Byzantine Empire

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Roman Empire
Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων
Basileía Rhōmaíōna
Imperium Romanum
Flag of Byzantine Empire
Tremissis with the image of Justinian the Great (527–565 CE) (see Byzantine insignia) of Byzantine Empire
Tremissis with the image of Justinian the Great
(527–565 CE) (see Byzantine insignia)
The Empire at its greatest extent in 555 CE under Justinian the Great (its vassals in pink)
The Empire at its greatest extent in 555 CE under
Justinian the Great (its vassals in pink)
StatusEastern division of the Roman Empire
(330–1204, 1261–1453)
Common languages
  • Latin (official until 610)
  • Greek (official after 610)
Christianity (Eastern Orthodox)
(tolerated after the Edict of Milan in 313; state religion after 380)
GovernmentTheocratic Monarchy (with Senate of Constantinople as advisory body)[1]
Notable emperors 
• 285–305
• 324–337
Constantine I
• 457–474
Leo I
• 527–565
Justinian I
• 610–641
• 717–741
• 976–1025
Basil II
• 1081–1118
Alexios I
• 1449–1453
Constantine XI
Historical eraLate Antiquity to Late Middle Ages
• Death of Theodosius I
• Nominal end of the Western Roman Empire
• Fourth Crusade; establishment of Latin Empire
• Reconquest of Constantinople by Palaiologos
29 May 1453c
• Fall of Trebizond
15 August 1461
• 565 CE
• 780 CE
• 1025
CurrencySolidus, hyperpyron and follis
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Dio coin3.jpg Roman Empire
Ottoman Empire
  1. ^ Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων may be transliterated in Latin as Basileia Rhōmaiōn, meaning Roman Empire.
  2. ^ Theodosius I was the last emperor to rule over both the Eastern and Western Roman Empire. He died in 395 AD after making Christianity the official religion of the empire.
  3. ^ Between 1204 and 1261 there was an interregnum when the Empire was divided into the Empire of Nicaea, the Empire of Trebizond and the Despotate of Epirus, which were all contenders for rule of the Empire. The Empire of Nicaea is considered the legitimate continuation of the Byzantine Empire because they managed to re-take Constantinople.
  4. ^ See Population of the Byzantine Empire for more detailed figures taken provided by McEvedy and Jones, Atlas of World Population History, 1978, as well as Angeliki E. Laiou, The Economic History of Byzantium, 2002.
Emblem of the Palaeologus dynasty

The Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire) was the name of the eastern remnant of the Roman Empire that survived into the Middle Ages. Its capital was Constantinople, which is now called Istanbul. Unlike the Western Roman Empire, the most important language was Greek, not Latin, and Greek culture and identity dominated.[2]

Name[change | change source]

The Byzantine Empire was not called that until 100 years after its fall. It known at the time as the following:

  • the "Roman Empire" or the "Empire of the Romans" (Latin: Imperium Romanum, Imperium Romanorum; Greek: Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων Basileia tōn Rhōmaiōn, Ἀρχὴ τῶν Ῥωμαίων Archē tōn Rhōmaiōn),
  • "Romania" (Latin: Romania; Greek: Ῥωμανία Rhōmania),[n 1]
  • the "Roman Republic" (Latin: Res Publica Romana; Greek: Πολιτεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Politeia tōn Rhōmaiōn),
  • "Graecia" (Greek: Γραικία meaning "land of the Greeks"),[4]
  • "Rhōmais" (Greek: Ῥωμαΐς).[5]

Start (330–476 AD)[change | change source]

In 324, Roman Emperor Constantine I moved the capital of the Roman Empire to the Greek city of Byzantium, and he renamed the city Constantinople. Then, 150 years later, after Rome had been slowly taken over by Germanic people during the Migration period, Constantinople was the only remaining capital of the empire. The Eastern Empire was smaller than the original Roman Empire.

Problems (476–717 AD)[change | change source]

Wars in west[change | change source]

The Byzantine Empire tried to take back Rome and the rest of Italy from the Germans. Between 530 and 555 AD, the Byzantines won many battles and managed to take back Rome.

Those gains did not last, however. More Germanic people came, and Italy was eventually lost again. Worse, Avar and Slavic peoples then took Southeast Europe from the Byzantines. After the 560s, the invaders gradually conquered the Balkans except for parts of modern Greece and Albania. Those invaders were later followed by the Bulgarians. At first, both the Avars and the Bulgarians were Turkic peoples. They ruled over Slavic people, called Sklavinai, and slowly absorbed the Slavic language and customs.

Wars in east[change | change source]

After Rome had been captured by Germanic people, the empire continued to control what is now Egypt, Greece, Palestine, Syria and Turkey. However, another empire, known as the Persian or the Sassanid Empire, tried to take toese lands for itself. Between 224 and 628, the Greco-Romans and the Persians fought many battles, and many men were killed in the fighting. Eventually, the Persians were defeated in 627 in what is now Iraq, near the ancient city of Nineveh, which allowed the Byzantines to keep those lands.

Then, another enemy appeared, the Arabs. The Byzantines were economically damaged by their battles with the Persians and so could not withstand the Arabs. Palestine, Syria and Egypt were lost between 635 and 645. However, the Byzantines defended Asia Minor (now in Turkey), and the Arab advance stopped.

Recovery of empire (717–1025 AD)[change | change source]

In 718, the Arabs were defeated outside Constantinople, which ended the Arab threat in the east but left the Byzantines severely weakened. In the west, the Byzantines launched a number of attacks against the Bulgarians. Some of them were successful, but others were not and led to the deaths of many emperors. Over time, the Byzantine Empire would become weaker as it lost land to outside invaders.

Recovery in west[change | change source]

Between 1007 and 1014, Emperor Basil II ambitiously attacked Bulgaria many times and eventually won a great victory. Later, he fully recaptured Greece and recovered it for the empire. He then went on to conquer Bulgaria, which was completed in 1018.

Recovery in east[change | change source]

In the east, the Arabs once again became a threat to the Byzantines. However, Basil II kept attacking and won many more victories. Much of Syria was restored to the empire, and Turkey and Armenia were secured. After 1025, the Arabs were no longer a threat to the Byzantines.

Decline of empire (1025–1453 AD)[change | change source]

Start of decline (1025–1071)[change | change source]

After Basil II died, many unskilled emperors came to the throne, wasted the empire's money and reduced its army. That meant that it could not defend itself well against enemies if they attacked. Later, the Byzantines relied on mercenaries. Those soldiers who fought for money, not for their country, and so they were less loyal and reliable and more expensive. The mercenaries allowed military generals to come to power and to grab it from the elaborate bureaucracy, a system of administration where tasks are divided by departments.

Rise of Turks (1071–1091)[change | change source]

A large number of people, known as the Turks, rode on horseback from central Asia and attacked the Byzantine Empire. The Seljuk Empire took most of Anatolia from the Byzantines by 1091. However, the Byzantines received help from people in Europe, which is known as the First Crusade. Many knights and soldiers left to help the Byzantines and to secure Jerusalem for Christians, which was then in Muslim hands.

Survival (1091–1185)[change | change source]

The Byzantine Empire survived and, with the help of the Europeans, took back half of Turkey from the Turks, who kept the other half. The Byzantines survived because three good emperors in a row and allowed the empire to recover.

Another weakening (1185-1261)[change | change source]

The next emperors ruled badly and again wasted a lot of money and soldiers.

In the west, the Europeans betrayed the Byzantines and attacked their capital, Constantinople. The Byzantines lost their capital in 1204 and did not take it back until 1261. They were then divided into many smaller Greek states, which fought one another for control.

Fall to Turks (1261–1453)[change | change source]

After the Byzantines had dtaken back Constantinople, they were too busy fighting the Europeans who had betrayed them and so could not find enough soldiers or money to fight the Turks' new Ottoman Empire. All of Asia Minor had been lost by 1331, and in 1369, the Turks crossed over from Turkey and into Greece. They took over much of Greece between 1354 and 1450.

The Byzantines lost so much land, money and soldiers that they became very weak and begged for help from the Europeans. Some soldiers and ships came from Italy and the Pope to assist the Byzantines when the Turks attacked Constantinople in April 1453. They were very outnumbered, however, and the walls of Constantinople were badly damaged by cannons used by the Turks. At the end of May 1453, the Turks captured Constantinople by entering through one of the gates along the walls, and the empire came to an end.

The city was plundered for three days. At the end, the population that had not been able to escape was deported to Edirne, Bursa and other Ottoman cities and left the city deserted except for the Jews of Balat and the Genoese of Pera. Constantinople was later renamed to Istanbul and became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. After the empire fell in the 1900s, the Turkish capital was moved to Ankara, a city in Asia Minor.

Legacy[change | change source]

The Byzantine Empire had many achievements:

  • They protected Europe from eastern invasions.
  • They preserved the Greek language and culture.
  • They preserved many Roman political traditions that had been lost by Western Europe.
  • They kept a lot of knowledge that can be read about today.
  • They produced much fine art with a distinctive style.
  • They were the protectors and sponsors of the Eastern Church, which later becomes the Orthodox Church.
  • They used good architecture that is still used.
  • They had cities that used plumbing, which is still in use.
  • They built many beautiful churches, some of which are now mosques, in what are now Turkey and Greece are made from Byzantine buildings or inspired by them.
  • They made several inventions like the flamethrower and "Greek fire", a kind of napalm.
  • They made advances in many fields like political studies, diplomacy and military sciences.

Related pages[change | change source]

Notes[change | change source]

  1. "Romania" was a popular name of the empire used mainly unofficially, which meant "land of the Romans".[3] The term does not refer to modern Romania.

References[change | change source]

Citations[change | change source]

  1. Cartwright 2018.
  2. Ahrweiler 1976, pp. 19–60, 78; Clover & Humphreys 1989, p. 10ff; Linnér 1994, p. 219ff; Lemerle 1971, pp. 52–71, 279–285; Baynes & Moss 1948, p. 23ff.
  3. Fossier & Sondheimer 1997, p. 104.
  4. Constantelos 2001–2002
  5. Cinnamus 1976, p. 240.

Sources[change | change source]

  • Ahrweiler, Helene (1975). L'Ideologie Politique de l'Empire Byzantine [The Political Ideology of the Byzantine Empire] (in French). Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
  • Baynes, Norman Hepburn; Moss, Henry St. Lawrence Beaufort (1948). Byzantium: An Introduction to East Roman Civilization. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Cartwright, Mark (13 April 2018). "Byzantine Government". Ancient History Encyclopedia.
  • Cinnamus, Ioannes (1976). Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenus. New York and West Sussex: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-04080-6.
  • Clover, F. M.; Humphreys, R. S. (1989). Tradition and Innovation in Late Antiquity. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 9780299120009.
  • Constantelos, Demetrios I. (2001–2002). "Μαρτυρίες για την Ταυτότητα των Βυζαντινών και των Ρωμιών σε Ελληνικές Πηγές". Πεμπτουσία (in Greek).
  • Fossier, Robert; Sondheimer, Janet (1997). The Cambridge Illustrated History of the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-26644-0.
  • Lemerle, Paul (1971). Le Premier Humanisme Byzantin [The First Byzantine Humanism] (in French). Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
  • Linnér, Sture (1994). Bysantinsk kulturhistoria [History of Byzantine Culture] (in Swedish). Stockholm: Norstedt. ISBN 978-9-11-941512-7.

Other websites[change | change source]