But for the wind

Before Constantine came Byzas. One legend ran (there were others) …

There was once a king called Byzas who consulted the oracle at Delphi on where to settle his people.

“Settle opposite the land of the blind”, she said.

Byzas knew nothing of such a land. Neither did anyone he knew. So he took his people on a treck, believing that he would happen upon this land, and after some time, he came to the channel of rushing water that separated Europe from Asia. He followed its bank until he came to the spot where it had carved the shape of a horn into Europe’s bank.

He made his way around these sheltered waters and rejoined the channel proper. A little further on, he saw that the waters had succeeded in breaking out completely, making a sea carved out of both banks. So he stood on a finger of land, defended on three sides by water in horn, channel and sea. The horn provided a perfect harbor, the finger, the perfect location for controlling access between Europe and Asia. He had found his site.

But what of the oracle’s instruction? Across from where he stood, on the Asian side of the channel, he could see a small settlement.

“How blind to settle there, exposed, and not here, where there’s shelter”, he thought.

Byzas called his city after himself. Byzantium.

Centuries later, Constantine besieged the city …

The emperor too had been searching for a site for his city and fortune brought him here to where he too saw its potential.

So well placed …

Unlike the City (Rome), so far west, so deep in Italy, Glorious Rome straddled east and west to control access to both

a position still commented on today.

It had the right aspect …

The finger of land was defined by an orderly succession of ridges, unlike the chaotic hills of Rome. And it was land doctors loved, neither too chilly for the brain, nor too putrid for the blood.

So well supplied …

“Such a site. All the marble and wood a builder could need nearby, plentiful fresh water close by. So many bounties.”

Except for the fickle south wind. Though it allowed Constantine to win the city …

About noon the north wind subsided; the south wind then blew with such violence, that the ships of Licinius, which lay on the Asiatic coast, were some driven on shore, others broken ngainst the rocks, and others foundered with all on board. In this affair five thousand men perished, together with a hundred and thirty ships filled with men

that same wind often brought hunger, made the population restive …

It happens, moreover, that the site of Byzantium is not adapted for the approach of ships that touch there, except when a strong wind is blowing due from the south. At that time, then, there happened what often used to happen according to the nature of the seasons; and the citizens were assembled in the theatre, worn out by hunger. The applause from the drunken populace was scanty, and the Emperor was greatly discouraged.

But there is always a scapegoat …

Then those who had long been envious thought that they had found an excellent occasion, and said: It is Sopater, he whom you honour, who has fettered the winds by that excessive cleverness which you yourself praise, and through which he even sits on the Imperial throne. When Constantine heard this he was won over, and ordered Sopater’s head to be cut off; and those envious persons took care that this was no sooner said than done.

At the end of the century, long after Constantine was gone, the Tetrapylon went up, a striking arch with a weathervane. Here’s the wind, the shape of victory pointed.

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