The Byzantine Empire was originally the Eastern Roman Empire which came into being when the Roman Empire was divided into two major administrative units in the 4th century. Over time, this division was cemented as Christianity became a far more dominant force not only as a religion in the Eastern Roman Empire but also as a source of authority for the ruler.
The Empire subsequently came to be called the Byzantine Empire. While the might of the Western Roman Empire came to an end by the end of 5th century, the Byzantine Empire continued to flourish past this event and remained a major power all the way until the 15th century. It came to an end with the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
Byzantine 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
From 3rd century onwards, there was a marked difference between the fortunes of the Eastern and Western parts of Rome. Western Rome which was the original home of the Romans, faced instability, loss of territories and decline. Eastern Rome, centred on the Hellenistic regions, continued to flourish and remained fairly stable.
Formal divisions between the two distinct parts of the Empire began as early as late 3rd century. By the 5th century, the Western Roman Empire had collapsed and was invaded by different invading groups while the Eastern Roman Empire, or the Byzantine Empire, managed to remain stable and continue to exist unabated.
By late 5th century, the Byzantine Empire was financially stable, militarily strong and was projecting its power into neighbouring regions. Although the Empire permanently lost most of the territories of Western Roman Empire, it continued to control vast regions in Asia Minor as well as Africa.
By the end of the 5th century, the Byzantine Empire stretched from the edges of Italy to Asia Minor in the East, Syria and parts of Arabia in the South and Egypt and the African coast all the way until the Iberian Peninsula in South-West. This was the greatest extent of the Empire throughout its history.
Arabs began raiding out of the deserts of modern-day Saudi Arabia in the first half of the 7th century. They successfully defeated the Byzantine forces at a number of major battles. Syria, Levant and Egypt were lost to the Arabs within a few years. Arabs laid sieges to Constantinople itself, although none of these sieges succeeded and the Empire continued to exist, albeit smaller in size.
The Empire underwent significant revival, termed the Macedonian Renaissance, under the Macedonian dynasty which ruled the Empire from 9th to 11th centuries. During this period, Constantinople became the richest, most culturally advanced and largest city of Europe.
By the 11th century, the Byzantine Empire split away from Catholic Church. The religious differences subsequently led to the sack of Constantinople by the Crusader forces in the 13th century. This was followed by the beginning of the Empire’s decline which culminated in the fall of Constantinople to Ottomans in 1453, effectively marking the end of the Byzantine Empire.