Thursday, December 20, 2007 12/20/07-Istanbul

In today's encore excerpt--in 330 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine moves the empire's capital to Byzantium, which is renamed Constantinople and today is known as Istanbul and is Europe's largest city and one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Why did he make this move? As discussed in this excerpt, Rome had become a backwater, and Roman Emperors had long had the habit of establishing their courts elsewhere-- especially those whose priority was leading military campaigns into the far regions of the Empire:

"When Constantine first set eyes on Byzantium, the city was already nearly a thousand years old. According to tradition, it was founded in 685 BC by a certain Byzas as a colony of Megara; there can, at any rate, be little doubt ... that the Emperor was right to choose it for his new capital. Rome had long been a backwater; none of Diocletian's four tetrarchs had dreamed of living there. The principal dangers to imperial security were now concentrated on the eastern frontier: the Sarmatians around the lower Danube; the Ostrogoths to the north of the Black Sea and--most menacing of all--the Persians, whose great Sassanian Empire now extended from the former Roman provinces of Armenia and Mesopotamia as far as the Hindu Kush. But the reasons for the move were not only strategic. The whole focus of civilization had shifted irrevocably eastward. Intellectually and culturally, Rome was growing more and more out of touch with the new and progressive thinking of the Hellenistic world; the Roman academies and libraries were no longer any match for those of Alexandria, Pergamum, or Antioch. Economically, too, the agricultural and mineral wealth of what was known as the pars orientalis was a far greater attraction than the Italian peninsula, where malaria was spreading fast and populations were dwindling. Finally, the old Roman republic and pagan traditions had no place in Constantine's new Christian Empire. It was time to start afresh.. ...

"The advantages of Byzantium as a strategic site over any of its oriental neighbors were self-evident. Standing as it did on the very threshold of Asia ... it had been molded by nature at once into a magnificent harbor and a well-nigh impregnable stronghold ... protected by two long and narrow straits: the Bosphorus to the east and the [Dardanelles] to the west. ...

"Constantine spared no expense to make his new capital worthy of its name. Tens of thousands of artisans worked day and night. ... All the leading cities of Europe and Asia, including Rome itself, were plundered of their finest statues, trophies and works of art for the embellishment and enrichment of Constantinople. ...

"And yet the fact remained there had been no real change. To its subjects, it was still the Roman Empire, that of Augustus and Trajan and Hadrian. And they were still Romans. Their capital had been moved, that was all; nothing else was affected. Over the centuries, surrounded as they were by the Greek world, it was inevitable that they should gradually abandon the Latin language in favor of the Greek, but that made no difference either. It was as Romans they proudly described themselves for as long as the empire lasted ..."

John Julius Norwich, The Middle Sea, Chatto & Windus, 2006, pp. 54-55.


Blogger cheeryble said...

If anyone's still there....
I'm interested to know about the demise of Stoicism with the rise of Christianity. I believe the academies where Stoicism was promulgated were closed.....was it by Constantine?
Any pointers and especially online references greatly appreciated.

ps: I happen to think the loss of Stoicism was a very great loss wand the rise of Christianity was a mighty step backwards!

kind regards
John Wickenden

11:33 PM  

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