The capital of the Byzantine Empire was the city of Constantinople. The city began the centre of the Byzantine Empire beginning in the 4th century and over subsequent centuries, became one of the largest and richest cities throughout medieval Europe.
During the period of the Empire’s existence from 4th century to the 15th century, Constantinople withstood a large number of attacks and sieges. This was possible thanks largely to the elaborate and highly effective defence structures that guarded the city on all sides.
In 1453, after the Empire had undergone a long period of decline, the city finally fell to the Ottomans. The fall of the capital of the Byzantine Empire also marked the end of the Empire itself.
The Foundations of Constantinople
Emperor Constantine, who ruled the Western Roman Empire as well as the Byzantine Empire, conceived the idea of shifting the capital city of the East to the site where the ancient city of Byzantium stood. As a result, the city of Constantinople was built at the site from 324 to 337.
Since the city was to be Constantine’s imperial capital, he ordered the construction of a large number of monumental architecturally stunning buildings and laid the foundations of a truly grand city. From the 4th to 6th centuries, the territories of Western Roman Empire became increasingly indefensible and the centre of Roman power consequently shifted to Constantinople.
The Walls of Constantinople
The continued existence of the great city of Constantinople under Byzantine rule was one of the vital factors which contributed to the continued existence of the Empire as well. The city came under siege from different groups of invaders including the Avars, Bulgars and the Arabs. But thanks to its impenetrable walls, the city never fell during a siege until 1453.
The original walls of the city were built during the reign of Constantine in the 4th century. During the reign of Theodosius in the 5th century, two more layers of walls dotted with a huge number of towers were added to these original walls. The result was that the city of Constantinople came to be guarded by a permanent barrier which was virtually impenetrable.
Fall of Constantinople
The city fell to the Ottoman army in 1453. This took place after centuries of a declining Empire and the ravages of the Black Death that hit the city in the 14th century. By the middle of the 15th century, the city had lost most of its original grandeur and was reduced to a cluster of villages spread within the city’s confines.
In 1453, the Ottoman army under Mehmed II laid siege to the city and were able to enter the city after seven weeks. The fall of the city to the hands of the Ottomans marked the conclusive demise of the Byzantine Empire and the end of Byzantine rule over the great city.
Constantinople’s Role in Byzantine Empire
The location of Constantinople and its position as the capital of the Byzantine Empire were aspects which greatly shaped the outlook of the city throughout the medieval ages. The city inherited the rich heritage of Roman and Greek cultures and eventually became embellished with the unique Byzantine monuments erected by subsequent Emperors.
Even after the city fell into the hands of Ottomans, the classic manuscripts of Greek and Roman texts stored in its libraries were carried by refugees to Italy where they eventually sparked the Italian Renaissance.