Byzantium - What Is It Really?

Byzantium is not a word that most people hear very often. It is, in fact, a very strange word for most people. What does it mean really? Is it sort of an element from the periodic table like Lithium? It sounds like it, doesn’t it?

Well, Byzantium is actually a historical town that was found by a legendary King Byzas in the 7th century BC.

According to the legend, Byzas was looking for a new land for his people, so he went to the temple of Apollon in Delphi and asks the oracle to tell him the best spot to find this land. The oracle finally tells him to find the land across the land of the blinds.

So Byzas’ search has started. He finally arrives at a land where there was no settlement. He realizes that it is a beautiful and very safe peninsula. He was clearly astonished.

Then 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!” This was interesting because now he sees that he actually find the land across the land of the blinds. He builds his new town and names it as Byzantium.

From the 7th century BC until the 4th century AD Byzantium remained an unimportant little town. In the 324 AD when Constantine the Great becomes the new Roman emperor things will change 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. As Byzantium is a peninsula which has natural convenience for protection he chose this little town to become the new capital of Rome in 330 AD. He calls it Nova Roma, which will later be changed as Constantinople, the city of Constantine. So, from 330 AD until 1453 AD Constantinople was the capital of the Roman Empire.

But what about the Byzantine Empire? Where did it come from? What does it have to do with Byzantium?

Well, the Byzantine Empire actually never existed in history. This is not a joke. People didn’t even know the term Byzantine Empire until 1557 AD, which is about hundred years later than the destruction of the Roman Empire.

In 1557 a German historian, Hieronymus Wolf published a book called Corpus Historiæ Byzantinæ. The term first used in that book and it comes from the word Byzantium. Confused? Let me clarify.

Byzantium or the by the new name Constantinople became the capital of the Roman Empire. In 395 AD after the death of Theodosius I, the empire was split into 2 parts: Western Roman Empire where the capital was Rome and Eastern Roman Empire where the capital was Constantinople. In 410 AD the western part was destroyed by the Goths. Only the Eastern Roman Empire remained. It actually continued as the Roman Empire but Hieronymus Wolf and other 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 was governed from the ancient Byzantium.

Although the term Byzantine was used starting from the 16th century it was never a popular word until the 19th century.

To summarize, when we use the term Byzantium or the Byzantine Empire we actually address the Eastern Roman Empire.

If you want to visit Byzantium / Constantinople which nowadays is called Istanbul do not hesitate to contact us. We would be more than happy to assist you.