History of The Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople.
It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453.
The terms "Byzantine Empire" and "Eastern Roman Empire" were coined after the end of the realm; its citizens continued to refer to their empire simply as the Roman Empire, and to themselves as Romans a term which Greeks continued to use for themselves into Ottoman times.
Although the Roman state continued and its traditions were maintained, modern historians distinguish Byzantium from its earlier incarnation because it was centered on Constantinople, oriented towards Greek rather than Latin culture, and characterised by Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
Born around 482 CE in the Balkans, Justinian I was a peasant son before being taken under the wing of his uncle Justin I, a former soldier who later became the Byzantine emperor. Justinian succeeded Justin in 527 CE, and became the most influential emperor in the history of the Byzantine Empire.
In the 38 years of Justinian I’s rule, Constantinople flourished into one of the richest cities in the world. The emperor was responsible for codifying Roman law, which shaped the modern concept of the state. He was also responsible for building the incredible Hagia Sophia.
Byzantine chariot racing had two teams, the Blues and the Greens, who were sworn enemies with violent supporters. However, in 532 CE, discontent over taxation and the attempted execution of two of their leaders saw the enemies join forces, burning buildings and even trying to crown a new ruler. Known as the Nika Riots, an estimated 30,000 people died from the violence.
The writings of Greek thinkers such as Plato, Ptolemy, and Galen might have been lost if not for the Byzantine Empire. Constantinople’s libraries safeguarded Greek and Roman texts that were slowly vanishing in the West.
Constantinople’s towering city walls kept invading Goths, Persians, Russians and Arabs at bay for centuries, but they weren't ready for new military technology. In the spring of 1453 CE, having already conquered most of the Byzantine frontier, Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II laid siege to the capital with a collection of cannons, designed by a Hungarian engineer. After bombarding the city's defenses for several weeks, they blasted a wall and managed to invade.
When the Crusaders couldn't continue on to seize Jerusalem due to cash shortages, they made a detour to Constantinople to restore a deposed emperor to the throne. After a deal to fund their expedition to the Holy Lands fell through in 1204 CE, the Crusaders carried out a bloody attack on the city, stealing its treasure, art, and religious relics. While the Byzantines later recaptured Constantinople in 1261, the empire would never regain its former glory.
Over the centuries, its Greek-speaking Church developed distinct liturgical differences from the Catholic, Latin-speaking Church in the West. The theological tension rose in 1054 CE when the Churches issued decrees excommunicating one another, known as the Great Schism. This then created two separate branches of Christianity.
When the Byzantine Empire began, Latin was the official language of the courts, even though Greek was the primary spoken language. Later on, the divide between the two empires would further deepen when Greek was made the official language of the Byzantines.
During the height of their reign, the Byzantine Empire had one of the most powerful economies thanks to their organized infrastructure, which took advantage of their strategic location to build a lucrative economy.
Byzantium was a strategic location on the Bosporus strait, which effectively connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea by way of the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara. It's still one of the most significant straits for oil trade in the world.
After taking back power from the Crusaders, the empire struggled into the 15th century. The emperors gradually lost their importance in favor of religious officials, and in 1453 CE, when the Ottoman army sieged Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire fell.