Innovative Memory and Resilient Cities: Echoes from Ancient Constantinople

Publication review

This chapter uses insights from resilience thinking in analysing a two-thousand-year period of ancient and modern Constantinople, addressing one of the great challenges of the Urban Anthropocene: how to nurture an ecologically sound urbanisation.

One of the lessons is that Constantinople maintained a diversity of insurance strategies to a greater degree than many historical and contemporary urban centres. It invested heavily not only in military infrastructure but also in systems for supplying, storing, and producing food and water.

From major granaries and at least four harbours the citizens could receive seaborne goods, but during sieges the trade networks broke down. At those times, when supplies ran dry, there were possibilities to cultivate food within the defensive walls and to catch fish in the Golden Horn.

Repeated sieges, which occurred on average every fifty years, generated a diversity of social-ecological memories — the means by which the knowledge, experience, and practice of how to manage a local ecosystem were stored and transmitted in a community.

These memories existed in multiple groups of society, partly as a response to the collapse of long-distance, seaborne, grain transports from Egypt. Food production and transports were decentralized into a plethora of smaller subsistence communities (oikoi), which also sold the surplus to the markets of the city. In this way Constantinople became more self-reliant on regional ecosystems.


Link to centre authors: Barthel, Stephan
Publication info: Stephan Barthel, Sverker Sörlin and John Ljungkvist. 2011. Innovative Memory and Resilient Cities: Echoes from Ancient Constantinople. In Paul Sinclair, Frands Herschend, Christian Isendahl and Gullög Nordquist. (Eds). The Urban Mind, cultural and environmental dynamics, Studies in Global Archaeology 15. Sweden, Uppsala University Press


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