History of the Byzantine Empire



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The walls of Constantinople. — Among the important events of the time of Theodosius was the construction of the walls of Constantinople. Constantine the Great had surrounded the new capital with a wall. By the time of Theodosius II the city had far outgrown the limits of this wall. It became necessary to devise new means for the defense of the city against the attacks of enemies. The fate of Rome, taken by Alaric in the year 410, became a serious warning for Constantinople, since it too was menaced in the first. half of the fifth century by the savage Huns.

The solution of this very difficult problem was undertaken by some of the gifted and energetic men of Theodosius’ court. The walls were built in two shifts. In 413, during the early childhood of Theodosius, the praetorian prefect, Anthemius, who was at that time regent, erected a wall with numerous towers which extended from the Sea of Marmora to the Golden Horn, somewhat to the west of Constantine’s wall. This new wall of Anthemius, which saved the capital from the attack of Attila, exists even today north of the Sea of Marmora as far as the ruins of the Byzantine palace known as the Tekfour Serai. After a violent earthquake which destroyed the wall, the praetorian prefect Constantine repaired it and also built around it another wall with many towers and surrounded with a deep ditch filled with water. Thus, on land, Constantinople had a threefold series of defenses, the two walls separated by a terrace and the deep ditch which surrounded the outer wall. Under the administration of Cyrus, prefect of the city, new walls were also constructed along the seashore. The two inscriptions on the walls dating back to this period, one Greek and the other Latin, speak of the building activities of Theodosius. They are still legible today. The name of Cyrus is also associated with the introduction of night illumination of the streets in the capital.[135]

Theodosius II died in the year 450. In spite of his weakness and lack of ability as a statesman, his long reign was very significant for subsequent history, especially from the cultural point of view. By a lucky choice of responsible officials, Theodosius succeeded in accomplishing great results. The higher school of Constantinople and the code of Theodosius still remain splendid monuments of the cultural movement in the first half of the fifth century. The city walls built during this period made Constantinople impregnable for many centuries to the enemies of the Byzantine Empire. N, H. Baynes remarked, “In some sense the walls of Constantinople represented for the East the gun and gunpowder, for lack of which the Empire in the West perished.”[136]




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