The oriental Empire, often referred to as the east Roman realm or just Byzantium, dated 330 to 1453. With its capital founded at Constantinople by Constantine ns (r. 306-337), the realm varied in size over the centuries, at once or another, possessing territories situated in Italy, Greece, the Balkans, Levant, Asia Minor, and North Africa.

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Byzantium was a Christian state v Greek as the official language, the Byzantines developed their own political systems, spiritual practices, art and also architecture, which, although considerably influenced by the Greco-Roman cultural tradition, were distinct and also not just a extension of ancient Rome. The byzantine Empire was the longest-lasting middle ages power, and its influence continues today, especially in the religion, art, architecture, and law of numerous Western states, eastern and central Europe, and Russia.

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Names & Dates

The surname "Byzantine" to be coined through 16th-century historians based upon the fact that the capital city"s an initial name was Byzantium prior to it changed to Constantinople (modern Istanbul). It was and continues to be a less-than-perfect but convenient brand which differentiates the east Roman empire from the Western roman inn Empire, specifically important after the fall of the last in the fifth century. Indeed, because that this reason, over there is no universal agreement among historians regarding what duration of time the ax "Byzantine Empire" in reality refers to. Part scholars pick 330 and also the structure of Constantinople, others the fall of the west Roman empire in 476, still others favor the fail of Justinian ns (r. 527-565) come unify the two empires in 565, and some also plum for c. 650 and also the Arab conquest of Byzantium"s eastern provinces. Most chroniclers do agree the the byzantine Empire terminated top top Tuesday 29 may 1453, as soon as the ottoman Sultan Mehmed II (r.1444-6 & 1451-81) conquered Constantinople.

Constantinople became the richest, most lavish & most essential Christian city in the world.

The conversation of dates likewise highlights the distinctions in the country and social mix in between the two halves of the roman world and the distinctness the the middle ages state indigenous its previously Roman heritage. The Byzantines dubbed themselves "Romans", your emperor was basileon ton Rhomaion or "Emperor that the Romans" and also their resources was "New Rome". However, the most usual language to be Greek, and also it is fair to say the for the vast majority of its history, the byzantine Empire to be much an ext Greek 보다 Roman in cultural terms.

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The starts of the byzantine Empire lie in the decision of roman inn emperor Constantine i to relocate the resources of the Roman empire from Rome to byzantium on 11 might 330. The well-known name Constantinople or "City the Constantine" soon changed the emperor"s very own official choice of "New Rome". The new capital had wonderful natural harbour on the golden Horn inlet and, straddled ~ above the border between Europe and Asia, could regulate the i of ships with the Bosphorus from the Aegean to the black Sea, linking rewarding trade between west and east. A great chain stretched across the golden Horn"s entrance, and the building of the massive Theodosian Walls in between 410 and also 413 expected that the city was able to withstand time and also again concerted strikes from both sea and also land. Over the centuries, as more spectacular buildings were added, the cosmopolitan city came to be one of the ideal of any type of epoch and also certainly the richest, many lavish and also most essential Christian city in the world.


Map of oriental Constantinople
Cplakidas (CC BY-SA)

Byzantine Emperors

The oriental emperor or basileus (or more rarely basilissa for empress) resided in the magnificent good Palace of Constantinople and also ruled together an absolute monarch end a huge empire. As such, the basileus necessary the assistance of an expert government and a widespread and also efficient bureaucracy. Although an absolute ruler, an emperor was expected - through his government, people and the Church - to preeminence wisely and justly. Even an ext importantly, an emperor had actually to have military success as the army remained the most an effective institution in byzantium in real terms. The generals in Constantinople and also the provinces can - and also did - remove an emperor that failed to safeguard the empire"s borders or who lugged economic catastrophe. Still, in the typical run of events, the emperor was commander-in-chief of the army, head that the Church and also government, he managed the state finances and also appointed or dismissed noble at will; couple of rulers before or due to the fact that have ever wielded such power.

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The emperor"s image showed up on byzantine coins, i m sorry were also used to show a preferred successor, regularly the eldest son, however not always as there to be no set rules for succession. Kings were thought to have been liked by God come govern, yet a splendid crown and robes the Tyrian violet helped more bolster the right to rule. Another marketing strategy was to copy the power names of illustrious predecessors, Constantine gift a particular favourite. Even usurpers, commonly military men of power and success, really often sought to legitimise their place by marrying a member of their precursors family. Thus, v a very closely orchestrated continuous of dynasties, ritual, costume, and names, the college of the emperor had the ability to last because that 12 centuries.

Byzantine Government

The byzantine government followed the patterns created in royal Rome. The emperor was all-powerful but was still meant to consult such essential bodies as the Senate. The Senate in Constantinople, unequal in Rome, was created of guys who had actually risen v the ranks of the military service, and so there was no senatorial class as such. There is no elections, oriental senators, ministers, and local councillors largely obtained their position through royal patronage or because of their condition as huge landowners.

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The upstream senators comprised the small sacrum consistorium i m sorry the emperor was, in theory, claimed to above on matters of state importance. In addition, the emperor can consult members of his an individual entourage at court. Also at court were the eunuch chamberlains (cubicularii) who offered the emperor in various an individual duties however who could likewise control access to him. Eunuchs held positions of duty themselves, chief among these gift the holder of the emperor"s purse, the sakellarios, whose powers would certainly increase substantially from the 7th century. Other crucial government officials contained the quaestor or chief legal officer; the comes sacrarum largitionum who managed the state mint; the magister officiorum who looked after ~ the general management of the palace, the army and its supplies, as well as foreign affairs; and a team of royal inspectors who retained an eye on affairs in neighborhood councils across the empire.

The top main in Byzantium, though, to be the Praetorian Prefect of the eastern to whom all local governors that the empire were accountable. The regional governors managed the separation, personal, instance city councils or curae. Regional councillors to be responsible for every public services and the arsenal of count in their town and its bordering lands. This councils to be organised geographically into 100 or so districts which were themselves arranged into 12 dioceses, three in every of the empire"s 4 prefectures. From the 7th century the local governors of the dioceses, or themes together they ended up being known ~ a restructuring, in effect, came to be provincial military leaders (strategoi) who were directly responsible come the emperor himself, and also the Praetorian Prefect was abolished. After the 8 hours century the management of the empire, due to the raised military risk from neighbours and also internal polite wars, came to be much an ext simplified 보다 previously.

Corpus Juris Civilis

Byzantine government was significantly assisted by the production of the Justinian code or Corpus Juris Civilis (Corpus of polite Law) by Justinian I. The corpus, drawn up through a panel of legal experts, collected, edited, and revised the large body that Roman regulations which had actually been built up over the centuries - a massive variety of imperial edicts, legal opinions, and lists of crimes and also punishments. The code, composed of over a million words, would last because that 900 years, do the legislations clearer for all, minimize the variety of cases unnecessarily brought prior to the courts, speed up the judicial procedure and affect most legal solution in western democracies thereafter.

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Byzantine Society

The Byzantines gave great importance come the household name, inherited wealth, and also the respectable bear of an individual. The individuals in the higher levels of society possessed these three things. Wealth came native land property or the administration of land under an separation, personal, instance administrator"s jurisdiction. However, there to be no aristocracy of blood because of this in byzantine society, and both patronage and education were a means to rise the society ladder. In addition, the dispensing that favours, lands, and also titles by emperors, and indiscriminate demotions and the perils of international invasions and also wars, all supposed that the individual components of the nobility were not static and also families rose and fell end the centuries. Rank to be visible to every members of culture through the usage of titles, seals, insignia, certain clothing, and personal jewellery.


Byzantine cream color Diptych Panel
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin (CC BY-NC-SA)

Most in the reduced classes would certainly have complied with the job of your parents, however inheritance, the build-up of wealth, and also a absence of any kind of formal prohibition because that one class to move to another did at least offer a little possibility because that a human being to better their social position. There were workers with much better jobs such together those who worked in legal affairs, administration, and commerce (not a very esteemed method to make a living because that the Byzantines). Top top the next rung down were artisans, then farmers who owned their own little parcels that land, then the largest group - those who worked the land of others, and finally, slaves who were frequently prisoners that war however nowhere near as many as totally free labourers.

The function of byzantine women, similar to the men, relied on their society rank. Aristocratic women were expected to manage the home and also care because that the children. Although may be to own property, they might not host public office and also spent their complimentary time weaving, shopping, going to church or analysis (although they had no official education). Widows ended up being the guardian of their children and also could inherit equally with their brothers. Plenty of women worked, as men, in farming and various manufacturing industries and food services. Women might own their very own land and businesses, and some would have actually improved your social position through marriage. The least respected professions were, together elsewhere, prostitutes and also actresses.

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Territories the the byzantine Empire

The geographical level of the byzantine Empire readjusted over the centuries together the military successes and also failures of individual queens fluctuated. Territories which were organized in the earlier component of the empire"s history included Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and also Palestine. Greece was less essential in useful terms than it was together a symbol of the Byzantine"s view of themselves together the true heirs the the Greco-Roman culture. Italy and also Sicily had to it is in defended, eventually unsuccessfully, against the ambitions that the Popes and also the Normans. The Balkans up to the Danube river were crucial throughout, and also Asia Minor as much as the black Sea coastline in the north and Armenia in the east was a major source of wealth, however both these regions would require regular and also vigorous defence versus various perennial enemies.

As the politics map was constantly redrawn v the rise and fall of adjoining empires, notable events contained Anastasios ns (491-518) properly defending the empire against both the Persians and Bulgars. Justinian I, aided through his gifted general Belisarius (c. 500-565), won ago territories in phibìc Africa, Spain, and Italy which had been lost by the western emperors. The Lombards in Italy and also the Slavs in the Balkans do inroads right into the Empire throughout the second half of the sixth century, a situation eventually reversed through Heraclius (r. 610-641), properly bringing the Persian Sasanian empire to an end with his victory at Nineveh in 627.


Byzantine empire c. 626 CE
Justinian43 (CC BY-SA)

The Islamic occupations of the 7th and 8th century plunder the empire of its regions in the Levant (including Jerusalem in 637), north Africa and also eastern Asia Minor. At least, though, the realm stood firm together a bulwark against the Arab expansion into Europe, v Constantinople twice withstanding identified Arab sieges (674-8 and 717-18). The byzantine Empire to be shaken to its foundations, though. Climate in the ninth century, the Bulgars made significant incursions into the northern locations of the Empire. A renewal in oriental fortunes came through the (inappropriately named) Macedonian empire (867-1057). The founder of the dynasty, Basil i (r. 867-886), reconquered southern Italy, faced the troublesome Cretan pirates, and gained victories against the Arabs on Cyprus, mainland Greece and in Dalmatia. The very next emperor, Leo using (r. 886-912) lost most that the gains, however the mid-10th century experienced victories in Muslim-controlled Mesopotamia.

Basil II (r. 976-1025), recognized as the "Bulgar-Slayer" because that his win in the Balkans, oversaw another startling upturn in byzantine fortunes. Basil, helped by an military of fierce warriors of Viking lower from Kiev, also won victories in Greece, Armenia, Georgia, and Syria, copy the dimension of the Empire. It was though, the last good hurrah as a gradual decrease set in. After ~ the shocking loss to the Seljuks in ~ the battle of Manzikert in Armenia in 1071, a brief revival occurred under Alexios i Komnenos (r. 1081-1118) through victories versus the norman in Dalmatia, the Pechenegs in Thrace, and the Seljuks in Palestine and also Syria (with the aid of the very first Crusaders), however there appeared to be too numerous enemies in too numerous regions because that the Byzantines come prosper indefinitely.

In the 12th and also 13th century the Sultanate that Rum took fifty percent of Asia Minor, and then disaster struck as soon as the militaries of the 4th Crusade sacked Constantinople in 1204. Carved up in between Venice and also its allies, the empire existed just in exile before a reconstruction in 1261. Through the 14th century the Empire had a little area in the pointer of southerly Greece and a chunk the territory around the capital. The final blow came, as already mentioned, with the footrest sack that Constantinople in 1453.

The byzantine Church

Paganism continued to be practised for centuries ~ the structure of Byzantium, yet it was Christianity which became the defining feature of byzantine culture, profoundly affect its politics, international relations, and art and also architecture. The Church was headed by the Patriarch or bishop of Constantinople, that was appointed or removed by the emperor. Local bishops, who presided over bigger towns and also their surrounding territories and also who represented both the church and emperor, had substantial wealth and also powers in their regional communities. Christianity, then, became vital common denominator which aided bind with each other diverse cultures into a solitary empire which had Christian Greeks, Armenians, Slavs, Georgians, and many various other minorities, and those of various other faiths such together Jews and also Muslims who were permitted to freely practise your religion.


The distinctions in the eastern and western church was among the reasons that the oriental Empire received such a negative representation in western middle ages histories. Frequently Byzantines were illustrated as decadent and also shifty, their society stagnant, and their religion a dangerous heresy. The churches of the east and also west disagreed on who should have actually priority, the Pope or the Patriarch of Constantinople. Matters of doctrine were likewise contested, such as did Jesus Christ have actually one human and also one magnificent nature combined or simply a magnificent nature. Clerical celibacy, the usage of leavened or unleavened bread, the language of service, and the usage of imagery were every points of differences, which, through the fuel the political and territorial ambitions included into the volatile mix that emotions, resulted in the Church Schism that 1054.

The oriental church also had its own internal disputes, most infamously the iconoclasm or "destruction the images" that 726-787 and also 814-843. The Popes and many Byzantines sustained the use of icons - representations of holy figures yet especially Jesus Christ. Those versus icons thought they had come to be idols and it to be blasphemous to think the God might be stood for in art. The issue also reignited the debate over even if it is Christ had actually two nature or one and whether one icon, therefore, just represented the human. Defenders of symbols said that they were just an artist"s impression and also helped the illiterate much better understand the divine. During the tide of iconoclasm, plenty of precious artworks to be destroyed, especially during the reigns of Leo III (r. 717-741) and also his follower Constantine V (r. 741-775) once even people who venerated icons (iconophiles) were persecuted. The worry was fixed in favour of symbols in 843, an occasion known together the “Triumph of Orthodoxy".

Monasticism was a certain feature that Byzantine religious life. Men and women retired to monasteries where they specialized their resides to Christ and also helping the poor and also sick. Over there they live a basic life according to rule laid the end by such important church numbers as Basil the an excellent (c. 330 - c. 379). Numerous monks were likewise scholars, most famously Saint Cyril (d. 867) who invented the Glagolitic alphabet. A notable woman who provided her time that retreat well was Anna Komnene (1083-1153), that wrote her Alexiad ~ above the life and reign of her father Alexios i Komnenos (r. 1081-1118). Abbeys thus became invaluable repositories of texts and also knowledge while their wine-production and also icon workshops were substantially appreciated, too. One of the most celebrated monastic sites is mountain Athos near Thessalonica, wherein monks established themselves indigenous the ninth century, eventually structure 46 monasteries there, many of which make it through today.


Byzantine Art

Byzantine artists relocated away from the naturalism the the timeless tradition towards the an ext abstract and universal, displaying a definite preference for two-dimensional representations. The rarity of signatures on works of arts produced before the 13th century argues that artist did not gain a high social status. Artworks which advocated a religious message - principally the need for salvation and a reinforcement of confidence - were produced in vast numbers and also chief amongst these were wall surface mosaics, wall paintings, and also icons. Back icons can take nearly any kind of material, the most famous were tiny painted wood panels. Designed come be carried or held on walls, they to be made using the encaustic technique where coloured colors were mixed with wax and also burned into the lumber as one inlay. With the function of facilitating communication in between the onlooker and also the divine, the solitary figures are frequently full frontal v a nimbus or halo around them to emphasise your holiness.

Byzantine mosaics, finest seen this particular day in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul or the church of mountain Vitale in Ravenna, represented divine figures, emperors and empresses, church officials, and scenes of daily life, particularly in agriculture. Large sculpture seems to have been less well-known than in previously antiquity, yet sculpted marble sarcophagi were developed in an excellent numbers. Finally, metalwork, especially incorporating enamel-work and also cabochon semi-precious stones, to be a byzantine speciality, and also artisans produced numerous high-quality and also intricately draft plates, cups, jewellery of every kinds, book covers (especially because that Bibles), and also reliquaries (boxes for keeping divine relics).

Byzantine Architecture

Byzantine architects ongoing to employ the timeless orders in your buildings and took concepts from the near East, among other places. Draft became much more eclectic than in antiquity, especially given the usual habit the reusing the products from older buildings for new structures. There was, too, a definite focus on function over type and a greater issue with the interiors quite than exteriors that buildings. Continuing to develop such quintessentially Roman structures as arched aqueducts, amphitheatres, hippodromes, baths and also villas, the Byzantines would add to the repertoire with their domed churches, walled monasteries, and much more sophisticated fortification walls.


Favoured building materials were large bricks v mortar and also concrete for the concealed core the walls. Ashlar stone blocks were used in much more prestigious public buildings while marble, used more sparingly than in previously Roman times, was typically reserved because that columns, door and window frames, and other decorative elements. Roofs were of timber while internal walls were generally covered in plaster, stucco, slim marble plaques, paintings, and also mosaics.

The largest, many important and also still most renowned Byzantine building is the Hagia Sophia the Constantinople, committed to the holy wisdom (hagia sophia) of God. Developed anew in 532-537, its an easy rectangular shape procedures 74.6 x 69.7 metres (245 x 229 ft) and also its large domed ceiling is 55 metres above the floor, spanning 31.8 metres in diameter. Resting on 4 massive arcs with 4 supporting pendentives, the dome to be a spectacular architectural accomplishment for the period. The Hagia Sophia continued to be the biggest church in the world until the 16th century and was one of the many decorated v superb glittering mosaics and wall paintings.

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Christian churches, in general, were among the Byzantine"s greatest contributions to architecture, particularly the use of the dome. The cross-in-square arrangement became the most common with the dome constructed over 4 supporting arches. The square basic of the structure then branched into bays which could themselves have actually a fifty percent or complete dome ceiling. Another common attribute is a central apse with two side-apses in ~ the eastern end of the church. Over time, the central dome was raised ever higher on a polygonal drum, which in some churches is therefore high it has the figure of a tower. Plenty of churches, specifically basilicas, had actually alongside them a baptistry (usually octagonal), and also sometimes a mausoleum because that the founder the the church and their descendants. Together Byzantine design features would certainly go ~ above to influence Orthodox Christian architecture and also so room still seen this particular day in church worldwide.