Byzantine Empire(395-1453AD) — Major Wars,Culture,Art , Legacy_You most likely didn’t know about it
Byzantine empire is another name of the Eastern Roman Empire.It was a part of the great Roman Empire until 390 AD which was founded by Augustus in 27 BC due to struggles of Julius Caesar. Due to internal and external crises, Roman Empire was first divided and finally it collapsed in 476 AD.Ostrogoths, Visigoths,Vandals and Franks captured Italy,Spain,North Africa and Gaul respectively.But it’s eastern provinces survived for next 1000 years as “Byzantine Empire.”
It was one of the most magnificent empires world has ever seen.Although it’s boundaries varied from time to time but it contained most areas of present day Egypt,Levant,Syria,Greece,Italy ,Balkans,North Africa,Asia Minor and Middle East during it’s different eras It’s capital was Constantinople while official religion was Christianity.Greek and Latin were the common languages in Byzantine realm.
Constantine I the Great (reign :330–337)is regarded as the first emperor of Byzantine Empire.He converted to Christianity and shifted his capital from Rome to Byzantium.The name of empire(Byzantine) was also derived from name of this city.However, he later named this city “Constantinople”(city of Constantine).Today this city is called Istanbul.Soon,this city became center of trade and culture.
Byzantine emperor Justinian I (reign:527–564)also called Justinian the Great,played a great role in expanding empire to it’s height.His main aim was to get back the lost lands of Roman empire.His generals Belisarius and Narses reconqured much of lost lands for him. His another great achievement was the construction of “Hagia Sophia church(an architectural monument which survive even today)”.This church remained the world’s largest church for a millineum.Justinian also formulated a proper law for his empire which remained a role model for centuries.
Gothic war(534–554) was fought between Italy and Byzantines during Justinian’s reign in which Byzantines apparently won.
But, later Persians captured the holy city of Jerusalem and province of Egypt in 614 AD.Byzantine-Sassanian war of 608–628 CE was fought during reign of Byzantine emperor Heraclius (reign:620–645 AD).This devastating war internally damaged the roots of both great empires and paved way for the future Muslim Conquests under Rashidun Caliphate and spread Islam.Muslims occupied its richest and most important provinces like Egypt and Syria during 7th century.
Muslims continued to attack Constantinople but Byzantine’s technology of “Greek Fire" saved them from Muslims for many years.
East West Schism(The Great Schism of 1054)
When Leo III the Isaurian
(reign:717–741) became emperor,he banned the use of religious images and icons (The Byzantine Iconoclasm or War on Icons)and regarded them as sinful probably inspired by neighbouring Muslims.But Pope Gregory II
(Bishop of Rome) refused this and relations between Byzantines and Papacy began to damage.Later,Pope Gregory II excommunicated emperor Leo III .
Later,when Empress Irene became Byzantines ruler in 797,Pope Leo III ( remember:not byzantine king Leo III ) rejected her as emperor;instead he declared Charlemagne of Franks as Emperor in the west and this new empire became known as “Holy Roman Empire”.This further out raged Byzantines . Moreover,disagreement over holy spirit also damaged their relations.
Thus,the Byzantines church in the east became known as “Orthodox Church”and Western church in Rome was called the “Catholic Church.”The differences between Orthodox and Catholic churches lasted until 1964 when Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras came to an agreement in Jerusalem and Pope canceled the excommunication of 1054.
The longest reign among Byzantine emperors was of Basil-II (reign:976–1025 AD) for almost fifty years.He was the son of emperor Romanus II .He never married and had no successors.So after his death,claim of throne created political upheaval,turmoil and crises in the empire.After Basil II ,his brother Constantine VIII became emperor but he too had no male successors.His daughter Princess Zoe also not married until the age of 40 years.She later married to Romanus Argyros who became emperor (reign:1028–34 AD) and after his death,she married to Michael the Paphlagonian who took throne as Michael IV(reign:1035–41 AD).The couple was not able to produce any children and adopted Michael’s nephew who later became king as Michael V but due to his autocratic policies,he lost trust of his court and was ultimately blindened.Zoe and her sister Theodora ruled for some months.Then, Zoe married again with Constantine Monomachos who ruled as Constantine IX (1042–1055 AD).After his death empress Theodora took the throne but succession problem remained a major problem in Byzantine Empire after Basil 's death.
Battle of Manzikert(1071 AD) was a decisive battle between Seljuk Sultanate and Byzantine empire.Seljuks were lead by their Sultan Alp Arsalan while Byzantines by their emperor Romanus-IV Diogenes. Byzantines were defeated decisively by Seljuks and their emperor was captured , however,he was later released by Seljuks.As a result of this defeat, Anatolia and Armenia were Turkified which was a milestone in Seljuk history but a set back for Byzantines.Byzantines also lost the Norman-Byzantine war of 1071.
Byzantine empire was fragmented during Fourth Crusade(1202–1204 AD) which was lead by Pope Innocent III.Empire of Nicaea and Latin Empire were made out of it.Baldwin of Flanders was the first Latin emperor.Constantinopole was captured by Crusaders in 1204 which broke the backbone of Byzantine.Although, Constantinople was reconquered by Byzantine emperor Michael VIII the Palaiologos in 1261 but it was never able to regain that lost status.This battle increased the tensions between Catholic Church and Orthodox Church and made ground for the later Conquest of Constantinople by Ottomans in 1453.
Serbian empre and Ottoman empre were the major threats for Byzantines.By 1400,empire was just reduced to Constantinople but still, Byzantines preferred to be ruled by Ottoman Turks instead of adopting Catholic Christianity.At last,at council of Florence in 1439 emperor John VIII made an agreement with Catholic Church to adopt Catholic Christianity in order to get help from them against Turks in case of any attack.In 1453, Ottoman Caliph Mehmed II (also called Mehmed the Thunderbolt) attacked Constantinople but Catholics sent a small army for Byzantine’s aid,so Constantinople was conquered by muslims and became capital of the Ottoman Empire.
Culture and Science
Byzantines had a diverse culture.It was influenced by Latin, Persian and Islamic culture and also left it’s deep marks on these cultures.They left a great legacy on Orthodox Christianity as well.
Women were important part of society and took part in public and businesses activities.They were expert in sewing,weaving and stitching.Empress Theodora(500–548 AD) and Empress Irene(753–803 AD) were famous royal ladies of Byzantine Empire.
Eunuchs(one who has been castrated)held important posts in court as they were considered trust worthy for not being able to claim throne or to have successors.
During early Middle Ages(called the Dark Ages), Byzantines lost much of Roman,Latin and Greek works.But they recoverd to some extent during Byzantine Renaissance (867–1056 AD).
Many Byzantine scholars,philosophers and artists migrated to Europe after 1453 and spread their knowledge in those areas.
Leo the Mathematician(790–869 AD) was a remarkable philosopher and logician in Byzantine empire.He got the titles of “,The cleverest man of Byzantine Empire in 9th century AD" and “The true Renaissance man".He worked on Aristotelean logic and also taught it but unfortunately all of his books have been lost.
John Philoponus(490–570 CE) wrote more than 40 books on physics, chemistry, grammar and maths.He introduced the"Theory of Impetus.”
Anthemius if Tralles and Isodore of Miletus were famous mathematicians and architects who designed Hagia Sophia Church(the great architectural monument still present).
Byzantine Literature was also very rich.It was mainly written in Greek language, however,Arabic,Persian and Syrian were also used by writers and poets.Although,most of ancient greek work was lost during Byzantine Dark Ages(600–800 CE) still,they were able to preserve some important works of Roman empire during Byzantine Renaissance (867–1056 CE) History,poetry,plays, romantic novels and encyclopedias were the most popular genres.Byzantine historians followed the footsteps of Roman historians like Herodotus,Plutarch and Xenophon.
Procopius of Caesarea(500–565 CE) was a prolific historians whose works were even translated in 20th century by Robert Graves. Similarly,Photius the Great also called Photius the Constantine (820–893) also enriched scholarly literature.
Maximus the Confessor(580–662 CE)was a famous saint, theologian and scholar of Constantinople.He mainly wrote on religion (Christianity).He was recognized as “Father of Church” by both Orthodox and Catholic Church.
They invented Greek fire which saved them from Arab invasions.It was a very useful naval weapon.
Round arches and domes were the most prominent features of Byzantine Architecture.They also promoted the cross in square architectural style. Marble, stones,bricks and plasters were used to construct and solidify buildings.Beautiful paintings,mosaics and furniture were used to beautify the interior of buildings.Byzantines were first to make hospitals in their empire.
Hagia Sophia(Istanbul) was built by Constantine in 8th century but it survives until now.
Similarly,Saint Sofia Church(Bulgaria)
Basilica of San Vitale(Italy),
Church of St John the Baptist (Ukraine)
All these are such architectural monuments of Byzantine empire which can be seen even today.
In short, Byzantines played an important role in the fields of architecture and law and promoting Greek language.