Istanbul was founded in the 7th century BC on a naturally defensive site from which trade along the Bosphorus could be controlled. For 16 centuries it was a great imperial capital, first of the Byzantine Empire and then of the Ottoman sultans. Some knowledge of the histories of these two civilizations helps the visitor to appreciate the magnificent monuments found throughout the city.
The topography of Istanbul was formed at the end of the last Ice Age, when meltwaters created the Bosphorus. The Stone Age cultures in the areawere replaced by Copper Age villages and walled BronzeAge towns. The Bosphorus was an important trade route in the ancient world along which ships carried wine
and olive oil north from the Mediterranean, and grain, skins, wool, timber, wax, honey, salted meat and salted fish south from regions around the Black Sea.
The area around the Bosphorus was subjugated by a series of peoples, starting with the Mycenaeans (1400– 1200BC). Between 800 and 680 BC the region was controlled by the kingdom of Phrygia. Later, in 676 BC, Greek expeditionaries founded the city of Chalcedon (on the site where modern Kadıköy now stands).
THE FOUNDATION OF BYZANTION
The foundation of Istanbul is usually dated to 667 BC when, according to legend, a Greek colonist, Byzas, led an expedition from the overcrowded cities of Athens and Megara to establish a colony on the European side of the Bosphorus. This colony, known as Byzantion, grew to be a successful independent city-state, or polis, one of the 40 most important such states throughout the Ancient Greek world. During the next few centuries, Byzantion worked in partnership with Chalcedon, using the same coinage and sharing the tolls exacted from passing sea trade. But Byzantion had to struggle to maintain its independence in the mercurial politics of the ancient world. It endured Lydian (560–546 BC), Persian (546–478 BC), Athenian (478–411BC) and Macedonian (334– 281BC) rule before briefly regaining its autonomy. In 64 BC it was subsumed into the RomanEmpire as Byzantium. The city was almost destroyed in AD 195 bySeptimius Severus because of its support for his rival for the imperial throne, Pescennius Niger. It survived the Goths’ devastation of Chalcedon in AD 258 but trade in the region dramatically declined in the following years.