Byzantium (Greek: Βυζάντιον Byzántion) was an ancient Greek colony on the site that later became Constantinople, and later still Istanbul. Byzantium was colonised by the Greeks from Megara in c. 657 BC.

Byzantion name is of ancient greek origins, derived from the legendary king Byzas, the leader of the Megarian colonists and founder of the city.
Coinage with idealized depiction of Byzas, founder of Byzantium. Struck in Byzantium, Thrace, around the time of Marcus Aurelius (161–180 CE).

The form Byzantium is a Latinization of the original name. Much later, the name Byzantium became common in the West to refer to the Eastern Roman Empire, the "Byzantine" Empire, whose capital Constantinople stood on the site of ancient Byzantium. This usage was introduced only in 1555 by the historian Hieronymus Wolf, a century after the empire had ceased to exist. During the time of the empire, the term Byzantium was restricted to just the city, rather than the empire it ruled.

The European side (at Seraglio Point) featured only two fishing settlements: Lygos and Semistra. The origins of Byzantium are shrouded in legend. The traditional legend has it that Byzas from Megara (a city-state near Athens) founded Byzantium in 667 BC when he sailed northeast across the Aegean Sea. The tradition tells that Byzas, son of King Nisos (Νίσος), planned to found a colony of the Dorian Greek city of Megara. Byzas consulted the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, which instructed Byzas to settle opposite the "Land of the Blind". Leading a group of Megarian colonists, Byzas found a location where the Golden Horn, a great natural harbour, meets the Bosphorus and flows into the Sea of Marmara, opposite Chalcedon (modern day Kadıköy). He adjudged the Chalcedonians blind not to have recognized the advantages the land on the European side of the Bosphorus had over the Asiatic side. In 667 BC he founded Byzantium at their location, thus fulfilling the oracle's requirement. Cape Moda in Chalcedon was the first location which the Greek settlers from Megara chose to colonize in 685 BC, prior to colonizing Byzantion on the European side of the Bosphorus under the command of King Byzas in 667 BC.
AR tetradrachm struck in Byzantion 150-100 BC in the name of Lysimachos obverse:Head of the deified Alexander the Great right; reverse: Athena Nikephoros seated left ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ / ΛΥΣΙΜΑΧΟΥ monogram (ΠΩΛΥΒ) to left; ΒΥ below throne trident in exergue references: Dewing 1361, Müller 204. weight:16,87g diameter: 35-32mm

It was mainly a trading city due to its location at the Black Sea's only entrance. Byzantium later conquered Chalcedon, across the Bosporus on the Asiatic side.

Byzantium was besieged by Greek forces during the Peloponnesian war. As part of Sparta's strategy for cutting off grain supplies to Athens, Sparta took the city in 411 BC. The Athenian military later took the city in 408 BC.

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. It was bound to Perinthos during the period of Septimius Severus. The location of Byzantium attracted Roman Emperor Constantine I who, in 330 AD, refounded it as an imperial residence inspired by Rome itself. (See Nova Roma.) After his death the city was called Constantinople (Greek Κωνσταντινούπολις, Konstantinoupolis, "city of Constantine").
An amphora containing a treasure of 1,202 6th century Byzantine bronze coins

This combination of imperialism and location would affect Constantinople's role as the nexus between the continents of Europe and Asia. It was a commercial, cultural, and diplomatic centre. With its strategic position, Constantinople controlled the major trade routes between Asia and Europe, as well as the passage from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea. On May 29, 1453, the city fell to the Ottoman Turks, and again became the capital of a powerful state, the Ottoman Empire. The Turks called the city "Istanbul" (although it was not officially renamed until 1930); the name derives from "eis-tin-polin" (Greek: "to-the-city"). To this day it remains the largest and most populous city in Turkey, although Ankara is now the national capital.

By the late Hellenistic or early Roman period (1st century BC), the star and crescent motif was associated to some degree with Byzantium; even though it became more widely used as the royal emblem of Mithradates VI Eupator (who for a time incorporated the city into his empire).

Some Byzantine coins of the 1st century BC and later show the head of Artemis with bow and quiver, and feature a crescent with what appears to be an eight-rayed star on the reverse. According to accounts which vary in some of the details, in 340 BC the Byzantines and their allies the Athenians were under siege by the troops of Philip of Macedon. On a particularly dark and wet night Philip attempted a surprise attack but was thwarted by the appearance of a bright light in the sky. This light is occasionally described by subsequent interpreters as a meteor, sometimes as the moon, and some accounts also mention the barking of dogs. However, the original accounts mention only a light in the sky, without specifying the moon. To commemorate the event the Byzantines erected a statue of Hecate lampadephoros (light-bearer or bringer). This story survived in the works of Hesychius of Miletus, who in all probability lived in the time of Justinian I. His works survive only in fragments preserved in Photius and the tenth century lexicographer Suidas. The tale is also related by Stephanus of Byzantium, and Eustathius.

Devotion to Hecate was especially favored by the Byzantines for her aid in having protected them from the incursions of Philip of Macedon. Her symbols were the crescent and star, and the walls of her city were her provenance.
Ancient design of the star and crescent symbol as used in Byzantium in the 1st century BC

The star and crescent develops in the iconography of the Hellenistic period in Pontus, the Bosporan Kingdom, and notably Byzantium by the 2nd century BC. It is the conjoined representation of the crescent and a star, both of which constituent elements have a long prior history in the iconography of the Ancient Near East as representing either Sun and Moon, or Moon and Evening Star (or their divine personifications). Coins with crescent and star symbols represented separately have a longer history, with possible ties to older Mesopotamian iconography.
Depiction of the emblems of Ishtar (Venus), Sin (Moon), and Shamash (Sun) on a boundary stone of Meli-Shipak II (12th century BC)

The star or Sun is often shown within the arc of the crescent (also called star in crescent or star within crescent for disambiguation of depictions of a star and a crescent side by side); In numismatics in particular, the term crescent and pellet is used in cases where the star is simplified to a single dot.
Byzantine coin (1st century) with a bust of Artemis on the obverse and an eight-rayed star within a crescent on the reverse side.

In Byzantium, the symbol became associated its patron goddess Artemis-Hecate, and it is used as a representation of Moon goddesses (Selene-Luna or Artemis-Diana) in the Roman era. Ancient depictions of the symbol always show the crescent with horns pointing upward, and with the star (often with eight rays) placed inside the crescent. This arrangement is also found on Sassanid coins beginning in the 5th or 6th century.
Crescents appearing together with a star or stars are a common feature of Sumerian iconography, the crescent usually being associated with the moon god Sin (Nanna) and the star with Ishtar (Inanna, i.e. Venus), often placed alongside the sun disk of Shamash. In Late Bronze Age Canaan, star and crescent moon motifs are also found on Moabite name seals.
The Egyptian hieroglyphs representing "moon" (N11) and "star" (N14) appear in ligature, forming a star-and-crescent shape 
, as a determiner for the word for "month", ꜣbd.
A star and crescent symbol with the star shown in a sixteen-rayed "sunburst" design (3rd century BC)

The depiction of the crescent-and-star or "star inside crescent" as it would later develop in Bosporan Kingdom is difficult to trace to Mesopotamian art. Exceptionally, a combination of the crescent of Sin with the five-pointed star of Ishtar, with the star placed inside the crescent as in the later Hellenistic-era symbol, placed among numerous other symbols, is found in a boundary stone of Nebuchadnezzar I (12th century BC; found in Nippur by John Henry Haynes in 1896). An example of such an arrangement is also found in the (highly speculative) reconstruction of a fragmentary stele of Ur-Nammu (Third Dynasty of Ur) discovered in the 1920s.

Mithradates VI Eupator of Pontus (r. 120–63 BC) used an eight rayed star with a crescent moon as his emblem. McGing (1986) notes the association of the star and crescent with Mithradates VI, discussing its appearance on his coins, and its survival in the coins of the Bosporan Kingdom where "[t]he star and crescent appear on Pontic royal coins from the time of Mithradates III and seem to have had oriental significance as a dynastic badge of the Mithridatic family, or the arms of the country of Pontus." Several possible interpretations of the emblem have been proposed. In most of these, the "star" is taken to represent the Sun. The combination of the two symbols has been taken as representing Sun and Moon (and by extension Day and Night), the Zoroastrian Mah and Mithra,or deities arising from Greek-Anatolian-Iranian syncretism, the crescent representing Mēn Pharnakou (Μήν Φαρνακου, the local moon god) and the "star" (Sun) representing Ahuramazda (in interpretatio graeca called Zeus Stratios)

It is unclear precisely how the symbol Hecate/Artemis, one of many goddesses would have been transferred to the city itself, but it seems likely to have been an effect of being credited with the intervention against Philip and the subsequent honors. This was a common process in ancient Greece, as in Athens where the city was named after Athena in honor of such an intervention in time of war.

Later, under the Romans, cities in the empire often continued to issue their own coinage. "Of the many themes that were used on local coinage, celestial and astral symbols often appeared, mostly stars or crescent moons." The wide variety of these issues, and the varying explanations for the significance of the star and crescent on Roman coinage precludes their discussion here. It is, however, apparent that by the time of the Romans, coins featuring a star or crescent in some combination were not at all rare.


Jeffreys, Elizabeth (1986). "Book 13 The time of the Emperor Constantine,". The Chronicle of John Malalas. Australian Association for Byzantine Studies.
Ακύλα Μήλλα, Πέρα, Το Σταυροδρόμι της Ρωμιοσύνης, εκδόσεις Μίλητος, Αθήνα 2006,
Harris, Jonathan, Constantinople: Capital of Byzantium (Hambledon/Continuum, London, 2007). ISBN 978-1-84725-179-4
Κ. Γ. Αθανασόπουλος, Ancillae Theologiae: Το φιλοσοφείν και Θεολογείν κατά το Μεσαίωνα και το Βυζάντιο, εκδ. Παρουσία, Αθήνα, 2004, σελ.350 (με πίνακες και λεπτομερή βιβλιογραφία στην Ελληνική, Λατινική, Αγγλική, Γαλλική και Γερμανική) (ISBN: 960-7956-94-X)
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The Useful Information about Istanbul. Retrieved January 6, 2005.
The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (Oxford University Press, 1991) ISBN 0-19-504652-8
Yeats, William Butler, "Sailing to Byzantium"

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