Byzantines/History

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The Byzantine empire was formed from the Eastern Roman Empire, when the Roman emperor Constantine moved the seat of Roman rule from Rome to the ancient Greek city of Byzantium (which quickly became known as Constantinople, now known as Istanbul in present-day Turkey), while the western part of the Roman Empire was completely overrun by Germanic barbarians. Separated from the rest of Europe, yet located at the very crossroads of both Europe, Africa and the Middle East, the Byzantines would continue to rule an empire, develop a unique culture of their own and remain a local power until Byzantium and the entire Greek peninsula were lost to Muslim invaders in the 15th century.
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Dark Ages of Rome[edit]

In the 4th century, Emperor Constantine the Great (306–337), after seizing the title and position of Augustus of the Western Roman Empire, made Christianity a licit religion with the Edict of Milan in 313CE. This official toleration of the Christian religion was the turning point in the history of Christianity and of the development of the Empire. Constantine became the Emperor of the whole Roman Empire, ushering in the first lasting imperial dynasty in roughly 100 years. He called the Council of Nicaea in 325, the first Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church, starting a long tradition of Roman Emperors calling and endorsing Church councils. Through this endorsement of Christianity, Constantine ensured the importance of the religion for the remainer of the empire (Emperor Theodosius in AD 380 made Christianity the only imperial religion, making the link between the Roman Empire and the Church official).

It was also at this time that the Empire became divided into the Eastern and Western Roman Empire and so five years later, Constantine, wishing to move his imperial capital away from the pagan past of Old Rome (and, of course, the barbarian incursions to the north) founded his new capital at the ancient Greek city of Byzantium, which he renamed Nova Roma. This new capital became known as Constantinopolis (Constantinople in English), that is to say, "the city of Constantine." This relocation, along with the focus on the newly endorsed religion of Christianity at Nicaea, cemented the importance of the eastern section of the Empire perminently. The western part of the empire would persist for roughly another century and a half, but it would never regain prominance again within the Empire itself. The west would be ruled by a line of titular emperors and military viceroys based in Milan. Later, the emperor Theodosius the Great (379–395) officially divided the Empire into two independant states, which inevitably lead to the downfall of the Western Empire from constant barbarian assault.

By the beginning of the 6th century, with the capital and most of the land holdings of the Empire now in the Greek-speaking east, the formerly pagan Italo-Roman Empire became culturally and geographically a Christian Graeco-Roman Empire. This Hellenisation caused later western historians to give the name "Byzantine" to the empire. Officially and popularly, however, the empire was Roman,
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with its inhabitants called Romans (or in Greek, "Romaioi"), until the collapse and eventual extinction of the Byzantines in 1461.

Justinian dynasty[edit]

Justinian I (527–565) pushed for the reconquest of territory lost during the Empire's disintegration in the west. The general Belisarius, under the orders of his emperor, managed to reincorporate much of the territory around the Mediterranean coast in North Africa, Italy and Spain. The conquests the Empire made under Justinian, however, drained much of the Empire's fortunes causing it to be ill-equipped to retain its territory under the threat of foreign invasion. This, in conjunction with the constant wars with Persia, set the empire up for failure in regard to repelling Slavic invasions in the the 6th century and Islamic Arab invasions in the 7th century. Between the death of Emperor Heraclius in 641 until the rise of the Macedonian Emperors in 867, the Byzantine Empire was reduced to barely more than Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and parts of the Italian peninsula.

The other major accomplishments of Justinian were his institution of administrative and legal reforms that would become the cornerstone of jurisprudence in Europe and his reconstruction of the great church Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, which would remain the largest Christian church for a millenium.

Macedonian dynasty[edit]

In 867, the so-called Macedonian dynasty took the throne of the Byzantine Empire. They managed to again retake much of their lost territory and drove Muslim pirates from the Aegean sea, allowing Byzantine trade to resume unimpeded. This period saw a period of economic growth and a cultural renaissance. The Byzantines also began to spread Christianity to the Bulgarians, Serbs and then the Russians. After the Macedonian dynasty the Byzantines again began to decline.

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The Coming of the Turks and Manzikert[edit]

From the East the Turks defeated the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert, a blow that saw almost the whole of the Byzantine military force wiped out in just a few weeks. The empire would hold out a little longer and even recover some power under the so-called Comnenian reforms, but the damage was done. From the west, European powers began to make incursions into Greece, culminating in the sack of Constantinople by the marauding armies of the 4th Crusade in 1204. Little by little, the Byzantine Empire was stripped away until only Constantinople held out. The final blow came in 1453 when the Ottoman Turks, under Mehmed the Conqueror, took the city and the title of "Caesar" after a lengthy siege. Once more, Constantinople would be the center of a great Mediterranean empire again, but this time renamed Istanbul when the Turks moved their capital west from Konya to the city. By now only Morea, a small state in southern Greece, remained in Byzantine hands but its fate was soon sealed. Ruled by members of the Palaeologoi, its despot David tried to incite the Catholics to launch a crusade but instead invited the wrath of the Turks, and so in 1461, the Turks marched into the Pelopennesus, effectively exterminating the Byzantine Empire once and for all.

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References[edit]