Emperor Constantine and Constantinople
Emperor Constantine the Great and Constantinople Facts
Rome was not chosen as the capital of the state later on. It was a city-state which evolved into an empire. Because it expanded in all directions, Rome found itself in the center of the state borders.
Nevertheless, this situation did not make Rome more than a geographical center. Eastern Mediterranean, which benefited from a good agriculture for 1000 years, remained a financial and cultural center. Therefore, the idea of moving the administrative center into an eastern province existed for a long time in Rome. The person who eventually realized this project was reformer Emperor Constantine.
Roman Emperors Meet Byzantium
We need to go back to the end of the 2nd Century to mention how Roman Emperors met Istanbul.
In 195, Roman Emperor Septimus Severus occupied and severely damaged the city of Byzantion which supported his opponent (Pescennius Niger) in the fight for throne. However, he later realized that the city was strategically located and therefore rebuilt it.
The city, now known as Byzantium with its Latinized name, was not an important place for Rome at first. It would have taken 130 years for the Romans to turn their attention to Byzantium again.
Constantine Discovers the Importance of Byzantium
At a time called the Tetrarchy Period, when four emperors ruled the empire simultaneously; Emperor Constantine was one of those who shared power. But by nature, he did not intend to remain in the shadow of others. In turn, he defeated all his opponents and seized the throne alone.
Emperor Constantine, who later became the “Great”, fought and won the last battle of the Tetrarchy period against the Emperor Licinius in the Battle of Chrysopolis. He saw how Licinius retreated to the defense in this war and used the advantageous position of Byzantium and was inspired.
Byzantium was surrounded by the sea on three sides and there was a perfect natural harbor north like the Golden Horn. It would be insurmountable when it supported the western wing, the only side of the city to be attacked by land, with strong city walls. Constantine, the great visionary, discovered this city that would be the center of trade and power for centuries.
Emperor Constantine Facts
Istanbul Becomes Co-Capital of Roman Empire
Constantine wanted to recover the collapsing empire by embracing a new religion; thus, he chose Christianity in 315 (Edict of Milan). Making a huge reform, he evolved Pagan Roman Empire into Christian one and wanted to move the capital into the fertile and rich Eastern lands.
He decided upon the city of Byzantium due to its unique location in the Bosphorus. He initiated a great reconstruction in the city. Empire architects turned this originally a Greek city state Byzantium from a simple Roman province into the equivalent of Rome.
Between the years of 324-330, the city was rebuilt by expanding around four times and began to serve with the name New Rome. Constantine started to build the city based on the new religion.
Therefore, he commissioned the Megale Ekklesia (Big Church) which was built where Hagia Sophia is today. The church which was renovated by Theodosius II in the following years was completely destroyed during Nika Revolt and Hagia Sophia was built in its place in 537 by Emperor Justinian.
Emperor Constantine and Constantinople Facts
Nicaea Consul: From Paganism to Christianity
Constantine was the first person laying the foundations of Christianity in political terms. The first ecumenical consul got together in the city of Nicaea (Iznik) in 325 and the principles of Christianity was decided upon.
After the Nicene Creed, Patriarchs were assigned to some important cities and Pentarchy (Five Major Episcopal Sees) became the leading religious centers of Christianity. These cities were Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria.
After the 11th century, the leader of the Western Church was Pope in Rome and leader of the Eastern Church was Patriarch in Istanbul. Rivalry between them went on for centuries. Eventually caused Great Schism of 1054.
First Council Of Nicaea By Emperor Constantine
Constantinople as New Rome and Religious Center
Constantine built a big church named The Church of the Holy Apostles in the historical peninsula of Istanbul. Inside this church he placed 12 sarcophagus representing the apostles of Jesus Christ. When Constantine died, he was also buried there.
It emphasizes the fact that Constantine, who is remembered as a saint and Constantine The Great, wanted to make the city of Constantinople into a mystical religious center.
According to some historians, Constantine had actually remained as a pagan until he died and the only reason he adopted Christianity was that he wanted to save Roman Empire from the imminent collapse. According to some others, he was a devout Christian and wanted to be seen as an apostle of Christ.
Separation of Roman Empire into the East and the West
Nevertheless, even the Christianity, which he saw as a uniting factor, did not prevent Rome from the inevitable break up. 58 years after his death when his heir Theodosius died, Roman Empire was divided into two: Eastern and Western Roman Empires.
One of Theodosius’ sons, Honorius, took over the Western Roman Empire, which was destroyed by the barbarian attacks in 476, and Arcadius became the leader of the Eastern Roman Empire, which lived until 1453. In other words, Arcadius is the first ruler of Eastern Rome, known as the Byzantine Empire in modern history.
Emperor Constantine the Great Facts
Constantinople: Capital of Empires for 1600 Years
Stable foundation of the city by Constantine made Constantinople continue to survive for over 1000 years. However, Constantinople had been devastated by the Latin invasion (1204) long before the Ottomans took over the city. Ottomans were hoping to find the dream city of the East in a better condition.
They rebuilt the city and made it the capital of the rising Ottoman Empire. Ottoman Sultans built palaces, mosques, baths and mansions. The name of the city remained as Konstantiniye. The name of Istanbul was adopted in recent history. It’s believed that Istanbul name derived from ancient Greek word Stanpoli. Meaning “the center of the city”. Widely used when the city had been a Greek Acropolis: Byzantium.
Fate of the city was to become the capital of an empire and it remained a capital from its foundation in 330 until the collapse of the Ottomans in 1922. Capitals of three great empires: Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman.