Byzantium (Greek: Βυζάντιον, Byzántion; Latin: BYZANTIVM), officially the Hellenic Kingdom of Byzantium and of the Greeks and Romans, is a microstate located in South Eastern Europe on the Bosporus Strait. It encompasses the natural harbour known as the Golden Horn, in the East of the country. It is surrounded by Bulgaria on one side and by Turkestan on the other, across the Bosporus. Its area is 5.2 sq km (Roughly 2 sq mi) with an estimated population of almost 24,000.
Byzantium is the smallest yet the richest Greek-speaking country in the world. It is the only predominantly Greek-speaking country not to share a common border with Hellas. The country has a strong financial sector located in the capital, and has been identified as a tax haven. It is a member of the Roman Union but curiously is the only member nation to use its own currency, rather than the Roman Solidus. Byzantium is today a popular tourist resort, with a 'tourism district' that comes complete with hotels, clubs, and flower gardens.
Tourism accounts for most of the nation's economy, with as many as 600,000 tourists from foreign countries passing in and out of the charming, quiet, microstate every year.
Byzantium's National Museum of History contains many evidence of early peoples in the area. In Greek and Roman times, Byzantium was an important trading center, and its harbor sheltered ships from many lands across the globe.
The first settlement in the modern day Byzantium, named Lyngos (Greek: Λυγγος), was founded by Thracian tribes between the 13th and 11th centuries BC, along with the neighbouring Semistra, of which Plinius had mentioned in his historical accounts. Only a few walls and substructures belonging to Lygos have survived to date, near the location where the famous Topkapı Palace now stands. During the period of Byzantion, the Acropolis used to stand where the Topkapı Palace stands today.
According to tradition, Byzantium was originally founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 667 BC and named after their king Byzas (Greek: Βύζας, Býzas, genitive Βύζαντος, Býzantos). (The name Byzantium is a Latinization of the original name Byzantion)
However, the exact origins of Byzantium are shrouded in legend. The story has it that Byzas from Megara (a town near Athens), founded Byzantium in 667 BC, 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 found it "opposite the blind." At the time, he did not know what this meant. But when he came upon the Bosporus he understood: on the opposite eastern shore was a Greek city, Chalcedon, whose founders were said to have overlooked the superior location only three km (1.9 mi) away. Byzas founded his city here on the European coast and named it Byzantion after himself. It was mainly a trading city due to its location at the Black Sea's only entrance. Byzantion later conquered Chalcedon, across the Bosporus on the Asiatic side. 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.
Late Roman Period
When the Roman Empire divided into two, and then four, Byzantium fell under the jurisdiction of the Tetrarch Licinius I and his Empire of Pannonia. When Constantine the Great of the Western portions of the Roman Empire tried to defeat Licinius and take all of Eastern Europe for himself, Byzantium again experienced the horrors of war. After a seemingly endless series of battles during the civil war, Licinius won his final victory over Constantine at the walls of Byzantium in 323.
This was the last attempt by the Western Roman Empire to ever meddle with the East. After the death of Constantine's successor, Flavius Julius Constantius, the West would be far too weakened and fragile itself to worry about warring abroad.
Byzantium continued to flourish under the Pannonian Empire, ruled by the descendants of Licinius. However, times were not always safe. Surrounded on three sides by water and placed in a strategically important position between Asia and Europe, trade expanded until Byzantine merchants were seen everywhere from Italy to the Crimea. During the 1000's, Byzantium was threatened by the arrival of an Asiatic tribe, the Pechenegs. In 1087 they met and destroyed a Roman army of 30,000 soldiers, killing the Pannonian emperor Michael IV. It was perhaps the worst military disaster for Pannonia in that age. The Pechenegs, now seemingly unstoppable, ravaged Thrace, sacking Byzantium and a number of other important coastal towns.
Surprise seems to have been a major element in the sacking of Byzantium--but even so it's thin layer of stone walls and smallish, inexperienced, garrison were in no shape to deal with the scale of the Pecheneg attack. A number of the local Roman soldiers attempted to put up some opposition, to little effect.
Those who still lived in Byzantium following the sack were soon to experience fear again--this time getting attacked by the Cumans. Byzantium was burned and pillaged by the Cuman forces in the course of their invasion of Thrace, destroying much of the old city. But it was not the end of this grand settlement on the Golden Horn. The Emperor Theodorus attempted to resettle the area, recognizing the importance of the port. The first families that were resettling in Eastern Thrace came upon the ruins of the city and simply began to settle around it. Theodorus, also, built the modern city of Byzantium around the ruins of the old, adding a series of additional walls and guard towers to better defend it from attack. In the 1300's, Byzantine merchants had begun to regain some of their former prestige and Byzantium was a center of trade once more. Although ravaged by the plague (Which left only about 7,000 people in the city alone) it was able to recover, to a certain extent, by the 1340's.
The modern Kingdom of Byzantium, founded in December 1349, was one of two Romano-Greek successor states of the Pannonian Empire. However, the creation of the independent Byzantium was not directly related to the capture of the Pannonian capital, Sirmium, by the Kingdom of Serbia, rather it had broken away from imperial authority a few weeks prior to that event. The governor of Byzantium at the time, Genessios, who was considered to be an arrogant and extremely unpopular man by the Emperor Nikephoros III and most of the imperial court, was responsible for this.
Genessios, unwilling to follow the directives of Pannonia and assisted by the fact the government at Sirmium was now occupied with the massive Serbian army outside its walls, cast off his allegiance to the emperor in Sirmium and began running his city as a miniature independent state.
Establishment on the Seas
When Sirmium fell in 1351 and the last vestiges of Roman rule in the Balkans disappeared forever, Byzantium was now truly on its own. The Byzantines turned their attention to building up a fleet to defend their little country from the aspirations of the large empires taking root around it. To the East, the Turks, whom had occupied most of Anatolia from the crumbling Nicomedian Empire, hoped eventually to cross into Europe, and a shattered Nicomedia would be unable to fend them off within another century, bringing the Sultans to Byzantium's doorstep.
Meanwhile, in Europe, the victorious Serbs had begun to ravage Greece, while the Bulgarians had always detested the presence of Byzantium and cast their greedy eyes upon the new city-state. Byzantine seamen had been famous for their skill and ability since the days of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Native to the sea and its ways, many of its citizens proved their worth in the Navy of the Pannonian Empire. Due to his people's particular abilities and skill, Genessios began to build up a formidable fleet.
To help protect his kingdom from attack by land, Genessios also improved upon the harbor at Byzantium, making it considerably more efficient and better-defended. In 1354, he died, the victim of palace intrigues by his officials. His successor, the Greek general Philotheus, was to be much more popular than the man before him. Philotheus, well-liked by his people, also strengthened the city. On the foundation of the Roman port he erected a complex of thick stone fortifications and sea walls which were to challenge the strongest fleets and armies of the Aegean and Black Seas for centuries to come.
Philotheus, succeeded by his son Nikodemos, contented himself by improving and strengthening the existing Roman fortifications. His successors had the Turkish Navies to fret about during the 1400's, especially when Nicomedia finally fell in 1429. The nephew of Nikodemos, Andronikos, was left to decide what to do about the growing threats on all sides. Serbia in the Balkans had halted its expansion for the time being, and Bulgaria had remained idle, never moving against the Byzantines but never being agreeing to a peace treaty, either. Andronikos made his response by trying to secure an alliance with the growing power in the East, the great Sultanate of the Turkmen.
Concluding a treaty with Turkestan in Anatolia did bring some measure of relief to Byzantium for a time being. In 1444, however, this was to change. The Turks began raiding Thracian towns on the Black Sea coast. The Byzantine Kingdom, consisting of little more than a few towns strung along the Marmora coast and a few in northern Thrace as well, felt threatened by such a violation of their previous agreement with the Turkish government; in 1447 the Greeks retaliated. A squadron of Turkish ships attacked Delcus, where a group of raiders disembarked to plunder and rape. The little town's 300 only inhabitants were quickly subdued and the Turks occupied it. Recognizing this as a threat to his outer defenses, the Byzantine king Nikodemos II sent his fleet north immediately to counter the threat. In the ensuing battle all of the Turks were killed and their ships destroyed. A small force of Greek soldiers, landing on the shores of Delcus, promptly massacred the Turkish party stranded on land. From this moment on the Turks learned that the Greeks were a force to be reckoned with on the sea, and the Byzantines earned a hateful and powerful new enemy in the form of the Muslims who dwelt just across from Byzantium, separated only from the great Christian city by the narrow Straits of St. George.
Other successes marked this period of history. Under Nikodemos, the Byzantines defeated a small Turkish fleet off the coast of Marmara Island. In 1453 they struck again, attacking and destroying the Bithynian coastal village of Gus. But the Grande Turk would soon add to the pressure. The Turks, led by the powerful House of Osman (Ottoman), took advantage of internal troubles in Bulgaria to cross into Europe and penetrate farther and farther until by the 1480's the Sultan's banners fluttered less than three hundred miles of the Danube River, and Byzantium was completely encircled by his dominions. To many, it seemed like only a matter of time before the little nation-state on the Golden Horn was doomed.
Struggle for Survival
Loukas Iagrus became king of Byzantium in 1486. He was a competent administrator who reshuffled the political affairs of the state to discourage corruption and misuse of funds. The Byzantine people were devoted and loyal to him, and Loukas had the interesting gift of achieving the utmost affection and admiration of his subjects. Around this time the aging Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmet II, died in Nicomedia and was succeeded by his son by Sitt Hatun, a wealthy Turkoman princess, Ahmet I.
Ahmet was not a man of peace. His father had signed a 12-year peace treaty with the Greeks of Byzantium in 1481, but Ahmet was not obliged to continue it. The King Loukas soon realized this. Mehmet had been a man of peace, manipulated easily by his advisors, who was a wise ruler but not an aggressive one. The new Sultan was quite the opposite. A known enemy of the Christians since childhood, he had ambitions to attack and root out pockets of annoying Christian rule in his lands, particularly among the Greeks of Hellas and Byzantium. Ahmet himself had inspected the city defenses before and was convinced that it would make a very strategic position for the Ottoman Empire, straddling two continents. Though he still favored Nicomedia as his capital, he wanted Byzantium, as well, and had wanted it since he was a young man. The first sign of what was coming came when Ahmet, in 1483. He captured the free Greek city of Adrianople by treachery, and made it the latest link in a chain of Turkish fortresses the Sultan was constructing across western Thrace. This caused near panic in Byzantium, as it was clear to the citizens that this was the first move towards the siege of the city.
In 1484, Ahmet was ready. He marched an army into Byzantine territory and up to the outskirts of the city itself. There, before the Turks withdrew, he reviewed the state of the city. Loukas was sure of himself now; there could be no doubt of the Turkish intentions. Many of the Greeks claimed to have seen it coming. The Byzantines had already declined to pay tribute to the Turks, or to refrain from attacking his ships and taking for themselves the pickings of piracy. During Sultan Mehmet II's reign, there were more important things on his mind than a tiny outpost of resistant Greeks on the Bosporus. But now the Turkish rulers had good reason to want Byzantium out of the way, for it drove a tiresome wedge between Bithynia and their European territories in Bulgaria and Thrace.
For the part of Loukas, he wholeheartedly organized a defense. A large curtain wall had been erected during his early reign; this was greatly strengthened and new towers added. In addition, a boom-defense was constructed to protect the Byzantine harbor. A massive ditch was constructed along the landward sides of the city, widened and deepened to create as much of an obstacle as possible. On April 4, 1484, the axe finally fell on Byzantium. Emperor Lakous had sent ambassadors to the Greeks of Hellas in the south, and as far as the Serbs in the north, but the response was poor. To prevent Hellas from taking action the Sultan had already dispatched a small Turkish force to ravage the Peloponnesus. Serbia was already subdued by the Ottoman Empire; by this point they were reduced to vassalage after fighting a losing but bloody war with the Sultan Mehmet II. Much as they hated the Turk, they feared him even more and had too recently received a taste of his power to challenge him again on the battlefield. Of these two, Hellas had the most incentive to prevent Byzantium's fall, and they hoped to establish dominance over the monarchy there, but were too preoccupied with their own troubles and trying to save themselves from the encroaching Turks to take definite action. Most of the other nations who had trading interests to protect in the Golden Horn felt they would not wish to openly provoke the might of the Sultan, and had better things to concern themselves with than coming to the aid of the relatively unimportant outpost of a handful of Greeks on the Bosporus.
The army that came against the Byzantines has been set at 80,000 soldiers. The Ottomans themselves were not many in number. Many of these were not Turks, but indeed of Christian birth or faith, including large amounts of mercenaries. Sultan Ahmet had also brought with him an arsenal of heavy artillery. The fall of Adrianople, short years earlier, was the first siege battle to be marked by extensive use of cannon, which had totaled the crumbling walls of the city. Surely, the walls of Byzantium would be no different. Against the might of the Turkish army the Byzantines opposed only a pathetically small and inexperienced army of 900 standing soldiers, and between 2,000 to 3,000 of the male citizens capable of bearing arms.
From the 6-7 of April, the Turkish fleet tried to take control of the harbor boom. This first action of the war was a miserable failure. The Greeks were abler seamen, and far better fighters, best when on the waves. The Turks launched flaming projectiles at the ships, fired their guns, and tried to board them. Here fierce hand-to-hand combat took place. The Turkish attack was foredoomed from the beginning. The catapults fired from the strategic sea walls of Byzantium caused great damage to their ships, and their cannons made no impression on the tall Byzantine galleys.
On the 8th an attack was launched. Again, this proved fruitless. In the narrow Thracian terrain the numerical superiority of the Turkish forces proved worthless, while the Byzantines wore far better armour and were able to fend them off easily. Frustrated, the Turks retreated, and, for the next few days, they bombarded the city with their cannon. Artillery pounded into the city itself, shattering churches and towers into powder in an attempt to demoralize the people, none of whom had experienced the horrors of modern warfare. Soon, the walls themselves began to crumble. The Byzantines worked day and night to strengthen them, laboring continually to maintain the structure of their fortifications. A second assault was launched on the 11th of April, just after midnight. The Turkish Anatolian legions led the attack, followed by the Sipahis, crack troops who were intent on being the first to be planting the standards of Islam on the walls of the resistant little city. All the cannons in the city which could be brought up were wheeled to the walls and unleashed on the enemy, while a withering fire from crossbows, arquebuses, and long bows met the attackers in a blizzard of death. On the walls stood the garrison of dedicated defenders, forming a human curtain wall and swinging their swords with viscous intent.
An assault by sea from the Bosporus proved equally disastrous--the small arms of Byzantium proved their superiority by destroying one Turkish ship and badly damaging three others, hurling their occupants into the sea. Many were drowned, others simply died on the spot, while the ones that swam to the shore were promptly decapitated by the Christians. This early victory gave much hope to the Byzantines, but by the beginning of May, their walls were on the verge of collapse. Despite tenacious resistance, the Turks had sufficiently probed the weakest points in the defense and were now confident of victory. The great attack came on the 4th of May. A huge force of Bashi-Bazouks, violent irregulars, mercenaries, and adventurers who fought only for plunder, were to go first. It has been estimated that there were 7,000 of these, among them Serbs, Bulgarians, Illyrians, Anatolians, Turks, even Greeks, who were prepared to bring down their fellow Christians for the loot of conquest. They were undisciplined and expected only to wear the enemy down rather than achieve any real success. Behind them came a line of military police to prevent them from wavering, armed with maces by which they were to chastise those who showed signs of retreating. Behind them came the elite Janissary Corps, fanatical and highly trained men of Christian nationality but staunch followers of Islam and their Sultan. Strictly disciplined, well-armed, and stoutly armored, they would use the Bashi-Bazouks as cannon fodder before striking the Greeks with the brunt of their attack.
A devastating fire from the Turkish artillery threw many of the crumbling masonry of Byzantium's walls into ruin and drove the Byzantines from their posts. Immediately afterwards, the Bashi-Bazouks charged the great gates of the city and the towers of St. Michael, which had stood there since the days of Licinius. The Greeks were inevitably overwhelmed. Both of the towers had suffered extensive damage, and had been shattered by the weight of the bombardment and assault. It wasn't long before the great banner of Turkestan flew over Byzantium's gates and the Greeks knew all was lost. But Lakous refused to give up. A gallant warrior and true defender of his people to the last, he rallied the Byzantine troops and rushed to the breach at St. Michael, swarming around the Turks and forcing them onto the narrow walkway atop the outer walls. It was this which ultimately doomed the Sultan's army. The Janissaries inside the city were cut off as more and more Christians attacked the breach, and all were killed to a man. On the narrow walkway, the Bashi-Bazouks got into each other's way and the Janissaries, in their attempts to engage the enemy, cut down their own soldiers. The Byzantines, seizing advantage of the temporary confusion, fired on the Turks and massacred them. A shower of arrows smothered the Janissaries on the wall, while the Bashi-Bazouks, fleeing, overran their own officers who were trying vainly to force them back. Trapped between two deaths, many of them toppled off the crumbling walkway to their doom in the city streets below. The Janissaries finally broke ranks, overwhelmed by their own numbers, and the Turks fled in disorder. The slaughter was terrible, for the maddened Greeks, having withstood the exhausting weeks of the bloody siege, now showed no mercy. Their bowmen and sharpshooters atop the remaining towers mowed the Turkish troops down as they ran from the walls. In the chaos, it was impossible to tell what had caused the original disorder or to issue orders to the men.
The siege of Byzantium was over, for within ten days the broken remains of the disheartened Turkish army withdrew from eastern Thrace, to the great rejoicing of the Christians. But even though the tiny kingdom had survived, the toll was horrifying. Ruined villages, mutilated corpses, and scorched earth showed where the armies of the now-humiliated Sultan had brought fire and the sword. It would be years before Byzantium could recover or restore its ruined walls. Sultan Ahmet was persuaded to lynch the advisors who had convinced him to undertake the siege; indeed, it was a serious blow to Turkish prestige. Though he reigned for another seven years, the Grande Turke made no attempt to besiege the city again.
Road to Recovery
Byzantium survived anxiously into the 1600's, despite two more determined sieges made by the Turks. The Byzantine Greeks would sometimes pay tribute to their Ottoman neighbors, other times neglect to do so. The Kings of Byzantium often tried to maintain a neutral policy towards the Turkish Empire, but even the temper of Sultan Sebahaddin, one of King Adronicus III's closest friends, was revealed when he marched against the city in 1620.
Around this time, the great Balkan Wars took place which saw Bulgaria and Serbia throw off the Turkish yoke. Hellas also expanded at their expense, and the Sultan was forced to recall his armies from Illyria, allowing the nations there to gain their independence. Byzantium remained neutral during the wars, but faced numerous Bulgarian attacks during this century. They had only to profit from the removal of the Turks from Europe, however, and even joined in the great coalition which finally expelled the Sultan completely from Eastern Europe in 1700.
Bulgaria finally seized control of Byzantium in 1789 with a huge army and modern fleet, but the Byzantines, about six years later, restored the monarchy to control of the city itself and its few other municipalities, this time under the protection of their fellow Greeks in Hellas. A new period of prosperity followed.
The kings of Byzantium ruled as absolute monarchs until 1908, when King Agricola VI approved a constitution. During the Great War, the nation was occupied by Turkestan. The Turks, with modern weaponry, achieved what all of the successors of Sultan Ahmet failed to accomplish with the Scimitar, Janissaries, and medieval gunpowder. The city collapsed after nominal resistance by the tiny Byzantine army.
Turkish occupation lasted until 1920, when Bohemia and Turkestan were finally defeated and the Great War came to an end. Although devastated by the war and extremely poor in the years that followed, Byzantium, starting in the 1940's, began to regain some level of wealth. However, it still struggled, and in 1952 King Nicetius was forced to sell many of the national treasures to help support fees of the state.
Byzantium was able to maintain itself until it began using its low corporate tax rates to draw foreign companies to the nation. The King of Byzantium today is Europe's fourth wealthiest leader. The country's population also enjoys one of the world's highest standards of living.
Byzantium is one of the smallest nations (by size) in the world. It is also the world's smallest monarchy (The state consists of only one municipality). There is no geographical distinction between the State and City of Byzantium, although responsibilities of the government (state-level) and of the municipality (city-level) are different. According to the constitution of 1951, the kingdom was subdivided into three municipalities, but this is largely nominal.
Byzantium is a kingdom, ruled by a king or queen. The monarch represents Byzantium in international affairs, such as the signing of treaties and agreements with other countries. A number of ministers, under the authority of the monarch, manages the government. The ministers are usually Greek civil servants. An 20-member National Council also shares the legislative powers with the monarchy. Citizens of Byzantium elect National Council members to 9-year terms. The Council must approve changes to the Byzantine Constitution.
Commerce and manufacturing altogether account for over half of Byzantium's income. Tourism accounts for the rest. Byzantium's colorful postage stamps are popular with collectors and another source of income. Many foreign companies have headquarters in Byzantium due to the low taxation there.
The Byzantine government provides a public transportation service in the form of buses. A railroad also connects one side of the nation to the other. The kingdom transmits its own radio and television programs.
The confluence of the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus and the Golden Horn at the heart of present-day Byzantium has deterred attacking forces for thousands of years and still remains a prominent feature of the city's landscape. The historic peninsula is said to be built on seven hills surrounded by the city walls; the largest of these hills is the site of Theodosian Palace on the Sarayburnu. Rising from the opposite side of the Golden Horn is another, conical hill, where the modern Romanus district is situated. Because of the topography, buildings were once constructed with the help of terraced retaining walls (some of which are still visible in older parts of the city), and roads in Derum were laid out in the form of steps.