Constantinople, now known as Istanbul, is one of the world’s most historically significant cities. Founded by Greek colonists as Byzantium in 667 BC, the city has been the capital of four different empires: the Roman Empire (under Constantine the Great), the Byzantine Empire, the Latin Empire, and the Ottoman Empire.
Located strategically on the Bosporus strait, linking the Aegean and Black Seas, the city has always been a significant trade and cultural hub. Renamed Constantinople in 330 AD by Roman Emperor Constantine I, it served as an important center for the Roman and Byzantine Empires for over a millennium.
Constantinople was known for its architectural marvels, such as the Hagia Sophia, a symbol of Byzantine grandeur. The city’s influence waned and waxed over centuries, marked by periods of conflict and peace.
It survived sieges from the Arabs and the Rus’, was conquered during the Fourth Crusade, and was retaken by the Byzantines, only to fall eventually to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
Under the Ottomans, who renamed the city Istanbul, it continued to flourish. Even when Ankara became the capital of modern Turkey in 1923, Istanbul retained its cultural and economic significance.
Today, it stands as a vibrant city that straddles both Europe and Asia, embodying a rich blend of historical layers and cultures.
|667 BC||Byzantium is founded by the Greeks.|
|196 AD||The Romans under Emperor Septimius Severus sack Byzantium |
during the Roman civil war.
|330 AD||Roman Emperor Constantine I refounds the city as “Nova Roma” |
or “Constantinople”. It becomes the capital of the
Eastern Roman Empire.
|395 AD||After the death of Emperor Theodosius I, the Roman Empire is |
permanently split into the Western Roman Empire
(based in Rome) and the Eastern Roman Empire
(based in Constantinople). The Eastern Roman
Empire later becomes known as the Byzantine Empire.
|532-537 AD||The Hagia Sophia is built under Emperor Justinian I.|
|674-678 AD||First Arab Siege of Constantinople.|
|717-718 AD||Second Arab Siege of Constantinople.|
|860 AD||The Rus’ people, led by the Varangians, attack Constantinople.|
|1204 AD||During the Fourth Crusade, Crusaders sack Constantinople |
and establish the Latin Empire.
|1261 AD||The Byzantines under Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos |
recapture Constantinople and reestablish the Byzantine Empire.
|1453 AD||The city falls to the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, |
marking the end of the Byzantine Empire.
The city is renamed Istanbul.
|1923 AD||After the Turkish War of Independence, Ankara becomes the capital |
of the new Republic of Turkey, but Istanbul remains the cultural
and economic center of the country.
Timeline of Constantinople
Byzantium is founded by the Greeks (667 BC)
The city, originally named Byzantium, was established by Greek colonists from Megara in 667 BC. The city was strategically located on the European side of the Bosporus, the narrow strait connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.
Also Read: Facts About Constantinople
This allowed control of the trade routes and made the city a key commercial and strategic point. According to legend, the city was named after the leader of the colonists, Byzas.
The Romans under Emperor Septimius Severus sack Byzantium during the Roman civil war (196 AD)
During the Year of the Five Emperors (193 AD), several Roman leaders vied for control of the Roman Empire.
Byzantium had backed the wrong claimant to the throne (Pescennius Niger), and when Emperor Septimius Severus came to power, he besieged and sacked Byzantium as punishment in 196 AD. The city walls were demolished, and the city was left in ruins.
Roman Emperor Constantine I refounds the city as “Nova Roma” or “Constantinople” (330 AD)
In 324 AD, Emperor Constantine I, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, won the civil war against his rival Licinius and became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire.
Constantine understood the strategic importance of Byzantium and decided to make it the new capital of the Roman Empire. He expanded the city, adorned it with public works, and officially dedicated it as “Nova Roma,” or “New Rome,” on May 11, 330 AD.
However, due to Constantine’s influence and popularity, the city soon began to be referred to as “Constantinople,” or “City of Constantine.”
After the death of Emperor Theodosius I, the Roman Empire is permanently split into the Western Roman Empire (based in Rome) and the Eastern Roman Empire (based in Constantinople) (395 AD)
Emperor Theodosius I was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire. When he died in 395 AD, his sons Honorius and Arcadius inherited the western and eastern halves respectively, marking a permanent division.
The Eastern Roman Empire, with its capital in Constantinople, would survive for another thousand years and is more commonly known as the Byzantine Empire, especially in modern historiography.
The Hagia Sophia is built under Emperor Justinian I (532-537 AD)
Emperor Justinian I, one of the most important Byzantine emperors, commissioned the construction of the Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom”) as part of his efforts to restore the greatness of the Roman Empire.
This grand architectural feat was completed in just five years, from 532 to 537 AD, and was the third church of Holy Wisdom to occupy the site, the previous two having been destroyed by riots. The Hagia Sophia served as a central cathedral of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly a thousand years.
First Arab Siege of Constantinople (674-678 AD)
As the Muslim Arab Empires expanded, they came into conflict with the Byzantine Empire. The First Arab Siege of Constantinople began in 674 AD and lasted until 678 AD.
The Arabs hoped to conquer the Byzantine capital, but the city’s strong fortifications and the use of “Greek fire” (a type of incendiary weapon) by the Byzantine navy successfully held off the siege.
Second Arab Siege of Constantinople (717-718 AD)
The Second Arab Siege of Constantinople took place from 717-718 AD and was part of the Umayyad Caliphate’s expansion efforts. The Byzantines, led by Emperor Leo III, again used Greek fire and their superior navy to withstand the siege.
The failure of the siege marked a turning point in the Muslim expansion into Europe, and the Umayyad Caliphate’s power started to decline after this point.
The Rus’ people, led by the Varangians, attack Constantinople (860 AD)
The Rus’ people, who were early Eastern Slavs and the precursors to the Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians, attacked Constantinople in 860 AD.
Led by the Varangians (Vikings from Scandinavia who settled among the Slavic tribes), this attack was the first major confrontation between the Rus’ and the Byzantine Empire.
The siege lasted for weeks but ultimately ended in the Rus’ withdrawing, unable to breach the city’s defenses.
During the Fourth Crusade, Crusaders sack Constantinople and establish the Latin Empire (1204 AD)
The Fourth Crusade, which was originally intended to retake Jerusalem from Muslim control, veered off course and instead targeted Constantinople. The Crusaders, including many Venetians, sacked the city in April 1204.
Also Read: Crusades Facts
They looted many of the city’s artistic and religious treasures and damaged or destroyed numerous historic and sacred structures. Afterward, they established the Latin Empire, which lasted until 1261. Byzantine rule was relegated to a few small holdings outside the city.
The Byzantines under Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos recapture Constantinople and reestablish the Byzantine Empire (1261 AD)
Byzantine Greeks, based in the Empire of Nicaea, eventually managed to recapture their former capital. The city fell in a surprise attack led by General Alexios Strategopoulos in July 1261.
Upon reclaiming Constantinople, Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos moved the capital of his empire back to the city, effectively reestablishing the Byzantine Empire. The reestablishment marked the end of the Latin Empire.
The city falls to the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, marking the end of the Byzantine Empire (1453 AD)
The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 was a significant event in history. After a 53-day siege led by Sultan Mehmed II, the city’s defenses were breached, and the Byzantine Empire came to an end.
Mehmed declared the city the new capital of the Ottoman Empire, and it was renamed Istanbul. This event is often regarded as the end of the Middle Ages.
After the Turkish War of Independence, Ankara becomes the capital of the new Republic of Turkey, but Istanbul remains the cultural and economic center of the country (1923 AD)
Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the Turkish War of Independence led to the establishment of the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923. Ankara, located in the heart of the country and better positioned for control, was chosen as the new capital. However, Istanbul continued to hold significant cultural, historical, and economic importance for the country.