Battle for Byzantium: The Board Game- A Tour of the Game’s 18 Cities

Posted by Powee Celdran

See previous article on the “Battle for Byzantium” board game here.

“Battle for Byzantium”, game logo

The board game Battle for Byzantium is soon to be released! Last time, I wrote an article on the board game I am producing, how I came up with the idea of it, and what to expect from it. Now that production for the game is about to wrap and every detail already finalized, it’s about time I write this article as a sort of teaser to the game. As this article is more or less a teaser for the epic board game, it will not discuss the whole game itself but rather a big part of it. This part of the game that this article will discuss will be the 18 Byzantine cities that are included in the game’s map together with the story of each city, what these cities are famous for, and what they are today. These cities that will feature in the game’s map include well known ones such as the Byzantine imperial capital Constantinople, Athens, Antioch, Thessaloniki and lesser-known cities which true enough had some importance in the Byzantine era such as Melitene, Smyrna, and Attaleia. The game itself is set in the year 1025 CE wherein the Byzantine Empire is at a golden age as the military and cultural superpower of the Middle Ages. However, it was also in this year when Byzantium’s great emperor Basil II (r. 976-1025) had died, and due to his death- at least in this game’s setting only- 4 powerful warriors of different backgrounds and ethnicities all compete for control over the Byzantine Empire, though only one can emerge victorious. These 4 warriors being the Byzantine commander Demetrios, the Arab Al-Sadin, the female Varangian warrior Freydis, and the Norman knight Jean-Pierre though having different backgrounds all have one goal, which is to conquer the most number of cities in the empire. The game’s objective true enough is to conquer all 18 cities in the 1025 CE Byzantine Empire map, and once all cities are taken, the winner is the one with the most.

Flag of the Byzantine Empire

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“Battle for Byzantium” game cover

Since the setting of the game is the year 1025 CE, it features a detailed map of the Byzantine Empire beautifully created by Alessia Hilary Valastro (follow her on Instagram @alessiahv) in that year wherein the empire stretches north to south from the Crimea to Syria and west to east from Southern Italy to Armenia. Since the game’s setting is 1025, I therefore had to choose cities in the Byzantine Empire that had both already existed in the 11th century CE and had an important role to play in the empire especially during this era where the game is set in as a way to add in some historical accuracy to the game.

The crown representing Constantinople in the game, art by Alessiahv

In the game’s map which was illustrated by Alessia, the cities are represented by Byzantine style towers except for Constantinople which is represented by an imperial crown. Additionally, all 18 cities in the game’s map have their own respective city cards wherein all 18 of them feature an illustration of a landmark they have which more or less had already existed in 1025 or rather in the 11th century. The landmarks that feature on all the 18 city cards are illustrated by Chrysa Sakel (follow her on Instagram @chrysasakel) of Byzantine Tales wherein all cities except for the capital Constantinople feature sepia illustrations of landmarks or sceneries from each of the 17 cities all while Constantinople due to being the capital is the only colored city card in the game. Behind all the 18 illustrated city cards are paragraphs containing some important information and history for each city as well as what these cities are today while on the front side of every card, below the illustrations of the landmarks is the name of the city and a caption which describes what is seen on the card. According to Chrysa in the previous article when being asked if she did a good amount of research to illustrate the landmarks for all 18 cities, she said “I mostly revisited information I already knew, since the game takes place during the same period as my comics, so I already did a lot of research on the topic. There were certain city cards where I had to search information on the buildings and the history of the city to choose a good landmark”. In other words, she is already familiar with the game’s setting and its cities due to using some of them already in the past in the comics she made, so therefore she used the same research she used for the comics, though some things were new to her when illustrating the city cards, hence she had to do some more research on their history and landmarks, especially to make them fit the game’s 11th century setting.  

Constantinople The Queen City
The “Battle for Byzantium” board game in motion

Now as for my part, when creating the game, I decided that since the game is about conquering cities, it had to have a fair number of cities, hence I ended up deciding that the game will have 18 cities. When it came to selecting the cities, I had to carefully choose those that have not only been already around by the 11th century but already had an active role by this time period. Hence, when choosing the cities for the game, I had to do a lot of research on cities in Asia Minor and the Balkans to see which ones will fit the setting of the game, thus I did not choose cities that have already lost their importance by this time such as Ephesus or cities that have not yet been around by this time such as Mystras. On the other hand, in order for the cities on the map to be evenly spaced from each other, I had to avoid choosing cities that are too close to each other, while some cities I chose for the map were those that are well-known ones such as Athens, Antioch, and Thessaloniki so that people when playing the game will already be familiar with it, while for other cities I chose to add them into the game due to popular request by fans of my social media accounts and from requests others in my team had made. Now, this article will cover all 18 cities in the game which are: Constantinople, Adrianople, Philippopolis, Dorystolon, Thessaloniki, Dyrrhachion, Bari, Athens, Chandax, Smyrna, Attaleia, Nicaea, Ancyra, Sinope, Cherson, Melitene, Antioch, and Nicosia; while it will also feature the same description each city has from the game’s city card, and lastly it will also explain why I chose each city and what each city is today.

The full game map with cities represented by towers- except Constantinople which is represented by a crown, art by Alessiahv


The Cities



Constantinople, where Europe meets Asia and the Black Sea links with the Mediterranean, was the capital of the Byzantine Empire since the city’s establishment in the 4th century CE by Emperor Constantine the Great, from whom the city gets its name. Due to its status, size and splendor, the cosmopolitan citadel on the Bosporus Strait was often called the “Queen of Cities”, or simply as “Polis”- “The City”- as there was no other urban center as grand and sophisticated as she was at the time. In 1025 CE, Constantinople’s population is mourning the death of the great emperor Basil II and anxious about the empire’s future.

Today, Constantinople is currently known as “Istanbul”, the largest, wealthiest, and most cosmopolitan city of modern Turkey and is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

The Constantinople city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

Now, Constantinople being the imperial capital definitely has to be in the game as Byzantium itself is nothing without its grand capital, the “Queen of Cities”, hence even before conceptualizing the game, Constantinople was already something definitely on my mind to add to the game. Due to the Byzantine Empire as a dominant superpower during the year 1025 CE, its capital Constantinople definitely must have been a bustling cosmopolitan metropolis with people from different parts of the world coming to trade, activity everywhere, and lots of magnificent sites wherever you look.

A diagram of the Hagia Sophia in Byzantine Constantinople

True enough, since Constantinople as the capital which was even known by the name “Polis” meaning “the city”, its design on the city card had to stand out from the rest of the 17 other city cards, hence only the Constantinople card is colored and features a variety of landmarks. To highlight it as the imperial capital, the Constantinople card features 4 important landmarks- in which all were already around by the 11th century- being the magnificent church of the Hagia Sophia with its legendary dome constructed under Emperor Justinian I the great (r. 527-565 CE), next to it on the right the church of the Hagia Eirene also constructed under Justinian I in the 6th century, and to the left of the Hagia Sophia the imposing Column of Justinian I and behind it the 4th century Aqueduct of the emperor Valens (r. 364-378 CE). Below these landmarks is a colonnaded hallway which is something supposed to represent Constantinople as the capital had many of these hallways, and this hallway is more or less supposed to be part of the Imperial Palace Complex which was the residence of Byzantine emperors from the city’s founding in the 4th century by Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 CE) up until the late 11th century, thus in the game’s setting it was still the imperial residence. Additionally, as Constantinople is the imperial capital, in the game it first of all is represented by a crown in the map while it also has its own unique privileges which no other city in the game has; and one privilege is that those who own Constantinople are immune to the “Rebellion” card, hence one cannot lose a city when owning Constantinople, however one can also lose Constantinople if someone steals it using the “Sack a City” card or the “Gain a Navy” Function. However, Constantinople is also difficult to acquire since the “Besiege a City” card does not work on it as a reference to Constantinople’s impregnable land walls, while on the other hand it takes 2 “Gain an Army” cards to capture it. In the meantime, the box cover art for the board game also features a landmark of Constantinople which here is its mighty 5th century Theodosian land walls with the game’s 4 characters assembled outside of it in fighting positions.

Skyline of Byzantine Constantinople
Skyline of Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey) today


This city in Thrace was founded and named after the Roman emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century CE. Adrianople was where a number of catastrophic battles were fought, one of which was the devastating Roman defeat to the Goths in 378 CE, and again, in 813 CE, when the Bulgarians defeated the Byzantines and seized the city. Here, in 1025 CE, Adrianople, the capital of the Byzantine Theme or province of Macedonia, is heavily protected by its massive walls and imposing “Macedonian Tower” named after the current imperial line of Byzantium, the Macedonian dynasty.

Today, it is the city of Edirne in European Turkey close to the border with Greece and Bulgaria.

The Adrianople city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

The reason now to why I chose Adrianople- a city which gets its name from the Roman emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138 CE) who founded it the same way Constantinople was founded and named for the emperor Constantine the Great- as one of the 18 cities in the game is because of its importance in Byzantine history due to its proximity to Constantinople and all the events that happened here which were mostly war related.

The Battle of Adrianople, 378

True enough, it was at the area of Adrianople where the Romans in 378 suffered a catastrophic defeat to the army of the invading Goths wherein the Eastern Roman emperor Valens himself was killed in this battle. Again in 813, the Bulgarian khan Krum (r. 803-814 CE) attacked Adrianople and succeeded in capturing it from the Byzantines for a time. On the other hand, due to Adrianople’s importance as the capital of the Byzantine Theme of Macedonia, I therefore chose it to be in the game. As for the city’s landmark to be depicted on the card, I had to choose one that had already existed by the 11th century, and luckily Adrianople (now Edirne) still has the imposing Macedonian Tower from the 10th century which happens to be named after the Macedonian Dynasty, the ruling dynasty of Byzantium during the setting of this game, hence I chose this tower to be the landmark for the Adrianople city card. Additionally, Adrianople has some more significance after the setting of this game in the 11th century, as in the 14th century beginning 1369, Adrianople which was then renamed “Edirne” became the Ottoman Empire’s capital until the Ottomans captured Constantinople from the Byzantines in 1453, and thus from then on Constantinople would become the Ottoman imperial capital.

The Macedonian Tower in today’s Adrianople (Edirne, Turkey) 


This city was named after the ancient Macedonian king Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great. During the Roman Empire, and later, the Byzantine Empire, Philippopolis became an important commercial center due to its location on the crossroads of the Balkans; a geographical position which likewise made it vulnerable to attacks from neighboring tribes like the Goths, Huns, Avars, and Bulgarians. Just before 1025 CE, Philippopolis was the base of the late emperor Basil II during his wars against the Bulgarian Empire which ended with Bulgaria’s total defeat in 1018 CE.

Today, this is Plovdiv, the second largest city and cultural capital of Bulgaria, as well as the home of many impressive archaeological sites from Ancient Roman times such as the Roman Theater.        

The Philippopolis city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

Like Constantinople and Adrianople, Philippopolis is yet another city named after a famous ruler, this time being the Macedonian king Philip II (r. 359-336 BCE) who is best remembered for expanding the Macedonian kingdom of Ancient Greek times and for being the father of Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 BCE). I now chose Philippopolis to be one of the 18 cities in the game mainly because there had to be a city in Bulgaria represented in the game, thus I chose Philippopolis (now Plovdiv) out of several different cities mainly because of its historical significance too and because it also features an imposing landmark being the Roman Theater which is worthy enough to be seen on the city’s respective card. Since Philippopolis is famous for its Roman Theater, I therefore chose it to be the landmark on the city’s card, and fortunately it is historically accurate to the game’s time period being the 11th century since this theater had already existed long before the game’s setting. Additionally, due to this game being centered around Basil II’s empire, I chose Philippopolis to be one of the cities due to its major role in Basil II’s reign as one of his bases in his previous war against the Bulgarian Empire which culminated in 1018 with a total Byzantine victory and all of Bulgaria being annexed into the Byzantine Empire.

The Roman Theatre in today’s Philippopolis (Plovdiv, Bulgaria)


Originally an Ancient Roman fortress along the empire’s Danube River border, Dorystolon continued to serve as a defensive barrier after the establishment of the Byzantine Empire, and in the 7th century CE, by the conquering Bulgarians. In 1025 CE, the city is back under Byzantine rule after a series of invasions and reconquests by the Bulgarians and Kievan Rus’ and reestablishment as a key fortress city along Byzantium’s northern border.

Today, Dorystolon is called the town of Silistra in Northern Bulgaria along the Danube River where remnants of its medieval fortifications remain visible.        

The Dorystolon city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

Now, no matter how obscure Dorystolon may be, I chose it to be part of the game due to its northern location along the empire’s Danube River frontier and, as to evenly space the cities in the game’s map, there needed to be one city up north along the Danube area, hence I chose Dorystolon.

The Battle of Dorystolon, 971

I also chose Dorystolon as a city in the game for the same reason I chose Philippopolis which was for the reason of having a Bulgarian city in the game, while I also chose to include Dorystolon because of its significance during this part in Byzantine history the game is set in. True enough in 971, not too long before this game’s setting, an important battle took place here wherein the Byzantine emperor John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976 CE) defeated the army of the Kievan Rus’ that had invaded Bulgaria, and due to the Byzantine victory here, part of Bulgaria was annexed into the Byzantine Empire. As for the illustration of the Dorystolon card, the illustrator Chrysa illustrated an artistic recreation of the Walls of Dorystolon which is not completely accurate but more or less an accurate guess on what the walls of this fortress city must have looked like back in the 11th century when it was under Byzantine rule again. The whole point of this image on the Dorystolon city card is to depict the city as a powerful citadel at the border of the empire, hence it features a drawing of mighty city walls almost identical to the powerful Walls of Constantinople.

The ruins of Dorystolon in today’s Silistra, Bulgaria


This was the second wealthiest and most important city of the Byzantine Empire after the capital, Constantinople. In the late 3rd and early 4th centuries CE, the port city on the key military and trade route, the Via Egnatia, grew to become one of the Roman Empire’s most important capitals with grand imperial buildings and landmarks marking its status. Under Byzantine rule in 1025 CE, the city maintains its military, cultural, and commercial significance, second only perhaps to the great capital, Constantinople.

Today, Thessaloniki, the capital of the region of Macedonia, is also known as Symprotévousa, or “co-capital”- a reference to its status in Byzantine times as the empire’s second city after Constantinople.       

The Thessaloniki city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

Since Thessaloniki remains an important city even today being the second largest in Greece- next to Athens- I therefore chose to include it in the game, but aside from that I also chose to include it due to how much significance it had in the Byzantine Empire. In the game’s 11th century setting, Thessaloniki was already the empire’s second city after Constantinople in terms of status and wealth, thus this gives it every reason to be included in the game. As for the landmark featured on the Thessaloniki city card, I chose the Rotunda of Galerius since this more or less happens to be the city’s most recognizable landmark that had already been around by the 11th century, and true enough the Rotunda of Galerius had been there since the early 4th century CE constructed by the Roman emperor Galerius (r. 293-311 CE) who it was named after as Thessaloniki was used as his capital when the Roman Empire at that time was divided into 4 quarters in the system known as the Tetrarchy. The Rotunda of Galerius in Thessaloniki true enough still stands today, and it too has a very interesting history as in Roman times when it was built it was a Pagan Temple, then under the Byzantines it was an Orthodox church, and under the Ottomans beginning in the 15th century it was a mosque, while today it stands as a tourist attraction. In the city card of Thessaloniki, the Rotunda of Galerius appears to be a church as seen with the cross above it as this was to accurately portray the landmark in the Byzantine era.

The Rotunda of Galerius in today’s Thessaloniki, Greece
Skyline of Byzantine Thessaloniki


During the Roman Empire, and its successor, the Byzantine Empire, the city was a major port city and key transport hub linking the Adriatic to Constantinople through the great Roman highway, the Via Egnatia. For about a hundred years beginning in the early 10th century CE, Dyrrhachion fell under the rule of the Bulgarian Empire before the city was recaptured by the Byzantines in 1005 CE. Here, in 1025 CE, the Byzantines continue to control this key Balkan trading port, transport hub, and lifeline to the Adriatic.

Today, this is the major Adriatic port city of Durres in Albania where remnants from the Byzantine era such as the 6th century castle built by the emperor Anastasius I can still be seen.            

The Dyrrhachion city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

As Dyrrhachion has always been an important port city in the Adriatic for centuries, I definitely had to include it in the game, though it was also for the reason that the game needed to include an important city in Albania, hence I chose Dyrrhachion as it true enough still had great significance as an Adriatic port as well as being the start of the highly critical highway being the Via Egnatia during the 11th century. On the other hand, selecting a landmark for Dyrrhachion was difficult, especially a Byzantine one, thus the best I could find was the Byzantine walls of the city which is part of the 6th century castle built by the Byzantine emperor Anastasius I (r. 491-518 CE) who was in fact born in Dyrrhachion in 431 CE. When it came to illustrating this landmark on the Dyrrhachion city card, Chrysa had to not make it look like a generic Byzantine city wall, thus the illustration of Dyrrhachion’s wall on the city card is an artistic recreation of the city’s walls which features an arch as a gate and on opposite sides of it two alcoves with angels wearing Byzantine imperial robes; now the addition of the angels on opposite sides of the gate was more or less done to give a distinctly Byzantine look to the walls.  

591 Durres Byzantine City Wall 5cAD
The walls of Dyrrhachion (Durres, Albania) today



During the time of the Ancient Greeks, and later under the Roman Empire, Bari served as an important trading and naval port on the Adriatic coast of Italy. From the 6th century CE onwards, Bari was ruled by the Byzantines based in Constantinople and remained as one of its last remaining territories in the Italian peninsula despite a brief period when Arabs captured the city in the 9th century CE. In 1025 CE, Bari is the residence of the imperial governor of Byzantine Italy and the hub of the Mediterranean slave trade, a dark side of the imperial economy that taints its history.

Today, Bari remains an important port city of the Puglia region of Southeastern Italy and a major hub for tourism along the Adriatic coast.

The Bari city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

Since the Byzantine Empire still had Southern Italy by 1025, I definitely had to consider including a city in Italy for the game’s map, and since Bari was the largest and most important city in Byzantine Italy at this time, I chose it as true enough by the game’s setting the Byzantines had already lost more important cities in Italy like Rome and Ravenna. Bari was true enough still an important city in Byzantine Italy as it was a major port in the Adriatic, thus it was a major trading hub which also involved the Mediterranean slave trade. As for Bari’s illustration in the city card, due to there being no major landmark in the city- particularly a Byzantine one- I ended up choosing the illustration for Bari to be a port featuring walls and ships being docked, thus for its city card Chrysa illustrated an artistic recreation of the harbor of Bari with Byzantine Dromon ships anchored and next to it Byzantine style city walls. True enough the illustration on the city card which depicts a port reflects what Bari is which is a naval and trading port.

The harbor of Bari, Italy today


Athens was home to some of the best-known philosophers of Ancient Greece such as Socrates and Plato and statesmen like Themistocles and Pericles. Under the aegis of these influential leaders and political thinkers, the city was regarded as the “birthplace of democracy”, a participative political system that was later replaced by autocratic Roman and Byzantine imperial rule. In 1025 CE, Athens has lost its status as an important political and intellectual capital, but remains a key outpost of imperial power and cultural prestige in the mainland of Greece.

Today, Athens is the capital and largest city of Greece and one of the world’s most visited tourist destinations.

The Athens city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

Although Athens was no longer a powerful and important city in Byzantine times the way it was in Ancient Greek times, I still chose to include Athens in the game due to the great fame the city has just by its name alone. I also chose Athens to be part of the game as not only did the game need a city in Central Greece but because of Athens’ legacy as a great cultural and political center that produced some of the greatest thinkers and statesmen in world history and some highly valuable concepts like democracy. Hence, by including Athens in the game, people will already be familiar with it compared to other cities featured in the game that are so obscure that many may not know what it is.

The Parthenon as a church in Byzantine Athens

Now since the Parthenon is Athens’ most famous landmark and in fact what people associate the city with, I chose to use it as the landmark for Athens in the city card. In the city card, the Parthenon which was once the Temple to Athena is depicted as a church as seen with the cross above its façade, and true enough during the Byzantine era, the Parthenon as well as other Pagan temples across Athens were converted into churches. Athens under the Byzantine Empire true enough lost its significance as a political and cultural center as in 529 CE the emperor Justinian I had the academy of Athens shut down as it taught Pagan philosophy. Athens under Byzantine rule thus became a sleepy and religious town and true enough not even the capital of a Byzantine province or Theme- rather Athens belonged to the Theme of Hellas in which its capital was Thebes- however, Athens continued to be a trading center in the Aegean while it was also known for producing soaps and dyes. In the Byzantine era, at least one ruler being the empress Irene (r. 797-802 CE) came from Athens as she was born here in 752 CE.

The skyline of Athens, Greece today


This port city on the island of Crete was known as Heraklion during the Ancient Minoan civilization. Under Byzantine rule, the city was of little significance until after Crete fell to Arab pirates in the 9th century CE and the new conquerors rebuilt the ancient city into a heavily fortified coastal fortress with a defensive moat. From 960-961 CE, Chandax, as the city would later be known, was besieged by the Byzantine general Nikephoros Phokas, in a siege that ended in a decisive, though brutal, Byzantine victory. Here, in 1025 CE, Chandax is completely rebuilt by the Byzantines and is made the capital of the Byzantine Theme or province of Crete.

Today, Chandax is once again known by its ancient name “Heraklion” and is the largest city in Crete.

The Chandax city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

As the game needed at least one city in Crete or in the Aegean Sea area, I therefore chose Chandax to be included in it as it was after all the largest city in that area of the empire during the time the game is set in. On the other hand, Chandax also has some rich and interesting history as it true enough dates back thousands of years ago to the time of the Ancient Minoan civilization while just less than a century before the game is set in, Chandax since the 9th century CE was the stronghold of the Arab pirates in the Aegean- wherein the Greek name “Chandax” even derives from the Arabic word Rabd al-handaq meaning “Castle on the Moat”- until it was recaptured by the Byzantine army in 961 CE led by the general Nikephoros Phokas- later emperor (r. 963-969)- wherein the Byzantines literally on a rampage massacred its population all while they looted and burned the city as they captured it. In 1025 CE however, the fortress city of Chandax has been rebuilt since it was destroyed in 961, and thus during the game’s setting it is the capital of the Byzantine Theme of Crete and still remains an important city. As for the illustration for the Chandax city card, due to there being no famous landmark for Chandax, Chrysa illustrated a fortress city above rocks overlooking the sea, as Chandax was described to have looked like that. Although since this fortress city in this kind of style doesn’t exist today but is instead the port city of Heraklion, the illustration of the fortress above the rocks is therefore an artistic recreation. In the meantime, Chandax together with Nicosia- to be described later- are one of the southernmost cities on the game’s map.

The Byzantine recapture of Chandax in 961, from the Madrid Skylitzes
Chandax (Heraklion, Greece) today


Smyrna was a thriving Ancient Greek settlement before it was established as an imperial city by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE and later rebuilt under the Roman Empire as a bustling port city on the eastern Aegean coast. In 1025 CE, under Byzantine rule, Smyrna remains an important port in Western Asia Minor as well as the capital of the Samos Theme or province.

Today, Smyrna is called “Izmir”, a major port city on Turkey’s Aegean coastline, and the third largest urban center in the country.          

The Smyrna city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

Due to Smyrna being a large and important city along the Aegean coastline of Western Asia Minor, I chose to include it in the game despite it not being as well-known as its neighbor Ephesus. The reason now to why I chose Smyrna to be the city to represent the western coast of Asia Minor in the game and not Ephesus is because during the 11th century where the game is set in, Smyrna had more importance as it even was the capital of the Byzantine Theme of Samos whereas Ephesus by that time had been reduced and was thus no longer a major city the way it was in Roman times and during the early Byzantine Empire. The problem however with Smyrna is that despite it being a major port city, it was not known to have any famous landmark- unlike Ephesus which had its library- thus the most I could find for a Smyrna landmark was the ruins of its ancient agora. Now when illustrating the landmark for the Smyrna city card, Chrysa simply did a hypothetical artistic recreation of how the agora of Smyrna could have looked like back in the 11th century Byzantine era, thus this illustration features an Ancient Roman style courtyard with an arch wherein a man driving a chariot passes through, and to add a Byzantine element to this city card, a dome of a church can be seen behind the arch.

The Agora of Smyrna (Izmir, Turkey) today


Attaleia, a scenic coastal city along the Mediterranean Sea in Southern Asia Minor, was an important trading port during the Roman and Byzantine empires. Under the Romans, the city grew in size with famous landmarks such as the imposing Gate of Hadrian built to commemorate its emerging status. In 1025 CE, Attaleia remains an important naval and commercial port city of the empire and the capital of its naval Theme or province.

Today, it is known as the city of Antalya, the largest city along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey and also the country’s most popular seaside resort destination.         

The Attaleia city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

It is due to Attaleia’s position along the southern coast of Asia Minor why I chose to include the city in the game as there needed to be one city along the Mediterranean coast of Asia Minor. Aside from this, Attaleia particularly during the 11th century where the game is set in was the capital of Byzantium’s naval Theme, which is also why I chose to include it in the game. As for the city card illustration, what is depicted on the one of Attaleia is the 2nd century CE Gate of the Roman emperor Hadrian made to look like how it did in the 2nd century CE wherein it was originally built as a triumphal arch for the emperor Hadrian who visited the city in 130 CE. Fortunately, Attaleia has a famous landmark which is this gate, hence I did not really have a hard time when it came to looking for landmarks for the Attaleia city card. In the city card, as the gate was made to look like how it did in the 2nd century CE during the reign of Hadrian (117-138), it features 3 arches with 4 columns and above each column are different statues while on both sides of the gate are the city’s walls.

The Gate of Hadrian in today’s Attaleia (Antalya, Turkey)


Nicaea, an important ecclesiastical center of Orthodox Christianity, was where two important Church Councils were held, one in 325 CE which established the Nicene Creed, and another, in 787 CE, which revived the veneration of religious icons after the divisive period of Iconoclasm in Byzantium. In 1025 CE, Nicaea remains a key center of Orthodoxy and a well-defended provincial capital with imposing double-layered walls dating back to Ancient Roman times.

Today, Nicaea is known as the Turkish city of Iznik, the capital of the country’s world-famous ceramic and tile-making industry.        

The Nicaea city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

Because Nicaea had such an important part to play in Byzantine history not just being a place where two important Church councils were held but being strategically important as well, I definitely had to include it in the game. In the game’s setting in 1025, Nicaea is an important city being the capital of the Byzantine Theme of the Opsikion which was known to be the most rebellious of the military provinces or Themes, as true enough prior to this the Opsikion Theme based in Nicaea had rebelled against the emperor.

Flag of the Empire of Nicaea (1204-1261)

Later in Byzantine history from 1204-1261 when Constantinople fell to the 4th Crusade, Nicaea was the temporary capital of the Byzantine Empire- here known as the “Empire of Nicaea”. On the other hand, Nicaea also remains close in distance to the capital Constantinople which is also why the city has some kind of importance while it too has a strategic position being next to a lake. As for the city’s landmarks, Nicaea features a number of them being for one the lake with the now submerged senate house, the Hagia Sophia cathedral, and its double-layered walls. Since the Hagia Sophia in Nicaea in its current structure only existed by the late 11th century and therefore hasn’t been around yet by 1025, I did not choose it to be the landmark on the city card, but rather I chose the gate in its imposing double-layered walls as these walls had actually been around since Ancient Roman times. The illustration for the Nicaea city card now depicts a gate flanked by two large round towers which belong to the city’s walls wherein a road leads to the gate, and inside this gate is another gate which belongs to the city’s inner wall.

A gate in the walls of Nicaea (Iznik, Turkey) today


Once settled by ancient civilizations such as the Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, Ancyra in the 4th and 5th centuries CE was known as the summer capital of Byzantine emperors and nobility. The city was invaded by Arabs twice, once in the 7th century CE, and then in the 9th century CE, when it was razed to the ground. In 1025 CE, Ancyra has been completely rebuilt and remade into the capital of the Byzantine Theme- or province- of the Boukellarion.

Today, the city is called Ankara, the current seat of government and second largest city of Tukey after Istanbul.           

The Ancyra city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

The reason now to why I chose to include Byzantine Ancyra in the game is both because of it being today’s capital of Turkey and for having some well-known attractions that still stand today which therefore makes it easy to recreate for the artwork on the city’s card. Even back in the Byzantine era, Ancyra already had a lot of importance as it was true enough a capital of a Byzantine Theme while it also had an imposing and impressive fortress. As for the Ancyra city card illustration, I chose no other than the city’s famous fortress as it is again easy to recreate due to it being mostly intact today while at the same time it would also be more or less accurate to the game’s time period to depict this castle as this said castle had already been around by the 11th century. However, in order to recreate the castle to what it looked like in the Byzantine era, it took some imagination for the part of Chrysa in illustrating it, thus to give the castle and its landscape a more Byzantine look, Chrysa added a church with a Byzantine dome along the castle walls.   

The Castle of Ancyra (Ankara, Turkey) today


This ancient city along the Black Sea cost in the region of Paphlagonia in Northern Asia Minor was a thriving Greek colony in Classical times. Apart from its commercial significance in the Black Sea region, Sinope was also known as the birthplace of Diogenes, the Ancient Greek philosopher. In 1025 CE, Sinope remains a key city on the lucrative Black Sea trade route and an attractive target for raiders and invaders.    

Today, it is known as the city of Sinop along Turkey’s northern Black Sea coast where it is still possible to see the castle walls.         

The Sinope city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

In order to have a Black sea coastal city in northern Asia Minor represented in the game, I chose to include Sinope in it as true enough this is the most “well-known” city in that part of Turkey despite it being a rather obscure one. The city card of Sinope now features its 8th century castle which still stands today, and due to being from the 8th century CE it does indeed make it accurate to depict it for the game which takes place in the 11th century. Since this castle is located right next to the water- which here is the Black Sea- Chrysa illustrated not only castle walls but walls with trees and the shore next to it in order to make the illustration of the city card look more visually attractive especially to in a way promote Sinope which many may not have even heard of.

The Sinope Castle today in Sinop, Turkey


Located in a remote corner of the Crimean Peninsula north of the Black Sea, the ancient city also known as Chersonesus was once a part of the Greco-Scythian Kingdom, a client state of the Roman Empire. Under Byzantine rule, the city became known by its Greek name, Cherson, and served as a place of exile for enemies of the empire due to its isolated location and brutally cold climate. In 1025 CE, Cherson is recovering from its recent occupation by the Kievan Rus’ who have left after making peace with the late Byzantine emperor Basil II.

Today, the ancient city of Cherson is in ruins, although archaeological remains of the city from the Roman and Byzantine eras are visible near the city of Sevastopol.          

The Cherson city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

Originally, when conceptualizing the game, and even in the first prototype of the game, Cherson was not one of the cities included, as back then the game only had 16 instead of 18 cities. However, due to the lack of a city in the empty northern section of the game’s map which is north of the Black Sea, I decided to include Cherson, which now being in the game happens to be the northernmost city on the map. True enough, in the 1025 Byzantine Empire, Cherson due to being in the Crimea Peninsula is at the northernmost part of the empire, and due to its location, it was very remote while it also had a brutally cold climate, which thus made it the perfect place to exile political enemies.

Emperor Justinian II of Byzantium (r. 685-695/ 705-711), exiled to Cherson

In Byzantine history, notable people exiled to far away Cherson included Pope Martin I in 653 CE who was exiled there by the emperor Constans II (r. 641-668 CE) and in 695 CE it was Constans II’s grandson the emperor Justinian II (r. 685-695/ 705-711) that was exiled there after being overthrown all while his nose was cut off as part of his punishment, although in 705 Justinian II from Cherson returned to power. Decades before the game’s setting during the 980s CE, Cherson was invaded and occupied by the Kievan Rus’ under their grand prince Vladimir I (r. 980-1015 CE), and it was only after making peace with the Byzantines wherein Basil II married off his younger sister Anna to Vladimir when the Rus’ left Cherson thus returning it to the Byzantines, and so in 1025 CE Cherson is back under Byzantine rule and is still its northernmost city. Due to most of Cherson being in ruins today, it was a difficult task to choose a landmark to have illustrated for the Cherson city card, however due to one of the ruined landmarks in today’s archaeological site of what was once Cherson which is known as the “1935 Basilica” being the most intact, I chose to have that as the landmark for the Cherson city card. When illustrating this, Chrysa hypothetically recreated the ruined basilica to make it look like how it looks like in the Byzantine era. Whether or not the city card accurately depicts the 1935 Basilica in the Byzantine era, it is still a smart guess, and due to this basilica being located on a rock overlooking the Black Sea, the card also depicts the Black Sea below the basilica. It is now mostly because of Cherson’s rich history and its unique position of being north of the Black Sea to why I chose to include it in the game even though it may be obscure compared to well-known cities in the game like Constantinople, Thessaloniki, or Athens.  

The “1935 Basilica” in today’s Cherson archaeological site


Melitene was an impressive metropolis under the Roman and Byzantine empires. For about three centuries, the city was under Arab rule and served as the capital of an Arab Emirate until it was recaptured by the general John Kourkouas for the Byzantines in 934 CE. In 1025 CE, Melitene stands as an important commercial center in the eastern region of the Byzantine Empire.

Today, Melitene is known as the city of Malatya in Eastern Turkey and is popular for producing apricots of superior quality.           

The Melitene city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

Just like Cherson, Melitene was not included in the initial version of the game which just had 16 instead of 18 cities. However, due to the initial version lacking cities in the eastern regions of the empire, I had to include at least one city in the eastern part of the empire, though initially I did not consider Melitene but rather a city in Cappadocia or something else. It was due to Melitene being a larger city in the empire’s eastern regions why I chose to include it in the game and also because of its location wherein it would be at the easternmost part of the map. True enough, when looking at the game’s map, Melitene is located at the easternmost area right next to the starting point of Demetrios, the Byzantine commander who is one of the game’s characters. Melitene now has some rich history as it has always stood as a metropolis for centuries, though in the 7th century CE the Byzantines lost it to the Arabs, and thus the city would remain under Arab rule for the next 3 centuries wherein for a time it would even be the capital of an Arab emirate. Just less than a century before the game’s setting in 1025, Melitene in 934 CE was recaptured by the Byzantine general John Kourkouas serving the emperor Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944 CE)- the great-grandfather of Basil II- and thus in 1025 Melitene is under Byzantine hands again and remains an important center in the empire’s eastern regions. As for the illustration on the Melitene city card, due to the city having no famous landmark, particularly a Byzantine one, I had to choose an illustration of Melitene’s walls from the 12th century CE Madrid Skylitzes manuscript which depicts the capture of Melitene in 934 by the general John Kourkouas. Hence, for the city card Chrysa illustrated an artistic recreation of Melitene’s walls based on its appearance from the Madrid Skylitzes; the end result of the card though depicting the city’s walls looks rather different from the rest of the city cards, though it also looks much more minimalist too compared to the other city cards.

The Byzantine recapture of Melitene in 934, from the Madrid Skylitzes
Melitene (Malatya, Turkey) today


Once the imperial capital of the Seleucid Empire in ancient times, and the capital of Roman Syria during the Roman Empire, Antioch was known as an important center of early Christianity, and later, the seat of one of the five Christian patriarchs. Antioch fell under Arab rule in the 7th century CE but was recaptured by the Byzantines in 969 CE. In 1025 CE, Antioch has lost much of its imperial prestige but retains its status as an important center of Christian heritage and culture.

Today, the mostly buried citadel of Antioch is found close to the city of Antakya in Southern Turkey, from which its current name was borrowed from.          

The Antioch city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

Because of the great historical significance Antioch has whether in Ancient Greek and Roman or in Christian history, I definitely had to include it in the game as the city at the map’s southeastern section.

The walls of Antioch ascending up the mountain

I also chose to include it as that side of the map needed to be represented by a city, and true enough in that part of the empire there is no other city more important than Antioch itself. By 1025 however, although Antioch had been returned to Byzantine hands since the recapture of the city from the Arabs in 969 CE, it no longer has the prestige it had centuries ago before its fall to the Arabs in the 7th century CE, rather Antioch in the 11th century is much smaller in size, population, and status than it once was, while it is also not as cosmopolitan anymore as it was back then. Antioch on the other hand has a unique feature wherein the city itself ascends up a mountain and so does its walls, thus this is what is depicted in the Antioch city card. For this said city card, Chrysa illustrated the city to have this unique feature wherein not only its walls but the city’s buildings too ascend up the mountain, which therefore gives the Antioch card a unique feature.

Antioch in the Byzantine era


A thriving Mediterranean metropolis of the Byzantine Empire, Nicosia became the Byzantine capital of the province of Cyprus in 965 CE when the island was completely recaptured from Arab forces. In 1025 CE, it remains the capital of Byzantine Cyprus, where its safe inland position makes it less vulnerable to sea raids from Mediterranean pirates and Arab navies.

Today, Nicosia is the current capital and largest city of the Republic of Cyprus, an independent state since 1960.           

The Nicosia city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

In order to represent the island of Cyprus in the game, I chose to include its main city Nicosia in it as true enough by the 11th century where the game is set in, Nicosia was already Byzantine Cyprus’ main city. A fun fact here is that between the 7th and 10th centuries CE, rule over the island of Cyprus was split between Byzantines and Arabs until the Byzantines in 965 CE regained full control of it, while this was also when they established Nicosia as the island province’s capital as its inland position made it less vulnerable to naval attacks as compared to having the capital at a coastal location. Therefore, in 1025 Nicosia was already the main city of Cyprus, hence I chose it as the city for Cyprus in the game. Although Nicosia is Cyprus’ capital and largest city, it however does not have any existing Byzantine era landmark, thus it was quite a challenge to find a landmark for the Nicosia city card that had already existed during the 11th century. Fortunately, there is a Byzantine era landmark that had already existed in the 11th century outside Nicosia which is the Castle of St. Hilarion in the Kyrenia mountain range, and this is the landmark Chrysa illustrated for the Nicosia city card which features a Byzantine church and behind it a mountain, and true enough the Nicosia card is perhaps one of the most detailed of the 18 city cards aside from the one of Constantinople.     

The Fortress of St. Hilarion today, outside Nicosia, Cyprus 




Selecting the 18 cities for the “Battle for Byzantium” board game was honestly a fun undertaking especially for someone like me who enjoys the history and geography of the Byzantine Empire. The fun part was surely in choosing the best cities to be represented in the game’s map and their corresponding landmarks to be depicted on their respective city cards. True enough, due to how complex this task is in choosing a total of 18 cities for the game and their corresponding landmarks as well, I did not do this all alone but rather I got some help from other fellow Byzantine history content creators and from those who helped me in the creation of the game. Thus for helping out in conceptualizing the cities in the game I would have to thank the game’s executive consultant Nilay Tokaoglu (follow her on Instagram @ntokaoglu) for helping in the creation process by choosing the perfect landmarks for the city cards and to some extent what cities go in the game, while I would also like to thank fellow Byzantine history content creator Byzansimp (follow on Instagram @byzansimp) for choosing some of the cities as well that came out in the game, and of course lastly I would have to thank Chrysa for bringing these cities in the game to life by illustrating their city cards and Alessia for putting these 18 cities on the map. Therefore, I will have to thank them a lot as without them, this game will not really be anything as these cities are true enough what gives the game its objective. Now, the 18 cities are just one part of this game that involves so many details, therefore I will have many articles coming up soon about this upcoming board game including those about how to play the game, the characters, and much more. Now, this is all for this article on the 18 cities in the “Battle for Byzantium” board game, thanks for reading and stay tuned for more articles on the game!     


Published by The Byzantium Blogger

Powee Celdran, currently majors in Entrepreneurial Management, a Byzantine scholar and enthusiast, historical military sketch and bathroom mural artist, aspiring historical art restorer, Lego filmmaker creating Byzantine era films and videos, and a possible Renaissance man living in modern times but Byzantine at heart. Currently manages the Instagram account byzantine_time_traveller posting Byzantine history related content.

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