Byzantine Constantinople

The ancient Byzantine city of Constantinople, named after the Roman emperor Constantine is in modern day Turkey. Learn about its rise and fall.

Many years ago, the Roman emperor, Constantine decided to move the capital of his empire from Rome to a city called Byzantium. Constantine The Great was the first Roman emperor to adopt Christianity. The son of Constantius I, he was born at Naissus, known today as Yugoslavia about AD 280.

The emperor increased the size of the city and added artistic and literary treasures and even changed its name to Constantinople, which means "city of Constantine." Byzantium today is the country we call Turkey. It became known as the largest and most famous medieval European city. Built on seven hills above the Bosporus, it had splendid buildings such as the church of Hagia Sophia. The emperor's palace was described as being a city inside the palace.

Later the people of Turkey fought against the people of Constantinople and defeated them. The Turks took control of the city and renamed it, Istanbul. Some could not accept this and still referred to it as Constantinople. Down through the centuries people used both names until 1930 when it was officially named Istanbul. "Istanbul" is a Turkish word meaning "to the city."

Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey and is known as one of the oldest cities in the world. But today you can still hear people call it Constantinople. After it fell to the Turks, the population was almost wiped out but the city recovered in a hurry. The Ottoman sultans decorated the city by building great palaces and mosques. Constantinople is actually the former capital of the Byzantine Empire and of the Ottoman Empire.

On April 13, 1204, The Latin Empire of Constantinople was established when the Fourth Crusade conquered and destroyed Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantium Empire. They were basically comprised of French, Venetians, and Italians generally referred to as Franks or Latins.

The Crusaders elected Baldwin IX (1171-1205) Count of Flanders, as their emperor and he became known as Baldwin I. From the very beginning the Latin emperor's authority was limited by constitutional restrictions. The Venetians held complete control over the former Byzantine lands including the Crete and Aegean islands. Baldwin I could not act without the approval of his council made up of Frankish barons and Venetians.

In 1205, Baldwin I was captured by a Vlach-Bulgarian army. He later died in prison in Bulgaria. His brother Henry succeeded him and fought against his brother's enemies, which included the banished Byzantines at Nicaea and the Vlach-Bulgarian, kings. Henry's successors, Peter of Courtenay, Robert of Courtenay, John of Brienne and Baldwin II were incompetent as rulers.

In the final years of the once great empire it had diminished so that it depended on the support and financial aid of the Venetian navy and Louis IX of France. Baldwin II made frequent trips to western Europe seeking aid and was even humiliated to the point of having to mortgage his own son for a loan from Venice.

After 1240 the supremacy of the Latin emperor went no further than the walls of his capital. In 1261 the Byzantine army of Michael VIII Palaeologus captured Constantinople and Baldwin II escaped by the aid of a Venetian ship. In 1453 Muhammad II seized Constanople and even after World War I Constantinople was occupied by the Allies from 1918 to 1923. In 1923 Kemal Ataturk made Ankara Turkey's capital.

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