The reasons why well-known cities were ever founded are essentially always highly embellished. Poetic and mythological stories are offered as explanations even though the available historical data does nothing to back up those explanations. In these kinds of stories, the line between myth and history often becomes obscured. Once mythology and history become intertwined, it is difficult to separate them. An unfortunate example of this phenomenon can be found while studying the stories of Byzas, the legendary founder of Byzantium, and the foundation process of Byzantium; the narratives and legends regarding the local activities of Megarian settlers and colonists are historical fact melding with mythology.
From antiquity, mythographs have evaluated the founding of Byzantium with a clear pro-Hellenic perspective; they noticeably choose an approach that legitimises the Hellenistic presence in the territory. This prejudice, which is frequently repeated in contemporary studies even though it has not been thoroughly investigated, entails ignoring the native communities that were already inhabiting the area at that time. Datum that is limited in amount and content—and which has been obtained from different areas in the study of antiquity—also require us to consider the idea that the Megarians who colonized Chalcedon in 685 B.C. and Byzantium in 668 B.C. were able to exist within the already-organized communities of this territory. An opposing standpoint would be turning a blind eye to the local communities of the area—a standpoint clearly at odds with historical objectivity.
Istanbul’s appearance on the historical stage cannot be understood from the perspective of prophecies or myths about the adventurous or tragic events said to have been experienced by a legendary hero. On the contrary, the city’s existence can be perceived as a necessity that sprung from the social, political, and economic structures of the Archaic Period. This necessity was undoubtedly caused by Aegean cultural geography. In the second half of the 7th century B.C., the people living in that area gathered raw material resources as they needed them from the Black Sea’s fertile lands and from the ore bearing strata. So it’s not possible to consider the city’s existence apart from its geostrategic position.
The domain of Aegean cultural geography—which had been gradually extending northward during the 7th century B.C.—brought some changes in the economic, administrative, political, and social circumstances of the Marmara, Bosphorus, and Black Sea regions. As was the case in the colonies established through the initiative of the Megarians in the first half of the 7th century B.C., Byzantium and Chalcedon were ruled by an oligarchic/aristocratic regime like the main city. As occurred to various cities in Asia Minor, The Princes Isles, and Hellas—like Miletus (Balat), Athens, Samos, Mytilene, Corinth and Megara—tyrants took over Byzantium over time. However, current historiography is unable to determine the exact date when a tyrannical regime was established in the city.
Current data indicates the city was ruled by a tyrant named Ariston who was in alliance with the Persian King Darius I, known as the Great King, at the beginning of the Classical Period (the final quarter of the 6th century B.C.). After Darius failed in his Scythia campaign in 512 B.C., the king’s attitude towards the territory and towards some old allies changed for some reason—possibly due to their negative attitude during the campaign or because of the suspicion that they would change sides in the event of a likely Scythia invasion. Therefore, around 511 B.C., Byzantium was besieged, captured, and looted by the Great King’s coastal territory commander. Otanes, Governor of Daskyleion, also besieged several settlements in the Marmara and on the Gallipoli Peninsula as well as on the isles of Lemnos and Imbros for Darius. We do not have conclusive information regarding the fate of Ariston, nor when and how the tyrannical regime ended in Byzantium during this period.
The tyrannical regime/administration, which placed the city’s governance under the dominion of one person, was a transitional step between oligarchy and democracy for some cities of Hellas and Asia Minor. After Ariston’s tyranny—and as also dictated by the political conditions of the period—democratic administrative bodies of course became effective in Byzantium. Within this period, Byzantium gave support to the Ionian Revolt which advanced and became interregional in 499 B.C. After the revolt was repressed in 494 B.C., the Byzantines shared more or less the same fate as a group of Chalcedonians who had to leave their country and sail through the Black Sea to settle in the city of Mesembria. As a matter of fact, those Byzantines who remained in the city were severely punished by the Phoenicians who came under the orders of Persia and formed the core of the Persian navy.1
Persian domination continued until Byzantium was captured by the Spartan commander Pausanias in 478 B.C.2 Contrary to expectations, Pausanias’s saving of Byzantium from Persian domination did not cause any significant change in terms of liberating the people. Instead of giving independence to Byzantium, the Spartan commander deployed his troops in the city where he acted as a tyrant for seven months. After Pausanias was dismissed from the city, Athenian commander and statesman Aristides urged the foundation of the Delian League. This league resembled the confederation established by the Spartans in the Peloponnese Peninsula. In this context, Byzantium became one of the first members of the First Delian League, which was founded by the Athenians against the Persians around 477 B.C. During this period, there was a strong drive to revive the cultural, political and social lives of Byzantium.
Except for the short uprising in 440 B.C., the Byzantines’ alliance with the Athenians continued until the second stage of the Peloponnese Wars. Particularly in 426 B.C., a great deal of development had occurred in commercial relations between the Athenians and Byzantines. Specifically, written documents pertaining to that period show that the Athenians imposed a quota on Byzantium’s grain exports to tertiary centres in order to restrict and stabilize the city’s developing commercial relations and establish a one-sided dependency process.3 This situation also constitutes an instance where the Athenians, using Delian League as a cover, attempted to manipulate Byzantium’s economy according to Athenian interests and even intervened in the domestic affairs of the league members.
Both Byzantium and Chalcedon are known to have left the Delian League around 413/412 B.C. with the encouragement of the oligarchists and with military support from the Lacedaemonians. This political transformation reveals itself in the internal dynamics and in the management system of the cities. Subsequently, the oligarchic party gained power and the city was run by the appointed Spartan governor [harmostes]. However, this period did not last long. The Athenian generals—including Alcibiades—forced Chalcedon and Byzantium to switch to the Athenian side again around 409/408 B.C. This basically meant that everything returned to the way it was before and those democrats who supported Athens took over power.
When Byzantium and Chalcedon were seized by the Spartan commander Lysander in 405 B.C., democracy was replaced by oligarchy. This was the case for the other cities in alliance with the Lacedaemonians. The city was ruled by an oligarchy allied with a group of Spartan governors who imposed a discretionary and oppressive rule until 389 B.C. This oppressive period ended thanks to the political elite who, disturbed by the oligarchic management, directly or indirectly made contact with Athens. The city was then seized by Thrasybulus. The foresight of the democrats in Byzantium drove them to find a way to gain autonomy over the city. Thus, according to the Peace of Antalcidas signed between the Hellens and the Persian king in 387 B.C., while Byzantium became autonomous and completely self-governing, Chalcedon came under the dominance of Persia.
The impression struck on the Byzantium coins of the time indicate that it was a member of an alliance/league which was founded in Western Anatolia with the participation of Cyzicus, Ephesus, Samos, Knidos, Rhodes, Iasos, and also probably Lampsacus in the first quarter of the 4th century B.C. However, following the annulment of the Peace of Antalcidas—this took place after the passing of two years—Byzantium rejoined the Second Delian League in 378 B.C. on condition that it would not pay taxes and that its autonomy would not under any circumstances be harmed. Unfortunately, this partnership also did not last long. The city developed close relations with Thebes, which had become powerful in the territory around the summer of 364/363 B.C. under the rule of Epaminondas. Interpreting this situation as a potential threat, the Athenians dispatched a fully-equipped navy to the territory around 363 B.C. under the command of Admiral Timotheus in order to secure the free flow of supplies from the Black Sea to their city. Timotheus seized Byzantium and ensured the city’s continued alliance with the Athenians by sheer force. This forced alliance came to an end with Byzantium—along with the islands of Rhodes, Kos, and Khios—leaving the Second Delian League at the end of the War of the Allies (fought between 357-355 B.C.4). Their departure took place with the approval of the Athenians.
During the transition period into the second half of the 4th century B.C., Byzantium attempted to extend its sphere of influence within its territory. Accordingly, the city extended its lands towards Selymbria and Perinthus through the political union/mutual citizenship [sympoliteia] agreements of 354-353 B.C. The fact that it established sympoliteia with its neighbours, which is based upon a mutual democratic system, indicates democracy was well institutionalized in Byzantium during that period. This situation, with Byzantium turning its attention towards its own geography and attempting to develop mutual management models, clearly indicates that democratic government tendencies had become institutionalized in the city. On the other hand, it is also known that Byzantium—suffocating under gradually-increasing Thracian raids—became close at this time to Philip II of Macedon, the rising power of the period. However, after a short-term alliance between these two unequal powers, a conflict with Philip II cost Byzantium a great deal.
Perinthus and Byzantium were threateningly besieged by the Macedonian King in 340-339 B.C.5 The restlessness caused by Philip II, and Byzantium’s indisputably important strategic position, made it necessary for the political elite of the city to attract their old allies in one way or another for support. Hence, Byzantium and Perinthus, which had been given a hard time by Philip II, managed to escape from these sieges only through the aid provided by the Athenians, their allies, and the Persian king. The Byzantines, who preserved their autonomy during the siege—which caused great damage to the city and its territory—managed to restore their previous level of welfare within a short period of time due to their fertile lands, and developed a great volume of merchandise and income from marine products.
Upon entering the Hellenistic Period, during the battles between the successors [diadokhoi] of Alexander the Great following his death, Byzantium struggled like Chalcedon to preserve its autonomy. The city maintained good relations with Antigonus Monophthalmus and his son Demetrius initially. However, after the defeat and killing of Antigonus by Lysimachus at the Battle of Ipsus in 301 B.C., Byzantium—due to its far-sighted strategy—preserved its status as an autonomous city in alliance with the Kingdom of Lysimachus. The epigraphic documents and ancient sources pointing to relations with Antigonus, as well as the coins issued in this period and after the death of Lysimachus [posthumous], point to the city eluding the repercussions of the Battle of Ipsus with minimum damage due to the balanced policy it followed.
Immediately after Lysimachus was killed by his old ally Seleucus during the Battle of Curupedium in 281 B.C., Byzantium established close relations with Heraclea Pontica. This indicates that the city did not develop its political relations network with Antigonus and Lysimachus against the Seleucid Kingdom. In fact, it established a Northern Alliance with the participation of Chalcedon, Tius, Cieirus, and Mithradates I, the founder of the Mithradates Dynasty. This alliance worked against Seleucus and afterwards his son, Antiochus I. After Seleucus was killed by Ptolemy Ceraunus, seven months after the Battle of Curupedium, Byzantium and Heraclea Pontica supported Ptolemy.
The Northern Alliance steered inter-provincial and inter-regional relations between 280-251 B.C. Two fundamental problem areas between these years evidently distinguished themselves from the others in terms of their resulting consequences. The most destructive was the Galatian raids. The Byzantines came face to face with Galatians within their lands before they could even find political and military solutions or strategies they should follow. The Galatians looted the lands they passed through like a swarm of locusts around 278 B.C. and entirely destroyed Byzantium territory. Even though the marauding Galatians came to an agreement with Byzantium and the other Northern Alliance cities after a short time6—this was following the invitation of the Bithynia King Nicomedes I—and passed across to Asia Minor, their disappearance didn’t allow the city to breathe a sigh of relief. To prevent the Galatians from pillaging and scorching their land, the Byzantines paid tribute to the Galatians who founded the Kingdom of Tylis, which extended from the northwest of their city to the western coasts of the Black Sea. By doing so, they ensured the safety of both their city and of the rural areas under their control.
The second known problem area of activity in the Northern Alliance was the resistance that gave way to the imperialistic policies of the Seleucid Kingdom which aimed to control this region. The Northern Alliance members and allies played an important role in the salvation of Byzantium when it was besieged by Seleucid kings—first by Antiochus I, then by Antiochus II—with both military and diplomatic manoeuvres. Antiochus I and his allies—including Philetaerus, the governor of Pergamon, the Rhodians, and those from Cyzicus—who advanced upon Byzantium in 266 B.C., could not realise their goals regarding the city thanks to the Northern Alliance. Also around 251 B.C., when Antiochus II launched an expedition against Byzantium with a powerful navy, the city managed to resist the siege through the support of the Egyptian King Ptolemy and of Heraclea Pontica. In particular, a navy consisting of 40 ships sent to Byzantium by the Heracleians’ ensured that both parties remained on equal footing.7
The currently available historical data allows us to determine two fundamental regional functions of the Northern Alliance. The first was in the balancing of the relations amongst the members of the Alliance; the attitude of the Byzantines and the Heracleians against the blossoming conflicts between Callatis (Mangalia) and Istria (Istra) around 265 B.C. is just onn example. Another field of activity for the Northern Alliance citiee was the efforts of the central powers not members of the alliance, but those thah had a say over the territory to shape their internal conflicts to mutual benefis. When the children of the Bithynia King, including Nicomedes I, began to fight for the Bithynian throne around 255 B.C., the Byzantines and Heraclea Ponticans intervened and the war only ended due to the intermediary efforts of the city of Heracle,.
Between 250 B.C. and 220 B.C., the Byzantines were driven to seek new sources of income because of the large amount of tribute they were paying to the Galatians and Thracians and the gradual reduction in the income they received from Black Sea trade. In 220 B.C., the city went through a difficult time when it had to fight against the Rhodians and Prusias I of Bithynia following their attempts to levy taxes on the ships passing through the Bosporus. The war against the Bithynia king finally came to an end when the King of Cauarus, based at Tyle, acted as an intermediary between the two parties. When the Rhodians agreed to remove the tax they had been collecting from the ships passing through Bosporus, another agreement was also reached.8
The period between the last quarter of the 3rd century B.C. and the 2nd century B.C. was a critical ond in Byzantium history. During this period, the eastern policy of the Romans, which was just beginning to take shape, dramatically changed the political balances between Hellas, Anatolia, and the Eastern Mediterranean particularly during the 2nd century B.C. with the Hellenistic kingdoms forming the foundation of this policy. The Romans’ first plan was to reduce the territories of the Macedonian and Seleucid kingdoms, which were the dominant and developing powers throughout Asia, and to turn them into small regional kingdoms such as the dynasties of Pergamum, Bithynia, and of Mithradates.tThe Romany aimed to preserve the power balance [status quo] between the Hellenistic kingdoms and become an absolute authority that would dictate any policy to the kingdoms whenever the’ wished.
Accordingly, they first recognized the autonomy of the independent cities, neighbouring legions, and regional kingdoms in order to annex them to themselves. They became allies with the Hellenistic kingdoms and independent cities by adopting the role of patron, mediator, and protector. At the same time, they earned popularity by recognizing the freedom and autonomy of individual city-states and granting immunity to some cities and temples. Byzantium was forced to follow a subtle policy due to the power struggles between Rome, Macedonia, and the Seleucids targeting this area. Considering the military and administrative developments of the period, Byzantium paid special attention to the high-level international diplomatic issues with Rome in its foreign policy. This situation was so prominent in its relations with the Kingdom of Macedon that while the Byzantines were among the forces that ensured the establishment of peace during the First Macedonian War, they sided with the Romans without any compromise during the II and III Macedonian Wars. However, when the Romans and Macedonians declared the Seleucid Kingdom—the third power in this territory—the common enemy in 191-190 B.C., the Byzantines could unconditionally collaborate with Philip V of Macedon. In 184 B.C., this affinity between the Byzantines and Philip V of Macedon re-emerged when the Thracian tribes under the command of Amadocus looted Perinthus and Byzantium territory. The Roman ally, Philip V of Macedon, then helped the Byzantines and relieved the territory and the city from Thracian pressure.9 The summary of these events, pertaining to the relations between Byzantium and the Kingdom of Macedon, shows that the main commonality was always Rome. Thus, this informal alliance concluded with Rome annexing Byzantium with the title of “Allied City” [Civitas Foederata] in 146 B.C.10
The alliance of Byzantium and Rome continued and strengthened during the 1st century B.C. owing to the quelling of the Revolt of Aristonicus between 133-129 B.C. It also strengthened because the city carried out its responsibilities against Rome during the war which was initiated against piracy in 101 B.C. and throughout the course of the Mithridatic-Roman wars. However, this period does not indicate that relations with Rome were always maintained at the intended level from the perspective of the Byzantines. For instance, during the internal chaos blooming in Byzantium between 63-58 B.C., Rome intervened in the internal affairs of the city by returning the exiled to the city. A similar situation can be seen in the chain of events that took place between 57-56 B.C. The fact that the Macedonian governor looted and mistreated the citizens of the city, whose independence was recognized by the people of Rome and its Senatus, undoubtedly proves that this relationship turned against Byzantium at times. We can here add that the Roman Civil War between 49-48 B.C., and the period of destabilization following the death of Caesar, caused Byzantium to reconsider its relationship with Rome. The most fundamental indication of discontent among the administration of Byzantium during this period took place around 44-43 B.C. when the Byzantines refused to honour Cicero, the infamous orator/statesman.11
From the beginning of the Roman Empire, Byzantium took advantage of the Roman Peace [Pax Romana] which suspends the hostilities and became a free city with a degree of sovereignty [civitas libera] with the right to make its own laws. However, after a while—even though it was in Europe—Byzantium was annexed to Bithynia and forced to pay taxes. Romans were granted a five-year tax exemption by the Emperor Claudius (41-54 A.D.) because they were weakened by the wars they fought against the Thracians. Byzantium was Latinized and robbed of its sovereignty by Emperor Vespasian (68-79 A.D.) eventually and was entirely annexed to the Roman Empire. However, the biggest misfortune for the city was to negligently side with Niger in the struggle for the throne between Septimius Severus and Pescennius Niger during the Roman Civil War in 193 A.D. Surrendering after nearly a three-year siege during that war did not change the city’s fortune. Byzantiut was robbed entirely of its honour in sovereignty and was looted by Septimius Severus; for example, its high, fortified ramparts made of quadrangular grindstones were destroyed. Some historians of the period12 stated that “the people who saw the ruins and remains of the rampart were equally astonished at both its builders and destroyers.” Thus, the city which was once the pearl of the Bosphorus was entirely destroyed, reduced to the status of a village and was annexed to Perinthus.
Since Byzantium was mostly improved by Severus’s so, (Caracalla) Antonins, in 197 A.D., it was named “Augusta Antonina. tThis name was used as long as Septimius Severus lived (until 211 A.D.) and not so long thereafte—:only until Caracalla died in 217 A.D. The city suffered from serious damage from both Goth and Herulian raids between 258-269 A.D. and the sieges during the wars between Maximinus and Licinius in 312 A.D. as well as thoat between Licinius and Constantinus in 324 A.D. However, the city was rebuilt in a glorious way between 324 and 330 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Constantine who realized the importance of Byzantium and he named the city the New Rome (“Nova Rome” and “Anthusa”), which means, “inbloom” or “flower.” Still, after the death of the emperor, the name was changed to Constantinople. Thus, as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and a, an empire whichwas mistakenly [de falso] named “Byzantium” by contemporary historiansum Constantinople became the city where the heart of a new ach would beat for over a millennium of histoon.
Arslan, M., İstanbul’un Antikçağ Tarihi: Klasik ve Hellenistik Dönemler, Istanbul: Odin Yayıncılık, 2010
Cic. de prov. Cons. (= Cicero, De Provinciis Consularibus) Texts and Translations referred: De Provinciis Consularibus, tr. R. Gardner, Cambridge - London 1999.Marcus Tullius Cicero, About Consulate States, tr. Ü. F. Telatar, İstanbul 2004.
Corn. Nep. Paus. (= Cornelius Nepos, Pausanias)Text and Translation referred: On the Great Generals of Foreign Nations, tr. J. C. Rolfe, Cambridge - London 2005.
Dem. Cor. (= Demosthenes, de Corona)
Text and translation referred: Demosthenes, Orations XVIII-XIX. De Corona; De Falsa Legatione Vol. 2, tr. A. Vince and J. H. Vince, Cambridge - London 1999.
Diod. (= Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheke Historike)Texts and translations referred: Diodorus of Sicily, tr. H. Oldfather, vol. 1-6; tr. C. L. Sherman, vol. 7; tr. C. Bradford Welles, vol. 8; tr.R. M. Geer, vol. 9-10; tr. Francis R. Walton, vol. 11-12. Cambridge – London I. vol. (2004); II. vol. (2006); III. vol. (2000); IV. vol. (2002); V. vol. (2001); VI. vol. (2001); VII. vol. (2001); VIII. vol. (2003); IX. vol. (1984); X. vol. (2002); XI. vol. (1999); XII. vol. (2001).
Hdt. (= Herodotos, Historiae)
Texts and translations referred: Herodotus, tr. A. D. Godley, IV vol. Cambridge - London I. vol. (2004); II. vol. (2000); III. vol. (2006); IV. vol. (2001).
Herodotos, History of Herodotus: Herodot Tarihi, tr. M. Ökmen and A. Erhat, Istanbul: Remzi Kitabevi, 1991.
Herodian. (= Herodianos)
Text and translation referred: Herodian, History of the Empire, tr. C. R. Whittaker, II vol., Cambridge - London I (2002); II (Harvard University Press, 1970).
IG Inscriptiones Graecae, consilio et auctoritate Academiae Litterarum Borussicae ed. maior: I-IV., VII., IX., XI., XII., XIV., Berlin: G. Reimer, 1873-1939.
Iust. (= Marcus Iulianus Iustinus, M. Iuliani Iustini Epitoma Historiarum Philippicarum Pompei Trogi).
Texts and translations referred: Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, tr. J. C. Yardley and R. Develin, Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994.
M. Ivniani Ivstini, Epitoma Historiarvm Philippicarvm Pompei Trogi. Accedvnt Prolongi in Pompeivm Trogvm; ed. O. Seel, Stutgard: Teubner, 1972.
Isok. (= Isokrates)
Antid. (= Antidosis) de Pac. (= de Pacem)
Text and translation refferred: Isocrates, tr. G. Norlin, II vol., Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.
Memnon (= Memnon)
Texts and Translations referred: Memnon, ed. K. Müller, FGrHist. III 536, Paris 1853.
Memnon: Herakleia Pontike Tarihi, tr. by M. Arslan, Istanbul: Odin Yayıncılık, 2007.
Plut. Cic. (= Plutarkhos, Cicero)
Text and translation referred: Plutarch’s Lives, tr. B. Perrin, I-XI vol., Cambridge, Mass.-London, I. vol. (2005); II. vol. (2001); III. vol. (2001); IV. vol. (2000); V. vol. (2004); VI. vol. (2001); VII. vol. (1999); VIII. vol. (1989); IX. vol. (2002); X. vol. (2000), XI. vol. (2002).
Polyb. (= Polybios, Historiai)
Text and translation referred: The Histories, tr. W. R. Paton, VI vol., Cambridge, Mass.-London, VII. vol. (1999).
SEG Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum (1-25, Leiden: J.C. Gieben, 1923; 26-27, Alphen 1979-80; 28), Amsterdam 1982-.
SIG3 Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum, edited by W. Dittenberger, et al., IV vol., Leipzig: S. Hirzelium, 1883-1924.
Thuk. (= Thukydides)
Texts and Translations referred: Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, tr. C. F. Smith, IV vol., Cambridge, Mass.-London: Harvard University Press, I. vol. (2003); II. vol. (1998); III. vol. (2006); IV. vol. (2003).
1 Hdt. VI. 33.
2 Thuk. I. 94. 1-2; 128. 5; Diod. XI. 44. 3; Corn. Nep. IV. 2. 2 “Pausanias”.
3 IG I3 61; SIG3 75; SEG III 10.
4 Isok. de Pac. 16 ; Antid. 63-64 ; Diod. XVI. 22. 2.
5 Dem. Cor. XVIII. 71 ; 87 ; Diod. XVI. 76. 3. sum. 74-77; Iust. IX. 1. 2.
6 Memnon XIX. 2.
7 Memnon XXIII.
8 Polyb. IV. 52. 6-9.
9 Polyb. XXII. 12. 4; Liv. XXXIX. 35. 4.
10 Cic. de prov. Cons. III. 5 dn. d.
11 Plut. Cic. XXIV. 6-7.
12 Herodian. III. 1. 7.