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Byzantine, later Constantinople, now Istanbul. In the 7th century bc Dorian Greeks founded the settlement of Byzantium on a trapezoidal promontory on the European side of the Bosporus channel which leads from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea and separates Europe from Asia. Thus began a city which has been occupied to the present day and which was the successor of Rome as the capital of both an empire and a civilization. The city’s first millennium is known mainly from literary evidence. It prospered from its strategic position, but fell successively under the domination of Achaemenid Persians (c512-478 bc), Athenian Greeks (478-339 bc), Hellenistic Greek kings (until 2nd century bc), the Roman Republic (up to 30 bc) and thereafter Roman emperors. One of these, Septimus Severus (ad 193-211), after initially damaging it, was responsible for restoring the city, re-walling it and beginning the construction of the limestone racecourse (Hippodrome). The greatest period of the city’s existence followed the year 330 AD when the first Christian emperor, Constantine, inaugurated Byzantium, now renamed Constantinopolis, as the new capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The ‘new Rome’ became the inspirational force of the Christian Byzantine Empire, with its unique blend of late Roman and Greek culture. The city flourished over the succeeding centuries and in terms of its architecture and other aspects of civilized life became one of the finest cities in the world. Constantine himself erected new walls, churches and (in his Forum) a porphyry (‘Burnt’) column with relief sculture; he founded the imperial palace and finished Severus’ Hippodrome. His successors continued its embellishment. In 368 Valens raised his still impressive aqueduct. Theodosius I ‘the Great’ (379-395) adorned the Hippodrome with an Egyptian granite obelisk on a base with reliefs, still standing; in 400-401 his son Arcadius erected a column. In 413 Theodosius II built the colossal surviving walls of stone and brick-faced concrete, 19 km long with 96 variously shaped towers and the principal entrance at the Golden Gate. A column and church of Marcianus (450-457) remain. Even more splendid were the works of Justinian (527-565). Probably his were the marble Hippodrome seating, great cisterns and realistic white-ground palace mosaics; certainly his were several churches, above all the domed, richly embellished Hagia Sophia. Constantinople withstood successive outside attacks throughout its history and was once conquered by Frankish knights during the Fourth Crusade in 1204; it was finally lost to Christendom when it was besieged and captured by the Turks in 1453. In spite of the renaming of the city by Constantine, it is the older name that survives in the term Byzantine, used to describe the Eastern Christian Empire and the civilization that developed under the inspiration of the new faith. The Byzantines were responsible for preserving much of Greek and Roman culture, but they also provided an avenue for eastern ideas to reach the west. Mixed eastern and western influences are most clearly seen in the field of architecture: the great domed churches of 6th-century Constantinople Hagia Sophia, SS Sergius and Bacchus and St Eirene reflect Persian as well as Roman building traditions. In decorative art, the Byzantines excelled at mosaics, which they used mainly for walls and ceilings, rather than for floors. Fine Byzantine mosaics, using, among other materials, gilt glass, survive in Asia Minor and in Greece, but some of the finest examples of all are found in the West in Palermo and Ravenna.

The Macmillan dictionary of archaeology, Ruth D. Whitehouse, 1983Copied