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The Byzantine Empire

Rise of the "New Rome"

The Roman Empire collapsed in the west in 476ce, leading to a time of "dark ages" in Europe, but it endured in the East for another thousand years. The Eastern Roman Empire became known as the Byzantine Empire. Byzantine Civilization was a blending of the culture heritage of ancient Greece and the cultures of the near east. Byzantine culture influenced the development of Russia and East Europe. Byzantine culture was more strongly influenced by the Hellenistic culture and was in many ways more Asiatic than European, but had the political and legal structures of ancient Rome. While civilization declined in the west it flourished in the east. Byzantium retained the knowledge and culture of the Greeks and Romans while Europe dissolved into the dark ages and much of that knowledge was forgotten and lost.

Constantinople "Constantine's City" dedicated in 330ad called "New Rome". Ideal geographic location, on the Bosporus, separating Europe from Asia Minor. Meeting place between East and West. Wealth from all over the world passed through the ports of Constantinople.

As the western Empire declined and the barbarians threatened Rome, the richer and stronger Eastern Empire was able to withstand the attacks.

Reign of Justinian (527-565 ce)
-Justinian and his wife Theodora presided over the first great age of the Empire
-Great military leader - sought to recover lands lost to the barbarians. Was unable to recapture all the lands that had been held by Rome, but oversaw the Byzantine Empire at its height.
-Recodifed the Roman law that had become such a complex and disorganized system of regulations people had forgotten the foundational concept of truth and justice. Appointed group of 10 scholars to reorganize the system. Result is Justinian Code, preserved the heritage of the Roman legal system and provided a foundation that most modern European nations would build their political and legal systems.
-Rich culture - extensive building program of churches, public buildings, aqueducts, and roads. Art and architecture (finest example is the church at Hagia Sophia). Expanded and developed the silk industry.
-Weaknesses - neglects the eastern and northern borders while attempting to reclaim the west. Building projects and military campaigns left the empire on the brink of economic ruin. Disarray in the church caused a split with Rome. In the east, the church was also involved in the government. The emperor served as "ordained by God". His power was absolute, he appointed the head of the church.

Empire Under Siege
-After Justinian's rule the empire was besieged on every side for several hundred years.
Lombards attacked from the west. The Slavs and Bulgars attacked from the north. The Persians, seeking to restore the glory of the Persian Empire, attacked from the east.
-In the 600-700 invaders from Arabia became the strongest threat - The empire managed to stave off these attacks though often was weak in its efforts. The empire did lose several parts of their territory in the middle east and north Africa.
-after the attacks the economy slowly improved, due to their location in the trade routes.
-900-1000s the empire again expanded and pushed back the Bulgars and Arabs.
-1071 Gauls take Byzantine territory in S. Italy. The Byzantine emperor led an army against the Seljuk Turks. The Byzantines were destroyed and the emperor was captured. The empire was defenseless.

Influence of the Byzantine Empire
-built and improved on Roman law and engineering
-preserved Greek art, literature, philosophy and science
-produced their own works of history and literature
-Byzantine art and architecture influence Europe - icons and mosaics
-cyrillic alphabet became foundation of the slavic written language
The knowledge they had protected and advanced begins the renaissance as Byzantine scholars go to western universities after the crusades and final fall of the empire.