Istanbul; History of the combination of 3 ancient cities

Today’s city of Istanbul included three ancient cities, Byzantion, Kalkhedon (Kadıköy) and Selymbria (Silivri). Byzantion and Kalkhedon, located on both sides of the Bosphorus, are the settlements that form the core of today’s Istanbul. Selymbria, on the other hand, is outside the city, within the borders of the town of Silivri.
Since the Marmara Region is the oldest inhabited region, the prehistoric settlements (such as Yarımburgaz Cave and Fikirtepe) on the Anatolian and Thrace sides of Istanbul were discussed within the framework of the “World City Istanbul” exhibition; however, since Istanbul’s historical background and urban phenomenon are identical with Byzantion, the subject and scope of this article – for the book “World City Istanbul” – is limited to Byzantion.
Byzantion was established on the Thrace side of the Bosporus, which separates Europe and Asia, on the area covered by the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia today. In other words, Sarayburnu and its hinterland formed the core of Byzantion. The city developed over time and spread to the area where Eminönü and Fatih districts are located, during the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. This area, where traces of these periods of Istanbul are found, is now known as the Historic Peninsula.

Year of foundation

Herodotus (5th century BC), known as the “father of history”, says that Byzantion was founded 17 years after Chalcedon. Eusebius, who lived in the Roman Imperial Period long after Herodotus, gives the date of foundation of Chalcedon as 685 BC and that of Byzantion as 660/659 BC. Both the historian Herodotus and the geographer Strabo from Amaseia (Amasya), who lived in the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD, state that the first settlement in the Bosphorus in the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus was in Kalhdeon, which can be explained by the blindness of the Kelkhedons.
Had they not been blind, they would not have come and settled here when such a favorable place stood on the other shore. Apparently, the mention of Chalcedon as the “land of the blind” was a well-known story in Antiquity. In conclusion, it can be said that Byzantion was founded in the middle of the 7th century BC and after Chalcedon.

Founding Legend
According to tradition, Byzantion was founded by colonists from the city of Megara in Central Greece. However, it is likely that the Megarians were also joined by people from other places, especially from Chalcedon and Mileytos.
According to one view, Byzas was the founder of the Megarians; The name of the city comes from Byzas. The mythological story of the establishment of the Bosphorus and Byzantion is as follows:
Io, the daughter of the Argos king Inakhos, is also the priestess of the Temple of Hera in the city of Argos. One day, the god Zeus, seeing Io, falls in love with him. Hera, who learns that her husband Zeus is interested in someone else, gets jealous and looks for ways to separate Io from Zeus. Zeus turns his lover into a cow to protect Io from Hera’s wrath. However, Hera wants the cow to be given to her. He takes Io and puts the thousand-eyed giant Argos on his guard. Zeus sends Hermes to bewitch and kill the giant. Io is freed from the giant; but this time Hera haunts Io with a horse fly. As the fly bites, the cow disguised Io gets hurt; It comes to the Bosphorus from Thrace, crosses the strait and comes ashore on the Asian side. Because of this story, the Bosporus takes the name Bosporos, which means “cow pass”. After Io crosses the “Golden Horn”, she gives birth to a daughter. She names her Keroessa. Keroessa had a child named Byzas with Poseidon, the god of the sea. When Byzas grows up, he establishes a city where his mother gave birth to him. The city is called Byzantion because of its founder Byzas. Although the Megarians played a role in the establishment of Byzantion, it should not be regarded as a purely Greek colony city, since there are also Thracian and Anatolian elements.
It is the product of a later historical tradition as the founder of the city. Byzantion’s helmeted and bearded bust and his name appear on the obverse of the Roman Imperial period coins. According to one view, the ship depicted on the reverse of these coins is the ship that brought Byzas from Megara to Byzantion.

Strategic Importance of the City

The most detailed information about Byzantion is taken from the Greek historian Polybios (23rd century BC). Polybios says that Byzantion was a very safe and wealthy city by the sea. Indeed, Byzantion was the key point of trade between the Black Sea and the Aegean world due to its strategic location.
In the past, the passage through the Bosphorus, that is, the sea route, was important. When the transitions to Anatolia or from Anatolia to Thrace began, the strategic importance of Byzantion increased. As it is known, the Persian king Dareios I (522-486 BC) made the first and important transition during the Scythian expedition; For this purpose, a bridge was formed by arranging the ships side by side.
The Importance of the Current in the Bosphorus for Byzantion
According to the information received from Polybios, the current in the Bosphorus made it easier for the ships to reach Byzantion and the Golden Horn served as a port for the ships. It was much easier to go from Byzantion in the direction of the Black Sea or the Dardanelles, compared to Kalkhedon. Since the current was in his favor, the control of the traffic in the Bosphorus was also in the hands of Byzantion. Also, the fact that the current turned the direction of the acorns from Kalhdeon to Bytzantion provided great benefits to the city.

Source: World City Istanbul-Habitat II, Oğuz Tekin, History Foundation

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