Istanbul is one of the rare cities of the world that has been able to preserve its identity as a political center over a long period of time. The historical adventure of this city, which began as a city-state and underwent a constant evolution, reshaped it into a capital city; Istanbul became the center for the implementation of imperial policies and world views for an empire that spread over three continents. In this sense, Istanbul’s characteristic as a political and administrative center came to the fore in a degree that is incomparable with any other city. When Istanbul is considered as a main center of the ancient world, it is perceived as a capital that represented the political power centered in Rome; one that spread over three continents; this is a city that became a great metropolis with a comparable political power, a focus of attention in almost every era, and thus a city that clearly represented the first instances of the modern era. Istanbul’s existence as a city-state ended with its development, first, as the second city of the Roman Empire, and later as a major center for the same political body; there can be no doubt that the developments that defined Istanbul’s political structure also left their mark on the era.
In the gradual process of becoming the main axis for little Byzantine, the most important development was perhaps the city’s coming to the fore as the glorious capital of the first Christian empire. Thus, Istanbul was a city that was fed, from a cultural perspective, by Roman traditions, while at the same time possessing overwhelming Hellenistic elements that were influenced by Orthodoxy; it went on to become a city known by the name of its founder, “Constantinople/city of Constantine”. However, at the same time, people began to refer to this place as “the city/istin-poli”, emphasizing the characteristic of the city as a political and administrative center. In fact, the people used the word poli (city) only for Istanbul, as this was not only the capital of the empire, but also was a place with a cosmopolitan structure and the most developed institutions, monumental buildings and massive temples; moreover, the city was the place of religious representation. Indeed, more importantly than any of the above, Istanbul was the center of political power. What settlement that possesses all these qualities is not a poli in the real sense of the word? This distinction can only belong to the magnificent capital of an empire; it is such aspects that make a city a poli.
The situation was no different for the Ottoman Turks; Ottoman Istanbul received the characteristic of being a capital and political-administrative center from the Eastern Roman/Byzantine heritage. The Ottomans referred to this settlement both as Konstaniye and Istanbul, the latter being so common in the colloquial language that from the tenth century it was even used in the Muslim Arab world. Neither Istanbul’s name nor its political power changed, and its sovereignty grew even stronger in the Ottoman era. However, this time, the city started to reflect an original imperial understanding that had been developed by the representatives of a different religion. In its heyday, this city was the zenith of political power, although its influence in the Eastern world was now weak; in the hands of its new owners, Istanbul’s influence grew through Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, western Asia and the Black Sea steppes, even spreading over the seas. In this sense, Istanbul gained greater importance as the sole political center for a wide geography. Thus, Ottoman Istanbul became the sole representative of Ottoman political power from 1453, with an even stronger identity than it had had in the Eastern Roman/Byzantine period, an era that had lasted for over a thousand years.
In spite of losing its status as the capital and being abandoned to silence for a time, Istanbul entered a process of reawakening in the second half of the twentieth century. It was remembered, even if not officially, that this city was de facto the most important center of the country, and it took its place as a world metropolis with grand projects, organizations and numerous breakthroughs.
In this section, the political developments that occurred within the historical periods of Istanbul are examined; in addition, the city’s characteristic as an administrative center are examined alongside the main historical turning points which were the results of being a imperial capital. The object here is, while maintaining academic standards, to describe the long history of the city under a great variety of headings, including the political events that the city experienced, the characteristics of the administration, political diplomacy, jurisprudential order and the associated display of political power and ceremonies, which , to a certain extent, acted as a means of legitimization. To achieve this, the section has been divided into six main parts. In the first part, the political events from the beginning are presented in a chronological order. While historical events that took place before the Turks conquered Constantinople are summarized in two main articles; whereas certain prominent events, such as the Battle of Chrysopolis and the Nika Revolt, are each presented as essays in frames. The so-called Latin era of the city, which accounts for fifty years of its Byzantine history, is the subject of another essay. These articles, which take as their basis Istanbul within the walled city, a settlement that dates back 8,500 years, are important in order to comprehend Istanbul’s historical background.
One of the matters that must be taken into consideration here is the formation of the Byzantine city-state and its political power. The image of Constaninopolis, which occurred with the formation of the Eastern Roman Empire, left Byzantion in its shadow; strangely, in the future this name would become a term that referred to Eastern Rome. The fact that the usage of the name Byzantine has a historical and political basis should not be ignored. It is interesting that records contemporary with Sultan Mehmed II refer to him after the conquest not as the “Roman Emperor” but as Bzantii imperatoris (Byzantine emperor). In a way, these records skillfully distinguish between Byzantine and Rome and imply that Sultan Mehmed II was in possession of an empire that had grown from a city-state – but one that was separate from the Roman legacy. The political concept of Byzantium appears to embody Hellenistic features; however, some researchers have preferred to use the name “Eastern Roman Empire”. In this section, the political infrastructure of this process will be examined.
It should be taken understandable that the primary focus of political events is the Ottoman rule and afterwards. In fact, there can be little doubt that the basic characteristics of today’s Istanbul have been formed during the four hundred years since the Ottoman era of the city began in 1453. Approaching the city from the aspect of the political events of the Ottoman past is important not only for understanding the city’s physical and social elements, but also to emphasize the influence of the past on contemporary life. Basically, as one approaches modern history the importance of the past increases in direct relation to today’s history. In this context, it is important that before dealing with the political developments of a period which ranges from the classical era until the last century of the Ottoman State, the main sections of the city’s history should be examined first. From this aspect, as the Ottoman classic period, in a general sense, stretches from 1453 until 1826, a chain of articles was created from the writing of the first article on Ottoman Istanbul until the last century in which Istanbul was capital of the Ottoman State. Without a doubt cities, like states, are structures that present a strong continuity from a political past that has been severed in some way. Again, there can be no doubt that changes in political regimes affect the physical structure of the city, as well as possibly creating a radical differentiation in the social structure; however, there is a constancy from the aspect of settlement and geography. Moreover, the same processes of Istanbul’s Ottoman past were not experienced in such a radical form in the Republican period. The main aspects of Istanbul’s roots date back to the Ottoman legacy, and to a lesser extent to the Byzantine era. For this reason, it is unavoidable that events in the Republican period be connected to the Ottoman past. The first of two articles integrating these aspects beside the chronological narrative is concerned with significant political revolts, while the second is concerned with the attitudes of Istanbul’s inhabitants to these same events. In any case, no aspect of these can be said to be merely administrative; moreover, these are not just events in which the military intervened, or in which the administration came to the fore. At the same time, they were a chain of events that were essentially public movements, or which closely affected people. When viewed in this manner, the situation of those living in the capital city becomes significant enough to warrant its own article. Thus, this section is completed with articles, which depict specific and important milestones in Istanbul’s history.
For the political section, undoubtedly the topic of siege and conquest is of great importance and should be examined separately. With this idea in mind, as a special part of the section on politics, a separate subtitle, “siege and conquest” has been created; here, the historical process of the battles experienced in the city are examined. Throughout its long history, Istanbul has attracted the attention of many nations, and in connection with this, the passion for this enchanted, unique and rich city has increased. Istanbul, to an extent, has been the subject of prophecies interwoven with religion; by becoming the first capital of Christianity, and with the construction of the largest Christian temple of the era, the city gained a sacred nature, giving it a characteristic that gradually distinguished it from other cities. This was true to such an extent that the city formed the primary subject for doomsday prophecies; moreover the religious attributions of this great city imbued it with a sacred nature that was taken on by those who desired to conquer the city. With the advent of Islam Konstantiniye became a sacred goal, and was later to become the subject of conquest hadith, transforming the city into the Kızılelma (red apple, the most desired object). Strangely, though, in the centuries after the Arabs started to lay siege to the city, the idea that Istanbul was “an ill-omened place and that when it was conquered the gateway to the Day of Judgment would open” began to develop; this helped the development of an understanding that was supported by melhame (bloody battle, Armageddon) literature. An article has been added at this point which describes the sieges that Istanbul has undergone through the centuries and the final conquest in a detailed manner; in addition, how the perceptions mentioned above emerged and what role these played on the perception of Istanbul is examined. This is followed by a framework article about a historian and his work, a man who was thought to have witnessed the conquest, and thus information is presented from a different aspect. Moreover, it is possible to find here another framework article that touches on the heated discussions concerned with how Istanbul was conquered (by way of peace or by warfare). In this section the reason for giving such a wide and detailed discussion is that the conquest ushered in a new period in the history of Istanbul, that is it marked the beginning of the Ottoman era.
The political events in Istanbul also seemed to have established the grounds for the creation of powerful diplomatic networks. The fact that this city was the capital of the nation had an effect on its main appearance in every era; thus it is necessary that diplomatic developments and ambassadorial visits and impressions be included in this section. Narratives written by foreign envoys to Byzantine Istanbul, full of descriptions that relay surprise at the magnificence of the city, make it easier for the reader to understand the effect of the capital city on neighboring countries. During the Ottoman era the network of political relations that were created as a result of the city being the center of a major empire transformed it into a diplomatic center, in every sense. Articles concerned with this topic reveal these qualities of the capital. Moreover, this section also discusses how the city, in addition to being desired by all, had a capital-city identity that was necessary for an imperial center to which all regions were subordinated. Moreover, Istanbul’s position during the Republican era is the subject of a separate article that focuses on the city’s historical continuity.
Articles about policy and diplomacy are followed by those that answer the question of how the capital city gained a privileged and unique nature as an administrative center. Articles in this section are therefore once again ordered chronologically. In addition to being an administrative center in the Byzantine Empire, how the capital was administrated in the Ottoman era and the matter of how a huge empire was administered from here, as these are an integral part of politics, can be found in the section on administration. As a capital city that administered an enormous empire, as a city located at the intersection of continents, administrative duties became increasingly important for the Ottomans, as they were addressing an extremely wide territory; in comparison to the Byzantine era, in Ottoman Istanbul this subject was much more a focus of attention. Moreover, from the early Ottoman era on Istanbul became a center for the “caliphate”, an institution accepted by all Muslims. The meaning of Istanbul as the center of the caliphate was directly related to the city being perceived as the main political focus of the Islamic world. This aspect appears to come to the fore more emphatically from the period of Süleyman I. In the article that is concerned with this aspect, the stages of becoming the center of the caliphate are examined from a religious and philosophical aspect.
It is also necessary to examine the city administration of Istanbul during the Ottoman era. In this section many topics are discussed, including the administration of the market and bazaar, security issues and what kind of new regulations were introduced in urban administration due to changes that occurred with the modernization of the city. The Tanzimat era, which expresses a sharp breaking point in the classical era understanding, which had predominated throughout the long Ottoman centuries, established an extremely important foundation from the aspect of modern city administration. From this aspect, this section examines Istanbul both as a city that governed and one that was governed. Also discussed here are the developments during the Republican era in the executive and administrative structuring of the city, from a municipal and provincial aspect. In addition to the main articles in this section, there is a framework article on both the administrative areas of the city that governed and the official posts. A framework article on Topkapı Palace, which followed the administrative centers of the Byzantine era after the establishment of Ottoman rule, as well as the palaces of Dolmabahçe and Yıldız, symbols of the modern era, can be found here. As it would be wrong not to include the administrators in this section, a list of mayors is given, and there are articles concerned with elections, a closely related subject. The elections, which have both a political and administrative characteristic, are important from the aspect that they present the political colors that were predominant not only in this cosmopolitan/metropolitan city, but throughout Turkey.
The final two topics are to be found in the Political and Administrative Section; the characteristics that come to the fore in a capital that acts as a legal center, while the other is an examination of the official ceremonies that are closely related to the political image. Istanbul was the center for Roman law, which occupied an important place in the legal system of Constantinople in the Roman era, as well as for studies and implementations that are close to religious law. When the city became the capital of the Ottoman State, and with the implementation and codification of the law, a traditional legal system that was in writing was formed; at this time the city’s role as a legal center was brought even more to the fore. There are also articles that address legal education and the restructuring of the legal system during the Republican era; in addition, the history of law and the role of this history in the city are focused upon. All of these subjects are dealt with in two main articles, while a framework article deals with the Divan-ı hümayun, examining how this institution operated as a “supreme court”. The Divan-ı hümayun was recognized as an institution that would listen to cases and complaints from every quarter of the empire, and give a binding decision in these matters. This is followed by another framework article concerned with şer’iye sicil (court records), that is, records of court decisions in Istanbul; these are important in that they help determine the social, economic and political aspects of legal implementations. The 40 volumes of şer’iye sicil are discussed here, with excerpts being given.
Capital cities are also places in which formal ceremonies are of great importance. Empires tend to use such occasions to demonstrate the magnificence of the dynasty and the state, while such ceremonies also serve as a means of legitimization for the ruling class. As was Rome, Constantinople was one of the rare cities in which such magnificence was exhibited. Among such ceremonies, undoubtedly the religious ceremonies held a special place. One article in this section discusses this aspect of Istanbul as a city in which the unique traditions of Eastern Christianity were experienced in this first Christian capital. As it would be a serious deficiency to not include articles on religious ceremonies and those in which the members of the ruling dynasty appeared in public during the Ottoman era, there are articles on the sultan’s ascension to the throne and the girding-of-the-sword ceremony, as well as the Friday Procession, which was important from the aspect of the visibility of the Ottoman sultan and the relationship between the people and the sultan; in addition, there is also another main article which examines the ceremonies of the Ottoman era.
In conclusion, the Political and Administrative Section examines one of the most important aspects of Istanbul’s history; this section has been planned in a way that is in keeping with the role that Istanbul played in the empire as an administrative center. When the matter is examined from this aspect, the capital takes on the characteristic of reflecting almost the entier “imperial history” for both the Byzantines and the Ottoman State. In other words, the capital city not only represents both empires from a political and administrative aspect, but by representing the administrative aspect, it essentially forms the backbone for both empires. Thus, it is possible to say that examining the capital from every asepct is of essential importance in understanding both empires. In particular, when the subject matter is politics and administration, it is as if the entire empire has been integrated into one center. The articles that are included in this section are intended to present a thematic platform from which it is possible to see and better understand the topic in question.