AskDefine | Define Byzantium

Dictionary Definition



1 an ancient city on the Bosporus founded by the Greeks; site of modern Istanbul; in 330 Constantine I rebuilt the city and called it Constantinople and made it his capital
2 a continuation of the Roman Empire in the Middle East after its division in 395 [syn: Byzantine Empire, Eastern Roman Empire]

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Proper noun

  1. The ancient Greek city situated on the Bosporus, named Constantinople in AD 330, and now known as Istanbul.


ancient Greek city

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Extensive Definition

This article is about the city. See also Byzantine Empire.
Byzantium (Greek: Βυζάντιον, Latin: , ) was an ancient Greek city, which was founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 667 BC and named after their king Byzas or Byzantas (Βύζας or Βύζαντας in Greek). The name "Byzantium" is a Latinization of the original name Byzantion. The city is what later evolved to be the center of the Byzantine Empire (the Greek-speaking Roman Empire of late Antiquity and the Middle Ages) under the name of Constantinople. Constantinople fell to the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1453. The name of the city was changed to Istanbul in 1930.


The origins of Byzantium are shrouded in legend. The traditional legend has it that Byzas from Megara (a town near Athens), founded Byzantium, when he sailed northeast across the Aegean Sea. Byzas had consulted the Oracle at Delphi to ask where to make his new city. The Oracle told him to find it "opposite the blind." At the time, he did not know what this meant. But when he came upon the Bosporus he realized what it meant: on the Asiatic shore was a Greek city, Chalcedon. It was they who must have been blind because they had not seen that obviously superior land was just a half mile away on the other side of the Bosporus. Byzas founded his city here in this "superior" land and named it Byzantion after himself. It was mainly a trading city due to its strategic location at the Black Sea's only entrance. Byzantion later conquered Chalcedon, across the Bosporus.
After siding with Pescennius Niger against the victorious Septimius Severus, the city was besieged by Roman forces and suffered extensive damage in 196 AD. Byzantium was rebuilt by Septimius Severus, now emperor, and quickly regained its previous prosperity. The location of Byzantium attracted Roman Emperor Constantine I who, in 330 AD, refounded it as Nova Roma. After his death the city was called Constantinople (Greek Κωνσταντινούπολη) ('city of Constantine'). It remained the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, which was later called the Byzantine Empire by historians.
This combination of imperialism and location would affect Constantinople's role as the crossing point between two continents: Europe and Asia. It was a commercial, cultural, and diplomatic magnet. With its strategic position, Constantinople could control the route between Asia and Europe, as well as the passage from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea.
On May 29, 1453, the city fell to the Ottoman Turks, and, once again, became the capital of another powerful state, the Ottoman Empire. The Turks called the city Istanbul (though not officially renamed until 1930) and it has remained Turkey's largest (and arguably its most important) city, although Ankara is now the capital.


In 670 BC, the citizens of Byzantium made the crescent moon as their state symbol, after an important victory. Byzantium was the first governing state to use the crescent moon as its national symbol. In 330 AD Constantine I added the Virgin Mary's star to the flag. Byzantium would then also be the first attested nation or empire to use the combination of the crescent moon and star together as an emblem.
The crescent moon and star was not completely abandoned by the Christian world after the fall of Constantinople. To date the official flag of the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem is a labarum of white, a church building with two towers, and on either side of the arms, at the top, are the outline in black of a crescent moon facing center and a star with rays.

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Byzantium in Arabic: بيزنطة
Byzantium in Catalan: Bizanci
Byzantium in Czech: Byzantion
Byzantium in German: Byzantion
Byzantium in Estonian: Bütsants
Byzantium in Modern Greek (1453-): Βυζάντιο
Byzantium in Spanish: Bizancio
Byzantium in Esperanto: Bizanco
Byzantium in Basque: Bizantzio
Byzantium in French: Byzance
Byzantium in Korean: 비잔티온
Byzantium in Indonesian: Byzantium
Byzantium in Italian: Bisanzio
Byzantium in Hebrew: ביזנטיון
Byzantium in Japanese: ビュザンティオン
Byzantium in Norwegian: Bysants
Byzantium in Norwegian Nynorsk: Bysants
Byzantium in Low German: Byzanz
Byzantium in Russian: Византия (мегарская колония)
Byzantium in Slovak: Byzantion
Byzantium in Finnish: Byzantion
Byzantium in Swedish: Byzantion
Byzantium in Turkish: Byzantion
Byzantium in Chinese: 拜占庭
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