Constantine the Great and the Eastern Roman Empire

Constantine's Footprints: Exploring the Eastern Roman Empire's Rich History

9/20/20233 min read

time lapse photography of cars on road during night time
time lapse photography of cars on road during night time

In the annals of history, few figures have left as indelible a mark as Constantine the Great. Born in the city of Naissus (modern-day Niš, Serbia) in 272 AD, Constantine would ascend to the throne of the Roman Empire and earn his place as one of its most transformative emperors. His reign, spanning from 306 to 337 AD, marked a turning point in Roman history, forever shaping the course of the empire and the world.

Constantine's significance lies not only in his military and political prowess but also in his religious impact. It was during his rule that Christianity began its remarkable ascent from the margins of Roman society to its eventual position as the state religion. His conversion to Christianity, culminating in the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, granted religious tolerance to all faiths within the Roman Empire, setting the stage for Christianity's eventual dominance.

One of Constantine's most enduring legacies was his visionary decision to establish a new imperial capital in the East. Byzantium, strategically located on the border of Europe and Asia, was selected as the site for this groundbreaking endeavor. Renamed Constantinople in his honor, this city would go on to become the heart of the Eastern Roman Empire, which is often referred to as the Byzantine Empire.

Constantinople's strategic location at the crossroads of continents made it an economic, political, and cultural powerhouse. Under Constantine's rule and those of his successors, the city rapidly evolved into a magnificent metropolis adorned with architectural marvels, artistic treasures, and a rich tapestry of cultures.

Today, Istanbul stands as a living museum of the Eastern Roman Empire's enduring legacy. As you follow in the footsteps of Constantine the Great, you can embark on a captivating journey through time, discovering numerous historical sites and remnants of this glorious era:

1. Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya): Originally built as a cathedral by Constantine's son, Constantius II, it was later transformed into a Byzantine masterpiece under the patronage of Emperor Justinian. Its majestic dome and resplendent mosaics bear witness to the cultural fusion of the Eastern Roman Empire.

2. Hippodrome of Constantinople: Once the vibrant social center of Byzantine life, this historic arena hosted chariot races, public gatherings, and imperial ceremonies. While the grandstands have disappeared, you can still marvel at the Egyptian Obelisk, Serpent Column, and the German Fountain in the Sultanahmet Square.

3. Topkapi Palace: Situated on the foundations of the ancient acropolis of Byzantium, this opulent palace served as the residence of Byzantine and later Ottoman emperors. Exploring its stunning courtyards, opulent chambers, and priceless collections provides a vivid glimpse into the splendor of the past.

4. Basilica Cistern: An atmospheric underground reservoir, constructed during Emperor Justinian's reign, features rows of hauntingly lit columns and the mesmerizing Medusa head columns bases.

5. Walls of Constantinople: Some sections of the massive defensive walls, constructed primarily during the reign of Theodosius II in the 5th century, still stand tall, offering insights into the city's formidable fortifications.

6. Chora Church (Kariye Museum): Admire the intricate mosaics and frescoes that tell the story of Christianity through art. The Chora Church's exquisite decorations are testaments to the Byzantine Empire's cultural and artistic achievements.

7. Church of St. Savior in Chora: Another hidden gem showcasing remarkable Byzantine mosaics and frescoes, this church adds depth to the city's artistic heritage.

8. Byzantine Hippodrome Obelisks: In addition to those found in the Hippodrome, Istanbul boasts other ancient Egyptian obelisks, such as the Obelisk of Theodosius in the Sultanahmet Square, each with its own storied history.

9. Wandering the Historic Streets: As you meander through Istanbul's historic neighborhoods, particularly the old city (Sultanahmet), you'll encounter relics of the Byzantine past. These charming streets offer a seamless blend of ancient history and vibrant contemporary life, inviting you to experience the enduring spirit of Byzantium.

By immersing yourself in this historical journey, you'll not only trace the footsteps of Constantine the Great but also gain a profound appreciation for the enduring legacy of the Byzantine Empire in modern-day Istanbul. Each step you take in this mesmerizing city unveils a new chapter in the rich tapestry of history, art, and culture that has defined Istanbul for centuries.