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Guardian of the Bosphorus: from the 7th century BC

Founded as a Greek colony in about 660 BC, and subsequently of great economic importance to Athens, Byzantium occupies perhaps the world's most impressive strategic position. It controls both the southern land route between Asia and Europe and the narrow channel linking the Black Sea with the Mediterranean.

In its early centuries Byzantium is frequently fought over between Greeks and Persians, and even among the Greeks themselves - between Athenians, Spartans and Macedonians. In the 1st century BC it is brought within the Roman empire as a result of Pompey's campaigns in the east.

The city acquires a new lease of life when Constantine establishes it, in AD 330, as the capital of the new Christian empire. Its ancient name vanishes (surviving only in the term Byzantine empire), to be replaced by the emperor's preferred Constantinople.

The name Byzantium has lasted about 1000 years. Constantinople surpasses it by perhaps another 100, until falling to the Turks in 1453. The newcomers refer to the place in a phrase borrowed from Greek city slang. Eis tin polin ('in the city') evolves into the name which has now been in use for more than 600 years - Istanbul.

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