Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire and some scholars say that Constantinople was one of the largest cities in history. Constantinople had a population estimated between 400,000 and 500,000 inhabitants. Constantinople played a crucial role during several periods in history; Constantinople witnessed the separation of Christianity into its Eastern and Western branches (the Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholicism) and Constantinople was the center of commerce and trade during the Byzantine Empire.
Constantinople had a very strong economy which mainly consisted of exporting textiles and importing goods such as gold, silver, glass and slaves. Constantinople’s geographic location near several major empires allowed Constantinople to have an important role in international trade. Constantinople imported wine from France, fish from Egypt, salt from England, tin from Malaysia and spices from India while Constantinople exported silk to China around 12th century A. D.
According to some scholars Constantinople managed to run a large budget surplus by using low tax rates which attracted merchants looking for low-tax countries where they could do business. It was common practice during Byzantine times that when foreign traders sold their merchandise at Constantinople’s markets they would immediately purchase an equivalent value of Constantinople’s local goods.
Constantinople had a large workforce that consisted largely of skilled craftsmen and foreign merchants who visited Constantinople from all over the world to sell their merchandise were often amazed by Constantinople’s cheap labor costs, since Constantinople’s authorities would not allow foreign merchants to own shops in Constantinople and they also prevented foreigners from obtaining any official employment position in Constantinople.
Constantinople became a center of learning during Constantine I’ period where legal studies, philosophy, medical science and theology were taught at during universities that were established in Constantinople. Byzantine art was considered as one of the most beautiful artistic works of its time with some scholars suggesting that Byzantine paintings which depicted Jesus Christ as an infant provided an example of “softness, gracefulness” and “sweetness of temper”. Constantinople’s libraries contained hundreds of thousands of manuscripts that mainly consisted on literature, philosophy, mathematics and medicine.
Constantinople also contributed to the history of art where statues by Greek sculptors were being exported to Constantinople from all over Greece since Constantinople was considered as a destination for connoisseurs in the field of art. Constantinople was also home to several Greek philosophers who played an important role in preserving Athens’ philosophical heritage during medieval times. Many events which changed history took place at Constantinople’s forum including Theodosius I’ declaration of Christianity as Rome’s official religion (380 A. D. ) and finding Pope Leo III guilty for adultery (799 A. D. ).
Constantinople witnessed the coronation of Charlemagne (800 A. D. ) and Constantinople’s forum also played an important role during Constantinople’s religious debates such as the debates between Judaism and Christianity. Constantinople was one of the greatest cities in history since Constantinople excelled in art, industry, architecture and international trade. However Constantinople suffered many attacks from foreign powers such as the siege by Rus’ troops (860-863 A. D. ), Ottoman Turks (1453 A. D. ) and a Catholic coalition led by Venice (1204 A. D. ).
History books often mention facts about Constantinople but what they fail to include is that Constantinople was a great city that witnessed many events that shaped history; Constantinople had thriving economy which made Constantinople one of the most desirable destinations for merchants around Europe to do business with but Constantinople also attracted thousands of thieves to Constantinople who were motivated by Constantinople’s thriving market economy. Constantinople was a great city but Constantinople eventually fell at the hands Ottoman Turks after surviving for an amazing thousand years.
Constantinople’s history is marred with many wars, therefore there are many events that take place at Constantinople which changed history since Constantinople was one of the most desirable destinations for merchants around Europe to do business with, Constantinople had low tax rates which made it attractive for foreigners looking for a good location where they could do business and Constantinople also attracted thousands of thieves who would travel to Constantinople to make money off its thriving market economy even though Constantinople managed to recover from these attacks.
In 330AD Constantinople began as a new capital for the Roman Empire, and under the rule of Constantine I it quickly grew to become one of the greatest cities in all of antiquity. Constantinople would grow from a humble city-state established by a barefoot man who lived 2000 years ago to become a dominant force in Europe and Asia.
The Byzantine Empire’s wealth came through Constantinople’s position at the center of world trade routes. Constantinople flourished due to its unique place on these trade routes between east and west. Constantinople had access to three seas: the Aegean Sea (south), the Sea of Marmara (center), and the Black Sea (north). The landlocked Black Sea provided safety, while Constantinople’s position on both coasts allowed easy access to the Mediterranean. Constantinople was placed at a crossroads of Roman and Greek civilizations, as well as between the Latin and Greek Orthodox churches. Constantinople grew so wealthy from trade that it had more gold than Venice, Milan or Pisa(1).
Constantinople’s great wealth allowed its citizens to become some of the most educated people of their time: Constantinople was home to one of the oldest libraries in Europe and may have been the largest library for centuries after it first opened. Constantinople also maintained extensive granaries; during times of war Constantinople’s granaries protected against enemy blockades leading to famines which might otherwise devastate Constantinople (2).
Constantinople also served as an arsenal, with armories holding over 100,000 bows and almost half a million quivers for archers. Constantinople is estimated to have held as much as 100,000 tons of wheat and corn(3). Constantinople’s port was also a prime source for revenue generation: Constantinople required boats entering the Bosphorus Strait to pay a tax on incoming goods.
Constantinople became an epicenter of Christianity during its third century, with Emperor Constantine I legalizing Christianity and transferring the capital from Rome to Constantinople in 330AD. The Byzantine Empire would remain a Christian state until 1453 when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans. Conversion from paganism continued under Constantine II who made Nicene Orthodoxy the empire’s official religion, while missionaries such as Saints Cyrillos and Methodios spread Greek language and culture throughout Slavic lands(4). Though Constantinople would face several sieges and battles with attackers such as Constantinople’s armies under Heraklonas and later Constans II, Constantinople’s wealth allowed it to be well-defended by land and sea.
Constantinople never had more than 500,000 inhabitants although this number likely included Constantinople’s suburbs(5). Constantinople proved impenetrable from both land and sea during the time of Justinian I; Constantinople would eventually fall to Mehmed II only after the city was starved for a year, leading to a surrender in which Constantine XI agreed to convert to Islam in order to secure his life so long as he could retain his title(6).
Constantinople typically only grew at a rate of about 1% per year up until 850AD. Constantinople’s decline started in 1050AD with Constantinople being attacked at regular intervals by the Seljuk Turks. Constantinople was starved again during the Fourth Crusade which ended with Constantinople coming under control of Venice, leading to Constantinople becoming re-Christianized again(7).
Constantinople finally fell for good after a final siege led by Mehmed II who had Constantinople surrounded on land and sea. Constantinople would never become as populous or wealthy as it once was, though Constantinople did enjoy periods of resurgences such as during the Komnenian period or when Emperor Manuel I helped attract artisans and scholars to Constantinople through his patronage of scholarship and education(8).