Byzantine Empire

Roman Empire during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages
(Redirected from Eastern Roman Empire)

The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, was the continuation of the Roman Empire primarily in its eastern provinces that survived into the Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The capital of the empire was Constantinople. It survived the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD and continued to exist until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. During most of its existence, the empire remained the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in the Mediterranean world. Its citizens continued to refer to their empire as the Roman Empire and to themselves as Romans, a term which Greeks continued to use for themselves into Ottoman times. Modern historians distinguish the Byzantine Empire from the earlier Roman Empire due to the imperial seat moving from Rome to Byzantium, the Empire's integration of Christianity , and the predominance of Greek instead of Latin.

Roman Empire
Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων  (Ancient Greek)
Imperium Romanum  (Latin)
The empire in 555 under Justinian the Great, at its greatest extent since the fall of the Western Roman Empire (its vassals in pink)
The empire in 555 under Justinian the Great, at its greatest extent since the fall of the Western Roman Empire (its vassals in pink)
The territorial evolution of the Eastern Roman Empire under each imperial dynasty until its fall in 1453.
The territorial evolution of the Eastern Roman Empire under each imperial dynasty until its fall in 1453.
StatusEastern division of the Roman Empire[1]
CapitalConstantinople (modern-day Istanbul)c
Common languages
Notable emperors 
• 306–337
Constantine I (first)
• 408–450
Theodosius II
• 474–475, 476–491
• 527–565
Justinian I
• 582–602
• 610–641
• 717–741
• 797–802
• 867–886
Basil I
• 976–1025
Basil II
• 1081–1118
Alexios I
• 1143–1180
Manuel I
• 1261–1282
Michael VIII
• 1449–1453
Constantine XI
Historical eraLate Antiquity to Late Middle Ages
• First East–West division of the Roman Empire
1 April 286
11 May 330
• Final East–West division after the death of Theodosius I
17 January 395
• Fall of the West; deposition of Romulus
4 September 476
• Assassination of
Julius Nepos
9 May 480
• Battle of Manzikert; loss of Anatolia due to following civil war
26 August 1071
• Sack of Constantinople by Catholic crusaders
12 April 1204
25 July 1261
29 May 1453
29 May 1460
15 August 1461
• 457
• 565
• 775
• 1025
• 1320
CurrencySolidus, denarius and hyperpyron
  1. ^ Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων may be transliterated in Latin as Basileia Rhōmaiōn, literally meaning "Monarchy of the Romans", but commonly rendered "Empire of the Romans".
  2. ^ Between 1204 and 1261 there was an interregnum when the Latin Empire took control of Constantinople, causing the Byzantine Empire itself to be divided into the Empire of Nicaea, the Empire of Trebizond, and the Despotate of Epirus. The Empire of Nicaea is traditionally considered by historians to be the legitimate continuation of the Byzantine Empire because it managed to retake Constantinople.[2]
  3. ^ Constantinople became the capital of the (united) empire in 330. In 395, the empire was permanently divided in two halves after the death of Theodosius I.
  4. ^ Tolerated after the Edicts of Serdica (311) and Milan (313); state religion after 380.
  5. ^ Following the East–West Schism of 1054.
  6. ^ See Population of the Byzantine Empire for more detailed figures taken provided by McEvedy and Jones (1978) Atlas of World Population History, as well as Angeliki E. Laiou (2002), The Economic History of Byzantium.

During the high period of the Roman Empire known as the Pax Romana, the western parts of the empire went through Latinization, while the eastern parts of the empire maintained to a large degree their Helenistic culture. Several events from the 4th to 6th centuries mark the period of transition during which the Roman Empire's Greek East and Latin West diverged. Constantine I (r. 324–337) reorganised the empire, made Constantinople the capital, and legalised Christianity. Under Theodosius I (r. 379–395), Christianity became the state relegion, and other religious practices were proscribed. In the reign of Heraclius (r. 610–641), the empire's military and administration were restructured and Greek was gradually adopted for official use in place of Latin.

The borders of the empire fluctuated through several cycles of decline and recovery. During the reign of Justinian I (r. 527–565), the empire reached its greatest extent after the fall of the west, reconquering much of the historically Roman western Mediterranean coast, including Africa, Italy, and Rome, which it held for two more centuries. The Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628 exhausted the empire's resources, and during the early Muslim conquests of the 7th century, it lost its richest provinces—Egypt and Syria—to the Rashidun Caliphate. It then lost Africa to the Umayyads in 698, before the empire was stabilized by the Isaurian dynasty.

During the Macedonian dynasty (9th–11th centuries), the empire expanded again and experienced the two-century-long Macedonian Renaissance, which came to an end with the defeat by the Seljuk Turks at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. Civil wars and the ensuing Seljuk invasion led to the loss of most of Asia Minor. The empire recovered during the Komnenian restoration, and up until the Fourth Crusade, Constantinople was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe.

The empire was first dissolved during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, when Constantinople was sacked by the Latins and the territories that the empire formerly governed were divided into competing Byzantine Greek and Latin realms. Despite the eventual recovery of Constantinople in 1261, the Byzantine Empire remained a mere regional power for the final two centuries of its existence. Its remaining territories were progressively annexed by the Ottomans in the Byzantine–Ottoman wars over the 14th and 15th centuries.

The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 marked the end of the Byzantine Empire. Refugees fleeing the city after its capture would settle in Italy and other parts of Europe, helping to ignite the Renaissance. The Empire of Trebizond was conquered eight years later when its eponymous capital surrendered to Ottoman forces after it was besieged in 1461. The fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottomans is sometimes used to mark the end of the Middle Ages and the start of the early modern period.

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)

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)


Wars in west


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 the Slavic people, who were called Sklavinai, and slowly absorbed the Slavic language and culture.

Wars in east


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.

The centuries-long struggle between the Byzantines and the Persians shaped the political and religious landscape of the Middle East, leaving behind a complex legacy that continues to influence the region today.

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)


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 west


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 east


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)


Start of decline (1025–1071)


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)


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)


The Byzantine Empire survived and, with the help of the European empires, took back half of Anatolia from the Turks, who managed to hold the other half of the region. The Byzantines survived due to three primarily good emperors in a row, that allowed the empire to recover from their recent conflicts.

Another weakening (1185-1261)


The next few emperors ruled poorly and spent much of the existing treasury on many mercenary soldiers.

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)


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.
  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. "Byzantine Greek language". Encyclopedia Britannica. Archived from the original on 17 July 2021. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  2. Treadgold 1997, p. 734
  3. Fossier & Sondheimer 1997, p. 104.
  4. Constantelos 2001–2002
  5. Cinnamus 1976, p. 240.



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