A history/travel guide about the fabled eastern capital of the Romans.
Between Constantinople’s founding in 330 to its final siege by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, there were nearly 100 Roman emperors (and several empresses) and a flourishing Roman, Greek, and Christian culture that defied the so-called Dark Ages of Western Europe. In this entertaining survey, Fidler, the host of a popular radio program in Australia, recounts this history through the lens of a recent trip with his 14-year-old son to Istanbul. Alternating between scholarship and travelogue, taking the form of a gentle lecture for the curious, sometimes-skeptical son, the narrative presents a palatable, nondidactic history lesson, providing a sense of how the Turkish culture reigns in the present. While scholars refer to this early era of the city as Byzantium, its inhabitants considered themselves proudly Roman, inheritors of the great, sprawling civilization of Augustus, with Latin as their language until Greek became the lingua franca after the rule of Justinian. While Rome was being sacked by the Visigoths, the eastern capital of Constantinople—two-thirds of which is surrounded by water, thus enjoying an incomparable strategic advantage—was constructing the great Theodosian Walls around its one land direction, just before Attila the Hun could attack in 447. Indeed, the Muslims trained their conquering eyes on the city numerous times until the eventual conquest by Mehmed II. The author navigates fluidly from the city’s founding by Constantine, the first Christian ruler, moving on to the significant rule of Justinian—who commissioned his famous Codex from Roman law, still pertinent in European civil law today—and his strong-willed wife, Theodora, and the construction of the Hagia Sophia. He also covers the schisms, plagues, Crusades, sieges, and the creation of the “deep state” that resonates today under Turkey’s current authoritarian prime minister.
Fidler provides a palpable sense of this glittering city built as “a mirror of heaven.”