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The Commercial Map of Constantinople

Constantinople - Map by Cristoforo Buondelmonti, a Florentine cartographer, from the volume Liber insularum archipelagiThe Commercial Map of Constantinople

By Maria Mundell Mango

Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol.54 (2000)

Introduction: In an attempt to establish a commercial map of Constantinople across time, three components will be considered: the architectural setting, the geographical setting, and the goods involved. The commercial topography of Constantinople was in part determined by the fact that it was a sea-bound city on seven hills, making access from the port to the forum and other commercial premises a key necessity in urban development. In this paper I hope to demonstrate that certain types of structures and certain locations proved convenient for particular types of commerce and that these arrangements endured irrespective of countervailing historical, social, or economic trends. For example, persuasive evidence suggests that the Strategion area, situated by the Prosphorion and Neorion harbors and dating from the time of the early Greek colony, remained an important hub of commercial activity throughout the history of the city, until modern times. Similarly, there is evidence that the porticoed street, the stoa, a traditional base for commerce identified by scholars more with the early than the medieval period, survived at Constantinople until the Fourth Crusade.

This study will focus on the siting of “managed commerce,” that is, large-scale enterprise under state supervision, whether destined for state distribution (the annona in the early period) or private, money-based trade. Small-scale commerce (the “neighborhood shop”) will be of secondary interest and only briefly included where relevant. For the purpose of this paper, “commercial activity” will be defined as local production intended for commercial exchange. Limited space precludes comprehensive coverage of all types of commerce or of every topographic feature. The following is presented as an introductory study.

Two texts will provide a framework for this investigation of the commercial topography of Constantinople: for the early period, the Notitia urbis Constantinopolitanae, a semi-official document compiled by a retired civil servant in about 425,2 and, for the middle period, the Book of the Prefect, a legal text of 912.3The two texts differ in content regarding commercial premises. The Notitia lists numbers of buildings by type, whether in state or private use, while the Book of the Prefect deals only with premises occupied by guilds involved in private commerce regulated by the state. Both documents give geographical and architectural indications, neither document appears to be comprehensive.

The geographical setting of managed commerce at Constantinople was linked to architectural requirements. Given the hilly terrain, the size of certain commercial structures helped determine their location. For example, broad, flat ground was needed for fora and horrea. Faced with the paucity of relevant physical evidence of commercial architecture at Constantinople itself, we must look to comparanda in other cities to gain an idea of scale and layout. Examination of the main architectural types found at these sites will provide the basis for much of the discussion of the early period even if, as in the case of stoai/emboloi, they have a direct role in managed commerce only in the medieval period.

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