Names of Istanbul

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The city of Istanbul has been known through the ages under a number of different names. The most notable names besides the modern Turkish name are Byzantium, Constantinople and Stamboul. Different names are associated with different phases of its history and with different languages.

Names in historical sequence


According to Pliny the Elder the first name of Byzantium was Lygos.[1] This may have been the name of a Thracian settlement situated on the site of the later city, near the point of the peninsula (Sarayburnu).[2]


Byzantion (Βυζάντιον), Latinized as Byzantium, was founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 667 BC. The name is believed to be of Thracian or Illyrian origin and thus to predate the Greek settlement.[2] It may be derived from a Thracian or Illyrian personal name, Byzas.[3]:352ff Ancient Greek legend refers to a legendary king of that name as the leader of the Megarean colonists and eponymous founder of the city.

Much later, the name became common in the West to refer to the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern continuation of the Roman Empire during the Middle Ages, whose capital the city had been. This usage was introduced in 1555 by the German historian Hieronymus Wolf, a century after the empire had ceased to exist. During the time of the empire, the term Byzantium was restricted to just the city, rather than the empire that it ruled.

Augusta Antonina

Augusta Antonina was a name given to the city during a brief period in the 3rd century AD. It was conferred to it by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (193–211) in honor of his son Antoninus, the later Emperor Caracalla.[4]

New Rome

Before the Roman emperor Constantine the Great made the city the new eastern capital of the Roman Empire on May 11, 330, he undertook a major construction project, essentially rebuilding the city on a monumental scale, partly modeled after Rome. Names of this period included ἡ Νέα, δευτέρα Ῥώμη "the New, second Rome",[5][6] Alma Roma  Ἄλμα Ῥώμα, Βυζαντιάς Ῥώμη, ἑῴα Ῥώμη "Eastern Rome", Roma Constantinopolitana.[3]:354

The term "New Rome" lent itself to East–West polemics, especially in the context of the Great Schism, when it was used by Greek writers to stress the rivalry with (the original) Rome. New Rome is also still part of the official title of the Patriarch of Constantinople.[7]

A postcard, c. 1905, refers to the city as Constantinople, and the inner city as Stamboul.


Constantinople ("City of Constantine") was the name by which the city became soon more widely known, in honour of Constantine the Great. The Greek form is Kōnstantinoúpolis (Κωνσταντινούπολις); the Latin form is Constantinopolis. It is first attested in official use under Emperor Theodosius II (408–450).[4] It remained the principal official name of the city throughout the Byzantine period, and the most common name used for it in the West until the early 20th century. It was also used (including its Kostantiniyye variant) by the Ottoman Empire until the advent of the Republic of Turkey.[8]

Other Byzantine names

Besides Constantinople, the Byzantines referred to the city with a large range of honorary appellations, such as the "Queen of Cities" (Βασιλὶς τῶν πόλεων), also as an adjective, Βασιλεύουσα, the 'Reigning City'. In popular speech, the most common way of referring to it came to be simply the City (Greek: hē Polis, ἡ Πόλις, Modern Greek: i Poli, η Πόλη). This usage, still current today in colloquial Greek and Armenian (Պոլիս, pronounced "Bolis" in the Western Armenian dialect prevalent in the city), also became the source of the later Turkish name, Istanbul (see below).

A map by Piri Reis, c. 1525, refers to the city as Kostantiniyye


Kostantiniyye (Arabic القسطنطينية, al-Qusṭanṭiniyah, Ottoman Turkish قسطنطينيه Kostantiniyye) is the name by which the city came to be known in the Islamic world. It is an Arabic calqued form of Constantinople, with an Arabic ending meaning 'place of' instead of the Greek element -polis. After the Ottoman conquest of 1453, it was used as the most formal official name in Ottoman Turkish,[9] and remained in use throughout most of the time up to the fall of the Empire in 1923. However, during some periods Ottoman authorities favoured other names (see below).


Cedid Atlas, the first published atlas in the Ottoman Empire, dated 1803, refers to the city as İstanbul. Second map refers to the Bosphorus as İstanbul Boğazı (Istanbul Strait)

The modern Turkish name İstanbul (pronounced [isˈtanbuɫ]) (Ottoman Turkish: استانبول‎) is attested (in a range of variants) since the 10th century, at first in Armenian and Arabic and then in Turkish sources. It derives from the Greek phrase "εις την Πόλιν" [istimbolin] or "στην Πόλη", both meaning "in the city" or "to the city";[10] a similar case is Stimboli, Crete. It is thus based on the common Greek usage of referring to Constantinople simply as The City (see above). The incorporation of parts of articles and other particles into Greek placenames was common even before the Ottoman period: Navarino for earlier Avarino,[11] Satines for Athines, etc.[12] Similar examples of modern Turkish placenames derived from Greek in this fashion are İzmit, earlier İznikmit, from Greek Nicomedia, İznik from Greek Nicaea ([iz nikea]), Samsun (s'Amison from "se" and "Amisos"), and İstanköy for the Greek island Kos (from is tin Ko). The occurrence of the initial i- in these names may partly reflect the old Greek form with is-, or it may partly be an effect of secondary epenthesis, resulting from the phonotactic structure of Turkish, as in Turkish istasyon from French station.

A 1927 map of Turkey, where the name İstanbul is used

İstanbul was the common name for the city in normal speech in Turkish even before the conquest of 1453, but in official use by the Ottoman authorities other names, such as Kostantiniyye, were preferred in certain contexts. Thus, Kostantiniyye was used on coinage up to the late 17th and then again in the 19th century. The Ottoman chancelery and courts used Kostantiniyye as part of intricate formulae in expressing the place of origin of formal documents, such as be-Makam-ı Darü's-Saltanat-ı Kostantiniyyetü'l-Mahrusâtü'l-Mahmiyye.[13] In 19th century Turkish book-printing it was also used in the impressum of books, in contrast to the foreign use of Constantinople. At the same time, however, İstanbul too was part of the official language, for instance in the titles of the highest Ottoman military commander (İstanbul ağası) and the highest civil magistrate (İstanbul efendisi) of the city.[14] İstanbul and several other variant forms of the same name were also widely used in Ottoman literature and poetry.[4]

Names other than استانبول (İstanbul) had become obsolete in the Turkish language during the late Ottoman/early republican periods. However, Constantinople was still used when writing the city's name in Latin script. In 1928, Turkish alphabet was changed from Arabic script to Latin script. After that, Turkey started to urge other countries to use Turkish names for Turkish cities, instead of other transliterations to Latin script that had been use in the Ottoman times.[15] Letters or packages sent to "Constantinople" instead of "Istanbul" were no longer delivered by Turkey's PTT, which contributed to the eventual worldwide adoption of the new name.[citation needed]

In English the name is usually written "Istanbul". In modern Turkish the name is written "İstanbul" (dotted i/İ and dotless ı/I being two distinct letters in the Turkish alphabet).


Stamboul or Stambul is a variant form of İstanbul. Greek for 'the town'. Like Istanbul itself, forms without the initial i- are attested from early on in the Middle Ages, first in Arabic sources of the 10th century[16] and Armenian ones of the 12th. Some early sources also attest to an even shorter form Bulin, based on the Greek word Poli(n) alone without the preceding article.[17] (This latter form lives on in modern Armenian.)

Stamboul was used in Western languages as an equivalent of İstanbul, until the time it was replaced by the official new usage of the Turkish form in the 1930s. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Western European and American sources often used Constantinople to refer to the metropolis as a whole, but Stamboul to refer to the central parts located on the historic peninsula, i.e. Byzantine-era Constantinople inside the walls.[18][19]

A 1803 map from Cedid Atlas refers to the city as Islambol (though the Bosphorus is called the Istanbul Strait on the map)


Islambol (lots of Islam) or Islambul (find Islam) or Islam(b)ol (old Turkic: be Islam), both in Turkish Language, were folk-etymological adaptations of Istanbul created after the Ottoman conquest of 1453 to express the city's new role as the capital of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. It is first attested shortly after the conquest, and its invention was ascribed by some contemporary writers to Sultan Mehmed II himself.[4] Some Ottoman sources of the 17th century, most notably Evliya Çelebi, describe it as the common Turkish name of the time. Between the late 17th and late 18th centuries, it was also in official use. The first use of the word "Islambol" on coinage took place in 1703 (1115AH) during the reign of Sultan Ahmed III. The term Kostantiniyye still appeared, however, into the 20th century.

Other Ottoman names

Ottomans and foreign contemporaries, especially in diplomatic correspondence, referred to the Ottoman imperial government with particular honorifics. Among them are the following:

  • Bâb-i-Âlî (باب عالی, "The Sublime Porte") Baab being the Arabic word for door); a metonym, see below
  • Derâliye (در عاليه "Sublime Gate"), Der or Dar being the Persian word for door, and âliye meaning "of Ali," the same as in Bâb-i-Âlî.
  • Dersaadet (در سعادت "Gate of Felicity" or "Gate of Eudaimonia")
  • Asitane (آستانه, from the Persian "The Doorstep" of the Sultan/Government or "The Center" of Ottoman Empire), written in Arabic as Al-Asitana (Arabic: الأستانة). The Persian word "âstân" (cognate with the Sanskrit Sthân") means "Abode"/"Place of" and is the base of the various countries ending with -stan (Hindustan, Pakistan, Tajikistan)
  • Pâyitaht or Pâyitakht (پایتخت, "The Seat/Base of the Throne"), the Persian word for capital, from pây (foot/leg) and takht (throne).

The "Gate of Felicity", the "Sublime Gate", and the "Sublime Porte" were literally places within the Ottoman Sultans' Topkapı Palace, and were used metonymically to refer to the authorities located there, and hence for the central Ottoman imperial administration. Modern historians also refer to government by these terms, similar to popular usage of Whitehall in Britain. The sublime Gate is not inside Topkapı palace; the administration building whose gate is named Bâb-ı Âlî is between Agia Sofia and Beyazit mosque, a huge building.[20]

Historical names in other languages

Many peoples neighboring on the Byzantine Empire used names expressing concepts like "The Great City", "City of the Emperors", "Capital of the Romans" or similar. During the 10th to 12th century Constantinople was one of the largest two cities in the world, the other being Baghdad.

Old Norse

The medieval Vikings, who had contacts with the Byzantine empire through their expansion through eastern Europe (Varangians) used the Old Norse name Miklagarðr (from mikill 'big' and garðr 'city'), later Miklagard and "Micklegarth". This name lives on in the modern Icelandic name Mikligarður and Faroese Miklagarður.


East and South Slavic languages referred to the city as Tsarigrad or Carigrad, 'City of the Caesar (Emperor)', from the Slavonic words tsar ('Caesar' or 'King') and grad ('city'). Cyrillic:Царьград. This was presumably a calque on a Greek phrase such as Βασιλέως Πόλις (Vasileos Polis), 'the city of the emperor [king]'. The term is still occasionally used in Bulgarian, whereas it has become archaic in Russian, and Macedonian. In Croatian, Serbian and Slovene, Carigrad is a living alternative name for the modern city, as well as being used when referring to the historic capital of the medieval Roman Empire or the Ottoman Empire. In Czech (a West Slavic language) this Slavic name is used in the form Cařihrad (used in the 19th century, now only occasionally). It was also borrowed from the Slavic languages into Romanian in the form Ţarigrad, though Constantinopole remained the far more widely preferred term.

Persian and Arabic

Besides Kustantiniyyah, Persian, Arabic and other languages of the Islamic world used names based on the title Cesar ('Emperor'), as in Persian and Urdu Kayser-i Zemin,[4] or on the ethnic name Rum ('Romans'), as in Arabic Rūmiyyat al-kubra ('Great City of the Romans') or Persian Takht-e Rum ('Throne of the Romans').[17]


The city is referred as Kostandina or Kostantina (an alteration of Kostantiniyye) and more often as its short form Kosta (קושטה) or Kostán in most Judaeo-Spanish publications during the Ottoman period.[21][22] Kosta was the name for the entire province of Istanbul, while the word Estambol was used for the area of the old city and Pera. Today the word Kosta is restricted only for historical purposes and is no more in common use.

The word Estambol has widened in meaning to include exclusively the entire European side of Istanbul. The Asian side is usually not considered as Estambol, however the expression la civdad de Estambol would encompass the boundaries of the present-day city. There are few expression denoting the Asian side. Anatol, from Anatolia and Asya, meaning Asia are common words to denote the Asian side of Istanbul. Moreover, el otro lado (literally the other side) is a quite simplistic and descriptory expression for the Asian side of Istanbul, especially for those living in the European side. Those living in the Asian side however do not use this expression to denote the European side, but simply call it Estambol. The inhabitants are called Estambulí or Estambullí.[22]


In Hebrew, the city was sometimes referred to as "Kushtandina" קושטנדינה, and sometimes "Kushtandina Rabati" קושטנדינה רבתי, literally, Great Kushtandina, or shortened to "Kushta" קושטא, probably due to a distorted pronunciation of the Judaeo-Spanish Kostandina. This usage was common among non-Sephardic Jews until the early 20th century; however, in present-day Israel it has virtually disappeared, replaced by the Hebrew transliteration of the Turkish "Istanbul" (איסטנבול).


  • Lumi city 魯迷城 (Lumi 魯迷 is the Chinese pronunciation of Rûm or Rumi) during the Ming dynasty
  • Wulumu 務魯木 (originates from Rûm or Rumi), during the Qing dynasty
  • Gongsidangdinebole 拱斯當底訥伯勒 during the Qing dynasty
  • Kangsitanyinuoge'er 康思坦貽諾格爾 during the Qing dynasty
  • Junshitandingbao 君士坦丁堡 modern transcription of Constantinople, used when referring to the city in a historical sense

Present-day Chinese use transcriptions of the name Istanbul (Yisitanbu'er 伊斯坦布尔 or Yisitanbao 伊斯坦堡) when referring to the modern city.

Modern languages

Most modern Western languages have adopted the name Istanbul for the modern city during the 20th century, following the current usage in the Turkish Republic. However, many languages also preserve other, traditional names. Greeks continue to call the city Constantinople (Κωνσταντινούπολη Konstantinupoli in Modern Greek) or simply "The City" (η Πόλη i Poli). Languages that use forms based on Stamboul include Russian, Polish (though the alternative form of Istambuł is also universally accepted and employed in many translations), Latvian, Lithuanian, Georgian and Albanian. The Albanian form is Stamboll; the Spanish form is Estambul; the Portuguese form is Istambul, with an m instead of an n. Armenian uses Bolis, based on the Greek Poli(s) 'City'. Icelandic preserves the old Norse name Mikligarður. In Slovene Carigrad is still largely used and often preferred over the official name.[23]

See also


  1. Pliny the Elder, book IV, chapter XI:
    "On leaving the Dardanelles we come to the Bay of Casthenes, ... and the promontory of the Golden Horn, on which is the town of Byzantium, a free state, formerly called Lygos; it is 711 miles from Durazzo, ..."
  2. 2.0 2.1 Janin, Raymond (1964). Constantinople byzantine. Paris: Institut Français d'Études Byzantines. p. 10f.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Georgacas, Demetrius John (1947). "The Names of Constantinople". Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 78: 347–67. doi:10.2307/283503. JSTOR 283503.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Necdet Sakaoğlu (1993/94a): "İstanbul'un adları" ["The names of Istanbul"]. In: 'Dünden bugüne İstanbul ansiklopedisi', ed. Türkiye Kültür Bakanlığı, Istanbul.
  5. According to the Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, vol. 164 (Stuttgart 2005), column 442, there is no evidence for the tradition that Constantine officially dubbed the city "New Rome" (Nova Roma or Nea Rhome). Commemorative coins that were issued during the 330s already refer to the city as Constantinopolis (see, e.g., Michael Grant, The climax of Rome (London 1968), p. 133).
  6. The 5th-century church historian Socrates of Constantinople writes in his Historia Ecclesiastica, 1:16 (c. 439) that the emperor named the city "Constantinople" while decreeing that it be designated a "second Rome" (‘Κωνσταντινούπολιν’ μετονομάσας, χρηματίζειν ‘δευτέραν Ῥώμην’ νόμῳ ἐκύρωσεν).
  7. Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
  8. Finkel, Caroline, Osman's Dream, (Basic Books, 2005), 57; "Istanbul was only adopted as the city's official name in 1930..".
  9. G. Necipoğlu. "From Byzantine Constantinople to Ottoman Kostantiniyye: Creation of a Cosmopolitan Capital and Visual Culture under Sultan Mehmed II" Ex. cat. "From Byzantion to Istanbul: 8000 Years of a Capital", June 5 – September 4, 2010, Sabanci University Sakip Sabanci Museum, Istanbul. Istanbul: Sakip Sabanci Museum, 2010 p. 262
  10. An alternative derivation, directly from Constantinople, was entertained as an hypothesis by some researchers in the 19th century but is today regarded as obsolete; see Sakaoğlu (1993/94a: 254) for references.
  11. Detailed history at Pylos#The Name of Navarino
  12. Bourne, Edward G. (1887). "The Derivation of Stamboul". American Journal of Philology. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 8 (1): 78–82. doi:10.2307/287478. JSTOR 287478.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Necdet Sakaoğlu (1993/94b): "Kostantiniyye". In: 'Dünden bugüne İstanbul ansiklopedisi', ed. Türkiye Kültür Bakanlığı, Istanbul.
  14. A.C. Barbier de Meynard (1881): Dictionnaire Turc-Français. Paris: Ernest Leroux.
  15. Stanford and Ezel Shaw (1977): History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Vol II, p. 386; Robinson (1965), The First Turkish Republic, p. 298
  16. Arab historian Al Masudi writes that the Greek calls the city Stanbulin. Necipoĝlu (2010) p. 262
  17. 17.0 17.1 "Istanbul", in Encyclopedia of Islam.
  18. H. G. Dwight (1915): Constantinople Old and New. New York: Scribner's.[page needed]
  19. Edmondo De Amicis (1878) Costantinopoli Milano, Treves, passim
  20. tr:Bâb-ı Âli BabiAli[better source needed]
  21. Jerusalmi, Isaac (1990). from OTTOMAN TURKISH to LADINO: the case of Mehmet Sadık Rifat Pasha's Risâle-i Ahlâk and Judge Yehezkel Gabbay's Buen Dotrino. Cincinnati, Ohio, USA: Ladino Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. 22.0 22.1 Nehama, Joseph (2003). Dictionnaire du Judéo-Espagnol. Paris, France: La Lettre Sépharade. pp. 196, 307.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Seznam tujih imen v slovenskem jeziku. Geodetska uprava Republike Slovenije. Ljubljana 2001. p. 18.