Rise and Fall of Constantinople
Constantine the Great effectively became the emperor of the whole of the Roman Empire in September 324. Two months later, Constantine laid out the plans for a new, Christian city to replace Byzantium. As the eastern capital of the empire, the city was named Nea Roma; however, most simply called it Constantinople, a name that persisted into the 20th century. Six years later, on 11 May 330, Constantinople was proclaimed the capital of an empire that eventually became known as the Byzantine Empire or Eastern Roman Empire.
The establishment of Constantinople served as one of Constantine's most lasting accomplishments, shifting Roman power eastward as the city became a center of Greek culture and Christianity. Numerous churches were built across the city, including the Hagia Sophia, which remained the world's largest cathedral for a thousand years. Other improvements to the city undertaken by Constantine included a major renovation and expansion of the Hippodrome of Constantinople; accommodating tens of thousands of spectators, the hippodrome became central to civic life and, in the 5th and 6th centuries, the epicenter of episodes of unrest, including the Nika riots. Constantinople's location also ensured its existence would stand the test of time; for many centuries, its walls and seafront protected Europe against invaders from the east and the advance of Islam. During most of the Middle Ages, the latter part of the Byzantine era, Constantinople was the largest and wealthiest city on the European continent and at times the largest in the world.
Constantinople began to decline after the Fourth Crusade, during which it was sacked and pillaged. The city subsequently became the center of the Latin Empire, created by Catholic crusaders to replace the Orthodox Byzantine Empire. However, the Latin Empire was short-lived, and the Byzantine Empire was restored, albeit weakened, in 1261. Constantinople's churches, defenses, and basic services were in disrepair, and its population had dwindled to a hundred thousand from up to half a million during the 8th century.
Various economic and military policies instituted by Andronikos II, such as the reduction of military forces, weakened the empire and left it more vulnerable to attack. In the mid-14th century, the Ottoman Turks began a strategy of taking smaller towns and cities over time, cutting off Constantinople's supply routes and strangling it slowly. Finally, on 29 May 1453, after an eight-week siege (during which the last Roman emperor, Constantine XI, was killed), Sultan Mehmed II "the Conqueror" captured Constantinople and declared it the new capital of the Ottoman Empire. Hours later, the sultan rode to the Hagia Sophia and summoned an imam to proclaim the Islamic creed, converting the grand cathedral into an imperial mosque.
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