In A.D. 285, the emperor Diocletian undertook the reorganization of the Roman Empire, dividing jurisdiction between its Latin-speaking and Greek-speaking halves. In 330 Diocletian's successor, Constantine, established his capital at the Greek city of Byzantium, a "New Rome" strategically situated on the European side of the Bosporus at its entrance to the Sea of Marmara. For nearly twelve centuries the city, embellished and renamed Constantinople, remained the capital of the Roman Empire -- better known in its continuous development in the East as the Byzantine Empire.
Christianity was introduced to Anatolia through the missionary activity of Saint Paul, a Greek-speaking Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia, and his companions. Christians possibly even constituted a majority of the population in most of Anatolia by the time Christianity was granted official toleration under the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313. Before the end of the fourth century, a patriarchate was established in Constantinople with ecclesiastical jurisdiction over much of the Greek East. The basilica of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), whose construction in Constantinople was ordered by Emperor Justinian in 532, became the spiritual focus of Greek Christendom.
Although Greek in language and culture, the Byzantine Empire was thoroughly Roman in its laws and administration. The emperor's Greek-speaking subjects, conscious of their imperial vocation, called themselves romaioi -- Romans. Almost until the end of its long history, the Byzantine Empire was seen as ecumenical --intended to encompass all Christian peoples -- rather than as a specifically Greek state.
In the early seventh century, the emperor in Constantinople presided over a realm that included not only Greece and Anatolia but Syria, Egypt, Sicily, most of Italy, and the Balkans, with outposts across North Africa as far as Morocco. Anatolia was the most productive part of this extensive empire and was also the principal reservoir of manpower for its defense. With the loss of Syria to Muslim conquest in the seventh century, Anatolia became the frontier as well as the heartland of the empire. The military demands imposed on the Byzantine state to police its provinces and defend its frontiers were enormous, but despite the gradual contraction of the empire and frequent political unrest, Byzantine forces generally remained strong until the eleventh century.
Data as of January 1995
Source: Library of Congress Country Studies