The Byzantine EmpireThe Byzantine Empire, the survivor of the Roman empire, flourished intothe oldest and longest lasting empire in our history. It began with Constantinethe Great’s triumph of Christianity. He then transferred his capital from Rometo the refounded Byzantium in the early 4th century, year 330 AD, and named itConstantinople after himself.
This city became the surviving safe spot afterthe breakup of the Western Roman empire by the 5th century. It was by far thelargest and richest city in Christendom during the Middle Ages with a populationof about one million people. (Encarta)Constantine the Great had established a criterion for the empire tofollow throughout its history.
It included the harmony of the church, theleaders and the teachers of the empire. Constantine created a successful newmonetary system based on the gold solidus, or nomisma which lasted well into themiddle of the 11th century. Because of the commercial thriving throughout the4th, 5th, and 6th centuries, many ancient cities flourished.
Large estatesdominated agriculture which continued to be fruitful in spite of the heavytaxation causing an abandonment of land. From the beginning to the end of theByzantine empire, the church and the emperor had been the largest landholders,therefore being the largest profiteers of Byzantine. (Encarta)After the Roman empire fell in 476 AD, Byzantine conquered all. It tookover the space of southeastern Europe, southwestern Asia, and the northeastcorner of Africa. The present day countries in these areas include the BalkanPeninsula, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. This large empire known asByzantine didn’t get called Byzantine until scholars named it.
The people ofthat time were not thought of as Byzantines but as Romans who lived a Romanlifestyle. Byzantine had been started and ruled by an emperor without anyformal constitution. It slowly formed a similar establishment of late Romaninstitutions. Byzantine followed the Romans orthodox Christianity as well.
Thepredominant language of this era was Greek, although some subjects spoke Latin,Coptic, and Armenian. (Great Ages)The Greek language led to a Greek culture. The Byzantine empire stoodout for their Christian religion and their expression of it in their artwork. These Romans carved exquisite ivories, illuminated manuscripts, and formedmosaics out of glass and stone. Mosaics were pictures formed from these objectswith the intent to stimulate profound religious thought. The mood of thesemosaics was always honoring and respectful of Christianity and its components.
Another form of Christian expression was in the form of icons. These were partsof the Gospel played out into visual pictures. The icons portrayed prayers,hymns, and sermons in color.
These too created a reverence for worshippers tofollow. That was the first goal of icons. The second goal was to form anexistential link between themselves as worshippers and God. These are only afew ways that Byzantines use art as a part of their religion. (Great Ages)Religion was a great part of the Byzantine empire.
To form a biggerChristian kingdom, Christian Justinian the first attempted to bring the west andeast Byzantine empires together in 527 AD Justinian became the second emperorof Byzantine at that time. Him and his wife, Theodora, set a goal to restorethe former majesty. (Oxford History) They wanted to improve the intellectualquality and their geographical limits of the Roman Empire. At a great cost,they reconquered North Africa, Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, and parts of Spain. This was part of the reason the Byzantine empire fell. Justinian and Theodora,with substantial expenses, induced in fabricating public buildings and churches.One of these famous churches was the Hagia Sophia, Church of the Holy Wisdom, inConstantinople.
After spending so much of the Byzantine’s money, the empire wasoverstrained when finally their resources ran dry. Along with that problem,plagues crossed the nation and reduced the Byzantine population. (Encarta)To fight the rundown of the Byzantine nation, they transformed theirarmies into an elite expeditionary guard called tagmata and army corps labeledthemes or themata. Each of these were commanded by a strategos or general whoacquired civil and military authority of his army district. Thematic armiesbecame army corps districts whose soldiers acquired tax-exempt lands, preservingthe core of the empire while avoiding the incriminating drain of cash that hadoverstrained the salaried armies of the period before the Arab invasions. (Encarta)Finally, the invasions began.
Byzantine was able to defend itselfagainst Germanic and Hunnic raids in the 5th and 6th centuries. They were alsoable to stabilize a reasonably secure eastern frontier against the SassanidPersian Empire but they could not recover, hold, and govern the entireMediterranean world like they had. Warfare and the nations insecurity inhibitedagriculture and education. With their limited resources, the empire could nolonger maintain the full dimensions, foundation, and complexity of the lateRoman Empire. It barely managed to endure and adapt to its circumstances.Beginning in the 9th century, Byzantium experienced a major recoverythat took many different forms.
Many of the offensives halted on the easternfrontier. The reasons being were the decline of the caliphate and of thecreativity of Byzantine strategy. In the 10th century, the lands that had beenlost to the Slavs were reconquered and reorganized. As well as the recovery ofold land, the recovery of learning occurred. Intellectual life was revived inmany new fashions. Ancient manuscripts were summarized and recopies,encyclopedias were compiled, and mathematics, astronomy, and literature receivednew attention. Art and literature also returned to the regained Byzantine.The greatest Byzantine emperor seemed to be Basil II.
He restrained alengthy rebellion and expanded the Byzantine empire. On the downside, hereplaced the power of many older families with a new group of loyal families. This failure damaged the revenues, authority, personnel, and other militaryresources of the state. After his death though, the empire prospered ineconomic expansion but suffered from many mediocre emperors. These emperorsneglected new technological, cultural, and economic developments in the westernpart of the empire.
Meanwhile the army deteriorated. The old thematic armieshad been ruined.The fall of the Byzantine empire had been on the decline for some timethough. By 1450, only Constantinople and a few small areas to the west wereleft standing.
The Ottomans of Turkey finally ended the Byzantine empire. Mohammed II, the Ottoman sultan, wanted Constantinople as the capital of hisempire. After eight weeks of heavy bombardment, his army of 80,000 men got inthe walls of the final city standing in their way. They were surprised to bemet by such a fierce opposition led by Constantine XI. Finally, whenConstantine breathed his last, the Ottomans of Turkey could rejoice at thecollapse of the city and the end of the empire.
The end of the Byzantine empire showed an end to a great period inhistory. Their artwork and culture are still admired today. Their perseverancepaid off to help them become the longest standing empire in history. Byzantiumis one empire that will never be forgotten.