Constantinople and the Byzantine Legacy

The Byzantine Empire, as the continuation and successor to the Roman Empire, lasted around a millennium after the fall of the city of Rome in the 5th century. The Romans, as they always called themselves, saw massive territorial losses – first losing the Western Roman Empire to Germanic tribes, then provinces like Egypt and Syria to the Caliphate, before finally being conquered by the Ottomans. Yet as it lost territory, the empire, based on its grand city Constantinople, resiliently persisted and even flourished.
Constantinople was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe significant periods of the Medieval Era. As the great imperial Christian city, it played a large role in converting Europe to Christianity. Constantinople and other regional cities hosted the Ecumenical Councils that established Christian doctrine accepted by most Christians, including Catholic, Orthodox, and many Protestant Christians. It was responsible for preserving a large number of classical texts, including the works of Homer, Thucydides, Plato, and Sophocles. Constantinople’s wealth also made it one of the great centers of art and architecture, for many centuries. This includes Late Antiquity, which involved a shift away from classical paganism, while at the same time incorporating its themes, motifs, and traditions into the new Christian art.

This grand continuation of the Roman Empire, with the ‘Queen of Cities’ as its capital, allowed for it to influence cultures far and wide – 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, it was also affected by other cultures. Even as if faded into obscurity, the legend and authority of Constantinople continued to be influential. Constantinople itself became the great imperial Muslim city at the heart of the mighty Ottoman Empire, where its legacy continued as the Sultans also called themselves Roman emperors. While Constantinople and its once-great empire had a profound influence on the Renaissance, the Byzantine legacy began to wane thereafter, attacked or dismissed 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