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Location of Byzantion Locator map Byzantion.PNG
Location of Byzantion

Byzantium ( /bɪˈzæntiəm, -ʃəm/ or Byzantion; Ancient Greek: Βυζάντιον, Byzántion) was an ancient Greek colony in early antiquity that later became Constantinople, and then Istanbul. The Greek term Byzantium (or Byzantion) continued to be used as a name of Constantinople during the Byzantine Empire, even though it only referred to the empire's capital. [1] [2] Byzantium was colonized by the Greeks from Megara in 657 BC, and remained primarily Greek-speaking until its conquest by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 AD. [3]

Ancient Greece Civilization belonging to an early period of Greek history

Ancient Greece was a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Roughly three centuries after the Late Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, Greek urban poleis began to form in the 8th century BC, ushering in the Archaic period and colonization of the Mediterranean Basin. This was followed by the period of Classical Greece, an era that began with the Greco-Persian Wars, lasting from the 5th to 4th centuries BC. Due to the conquests by Alexander the Great of Macedon, Hellenistic civilization flourished from Central Asia to the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. The Hellenistic period came to an end with the conquests and annexations of the eastern Mediterranean world by the Roman Republic, which established the Roman province of Macedonia in Roman Greece, and later the province of Achaea during the Roman Empire.

Constantinople capital city of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, the Latin and the Ottoman Empire

Constantinople was the capital city of the Roman Empire (330–395), of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, of the brief Crusader state known as the Latin Empire (1204–1261) and of the Ottoman Empire (1453–1923). In 1923 the capital of Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, was moved to Ankara and the name Constantinople was officially changed to Istanbul. The city is located in what is now the European side and the core of modern Istanbul. The city is still referred to as Constantinople in Greek-speaking sources.

Istanbul Metropolitan municipality in Marmara, Turkey

Istanbul, formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople, is the most populous city in Turkey and the country's economic, cultural and historic center. Istanbul is a transcontinental city in Eurasia, straddling the Bosporus strait between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Its commercial and historical center lies on the European side and about a third of its population lives in suburbs on the Asian side of the Bosporus. With a total population of around 15 million residents in its metropolitan area, Istanbul is one of the world's most populous cities, ranking as the world's fourth largest city proper and the largest European city. The city is the administrative center of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.



The etymology of Byzantium is unknown. It has been suggested that the name is of Thraco-Illyrian origin. [4] It may be derived from the Thracian or Illyrian personal name Byzas. [5] Ancient Greek legend refers to King Byzas, the leader of the Megarian colonists and founder of the city. [6] The form Byzantium is a latinisation of the original name.

Thracians ancient Indo-European people that lived in eastern parts of Europe

The Thracians were a group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting a large area in Eastern and South-eastern Europe. They spoke the Thracian language – a scarcely attested branch of the Indo-European language family. The study of Thracians and Thracian culture is known as Thracology.

Illyrians group of tribes in ancient times

The Illyrians were a group of Indo-European tribes in antiquity, who inhabited part of the western Balkans. The territory the Illyrians inhabited came to be known as Illyria to Greek and Roman authors, who identified a territory that corresponds to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro, Kosovo, part of Serbia and most of central and northern Albania, between the Adriatic Sea in the west, the Drava river in the north, the Morava river in the east and the mouth of the Aoos river in the south. The first account of Illyrian peoples comes from the Periplus of Pseudo-Scylax, an ancient Greek text of the middle of the 4th century BC that describes coastal passages in the Mediterranean.

Byzas mythical character

In Greek mythology, Byzas was the eponymous founder of Byzantium, the city later known as Constantinople and then Istanbul.

Much later, the name Byzantium became common in the West to refer to the Eastern Roman Empire. Its capital Constantinople stood on the site of ancient Byzantium. The name "Byzantine Empire" was introduced by the historian Hieronymus Wolf only in 1555, a century after the empire had ceased to exist. While the empire existed, the term Byzantium referred to only the city, rather than the empire.

Hieronymus Wolf German historian

Hieronymus Wolf was a sixteenth-century German historian and humanist, most famous for introducing a system of Roman historiography that eventually became the standard in works of medieval Greek history.

The name Lygos for the city, which likely corresponds to an earlier Thracian settlement, [4] is mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History . [7]

Pliny the Elder Roman military commander and writer

Pliny the Elder was a Roman author, a naturalist and natural philosopher, a naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and a friend of emperor Vespasian.

<i>Natural History</i> (Pliny) Encyclopedia published c. AD 77–79 by Pliny the Elder

The Natural History is a book about the whole of the natural world in Latin by Pliny the Elder, a Roman author and naval commander who died in 79 AD.


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 c. 150–100 BC. Byzantion struck coins in the name of Lysimachus nearly 200 years after his death.

The origins of Byzantium are shrouded in legend. Traditional legend says Byzas from Megara (a city-state near Athens) founded Byzantium in 667 BC when he sailed northeast across the Aegean Sea. The tradition tells that Byzas, son of King Nisos (Νίσος), planned to found a colony of the Dorian Greek city of Megara. Byzas consulted the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, which instructed Byzas to settle opposite the "Land of the Blind". Leading a group of Megarian colonists, Byzas found a location where the Golden Horn, a great natural harbor, meets the Bosporus and flows into the Sea of Marmara, opposite Chalcedon (modern day Kadıköy). He adjudged the Chalcedonians blind not to have recognized the advantages the land on the European side of the Bosporus had over the Asiatic side. In 667 BC he founded Byzantium at their location, thus fulfilling the oracle's requirement.

Megara Place in Greece

Megara is a historic town and a municipality in West Attica, Greece. It lies in the northern section of the Isthmus of Corinth opposite the island of Salamis, which belonged to Megara in archaic times, before being taken by Athens. Megara was one of the four districts of Attica, embodied in the four mythic sons of King Pandion II, of whom Nisos was the ruler of Megara. Megara was also a trade port, its people using their ships and wealth as a way to gain leverage on armies of neighboring poleis. Megara specialized in the exportation of wool and other animal products including livestock such as horses. It possessed two harbors, Pegae, to the west on the Corinthian Gulf and Nisaea, to the east on the Saronic Gulf of the Aegean Sea.

Athens Capital and largest city of Greece

Athens is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, with its recorded history spanning over 3,400 years and its earliest human presence started somewhere between the 11th and 7th millennium BC.

Aegean Sea Part of the Mediterranean Sea between the Greek and Anatolian peninsulas

The Aegean Sea is an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea located between the Greek and Anatolian peninsulas. The sea has an area of some 215,000 square kilometres. In the north, the Aegean is connected to the Marmara Sea and the Black Sea by the straits of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus. The Aegean Islands are located within the sea and some bound it on its southern periphery, including Crete and Rhodes. The sea reaches a maximum depth of 3,544 meters, to the east of Crete.

It was mainly a trading city due to its location at the Black Sea's only entrance. Byzantium later conquered Chalcedon, across the Bosporus on the Asiatic side.

Black Sea Marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and Asia

The Black Sea is a body of water and marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean between Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Western Asia. It is supplied by a number of major rivers, such as the Danube, Dnieper, Southern Bug, Dniester, Don, and the Rioni. Areas of many countries drain into the Black Sea, including Germany, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.

The city was taken by the Persian Empire at the time of the Scythian campaign (513 BC) of King Darius I (r. 522–486 BC), and was added to the administrative province of Skudra. [8] Though Achaemenid control of the city was never as stable as compared to other cities in Thrace, it was considered, alongside Sestos, to be one of the foremost Achaemenid ports on the European coast of the Bosporus and the Hellespont. [8]

Byzantium was besieged by Greek forces during the Peloponnesian War. As part of Sparta's strategy for cutting off grain supplies to Athens, Sparta took the city in 411 BC. The Athenian military later took the city in 408 BC. [9]

After siding with Pescennius Niger against the victorious Septimius Severus, the city was besieged by Roman forces and suffered extensive damage in 196 AD. [10] Byzantium was rebuilt by Septimius Severus, now emperor, and quickly regained its previous prosperity. It was bound to Perinthus 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, Konstantinoupolis, "city of Constantine").

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 major trade routes 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-ten-polin" (Greek: "to-the-city"). To this day it remains the largest and most populous city in Turkey, although Ankara is now the national capital.


By the late Hellenistic or early Roman period (1st century BC), the star and crescent motif was associated to some degree with Byzantium; even though it became more widely used as the royal emblem of Mithradates VI Eupator (who for a time incorporated the city into his empire). [11]

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 an eight-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 bright light in the sky, without specifying the moon. [12] 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. [13]

It is unclear precisely how the symbol Hecate/Artemis, one of many goddesses [14] would have been transferred to the city itself, but it seems likely to have been an effect of being credited with the intervention against Philip and the subsequent honors. This was a common process in ancient Greece, as in Athens where the city was named after Athena in honor of such an intervention in time of war.

Later, while under the Romans, cities in the Roman 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." [15] 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.


See also

Related Research Articles

Hecate or Hekate is a goddess in ancient Greek religion and mythology, most often shown holding a pair of torches or a key and in later periods depicted in triple form. She was variously associated with crossroads, entrance-ways, light, magic, witchcraft, knowledge of herbs and poisonous plants, ghosts, necromancy, and sorcery. She appears in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and in Hesiod's Theogony, where she is promoted strongly as a great goddess. The place of origin of her following is uncertain, but it is thought that she had popular followings in Thrace.

Nicaea city

Nicaea or Nicea was an ancient Greek city in northwestern Anatolia, and is primarily known as the site of the First and Second Councils of Nicaea, the Nicene Creed, and as the capital city of the Empire of Nicaea following the Fourth Crusade in 1204, until the recapture of Constantinople by the Byzantines in 1261.

Fall of Constantinople 1453 capture of the capital of the Byzantine Empire

The Fall of Constantinople was the capture of the capital city of the Byzantine Empire by an invading Ottoman army on the Sunday of Pentecost, 29 May 1453. The attackers were commanded by the 21-year-old Sultan Mehmed II, who defeated an army commanded by Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos and took control of the imperial capital, ending a 53-day siege that had begun on 6 April 1453. After conquering the city, Sultan Mehmed transferred the capital of the Ottoman State from Edirne to Constantinople and established his court there.

Chalcedon Town in Bithynia

Chalcedon was an ancient maritime town of Bithynia, in Asia Minor. It was located almost directly opposite Byzantium, south of Scutari and it is now a district of the city of Istanbul named Kadıköy. The name Chalcedon is a variant of Calchedon, found on all the coins of the town as well as in manuscripts of Herodotus's Histories, Xenophon's Hellenica, Arrian's Anabasis, and other works. Except for a tower, almost no above-ground vestiges of the ancient city survive in Kadıköy today; artifacts uncovered at Altıyol and other excavation sites are on display at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

Hippodrome of Constantinople Historic hippodrome in Istanbul

The Hippodrome of Constantinople was a circus that was the sporting and social centre of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. Today it is a square named Sultanahmet Meydanı in the Turkish city of Istanbul, with a few fragments of the original structure surviving.

Star and crescent symbol

The star and crescent is an iconographic symbol used in various historical contexts, but is most well known as a symbol of the Ottoman Empire. It is often considered as a symbol of Islam by extension, but this notion is denied as the religion bears no symbol. It develops in the iconography of the Hellenistic period in the Kingdom of Pontus, the Bosporan Kingdom and notably the city of Byzantium by the 2nd century BCE. It is the conjoined representation of a crescent and a star, both of which constituent elements have a long prior history in the iconography of the Ancient Near East as representing either the Sun and Moon or the Moon and Morning Star. Coins with crescent and star symbols represented separately have a longer history, with possible ties to older Mesopotamian iconography. The star, or Sun, is often shown within the arc of the crescent ; In numismatics in particular, the term crescent and pellet is used in cases where the star is simplified to a single dot.

The Roman Empire usually refers to the post-republican, autocratic government period of Roman civilization, centered on the city of Rome on the Italian peninsula from 27 BC to 330 AD, and in Constantinople on the Bosporus from 330 to 1453 AD.

Byzantine gardens

The city of Byzantium in the Byzantine Empire occupies an important place in the history of garden design between eras and cultures. The city, later renamed Constantinople, was capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and survived for a thousand years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The gardens of Byzantium were, however, mostly destroyed after the 15th-century Turkish conquest of the city.

The city of Istanbul has been known by a number of different names. The most notable names besides the modern Turkish name are Byzantium, Constantinople, and Stamboul. Different names are associated with different phases of its history, with different languages, and with different portions of it.

Hieria, also known as Heraeum or Heraion (Ἡραῖον), modern Fenerbahçe, was a town of ancient Bithynia and a suburb of Byzantine-era Constantinople. It is prominent in the city's history as the site of an imperial palace.

History of Istanbul aspect of history

The city today known as Istanbul has been the site of human settlement for approximately three thousand years. The settlement was founded by Thracian tribes between the 13th and 11th centuries BC, whose earliest known name is Lygos. It was colonised by the Greeks in the 7th century BC. It fell to the Roman Empire in AD 196, and was known as Byzantium until 330, when it was renamed Constantinople and made the new capital of the Roman Empire. During late antiquity, the city rose to be the largest of the western world, with a population peaking at close to half a million people. Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire, which ended with the Muslim conquest in 1453. Constantinople then became the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

Sarayburnu is a promontory quarter separating the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara in Istanbul, Turkey. The area is where the renowned Topkapı Palace and Gülhane Park stand. Sarayburnu is included in the historic areas of Istanbul, added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985.

Milion Byzantine mile-marker monument in Constantinople

The Milion was a monument erected in the early 4th century AD in Constantinople. It was the Byzantine zero-mile marker, the starting-place for the measurement of distances for all the roads leading to the cities of the Byzantine Empire. It thus served the same function as the Golden Milestone in Rome's forum. The domed building of the Milion rested on four large arches, and it was expanded and decorated with several statues and paintings. It survived the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 but had disappeared by the start of the 16th century. During excavations in the 1960s, some partial fragments of it were discovered under houses in the area.

Latin Emperor Wikimedia list article

The Latin Emperor was the ruler of the Latin Empire, the historiographical convention for the Crusader realm, established in Constantinople after the Fourth Crusade (1204) and lasting until the city was recovered by the Byzantine Greeks in 1261. Its name derives from its Catholic and Western European ("Latin") nature. The empire, whose official name was Imperium Romaniae, claimed the direct heritage of the Eastern Roman Empire, which had most of its lands taken and partitioned by the crusaders. This claim however was disputed by the Byzantine Greek successor states, the Empire of Nicaea, the Empire of Trebizond and the Despotate of Epirus. Out of these three, the Nicaeans succeeded in displacing the Latin emperors in 1261 and restored the Byzantine Empire.

Byzantium is an ancient Greek city, later renamed Constantinople and then Istanbul.

Church of Saint Menas of Samatya Church in Istanbul, Turkey

Saint Menas is a Greek Orthodox Church in Istanbul.

Prosphorion Harbour

The Prosphorion Harbour was a harbour in the city of Constantinople, active from the time when the city was still the Greek colony of Byzantium, until the eve of the first millennium. Gradually enlarged, it was the first port to be built in the area of the future Constantinople.


  1. Speake, Jennifer (2003). Literature of Travel and Exploration: A to F. ISBN   9781579584252.
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  3. The Rise of the Greeks. Orion Publishing Group. 2012. ISBN   978-1780222752.
  4. 1 2 Janin, Raymond (1964). Constantinople byzantine. Paris: Institut Français d'Études Byzantines. pp. 10ff.
  5. 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.
  6. 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, NC: McFarland & Company. ISBN   978-0-7864-2248-7.
  7. Pliny, IV, xi
  8. 1 2 Balcer 1990, pp. 599–600.
  9. "Egypt, Greece, and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean," Oxford University Press, 2nd Edition, 2004, p. 302
  10. Daily Life in Ancient and Modern Istanbul Robert Bator, Chris Rothero p. 8
  11. Andrew G. Traver, From Polis to Empire, The Ancient World, c. 800 B.C.–A.D. 500, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002, p. 257
  12. "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 pp. 5–6; "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 the 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, pp. 126–127
  13. Vasiliki Limberis, Divine Heiress, Routledge, 1994, p. 15
  14. "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, p. 16
  15. Michael R. Molnar, The Star of Bethlehem, Rutgers University Press, 1999, p. 48