How Did Constantinople Get Its Name?
Constantinople, now the
Turkish city of Istanbul, was called after the Roman emperor Constantine the
Great. The name means city of Constantine. He was born at Nish in what is now
Yugoslavia about AD 280 and was educated at the court of Galerius, the ruler of
the Eastern Roman Empire. In AD 306 he was proclaimed Caesar. At this time the
Roman Empire was governed by four rulers. But the system did not work well, and
Constantine decided there should be only one ruler—himself. He became a
Christian as the result of visions he had seen promising him victory over his
rivals if he embraced the new faith.
Rome fell to his troops and in AD 323 the last of the independent rulers was defeated, leaving Constantine in command of the whole empire. He changed the capital from Rome to the ancient city of Byzantium, on the shores of the Bosporus. He enlarged the city, renamed it Constantinople and enriched it with many churches and palaces.
It was reinaugurated in 324 from ancient Byzantium as the new capital of the Roman Empire by Emperor Constantine the Great, after whom it was named, and dedicated on 11 May 330. The city was located in what is now the European side and the core of modern Istanbul.
Byzantium took on the name of Kōnstantinoupolis (“city of Constantine”, Constantinople) after its refoundation under Roman emperor Constantine I, who transferred the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium in 330 and designated his new capital officially as Nova Roma ‘New Rome’. During this time, the city was also called ‘Second Rome’, ‘Eastern Rome’, and Roma Constantinopolitana. As the city became the sole remaining capital of the Roman Empire after the fall of the West, and its wealth, population, and influence grew, the city also came to have a multitude of nicknames.
As the largest and wealthiest city in Europe during the 4th–13th centuries and a centre of culture and education of the Mediterranean basin, Constantinople came to be known by prestigious titles such as Basileuousa (Queen of Cities) and Megalopolis (the Great City) and was, in colloquial speech, commonly referred to as just Polis ‘the City’ by Constantinopolitans and provincial Byzantines alike.
In the language of other peoples, Constantinople was referred to just as reverently. The medieval Vikings, who had contacts with the empire through their expansion in Eastern Europe (Varangians) used the Old Norse name Miklagarðr (from mikill ‘big’ and garðr ‘city’), and later Miklagard and Miklagarth. In Arabic, the city was sometimes called Rūmiyyat al-Kubra (Great City of the Romans) and in Persian as Takht-e Rum (Throne of the Romans).
In East and South Slavic languages, including in medieval Russia, Constantinople has been referred to as Tsargrad (Царьград) or Carigrad, ‘City of the Caesar (Emperor)’, from the Slavonic words tsar (‘Caesar’ or ‘King’) and grad (‘city’). This was presumably a calque on a Greek phrase such as (Vasileos Polis), ‘the city of the emperor [king]’.