Byzantine Empire

Roman Empire during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages
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The Byzantine Empire, called at the time the Eastern Roman Empire, was the eastern part of the Roman Empire that survived into the Middle Ages. The capital of the empire was Constantinople, which would be renamed to Istanbul after the Ottoman conquest. Greek was the most important language in the Byzantine Empire.[2] Greek culture and identity were a very important part of the Byzantine Empire.

Roman Empire
Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων
Basileía Rhōmaíōna
Imperium Romanum
Flag of Byzantine Empire
Imperial banner of the Palaiologos dynasty
Emblem of the Palaiologos dynasty of Byzantine Empire
Emblem of the Palaiologos dynasty
The empire at its greatest extent in 555 CE under Justinian the Great (its vassals in pink)
The empire at its greatest extent in 555 CE under
Justinian the Great (its vassals in pink)
StatusEastern division of the Roman Empire
Official languages
Christianity (Eastern Orthodox)
(tolerated after the Edict of Milan in 313; state religion after 380)
GovernmentTheocratic monarchy (with Senate as advisory body)[1]
Notable emperors 
• 285–305
• 324–337
Constantine I
• 457–474
Leo I
• 527–565
Justinian I
• 610–641
• 717–741
• 976–1025
Basil II
• 1081–1118
Alexios I
• 1449–1453
Constantine XI
Historical eraLate Antiquity to Late Middle Ages
• Death of Theodosius I
• Nominal end of the Western Roman Empire
• Fourth Crusade; establishment of Latin Empire
• Reconquest of Constantinople by Palaiologos
29 May 1453c
• Fall of Trebizond
15 August 1461
• 565 CE
• 780 CE
• 1025
CurrencySolidus, hyperpyron and follis
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Dio coin3.jpg Roman Empire
Ottoman Empire
  1. ^ Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων may be transliterated in Latin as Basileia Rhōmaiōn, meaning Roman Empire.
  2. ^ Theodosius I was the last emperor to rule over both the Eastern and the Western Roman Empire. He died in 395 AD after making Christianity the official religion of the empire.
  3. ^ Between 1204 and 1261 there was an interregnum when the Empire was divided into the Empire of Nicaea, the Empire of Trebizond and the Despotate of Epirus, which were all contenders for rule of the empire. The Empire of Nicaea is considered the legitimate continuation of the Byzantine Empire because it managed to retake Constantinople.
  4. ^ See Population of the Byzantine Empire for more detailed figures taken provided by McEvedy and Jones, Atlas of World Population History, 1978, as well as Angeliki E. Laiou, The Economic History of Byzantium, 2002.

In 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne the Emperor of the Romans. That angered the Byzantine Emperor, who believed that he was the rightful Roman emperor. The relationship between the pope in Rome and the patriarch in Constantinople became very tense.

In 1054, the Great Schism divided Christianity into two main factions. They were the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Byzantines promoted Orthodoxy in the Balkans and East Slavic lands, and Catholicism gained popularity in Northwestern Africa and Western Europe.


The Byzantine Empire did not get that name until a century after its fall. The empire was known at the time as the following:

  • the "Roman Empire" or 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),[n 1]
  • the "Roman Republic" (Latin: Res Publica Romana; Greek: Πολιτεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Politeia tōn Rhōmaiōn),
  • "Graecia" (Greek: Γραικία meaning "land of the Greeks"),[4]
  • "Rhōmais" (Greek: Ῥωμαΐς).[5]

Beginning (330–476 AD)Edit

Western and Eastern Roman Empire

In 324, Roman Emperor Constantine I moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to the Greek city of Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople. By the 5th century, the Roman Empire had lost its territories in the west, and the Western Roman Empire had been taken over by Germanic peoples during the Migration period. The surviving parts of the Roman Empire became known as the Eastern Roman Empire and is now called the Byzantine Empire.

Problems (476–717 AD)Edit

Wars in westEdit

The Eastern Roman Empire tried to take back Rome and the rest of Italian Peninsula from the Germanic peoples. Between 530 and 555 AD, the Byzantine Greeks won many battles and took back Rome.

The Byzantines controlled Rome for a long time. Eventually, more Germanic peoples came, and Italy was lost again. Later, Avars and Slavs took parts of Southeast Europe from the Byzantines. After the 560s, invaders slowly conquered the Balkans except for parts of modern Greece and Albania. Bulgars from the steppes formed the First Bulgarian Empire north of the Byzantine Empire. At first, both the Avars and the Bulgars were Turkic peoples. They ruled over thé Slavic people, who were called Sklavinai, and slowly absorbed the Slavic language and culture.

Wars in eastEdit

After Rome had been captured by the Germanic peoples, the Eastern Roman Empire continued to control what is now Egypt, Greece, Palestine, Syria and Turkey. However, another empire, known as the Persian or the Sassanid Empire, tried to take the lands for itself. Between 224 and 628, the Greco-Romans and the Persians fought many battles, and many men were killed in the fighting. Eventually, the Persians were defeated in 627 by Emperor Heraclius in what is now Iraq, near the ancient city of Nineveh, which allowed the Byzantines to keep those lands.

Then, another enemy appeared, the Arabs. The Byzantines did not have much money to spend on war because of their battles with the Persians and so they could not withstand the Arabs. Palestine, Syria and Egypt were lost between 635 and 645 by Heraclius. However, the Byzantines defended Asia Minor (now in Turkey), and the Arab advance stopped there. Heraclius ordered the use of Greek as the only language of the empire, erased forever the name "Eastern Roman Empire" and cut the last links with Rome.

Recovery (717–1025 AD)Edit

In 718, the Arabs were defeated but left the Byzantines very weak. In the west, the Byzantines fought the Bulgarians many times. Some battles were successful, but others were not. Many emperors died fighting. Over time, the Byzantine Empire weakened as it lost land to outside invaders.

Recovery in westEdit

Between 1007 and 1014, Emperor Basil II ambitiously attacked Bulgaria many times and eventually won a great victory. Later, he fully recaptured Greece and recovered it for the empire. He then went on to take over Bulgaria, which was fully conquered in 1018.

Recovery in eastEdit

In the east, the Arabs once again became a threat to the Byzantines. However, Basil II kept attacking and won many more victories. Much of Syria was restored to the empire, and Turkey and Armenia were secured. After 1025, the Arabs were no longer a threat to the Byzantines.

Decline (1025–1453 AD)Edit

Start of decline (1025–1071)Edit

After Basil II died, many unskilled emperors came to the throne, wasted the empire's money and reduced its army. This meant that it could not defend itself well against enemies if they attacked. Later, the Byzantines relied on mercenaries, soldiers who fought for money, not for their country. That made them less loyal and reliable and more expensive. The mercenaries allowed military generals to come to power and to grab it from the elaborate bureaucracy, a system of administration in which tasks are divided by departments.

Rise of Turks (1071–1091)Edit

A large number of people, known as the Turks, rode on horseback from Central Asia and attacked the Byzantine Empire. The Seljuk Empire took most of Anatolia from the Byzantines by 1091. However, they received help from people in Western Europe in what is known as the First Crusade. Many knights and soldiers left to help the Byzantines and to secure Jerusalem for the Christians. The city wad then controlled by the Muslims.

Survival (1091–1185)Edit

The Byzantine Empire survived and, with the help of the Europeans, took back half of Turkey from the Turks, who kept the other half. The Byzantines survived because three good emperors in a row allowed the empire to recover.

Another weakening (1185-1261)Edit

The next emperors ruled badly and wasted a lot of money and Manu soldiers again.

In the west, the Western Europeans betrayed the Byzantines and attacked their capital, Constantinople in in 1204. The Byzantines did not take it back until 1261. They were then divided into many smaller Greek states, which fought one another for control.

Fall to Turks (1261–1453)Edit

After the Byzantines had taken back Constantinople, they were too busy fighting the Europeans who had betrayed them and so they could not find enough soldiers or money to fight the Turks' new Ottoman Empire. All of Asia Minor had been lost by 1331, and in 1369, the Turks crossed over from Turkey and into Greece. They took over much of Greece between 1354 and 1450.

The Byzantines lost so much land, money and soldiers that they became very weak and begged for help from the Western Europeans. Italy and the Pope sent soldiers and ships to help the Byzantines when the Turks attacked Constantinople in April 1453. The Byzantines were badly outnumbered, however, and the walls of Constantinople were very damaged by cannons used by the Turks. In late May 1453, the Turks captured Constantinople by entering through one of the gates along the walls, and the empire came to an end.

The city was plundered for three days. In the end, the people who had not been able to escape was deported to Edirne, Bursa and other Ottoman cities. There was nobody in the city except for the Jews of Balat and the Genoese of Pera. Constantinople was later renamed Istanbul and became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. After the empire fell in the 1900s, the Turkish capital was moved to Ankara, a city in Asia Minor.


The Byzantines had many achievements:

  • They protected Europe from eastern invasions.
  • They blocked the Islamic conquest of Christian Europe by the Arabs.
  • They initially blocked the second Islamic tentative to conquer Christian Europe by the Turks (until 1453).
  • They preserved the Greek language and culture.
  • They preserved many Roman political traditions that had been lost in Western Europe.
  • They kept a lot of knowledge that can be read about today.
  • They produced much fine art with a distinctive style.
  • They were the protectors and sponsors of the Eastern Church, which later becomes the Orthodox Church.
  • They used good architecture that is still used.
  • They had cities with plumbing, which is still in use.
  • They built many beautiful churches, some of which are now mosques, in what are now Turkey and Greece. They are made from or inspired by Byzantine buildings.
  • They made several inventions like the flamethrower and "Greek fire", a kind of napalm.
  • They made advances in many fields like political studies, diplomacy and military sciences.

Related pagesEdit


  1. "Romania" was a popular name of the empire that was used mainly unofficially; it meant "land of the Romans".[3] The term does not refer to modern Romania.


  1. Cartwright 2018.
  2. Ahrweiler 1976, pp. 19–60, 78; Clover & Humphreys 1989, p. 10ff; Linnér 1994, p. 219ff; Lemerle 1971, pp. 52–71, 279–285; Baynes & Moss 1948, p. 23ff.
  3. Fossier & Sondheimer 1997, p. 104.
  4. Constantelos 2001–2002
  5. Cinnamus 1976, p. 240.


  • Ahrweiler, Helene (1975). L'Ideologie Politique de l'Empire Byzantine [The Political Ideology of the Byzantine Empire] (in French). Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
  • Baynes, Norman Hepburn; Moss, Henry St. Lawrence Beaufort (1948). Byzantium: An Introduction to East Roman Civilization. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Cartwright, Mark (13 April 2018). "Byzantine Government". Ancient History Encyclopedia.
  • Cinnamus, Ioannes (1976). Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenus. New York and West Sussex: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-04080-6.
  • Clover, F. M.; Humphreys, R. S. (1989). Tradition and Innovation in Late Antiquity. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 9780299120009.
  • Constantelos, Demetrios I. (2001–2002). "Μαρτυρίες για την Ταυτότητα των Βυζαντινών και των Ρωμιών σε Ελληνικές Πηγές". Πεμπτουσία (in Greek).
  • Fossier, Robert; Sondheimer, Janet (1997). The Cambridge Illustrated History of the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-26644-0.
  • Lemerle, Paul (1971). Le Premier Humanisme Byzantin [The First Byzantine Humanism] (in French). Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
  • Linnér, Sture (1994). Bysantinsk kulturhistoria [History of Byzantine Culture] (in Swedish). Stockholm: Norstedt. ISBN 978-9-11-941512-7.

Other websitesEdit