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This blog just can’t seem to escape Constantine.
Christians in York have just celebrated the 1700th anniversary of Constantine’s accession (25 July, 306), though the details seem confused. He was not made Augustus, but rather Caesar, and he at one time served with as many as five other emperors divided between the eastern and western empires. It took eighteen years before he ruled as sole emperor.
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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.
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A general piece on the illicit antiquities trade.
Antiquities theft seems to me a serious issue, though I find myself differing from most of the people I’ve seen quoted on the issue (not that I’ve read much on the subject). Identity politics and nationalism make me very uncomfortable, and I have a hard time accepting that ethnicity or nationailty gives someone a special claim to culture, particularly ancient culture, which is equally accessible to all. I get the feeling that a lot of outrage over antiquities theft has to do with some vague notion of the works as belonging to a given people.
I never feel for the aggrieved nation, but rather for history. My only concern is that raided antiquities can tell us far less about history than those properly excavated. It angers me as much as the ‘theft of culture’ angers others. And yet I’m inclined to think that my reaction is the more sensible: while my primary motivation is to increase our store of certain historical evidence, many others seem motivated primarily by a belief in the sanctity of cultural identity and national pride.