Bettany Hughes: Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantium – the Queen of Cities

Oct 14, 2021 | Announcements, News & Media

World-famous historian, author and broadcaster Bettany Hughes to deliver Ramsay Lecture

Sydney, Thursday 14 October 2021: Curious about Istanbul, the cradle of civilisation formerly known as both Constantinople and Byzantium? Gateway between the East and the West, the longest-lived polity in Europe, that has served as capital of the Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires?

To take us on a ‘dazzling historical journey through the many incarnations of one of the world’s greatest cities’ the Ramsay Centre is proud to announce that award-winning author, historian and broadcaster, Professor Bettany Hughes OBE, will deliver our sixth Ramsay Lecture for 2021.

Professor Hughes is an author and specialist in ancient and mediaeval history and culture. She has written and presented over 50 documentaries for the BBC, Channel 4, Netflix, Discovery, PBS, The History Channel, National Geographic, BBC World, and ITV, that have been watched by more than 250 million people worldwide.

This is her second lecture for the Ramsay Centre, following her lecture Odysseus’ Journey and His Women for the Centre in October 2020.

In her lecture Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantium – The Queen of Cities, Professor Hughes draws upon research for her 2017 book Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities. She shares new archaeological discoveries, ancient stories, and geographical insights to illuminate Istanbul’s past, and share what the city can teach us about living together today.

Among many twists and turns, Professor Hughes retraces the trail of the Empress Theodora ‘a woman who rose right from the bottom of the pile 1500 years ago to become the Empress of the great Byzantine Empire’.

She contemplates archaeological discoveries and remains, including: a footprint left in mud 8,000 years ago, the Milion mile-marker in the city centre, ‘probably one of the most important archaeological remains in the world’ and a recently excavated 4th century AD wooden ship from Theodosian Harbour, with cargo revealing Istanbul was a city where people ‘really, really enjoyed its wine’.     

Professor Hughes discusses the various cultures, religions and peoples that have inhabited and blended in the city, its geographic challenges, and its allure to would-be invaders. She examines the introduction of Christianity, and the Ottoman take-over. She also delves deep into Istanbul’s proud history of asylum (‘an unbroken line through the history of the city’), and its record on social justice.

“Istanbul is a city that has enjoyed such an incredible breadth and mix of the human experience,” Professor Hughes says. “It’s a place where people have crossed borders and boundaries to meet, to discuss and to evolve, and to express what it is to be cultured, what it is to have a civilisation. It’s a city that holds a mirror up to our own experience. It helps us to understand why we are as we are as humans, and critically what it takes to make a city, and more than that, what it takes to be able to live successfully in a city together.”

An undergraduate scholar at Oxford University, Professor Hughes has taught at Oxford and Cambridge and lectured at Cornell, Bristol, UCL, Maastricht, Utrecht, Manchester and Swansea. She is a Tutor for Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education and a Research Fellow of King’s College London; she recently joined the New College of the Humanities as Visiting Professor.

Her first book Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore has been translated into ten languages. Her second, The Hemlock Cup, Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life was a New York Times bestseller and shortlisted for the Writer’s Guild Award. Her book Istanbul – A Tale of Three Cities was shortlisted for the Runciman Award, was a Sunday Times bestseller and has already been translated into twelve languages.

Due to COVID-19, this Ramsay Lecture event is recorded. It will be available via our website as both a video and podcast from Tuesday 19 October.

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098 /