Constantinople: the world’s largest city in 600 AD
Episode #5 of the course “Greatest Cities Throughout History”
At its most affluent point, Constantinople was home to 600,000 people. When Emperor Diocletian ruled the Roman Empire, he decided that the area was much too big for one person to oversee, so he divided the area into two parts with two leaders in each portion. Constantine, the leader of one of these areas, rose to power in the west after the death of his father. He then challenged his co-leader, defeating him in battle to become the sole leader of the west in 312 A.D. In a final, decisive strike, he challenged the leaders in the east and overtook them, uniting the Roman Empire under his banner.
Once he had control of the entire region, he looked to create a new capital. Finally he settled on Byzantium in 330 A.D., calling it “New Rome”—when Byzantium was originally constructed, it was built to model the original Rome. It would be years before the city’s name would change to Constantinople to reflect its founder. Today, it is known as Istanbul and is home to over 14 million people.
The city was divided into 14 districts, and each district had wide avenues for travel. The avenues were lined with statues of well-known Romans, including Julius Caesar, Diocletian, Alexander the Great, and Augustus. There were even statues of Constantine himself, dressed in garments that were commonly associated with the god Apollo. Two of the major roads intersected near the large Roman baths, and this famous intersection was marked with the tetrapylon, the well-known four-way arch.
The city itself was altered with Christian ideals in mind. Constantine eliminated the practice of using the amphitheater for gladiator contests and used it for chariot races instead. There were no temples to gods, but Constantine built statues and monuments to commemorate Grecian victories. The serpent column at Delphi, for example, was erected to celebrate the victory over the Persians at the Plataea in 179 B.C.
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