Wednesday, 21 April 2010


“An age which is incapable of poetry is incapable of any kind of literature except the cleverness of a decadence.” – Raymond Chandler

Byzantium, was the Greek city by the Propontis (the Sea of Marmara), at the southern end of the Bosporus on the European side, later renamed Constantinople, and now Istanbul. It was magnificently situated, commanding the two opposite shores of Europe and Asia with the advantages of security and great ease of trade. It was originally founded by Megarians in the seventh century BC, opposite Chalcedon (the ‘city of the blind’, so called by the Delphic oracle because its earlier Megarian founders had failed to choose the superior site of Byzantium).

Ruled by Persia from 512 to 478 BC, then alternately under Athenian and Spartan dominion in the fifth and fourth centuries, Byzantium was a formal ally of Athens from c.378 to 357 BC, and then again when successfully resisting Philip of Macedon in the famous siege of 340–339 BC. The help supposedly given by the goddess Hecatē on this occasion was commemorated on Byzantine coins by her symbol of crescent and star (adopted by the Turks as their device after they captured the city in AD 1453). The city suffered severely from the Celtic (Gallic) invasions of the third century BC and subsequently passed into the Roman empire, while remaining Greek in culture. It was chosen by the emperor Constantine for his new capital (AD 330), to be known thereafter in the West as Constantinople.

When the Roman empire in the West finally collapsed in the fifth century under barbarian invasions the eastern empire and its capital, firmly in the Greek world, flourished. The city's position as the capital of the eastern empire was interrupted in 1204 when it was captured by the French and Venetians (collectively known as Latins) during the Fourth Crusade, and became the seat of the Latin empire until restored to Greek possession in 1261. The last emperor, Constantine XIII, was killed when the city and empire fell to the Turks in AD 1453, under whose rule it has remained to this day as Istanbul.

I wrote the following poem after visiting the city some years ago…


Byzantium, on heavy golden crown
You are the brightest jewel!
On the crossroads of history
You soar like a double-headed eagle.

Byzantium, dressed in royal purple,
You temper time with a steel sceptre.
With pen, coloured mosaic, faith and spirit
You light the dark corridors of the centuries.

Byzantium, you’re overtaken by dusk,
You’re oppressed by the melancholy of the Bosporus.
In Saint Sophia’s lofty halls, expires
The pitiful flame of the last votive candle.

Byzantium, you draw your last breath,
When minaret rises and wounds the blue sky.
The eagle-sun dies in the west
And dyes the white and blue incarnadine.

Byzantium, in blood-red skies now
The crescent moon now promenades.
And in its faint, borrowed light,
Only your eternal sadness in the night will reign.


  1. The wonderful Mr.Chandler would approve.

  2. Thank you, Tertius Chandler was an amazing individual!
    For those who have not heard of him, see:

  3. How intriguing, Nic!!!
    The poem is sad but beautiful.