Evidences obtained from archaeological remains indicate that people began to inhabit the proximities of contemporary Istanbul for approximately thousands of years ago. At about 5000 B. C. , a thick and sprawling population of individuals inhabited the fertile grounds of Istanbul. The Greek people all the way from Megara and Miletus started to rest upon the soils situated along the coasts of the Black Sea as well as the Bosporus back in the latter years of eight century B. C. The year 660 B. C. witnessed the colonization of Byzantium by Byzas, the founder of the colony whose origins trace to Megarian roots.
As expected, the name of the colony was patterned after his name. Due to the strategic location of Byzantium, it easily gained dominance over the region in terms of economy which eventually led to the attention of numerous would-be conquerors. Along the path of the Golden Horn, Byzantium was founded which bestowed it with the most suitable harbour all-over the region. The agricultural prosperity of Byzantium can be largely attributed to the abundance of fish as well as the surrounding countryside which was fertile enough to support plants for agriculture.
Next to Byzantium, a safe harbour was efficiently provided for by the inlet of the Golden Horn which was near Bosporus. This area was considered as a major maritime route back in those times as it linked the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea. Byzantium eventually found itself struggling amidst the powers trying to conquer and dominate over the city—Persians, Greeks, Spartans and Athenians all drew their swords and took away lives for the sake of taking the city under their control. Such was the major importance of Byzantium during those times where its prosperity was seemingly beyond imagination.
Even the Gauls attacked the city during the third century and in 202 B. C. the city sought the help and protection from Rome after being taken over by Macedonians. Eventually, the city was absorbed as a vital part of the Roman empire back in 73 B. C. During 196 A. D. , the city was caught on the wrong side after the creation of a power struggle in the Roman empire. As economically powerful as Byzantium may seem, it was not able to respond and resist the struggle which eventually trickled down the capabilities of the cities as it paid dearly.
A large number of the residents were murdered as well as a significant portion of Byzantium was obliterated through the leadership of the Roman emperor Septimus Severus. Apparently, the Rman emperor had to rebuild the entire city starting off with the ruins as the wake of the power struggle. In the process, Byzantium was able to manage itself and continue to progress amidst threats and occurrences of civil wars as well as rebellions which smothered all-over the Roman empire through the many years to follow.
However, Constantine I routed his foe, emperor Licinius, on September 18, 324. Constantine I was able to unify the broad territory of the Roman empire and made it follow his leadership. The Roman empire eventually made Byzantium as the prime capital of the region which extended to as far as three continents. Byzantium eventually gained a new name—Constantinople—after being briefly known as the New Rome named in honor of Constantine who was the first Roman ruler to embrace the doctrines of Christianity.
During its time, Constantinople gained much reputation and wealth making it one of the world’s most economically advanced cities. The city was almost untouchable in status, having the power to dictate the doctrines of the Christian religion and to amass huge amounts of wealth up until the eleventh century. As the meeting points between the East and the West became largely attributed to Constantinople, it was no surprise that all roads were now focused on the wealthy city of Constantine. In 395 A. D. the whole of the Roman Empire was divided into the West and the East especially after the death of Theodosius. The Eastern Roman Empire adopted Constantinople as its central city or capital which was later referred to as the Byzantine Empire as a reminder of its brilliant past. Through the course of time, Constantinople further advanced as the core of the Greek Orthodox Christian realm. With its immense financial resources, the wealth of the Byzantine Empire gave it the capacity to transform Constantinople as a beautiful city far beyond compare.
The splendour and majesty of Constantinople is perhaps owed to the well-paid architects who designed majestic churches and splendid palaces as well as artists and sculptors also contributed a large fraction of the city’s aesthetic transformation. One notable structure ever to be erected is the hippodrome which could hold more than a hundred thousand spectators. Eventually, the walls of the city were further built into a seemingly impenetrable protective layer as threats of invasion from rivalling forces never dwindled.
Almost half million citizens inhabited Constantinople under the rule of Emperor Justinian from 527 to 565 A. D. The Emperor took full control of the creation of some of Constantinople’s most majestic buildings which include the Haghia Sophia, one of the largest churches during the height of the prosperity of Constantinople. The Byzantine empire’s capital reached its full blom under the helm of Emperor Justinian. Even though Constantinople continued to supplement its wealthy advancement with protective measures, enemies from the outside were inevitably attracted to the splendour of the city. A few years after, the city was devastated with a plague in 542 A. D. which claimed the lives of three of every five citizens.
This, unfortunately, brought the beginning of the city’s fall. As the city weakened in terms of its population both in size and strength, the enemies of Constantinople took the opportunity to besiege the city. Apparently, the enemies were unable to successfully conquer the city as the walls of Constantinople proved impenetrable. Attacks on the city mounted between the seventh and eleventh century A. D. which include forces from Persian Sassanids, Bulgars, Avars, Russians, and Muslim Arabs.
At the time of the Fourth Crusade, the Latins were able to break the walls of Constantinople and captured the capital of the Byzantine Empire in 1204 A. D until 1261 less than a century of captivity when the Byzantine forces reclaimed the capital. At the height of captivity, however, Constantinople was greatly diminished in terms of wealth and infrastructure as the invading forces plundered precious jewels and any other item they deemed were of sufficient value. The entire population diminished to half a hundred thousand during that time, and the citizens suffered greatly from famine. In 1396, the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople and built a fort on the Asian side of the Bosporus Sea in order to hinder aid from reaching the city. However, the capital would not fall for a few more years.
On the 29th day of May, the Ottoman leader Mehmed was able to tear down the city walls and penetrate the city which ultimately signalled the fall of the era of Constantinople’s Christian church and the commencement of Muslim rule over the land. Apparently, the Muslims transformed the Haghia Sophia into a Muslim temple. In 1457, the capital of the Byzantine Empire was already known as Istanbul which later became the central point of the Ottoman Empire. Mehmed began to repopulate the city after the siege and within a few years time, Istanbul gained a considerable increase in population, roughly amounting to approximately 50,000 inhabitants.
Ottoman Istanbul was able to achieve its peak during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent, and perhaps the most notable buildings ever to be erected during those times, roughly amounting to 300 buildings, were the creations of chief architect Sinan. These efforts to restructure Ottoman Istanbul were significant as it signalled the dawning of a new Istanbul, one which is uniquely Ottoman in identity. Throughout time, Ottoman Istanbul opened its doors to the outside world in order to obtain a harmonious relationship with the other cities and states.
This resulted to the expansion of the city’s population, now having a mixture of different races such as Jews, Christians, Armenians and other citizens. Influence on Ottoman Istanbul rule was apparently being influenced by many different forces from these races. Eventually, Istanbul became influenced with the modernization of the world. Europeans began to build a railroad system which connects the whole continent with Istanbul by the 1870s. As a result, the Ottoman empire became placed under the debt of European powers.
These would later result to power struggles from within the empire, complicated all the more by the struggling influences from the Europeans to whom they were indebted with. In consequence, these developments in the Ottoman empire especially in Istanbul uring the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would signal the downfall of the Ottoman empire and would mark the commencement of the Turkish Republic. Today, Istanbul remains as a fervent reminder of how a city once so powerful became so absorbed into the desire for power which led to its own subjugation and diminishment of power in the following years.
Courtney from Study Moose
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