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.”