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Page history last edited by Nicole Barnes 12 years, 11 months ago

                                                                                              The Walls of Constantinople

History of a City:

     The decline of the Roman Empire was well underway when Emperor Constantine I determined that Rome was not well situated to function as the Empire’s capital. He decided the location for his new capital was the ancient Greek city of Byzentium. Constantine designed Constantinople to resemble Rome, divided into 14 regions. Construction on the city took six years, and the city was consecrated on May 11, 330. Constantinople’s location along a land route from Europe to Asia and the waterway between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean made it the ideal location for a capital city because of its ease of access, and Constantinople throughout the Middle Ages was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe.[1] Its location also protected the city from attack, assisted by 60 foot tall walls finished in 414. These walls were not breached until the advent of gunpowder.[2]

     Upon coronation as the capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople was heavily embellished with the best the Empire had to offer, and many other Roman cities were pillaged to enhance the new capital.[3] After the sack of Rome in 410, Constantinople was the largest and most important city to the collapsing Roman Empire, as well as the world as a whole. Constantinople represented the rebirth of the Roman Empire through Christianity. It inherited the symbol of the “eternal city” and was considered to be the sole legitimate heir of the Roman Empire after its fall. [4]

     Constantinople was an important seat for architecture, religion, culture, and trade. Its Byzantine architecture incorporated both Greek and Roman influences to create a unique style that allowed the art of the Roman Empire to survive through the Middle Ages. When Constantine founded Constantinople, he also created and elevated the Bishop of Constantinople, who vied for honor and power with the Bishop of Rome or the Pope. The power struggle between these two seats contributed to the Great Schism that separated Catholicism from Eastern Orthodox religions.[5] This religious history also informs the culture of the city, with beautiful cathedrals, monasteries, and churches the focus. The city’s position on the trade route between the Aegean and Black Seas contributes to its influence, size and power.


Map of Byzantine Constantinople circa 330


Modern Day:

     Constantinople has maintained it location and importance in the region throughout history. While it was only

briefly the seat of the Roman Empire, Constantinople was also the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Latin Empire

and Ottoman Empire. When the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453 they renamed the city Istanbul, but it wasn’t until Ataturk, the first President of Turkey, that the city was widely recognized by that name, around 1930. Constantinople continued to be an important city to religion, as its fall in 1453 is considered a sign of the End Times in Islam. Modern Constantinople is divided into 3 sections, two of which are in Europe and one in Asia.[6]


Importance to Rhetoric and Intellectual Contributions:

     Citizens of Constantinople openly approved and criticized of their government in the hippodrome; the “circus” or coliseum of Constantinople, the hippodrome was the center for both sporting and social events (think chariot races). Here citizens would call for unpopular ministers to be ousted or shower approval on new emperors. While the Empire of Constantinople did not immediately have a Senate or powerful politicians, it had citizens willing and able to voice their opinions in the hippodrome.

     Constantinople’s rhetorical influence manifest academically. While he was emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, Theodosius II established the first university in Constantinople. He attempted to collect all of Constantinople’s law history since it was established by Constantine I, yet the project was never completed. The university focused on law, philosophy, astronomy, geometry, and rhetoric. The university flourished until the fourteenth century.[7]

     Rhetoric may have been more important to the creation of Constantinople than vice versa. Since Constantine decided to move the capital of the Empire from Rome, speeches referred to Constantinople as New Rome to reinforce the transfer of power.[8]

                                                                                                                                                                          The Constantinople Hippodrome

     Constantinople’s most important contribution to rhetoric is its role in the preservation of Greek and Roman libraries. When the Turks overtook Constantinople in 1453, refugees carried thousands of manuscripts to Italy; these manuscripts helped spark the Renaissance.[9]


Famous residents:

     Proclus Lycaeus, whose bust is pictured here, also called The Successor or Diadochos, was a Classical philosopher who established the fullest system of Neoplatonism. He was born in Constantinople on February 8, 412. Schooled in rhetoric, philosophy, and mathematics, he was a successful lawyer until he decided that he preferred philosophy. He then moved to Athens to study Aristotle and Plato, where he wrote treatise on important concepts in Plato’s work. His work on Plato and Euclid were extremely influential on Greek, Latin, and Islamic medieval philosophy.[10] He chose philosophy, specifically Plato, over the deliberative rhetorical art, and his influence reaches from the Middle Ages through the Transcendalists of the mid-1800s. Ralph Waldo Emerson described reading Proclus as such: "I am filled with hilarity & spring, my heart dances, my sight is quickened, I behold shining relations between all beings, and am impelled to write and almost to sing." A crater on the Moon is named after him. While he is associated with Athens because of his education, he is from Constantinople.

     Constantinople became capital of the Roman Empire after Constantine I accepted Christianity as the religion of the Empire. Constantinople’s most famous residents are therefore saints. Saint Alexander, Saint Helena, Saint Arthelais, Tarasios, and Saint Theophanes are among its renowned residents.

     As the capital of several empires, many of its other famous residents are emperors. Julian the Apostate, Theodosius II, Alexander, and Constantine VII are among the Byzantine emperors from Constantinople.


Map of the division between the Western and Eastern Roman Empires: Constantinople was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.















                                                                                                              Oldest surviving map of Constantinople; this is Constantinople in 1422.


[1] Bury, History of the Late Roman Empire. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/BURLAT/3*.html#1

[2] Encyclopedia of the Hellenic World. http://constantinople.ehw.gr/forms/fLemma.aspx?lemmaId=11742

[3] http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04301a.htm

[4] http://constantinople.ehw.gr/forms/fLemma.aspx?lemmaid=11677&contlang=58

[5] “History of Constantinople.” New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04301a.htm

[6] http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04301a.htm

[7] For more on the history of this university, see Constantelos, D. (1999). Christian Hellenism: Essays and Studies in Continuity and Change. Athens: Aristide D. Caratzas.

[8] Encyclopedia of the Hellenic World.  http://constantinople.ehw.gr/forms/fLemma.aspx?lemmaid=11677&contlang=58

[9] Runciman, Steven (1990). The Fall of Constantinople, 1453. Boston: Campridge U P.

[10] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/proclus/

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