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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : Common Course (History, Classics and Archaeology)

Undergraduate Course: Constantinople: The History of a Medieval Megalopolis from Constantine the Great to Süleyman the Magnificent (CHCA10005)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryConstantinople, easily the largest and most splendid city of medieval Christendom down to the early thirteenth century, was adorned by the majestic dome of its famous cathedral church of Hagia Sophia - a landmark for all to behold -, its unique collection of ancient statuary, and the world's choicest collection of relics. The course traces the four life cycles of this medieval megalopolis, from Constantine and Justinian's late antique city via its middle (c.750-1204) and late Byzantine (1261-1453) incarnations to the Ottoman conquest in 1453 plus subsequent transformation into an Islamic capital. Participants will become familiar with both textual and material sources on Constantinople's history; all written sources will be provided in English translation.
Course description Ancient Byzantium - renamed Constantinople by its founder, Emperor Constantine I, called Konstantiniye by its Ottoman conquerors and nowadays known as Istanbul (from Greek eis ten polin, 'into the city') - proved one of history's more important stages. Variously hailed as the 'New Rome', 'New Jerusalem', or 'Queen of Cities' and strategically situated on the Bosphorus, it became the 'bridge' from Asia to Europe; at the same time it guarded the passage from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and on to the Mediterranean (and vice-versa). More than once the Byzantine empire's survival depended on the city's strong walls, erected by Emperor Theodosios in the early fifth century. Ultimately conquered twice, in 1204 when the city was looted by the Venetians and knights of the Fourth Crusade and in 1453 by Mehmed II 'the Conqueror', Constantine's city remained a major urban centre to the present day.

The course introduces participants to various aspects of life in the Byzantine capital and, in doing so, to a variety of approaches to (medieval) urban history. We shall examine the city's topography, demography, and imperial programmes of creating a residence and capital of unrivalled splendour: both in terms of ideology (seven hills for the New Rome, legends of apostolic foundation) and of physical, material embellishment. The course traces the origins and growth of the city's collection of relics (of at least 476 saints) and of urban liturgies and processions; Constantinople's political role as the centre of a - in medieval terms - highly centralised polity, the Eastern Roman/Byzantine empire; and its cultural life as a centre of manuscript production and learning. It looks at practical issues such as provisioning a medieval megalopolis ('mega-city') with water, grain, vegetables, and meat. We shall explore hygiene (bathing) and health-care in the wake of sporadic outbreaks of the bubonic plague, from the sixth through the eighth centuries, as well as the damages done by severe earthquakes and harsh winters. The final session explores political, cultural, and ideological continuities and changes from the Byzantines to the city's new Ottoman lords.

Methodologically, we shall address the challenge of reconstructing medieval Constantinople from highly rhetoricised source texts on the one hand and rather few accessible archaeological remains on the other. Medieval texts describing the city and its monuments were written by Byzantine literati in an elaborate register of classicising Greek and follow their own rhetorical rules, and often refuse to offer us straightforward information; and given the city's continuous settlement history that precludes large-scale excavations, archaeological data are comparatively sparse.

Over the course of term, we shall discuss the following topics:

1. The Birth of a Capital: From Constantine to Justinian
2. Circles of Decline and Renewal (626, 766, 1204, 1261, 1453), or: A Short History of Constantinople
3. Methodological Challenges: Material and Textual Sources on Constantinople
4. The New Rome: Politics & Palaces
5. The New Jerusalem: Heavenly Protection for the Queen of Cities
6. Diseases and Disasters: Plagues, Earthquakes & Heavy Winters
7. Provisioning a Capital: Water, Grain & Vegetables, Livestock, Trade
8. Schools & Theatra: Constantinople as a Hub of Learning
9. Ceremonial, Public Spectacles, and Processions
10. Sacred Topography and Spiritual Life in the Later Centuries
11. The Early Ottoman City: Imperial Transitions from Mehmet the Conqueror to Süleyman the Magnificent
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements A pass or passes in 40 credits of first level courses (History, Classics or Archaeology) or equivalent and a pass or passes in 40 credits of second level courses (History, Classics or Archaeology) or equivalent.
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should usually have at least 3 courses in Classics, History or Archaeology (at least one of which should be in Ancient History or History) at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this) for entry to this course. We will only consider University/College level courses.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  0
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 22, Feedback/Feedforward Hours 2, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 172 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 50 %, Coursework 40 %, Practical Exam 10 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Coursework:
3,500 word Essay (40%)

2,000 word Open Book Exam (50%)

Non-Written Skills:
Powerpoint Presentation (10%)
Feedback Students will receive immediate feedback in classroom conversations and written feedback on their oral presentation and submitted coursework, and will have the opportunity to discuss that feedback further with the Course Organiser during their published office hours or by appointment.
Exam Information
Exam Diet Paper Name Hours & Minutes
Main Exam Diet S1 (December)2:00
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. demonstrate command of the sources on the late antique, medieval and early modern history of Contantinople;
  2. read, analyse and reflect critically upon relevant scholarship;
  3. understand, evaluate and utilise a variety of primary source material (medieval texts of different genres; material evidence: art, architecture, archaeology; coins; seals);
  4. develop and sustain scholarly arguments in oral and written form, by formulating appropriate questions and utilising relevant evidence and demonstrate independence of mind and initiative; intellectual integrity and maturity; an ability to evaluate the work of others, including peers;
  5. demonstrate the ability to conduct a sustained individual enquiry into a particular aspect of the topic.
Reading List
Bassett, S. (2004), The Urban Image of Late Antique Constantinople (Cambridge)

Bassett, S. (ed.) (2022), The Cambridge Companion to Constantinople (Cambridge)

Grig, L. and G. Kelly (eds) (2012), Two Romes: From Rome to Constantinople (Oxford)

Hatlie, P. (2007), The Monks and Monasteries of Constantinople, ca. 350-850 (Cambridge)

Kafescioglu, C. (2009), Constantinopolis/Istanbul: Cultural Encounter, Imperial Vision, and the Construction of the Ottoman Capital (University Park, Pa.)

Magdalino, P. (2007), Studies on the History and Topography of Byzantine Constantinople (Aldershot)

Magdalino, P. (2024), Roman Constantinople in Byzantine Perspective (Leiden)

Mango, C. and G. Dagron (eds) (1995), Constantinople and its Hinterland: Papers from the Twenty-seventh Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Oxford, April 1993 (Aldershot)

Necipoglu, G. (1991) Architecture, Ceremonial and Power: The Topkapi Palace in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries (Cambridge, Mass.)

Necipoglu, N. (ed.) (2001), Byzantine Constantinople: Monuments, Topography and Everyday Life (Leiden)

Neyzi, E. (2024), 'Monasticism in Late Byzantine Constantinople (1261-1453): Urban, Social, and Institutional History', PhD thesis, The University of Edinburgh

Ousterhout, R. G. (2019), Eastern Medieval Architecture (Oxford), chs 2, 7-9, 15, 24
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
Course organiserProf Niels Gaul
Tel: (0131 6)50 3776
Course secretaryMiss Sara Dennison
Tel: (0131 6)50 2501
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