Istanbul, the largest city of Turkey, has a long and glorious history. It has remained the center of political power, culture, trade, and learning through the ages. Moreover, it has borne many names, associated with different historic periods and languages. The name that the city held during most of the Middle Ages and the modern era is Constantinople. The city was the initial capital of the Ottoman Empire. Following the establishment of the Turkish Republic (1923), Ankara took over as the capital city.
Center of Byzantine Empire
The history of settlement in Istanbul dates back to the 7th-century B.C. Greek settlers who came to settle in this natural harbor, to the east of the strait of Bosporus, named the city Byzantium. Thereafter, the Eastern Roman Empire came to be known as the Byzantine Empire, with Byzantium as its capital and trade center.
Between the end of the 2nd-century A.D. and early 3rd-century A.D., Roman Emperor Septimius Severus renamed the city Augusta Antonia. This was in honour of his son and co-ruler Emperor Caracalla.
Emperor Constantine and Nova Roma
The rise of Constantine the Great ended internal power struggles in the Roman Empire. Constantine became the emperor in September 324 A.D. and moved the capital to Byzantium. He decided to build a New Rome (Nova Roma), a cultural and religious hub over Byzantium. The city was renamed Constantinople, but Nova Roma remained a widely used epithet. After Constantine declared Christianity as Rome’s official religion, Constantinople became an important seat of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Rise of the Ottoman Empire
With the introduction of Islam, Constantinople came to be known by its Arabic form Kostantiniyye. Under the Ottoman regime, from the mid-15th- century till the dissolution of the caliphate in 1923, Kostantiniyye became the name used in all official records and communications of the Ottoman Turks.
The name Istanbul is a Turkish name that has been in vogue since the 10th century. It roughly translates into “in the city” or simply “the city”, a testament to the enduring greatness of Constantinople. This name is found commonly in the Turkish literature of the Ottoman period. Another variant of Istanbul, Stombul is also commonly found in the Turkish texts.
Other names that the city of Istanbul has garnered over the centuries include ‘The Great City’, ‘The City of Emperors’, and, ‘The Capital of the Romans’. These were not names, but titles used to refer to the city by various historians, scribes, and writers, at different times.
Sometime between the 10th and 12th-centuries, Istanbul was one of the largest cities of the world. It was widely spoken of, written about, and discussed. Each prominent language came up with its own creative expression to name the city.
Wave of Turkish Nationalism
In 1876, the Ottoman Constitution declared Turkish to be the only official language. This strengthened the Turkification movement. In the wake of the new wave of nationalism, it became important for Constantinople to be renamed. This was required to severe ties with the past, and to once again regain its glory. On March 28, 1930, Turkey decided to officially rename the city. Thereafter, it directed all nations to start referring to it as Istanbul.