the founding of city of Constantinople -- 6/8/21

Today's selection -- from A Concise History of Byzantium by Warren Treadgold. Constantine I, or Constantine the Great, was emperor of Rome from 306 to 337. In an early move, he refounded the city of Byzantium as a capital of the Eastern empire that came to be called Constantinople. That happened at a time when a stationary capital was not favored, and instead, the seat of government was wherever the emperor hap­pened to be in his perpetual efforts to keep the empire together:

"When Constantine won the remainder of the [Roman] empire [in the fourth century CE], he was fifty-one.

"Born in the Latin-speaking part of Illyricum, he had served under Diocletian and Galerius in the East, then gone to join his father in the West just in time to replace him. Constantine had enjoyed unbroken and sometimes improbable success. He had defeated his former allies Maxentius and Licinius, despite their having larger armies, and had man­aged to prosper as a convert to Christianity, the religion of a small minor­ity in the empire and a particularly tiny minority in the West and the army. Constantine was impatient, ambitious, and probably not outstand­ingly intelligent, but either truly inspired or very lucky. Christians might well think God was on his side.

"One of Constantine's peculiar decisions, made just after his victory over Licinius, was to refound Byzantium as a capital called New Rome, or alternatively Constantinople ('Constantine's City'). Both the city of Rome and the idea of a capital seemed almost obsolete at the time, when the real seat of government was wherever the peripatetic emperors hap­pened to be. Though at Rome the senate and the grain dole for the poor seemed to be relics of the Republic that no one would have reinvented, Constantine created both a senate and a grain dole for his new capital. Nor had anyone founded a city on the scale planned by Constantine since Alexandria and Antioch more than six hundred years before. Constantine might more cheaply have enlarged and renamed Diocletian's Nicomedia, which as he knew shared the main advantages of Byzantium. Each city lay midway on the road between the Persian and Danube frontiers, had a good port, and could serve as an administrative center for both Anatolia and Illyricum. Constantine appears to have chosen a new site mainly to distinguish himself from Diocletian and to have chosen Byzantium mainly because he had defeated Licinius nearby.

"The city took vast resources and many years to build, but, thanks to Constantine's determination and posthumous prestige, it eventually became what he seems to have intended, the capital of the East. This had consequences that he probably had not foreseen. It gave the Eastern Empire a more Hellenized identity, centered on Greek-speaking Anatolia and Thrace rather than Egypt, Syria, or the Latin-speaking northern Balkans, where Constantine had resided before defeating Licinius. Though not naturally well defended, Constantinople lay on a peninsula that could be cut off by a fairly short wall, which Constantine began to build. The city's natural hinterland was across the strait in the Anatolian peninsula, protected by high mountains and provided with enough men and farmland to support itself. Anatolia became the heartland of the Byzantine Empire, while Constantinople turned into its metropolis."



Warren Treadgold


A Concise History of Byzantium


Red Globe Press


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