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The Byzantine Empire

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impress Irene, on a golden solidusimpress Irene, on a golden solidus

After that the Roman Empire was definitively divided into a Western and Eastern parts by the end of the 4th century, in 395 A.D., the Eastern Roman empire, at the time of the Great Invasions remained subject to the successors of Emperor Constantine as the West was transitioning to the rules of various Germanic peoples or the Franks. That idea of dividing the Roman empire may be traced back to the end of the 3rd century A.D. when Emperor Constantine I eventually had set a end to half a century of divisions and decline. His rival Diocletian himself had began to divide the Empire in such a way it was to be governed by two 'Augustus' and two 'Caesars', who were to main rulers adjointed with two deputy ones. The unity was reinstored by Constantine as rivalries between his successors brought back a division until in 350. As unity came back for a while and that the Germanic folks interfered into the Empire, it was definitively divided. One may speak of a Byzantine empire like a entity definitively apart from the old Roman empire and its former name like the Eastern Roman empire, since about the death of Justinian by 565 A.D. or the reign of Heraclius (610–641). The term 'Byzantine' appeared by 1557 like coined by German historian Hieronymus Wolf. People of the Byzantine empire termed their empire the 'Basileia ton Rhomaîon,' which is 'Empire of the Romans' as Westerners called them 'Greeks' or their empire 'Greek empire,', 'Greece,' or 'land of the Greeks.' Byzantines, in the varied languages used along their empire, always named themselves like 'Romaioi,' or 'Romans.' That is a neat hint to that, even as the Western part of the former Roman empire had been lost to them, they still considered themselves like the successors to Rome. That term of 'Romans', under the Arabic form of 'Roumi,' was also used by Muslims to name the Byzantines


The western part of the former Roman empire gradually was destroyed by the Germans during the 5th century A.D. as, with its capital Constantinople, the Eastern Roman empire may be considered the Eastern survival of the ancient Roman Empire. The stability there is explained through that it hold the richest parts of the former empire. At the origin, the emperor kept considered the heir to Augustus as his subjects were 'Romans' but the area, predominantly Greek in race, with a influence of Armenians and varied dangerous neighbours like the Bulgars and Slavs coming to the borders, Latin ceased to be the language of the government from the second half of the 6th century as the Eastern empire thoroughly became Greek both in language and spirit by the Church and the lower classes included. A difference between a literary language used by elites and Greek dialects spoken by humbler classes created a social breach in the Empire. The Byzantine empire further lacked any highly organized apparatus of transportation for goods as each district became a separate economic unit as the feeble capacity of medieval vessels was too small to impact. Cities of the Roman era turned into fortified ones and, since 550, into mere boroughs. Like in the West, the Byzantine trade remained focused upon light-weighted commodities and representing great values such as gems, jewelry, rich textiles and furs, aromatic spices, and drugs. Government-monopolized shipbuilding, manufacture of arms or silk fabrics allowed the Byzantines however to trade with the West, leading to the supremacy of the Byzantine gold solidus as such a commercial trend, on the other hand, eventually let room to a economy with a almost exclusively territorial character. Another aspect, at last, of the Byzantine economics was that of the tributes Byzantium was paying to the Barbaric people which threatened the Empire. Gold of such tributes was taken back when Byzantines were selling, at their border, luxury goods to those people. Constantinople remained, generally, a prime trading hub related to the East, and the primary western end to the Silk Road. Until the Arab conquest the Byzantine empire might have represent the most powerful economy in the world. Virtually every known language was spoken in Constantinople at some time, even Chinese. Some reforms later, since 765 A.D. marked the beginning of a commercial revival that continued until 1204. The navy, the best force at the time of conflicts with Arabs, also declined. Such a trend likely is to be originating from a increased influence of local nobilities. Byzantium had some advance in terms of civilization with items like street-lighting, sports, polo-playing, or races in the circus, table forks. As soon as the 8th and 9th centuries, they used gunpowder -the so-called Greek fire. Women were held in high esteem in social as the sacredness of family life distinguished the Greek people. But many bloody crimes stain the pages of Byzantine history as regularly established institutions with blinding, mutilation, and death by torture as many emperors ended their life in the obscurity of apartments of the imperial palace. Byzantine civilization generally bore however a incurable gene in its core, the complete absence of originality, mostly once the ties with Eastern provinces were lost which can account for its gradual isolation from the creative and more universal West, along with the character of the government, the strictness of the court etiquette, a national and rather imperial than universal Church or the thought that the nations of the West were indeed barbarians in comparison. The Eastern, imperial Church even entered in conflicts with the missionarized -or not- Churches of its provinces which herselves turned nationalist by opposition to Greek domination hence the Church of Constantinople mostly became national, like the Church of the Greeks hence severing in turn any link with the West. In the West, eventually, only Africa, Sicily, and certain parts of Italy were ever under Byzantine rule for any length of time. A author coined the Byzantine world 'a Janus-like national character — genuine Christian self-sacrifice, unworldliness, and spirituality, side by side with avarice, cunning, and the refinement of cruelty.' Byzantium came to resort to three main influences, a Alexandrian-Hellenic, a Roman and a Oriental ones

From Rome to The Arab Conquest (395-717)

The Eastern Roman Empire, for a while remained politically under Roman influence with succession, palace or military revolutions, the coronation by the Patriarch of Constantinople as that period also showed a growing woman's importance in the family and society. Theodora, wife to Emperor Justinian, is a typical example. Constantinople generally had been transformed into an unrivaled fortress, with first powerful walls under Theodosius II during the first halve of the 5th century, as the empire endured the Slavic and Bulgar migrations began taking possession of the whole Balkan Peninsula or Slavs absorbing Bulgars and bringing some blood mixture to Greeks. Also Roman was the lasting conflict with the Persians and religious quarrels generally instrumental. The most prominent emperor at the time was Justinian (527-65), a scholar, whose uncle had taken power. He was a absolute monarch dealing with every aspect of the government, pedantically. He endeavoured to reunite his empire but his endeavours only tended to widen the breach, or allowed to Saint Sophia, churches in Ravenna which stemmed from the artistic movement rising in Persia and spread through Syria over Asia Minor and thence to Constantinople and the West. Africa was reconquered for a century and a half, all Italy for some decades and some cities of the Spanish coast were gained as Persian wars kept. Justinian restoration project was marred by a plague which stroke Constantinople and the entire Mediterranean basin, ultimately shrinking the Byzantine Empire's population by 20 percent at least, even infecting Justinian himself. The epidemy made Byzantine tax return unefficient as the reconquest policy needed more money. The time for a Roman Empire in the old sense of the term was past. The plague, which came from Ethiopia by 541, accentuated the withdrawal of the economy towards regions. Effects of that 'Justinianic Plague' varied considerably between different urban areas of late Antiquity as diversity of factors like climate and population density in different corners of the Byzantine empire also existed. The Justinianic Plague generally, likely was less deadly than thought. Justinian also kept the balance between a alliance with the papacy like instrumental for conquering the West as impress Theodora protected Monophysites, opponents to Rome. The succession to Justinian mostly was marred through plots and ambitions at the hands of women of the court. Under Mauritius, the real first 'Greek' emperor, the old Roman system of combining civil and military power was reestablished as military departments became administrative districts. The old Roman custom, by which the emperor had the final decision in ecclesiastical matters also continued, with laymen princes, and men who had held high state offices promoted to ecclesiastical offices, and that spiritual affairs were treated as a department of the government as monks in particular showed the greatest fearlessness in opposing their ecclesiastical superiors as well as the civil authority. Constantinople at the time managed to guarantee its supremacy over the trade routes to Central Asia. Industrial-scale production of wine and olive oil in monasteries existed during that time

The conquest of the East by the Arabs by the beginning of the 7th century, with the crushing battle of the Yarmuk by August 20th, 636, began at the time as the energetic, five-generation dynasty of Heraclius (610-641) ruled the empire. A strength of will carried those rulers at times to the point of obstinacy and a propensity to despotism distinguish the whole dynasty however. It managed to address the Herculean task of defending the empire against the foes bearing down on it from all sides like the Slavs in Dalmatia or Crete, which could be checked due to their divisions, the Bulgarians, the Persians, who took Jerusalem and the True Cross by 614 A.D. but were checked, and, of course, the Arabs who swiftly conquered the East and also built a fleet. That brought emperor Constans by 666 to consider to establish his capital back in Rome as many Christian families had emigrated from Asia Minor and Syria to Sicily, Lower Italy, and Rome, thus bringing the Byzantine power back in the West, as his assassination in 668 brought such plans to a end. Like in the West later with the Frankish cavalery, the Arab threat brought to a cavalry wearing defensive armour, the Byzantine cuirassiers or 'cataphracti'. The Byzantine army and navy still were strengths as it is said that a Syrian, Gallinicus, by 673 A.D. taught the Greeks the use of gunpowder or the 'Greek fire.' The military organization of the administration was expanded. The year 685 marks the beginning of the dynastic decline with dynastic feuds, intervention of foreigners and the army , and it was in this period that the Arabs conquered North Africa. The Byzantine empire, on the other hand, during that same epoch, kept enduring its usual religious quarrels as the attempt to quench the one of monophysitism only led to such a move, called monothelitism, considered heretic by the pope in Rome. The question was ruled with the banishment of pope Martin I as the loss of the eastern provinces to the Arabs also put a end to monothelitism

From Iconoclasm to Another Heigth (717-1057)

Both dynasties of Syrian and Phrygian origins came to a orientalization of the Byzantine empire at the time, which influenced the bitterness of renewed religious questions. Orientalization also is considered a way the emperors used to avoid the struggle with Islam by completely orientalizing the land. The Iconoclasm itself might have been part of the move as figures were forbidden in Islam or that the quarrel originated from the influence of varied Oriental sects as influenced by Judaism and Islam. The Iconoclastic fight was marked by the exile of monks favourable to icons into the West, the second council of Nicaea in 787 under empress Irene, the first and last empress reigning with the full title Basileus, a renewed pace since 814 to 842, mostly supported by the Byzantine military, as a empress and regent, Theodora, restored peace. The ecclesiastical had yielded to state authority, and while victorious in the dogmatic controversy vanquished in the ecclesiastico-political. Emperor Leo III, the Syrian (717-741), who saved Byzantium from the Arabian peril, wanted to make the empire superior to its foes, and brought the views of the oriental sects into the policy of the Byzantine empire condemning the veneration of images. It is thought that he hoped by this means to bring the people of the empire closer to Islam, to lessen the differences between the two religions. The Greeks immediately disaproved the decision and, once again, dogmatic and national antagonisms became involved in that struggle which eventually was also seen like the mean to emancipate Church from the State. Plato, abbot of the monastery of Saccudion, and his nephew Theodore, afterwards Abbot of Studium became the leaders of opposition as Greek monks exerted a powerful influence on the people. The Iconoclasts, on the other hand, sound modern because they were permeated with rationalistic anti-ecclesiastical sentiments. They mostly belonged to the cultured classes and the high dignitaries of Church and State. The Iconoclasm also brought to a opposition with the popes of Rome and that the Greek monks lost their influence on the people as it was regarded unpatriotic when Theodore of Studium and monks openly declared for Rome. That nationalistic sentiment again was marked during the Schism of Photius about 850 A.D. which marks the real first decisive step to the schism of 1054. Photius, defending the Bulgars against Rome sought at the time to establish the separation from Old Rome both in ritual and in dogma. The time generally was that when the antagonism of the Greeks to the Latins had gradually grown more intense. The renewed Frankish rule in the West, on the other hand, under the Carolingians and the eventual restoration of a Roman Empire in the West by Charlemagne in 800 put a definitive end to the claims the Byzantine emperor always had had of a sovereignty over the Germanic peoples. The Byzantine empire, despite such claims had remains loosely connected only with the West as by the 7th century at the latest, any pretention to rule beyond Asia Minor quickly proved unrealist. That step had been taken in full agreement with papacy. Albeit Carolingians tended to also enrole Church like a national one, popes did not give up their universal supremacy but soon began again to utilize politically their advantageous location midway between East and West. The basileus then still had the power to bargain but he could not heavily interfere in the West any more. The bargain bore upon to that Charlemagne did not claim the complete succession of Constantine's Roman empire albeit recognized 'Emperor' (but not of Romans) as the Byzantine emperor claimed to be styled 'basileus ton romaîon,' or 'Emperor of Romans.' Wars with Bulgars, Slavs -who began to be christianised and had a influence upon the Byzantine agrarian system- and Arabs -who reached to Sicily or Crete- continued also as Varangian Russ appeared in the plains of Russia

Despite a set of uncertain morality and varied baseness, the Byzantine empire passed to a dynasty founded by Basil the Macedonian (867-986) then Phocas (963-969), the first of a series of great military leaders, chiefly Armenian, Paphlagonian, and Cappadocian by race, who occupied the Byzantine throne, and who soon raised the empire to unforecast heights of power. A push to the East occurred as it might that the emperors of the time had anyway considered the borders of their empire stretching from Antioch to southen Italy only. A intellectual decline had occurred since the 6th century despite the close connection of the empire with the heritage of Antiquity as a Byzantine, or Macedonian Renaissance took place at the end of the first millennium with Arab or Persian science particularly in astronomy and mathematics and preservation of ancient texts. That likely was due to that apogee which the empire had reached then with cities expanding, affluence spreading because of security, rise of population or trade. Byzantine art since had some influence in countries like Italy where its standards applied. In opposition to the great generals, a civilian party had grown up which had for its aim the curtailment of military power but that diminished the Byzantine power and even great generals, like the chief of the Varangian bodyguard, for example, which was coming more and more into prominence were powerless to stem the tide of the decline. The military, holders of great landed estates in Asia Minor eventually rebelled and gave the power to one of their own faction as emperor Isaac I, Comnenus, inaugurated a new era in 1057. By the 8th and 9th centuries, civil service constituted the clearest path to aristocratic status, but, starting in the 9th century, the civil aristocracy was rivaled by an aristocracy of nobility eventually leading, by the 11th century to a competition between those civil and the military aristocracies. Byzantium at the time definitively lost Sicily to the Saracens in 878. But the generals by 875 had conquered Lower Italy as the 'Lombard thema' had been established. The renewed question of two empires appeared back with the recently founded Saxon line as Byzantines equally were able to hold their own, like they had managed to do with Charlemagne. Byzantines also took to profit the fall of the Caliphate of Bagdad to push forward the eastern frontier since about 928 as Crete was wrested back from the Arabs in 961 as a struggle against the Bulgarians unfolded, with the interference of Kievian Rus, ending by 1014 only. The Greek Empire at the time stood on a height it was never again to reach. Decline came with, after 1021 Armenia gradually passing under the sway of the Seljuk Turks, Lower Italy conquered after 1041 by the Normans, the first appearance of the Turks and the Western Germans who were to be the destroyers of Byzantium. Such moves was facilitated due to the behavior of the Eastern Church which wounded national feelings, disregard to a point any obligation of a universal church. The decline of the peasantry generally, in the previous centuries, occurred to the benefit of provincial nobility which invested its wealth in landed possessions. That brought to a menace to the feed of the military as land tenures also were threatened by monastic holdings. A aristocratic party thus gradually emerged and eventually the dominent force into doing and undoing succession to the imperial crown as some cavalry or naval feudal regime further, in some regions and for military reasons also had reinforced the move

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, http://schoolsempire.6te.net. Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 9/25/2014. contact us at ggwebsites@outlook.com
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