Byzantine Empire: brief history –

The Byzantine Empirealso known as “Byzantium or of Eastern Roman Empire. Byzantium, Constantinople or Istanbul, three names for the same city that was the most important capital in the entire Middle East. An empire that lasted over time and has been the inspiration for amazing legends and tales. It’s time to find out the real Byzantine Empirea long story but we will try to summarize as much as possible.

Origin of the Byzantine Empire

When the Emperor Theodosiusaware of how costly and difficult it was to maintain the security of the Empire’s borders, decided in 395 AD to divide it into two parts: one eastern and one western. The Eastern Roman Empire was handed over to his son Arcadius.

The Western Roman Empire could not withstand the insistent German attacks, disappearing in the year 476 AD On the contrary, the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as Byzantine Empire, managed to last until the year 1453, when the Ottomans invaded the city of Constantinople.

The Byzantine Empire was a mass of peoples, who for ten centuries knew how to unite Greek and Roman culture, managed to get religions such as Christian and pagan to coexist, mixed the customs of the West with those of the East. Achieving a cultural richness in all senses, collecting from each culture what could be useful for such a diverse society.

Within the Byzantine Empire, Greek was spoken despite being considered Roman, since they were still direct descendants of the Emperors of Rome.


When Theodosius divided the Empire, he gave the capital of the Western Roman Empire to Rome, while the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, became Byzantiumwhich after the restoration of the city by Constantine and with that nostalgia for the Roman Empire, I call it new rome, name that did not last in time since it began to be called City of Constantine, Constantinople.

Byzantium had been an ancient Greek colony, founded by King Byzas, according to Greek mythology. It will be later when this Empire begins to be named as the Byzantine Empire.

Constantine managed in just 6 years to rebuild a city of a size and with an architecture that had nothing to envy the city of Rome.

Byzantium or Constantinople, was located at a strategic point, was the gateway from Europe to Asia. Passing from the Mediterranean to the Aegean Sea and from there through the Dardanelles Strait, we reach the Sea of ​​Marmara, once crossed, we reach Constantinople, finally crossing the Bosphorus Strait we reach the Black Sea. A strategic location as a transit and trade point between Europe and Asia Minor.

It became one of the most populous cities in the world, due to its great cultural and economic activity. Constantinople was often attacked by Germanic tribes, until in the 5th century, Emperor Theodosius II built a three-wall, 12 meter high wall that surrounded the city, and remains of which still remain. The walls had a length of 19 km between which 96 watchtowers were distributed.

A New Empire is born: the Byzantine Empire

The emperor Arcadius, Heir to Theodosius I, and first Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire, he fought tirelessly to keep the borders controlled and secure. Faced with the incessant barbarian attacks that had ended the Western Roman Empire, Theodosius II successor of Acadio, reinforced the original walls of the city of Constantinople, by another composed of 3 walls of 12 meters high, which we have just commented, managing to keep the city safe from the 5th century to the 13th, making it a virtually impregnable city.

The Empire repelled invasions like that of the Huns or Ostrogians. Zeno, in the year 487, provoked Theodoric to invade Italy and kill the German king Odoacer in exchange for giving him the government of Italy, events that occurred in the year 493, freeing the Byzantine Empire from two direct rivals, Odoacer in the West and from the annoying Ostrogoths, who constantly threatened the empire. The Goths ended the Western Empire, to found a new kingdom The West Germanic Empire, while the Eastern Empire was freed from the constant attacks to which it had been subjected.

The situation during the fifth century, was the following:

Year 408 – Death of Arcadius, the first emperor in the history of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Year 425 – Theodosius II carries out the reform of the University of the city of Constantinople
Year 450 – Climb to the Martian throne.
Year 457 – The Patriarch of Constantinople crowns Leo I.
Year 475 – Coup d’état by General Basilisk
Year 476 – Romulus Augustulus, last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, falls.
Year 476 – Zeno restores stability to the Eastern Empire.
Year 491 – Anastasio I, assumes the crown of the kingdom.
Year 493 – Theodoric, with the consent of the Byzantine Empire, takes charge of Italy.

Justinian’s Byzantine Empire (527-565)

Justinianacceded to the throne in the year 527, received an excellent military education and when he came to power he wanted to develop an idea that had matured throughout his life, the idea that there only had to be a single king to exercise political authority throughout the Christian world, and that king must be the Byzantine Emperor.

It was the period of greatest apogee of the Empire, in order to unify all the Christian kingdoms, it was proposed to restore the borders of what had been the Roman Empire. Once the eastern border of the empire was secured, threatened by the strong expansionism of the Persian Empire, settled in the battle of Dara in the year 530, he turned all his efforts to conquer what had been the Western Roman Empire.

Victories by his generals Belisarius and Narses, conquering the former Roman provinces of North Africa now in the hands of the Vandals, as well as the islands of Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands. Later they annexed Dalmatia, until in the year 536 they managed to enter Rome.

In the year 552, taking advantage of a series of disturbances in the Visigothic territories of Hispania, Justinian managed to annex the great Empire southern part of Hispania, province which he called Spania, a region that they would not leave until the year 620.

But these dreams had a cost, the campaigns in the West and the shows of exaltation, left the coffers of the state quite weak, falling into a deep economic crisis that would take time to overcome. The way that Justiniano found to revitalize the hacienda was through heavy taxes on citizenscausing great revolts that were about to cost the emperor exile.

On the other hand, an outbreak of the Plague in the year 534, called the Justinian Plague, worsened the economic situation of the Empire, decimating the population of Constantinople by 1/3.

Justinian’s death Occurred in the year 565thus ending one of the most important and flourishing periods of the Byzantine Empire.

The Byzantine Empire after Justinian

The following centuries were not especially good for the Byzantine Empire, it is known that it was a time of great difficulties, the Islam began to conquer the regions with more resources, the Bulgarians and the Slavs threatened by the north of the Empire, fights against the neighbor persian empire in the east of the Empire, all this added to the internal struggles between the religious and the earthly power, made the centuries VII and VIII, is considered a dark age that it did not serve for another thing that to leave as a more entrenched and reinforced Empire.

Justin IIsucceeded Justinian, but he was an emperor who was too sick and too crazy, unable to manage and deal with external threats, he died leaving Tiberius II in charge of the Empire. An emperor who had no expansionist desire and who did not mind letting Italy fall into the hands of the Lombards or barbarians.

The Persians They continued to push deeper and deeper through the eastern provinces of the Empire, but soon the Persian threat would change to the Arab, becoming a better prepared and more feared adversary. The Arabs had occupied the provinces of Syria, Palestine and North Africa, Hispania in the hands of the Visigoths, leaving the Byzantine Empire reduced to Greece, southern Italy and Asia Minor.

When the Turks in the eleventh century, seized Asia Minor, the situation became critical. From this moment it can be said that the decline of the Byzantine Empire begins, taking for completed in the year 1453when the Ottomans occupied Constantinople.

Religion and culture of the Byzantine Empire

In Justinian’s timeByzantium lived its maximum splendorwith such outstanding figures as Nano de Panópolis and Pablo Silenciario or the historian Procopio, unfortunately it was also at this time that the Academy of Athens was closed.

Around the year 528, Roman law was codified in the Justinian Code or Corpus Iuris Civilis, a civil code that not only regulated the patrimonial relations of citizens, as is the case with current Civil Law, but also dealt with criminal offenses or public and private order.

As for the art of the architecturethe Byzantines stood out for the profuse decoration and the beauty of their churches. Its buildings with a Greek cross floor plan with a dome on pendentives, we cannot fail to mention the Church of Santa Sofía in Constantinople or the Basilica of San Marcos in Venice.

The interiors of Byzantine churches were explosions of color and luxury, made up of precious mosaics that decorated their apses and domes. As to the sculpture highlighted the reliefs on ivory.

The Byzantines knew how to combine and fuse elements from all the cultures that coexisted in the Empire, such as the Greco-Romans, Orientals and Christians. True libraries are created with compilations of the great Classics, both in schools, in universities or in monasteries like the one on Mount Athos in Greece.

Although Byzantium was governed by Roman law and political institutions and its official language was Latin, Greek is also spoken, and students received the education of the Greek history, literature and culture.

In terms of religion, the Byzantine emperor was the patriarch of Constantinople, that is, the head of church and statewas the spiritual leader of most Eastern Christians.

The legacy of the Byzantine Empire has left a rich tradition of art and literature. In addition, politically it was of great importance as a “barrier” between the medieval states of Europe and the threat of invasion by the Asian peoples.

The Byzantine Empire finally fell in 1453, after an Ottoman army attacked Constantinople during the reign of Constantine XI.

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