[bih-zan-shee-uhm, -tee-uhm]
Byzantium, ancient city of Thrace, on the site of the present-day Istanbul, Turkey. Founded by Greeks from Megara in 667 B.C., it early rose to importance because of its position on the Bosporus. In the Peloponnesian War it was captured and recaptured by the contending forces. It was taken (A.D. 196) by Roman Emperor Septimius Severus. Constantine I ordered (A.D. 330) a new city built there; this was Constantinople, later the capital of the Byzantine Empire.

Empire, southeastern and southern Europe and western Asia. It began as the city of Byzantium, which had grown from an ancient Greek colony founded on the European side of the Bosporus. The city was taken in AD 330 by Constantine I, who refounded it as Constantinople. The area at this time was generally termed the Eastern Roman Empire. The fall of Rome in 476 ended the western half of the Roman Empire; the eastern half continued as the Byzantine Empire, with Constantinople as its capital. The eastern realm differed from the west in many respects: heir to the civilization of the Hellenistic era, it was more commercial and more urban. Its greatest emperor, Justinian (r. 527–565), reconquered some of western Europe, built the Hagia Sophia, and issued the basic codification of Roman law. After his death the empire weakened. Though its rulers continued to style themselves “Roman” long after Justinian's death, “Byzantine” more accurately describes the medieval empire. The long controversy over iconoclasm within the eastern church prepared it for the break with the Roman church (see Schism of 1054). During the controversy, Arabs and Seljuq Turks increased their power in the area. In the late 11th century, Alexius I Comnenus sought help from Venice and the pope; these allies turned the ensuing Crusades into plundering expeditions. In the Fourth Crusade the Venetians took over Constantinople and established a line of Latin emperors. Recaptured by Byzantine exiles in 1261, the empire was now little more than a large city-state. In the 14th century the Ottoman Turks began to encroach; their extended siege of Constantinople ended in 1453, when the last emperor died fighting on the city walls and the area came under Ottoman control.

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This article is about the city. See also Byzantine Empire.
Byzantium (Greek: Βυζάντιον, Latin: BYZANTIVM, Byzantium) was an ancient Greek city, which was founded by Greek colonists from Megara 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 Constantinople. Constantinople fell to the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1453. The name of the city was changed to Istanbul in 1930 following the establishment of modern Turkey.


The origins of Byzantium are shrouded in legend. The traditional legend has it that Byzas from Megara (a town near Athens), founded Byzantium, when he sailed northeast across the Aegean Sea. Byzas had consulted the Oracle at Delphi to ask where to make his new city. The Oracle told him to find it "opposite the blind." At the time, he did not know what this meant. But when he came upon the Bosporus he realized what it meant: on the Asiatic shore was a Greek city, Chalcedon. It was they who must have been blind because they had not seen that obviously superior land was just a half mile away on the other side of the Bosporus. Byzas founded his city here in this "superior" land and named it Byzantion after himself. It was mainly a trading city due to its strategic location at the Black Sea's only entrance. Byzantion later conquered Chalcedon, across the Bosporus.

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 Nova Roma. After his death the city was called Constantinople (Greek Κωνσταντινούπολις or Konstantinoupolis) ('city of Constantine'). It remained the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, which was later called the Byzantine Empire by historians.

This combination of imperialism and location would affect Constantinople's role as the crossing point between two continents: Europe and Asia. It was a commercial, cultural, and diplomatic magnet. With its strategic position, Constantinople could control the route between Asia and Europe, as well as the passage from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea.

On May 29, 1453, the city fell to the Ottoman Turks, and, once again, became the capital of another powerful state, the Ottoman Empire. The Turks called the city Istanbul (though not officially renamed until 1930) and it has remained Turkey's largest (and arguably its most important) city, although Ankara is now the capital.


Byzantium first produced coins with the crescent and star symbol in the 4th century BC. According to legend, this was to honour the moon-goddess Hecate, who the inhabitants believed had saved the city from attack by Philip II of Macedon in 340-339 BC. In 330 AD Constantine I added the Virgin Mary's star to the flag. Byzantium would then also be the first attested nation or empire to use the combination of the crescent moon and star together as an emblem.

The crescent moon and star was not completely abandoned by the Christian world after the fall of Constantinople. To date the official flag of the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem is a labarum of white, a church building with two towers, and on either side of the arms, at the top, are the outline in black of a crescent moon facing center and a star with rays.

Notable people

  • Homerus, early 3rd century BC, tragedian
  • Philo (ca. 280 BC-ca. 220 BC), engineer
  • Epigenes (3rd century BC-2nd), astrologer

See also



  • The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (Oxford University Press, 1991) ISBN 0195046528

External links

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