The History of Byzantium: From a Legend to an Empire

Byzantium is a word that may not be familiar to most people. It sounds like a chemical element from the periodic table, but it is, in fact, the name of a historical town that was founded by a legendary king named Byzas in the 7th century BC. This article will explore the history of Byzantium, from its foundation to its transformation into the capital of the Roman Empire, and the adoption of the term “Byzantine Empire” by historians.

Part 1: Byzantium as a Town

According to the legend, King Byzas was looking for new land for his people, so he went to the temple of Apollon in Delphi and asked the oracle to tell him the best spot to find this land. The oracle told him to find the land across the land of the blinds. Byzas’ search has started, and he finally arrived at a land where there was no settlement. He realizes that it is a beautiful and very safe peninsula. He was astonished. He goes to the edge of the first hill of the land, spotting a settlement across the strait. King Byzas thinks, “Why would anyone settle there instead of this beautiful land. Those people must be blind!” Of course, this was interesting because now he sees that he finds the land across the land of the blinds. He builds his new town and names it Byzantium.

Part 2: Constantinople as the New Capital

From the 7th century BC until the 4th century AD, Byzantium remained an unimportant little town. However, in 324 AD, when Constantine the Great becomes the new Roman emperor, things changed history because he was the first Christian emperor after 300 years of oppression by the Roman Empire against the Christians. Constantine wanted to move the capital to a safer area where he could build the new capital. Among other candidates, he visits Byzantium, a peninsula that has natural convenience for protection, and chose this little town to become the new capital of Rome in 330 AD. He calls it Nova Roma, which will later change to Constantinople, the city of Constantine. So, from 330 AD until 1453 AD, Constantinople was the capital of the Roman Empire.

Part 3: The Byzantine Empire

After the death of Theodosius I in 395 AD, the Roman Empire was split into two parts: the Western Roman Empire, where the capital was Rome, and the Eastern Roman Empire, where the capital was Constantinople. In 410 AD, the Goths destroyed the Western Roman Empire, leaving only the Eastern Roman Empire. It continued as the Roman Empire, but historians wanted to distinguish the cultural, religious, political, etc. differences between the two parts of the Roman Empire. So, they decided to call the Eastern part the “Byzantine Empire” coming from Byzantium because the empire’s government was in ancient Byzantium.

Although historians used the term Byzantine starting from the 16th century, it was not a popular word until the 19th century. The Byzantine Empire lasted until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD, which marked the end of the Roman Empire.


In summary, Byzantium is a historical town that was founded by King Byzas in the 7th century BC. It became the new capital of Rome in 330 AD, under the name Constantinople. The Eastern Roman Empire continued as the Roman Empire, but historians adopted the term “Byzantine Empire” to distinguish it from the Western Roman Empire. Although the Byzantine Empire lasted for more than 1,000 years, it eventually fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, marking the end of the Roman Empire and the beginning of a new era in the history of the Eastern Mediterranean. The fall of Constantinople was a major turning point in world history and had significant cultural, religious, and political implications that reverberated throughout Europe and the Middle East for centuries to come. Despite its ultimate defeat, the Byzantine Empire left a lasting legacy in the form of its art, architecture, literature, and legal code, which have influenced Western civilization to this day.

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Umit Yildirim