eThis far from the regions of the
eThis essay will attempt to analyse and explain all the causes and factors that lead to the choice of Constantinople as eastern capital of the empire. From the very outset the reasons for such a catalytic “move”, which provided the impetus for the creation of a new era, will be examined as lucidly as possible. To conclude, having appraised the above, much light will be thrown on the choice of Constantinople, amongst other locations, as the eastern capital of the empire in terms of geographical position, religious and economical factors.
Numerous were the reasons that gradually led to the movement of the empire to the East. Initially, Rome was very far from the regions of the shores of the Bosphorus and the river Euphrates and thus unable to confront effectively the empire’s most significant enemies (the Goths and the Persians) that had made their appearance from the 3rd century. Additionally, Rome, a centre of paganism, with its memories of municipal traditions and “republican sentiment, with its aristocratic, educated and fiercely traditionalist senators “, had begun to annoy the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (337-362). He, himself, was a vigorous supporter of Christianity and especially after the prolonged period of his successful confrontation with Licinius (314-323), he was convinced that the future belonged to the Christians and for that reason, he decided to turn decisively towards the East, which was the main source and origin of the new religion. Furthermore, from the 3rd century onwards, most of the emperors originated from provinces and did not share significant bonds with Rome. What Constantine visualised instead of sacrifices to pagan deities and four emperors with irregular courts and capitals, was an empire with one emperor and one established capital, along with a splendid innovative church devoted to the glory of the one true God . He therefore regarded the foundation of a new city as the most important symbol of his deeper aim, the renewal of the empire.
In 324, the old Greek trading city of Byzantium (modern Istanbul) was chosen by Constantine the Great as the ultimate spot for the new city that would form the headquarters of the empire in the East and was renamed after his own name, Constantinople (Constantinou-polis). It is a fact that among the fundamental criteria for choosing this specific location were its strategic geographical position between Europe and Asia, its strategic value for the command of the seas and of the main routes over-land from East to West and from North to South, as well as the right connection between the centre and the periphery of the Empire. Constantinople with its pure and tender climate was situated exactly at the threshold of Asia in a surrounding region at the eastern end of the Thracian peninsula, between the shores of the Bosphorus, Propontis (the Sea of Marmora) and the Keratius gulf (the Golden Horn) and occupied the most eastern end of this wide triangular region . This site not only united Europe and Asia but also created a bridge of communications between the Black Sea and all Southern Russia with the greater part of Europe and Asia, and even with distant America. Constantinople was surrounded by water on all sides apart from the west, which would be protected by walls. More specifically, its southern coast was doused by Propontis, while its north-eastern side was blessed by nature with a wide, deep and navigable harbour of approximately 5 miles in length, which constituted a magnificent natural port and a practically impregnable rampart, known from the ancient years as the Golden Horn. Additionally, not only was Constantinople now closer to the Roman Empire’s enemies, but even an attack from the sea would be easier said than done as Propontis, was protected by two oblong straits (Bosphorus in the East and Ellispontos in the West) .
Apart from its geographical location, Constantine the Great was intrigued by Constantinople’s position from an economical aspect as well, since it was situated in the crossroad between trading routes of major significance at the time. These routes, subdivided into the maritime and the territorial route, served as a link between the Black Sea and the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas and