For almost ten centuries law, literature, art, industry, and commerce were carried on at
Constantinople. This city not merely preserved the remnants of the classical civilization,
but also made it possible, by her victories against the asian tribes, for the West to
develop until it was in a position to absorb this older culture.
Map of the Polis
Panaghia of Blachernae
Monastery of Chora
Byzantium had had a memorable history, extending over almost a thousand years, before
Constantine chose it for his capital. Its position made it practically impregnable.
On the north, east, and south it is surrounded by water. On the west, the land side,
a wall was built across the peninsula, about four miles in length; later, a second wall
was built farther to the west. Its position also
made Constantinople admirably adapted to be the capital of the Roman Empire.
This harbor was the center of an active commerce. For several centuries Constantinople
was the greatest trading port in the Christian world. The furs, honey and wax, brought from the
North by Russian merchants, were exchanged for the spices, drugs, and precious stones from the
Orient, which were brought by Byzantine vessels from Alexandria. Most of the traffic on the sea
was carried in Byzantine vessels until the eleventh century.
The profits were so great that the merchants became rich and the city prospered,
especially in the ninth and tenth centuries. Benjamin of Tudela, who had visited Bagdad, tells of
the gathering of many merchants from Babylon, Mesopotamia, Persia,
Egypt, Palestine, Russia, Hungary, Lombardy, Spain, and other countries. He said the Greeks
were extremely wealthy; "they
dress in garments of silk, ornamented with gold and other costly materials; they ride upon
horses, and in their appearance they
are like princes." This wealth was another source of strength to the Byzantine Empire.
Coin 600 A.D.
A strong military force was provided
whose main strength came from the peoples of Asia Minor, under their own leaders. Weapons
were improved, Greek fire came into use, the science
of strategy was carefully studied. Emperors wrote text-books on tactics and the conduct of
war. The Byzantine armies were
the best equipped in the world and were usually under efficient officers. The navy too was
well organized and did good service.
The Greek people formed the majority of the population, and greek was the universal language.
Justinian was the last emperor who spoke Latin as his mother tongue. A half century after his
death Latin was understood by only a small number of the people. Besides language, religion
was a bond of union for all the people, and the Byzantine Empire was bound up with the church,
which used Greek in its liturgy. Moreover, the tradition of the old
Roman Empire, still remained in the thoughts of men and they still called themselves Romans,
and thought of the emperor as the head of the Roman Christian world.
Michael H' Palaeologus
Constantine IA' Palaeologus