Capitals of Roman Empire: Istanbul and Rome


Constantinople and Rome

Capitals of Roman Empire: Istanbul (Constantinople) and Rome

Istanbul was founded in 660s BC as a Greek colony. The area where it was founded on is called today Sarayburnu whose historical name is Seraglio Point. At the hill of Seraglio Point, which is located on the southern part of the Bosphorus, lies Topkapı Palace, the famous accommodation of Ottoman Sultans. The palace was founded over the Greek colony Byzantium.

Bosphorus Strait

Bosphorus is a natural formation dividing Istanbul into two: Asia and Europe. Together with Dardanelles Strait, it is the most important connection point between Black Sea and Mediterranean. Constantine who understood the strategic importance of Seraglio Point and built a huge city there changed the fate of this small city-state.

Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait


Istanbul Bosphorus

Foundation of Constantinople as New Rome

The only and the strongest administration center of Roman Empire for centuries, Rome began to pass on this duty to Istanbul beginning from the 4th century. The Emperor Constantine realized the pressure from the northern borders and understood how defenseless Rome had been.

In order to move into a more fertile and safer Eastern lands and to immortalize his name, he decided to turn the Greek colony Byzantium into a co-capital of Rome. In order to do so, he ordered his architects and engineers to turn this small village-like city into a capital of an empire.

Upon this order, Romans designed a city founded upon seven hills just like Rome and the new city was built under the name “New Rome”. Within time, the city started to be known as Constantinople, the city of Constantine.

Emperor Theodosius who succeeded Constantine divided Roman Empire into two between his sons. Therefore the capital of the Western Rome became Rome and the capital of Eastern Rome became Constantinople.

The Papal Basilica of St. Peter

History of Rome

Church of St. Peter in Rome

Pope of Rome vs Patriarch of Constantinople

It was not only the emperor who was connecting these two cities but it was also Christianity, the religion of the empire. Constantinople’s religious leader Patriarch is as much important asthe Pope, the religious leader of Rome.

The rivalry between two capitals manifested itself in these religious leaders and the rivalry peaked with the Great Schism of 1054. Pope and Patriarch excommunicated one another and began the discord that took 900 years.

When Rome was rolling into the deeps of history with Goth invasion in 476, Constantinople was beginning a gleaming era which would take centuries.

This Goth invasion justified Constantine who claimed Rome to be in danger and desired to move the capital to the east.

Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul

History of Istanbul

Hagia Sophia Museum

Fourth Crusade and Sack of Constantinople

However, Constantinople was invaded and destructed by the Latins in 1204 due to the rivalry and animosity. Latins who kept the city under invasion between 1204-1261 did not want to give up until they made sure the Eastern Rome and its capital Constantinople would die out.

The city was in ruins when Byzantine princes recaptured it until the invasion of Ottomans in 1453. During this period, Rome was protected by the kings of Holy Roman Empire and it was rising.

Istanbul became the capital of an empire once again with the expansion of Ottoman Empire and it started to rise. Rome, on the other hand, has always kept its importance. As cities attracting huge number of tourists, Rome of Italy and Istanbul of Turkey are inviting and friendly cities, reflecting the Mediterranean culture.

Ancient Forum in Rome

Rome and Constantinople as Roman Capitals

Roman Forum

Rome and Istanbul in Modern Times

Both cities are famous for their food, monumental structures and interminable energy. Although Rome comes to mind when one thinks of Roman Empire, Istanbul has actually a great Roman heritage.

Although Byzantine is regarded as a separate civilization in history books, it is actually a natural successor of Roman Empire. Its emperor regarded himself as Caesar and general public as Romans. In today’s Istanbul, well established families are known as Rum (Roman in Turkish).

Istanbul (Constantinople) and Rome by Serhat Engul


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