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M. B. Synge

A New Rome

"Till truer glory replaces all glory,

As the torch grows blind at the dawn of day."

—Mrs Browning.

O VER two thousand five hundred years ago a little fleet of galleys toiled painfully against the current up the long strait of the Hellespont, rowed across the Sea of Marmora, and anchored in the smooth waters of the first inlet which cuts into the European shore of the Bosphorus. Here a long crescent-shaped creek, which after ages were to call the Golden Horn, strikes inland for seven miles, forming a quiet backwater from the rapid stream running outside. On this headland a few colonists landed, and dragged their ships up on the beach.

These colonists were Greeks, and their colony, known as Byzantium, is now our Constantinople. The Black Sea, which washes its shores, had ever been regarded as a region of fable and mystery. Here was the realm of the Golden Fleece; here the old Argonauts had encountered the fierce north wind which had made them give this part the name of Inhospitable, until a later race renamed it Hospitable from its friendly port. It was in the same spirit that the seamen who ventured south, two thousand years later, turned the name of the "Cape of Storms" into that of the "Cape of Good Hope."

From the very first this colony of Byzantium was a success. One of the strongest fortresses in the Eastern world, it was here that the emperor of the East made his last stand against his brother-in-law Constantine, emperor of the West. Here Constantine besieged him till the city surrendered, and the Roman emperor stood a victor on the ramparts which were ever afterwards to bear his name. He knew the old city well, every inch of it; and he now determined to make it into a new Rome, a new capital for the great Empire over which he now ruled supreme—a new centre for Christianity. The limits of the new city were at once marked out. The emperor, says an old story, marched on foot, followed by all his court, and traced with his spear the line where the new forts were to be built. As he paced farther and farther westward along the shore of the Golden Horn, more than two miles from the old gates, his attendants grew more and more surprised at the vastness of his scheme. At last they spoke, and reminded him that the city was already large enough. But Constantine turned to rebuke them.

"I shall go on," he said, "until he, the Invisible Guide who marches before me, thinks fit to stop."

It was perhaps natural that Constantine should wish the new city to be built as much as possible on the lines of the old capital away on the river Tiber. It must have a forum, a circus, and baths. It was said that every rich city in the world was stripped bare to adorn the new capital, but all the efforts of Constantine failed to make of Constantinople a second Rome. The golden milestone marking the central point of the world was here; here was the Imperial palace; a lighthouse lit up ships in the Bosphorus at night,—all was as complete as human hands could make it.

There is an old story which tells how Constantine managed to attract some of the rich and powerful Romans to live in the new city. When he began to build, he sent twelve rich Romans on an embassy to Persia. At the end of sixteen months they returned to report to the emperor. He invited them to dine with him in his new capital. In the course of conversation he asked them when they intended returning to their palaces and families in Rome.

"Not for some weeks," they replied.

"You will find yourselves there this evening," said the Emperor.

Dinner over, each was conducted by an imperial servant to a palace built exactly like his own in Rome, and on entering each found his room filled with his own furniture, while his wife and family came forward to welcome him home.

The city was dedicated on May 11th, 330, celebrated after the Roman fashion by a great festival, with games which lasted forty days.

Seven years later Constantine the Great died in his capital.

His work was done. He had lived to see the heathen empire of Rome changed to the Christian empire of Constantinople through his own energy and power; he had changed the very seat of the world's government; he had made Christianity the state religion, and stopped the persecutions which had tarnished the reigns of his forerunners.

For the proud city on the river Tiber the sun was already setting. High had been the glory of her noon-day, dark was the shadow of her night.

"She sees, she hears, with soul unstirred,

And lifts no hand and speaks no word."