The BYZANTINE EMPIRE, also referred to as the EASTERN ROMAN EMPIRE,
was the continuation of the
Roman Empire in the East during Late
Antiquity and the
Middle Ages , when its capital city was
Istanbul , which had been founded as
Byzantium ). It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western
Roman Empire in the 5th century AD and continued to exist for an
additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
During most of its existence, the empire was the most powerful
economic, cultural, and military force in
Europe . Both "Byzantine
Empire" and "Eastern Roman Empire" are historiographical terms created
after the end of the realm; its citizens continued to refer to their
empire as the
Roman Empire (Greek : Βασιλεία τῶν
Ῥωμαίων, tr. Basileia tôn Rhōmaiōn; Latin : Imperium
Romania (Ῥωμανία), and to themselves as
Several signal events from the 4th to 6th centuries mark the period
of transition during which the Roman Empire's Greek East and Latin
Constantine I (r. 324–337) reorganised the empire,
Constantinople the new capital, and legalised
Theodosius I (r. 379–395),
Christianity became the Empire's
official state religion and other religious practices were proscribed
. Finally, under the reign of
Heraclius (r. 610–641), the Empire's
military and administration were restructured and adopted Greek for
official use instead of Latin. Thus, although the Roman state
continued and Roman state traditions were maintained, modern
Byzantium from ancient Rome insofar as it was
centred on Constantinople, oriented towards Greek rather than Latin
culture, and characterised by Orthodox
The borders of the
Empire evolved significantly over its existence,
as it went through several cycles of decline and recovery. During the
Justinian I (r. 527–565), the
Empire reached its greatest
extent after reconquering much of the historically Roman western
Mediterranean coast , including North Africa, Italy, and Rome itself,
which it held for two more centuries. During the reign of Maurice (r.
582–602), the Empire's eastern frontier was expanded and the north
stabilised. However, his assassination caused the Byzantine–Sasanian
War of 602–628 , which exhausted the Empire's resources and
contributed to major territorial losses during the
Muslim conquests of
the seventh century. In a matter of years the
Empire lost its richest
provinces, Egypt and Syria, to the Arabs.
Macedonian dynasty (10th–11th centuries), the Empire
again expanded and experienced the two-century long Macedonian
Renaissance , which came to an end with the loss of much of Asia Minor
Seljuk Turks after the
Battle of Manzikert in 1071. This battle
opened the way for the Turks to settle in
Empire recovered again during the
Komnenian restoration , such
that by the 12th century
Constantinople was the largest and wealthiest
European city. However, it was delivered a mortal blow during the
Fourth Crusade , when
Constantinople was sacked in 1204 and the
territories that the
Empire formerly governed were divided into
Byzantine Greek and Latin realms . Despite the eventual
Constantinople in 1261, the
Empire remained only
one of several small rival states in the area for the final two
centuries of its existence. Its remaining territories were
progressively annexed by the Ottomans over the 15th century. The Fall
Constantinople to the
Ottoman Empire in 1453 finally ended the
* 1 Nomenclature
* 2 History
* 2.1 Early history
* 2.2 Decentralization of power
* 2.3 Recentralisation
* 2.4 Loss of the
Western Roman Empire
Western Roman Empire
* 2.5 Justinian dynasty
* 2.6 Shrinking borders
* 2.6.1 Early Heraclian dynasty
* 2.6.2 Siege of
* 2.6.3 Late Heraclian dynasty
* 2.6.4 Isaurian dynasty to the accession of
* 2.6.5 Religious dispute over iconoclasm
Macedonian dynasty and resurgence (867–1025)
* 2.7.1 Wars against the Arabs
* 2.7.2 Wars against the Bulgarian
* 2.7.3 Relations with the Kievan Rus\'
* 2.7.4 Apex
* 2.7.5 Split between Orthodox
Christianity and Catholicism (1054)
* 2.8 Crisis and fragmentation
* 2.9 Komnenian dynasty and the crusaders
* 2.9.1 Alexios I and the
* 2.9.2 John II, Manuel I and the
* 2.9.3 12th-century Renaissance
* 2.10 Decline and disintegration
* 2.10.1 Angelid dynasty
* 2.10.3 Crusader sack of
* 2.11 Fall
Empire in exile
* 2.11.2 Reconquest of
* 2.11.3 Rise of the Ottomans and fall of
* 2.12 Political aftermath
* 3 Economy
* 4 Science, medicine and law
* 5 Religion
* 6 Art and literature
* 7 Music
* 8 Cuisine
* 9 Recreation
* 10 Government and bureaucracy
* 10.1 Diplomacy
* 10.2 Flags and insignia
* 11 Language
* 12 Legacy
* 13 See also
* 14 Annotations
* 15 Notes
* 16 References
* 16.1 Primary sources
* 16.2 Secondary sources
* 17 Further reading
* 18 External links
Byzantine studies, resources and bibliography
Names of the Greeks
The first use of the term "Byzantine" to label the later years of the
Roman Empire was in 1557, when the German historian Hieronymus Wolf
published his work Corpus Historiæ Byzantinæ, a collection of
historical sources. The term comes from "Byzantium", the name of the
Constantinople before it became Constantine's capital. This
older name of the city would rarely be used from this point onward
except in historical or poetic contexts. The publication in 1648 of
Byzantine du Louvre (
Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae ), and
in 1680 of Du Cange 's Historia Byzantina further popularised the use
of "Byzantine" among French authors, such as
Montesquieu . However,
it was not until the mid-19th century that the term came into general
use in the Western world.
Empire was known to its inhabitants as the "Roman
Empire", the "
Empire of the Romans" (Latin: Imperium Romanum, Imperium
Romanorum; Greek: Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων Basileia
tōn Rhōmaiōn, Ἀρχὴ τῶν Ῥωμαίων Archē tōn
Rhōmaiōn), "Romania" (Latin: Romania; Greek: Ῥωμανία
Rhōmania), the "Roman Republic" (Latin: Res Publica Romana; Greek:
Πολιτεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων Politeia tōn Rhōmaiōn),
and also as Rhōmais (Greek: Ῥωμαΐς). The inhabitants called
themselves Romaioi, and even as late as the 19th century Greeks
typically referred to modern Greek as Romaika.
Empire had a multi-ethnic character during
most of its history and preserved Romano-
Hellenistic traditions, it
became identified by its western and northern contemporaries with its
increasingly predominant Greek element . The occasional use of the
Empire of the Greeks" (Latin: Imperium Graecorum) in the West to
refer to the Eastern
Roman Empire and of the
Byzantine Emperor as
Imperator Graecorum (Emperor of the Greeks) were also used to
separate it from the prestige of the
Roman Empire within the new
kingdoms of the West.
The authority of the
Byzantine emperor as the legitimate Roman
emperor was challenged by the coronation of
Charlemagne as Imperator
Pope Leo III in the year 800. Needing Charlemagne's
support in his struggle against his enemies in Rome, Leo used the lack
of a male occupant of the throne of the
Roman Empire at the time to
claim that it was vacant and that he could therefore crown a new
No such distinction existed in the Islamic and Slavic worlds, where
Empire was more straightforwardly seen as the continuation of the
Roman Empire. In the Islamic world, the
Roman Empire was known
Rûm . The name millet-i
Rûm , or "Roman nation," was
used by the Ottomans through the 20th century to refer to the former
subjects of the
Byzantine Empire, that is, the Orthodox Christian
community within Ottoman realms.
History of the Byzantine Empire
PART OF A SERIES ON THE
History of the
EARLY PERIOD (330–717)
* Constantinian and Valentinian dynasties
* Theodosian dynasty
* Leonid dynasty
* Justinian dynasty
* Heraclian dynasty
* Twenty Years\' Anarchy
MIDDLE PERIOD (717–1204)
* Isaurian dynasty
* Amorian dynasty
* Doukid dynasty
* Komnenian dynasty
* Angelid dynasty
LATE PERIOD (1204–1453)
Fourth Crusade and Latin states
Byzantine successor states
* Epirus /Thessalonica
* Palaiologan dynasty
* Fall of
Baptism of Constantine painted by
Raphael 's pupils
(1520–1524, fresco , Vatican City,
Apostolic Palace ); Eusebius of
Caesarea records that (as was common among converts of early
Christianity ) Constantine delayed receiving baptism until shortly
before his death
Roman army succeeded in conquering many territories covering the
Mediterranean region and coastal regions in southwestern Europe
and north Africa. These territories were home to many different
cultural groups, both urban populations and rural populations.
Generally speaking, the eastern Mediterranean provinces were more
urbanised than the western, having previously been united under the
Macedonian Empire and Hellenised by the influence of Greek culture.
The West also suffered more heavily from the instability of the 3rd
century AD. This distinction between the established Hellenised East
and the younger Latinised West persisted and became increasingly
important in later centuries, leading to a gradual estrangement of the
DECENTRALIZATION OF POWER
Byzantium under the Constantinian and Valentinian dynasties
To maintain control and improve administration, various schemes to
divide the work of the Roman Emperor by sharing it between individuals
were tried between 285 and 324, from 337 to 350, from 364 to 392, and
again between 395 and 480. Although the administrative subdivisions
varied, they generally involved a division of labour between East and
West. Each division was a form of power-sharing (or even job-sharing),
for the ultimate imperium was not divisible and therefore the empire
remained legally one state—although the co-emperors often saw each
other as rivals or enemies.
In 293, emperor
Diocletian created a new administrative system (the
tetrarchy ), to guarantee security in all endangered regions of his
Empire. He associated himself with a co-emperor (Augustus ), and each
co-emperor then adopted a young colleague given the title of Caesar ,
to share in their rule and eventually to succeed the senior partner.
The tetrarchy collapsed, however, in 313 and a few years later
Constantine I reunited the two administrative divisions of the Empire
as sole Augustus.
In 330, Constantine moved the seat of the
which he founded as a second Rome on the site of Byzantium, a city
strategically located on the trade routes between
Europe and Asia and
between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Constantine introduced
important changes into the Empire's military, monetary, civil and
religious institutions. As regards his economic policies in
particular, he has been accused by certain scholars of "reckless
fiscality", but the gold solidus he introduced became a stable
currency that transformed the economy and promoted development.
Christianity did not become the exclusive religion
of the state, but enjoyed imperial preference, because the emperor
supported it with generous privileges . Constantine established the
principle that emperors could not settle questions of doctrine on
their own, but should summon instead general ecclesiastical councils
for that purpose. His convening of both the
Synod of Arles and the
First Council of Nicaea indicated his interest in the unity of the
Church, and showcased his claim to be its head. The rise of
Christianity was briefly interrupted on the accession of the emperor
Julian in 361, who made a determined effort to restore polytheism
throughout the empire and was thus dubbed "Julian the Apostate" by the
Church. However this was reversed when Julian was killed in battle in
363. Restored section of the Theodosian Walls.
Theodosius I (379–395) was the last Emperor to rule both the
Eastern and Western halves of the Empire. In 391 and 392 he issued a
series of edicts essentially banning pagan religion . Pagan festivals
and sacrifices were banned, as was access to all pagan temples and
places of worship. The last Olympic Games are believed to have been
held in 393. In 395,
Theodosius I bequeathed the imperial office
jointly to his sons:
Arcadius in the East and Honorius in the West,
once again dividing Imperial administration. In the 5th century the
Eastern part of the empire was largely spared the difficulties faced
by the West—due in part to a more established urban culture and
greater financial resources, which allowed it to placate invaders with
tribute and pay foreign mercenaries. This success allowed Theodosius
II to focus on the codification of Roman law and further fortification
of the walls of
Constantinople , which left the city impervious to
most attacks until 1204. Large portions of the
Theodosian Walls are
preserved to the present day.
To fend off the
Huns , Theodosius had to pay an enormous annual
Attila . His successor,
Marcian , refused to continue to
pay the tribute, but
Attila had already diverted his attention to the
West . After Attila's death in 453, the Hunnic
Empire collapsed, and
many of the remaining
Huns were often hired as mercenaries by
LOSS OF THE WESTERN ROMAN EMPIRE
Roman Empire during the reigns of Leo I (east) and Majorian
(west) in 460 AD. Roman rule in the west would last less than two more
decades, whereas the territory of the east would remain static until
the reconquests of Justinian I.
After the fall of Attila, the Eastern
Empire enjoyed a period of
peace, while the Western
Empire deteriorated due to continuing
migration and expansion by the Germanic nations (its end is usually
dated in 476 when the Germanic Roman general
Odoacer deposed the
usurper Western Emperor
Romulus Augustulus ).
In 480 with the death of the Western Emperor
Julius Nepos , Eastern
Emperor Zeno became sole Emperor of the empire. Odoacer, now ruler of
Italy, was nominally Zeno's subordinate but acted with complete
autonomy, eventually providing support to a rebellion against the
Zeno negotiated with the invading
Ostrogoths , who had settled in
Moesia , convincing the Gothic king Theodoric to depart for Italy as
magister militum per Italiam ("commander in chief for Italy") with the
aim of deposing Odoacer. By urging Theodoric to conquer Italy, Zeno
rid the Eastern
Empire of an unruly subordinate (Odoacer) and moved
another (Theodoric) further from the heart of the Empire. After
Odoacer's defeat in 493, Theodoric ruled Italy de facto, although he
was never recognised by the eastern emperors as "king" (rex).
In 491, Anastasius I , an aged civil officer of Roman origin, became
Emperor, but it was not until 497 that the forces of the new emperor
effectively took the measure of Isaurian resistance . Anastasius
revealed himself as an energetic reformer and an able administrator.
He perfected Constantine I's coinage system by definitively setting
the weight of the copper follis , the coin used in most everyday
transactions. He also reformed the tax system and permanently
abolished the chrysargyron tax. The State Treasury contained the
enormous sum of 320,000 lb (150,000 kg) of gold when Anastasius died
Byzantine Empire under the Justinian dynasty
Justinian I depicted on one of the famous mosaics of the
San Vitale ,
Ravenna . Theodora , Justinian's wife, depicted on
the mosaics of the
Basilica of San Vitale
Basilica of San Vitale ,
The Justinian dynasty was founded by
Justin I , who though
illiterate, rose through the ranks of the military to become Emperor
in 518. He was succeeded by his nephew
Justinian I in 527, who may
already have exerted effective control during Justin's reign. One of
the most important figures of late antiquity and possibly the last
Roman emperor to speak Latin as a first language, Justinian's rule
constitutes a distinct epoch, marked by the ambitious but only partly
realized renovatio imperii, or "restoration of the Empire". His wife
Theodora was particularly influential.
In 529, Justinian appointed a ten-man commission chaired by John the
Cappadocian to revise Roman law and create a new codification of laws
and jurists' extracts, known as the "
Corpus Juris Civilis
Corpus Juris Civilis "or the
Justinian Code . In 534, the Corpus was updated and, along with the
enactments promulgated by Justinian after 534 , formed the system of
law used for most of the rest of the
Byzantine era. The Corpus forms
the basis of civil law of many modern states.
In 532, attempting to secure his eastern frontier, Justinian signed a
peace treaty with
Khosrau I of Persia agreeing to pay a large annual
tribute to the
Sassanids . In the same year, he survived a revolt in
Nika riots ), which solidified his power but ended
with the deaths of a reported 30,000 to 35,000 rioters on his orders.
The western conquests began in 533, as Justinian sent his general
Belisarius to reclaim the former province of Africa from the Vandals
who had been in control since 429 with their capital at Carthage.
Their success came with surprising ease, but it was not until 548 that
the major local tribes were subdued. In Ostrogothic Italy , the
deaths of Theodoric, his nephew and heir
Athalaric , and his daughter
Amalasuntha had left her murderer,
Theodahad (r. 534–536), on the
throne despite his weakened authority.
In 535, a small
Byzantine expedition to
Sicily met with easy success,
but the Goths soon stiffened their resistance, and victory did not
come until 540, when
Ravenna , after successful
Naples and Rome. In 535–536,
Theodahad sent Pope Agapetus
Constantinople to request the removal of
Byzantine forces from
Dalmatia , and Italy. Although Agapetus failed in his mission
to sign a peace with Justinian, he succeeded in having the Monophysite
Patriarch Anthimus I of
Constantinople denounced, despite empress
Theodora 's support and protection.
Ostrogoths were soon reunited under the command of King Totila
and captured Rome in 546. Belisarius, who had been sent back to Italy
in 544, was eventually recalled to
Constantinople in 549. The arrival
of the Armenian eunuch
Narses in Italy (late 551) with an army of
35,000 men marked another shift in Gothic fortunes.
defeated at the
Battle of Taginae
Battle of Taginae and his successor,
Teia , was
defeated at the
Battle of Mons Lactarius (October 552). Despite
continuing resistance from a few Gothic garrisons and two subsequent
invasions by the
Alemanni , the war for the Italian
peninsula was at an end. In 551,
Athanagild , a noble from Visigothic
Hispania , sought Justinian's help in a rebellion against the king,
and the emperor dispatched a force under Liberius , a successful
military commander. The empire held on to a small slice of the Iberian
Peninsula coast until the reign of Heraclius.
In the east, the Roman–Persian Wars continued until 561 when the
envoys of Justinian and Khosrau agreed on a 50-year peace. By the
mid-550s, Justinian had won victories in most theatres of operation,
with the notable exception of the
Balkans , which were subjected to
repeated incursions from the
Slavs and the
Gepids . Tribes of Serbs
Croats were later resettled in the northwestern Balkans, during
the reign of Heraclius. Justinian called
Belisarius out of retirement
and defeated the new Hunnish threat. The strengthening of the Danube
fleet caused the Kutrigur
Huns to withdraw and they agreed to a treaty
that allowed safe passage back across the Danube.
Although polytheism had been suppressed by the state since at least
the time of Constantine in the 4th century, traditional Greco-Roman
culture was still influential in the Eastern empire in the 6th
century. Philosophers such as
John Philoponus drew on neoplatonic
ideas in addition to Christian thought and empiricism . Nevertheless,
Hellenistic philosophy began to be gradually supplanted by or
amalgamated into newer
Christian philosophy . The closure of the
Platonic Academy in 529 was a notable turning point. Hymns written by
Romanos the Melodist
Romanos the Melodist marked the development of the
Divine Liturgy ,
while the architects
Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles
worked to complete the new Church of the Holy Wisdom ,
Hagia Sophia ,
which was designed to replace an older church destroyed during the
Nika Revolt. Completed in 537, the
Hagia Sophia stands today as one of
the major monuments of
Byzantine architectural history. During the
6th and 7th centuries, the
Empire was struck by a series of epidemics
, which greatly devastated the population and contributed to a
significant economic decline and a weakening of the Empire. The
Roman Empire in 600 AD during the reign of Emperor Maurice.
After Justinian died in 565, his successor,
Justin II refused to pay
the large tribute to the Persians. Meanwhile, the Germanic Lombards
invaded Italy; by the end of the century only a third of Italy was in
Byzantine hands. Justin's successor, Tiberius II , choosing between
his enemies, awarded subsidies to the Avars while taking military
action against the Persians. Though Tiberius' general, Maurice , led
an effective campaign on the eastern frontier, subsidies failed to
restrain the Avars. They captured the Balkan fortress of
582, while the
Slavs began to make inroads across the Danube.
Maurice, who meanwhile succeeded Tiberius, intervened in a Persian
civil war, placed the legitimate
Khosrau II back on the throne and
married his daughter to him. Maurice's treaty with his new
brother-in-law enlarged the territories of the
Empire to the East and
allowed the energetic Emperor to focus on the Balkans. By 602, a
series of successful
Byzantine campaigns had pushed the Avars and
Slavs back across the Danube. However, Maurice's refusal to ransom
several thousand captives taken by the Avars, and his order to the
troops to winter in the Danube caused his popularity to plummet. A
revolt broke out under an officer named Phocas, who marched the troops
back to Constantinople; Maurice and his family were murdered while
trying to escape.
Early Heraclian Dynasty
For more details on this topic, see
Empire under the
Heraclian dynasty . Siege of
Constantinople in 626 by the
combined Avar, Sassanid Persian, and Slavic forces depicted on the
murals of the
Moldovița Monastery ,
Romania The Byzantine
Empire in 650 – by this year it had lost all of its southern
provinces except the
Exarchate of Africa
Exarchate of Africa .
After Maurice's murder by
Phocas , Khosrau used the pretext to
reconquer the Roman province of
Mesopotamia . Phocas, an unpopular
ruler invariably described in
Byzantine sources as a "tyrant", was the
target of a number of Senate-led plots. He was eventually deposed in
Heraclius , who sailed to
Carthage with an
icon affixed to the prow of his ship.
Following the accession of Heraclius, the Sassanid advance pushed
deep into the Levant, occupying
Jerusalem and removing
True Cross to
Ctesiphon . The counter-attack launched by
Heraclius took on the character of a holy war, and an acheiropoietos
Christ was carried as a military standard (similarly, when
Constantinople was saved from a combined Avar–Sassanid–Slavic
siege in 626, the victory was attributed to the icons of the Virgin
that were led in procession by Patriarch Sergius about the walls of
the city). In this very siege of
Constantinople of the year 626 ,
amidst the climactic
Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628 , the
combined Avar, Sassanid, and Slavic forces unsuccessfully besieged the
Byzantine capital between June and July. After this, the Sassanid army
was forced to withdraw to
Anatolia . The loss came just after news had
reached them of yet another
Byzantine victory, where Heraclius's
brother Theodore scored well against the Persian general Shahin .
Heraclius led an invasion into Sassanid Mesopotamia
The main Sassanid force was destroyed at Nineveh in 627, and in 629
Heraclius restored the
True Cross to
Jerusalem in a majestic ceremony,
as he marched into the Sassanid capital of
Ctesiphon , where anarchy
and civil war reigned as a result of the enduring war. Eventually, the
Persians were obliged to withdraw all armed forces and return
Sassanid-ruled Egypt , the
Levant and whatever imperial territories of
Armenia were in Roman hands at the time of an earlier
peace treaty in c. 595. The war had exhausted both the Byzantines and
Sassanids, however, and left them extremely vulnerable to the Muslim
forces that emerged in the following years. The Byzantines suffered a
crushing defeat by the Arabs at the
Battle of Yarmouk in 636, while
Ctesiphon fell in 637.
Greek fire was first used by the
Byzantine Navy during the
Byzantine–Arab Wars (from the
Madrid Skylitzes , Biblioteca Nacional
de España , Madrid).
The Arabs, now firmly in control of
Syria and the
Levant , sent
frequent raiding parties deep into Asia Minor, and in 674–678 laid
Constantinople itself. The Arab fleet was finally repulsed
through the use of
Greek fire , and a thirty-years' truce was signed
Empire and the
Umayyad Caliphate . However, the Anatolian
raids continued unabated, and accelerated the demise of classical
urban culture, with the inhabitants of many cities either refortifying
much smaller areas within the old city walls, or relocating entirely
to nearby fortresses.
Constantinople itself dropped substantially in
size, from 500,000 inhabitants to just 40,000–70,000, and, like
other urban centres, it was partly ruralised. The city also lost the
free grain shipments in 618, after Egypt fell first to the Persians
and then to the Arabs, and public wheat distribution ceased.
The void left by the disappearance of the old semi-autonomous civic
institutions was filled by the theme system, which entailed dividing
Asia Minor into "provinces" occupied by distinct armies that assumed
civil authority and answered directly to the imperial administration.
This system may have had its roots in certain ad hoc measures taken by
Heraclius, but over the course of the 7th century it developed into an
entirely new system of imperial governance. The massive cultural and
institutional restructuring of the
Empire consequent on the loss of
territory in the 7th century has been said to have caused a decisive
break in east Mediterranean Romanness and that the
Byzantine state is
subsequently best understood as another successor state rather than a
real continuation of the Roman Empire.
Late Heraclian Dynasty
See also: Twenty Years\' Anarchy
The withdrawal of large numbers of troops from the
Balkans to combat
the Persians and then the Arabs in the east opened the door for the
gradual southward expansion of Slavic peoples into the peninsula, and,
as in Asia Minor, many cities shrank to small fortified settlements.
In the 670s, the
Bulgars were pushed south of the Danube by the
arrival of the
Khazars . In 680,
Byzantine forces sent to disperse
these new settlements were defeated.
Constantine IV signed a treaty with the Bulgar khan Asparukh
, and the new Bulgarian state assumed sovereignty over a number of
Slavic tribes that had previously, at least in name, recognised
Byzantine rule. In 687–688, the final Heraclian emperor, Justinian
II , led an expedition against the
Slavs and Bulgarians, and made
significant gains, although the fact that he had to fight his way from
Thrace to Macedonia demonstrates the degree to which
in the north
Balkans had declined.
Justinian II attempted to break the power of the urban aristocracy
through severe taxation and the appointment of "outsiders" to
administrative posts. He was driven from power in 695, and took
shelter first with the
Khazars and then with the Bulgarians. In 705,
he returned to
Constantinople with the armies of the Bulgarian khan
Tervel , retook the throne, and instituted a reign of terror against
his enemies. With his final overthrow in 711, supported once more by
the urban aristocracy, the Heraclian dynasty came to an end.
Isaurian Dynasty To The Accession Of Basil I
For more details on this topic, see
Empire under the
Isaurian dynasty . The
Empire at the accession of Leo
III, c. 717. Striped area indicates land raided by the Arabs.
Leo III the Isaurian turned back the Muslim assault in 718 and
addressed himself to the task of reorganising and consolidating the
themes in Asia Minor. His successor,
Constantine V , won noteworthy
victories in northern
Syria and thoroughly undermined Bulgarian
Taking advantage of the Empire's weakness after the Revolt of Thomas
the Slav in the early 820s, the Arabs re-emerged and captured Crete .
They also successfully attacked Sicily, but in 863 general Petronas
gained a decisive victory against
Umar al-Aqta , the emir of Melitene
Malatya ). Under the leadership of emperor
Krum , the Bulgarian
threat also re-emerged, but in 815–816 Krum's son, Omurtag , signed
a peace treaty with Leo V .
Religious Dispute Over Iconoclasm
The 8th and early 9th centuries were also dominated by controversy
and religious division over
Iconoclasm , which was the main political
issue in the
Empire for over a century. Icons (here meaning all forms
of religious imagery) were banned by Leo and Constantine from around
730, leading to revolts by iconodules (supporters of icons) throughout
the empire. After the efforts of empress Irene , the Second Council of
Nicaea met in 787 and affirmed that icons could be venerated but not
worshiped. Irene is said to have endeavoured to negotiate a marriage
between herself and Charlemagne, but, according to Theophanes the
Confessor , the scheme was frustrated by Aetios, one of her
In the early 9th century, Leo V reintroduced the policy of
iconoclasm, but in 843 empress Theodora restored the veneration of
icons with the help of Patriarch Methodios .
Iconoclasm played a part
in the further alienation of East from West, which worsened during the
Photian schism , when
Pope Nicholas I challenged the
elevation of Photios to the patriarchate.
MACEDONIAN DYNASTY AND RESURGENCE (867–1025)
Empire under the
Macedonian dynasty The
Byzantine Empire, c. 867.
The accession of
Basil I to the throne in 867 marks the beginning of
Macedonian dynasty , which would rule for the next two and a half
centuries. This dynasty included some of the most able emperors in
Byzantium's history, and the period is one of revival and resurgence.
Empire moved from defending against external enemies to reconquest
of territories formerly lost.
In addition to a reassertion of
Byzantine military power and
political authority, the period under the
Macedonian dynasty is
characterised by a cultural revival in spheres such as philosophy and
the arts. There was a conscious effort to restore the brilliance of
the period before the Slavic and subsequent Arab invasions , and the
Macedonian era has been dubbed the "Golden Age" of Byzantium. Though
Empire was significantly smaller than during the reign of
Justinian, it had regained significant strength, as the remaining
territories were less geographically dispersed and more politically,
economically, and culturally integrated.
Wars Against The Arabs
Arab–Byzantine wars The general Leo Phokas
defeats the Hamdanid
Emirate of Aleppo
Emirate of Aleppo at Andrassos in 960, from the
Madrid Skylitzes .
In the early years of Basil I's reign, Arab raids on the coasts of
Dalmatia were successfully repelled, and the region once again came
Byzantine control. This enabled
Byzantine missionaries to
penetrate to the interior and convert the
Serbs and the principalities
Montenegro to Orthodox Christianity. An
attempt to retake Malta ended disastrously, however, when the local
population sided with the Arabs and massacred the
By contrast, the
Byzantine position in
Southern Italy was gradually
consolidated so that by 873
Bari was once again under
and most of
Southern Italy would remain in the
Empire for the next 200
years. On the more important eastern front, the
Empire rebuilt its
defences and went on the offensive. The Paulicians were defeated and
their capital of Tephrike (Divrigi) taken, while the offensive against
Abbasid Caliphate began with the recapture of
Samosata . The
military successes of the 10th century were coupled with a major
cultural revival, the so-called
Macedonian Renaissance . Miniature
Paris Psalter , an example of Hellenistic-influenced art.
Under Basil's son and successor,
Leo VI the Wise
Leo VI the Wise , the gains in the
east against the now-weak
Abbasid Caliphate continued. However, Sicily
was lost to the Arabs in 902, and in 904
Thessaloniki , the Empire's
second city, was sacked by an Arab fleet. The naval weakness of the
Empire was rectified. Despite this revenge the Byzantines were still
unable to strike a decisive blow against the Muslims, who inflicted a
crushing defeat on the imperial forces when they attempted to regain
Crete in 911.
The death of the Bulgarian tsar Simeon I in 927 severely weakened the
Bulgarians, allowing the Byzantines to concentrate on the eastern
front. Melitene was permanently recaptured in 934, and in 943 the
John Kourkouas continued the offensive in Mesopotamia
with some noteworthy victories, culminating in the reconquest of
Edessa . Kourkouas was especially celebrated for returning to
Constantinople the venerated Mandylion , a relic purportedly imprinted
with a portrait of Christ.
Nikephoros II Phokas (reigned 963–969) and
John I Tzimiskes (969–976) expanded the empire well into Syria,
defeating the emirs of north-west
Iraq . The great city of
taken by Nikephoros in 962 and the Arabs were decisively expelled from
Crete in 963. The recapture of Crete put an end to Arab raids in the
Aegean allowing mainland Greece to flourish once again.
permanently retaken in 965 and the successes of Nikephoros culminated
in 969 with the recapture of
Antioch , which he incorporated as a
province of the Empire. His successor John Tzimiskes recaptured
Beirut , Acre ,
Caesarea , and
Tiberias , putting
Byzantine armies within striking distance of Jerusalem, although the
Muslim power centres in
Iraq and Egypt were left untouched. After
much campaigning in the north, the last Arab threat to Byzantium, the
rich province of Sicily, was targeted in 1025 by
Basil II , who died
before the expedition could be completed. Nevertheless, by that time
Empire stretched from the straits of
Messina to the
from the Danube to Syria.
Wars Against The Bulgarian Empire
For more details on this topic, see
Byzantine–Bulgarian wars .
Basil II (r. 976–1025)
The traditional struggle with the See of Rome continued through the
Macedonian period, spurred by the question of religious supremacy over
the newly Christianised state of Bulgaria . Ending eighty years of
peace between the two states, the powerful Bulgarian tsar Simeon I
invaded in 894 but was pushed back by the Byzantines, who used their
fleet to sail up the
Black Sea to attack the Bulgarian rear, enlisting
the support of the Hungarians . The Byzantines were defeated at the
Battle of Boulgarophygon in 896, however, and agreed to pay annual
subsidies to the Bulgarians.
Leo the Wise died in 912, and hostilities soon resumed as Simeon
Constantinople at the head of a large army. Though the
walls of the city were impregnable, the
Byzantine administration was
in disarray and Simeon was invited into the city, where he was granted
the crown of basileus (emperor) of Bulgaria and had the young emperor
Constantine VII marry one of his daughters. When a revolt in
Constantinople halted his dynastic project, he again invaded Thrace
and conquered Adrianople . The
Empire now faced the problem of a
powerful Christian state within a few days' marching distance from
Constantinople, as well as having to fight on two fronts.
A great imperial expedition under Leo
Phocas and Romanos I Lekapenos
ended with another crushing
Byzantine defeat at the Battle of Achelous
in 917, and the following year the
Bulgarians were free to ravage
northern Greece. Adrianople was plundered again in 923, and a
Bulgarian army laid siege to
Constantinople in 924. Simeon died
suddenly in 927, however, and Bulgarian power collapsed with him.
Byzantium entered a long period of peaceful relations,
Empire was now free to concentrate on the eastern front
against the Muslims. In 968, Bulgaria was overrun by the Rus\' under
Sviatoslav I of Kiev
Sviatoslav I of Kiev , but three years later, John I Tzimiskes
defeated the Rus' and re-incorporated Eastern Bulgaria into the
Byzantine Empire. The extent of the
Bulgarian resistance revived under the rule of the Cometopuli dynasty
, but the new emperor
Basil II (r. 976–1025) made the submission of
Bulgarians his primary goal. Basil's first expedition against
Bulgaria, however, resulted in a humiliating defeat at the Gates of
Trajan . For the next few years, the emperor would be preoccupied with
internal revolts in Anatolia, while the
Bulgarians expanded their
realm in the Balkans. The war dragged on for nearly twenty years. The
Byzantine victories of Spercheios and Skopje decisively weakened the
Bulgarian army, and in annual campaigns, Basil methodically reduced
the Bulgarian strongholds. At the
Battle of Kleidion in 1014 the
Bulgarians were annihilated: their army was captured, and it is said
that 99 out of every 100 men were blinded, with the hundredth man left
with one eye so he could lead his compatriots home. When
saw the broken remains of his once formidable army, he died of shock.
By 1018, the last Bulgarian strongholds had surrendered, and the
country became part of the Empire. This victory restored the Danube
frontier, which had not been held since the days of the emperor
Relations With The Kievan Rus\'
Rus\' under the walls of
Between 850 and 1100, the
Empire developed a mixed relationship with
the new state of the Kievan Rus\' , which had emerged to the north
across the Black Sea. This relationship would have long-lasting
repercussions in the history of the East
Slavs , and the Empire
quickly became the main trading and cultural partner for Kiev. The
Rus' launched their first attack against
Constantinople in 860 ,
pillaging the suburbs of the city. In 941, they appeared on the Asian
shore of the Bosphorus, but this time they were crushed, an indication
of the improvements in the
Byzantine military position after 907, when
only diplomacy had been able to push back the invaders . Basil II
could not ignore the emerging power of the Rus', and, following the
example of his predecessors, he used religion as a means for the
achievement of political purposes. Rus'–
Byzantine relations became
closer following the marriage of
Anna Porphyrogeneta to Vladimir the
Great in 988, and the subsequent Christianisation of the Rus\' .
Byzantine priests, architects, and artists were invited to work on
numerous cathedrals and churches around Rus', expanding Byzantine
cultural influence even further, while numerous Rus' served in the
Byzantine army as mercenaries, most notably as the famous Varangian
Even after the Christianisation of the Rus', however, relations were
not always friendly. The most serious conflict between the two powers
was the war of 968–971 in Bulgaria, but several Rus' raiding
expeditions against the
Byzantine cities of the
Black Sea coast and
Constantinople itself are also recorded. Although most were repulsed,
they were often followed by treaties that were generally favourable to
the Rus', such as the one concluded at the end of the war of 1043 ,
during which the Rus' gave an indication of their ambitions to compete
with the Byzantines as an independent power.
Constantinople became the largest and wealthiest city in Europe
between the 9th and 11th centuries
Basil II is considered among the most capable
Byzantine emperors and
his reign as the apex of the empire in the Middle Ages. By 1025, the
date of Basil II's death, the
Empire stretched from Armenia
in the east to
Southern Italy in the west. Many successes
had been achieved, ranging from the conquest of Bulgaria to the
annexation of parts of Georgia and Armenia, and the reconquest of
Crete, Cyprus, and the important city of Antioch. These were not
temporary tactical gains but long-term reconquests.
Leo VI achieved the complete codification of
Byzantine law in Greek.
This monumental work of 60 volumes became the foundation of all
Byzantine law and is still studied today. Leo also
reformed the administration of the Empire, redrawing the borders of
the administrative subdivisions (the Themata , or "Themes") and
tidying up the system of ranks and privileges, as well as regulating
the behaviour of the various trade guilds in Constantinople. Leo's
reform did much to reduce the previous fragmentation of the Empire,
which henceforth had one center of power, Constantinople. However,
the increasing military success of the
Empire greatly enriched and
empowered the provincial nobility with respect to the peasantry, who
were essentially reduced to a state of serfdom.
Under the Macedonian emperors, the city of
becoming the largest and wealthiest city in Europe, with a population
of approximately 400,000 in the 9th and 10th centuries. During this
Empire employed a strong civil service staffed
by competent aristocrats that oversaw the collection of taxes,
domestic administration, and foreign policy. The Macedonian emperors
also increased the Empire's wealth by fostering trade with Western
Europe, particularly through the sale of silk and metalwork.
Split Between Orthodox
Christianity And Catholicism (1054)
East–West Schism Mural of Saints Cyril
and Methodius , 19th century,
Troyan Monastery , Bulgaria
Macedonian period also included events of momentous religious
significance. The conversion of the Bulgarians,
Serbs and Rus\' to
Christianity permanently changed the religious map of Europe
and still resonates today. Cyril and Methodius , two
brothers from Thessaloniki, contributed significantly to the
Christianization of the
Slavs and in the process devised the
Glagolitic alphabet , ancestor to the
Cyrillic script .
In 1054, relations between the Eastern and Western traditions within
Christian Church reached a terminal crisis, known as the
East–West Schism . Although there was a formal declaration of
institutional separation, on July 16, when three papal legates entered
Hagia Sophia during
Divine Liturgy on a Saturday afternoon and
placed a bull of excommunication on the altar, the so-called Great
Schism was actually the culmination of centuries of gradual
separation. Unfotunately the legates did not know that the Pope had
died, an event that made the excommunication void and the
excommunication only applied to the Patriarch who responded by
excommunicating the legates.
CRISIS AND FRAGMENTATION
Empire soon fell into a period of difficulties, caused to a large
extent by the undermining of the theme system and the neglect of the
military. Nikephoros II, John Tzimiskes, and
Basil II changed the
military divisions (τάγματα, tagmata ) from a rapid response,
primarily defensive, citizen army into a professional, campaigning
army, increasingly manned by mercenaries . Mercenaries were expensive,
however, and as the threat of invasion receded in the 10th century, so
did the need for maintaining large garrisons and expensive
Basil II left a burgeoning treasury upon his death,
but he neglected to plan for his succession. None of his immediate
successors had any particular military or political talent and the
administration of the
Empire increasingly fell into the hands of the
civil service. Efforts to revive the
Byzantine economy only resulted
in inflation and a debased gold coinage. The army was now seen as both
an unnecessary expense and a political threat. Native troops were
therefore cashiered and replaced by foreign mercenaries on specific
At the same time, the
Empire was faced with new enemies. Provinces in
southern Italy faced the
Normans , who arrived in Italy at the
beginning of the 11th century. During a period of strife between
Constantinople and Rome culminating in the
East-West Schism of 1054,
Normans began to advance, slowly but steadily, into Byzantine
Italy. Reggio , the capital of the tagma of Calabria, was captured in
Robert Guiscard , followed by
Otranto in 1068. Bari, the main
Byzantine stronghold in Apulia, was besieged in August 1068 and fell
in April 1071 . The Byzantines also lost their influence over the
Dalmatian coastal cities to
Peter Krešimir IV of Croatia (r.
1058–1074/1075) in 1069. The seizure of
Edessa (1031) by the
George Maniakes and the counterattack by the Seljuk
The greatest disaster took place in Asia Minor, however, where the
Seljuq Turks made their first explorations across the Byzantine
Armenia in 1065 and 1067. The emergency lent weight to
the military aristocracy in Anatolia, who in 1068 secured the election
of one of their own, Romanos Diogenes , as emperor. In the summer of
1071, Romanos undertook a massive eastern campaign to draw the Seljuks
into a general engagement with the
Byzantine army. At the Battle of
Manzikert , Romanos suffered a surprise defeat by
Alp Arslan ,
and he was captured.
Alp Arslan treated him with respect and imposed
no harsh terms on the Byzantines. In Constantinople, however, a coup
put in power Michael
Doukas , who soon faced the opposition of
Nikephoros Bryennios and Nikephoros Botaneiates . By 1081, the Seljuks
had expanded their rule over virtually the entire Anatolian plateau
Armenia in the east to
Bithynia in the west, and they had founded
their capital at
Nicaea , just 90 kilometres (56 miles) from
KOMNENIAN DYNASTY AND THE CRUSADERS
Byzantine Empire under the Komnenos dynasty and Komnenian
restoration Alexios I , founder of the
During the Komnenian, or Comnenian, period from about 1081 to about
1185, the five emperors of the
Komnenos dynasty (Alexios I, John II,
Manuel I, Alexios II, and Andronikos I) presided over a sustained,
though ultimately incomplete, restoration of the military,
territorial, economic, and political position of the
Seljuk Turks occupied the heartland of the
Byzantine military efforts during this period were
directed against Western powers, particularly the
Empire under the Komnenoi played a key role in the history of the
Crusades in the Holy Land, which Alexios I had helped bring about,
while also exerting enormous cultural and political influence in
Europe, the Near East, and the lands around the Mediterranean Sea
under John and Manuel. Contact between
Byzantium and the "Latin" West,
including the Crusader states, increased significantly during the
Komnenian period. Venetian and other Italian traders became resident
in large numbers in
Constantinople and the empire (there were an
estimated 60,000 Latins in
Constantinople alone, out of a population
of three to four hundred thousand), and their presence together with
the numerous Latin mercenaries who were employed by Manuel helped to
Byzantine technology, art, literature and culture throughout
the Latin West, while also leading to a flow of Western ideas and
customs into the Empire.
In terms of prosperity and cultural life, the Komnenian period was
one of the peaks in
Byzantine history, and
the leading city of the Christian world in size, wealth, and culture.
There was a renewed interest in classical Greek philosophy , as well
as an increase in literary output in vernacular Greek.
and literature held a pre-eminent place in Europe, and the cultural
Byzantine art on the west during this period was enormous
and of long lasting significance.
Alexios I And The First Crusade
For more details on this topic, see
Alexios I Komnenos . See also:
First Crusade Province (doukaton) of the
Empire and the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm
After Manzikert, a partial recovery (referred to as the Komnenian
restoration) was made possible by the Komnenian dynasty. The first
Komnenian emperor was Isaac I (1057–1059), after which the Doukas
dynasty held power (1059–81). The Komnenoi attained power again
under Alexios I in 1081. From the outset of his reign, Alexios faced a
formidable attack by the
Robert Guiscard and his son
Bohemund of Taranto , who captured Dyrrhachium and
Corfu , and laid
Thessaly . Robert Guiscard's death in 1085
temporarily eased the Norman problem. The following year, the Seljuq
sultan died, and the sultanate was split by internal rivalries. By his
own efforts, Alexios defeated the
Pechenegs ; they were caught by
surprise and annihilated at the
Battle of Levounion on 28 April 1091.
Having achieved stability in the West, Alexios could turn his
attention to the severe economic difficulties and the disintegration
of the Empire's traditional defences. However, he still did not have
enough manpower to recover the lost territories in
Asia Minor and to
advance against the Seljuks. At the
Council of Piacenza in 1095,
envoys from Alexios spoke to
Pope Urban II about the suffering of the
Christians of the East, and underscored that without help from the
West they would continue to suffer under Muslim rule.
Urban saw Alexios's request as a dual opportunity to cement Western
Europe and reunite the
Eastern Orthodox Church with the Roman Catholic
Church under his rule. On 27 November 1095,
Pope Urban II called
Council of Clermont , and urged all those present to take
up arms under the sign of the
Cross and launch an armed pilgrimage to
Jerusalem and the East from the Muslims. The response in
Europe was overwhelming. The brief first coinage of the
Thessaloniki mint, opened by Alexios in September 1081, on his way to
confront the invading
Alexios had anticipated help in the form of mercenary forces from the
West, but he was totally unprepared for the immense and undisciplined
force that soon arrived in
Byzantine territory. It was no comfort to
Alexios to learn that four of the eight leaders of the main body of
the Crusade were Normans, among them Bohemund. Since the crusade had
to pass through Constantinople, however, the Emperor had some control
over it. He required its leaders to swear to restore to the empire any
towns or territories they might reconquer from the Turks on their way
to the Holy Land. In return, he gave them guides and a military
Alexios was able to recover a number of important cities and islands,
and in fact much of western Asia Minor. Nevertheless, the
Catholic/Latin crusaders believed their oaths were invalidated when
Alexios did not help them during the siege of
Antioch (he had in fact
set out on the road to
Antioch but had been persuaded to turn back by
Stephen of Blois , who assured him that all was lost and that the
expedition had already failed). Bohemund, who had set himself up as
Antioch , briefly went to war with the Byzantines, but he
agreed to become Alexios' vassal under the
Treaty of Devol in 1108,
which marked the end of the Norman threat during Alexios' reign.
John II, Manuel I And The Second Crusade
Main articles: John II
Komnenos and Manuel I
manuscript depicting the Capture of
Jerusalem during the First Crusade
Alexios's son John II
Komnenos succeeded him in 1118 and ruled until
1143. John was a pious and dedicated Emperor who was determined to
undo the damage to the empire suffered at the Battle of Manzikert,
half a century earlier. Famed for his piety and his remarkably mild
and just reign, John was an exceptional example of a moral ruler at a
time when cruelty was the norm. For this reason, he has been called
Marcus Aurelius .
During his twenty-five year reign, John made alliances with the Holy
Roman Empire in the West and decisively defeated the
Pechenegs at the
Battle of Beroia . He thwarted Hungarian and Serbian threats during
the 1120s, and in 1130 he allied himself with the German emperor
Lothair III against the Norman king Roger II of
In the later part of his reign, John focused his activities on the
East, personally leading numerous campaigns against the Turks in Asia
Minor . His campaigns fundamentally altered the balance of power in
the East, forcing the Turks onto the defensive, while restoring many
towns, fortresses, and cities across the peninsula to the Byzantines.
He defeated the Danishmend Emirate of Melitene and reconquered all of
Cilicia , while forcing
Raymond of Poitiers , Prince of Antioch, to
Byzantine suzerainty. In an effort to demonstrate the
Emperor's role as the leader of the Christian world, John marched into
Holy Land at the head of the combined forces of the
Empire and the
Crusader states ; yet despite his great vigour pressing the campaign,
his hopes were disappointed by the treachery of his Crusader allies.
In 1142, John returned to press his claims to Antioch, but he died in
the spring of 1143 following a hunting accident. Raymond was
emboldened to invade Cilicia, but he was defeated and forced to go to
Constantinople to beg mercy from the new Emperor. Byzantine
Empire in orange, c. 1180, at the end of the Komnenian period
John's chosen heir was his fourth son, Manuel I
Komnenos , who
campaigned aggressively against his neighbours both in the west and in
the east. In Palestine, Manuel allied with the Crusader Kingdom of
Jerusalem and sent a large fleet to participate in a combined invasion
Fatimid Egypt . Manuel reinforced his position as overlord of the
Crusader states, with his hegemony over
by agreement with Raynald , Prince of Antioch, and Amalric , King of
Jerusalem. In an effort to restore
Byzantine control over the ports
of southern Italy, he sent an expedition to Italy in 1155, but
disputes within the coalition led to the eventual failure of the
campaign. Despite this military setback, Manuel's armies successfully
invaded the Southern parts of
Kingdom of Hungary in 1167, defeating
the Hungarians at the Battle of
Sirmium . By 1168, nearly the whole of
the eastern Adriatic coast lay in Manuel's hands. Manuel made several
alliances with the Pope and Western Christian kingdoms, and he
successfully handled the passage of the
Second Crusade through his
In the east, however, Manuel suffered a major defeat in 1176 at the
Battle of Myriokephalon , against the Turks. Yet the losses were
quickly recovered, and in the following year Manuel's forces inflicted
a defeat upon a force of "picked Turks". The
Byzantine commander John
Vatatzes, who destroyed the Turkish invaders at the Battle of Hyelion
and Leimocheir , not only brought troops from the capital but also was
able to gather an army along the way, a sign that the
remained strong and that the defensive program of western Asia Minor
was still successful.
For more details on this topic, see
Byzantine civilisation in the
12th century . See also: Komnenian
Byzantine army 'The
Lamentation of Christ' (1164), a fresco from the church of Saint
Panteleimon in Nerezi near Skopje; it is considered a superb example
of 12th-century Komnenian art
John and Manuel pursued active military policies, and both deployed
considerable resources on sieges and on city defences; aggressive
fortification policies were at the heart of their imperial military
policies. Despite the defeat at Myriokephalon, the policies of
Alexios, John and Manuel resulted in vast territorial gains, increased
frontier stability in Asia Minor, and secured the stabilisation of the
Empire's European frontiers. From c. 1081 to c. 1180, the Komnenian
army assured the Empire's security, enabling
Byzantine civilisation to
This allowed the Western provinces to achieve an economic revival
that continued until the close of the century. It has been argued that
Byzantium under the Komnenian rule was more prosperous than at any
time since the Persian invasions of the 7th century. During the 12th
century, population levels rose and extensive tracts of new
agricultural land were brought into production. Archaeological
evidence from both
Asia Minor shows a considerable increase
in the size of urban settlements, together with a notable upsurge in
new towns. Trade was also flourishing; the Venetians, the Genoese and
others opened up the ports of the Aegean to commerce, shipping goods
from the Crusader kingdoms of
Fatimid Egypt to the west
and trading with the
Empire via Constantinople.
In artistic terms, there was a revival in mosaic , and regional
schools of architecture began producing many distinctive styles that
drew on a range of cultural influences. During the 12th century, the
Byzantines provided their model of early humanism as a renaissance of
interest in classical authors. In
Eustathius of Thessalonica
Eustathius of Thessalonica ,
Byzantine humanism found its most characteristic expression. In
philosophy, there was resurgence of classical learning not seen since
the 7th century, characterised by a significant increase in the
publication of commentaries on classical works. In addition, the
first transmission of classical Greek knowledge to the West occurred
during the Komnenian period.
DECLINE AND DISINTEGRATION
Main article: Decline of the
Byzantine Empire under the Angelos dynasty
Byzantium in the late Angeloi period
Manuel's death on 24 September 1180 left his 11-year-old son Alexios
Komnenos on the throne. Alexios was highly incompetent at the
office, but it was his mother, Maria of
Antioch , and her Frankish
background that made his regency unpopular. Eventually, Andronikos I
Komnenos , a grandson of Alexios I, launched a revolt against his
younger relative and managed to overthrow him in a violent coup
d'état. Utilizing his good looks and his immense popularity with the
army, he marched on to
Constantinople in August 1182 and incited a
massacre of the Latins . After eliminating his potential rivals, he
had himself crowned as co-emperor in September 1183. He eliminated
Alexios II, and took his 12-year-old wife Agnes of France for himself.
Andronikos began his reign well; in particular, the measures he took
to reform the government of the
Empire have been praised by
historians. According to
George Ostrogorsky , Andronikos was
determined to root out corruption: Under his rule, the sale of offices
ceased; selection was based on merit, rather than favouritism;
officials were paid an adequate salary so as to reduce the temptation
of bribery. In the provinces, Andronikos's reforms produced a speedy
and marked improvement. The aristocrats were infuriated against him,
and to make matters worse, Andronikos seems to have become
increasingly unbalanced; executions and violence became increasingly
common, and his reign turned into a reign of terror. Andronikos
seemed almost to seek the extermination of the aristocracy as a whole.
The struggle against the aristocracy turned into wholesale slaughter,
while the Emperor resorted to ever more ruthless measures to shore up
Despite his military background, Andronikos failed to deal with Isaac
Béla III of Hungary (r. 1172–1196) who reincorporated
Croatian territories into Hungary, and Stephen Nemanja of Serbia (r.
1166–1196) who declared his independence from the
Yet, none of these troubles would compare to William II of
(r. 1166–1189) invasion force of 300 ships and 80,000 men, arriving
in 1185. Andronikos mobilised a small fleet of 100 ships to defend
the capital, but other than that he was indifferent to the populace.
He was finally overthrown when Isaac Angelos , surviving an imperial
assassination attempt, seized power with the aid of the people and had
The reign of Isaac II, and more so that of his brother Alexios III ,
saw the collapse of what remained of the centralised machinery of
Byzantine government and defence. Although the
Normans were driven out
of Greece, in 1186 the
Bulgars began a rebellion that led
to the formation of the Second Bulgarian
Empire . The internal policy
of the Angeloi was characterised by the squandering of the public
treasure and fiscal maladministration. Imperial authority was severely
weakened, and the growing power vacuum at the center of the Empire
encouraged fragmentation. There is evidence that some Komnenian heirs
had set up a semi-independent state in Trebizond before 1204.
According to Alexander Vasiliev , "the dynasty of the Angeloi, Greek
in its origin, ... accelerated the ruin of the Empire, already
weakened without and disunited within."
For more details on this topic, see
Fourth Crusade . The Entry
of the Crusaders into Constantinople, by
Eugène Delacroix (1840).
Pope Innocent III broached the subject of a new crusade
through legates and encyclical letters . The stated intent of the
crusade was to conquer Egypt , now the centre of Muslim power in the
Levant . The crusader army that arrived at Venice in the summer of
1202 was somewhat smaller than had been anticipated, and there were
not sufficient funds to pay the Venetians, whose fleet was hired by
the crusaders to take them to Egypt. Venetian policy under the ageing
and blind but still ambitious Doge
Enrico Dandolo was potentially at
variance with that of the Pope and the crusaders, because Venice was
closely related commercially with Egypt. The crusaders accepted the
suggestion that in lieu of payment they assist the Venetians in the
capture of the (Christian) port of Zara in
Dalmatia (vassal city of
Venice, which had rebelled and placed itself under Hungary's
protection in 1186). The city fell in November 1202 after a brief
siege . Innocent tried to forbid this political attack on a Christian
city, but was ignored. Reluctant to jeopardise his own agenda for the
Crusade, he gave conditional absolution to the crusaders—not,
however, to the Venetians.
After the death of
Theobald III, Count of Champagne , the leadership
of the Crusade passed to
Boniface of Montferrat , a friend of the
Philip of Swabia
Philip of Swabia . Both Boniface and Philip had married
Byzantine Imperial family. In fact, Philip's brother-in-law,
Alexios Angelos , son of the deposed and blinded Emperor Isaac II
Angelos , had appeared in
Europe seeking aid and had made contacts
with the crusaders. Alexios offered to reunite the
with Rome, pay the crusaders 200,000 silver marks, join the crusade
and provide all the supplies they needed to get to Egypt. Innocent
was aware of a plan to divert the Crusade to
forbade any attack on the city, but the papal letter arrived after the
fleets had left Zara.
Crusader Sack Of
Further information: Siege of
Constantinople (1203) and Siege of
Constantinople (1204) The partition of the empire following the
Fourth Crusade , c. 1204.
The crusaders arrived at
Constantinople in the summer of 1203 and
quickly attacked, started a major fire that damaged large parts of the
city, and briefly seized control. Alexios III fled from the capital,
and Alexios Angelos was elevated to the throne as
Alexios IV along
with his blind father Isaac. However,
Alexios IV and Isaac II were
unable to keep their promises and were deposed by Alexios V. The
crusaders again took the city on 13 April 1204, and
subjected to pillage and massacre by the rank and file for three days.
Many priceless icons, relics, and other objects later turned up in
Europe , a large number in Venice. According to Choniates, a
prostitute was even set up on the Patriarchal throne. When Innocent
III heard of the conduct of his crusaders, he castigated them in no
uncertain terms. But the situation was beyond his control, especially
after his legate, on his own initiative, had absolved the crusaders
from their vow to proceed to the Holy Land. When order had been
restored, the crusaders and the Venetians proceeded to implement their
agreement; Baldwin of Flanders was elected Emperor of a new Latin
Empire , and the Venetian
Thomas Morosini was chosen as Patriarch. The
lands divided up among the leaders included most of the former
Byzantine possessions, though resistance would continue through the
Byzantine remnants of the
Nicaea , Trebizond , and Epirus . Although
Venice was more interested in commerce than conquering territory, it
took key areas of Constantinople, and the Doge took the title of "Lord
of a Quarter and Half a Quarter of the Roman Empire".
Empire In Exile
For more details on this topic, see
After the sack of
Constantinople in 1204 by Latin crusaders, two
Byzantine successor states were established: the
Empire of Nicaea ,
Despotate of Epirus . A third, the
Empire of Trebizond , was
Alexios I of Trebizond a few weeks before the sack of
Constantinople. Of the three successor states, Epirus and
the best chance of reclaiming Constantinople. The Nicaean Empire
struggled to survive the next few decades, however, and by the
mid-13th century it had lost much of southern Anatolia. The weakening
of the Sultanate of
Rûm following the Mongol invasion in 1242–43
allowed many beyliks and ghazis to set up their own principalities in
Anatolia, weakening the
Byzantine hold on Asia Minor. In time, one of
Osman I , created an empire that would eventually conquer
Constantinople. However, the Mongol invasion also gave
temporary respite from Seljuk attacks, allowing it to concentrate on
Empire to its north.
Reconquest Of Constantinople
Byzantine Empire under the Palaiologos dynasty
Empire c. 1263.
Empire of Nicaea, founded by the Laskarid dynasty , managed to
Constantinople from the Latins in 1261 and defeat Epirus. This
led to a short-lived revival of
Byzantine fortunes under Michael VIII
Palaiologos , but the war-ravaged
Empire was ill-equipped to deal with
the enemies that now surrounded it. To maintain his campaigns against
the Latins, Michael pulled troops from
Asia Minor and levied crippling
taxes on the peasantry, causing much resentment. Massive construction
projects were completed in
Constantinople to repair the damage of the
Fourth Crusade, but none of these initiatives was of any comfort to
the farmers in
Asia Minor suffering raids from Muslim ghazis.
Rather than holding on to his possessions in Asia Minor, Michael
chose to expand the Empire, gaining only short-term success. To avoid
another sacking of the capital by the Latins, he forced the Church to
submit to Rome, again a temporary solution for which the peasantry
hated Michael and Constantinople. The efforts of Andronikos II and
later his grandson Andronikos III marked Byzantium's last genuine
attempts in restoring the glory of the Empire. However, the use of
mercenaries by Andronikos II would often backfire, with the Catalan
Company ravaging the countryside and increasing resentment towards
Rise Of The Ottomans And Fall Of Constantinople
Byzantine–Ottoman Wars and Fall of
The siege of
Constantinople in 1453, depicted in a 15th-century
The situation became worse for
Byzantium during the civil wars after
Andronikos III died. A six-year-long civil war devastated the empire,
allowing the Serbian ruler
Stefan Dušan (r. 1331–1346) to overrun
most of the Empire's remaining territory and establish a Serbian
Empire . In 1354, an earthquake at Gallipoli devastated the fort,
allowing the Ottomans (who were hired as mercenaries during the civil
John VI Kantakouzenos
John VI Kantakouzenos ) to establish themselves in Europe. By
the time the
Byzantine civil wars had ended, the Ottomans had defeated
the Serbians and subjugated them as vassals. Following the Battle of
Kosovo , much of the
Balkans became dominated by the Ottomans.
Byzantine emperors appealed to the West for help, but the Pope
would only consider sending aid in return for a reunion of the Eastern
Orthodox Church with the See of Rome . Church unity was considered,
and occasionally accomplished by imperial decree, but the Orthodox
citizenry and clergy intensely resented the authority of Rome and the
Latin Rite . Some Western troops arrived to bolster the Christian
defence of Constantinople, but most Western rulers, distracted by
their own affairs, did nothing as the Ottomans picked apart the
Constantinople by this stage was underpopulated and dilapidated. The
population of the city had collapsed so severely that it was now
little more than a cluster of villages separated by fields. On 2 April
Sultan Mehmed 's army of 80,000 men and large numbers of
irregulars laid siege to the city. Despite a desperate last-ditch
defence of the city by the massively outnumbered Christian forces (c.
7,000 men, 2,000 of whom were foreign),
Constantinople finally fell
to the Ottomans after a two-month siege on 29 May 1453. The last
Constantine XI Palaiologos
Constantine XI Palaiologos , was last seen casting
off his imperial regalia and throwing himself into hand-to-hand combat
after the walls of the city were taken.
Eastern Mediterranean just before the fall of Constantinople
By the time of the fall of Constantinople, the only remaining
territory of the
Empire was the Despotate of the Morea
Peloponnese ), which was ruled by brothers of the last Emperor,
Thomas Palaiologos and
Demetrios Palaiologos . The Despotate continued
on as an independent state by paying an annual tribute to the
Ottomans. Incompetent rule, failure to pay the annual tribute and a
revolt against the Ottomans finally led to Mehmed II's invasion of
Morea in May 1460. Demetrios asked the Ottomans to invade and drive
Thomas out. Thomas fled. The Ottomans moved through the Morea and
conquered virtually the entire Despotate by the summer. Demetrios
thought the Morea would be restored to him to rule, but it was
incorporated into the Ottoman fold.
A few holdouts remained for a time. The island of
to surrender and it was first ruled for a short time by an Aragonese
corsair. When the population drove him out they obtained the consent
of Thomas to place themselves under the Pope's protection before the
end of 1460. The
Mani Peninsula , on the Morea's south end, resisted
under a loose coalition of the local clans and then that area came
under Venice's rule. The very last holdout was
Salmeniko , in the
Graitzas Palaiologos was the military commander
there, stationed at
Salmeniko Castle . While the town eventually
surrendered, Graitzas and his garrison and some town residents held
out in the castle until July 1461, when they escaped and reached
Venetian territory. Flag of the late
Empire under the
Palaiologoi, sporting the tetragrammic cross symbol of the Palaiologos
Empire of Trebizond , which had split away from the Byzantine
Empire just weeks before
Constantinople was taken by the Crusaders in
1204, became the last remnant and last de facto successor state to the
Byzantine Empire. Efforts by the Emperor
David to recruit European
powers for an anti-Ottoman crusade provoked war between the Ottomans
and Trebizond in the summer of 1461. After a month-long siege, David
surrendered the city of Trebizond on 14 August 1461. The
Trebizond's Crimean principality, the
Principality of Theodoro
Principality of Theodoro (part
Perateia ), lasted another 14 years, falling to the Ottomans in
A nephew of the last Emperor, Constantine XI, Andreas Palaiologos
claimed to have inherited the title of
Byzantine Emperor . He lived in
the Morea until its fall in 1460, then escaped to Rome where he lived
under the protection of the
Papal States for the remainder of his
life. Since the office of emperor had never been technically
hereditary, Andreas' claim would have been without merit under
Byzantine law. However, the
Empire had vanished, and Western states
generally followed the Roman-church-sanctioned principles of
hereditary sovereignty. Seeking a life in the west, Andreas styled
himself Imperator Constantinopolitanus ("Emperor of Constantinople"),
and sold his succession rights to both
Charles VIII of France
Charles VIII of France and the
Catholic Monarchs . However, no one ever invoked the title after
Constantine XI died without producing an heir, and had Constantinople
not fallen he might have been succeeded by the sons of his deceased
elder brother, who were taken into the palace service of Mehmed II
after the fall of Constantinople. The oldest boy, re-christened as Has
Murad, became a personal favorite of Mehmed and served as Beylerbey
(Governor-General) of the Balkans. The younger son, renamed Mesih
Pasha , became Admiral of the Ottoman fleet and Sancak Beg (Governor)
of the Province of Gallipoli. He eventually served twice as Grand
Vizier under Mehmed's son,
Bayezid II .
Mehmed II and his successors continued to consider themselves heirs
Roman Empire until the demise of the
Ottoman Empire in the
early 20th century. They considered that they had simply shifted its
religious basis as Constantine had done before, and they continued to
refer to their conquered Eastern Roman inhabitants (Orthodox
Christians ) as
Rûm . Meanwhile, the
Danubian Principalities (whose
rulers also considered themselves the heirs of the Eastern Roman
Emperors ) harboured Orthodox refugees, including some Byzantine
At his death, the role of the emperor as a patron of Eastern
Orthodoxy was claimed by Ivan III ,
Grand duke of Muscovy . He had
married Andreas' sister, Sophia Paleologue , whose grandson, Ivan IV ,
would become the first
Tsar of Russia (tsar, or czar, meaning caesar,
is a term traditionally applied by
Slavs to the
Their successors supported the idea that Moscow was the proper heir to
Rome and Constantinople. The idea of the Russian
Empire as the
Third Rome was kept alive until its demise with the Russian
For more details on this topic, see
Byzantine economy and Byzantine
silk . Further information:
Sino-Roman relations A bronze coin
Constantius II (337–361), found in Karghalik ,
Xinjiang , China
* Aristocracy and bureaucracy
Byzantine economy was among the most advanced in
Europe and the
Mediterranean for many centuries. Europe, in particular, could not
Byzantine economic strength until late in the
Middle Ages .
Constantinople operated as a prime hub in a trading network that at
various times extended across nearly all of
North Africa ,
in particular as the primary western terminus of the famous
. Until the first half of the 6th century and in sharp contrast with
the decaying West, the
Byzantine economy was flourishing and
Plague of Justinian
Plague of Justinian and the
Arab conquests would represent a
substantial reversal of fortunes contributing to a period of
stagnation and decline . Isaurian reforms and, in particular,
Constantine V 's repopulation, public works and tax measures, marked
the beginning of a revival that continued until 1204, despite
territorial contraction. From the 10th century until the end of the
Empire projected an image of luxury and travellers
were impressed by the wealth accumulated in the capital.
Fourth Crusade resulted in the disruption of Byzantine
manufacturing and the commercial dominance of the Western Europeans in
the eastern Mediterranean , events that amounted to an economic
catastrophe for the Empire. The
Palaiologoi tried to revive the
economy, but the late
Byzantine state would not gain full control of
either the foreign or domestic economic forces. Gradually, it also
lost its influence on the modalities of trade and the price
mechanisms, and its control over the outflow of precious metals and,
according to some scholars, even over the minting of coins.
One of the economic foundations of
Byzantium was trade, fostered by
the maritime character of the Empire. Textiles must have been by far
the most important item of export; silks were certainly imported into
Egypt, and appeared also in Bulgaria, and the West. The state
strictly controlled both the internal and the international trade, and
retained the monopoly of issuing coinage , maintaining a durable and
flexible monetary system adaptable to trade needs.
The government attempted to exercise formal control over interest
rates, and set the parameters for the activity of the guilds and
corporations, in which it had a special interest. The emperor and his
officials intervened at times of crisis to ensure the provisioning of
the capital, and to keep down the price of cereals. Finally, the
government often collected part of the surplus through taxation, and
put it back into circulation, through redistribution in the form of
salaries to state officials, or in the form of investment in public
SCIENCE, MEDICINE AND LAW
Byzantine science ,
Byzantine medicine , and
Interior panorama of the
Hagia Sophia , the patriarchal basilica
Constantinople designed 537 CE by
Isidore of Miletus , the first
compiler of Archimedes' various works. The influence of Archimedes'
principles of solid geometry is evident. The frontispiece of
Vienna Dioscurides , which shows a set of seven famous physicians
The writings of
Classical antiquity were cultivated and extended in
Byzantine science was in every period closely
connected with ancient philosophy , and metaphysics . In the field of
Isidore of Miletus , the Greek mathematician and architect
Hagia Sophia , produced the first compilation of
works c. 530, and it is through this manuscript tradition, kept alive
by the school of mathematics and engineering founded c. 850 during the
Byzantine Renaissance" by
Leo the Geometer , that such works are
known today (see
Archimedes Palimpsest ). Indeed, geometry and its
applications (architecture and engineering instruments of war)
remained a specialty of the Byzantines. In medicine the works of
Byzantine doctors, such as the
Vienna Dioscorides (6th century), and
Paul of Aegina (7th century) and
Nicholas Myrepsos (late 13th
century), continued to be used as the authoritative texts by Europeans
through the Renaissance, and several technological advancements ,
including the pendentive dome and
Greek Fire , are attributed to the
Although at various times the Byzantines made magnificent
achievements in the application of the sciences , and are responsible
for preserving much of ancient knowledge, some authors have argued
Byzantine scholars made few novel contributions to science in
terms of developing new theories or extending the ideas of classical
In the final century of the Empire, refugee
Byzantine scholars were
principally responsible for carrying, in person and in writing,
ancient Greek grammatical, literary studies, mathematical, and
astronomical knowledge to early
Renaissance Italy . During this
period, astronomy and other mathematical sciences were taught in
Trebizond; medicine attracted the interest of almost all scholars.
In the field of law,
Justinian I 's reforms had a clear effect on the
evolution of jurisprudence , with his
Corpus Juris Civilis
Corpus Juris Civilis becoming
the basis for revived Roman law in the West, while Leo III's Ecloga
influenced the formation of legal institutions in the Slavic world.
In the 10th century,
Leo VI the Wise
Leo VI the Wise achieved the complete
codification of the whole of
Byzantine law in Greek with the Basilika
, which became the foundation of all subsequent
Byzantine law with an
influence extending through to modern Balkan legal codes.
State church of the Roman Empire
State church of the Roman Empire and Ecumenical
Constantinople As a symbol and expression of the
universal prestige of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Justinian
built the Church of the Holy Wisdom of God,
Hagia Sophia , which was
completed in the short period of four and a half years (532–537)
A mosaic from the
Hagia Sophia of
Constantinople (modern Istanbul),
depicting Mary and
Jesus , flanked by John II
Komnenos (left) and his
Irene of Hungary (right), 12th century
Empire was a theocracy , said to be ruled by God
working through the Emperor. Jennifer Fretland VanVoorst argues, "The
Empire became a theocracy in the sense that Christian values
and ideals were the foundation of the empire's political ideals and
heavily entwined with its political goals."
Steven Runciman says in
his book on The
Theocracy (2004): The constitution of the
Empire was based on the conviction that it was the earthly
copy of the Kingdom of Heaven. Just as God ruled in Heaven, so the
Emperor, made in his image, should rule on earth and carry out his
commandments ... It saw itself as a universal empire. Ideally, it
should embrace all the peoples of the Earth who, ideally, should all
be members of the one true Christian Church, its own Orthodox Church.
Just as man was made in God's image, so man's kingdom on Earth was
made in the image of the Kingdom of Heaven." The survival of the
Empire in the East assured an active role of the Emperor in the
affairs of the Church. The
Byzantine state inherited from pagan times
the administrative, and financial routine of administering religious
affairs, and this routine was applied to the
Christian Church .
Following the pattern set by
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea , the Byzantines
viewed the Emperor as a representative or messenger of
responsible particularly for the propagation of
pagans, and for the "externals" of the religion, such as
administration and finances. As
Cyril Mango points out, the Byzantine
political thinking can be summarised in the motto "One God, one
empire, one religion".
The imperial role in the affairs of the Church never developed into a
fixed, legally defined system. With the decline of Rome, and internal
dissension in the other Eastern Patriarchates, the Church of
Constantinople became, between the 6th and 11th centuries, the richest
and most influential center of
Christendom . Even when the
reduced to only a shadow of its former self, the Church continued to
exercise significant influence both inside and outside of the imperial
George Ostrogorsky points out:
The Patriarchate of
Constantinople remained the center of the
Orthodox world, with subordinate metropolitan sees and archbishoprics
in the territory of
Asia Minor and the Balkans, now lost to Byzantium,
as well as in
Caucasus , Russia and
Lithuania . The Church remained
the most stable element in the
The official state Christian doctrine was determined by the first
seven ecumenical councils , and it was then the emperor's duty to
impose it to his subjects. An imperial decree of 388, which was later
incorporated into the Codex Justinianus, orders the population of the
Empire "to assume the name of Catholic Christians", and regards all
those who will not abide by the law as "mad and foolish persons"; as
followers of "heretical dogmas".
Despite imperial decrees and the stringent stance of the state church
itself, which came to be known as the
Eastern Orthodox Church or
Christianity , the latter never represented all Christians in
Byzantium. Mango believes that, in the early stages of the Empire, the
"mad and foolish persons", those labelled "heretics " by the state
church, were the majority of the population. Besides the pagans , who
existed until the end of the 6th century, and the Jews , there were
many followers – sometimes even emperors – of various Christian
doctrines, such as
Arianism , and
Paulicianism , whose teachings were in some opposition to the main
theological doctrine, as determined by the Ecumenical Councils.
Another division among Christians occurred, when Leo III ordered the
destruction of icons throughout the Empire. This led to a significant
religious crisis , which ended in mid-9th century with the restoration
of icons. During the same period, a new wave of pagans emerged in the
Balkans, originating mainly from Slavic people. These were gradually
Christianised , and by Byzantium's late stages, Eastern Orthodoxy
represented most Christians and, in general, most people in what
remained of the Empire.
Jews were a significant minority in the
Byzantine state throughout
its history, and, according to Roman law, they constituted a legally
recognised religious group. In the early
Byzantine period they were
generally tolerated, but then periods of tensions and persecutions
ensued. In any case, after the Arab conquests, the majority of Jews
found themselves outside the Empire; those left inside the Byzantine
borders apparently lived in relative peace from the 10th century
Georgian monasteries first appear in
Constantinople and on Mount
Olympos in northwestern
Asia Minor in the second half of the ninth
century, and from then on
Georgians played an increasingly important
role in the Empire.
ART AND LITERATURE
Byzantine art and
Byzantine literature See also:
Byzantine dress Miniatures of the 6th-century Rabula Gospel
display the more abstract and symbolic nature of
Byzantine art is mostly religious and with exceptions at
certain periods is highly conventionalised, following traditional
models that translate carefully controlled church theology into
artistic terms. Painting in fresco , illuminated manuscripts and on
wood panel and, especially in earlier periods, mosaic were the main
media, and figurative sculpture very rare except for small carved
ivories . Manuscript painting preserved to the end some of the
classical realist tradition that was missing in larger works.
Byzantine art was highly prestigious and sought-after in Western
Europe, where it maintained a continuous influence on medieval art
until near the end of the period. This was especially so in Italy,
Byzantine styles persisted in modified form through the 12th
century, and became formative influences on
Italian Renaissance art.
But few incoming influences affected
Byzantine style. By means of the
expansion of the Eastern Orthodox church,
Byzantine forms and styles
spread to all the Orthodox world and beyond. Influences from
Byzantine architecture, particularly in religious buildings, can be
found in diverse regions from Egypt and Arabia to Russia and Romania.
Byzantine literature, four different cultural elements are
recognised: the Greek , the Christian, the Roman , and the Oriental.
Byzantine literature is often classified in five groups: historians
and annalists, encyclopaedists (Patriarch Photios,
Michael Psellus ,
Michael Choniates are regarded as the greatest encyclopaedists of
Byzantium) and essayists, and writers of secular poetry. The only
genuine heroic epic of the Byzantines is the
Digenis Acritas . The
remaining two groups include the new literary species: ecclesiastical
and theological literature, and popular poetry.
Of the approximately two to three thousand volumes of Byzantine
literature that survive, only three hundred and thirty consist of
secular poetry, history, science and pseudo-science. While the most
flourishing period of the secular literature of
Byzantium runs from
the 9th to the 12th century, its religious literature (sermons ,
liturgical books and poetry, theology, devotional treatises, etc.)
developed much earlier with
Romanos the Melodist
Romanos the Melodist being its most
Byzantine music Late 4th century AD
Mosaic of the Musicians" with organ , aulos , and lyre from a
Byzantine villa in Maryamin ,
The ecclesiastical forms of
Byzantine music, composed to Greek texts
as ceremonial, festival, or church music, are, today, the most
well-known forms. Ecclesiastical chants were a fundamental part of
this genre. Greek and foreign historians agree that the ecclesiastical
tones and in general the whole system of
Byzantine music is closely
related to the ancient Greek system . It remains the oldest genre of
extant music, of which the manner of performance and (with increasing
accuracy from the 5th century onwards) the names of the composers, and
sometimes the particulars of each musical work's circumstances, are
known. Earliest known depiction of a bowed lyra , from a
Byzantine ivory casket (900 – 1100 AD). (Museo Nazionale, Florence)
The 9th century Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih (d. 911); in his
lexicographical discussion of instruments cited the lyra (lūrā) as
the typical instrument of the Byzantines along with the urghun
(organ), shilyani (probably a type of harp or lyre ) and the salandj
(probably a bagpipe ). The first of these, the early bowed stringed
instrument known as the
Byzantine lyra , would come to be called the
lira da braccio , in Venice, where it is considered by many to have
been the predecessor of the contemporary violin, which later
flourished there. The bowed "lyra" is still played in former
Byzantine regions, where it is known as the
Politiki lyra (lit. "lyra
of the City" i.e.
Constantinople ) in Greece, the
Calabrian lira in
Southern Italy, and the
Dalmatia . The second instrument,
the organ, originated in the
Hellenistic world (see
Hydraulis ) and
was used in the
Hippodrome during races. A pipe organ with "great
leaden pipes" was sent by the emperor
Constantine V to Pepin the Short
, King of the
Franks in 757. Pepin's son
Charlemagne requested a
similar organ for his chapel in
Aachen in 812, beginning its
establishment in Western church music. The final Byzantine
instrument, the aulos was a double reeded woodwind like the modern
oboe or Armenian duduk . Other forms include the plagiaulos
(πλαγίαυλος, from πλάγιος "sideways"), which
resembled the flute , and the askaulos (ἀσκός askos –
wine-skin ), a bagpipe. These bagpipes, also known as
ancient Greek : angion (Τὸ ἀγγεῖον) "the container"), had
been played even in Roman times.
Dio Chrysostom wrote in the 1st
century of a contemporary sovereign (possibly
Nero ) who could play a
pipe (tibia , Roman reedpipes similar to Greek aulos) with his mouth
as well as by tucking a bladder beneath his armpit. The bagpipes
continued to be played throughout the empire's former realms through
to the present. (See Balkan
Gaida , Greek
Tsampouna , Pontic Tulum ,
Askomandoura , Armenian
Parkapzuk , and Romanian
Byzantine culture was, initially, the same as Late Greco-Roman,
but over the following millennium of the empire's existence it slowly
changed into something more similar to modern Balkan and Anatolian
culture. The cuisine still relied heavily on the Greco-Roman
fish-sauce condiment garos , but it also contained foods still
familiar today, such as the cured meat pastirma (known as "paston" in
Byzantine Greek), baklava (known as koptoplakous
κοπτοπλακοῦς), tiropita (known as plakountas
tetyromenous or tyritas plakountas), and the famed medieval sweet
Commandaria and the eponymous
Rumney wine ).
Retsina , wine
flavored with pine resin, was also drunk, as it still is in Greece
today, producing similar reactions from unfamiliar visitors; "To add
to our calamity the Greek wine, on account of being mixed with pitch,
resin, and plaster was to us undrinkable," complained Liutprand of
Cremona , who was the ambassador sent to
Constantinople in 968 by the
Holy Roman Emperor
Otto I . The garos fish sauce condiment was
also not much appreciated by the unaccustomed; Liutprand of Cremona
described being served food covered in an "exceedingly bad fish
liquor." The Byzantines also used a soy sauce like condiment, murri ,
a fermented barley sauce, which, like soy sauce, provided umami
flavoring to their dishes.
A game of τάβλι (tabula) played by
Byzantine emperor Zeno
in 480 and recorded by
Agathias in c. 530 because of a very unlucky
dice throw for Zeno (red), as he threw 2, 5 and 6 and was forced to
leave eight pieces alone.
Byzantines were avid players of tavli (
Byzantine Greek : τάβλη),
a game known in English as backgammon , which is still popular in
Byzantine realms, and still known by the name tavli in Greece.
Byzantine nobles were devoted to horsemanship, particularly tzykanion
, now known as polo . The game came from Sassanid Persia in the early
period and a
Tzykanisterion (stadium for playing the game) was built
Theodosius II (r. 408–450) inside the Great Palace of
Constantinople . Emperor
Basil I (r. 867–886) excelled at it;
Emperor Alexander (r. 912–913) died from exhaustion while playing,
Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081–1118) was injured while playing
Tatikios , and
John I of Trebizond (r. 1235–1238) died from a
fatal injury during a game. Aside from
Constantinople and Trebizond
Byzantine cities also featured tzykanisteria, most notably
Ephesus , and
Athens , an indication of a thriving urban
aristocracy. The game was introduced to the West by crusaders, who
developed a taste for it particularly during the pro-Western reign of
emperor Manuel I
GOVERNMENT AND BUREAUCRACY
Byzantine state, the emperor was the sole and absolute ruler ,
and his power was regarded as having divine origin. The Senate had
ceased to have real political and legislative authority but remained
as an honorary council with titular members. By the end of the 8th
century, a civil administration focused on the court was formed as
part of a large-scale consolidation of power in the capital (the rise
to pre-eminence of the position of sakellarios is related to this
change). The most important administrative reform, which probably
started in the mid-7th century, was the creation of themes , where
civil and military administration was exercised by one person, the
strategos . The themes, c. 750 The themes, c. 950
Despite the occasionally derogatory use of the terms "Byzantine" and
Byzantinism ", the
Byzantine bureaucracy had a distinct ability for
reconstituting itself in accordance with the Empire's situation. The
elaborate system of titulature and precedence gave the court prestige
and influence. Officials were arranged in strict order around the
emperor, and depended upon the imperial will for their ranks. There
were also actual administrative jobs, but authority could be vested in
individuals rather than offices.
In the 8th and 9th centuries, civil service constituted the clearest
path to aristocratic status, but, starting in the 9th century, the
civil aristocracy was rivalled by an aristocracy of nobility.
According to some studies of
Byzantine government, 11th-century
politics were dominated by competition between the civil and the
military aristocracy. During this period, Alexios I undertook
important administrative reforms, including the creation of new
courtly dignities and offices.
For more details on this topic, see
Byzantine diplomacy . The
embassy of John the Grammarian in 829, between the emperor Theophilos
and the Abbasid caliph Al-Ma\'mun
After the fall of Rome, the key challenge to the
Empire was to
maintain a set of relations between itself and its neighbours. When
these nations set about forging formal political institutions, they
often modelled themselves on Constantinople.
Byzantine diplomacy soon
managed to draw its neighbours into a network of international and
inter-state relations. This network revolved around treaty making,
and included the welcoming of the new ruler into the family of kings,
and the assimilation of
Byzantine social attitudes, values and
institutions. Whereas classical writers are fond of making ethical
and legal distinctions between peace and war, Byzantines regarded
diplomacy as a form of war by other means. For example, a Bulgarian
threat could be countered by providing money to the Kievan Rus\' .
Diplomacy in the era was understood to have an intelligence-gathering
function on top of its pure political function. The Bureau of
Constantinople handled matters of protocol and record
keeping for any issues related to the "barbarians ", and thus had,
perhaps, a basic intelligence function itself. John B. Bury believed
that the office exercised supervision over all foreigners visiting
Constantinople, and that they were under the supervision of the
Logothetes tou dromou . While on the surface a protocol office –
its main duty was to ensure foreign envoys were properly cared for and
received sufficient state funds for their maintenance, and it kept all
the official translators – it probably had a security function as
Byzantines availed themselves of a number of diplomatic practices.
For example, embassies to the capital would often stay on for years. A
member of other royal houses would routinely be requested to stay on
in Constantinople, not only as a potential hostage, but also as a
useful pawn in case political conditions where he came from changed.
Another key practice was to overwhelm visitors by sumptuous displays.
Dimitri Obolensky , the preservation of the ancient
Europe was due to the skill and resourcefulness of
Byzantine diplomacy, which remains one of Byzantium's lasting
contributions to the history of Europe.
FLAGS AND INSIGNIA
Byzantine flags and insignia
For most of its history, the
Empire did not know or use
heraldry in the West European sense. Various emblems (Greek :
σημεία, sēmeia; sing. σημείον, sēmeion) were used in
official occasions and for military purposes, such as banners or
shields displaying various motifs such as the cross or the labarum .
The use of the cross, and of images of
Christ , the
Virgin Mary and
various saints is also attested on seals of officials, but these were
personal rather than family emblems.
* Double-headed eagle
For more details on this topic, see
Medieval Greek . Left:
The Mudil Psalter, the oldest complete psalter in the Coptic language
Coptic Museum , Egypt,
Coptic Cairo ).
Joshua Roll , a 10th-century illuminated Greek manuscript
probably made in
Vatican Library , Rome).
Distribution of Greek dialects in
Anatolia in the late Byzantine
Empire through to 1923. Demotic in yellow. Pontic in orange.
Cappadocian in green. (Green dots indicate
Cappadocian Greek speaking
villages in 1910. )
Apart from the Imperial court, administration and military, the
primary language used in the eastern Roman provinces even before the
decline of the Western
Empire was Greek, having been spoken in the
region for centuries before Latin. Following Rome's conquest of the
east its 'Pax Romana', inclusionist political practices and
development of public infrastructure, facilitated the further
spreading and entrenchment of
Greek language in the east. Indeed,
early on in the life of the Roman Empire, Greek had become the common
language of the Church, the language of scholarship and the arts, and,
to a large degree, the lingua franca for trade between provinces and
with other nations. Greek for a time became diglossic with the spoken
language, known as Koine (eventually evolving into
Demotic Greek ),
used alongside an older written form until Koine won out as the spoken
and written standard.
The use of Latin as the language of administration persisted until
formally abolished by
Heraclius in the 7th century. Scholarly Latin
would rapidly fall into disuse among the educated classes although the
language would continue to be at least a ceremonial part of the
Empire's culture for some time. Additionally,
Vulgar Latin remained a
minority language in the Empire, mainly along the Dalmatian coast
(Dalmatian ) and among the Romanian peoples.
Many other languages existed in the multi-ethnic Empire, and some of
these were given limited official status in their provinces at various
times. Notably, by the beginning of the Middle Ages, Syriac had become
more widely used by the educated classes in the far eastern provinces.
Similarly Coptic , Armenian , and Georgian became significant among
the educated in their provinces, and later foreign contacts made Old
Church Slavic ,
Middle Persian , and Arabic important in the Empire
and its sphere of influence.
Aside from these, since
Constantinople was a prime trading center in
Mediterranean region and beyond, virtually every known language of
Middle Ages was spoken in the
Empire at some time, even Chinese .
Empire entered its final decline, the Empire's citizens became
more culturally homogeneous and the
Greek language became integral to
their identity and religion.
Third Rome and
Greek scholars in the Renaissance King
David in robes of a
Byzantine emperor; miniature from the Paris
Byzantium has been often identified with absolutism, orthodox
spirituality, orientalism and exoticism, while the terms "Byzantine"
and "Byzantinism" have been used as bywords for decadence, complex
bureaucracy, and repression. In the countries of Central and Southeast
Europe that exited the
Eastern Bloc in the late 1980s and early 1990s,
the assessment of
Byzantine civilisation and its legacy was strongly
negative due to their connection with an alleged "Eastern
authoritarianism and autocracy." Both Eastern and Western European
authors have often perceived
Byzantium as a body of religious,
political, and philosophical ideas contrary to those of the West. Even
in 19th-century Greece , the focus was mainly on the classical past,
Byzantine tradition had been associated with negative
This traditional approach towards
Byzantium has been partially or
wholly disputed and revised by modern studies, which focus on the
positive aspects of
Byzantine culture and legacy. Averil Cameron
regards as undeniable the
Byzantine contribution to the formation of
the medieval Europe, and both Cameron and Obolensky recognise the
major role of
Byzantium in shaping Orthodoxy, which in turn occupies a
central position in the history and societies of Greece, Romania,
Bulgaria, Russia, Georgia, Serbia and other countries. The Byzantines
also preserved and copied classical manuscripts, and they are thus
regarded as transmitters of the classical knowledge, as important
contributors to the modern European civilization, and as precursors of
Renaissance humanism and the Slav Orthodox culture.
As the only stable long-term state in
Europe during the Middle Ages,
Byzantium isolated Western
Europe from newly emerging forces to the
East. Constantly under attack, it distanced Western
Persians, Arabs, Seljuk Turks, and for a time, the Ottomans. From a
different perspective, since the 7th century, the evolution and
constant reshaping of the
Byzantine state were directly related to the
respective progress of Islam.
Following the conquest of
Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in
Mehmed II took the title "Kaysar-i Rûm" (the Ottoman
Turkish equivalent of Caesar of Rome), since he was determined to make
Ottoman Empire the heir of the Eastern Roman Empire. According to
Cameron, regarding themselves as "heirs" of Byzantium, the Ottomans
preserved important aspects of its tradition, which in turn
facilitated an "Orthodox revival" during the post-communist period of
the Eastern European states.
* Index of
Byzantine Empire-related articles
* Legacy of the
* Family trees of the
Byzantine imperial dynasties
List of Byzantine emperors
List of Byzantine emperors
List of Byzantine inventions
* List of
Byzantine revolts and civil wars
* List of
* ^ "Romania" was a popular name of the empire used mainly
unofficially, which meant "land of the Romans". After 1081, it
occasionally appears in official
Byzantine documents as well. In 1204,
the leaders of the
Fourth Crusade gave the name
Romania to the newly
founded Latin Empire. The term does not refer to modern
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* ^ Warfare, State And Society In The
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* ^ Pounds, Norman John Greville. An Historical Geography of
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* ^ Wolff 1948 , pp. 5–7, 33–34.
* ^ Cinnamus 1976 , p. 240.
* ^ Ahrweiler Mango 2002 , p. 13.
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muneribus et epistolis ad Hludowicum regem Radasbonam venerunt ...".
* ^ Fouracre instead it was now termed the '
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* ^ Garland 1999 , p. 87.
* ^ Tarasov El-Cheikh 2004 , p. 22
* ^ Eusebius, IV, lxii.
* ^ A B Ostrogorsky 1959 , p. 21; Wells 1922 , Chapter 33.
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art and culture of the Middle
Byzantine era, A.D. 843–1261. New
York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 978-0-8109-6507-2 .
* Cameron, Averil (2014).
Byzantine Matters. Princeton NJ: Princeton
University Press. ISBN 978-1-4008-5009-9 .
* Haldon, John (2001). The
Byzantine Wars: Battles and Campaigns of
Byzantine Era. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing. ISBN
* Haldon, John (2002). Byzantium: A History. Stroud,
Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing. ISBN 1-4051-3240-X .
* Harris, Jonathan (2015). The Lost World of Byzantium. New Haven CT
and London: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-17857-9 .
* Hussey, J. M. (1966). The Cambridge Medieval History. Vol. IV: The
Byzantine Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
* Runciman, Steven (1966).
Byzantine Civilisation. London: Edward
Arnold (publisher) Limited. ISBN 1-56619-574-8 .
* Runciman, Steven (1990) . The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and his
Reign. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-06164-4 .
* Stathakopoulos, Dionysios (2014). A Short History of the Byzantine
Empire. London: I.B.Tauris. ISBN 978-1-78076-194-7 .
* Toynbee, Arnold Joseph (1972). Constantine Porphyrogenitus and His
World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-215253-X .
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Look up BYZANTINE in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Empire on In Our Time at the
* De Imperatoribus Romanis. Scholarly biographies of many Byzantine
Byzantine Rulers by Lars Brownworth of
The Stony Brook School ;
audio lectures. NYTimes review.
* 18 centuries of
Roman Empire by Howard Wiseman (Maps of the
Empire throughout its lifetime).
Byzantine in English.
Constantinople Home Page. Links to texts, images and videos on
Byzantium in Crimea: Political History, Art and Culture.
* Institute for
Byzantine Studies of the Austrian Academy of
Sciences (with further resources and a repository with papers on
various aspects of the