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Byzantium (Greek: Βυζάντιον / Byzántion, Latin: , ) was an ancient Greek city, which was founded by Greek colonists from Megaramarker in 667 BC and named after their king Byzas or Byzantas (Βύζας or Βύζαντας in Greek). The name "Byzantium" is a Latinization of the original name Byzantion. The city is what later evolved to be the center of the Byzantine Empire (the Greek-speaking Roman Empire of late Antiquity and the Middle Ages) under the name of Constantinoplemarker. Constantinople fell to the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1453. The name of the city was changed to Istanbulmarker in 1930 following the establishment of modern Turkeymarker.


The origins of Byzantium are shrouded in legend. The traditional legend has it that Byzas from Megaramarker (a town near Athensmarker), founded Byzantium in 667 BC, when he sailed northeast across the Aegean Seamarker. Byzas had consulted the Oracle at Delphi to ask where to make his new city. The Oracle told him to found it "opposite the blind." At the time, he did not know what this meant. But when he came upon the Bosporusmarker he realized what it meant: on the east shore was a Greek city, Chalcedonmarker. However, according to legend, they had not noticed the land that lay a half-mile away. Byzas founded his city here on the European coast and named it Byzantion after himself. It was mainly a trading city due to its strategic location at the Black Seamarker's only entrance. Byzantion later conquered Chalcedon, across the Bosporus on the Asiatic side.

After siding 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, now emperor, and quickly regained its previous prosperity. The location of Byzantium attracted Roman Emperor Constantine I who, in 330 AD, refounded it as an imperial residence inspired by Rome itself. (See Nova Roma.) After his death the city was called Constantinoplemarker (Greek Κωνσταντινούπολις or Konstantinoupolis) ('city of Constantine'). It remained the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, which is called the Byzantine Empire by modern historians.This combination of imperialism and location would affect Constantinople's role as the nexus point between two continents: Europe and Asia. It was a commercial, cultural, and diplomatic magnet. With its strategic position, Constantinople did control the route between Asia and Europe, as well as the passage from the Mediterranean Seamarker to the Black Sea. On May 29, 1453, the city fell to the Ottoman Turks, and again became the capital of a powerful state, the Ottoman Empire. The Turks called the city Istanbulmarker (though not officially renamed until 1930) and it has remained Turkey's largest and most populous city, although Ankaramarker is now the capital.


Though associated with the Sassanid Persians and with Mithradates VI Eupator (who for a time incorporated the city into his empire), by the late Hellenistic or early Roman period, the star and crescent motif had been associated to some degree with Byzantium. For example, some Byzantine coins of the 1st century BC and later show the head of Artemis with bow and quiver, and feature a crescent with what appears to be a six-rayed star on the reverse. According to accounts which vary in some of the details, in 340 BC the Byzantines and their allies the Atheniansmarker were under siege by the troops of Philip of Macedon. On a particularly dark and wet night Philip attempted a surprise attack but was thwarted by the appearance of a bright light in the sky. This light is occasionally described by subsequent interpreters as a meteor, sometimes as the moon, and some accounts also mention the barking of dogs. However, the original accounts mention only a light in the sky, without specifying the moon. To commemorate the event the Byzantines erected a statue of Artemis (or Hecate) lampadephoros (light-bearer or bringer). This story survived in the works Hesychius of Miletus, who in all probability lived in the time of Justinian I. His works survive only in fragments preserved in Photius and the tenth century lexicographer Suidas. The tale is also related by Stephanus of Byzantium, and Eustathius.

Devotion to Hecate was especially favored by the Byzantines for her aid in having protected them from the incursions of Philip of Macedon. Her symbols were the crescent and star, and the walls of her city were her provenance.

It is unclear how the symbol of a particular goddess (one of many) would have been transferred to the city itself. If the Byzantines adopted the crescent and star as a symbol of their city after the events of the mid 4th Century BC, one is forced to wonder why they waited several hundred years before putting the symbol on only some of their coins.

Later, under the Romans, cities in the empire often continued to issue their own coinage. "Of the many themes that were used on local coinage, celestial and astral symbols often appeared, mostly stars or crescent moons." The wide variety of these issues, and the varying explanations for the significance of the star and crescent on Roman coinage precludes their discussion here. It is, however, apparent that by the time of the Romans, coins featuring a star or crescent in some combination were not at all rare.

Notable people

  • Homerus, tragedian, lived in the early 3rd century BC
  • Philo, engineer, lived ca. 280 BC–ca. 220 BC
  • Epigenes of Byzantium, astrologer, lived in the 3rd–2nd century BC

See also



  • Harris, Jonathan, Constantinople: Capital of Byzantium (Hambledon/Continuum, London, 2007). ISBN 978 1847251794
  • Jeffreys, Elizabeth and Michael, and Moffatt, Ann, Byzantine Papers: Proceedings of the First Australian Byzantine Studies Conference, Canberra, 17-19 May 1978 (Australian National University, Canberra, 1979).
  • Istanbul Historical Information - Istanbul Informative Guide To The City. Retrieved January 6, 2005.
  • The Useful Information about Istanbul. Retrieved January 6, 2005.
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (Oxford University Press, 1991) ISBN 0195046528

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