All roads lead to Rome the saying goes: A great city who later fell and whose spectacular ruins let us contemplate today the former heart of an empire. This view is only partially historically accurate. Yes, the Roman influence expanded from Rome but always with a natural inclination towards the east. Tracing their own origins from there, that’s where all other great former empires besides Egypt also had come from. The greek influence – considered prevalent during the Roman empire – is often understood as having captured the conquering romans, resulting in greco-roman culture.
The greek influence was actually there all along from when greek colonists first stepped ashore on Sicily and southern Italy, a process having been underway since before the founding of Rome. The capital eventually consumed vast resources during the hight of empire, moving far beyond what could be produced locally. This caused problems for Rome whose supply lines ultimately became its Achilles’ heel. Goods in high demand came from as far away as China, making the silk road trade effectively come under Roman control though establishing trade stations and ports in present day Jordan and Pakistan.
Adding then also the volatile germanic tribes of northern Europe to the mix whose presence became increasingly problematic for Rome: First a conquest of these lands had been a high priority, present day France and Britain having both been successfully pacified, but after things went terribly wrong in Teutoburger Forest all plans to rule these lands were abandoned indefinitely in the first century CE. Threats of new germanic attacks coupled with a new religion firmly rooted in the east, Christianity, also eventually combined with Rome’s constant problems to sustain itself made an eventual move of the capital to the east, possible, plausible, perhaps even inevitable.
Constantine the Great supported the Edict of Milan in 313 that decreed tolerance for Christianity in the empire. He then called the First Council of Nicaea in 325, after which the Nicene Creed was professed by all Christians and he was finally the Roman emperor to build a new imperial residence at Byzantium and renaming the city Constantinople after himself, making it in fact become the new capital of the empire. It would remain so for over one thousand years.
Justinian I (East Roman emperor 527-565) sought to revive the empire’s greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the historical Roman Empire, thus he’s sometimes been called the “last Roman” in modern historiography. This ambition resulted in the partial recovery of territories of the fallen western empire. Belisarius, his general, restored parts of North Africa, Dalmatia, Southern Spain, Sicily, Italy, and Rome to the empire as well as parts of the Black Sea coast never before under Roman rule. Justinian reformed Roman law with Corpus Juris Civilis, which is still the basis of civil law in many countries today and his reign yielded a general blossoming in culture with such masterpieces as the Hagia Sophia.
Hagia Sophia was built as a Christian basilica and later converted into an imperial mosque after the Ottoman conquest thousand years later and is today a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. From its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople (it was briefly a Catholic cathedral in 1204-1261) and was then converted into a mosque and remained so between 1453-1931 and has been a museum since 1935. Its massive dome is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and was the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was built in 1520. The current building was built in 532-537 by Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles on orders by Justinian who wished to rival the Pantheon in Rome by combining it’s dome with a basilica.
The church was dedicated to the Wisdom of God, the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity and its full name in greek means “Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God”. The church contained a large collection of holy relics and was the focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly a millenium. The upper gallery is laid out in a horseshoe shape that encloses the nave until the apse. Several mosaics are preserved in the upper gallery, an area traditionally reserved for the empress and her court. The best-preserved mosaics are located in the southern part of the gallery.
The upper gallery of Hagia Sofia also contains runic graffiti presumed to be from the Varangian Guard, an elite unit of the Byzantine Army in the 10th-14th centuries, whose members served as personal bodyguards to the Emperors. They where primarily composed of Germanic peoples, specifically Scandinavians (it was formed about 200 years into the Viking age) and Anglo-Saxons (after the Norman Conquest of England created an Anglo-Saxon emigration, part of which found employment in Byzantium).
The film was made from personal footage of the Hagia Sophia with additional footage and animations from a NOVA/PBS documentary titled ’Hagia Sophia: Istanbul’s Mystery’. It’s a interesting look into how the Hagia Sophia has been able to withstand earthquakes for nearly 1500 years. The Song in the film is ’Soulburner’ by Hands Of Doom.
Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016