History of the Powerful Byzantine Empire *395 – 1453
The Byzantine Empire was located in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire. After the fall of the Western Europe in the 5th century, the Byzantine Empire continued its existence in one way or the other until the 15th century. The Empire was notable for taking Christianity as the official religion in the 4th century following which it became one of the most important political entities of Christendom.
The Empire reached its pinnacle in terms of culture and power in the 10th and 11th centuries following which a period of decline began culminating in the fall of the Empire at the hands of Seljuk Turks.
Byzantine Art was highly influenced by the ancient art of the Greeks and Romans, Byzantine Artists loved to used ceramic mosaics inside Churches for Religious themes Read more about the Byzantine Art >>
During the medieval period of the Byzantine Empire some magnificent cities were built, some of the most important of these Byzantine Cities were Constantinople, Ravenna and Reggio Calabria. Read more about the Byzantine Cities >>
The Byzantine Culture was highly influenced by the empires religion 'Christianity, and was also influenced by the orient which gave it a unique and interesting culture Read more about the Byzantine Culture >>
Byzantine Paintings flourished under the Byzantine Empire and often depicted religious themes, Icon painting was very popular and the Virgin Mary, Jesus and the Church were often painted Read more about the Byzantine Paintings >>
The foundation of the Byzantine Empire was laid when the Roman Empire was divided into Eastern and Western halves during the 3rd century.
By the 4th century, the Eastern Roman Empire had its capital at Constantinople and grew largely independent of the influence of the Western Empire.
While the Western Empire fell in the 5th century, the Eastern Empire continued to exist and became later known as the Byzantine Empire.
It reached its territorial peak in the 6th century.
By 7th century, the Muslim threat began facing the Empire’s frontiers.
In the early 13th century, Constantinople was sacked and this marked the beginning of the Empire’s rapid decline.
The end of the Empire came in 1453 when Constantinople fell into the hands of the Ottoman Empire.
Map of the Byzantine Empire during Middle Ages
Byzantine Empire Key Dates
395 – The Roman Empire is divided in two.
476 – Collapse of the Western Roman Empire. 527 – 565 The Reign of Justinian.
1054 – The Eastern Church Splits from the Western Church.
1204 – Constantinople is captured by the Crusaders.
1261 – The Byzantines defeat the Crusaders and drive them out.
1453 – Constantinople is conquered by the Ottoman Turks.
Byzantine Empire Religion
The official religion of the Byzantine Empire was changed to Christianity in the 4th century.
It was adopted in such a manner as to vest a maximum of powers in the Emperors hands and to consider him a shadow of God on Earth.
So the Emperor was believed to carry divine sanction.
The Christianity in the Byzantine Empire came to be called the Eastern Christianity, in contrast to the western Roman Catholic Church.
Unsuccessful attempts were made to impost Christianity on all subjects of the Empire and although these attempts were half-measures, persecutions of minorities took place intermittently.
The version of Christianity as practiced in the Byzantine Empire was considered more orthodox than the rest of the Christendom and for this reason, it is often termed the Eastern Orthodox Church today.
Byzantine Empire Art
Art in the Byzantine Empire was deeply affected by the doctrines and views of the Eastern Christianity.
During the early period of the Empire, mosaics were most commonly used to depict religious motifs.
It is interesting to note that art from the Byzantine Empire was highly esteemed and valued in the Western Europe.
As the Empire expanded, the influence of its art forms expanded as well. As a result, elements of Byzantine architecture can be seen in areas as far as Egypt.
Byzantine Empire Language
In contrast to the Western Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire and later, the Byzantine Empire, had long used Greek as its primary language.
Latin was formally used in government affairs until the 7th century.
The prominence of Greek was also owing to the fact that it was commonly used by the Church and in matters related to Christianity.
Later, as the Empire expanded, limited rights were given to a number of other languages as well. These included the Syriac, Armenian, Coptic and Georgian languages. Even Vulgar Latin continued to be spoken by a small minority within the Empire.
Byzantine Empire Economy
Until the later part of the Middle Ages, the Byzantine Empire was the strongest and largest economy in the whole of Europe. One of the key reasons for this was the size of the Empire and its geographical significance.
Constantinople, the Empire’s capital, became a veritable trade hub for merchants all over the world.
Although the economy took a hit following the threat of Muslim invaders after 7th century, it was revived between 10th and 13th centuries. Most of the Empire’s trade was through maritime routes and the Emperor’s government kept a close control on all economic activity by having a monopoly over the minting of coins.
Byzantine Empire Decline
The Empire’s decline began in the late 12th century. Internally, the Empire’s administrative structure had succumbed to the power of the aristocracy while externally, most of the Empire’s frontiers were being ravaged by different invaders.
To make matters worse, the seat of the Emperor frequently became embroiled in palatial intrigues, coups and executions.
An ill-conceived attempt by Isaac II, contacted the forces of the Fourth Crusade in 1203 and persuaded them, with payment, to sack Constantinople to reinstall him and his heirs on the imperial throne.
This finally culminated in a large-scale invasion of the capital of the Empire, pillage and plunder of the city, massacre by the crusaders and ultimately, the sizing up of different portions of the Empire and their division between different parts of the crusading army.
Byzantine Empire Fall
In 1204, the Byzantine Empire was split up into states, namely the Despotate of Epirus and the Empire of Nicaea. By 1261, the Empire of Nicaea had defeated most of the other contenders in the Byzantine Empire and gained effective control of the Empire’s territory.
By this time, the Empire was economically, socially and politically weakened. Civil wars returned as the seat of the Emperor became the point of contention once again.
Serbian ruler Stefan IV conquered most of the Empire’s territories in the first half of the 14th century and established the Serbian Empire. He was subsequently defeated by the Ottomans who conquered most of the Balkans.
Whatever remained of the Byzantine Empire fell in the Ottoman siege of Constantinople in 1453 despite a brave attempt at defense by the last Emperor, Constantine XI.
Byzantine Empire Summary
The Byzantine Empire was the most powerful Empire in the Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire all the way until the later Middle Ages.
The Empire was formerly the Eastern Roman Empire. Unlike the Eastern Roman Empire which had Roman as the official language, the Eastern Roman Empire had Greek as the official language and had a Church of its own.
In time, this Church came to be known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Byzantine Empire was immensely powerful and had the strongest economy in all of Europe well into the 10th century.
It remained powerful until the fateful plunder of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade which slid the Empire into a decline form which didn’t recover until the Empire’s fall to the hands of Ottomans in the 15th century.