interpreters as a meteor, sometimes as the moon, and some accounts also mention the barking of dogs. However, the original accounts mention only a light in the sky, without specifying the moon. To commemorate the event the Byzantines erected a statue of Hecate lampadephoros (light-bearer or bringer). This story survived in the works of Hesychius of Miletus, who in all probability lived in the time of Justinian I. His works survive only in fragments preserved in Photius and the tenth century lexicographer Suidas. The tale is also related by Stephanus of Byzantium, and Eustathius.
Devotion to Hecate was especially favored by the Byzantines for her aid in having protected them from the incursions of Philip of Macedon. Her symbols were the crescent and star, and the walls of her city were her provenance.
It is unclear how the symbol of a particular goddess (one of many) would have been transferred to the city itself.
Later, under the Romans, cities in the empire often continued to issue their own coinage. "Of the many themes that were used on local coinage, celestial and astral symbols often appeared, mostly stars or crescent moons." The wide variety of these issues, and the varying explanations for the significance of the star and crescent on Roman coinage precludes their discussion here. It is, however, apparent that by the time of the Romans, coins featuring a star or crescent in some combination were not at all rare.
- Homerus, tragedian, lived in the early 3rd century BC
- Philo, engineer, lived ca. 280 BC–ca. 220 BC
- Epigenes of Byzantium, astrologer, lived in the 3rd–2nd century BC
- Aristophanes of Byzantium, a scholar who flourished in Alexandria, 3rd–2nd century BC
- Constantinople details the history of the city before the Turkish conquest of 1453.
- Istanbul details the history of the city from 1453 on, and describes the modern city.
- Sarayburnu is the geographic location of ancient Byzantium.
- Timeline of Istanbul history
- Janin, Raymond (1964). Constantinople byzantine. Paris: Institut Français d'Études Byzantines. p. 10f.
- Georgacas, Demetrius John (1947). "The Names of Constantinople". Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association (The Johns Hopkins University Press) 78: 347–67. doi:10.2307/283503. JSTOR 283503.
- Room, Adrian (2006). Placenames of the World: Origins and Meanings of the Names for 6,600 Countries, Cities, Territories, Natural Features, and Historic Sites (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-2248-7.
- Daily Life in Ancient and Modern Istanbul Robert Bator, Chris Rothero p.8
- Andrew G. Traver, From Polis to Empire, The Ancient World, ca. 800 B.C.-A.D. 500, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002, p257
- "In 340 BC, however, the Byzantines, with the aid of the Athenians, withstood a siege successfully, an occurrence the more remarkable as they were attacked by the greatest general of the age, Philip of Macedon. In the course of this beleaguerment, it is related, on a certain wet and moonless night the enemy attempted a surprise, but were foiled by reason of a bright light which, appearing suddenly in the heavens, startled all the dogs in the town and thus roused the garrison to a sense of their danger. To commemorate this timely phenomenon, which was attributed to Hecate, they erected a public statue to that goddess [...]" William Gordon Holmes, The Age of Justinian and Theodora, 2003 p5-6; "If any goddess had a connection with the walls in Constantinople, it was Hecate. Hecate had a cult in Byzantium from the time of its founding. Like Byzas in one legend, she had her origins in Thrace. Since Hecate was the guardian of "liminal places," in Byzantium small temples in her honor were placed close to the gates of the city. Hecate's importance to Byzantium was above all as deity of protection. When Philip of Macedon was about to attack the city, according to he legend she alerted the townspeople with her ever-present torches, and with her pack of dogs, which served as her constant companions. Her mythic qualities thenceforth forever entered the fabric of Byzantine history. A statue known as the 'Lampadephoros' was erected on the hill above the Bosphorous to commemorate Hecate's defensive aid." Vasiliki Limberis, Divine Heiress, Routledge, 1994, p126-127
- Vasiliki Limberis, Divine Heiress, Routledge, 1994, p15
- "In 324 Byzantium had a number of operative cults to traditional gods and goddesses tied to its very foundation eight hundred years before. Rhea, called "the mother of the gods" by Zosimus, had a well-ensconced cult in Byzantium from its very foundation. [...] Devotion to Hecate was especially favored by the Byzantines [...] Constantine would also have found Artemis-Selene and Aphrodite along with the banished Apollo Zeuxippus on the Acropolis in the old Greek section of the city. Other gods mentioned in the sources are Athena, Hera, Zeus, Hermes, and Demeter and Kore. Even evidence of Isis and Serapis appears from the Roman era on coins during the reign of Caracalla and from inscriptions." Vasiliki Limberis, Divine Heiress, Routledge, 1994, p16
- Michael R. Molnar, The Star of Bethlehem, Rutgers University Press, 1999, p48
- Harris, Jonathan, Constantinople: Capital of Byzantium (Hambledon/Continuum, London, 2007). ISBN 978-1-84725-179-4
- Jeffreys, Elizabeth and Michael, and Moffatt, Ann, Byzantine Papers: Proceedings of the First Australian Byzantine Studies Conference, Canberra, 17–19 May 1978 (Australian National University, Canberra, 1979).
- Istanbul Historical Information - Istanbul Informative Guide To The City. Retrieved January 6, 2005.
- The Useful Information about Istanbul. Retrieved January 6, 2005.
- The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (Oxford University Press, 1991) ISBN 0-19-504652-8
- www.byzantium.ac.uk Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies
- Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire, hyperlinked with notes and more resources, at Elpenor
- History of money FAQs – description of Byzantine monetary system, fifth century BC
- Byzantine & Christian Museum