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Byzantium (Greek: Βυζάντιον) was an ancient Greek city. The name "Byzantium" is a Latinization of the original name Byzantion.

The city became the center of the Byzantine Empire, (the Greek-speaking Roman Empire of late Antiquity and the Middle Ages), but at that time it was already called Constantinople.



The origins of Byzantium are not clear. There is only a legend. It tells that a certain Byzas from Megara (a town near Athens), founded Byzantium, when he sailed northeast across the Aegean Sea. He had asked the Oracle at Delphi where he should found his new city. The Oracle told him to find it "opposite the blind." At the time, he did not know what this meant. But when he came upon the Bosporus he realized what it meant: on the Asiatic shore was a Greek city, Chalcedon. It was they who must have been blind because they had not seen that obviously superior land was just a half mile away on the other side of the Bosporus. Byzas founded his city here in this "superior" land and named it Byzantion after himself.

History before Constantine I

Byzantion was mainly a trading city due to its strategic location at the Black Sea's only entrance. Byzantion later conquered Chalcedon, across the Bosporus.

When it fought with Pescennius Niger against the victorious Septimius Severus, the city was besieged by Roman forces and suffered extensive damage in 196 AD. Byzantium was rebuilt by Septimius Severus, when he had become emperor, and quickly regained its earlier prosperity.

Center of the Eastern Roman Empire

When Roman Emperor Constantine I decided to move his capital to the Eastern part of the Roman Empire he chose the place of Byzantion because of its strategical value. He refounded it, in 330 AD, as Nova Roma. After his death the city was called Constantinople ('city of Constantine'). It remained the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, which was later called the Byzantine Empire by historians.


Following the legend the citizens of Byzantium claimed the crescent moon as their state symbol, after an important victory in 670 BC. However, the origin of the crescent and star as a symbol dates back much earlier - to ancient Babylon and ancient Egypt. But Byzantium was the first city that used the crescent moon as its symbol. In 330 AD Constantine I added the Virgin Mary's star to the flag.

Related pages

  • Constantinople details the history of the city before the Turkish conquest of 1453
  • Istanbul, describes the modern city
  • Jeffreys, Elizabeth and Michael, and Moffatt, Ann. 1981. Byzantine Papers: Proceedings of the First Australian Byzantine Studies Conference, Canberra, 17-19 May 1978. Australian National University, Canberra.

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