Byzantine Empire

Roman Empire during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages
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The Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire) was the name of the eastern remnant of the Roman Empire which survived into the Middle Ages. Its capital was Constantinople, which today is called Istanbul. Unlike the Western Roman Empire, the most important language was Greek, not Latin, and Greek culture and identity dominated.[2]

Roman Empire
Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων
Basileía Rhōmaíōna
Imperium Romanum
Tremissis with the image of Justinian the Great (527–565 CE) (see Byzantine insignia) of Byzantine Empire
Tremissis with the image of Justinian the Great
(527–565 CE) (see Byzantine insignia)
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
(330–1204, 1261–1453)
Common languages
  • Latin (official until 610)
  • Greek (official after 610)
Christianity (Eastern Orthodox)
(tolerated after the Edict of Milan in 313; state religion after 380)
GovernmentTheocratic Monarchy (with Senate of Constantinople 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 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 they managed to re-take 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.
Emblem of the Palaeologus dynasty


The Byzantine Empire was known to its inhabitants as:

  • 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]

Start of the Empire (330–476 AD)Edit

In 324, the Roman emperor Constantine I moved the capital of the Roman Empire to the Greek city of Byzantium, and he renamed the city Constantinople. 150 years later, after the city of Rome was slowly taken over by Germanic people during the Migration period, Constantinople was the only remaining capital of the empire. This Eastern empire had a smaller territory than the original Roman Empire.

Problems in the Empire (476–717 AD)Edit

Wars in the WestEdit

The Byzantine Empire tried to take back Rome and Italy from the Germans. Between 530 and 555 AD, the Byzantines won many battles and took back Rome.

These gains did not last however. More Germans came and eventually Italy and Rome was lost again. Worse was to come when Avar and Slavic peoples came to take Southeast Europe from the Byzantines. After the 560s, the invaders gradually conquered the Balkans except for parts of modern Greece and Albania. These invaders were later followed by the Bulgarians. The Avars and Bulgarians were both Turkic peoples at first. They ruled over Slavic people called "Sklavinai" and slowly absorbed Slavic language and customs.

Wars in the EastEdit

After western Rome was captured by Germanic people, the Empire continued to control modern Egypt, Greece, Palestine, Syria and Turkey. However, another empire, known as the Persian or Sassanid Empire, tried to take these lands for itself. Between 224 and 628, the Greco-Romans and the Persians fought many battles with many men killed in the fighting. Eventually, the Persians were defeated in 627 in modern-day Iraq, near the ancient city of Nineveh, allowing the Byzantines to keep their lands.

After this, another enemy appeared: the Arabs. The Byzantines were economically damaged by the battles with the Persians. They could not withstand the Arabs. Palestine, Syria and Egypt were lost between 635 and 645. However, the Byzantines defended Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and the Arab advance stopped.

Recovery of the Empire (717–1025 AD)Edit

In 718, the Arabs were defeated outside Constantinople, ending the Arab threat in the east, but leaving the Byzantine Empire severely weakened. In the west, the Byzantines launched a number of attacks against the Bulgarians. Some of these were successful, others were not and led to the deaths of many emperors. Over time, the Byzantine Empire would become weaker as it lost land to outside invaders.

Recovery in the westEdit

Between 1007 and 1014, the ambitious Byzantine emperor Basil II attacked Bulgaria many times and eventually won a great victory. Later, he fully recaptured Greece, adding it back to the Byzantine Empire. He then went on to conquer Bulgaria, which was completed in 1018.

Recovery in the eastEdit

In the east, the Arabs once again became a threat to the empire. However, Basil II's attacks 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 Byzantine Empire.

Decline of the Empire (1025–1453 AD)Edit

Start of Decline (1025–1071)Edit

After the Byzantine Emperor Basil II died, many unskilled Emperors came to the throne. They wasted the money of the Empire and reduced its army. This meant that it could not defend itself well against enemies if they would attack. Later, the Byzantines relied on mercenaries, soldiers who fought for money and not for their country, so they were less loyal and reliable and more expensive. Because they had mercenaries, military generals were able to rise to power and grab it from the elaborate bureaucracy, a system of administration where tasks are divided by departments.

Rise of the 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, the Byzantines received help from people in Europe. This help is known as the First Crusade. Many knights and soldiers left to help the Byzantines but also to secure Jerusalem for Christians, which at the time was in Muslim hands.

The Byzantines survive (1091–1185)Edit

The Byzantine Empire survived and with the help of the Europeans took back half of Turkey from the Turks, with the other half remaining under the Turks. The Byzantines survived because three good Emperors ruled one after the other, allowing the Byzantines to grow strong again.

The Byzantines become weak again (1185-1261)Edit

After the three good Emperors, the remaining Emperors ruled badly and again wasted a lot of money and soldiers.

In the west, the Europeans betrayed the Byzantines and attacked their capital, Constantinople. The Byzantines lost their capital in 1204 and they did not take it back until 1261. The Byzantines were then divided into many smaller Greek states that were fighting with each other for the throne of the empire.

The Turks take the Byzantines (1261–1453)Edit

After the Byzantines took back Constantinople, they were too busy fighting the Europeans who had betrayed them and could not find enough soldiers or money to fight the new Ottoman Empire of the Turks. All of Anatolia was lost by 1331. In 1369, the Turks crossed over from Turkey and into Greece, taking 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 Europeans. Some soldiers and ships came from Italy and the Pope to assist the Byzantines when the Turks attacked Constantinople in April 1453. They were very outnumbered though and the walls of Constantinople were badly damaged by cannons used by the Turks. At the end of 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. At the end, the population which had not been able to escape, was deported to Edirne, Bursa and other Ottoman cities, leaving the city deserted except for the Jews of Balat and the Genoese of Pera. After that, Constantinople became Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, which it would be until the 1900s, when the capital was moved to Ankara, a city in the Asian part of Turkey.


The Byzantine Empire had many achievements:

  • They protected Europe from eastern invasions.
  • They preserved Greek language and Hellenistic culture.
  • They preserved many Roman political traditions that had been lost by Western Europe.
  • They kept a lot of knowledge for us to 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.
  • Their cities had plumbing which is still in use.
  • A lot of beautiful churches and mosques in Turkey and Greece today are either made from Byzantine buildings or inspired by them.
  • They made several inventions, such as the flamethrower and "Greek fire", a kind of napalm.
  • They made advances in many studies, like political studies, diplomacy and military sciences.

Related pagesEdit


  1. "Romania" was a popular name of the empire used mainly unofficially, which 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