The Making of Constantinople,under the Emperors Costantius, Julian, Valens, Theodosius the Great and Arcadius

887—408 A.D. AFTER visiting the sights of Rome, the Persian prince Hormisdas was asked to give his impressions of the city. “ One thing disappoints me,” he replied, “ men die here just as in the humblest village of the Empire.” So was it in New Rome. Seven years after the inauguration of the city he founded, Constantine the Great died in the neighbourhood of Nicomedia. His body was carried to Constantinople in a golden coffin, and, amid demonstrations of public grief, was laid to rest in a sarcophagus of porphyry in the Church of the Holy Apostles. The tomb was flanked by twelve pillars, representing, so the fact was construed, the glorious company of the Apostles, with whom he could fitly be associated as the champion the Christian faith. The good that men do is, however, not always interred with their bones, and Constantinople remained to attest the far-sighted wisdom of its founder, and to grow in splendour and importance. But one hundred and ten years had to come and go ere the city attained its full stature. It is the history of the growth of Constantinople during this period that will now engage our attention.

Death of Constantine

Upon the death of Constantine, the eastern division of the Empire came under the rule of his second son, Constantius, who soon discovered how much work upon the new seat of government remained to be done. Nor could his visit to Old Rome fail to impress upon his mind the greatness and the difficulty of the task before him. “ Having entered,” says the historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, speaking of that visit of Constantius, “ the Forum of Trajan, the most marvellous structure in the whole world, he was struck with admiration, and looked around in amazement without being able to utter a word, wondering at the array of gigantic buildings, which no pen can describe, and which men can create and see but once in the course of centuries. Abandoning all hope of ever being able to erect anything which would approach even at a respectful distance Trajan’s work, he turned his attention to the equestrian statue found in the centre of the Forum, and said to his followers that he would have one made like it Hormisdas, who accompanied the Emperor, quietly remarked, pointing to the Forum, ‘ For such a horse, you must first provide such a stable.’”

Nevertheless, Constantius carried forward the improvement of New Rome to such an extent that Themistius, a contemporary, speaking of the Emperor’s services in the matter, declares that the city was indebted to Constantine the Great only for its name, and owed its actual construction to Constantius. During this reign the fortifications of the city were completed, the Church of the Holy Apostles underwent repair, and the Church of S. Sophia, usually ascribed to the founder of the city, was built, the date of its dedication being the 15th of February 860, two years before Constantius died. Constantius, moreover, placed the city, like Rome, under a Prefect—Prcefectus Urbis—and, what is worthy of note, endowed the new capital with a library, thus placing in its hand the lamp of learning which was to shine so far in the world’s history. If we may judge by the terms in which Themistius refers to the foundation of this library, the value of books was fully appreciated in those days. “ Thus,” he exclaims, ” the Emperor has recalled and raised from the dead the souls of wise men and of heroes for the welfare of the city; for the souls of wise men are in their wisdom, mind, and intelligence, while their monuments are the books and writings in which their remains are found.” The author of the Areopagitica said no more when he declared, “A good hook is the precious life-blood of a master spirit embalmed and treasured up to a life beyond life.”

 

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The Past of Istanbul

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Constantinople

Nor was this the only respect in which the old order had changed and given place to new. Under Constantine the attitude of the Roman Government towards the Christian Church was the direct opposite of that maintained by his predecessors. What they had regarded as a hostile organization, he welcomed as an ally and friend. What they had endeavored to uproot and destroy, he cultivated and supported. That he entertained a sincere respect for Christianity as a moral and social force, and believed that there was something Divine associated with it, cannot be doubted. And in his opinion, it was the part of true statesmanship to accept the religious and moral revolution that had come into the world, and to utilise it for the welfare of the Empire.

This is not the place to discuss the question how wisely the alliance between Church and State was effected, or to decide how much the parties to the union thereby gained or lost. It is enough for our purpose to recognize that the union introduced as profound a change of policy as can be introduced into the affairs of men, that it widened the breach between the past and the present, and rendered the embodiment of the new system of things in forms peculiar to itself perfectly natural, if not inevitable. This was the more certain to occur, seeing Rome continued to be the center of opposition to the new faith.

Yet another change in the Roman world which explains the appearance of a new capital was the increased importance and influence of the Eastern part of the Empire. Not only “captured Greece” but captured Asia also “led captive her captor.” The center of gravity was now in the East There commerce was more flourishing, and intellectual life more active. There the population was larger, and grouped in more important cities.

There Christianity had its home. Nor was it only in thought, and ait, and temper that the East exercised an ascendency. It was, moreover, the post of greatest danger. Its frontiers were exposed to the most formidable attacks which the Roman arms were now called to repel. The secular hostility of Persia along the Tigris and Euphrates, the incursions of Goths and Sarmatia’s across the lower Danube into the Balkan lands, demanded constant vigilance, and involved frequent warfare. The military front of the Empire was turned eastwards. There “the triumph of barbarism” was meanwhile to be chiefly contested.

Constantinople foundation

But to realize all the circumstances under which Constantinople was founded, we should remember yet another fact the rule of the Roman world by one man had broken down, just as the rule of that world by the citizens of Rome had failed. A single arm, it was discovered, could not defend the frontiers of that vast realm against the numerous and fierce foes who threatened its existence; or repress the insurrections which ambitious men readily raised in widely scattered provinces, when the central authority was too distant to strike promptly and with the necessary vigour.

Hence the famous scheme of Diocletian to divide the burden of defending and administering the Empire between four rulers, bound to one another by community of interest as originally devised, it was a short-lived scheme. But it was superseded only so far as its details were concerned; its fundamental idea had come to stay. At first sight indeed, the restoration of the system of single rule, in the person of Constantine, seemed to imply the abandonment of the multiple form of government which Diocletian had established. Possibly Constantine may have entertained such a purpose for some time. But eventually he adhered to Diocletian’s plan, and thought to improve upon it by the introduction of the dynastic and hereditary factor, hoping that by distributing the government among members of the same family, joint rule would prove more cordial and permanent, because resting upon a more solid basis. Accordingly, he arranged that after his death the government should be divided between his three sons and two nephews.