Excessive Partition of Power

Power do change the direction of the world, direction of history and mystery.

Western and Eastern Europe

This was an excessive partition of power, and proved unsatisfactory. But the view that the welfare of the State required the attention and abilities of more than one ruler was consistently upheld, so long as Western and Eastern Europe formed integral parts of the same dominion.

As a consequence Rome ceased to be the capital of the Empire, even in the ordinary acceptation of the term. For multiplicity of rule involved, necessarily, as many seats of imperial administration as the number of rulers associated in the government of the Empire. Hence, under Diocletian, four cities boasted of being capitals. Furthermore, the selection of what cities should enjoy that honour would be determined by their fitness to become natural parts of the new organisation of the Roman world. Even Rome’s claim to be one of the capitals would be submitted to that test. And when so submitted, the claim of the Eternal City was disallowed even in that portion of the Empire which included Italy, where, for strategic reasons, the choice fell first upon Milan and subsequently upon Ravenna. When it came to the turn of the East to provide suitable seats of government, the honours were shared between Singidunum, near the modem Belgrade, and Nico- media in Asia Minor. But for reasons which will immediately appear, Constantine preferred Byzantium, and, having changed the comparatively insignificant town into a splendid city, named it New Rome and Constantinople, to become the sole centre for the administration of the Eastern portion of the Empire, and the local habitation of the spirit of a New Age.

Byzantium for its great destiny

It would appear that the selection of Byzantium for its great destiny was made after the claims of other cities to that distinction had been duly weighed. Naissus (the modem Nisch in Servia) which was the Emperor’s birthplace, Sardica (now Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria), Thessalonica were thought of for that purpose. They had the recommendation of giving ready access to the Danube frontier, along which the barbarians caused anxiety and demanded close attention. Some consideration was given to Nicomedia, which had already been selected by Diocletian for his capital It is also said, though without any serious grounds for the statement, that Constantine actually began work for a new city near the site of old Troy, under the spell of the poetic legends which associated Ilium with the origin of the Roman people. But the superiority of Byzantium to all rivals was so manifest that there was hardly room for long suspense as to the proper choice.

The old oracle, “Build opposite the blind,” which led to the foundation of Byzantium could still serve to guide Constantine in his search for the most suitable position of a new imperial city. There is no place in the wide world more eminently fitted by natural advantages to be the throne of a great dominion, than the promontory which guards the southern end of the Bosporus. There Asia and Europe meet to lay down that antagonism which has made so much of the world’s history, and to blend their resources for man’s welfare. A Power upon that throne, having as much might as it has right, should control a realm extending from the Adriatic Sea to the Persian Gulf, and from the Danube to the Mediterranean. From that point natural highways by sea and land proceed, like the radii of a circle, in all directions where rule can be enforced or commerce developed—to Russia, to Asia, to Africa, to the lands of the West. Its magnificent harbor was fitly named the Golden Horn, for it could be the richest emporium of the world’s wealth. Under no sky can men find a more enchanting bower of beauty, or have more readily the charms of nature, the portion and delight of daily life. When Othman, the founder of the Ottoman power, beheld in his dreams this fair city, situated at the junction of two seas and two continents, it seemed to him a diamond set in sapphires and emeralds. Here, moreover, men could dwell secure. Foes advancing through Asia Minor would find their march upon the city arrested by the great moat formed by the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmora, and the Hellespont.

 The straits just named could be made impassable to hostile fleets approaching from the Euxine or the Mediterranean. While armies which had succeeded in breaking through the barriers of the Danube and the Balkans could be confronted by impregnable fortifications planted along the short landward side of the promontory. “Of all the events of Constantine’s life this choice,” Dean Stanley declares, “is the most convincing and enduring proof of his real genius.” Dr. Hodgkin pronounces it, “One of the highest inspirations of statesmanship that the world has witnessed.”


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