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Constantinople and the Byzantine Legacy

The Byzantine Empire, as the continuation of the Roman Empire, lasted around a millennium after the fall of the city of Rome in the fifth century. The Romans, as they always called themselves, experience massive territorial losses - first losing the Western Roman Empire to Germanic tribes, then eastern provinces like Egypt and Syria to the Caliphate in the seventh century. Even as it lost territory, the empire, based on its magnificent city Constantinople, resiliently persisted and even flourished. Only centuries later, after multiple periods of recovery, was finally conquered by the Ottomans. 

Constantinople, as the New Rome, was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe for significant periods of the Medieval Era. Starting in Late Antiquity, Byzantine culture shifted away from classical paganism, while at the same time incorporating its themes, motifs, and traditions into the new Christian art. Constantinople and other regional cities hosted the Ecumenical Councils that established Christian doctrine accepted by a majority of Christians, including Catholic, Orthodox, and many Protestant Christians. As the great imperial Christian city, it played a major role in converting Europe to Christianity. Constantinople’s wealth also made it one of the great centers of art and architecture for many centuries. It was responsible for preserving numerous classical texts, including the works of Homer, Thucydides, Plato, and Sophocles. While its own rich literary texts, which include important historical sources, have not been as appreciated, scholars fleeing to the West played an important role in the Renaissance. 

This Eastern Roman Empire, with the ‘Queen of Cities’ as its capital, influenced cultures far and wide for many centuries - from Venetians or Germanic tribes and kingdoms of the West to the Russians, Arabs, and Turks to the north and east. At the same time, as one of the most important trade centers of its age often under threat, it was significantly affected by other cultures as well. Constantinople itself became the imperial Muslim city at the heart of the mighty Ottoman Empire, where its legacy continued as the Sultans also considered themselves Roman emperors. Even as Byzantine Constantinople and its once-great empire continued faded into obscurity, the legends and authority of Constantinople continued to be influential over the succeeding centuries. Over time, though, it became easier to dismissed or even condemn New Rome and its legacy for its many supposed failures.

Today, the ruins and relics of Byzantium, often neglected, ignored, or misunderstood, are scattered across multiple countries and museums. This site is dedicated to exploring and documenting this legacy.

Illustration by Jean-Léon Huens
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