Number 437 in the ‘A Very Short Introduction’ series.
In 324 AD the Roman Emperor Constantine defeated the last of his foes, Licinius, at sea, in the vicinity of the ancient Greek settlement of Byzantion (Latin Byzantium) on the straits of the Bosphorus. In celebration of his victory, he renamed the city Konstantinoupolis Nea Rome the following year. Constantine was now the head of the Roman world and presided over it from Constantinople.
This book charts the history of the city from that time until it was overrun by the forces of the Ottoman Empire in 1453.
In 476 the last western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus was deposed by the Gothic general Odoacer leaving the eastern Empire to stand alone. This it did with various degrees of success thanks to Emperors of varying abilities.
Justinian I was Eastern Roman emperor from 527 to 565. His reign is marked by the partial recovery of the territories of the defunct Western Roman Empire including North Africa, southern Spain, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Italy, and Dalmatia. This was thanks to his brilliant general Belisarius who isn’t mentioned in the book for some reason. Justinian also codified old Roman law and constructed great public buildings such as Hagia Sophia.
At the other extreme was Emperor Michael III (known as the drunkard) who befriended a clown and persuaded him to sit next to him in the imperial throne room dressed as the Patriarch of Constantinople. When the emperor’s mother, Theodora, entered the room she duly knelt before the ‘patriarch’ and asked him to say a prayer on her behalf. The clown turned around and exposed his rear end. He then emitted what was described as ‘a donkey-like noise from his foul entrails’.
In the 5th and 6th centuries there was a literary movement that meant most books were written in Attic Greek, the Greek of classical Athens. This meant that all books written in koine Greek were translated into Attic including the works of Plato, Herodotus, Thucydides, Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Aristotle. Without this translation the works of all those authors would have mostly been lost.