Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Emendationes is the newest in our continuing series of short-lived features (much like our old series of pithy quotes by Housman that numbered two or three). But we'll see how it goes. The idea is to correct misinformation in the press, and I've found a great example to start us off.

Alan Farago, writing in his Notes from Istanbul for the Orlando Sentinel, wants to use milennia of the city's history to support his claim that the citizens are war-weary, a dubious claim that reduces an entire people to the history of several other peoples.

But the issue is this:

Rivers of blood accompanied the change of each temple from ancient Greece to Christian church to mosque. Constantinople was renamed Byzantium before it was ever called Istanbul.
The fact is that Byzantium was the ancient name for the site, which came to be regarded as a 'second Rome.'

Let's take a second to remember that the name 'Byzantine Empire' has no historical basis, but it has been established practice among historians for so long to use it as a descriptive term because Constantinopolitan doesn't have quite the same zing as Byzantine.

And we're back. Constantine later made Byzantium the official seat of the Empire under the name New Rome. Before long it was renamed again to Constantinople, 'City of Constantine.' Though some reputable sites claim that the Ottoman Turks renamed the city Istanbul when the Byzantine Empire fell, the name was not officially adopted until 1930. The general use of Istanbul predates the official use, though I don't know how old it is.

The likely source of this mistake was trusting in the vague knowledge that the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Turks. The assumption would be that Byzantine Byzantium yielded to Turkish Istanbul. And since Constantinople -- as we all know, thanks to They Might Be Giants -- was the former name of Istanbul, it must be older than Byzantium.


eric said...

And let's not forget the Greek heritage even of Istanbul (eis thn polin)! Wikipedia ( claims that the form 'Stamboul' was 'commonly used by the Turks in the 19th century', though I can't verify that one way or another.

Sorry, by the way, for my protracted lack of posts. It will probably be another couple of weeks at least before I get going again. At that point, I'll try to get you all a whole slew of uninteresting posts about I'm not sure what.

But in the meantime, thanks to Dennis for his posts, which are interesting, and have been generating some enjoyable discussion.

Ed said...

Wayne Sayles has been trying to convince coin collectors to refer to the Romaions rather than Byzantines, but with indifferent success.

Istanbul (Not_Constantinople) was first recorded in 1953, for whatever it's worth.

Will Robey said...

Gibbon notes that the Turks in his day call the city "Istanbol".