Byzantium

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Byzantium was a city now known as Istanbul, pronounced 'biz-ANT-i-erm (or oom'), IPA: /bɪz ˈænt ɪ ə (or u)m/, or, less commonly, 'buy-ZANT-i-um (or oom), /baɪ ˈzænt ɪ ə (or u)m/. Between these two names, it was called Constantinople. The adjective meaning 'to do with Byzantium' is Byzantine.

  • The original city was a Greek colony. The legends state that it was founded by king Byzas of Megara around 670 BCE. Its Greek name, Βυζάντιον (byzantion) is derived from his name (Βὐζας).
  • Its site, on the southern tip of the northern side of the Hellespont at the gateway to the Black Sea, with good anchorage in the Golden Horn, made it ideal for the Emperor Constantine to choose for the new capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Building of a new city on the old site was begun in 326 CE, and Constantinople (from the Greek meaning 'city of Constantine') was consecrated in 330. It was the capital of the Empire, and home of the Eastern Emperors, until it fell.
  • In 1453, the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed or Mehmet II ('Mehmed the Conqueror') captured Constantinople. (He was aged 21 at the time, and deserves much credit for his strategy and determination.) The Fall of Constantinople was marked by looting of plunder, rape and enslavement of the able-bodied Christian defenders and slaughter of many of the rest. The city was renamed Istanbul, and served as the capital of the Ottoman Empire until 1923, when, with the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, the capital was moved to Ankara. Istanbul is still the name of the city on the Bosporus.


Two poems by W.B. Yeats, 'Sailing to Byzantium' (1926) and 'Byzantium' (1930), use Byzantium as a symbol of riches, and of spirituality and religion. The sacred city is a home of art and seriousness.