The city we know today as Istanbul has gone by many names throughout the centuries; Byzantium, Nova Roma, Constantinople but all refer to a place that since its founding had held nearly unmatched strategic and economic value in the then known world. The old city, situated on a peninsula between the Sea of Marmara and an inlet called The Golden Horn, lies at the southern entrance to a natural nineteen mile waterway called the Bosphorus which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and points beyond. Sitting at the literal edge of the European continent, it was where the east met west and the commerce that flowed between the two showered the city with a wealth that was unrivaled anywhere else on earth for nearly 800 years.
The original city known as Byzantion (Byzantium) was founded by the Greeks in 657 BCE and was refounded in 330 CE by then Roman Emperor Constantine I as the new capital of the Roman Empire. By this time, the city of Rome was losing its strategic importance in the world and was too far away from where the wealth of the empire was being generated - the east. During Constantine’s lifetime this new capital city was called Nova Roma (New Rome) but then changed to Constantinople upon his death.
Throughout the centuries that followed, the population and wealth of the city would grow, enabling its rulers to lavish the city with ever more impressive monuments, palaces, churches, public forums and stadiums. By the beginning of the 6th century (under the rule of Justinian I) the city as well as the Roman Empire would reach the very zenith of its size, power and influence and it is during his reign that the scenes depicted in these three paintings take place.