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B Y z A N T I U M  • 359 Byzantium In 324, Constantine made another decision with far-reaching consequences: Judg- ing that the empire could be more securely ruled from the East, he ordered his architects and engineers to transform the ancient Greek colony of Byzantio, known in Latin as Byzantium, into a new capital city called Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, in Turkey). Six years later, he moved his administration there. The actual territory ruled from Constantinople varied greatly over the centu- ries. At first, it was the entire Roman Empire. By the time the city was conquered by Islamic forces in 1453, it was a much-reduced area. But no matter the actual extent of their dominion, the title Byzantine rulers inherited was "emperor of all the Romans." They viewed themselves as the legitimate continuation of the ancient Roman Empire, with one important difference: Byzantium was Christian. Whereas Constantine had extended his protection and patronage to Christianity, his succes- sors went one step further—they made Christianity the official state religion. Church and state were intertwined in Byzantium, and its art marries the luxurious splendor of a powerful earthly kingdom—its gold and silver and jewels—with images that focus on an eternal, heavenly one. The great masterpiece of early Byzantine architecture is the Hagia Sophia, which we examined in Chapter 13 (see 13.16, 13.17). A smaller gem of the early Byzantine style is San Vitale, built during the 6th century in Ravenna, Italy, which was then under Byzantine control (15.6, 15.7). San Vitale does not follow the cross plan that became standard for Western churches but, instead, uses a central plan favored in the East. Central-plan churches are most often square with a central dome, as is the Hagia Sophia. San Vitale, however, takes the unusual form of an octagon. Although an apse protrudes from one wall and a narthex is attached to two others, the fundamental focus of the building is at its center, over which rises a large dome. The major axis of a central-plan church is thus vertical, from floor to dome, or symbolically from Earth to the vault of heaven. The interior of San Vitale is decorated in glittering mosaics. Gold and plant motifs in glass and ceramic tesserae create a feeling of otherworldly paradise and splendor. The scene over the apse represents a youthful Jesus flanked by angels and saints. He is dressed in imperial purple robes and sits on a globe to symbolize his power. The vault before the apse depicts Jesus as a sacrificial lamb held aloft in a wreath by four angels. Mosaics to either side depict the stories of Abraham 15.6 Plan of San Vitale. 15.7 Interior, San Vitale, Ravenna. ca. 547. AGF Srl/Alamy Stock Photo R E L A T E D W O R K S 13.16 Interior of the Hagia Sophia 13.17 Hagia Sophia

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