The New Rome
Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337) is regarded as the founder
of the Byzantine Empire because he transferred the capital of the
Roman Empire from the city of Rome to Byzantium, which was later
renamed Constantinople. Early in his reign, Constantine recognized
that the economic wealth of the Empire was in the eastern provinces.
Rome and the western provinces were declining economically. Constantine
decided to move his government to a better location in the East.
Also, as a newly converted Christian, Constantine wanted to break
with Rome's pagan past and dedicate a new capital to the Christian
God. Byzantium was an ancient Greek town located on the Bosporus
straits which separate Europe from Asia. Founded by settlers in
approximately 600 B.C., the city of Byzantium was in a strategically
excellent location for both defense and trade. The emperor renamed
the city "New Rome."
spared no expense in making New Rome a magnificent capital. He stripped
the Empire of the finest artwork and building materials and sent
it to his new city. After his death, the city was called Constantinople
- "City of Constantine" - to honor its founder. Like Rome,
the city had seven hills and for many centuries, was inspired by
Roman civic structures, such as Senate buildings, public baths,
forums, basilicas and commemorative columns. Aqueducts brought in
fresh water continuously while a network of underground sewers took
away the city's waste. Although injustice and poverty existed, Constantinople
was mainly a well run metropolis with free hospitals, street lighting,
and fire brigades. The gladiator games so popular in Rome were banned
under the Christian Byzantines, so horse racing was substituted
in the Hippodrome, closely modeled on the Circus Maxiumus of
Rome. The crown jewel of the city was, of course, the incomparable
to its unique location astride two continents, Europe and Asia as
well as the connection between the Mediterranean and Black Seas,
trade routes brought immense wealth into Constantinople. Gold, ivory,
silver, copper, silk, grain, cotton, furs, wine, and spices poured
through the city from as far away as China, Ceylon, and Iceland.
The result created the richest and most beautiful city in the world.
its height, the city numbered nearly 1 million inhabitants, a mixture
of Greeks, Bulgars, Khazars, Turks, Armenians, Jews, Russians, and
Italians. Outside of the Imperial Palace, there was no particular
"fashionable" section of Constantinople: rich and poor
tended to live next to each other. To protect the population and
its immense wealth the city was enclosed by 13 miles of impregnable
walls by both land and sea. So strong were the walls of Constantinople
that it finally took the force of gunpowder to breach them. A month
and a half of cannon bombardment by the Ottoman Turks finally overcame
them in 1453 AD.