Chapter 13
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Chapter 13. The Commonwealth of Byzantium. Byzantine Empire. -After the collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire the Byzantine eastern section survived for another millennium. - Byzantium dominated the eastern Mediterranean world politically and economically for centuries.

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Chapter 13

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Chapter 13

The Commonwealth of Byzantium

Byzantine Empire

  • -After the collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire the Byzantine eastern section survived for another millennium.

  • - Byzantium dominated the eastern Mediterranean world politically and economically for centuries.

  • - Even after its collapse the Byzantine Empire’s influence could be seen in the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe and Russia.

The Early Byzantine Empire

  • At its height Byzantium included Greece, Anatolia, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, northeast Africa, and the Balkans.

  • Byzantium faced threats from the Sasanid dynasty in Persia but managed to escape the Germanic invasions that had devastated the western half of the empire.

Political Structure

  • the Byzantine state was marked by a highly centralized rule centered around a remarkably powerful emperor.

  • Byzantine emperors wielded a mixture of political and religious authority known as caesaropapism.

  • In theory, the emperor possessed absolute authority in all political, military, judicial, and religious affairs


  • Justinian, despite humble origins, became the most influential of the Byzantine emperors.

    • attempted to re-create the Roman Empire.

    • Justinian’s codification of Roman law, as seen in the Corpus iuris civilis, was the emperor’s most influential legal and political contribution.

    • The general Belisarius’s conquests reconstructed most of the Roman Empire.

Did it last???

  • A combination of limited Byzantine resources and Arabic expansion made holding the old empire together impossible.

  • The former western half of the empire increasingly fell to successor states.

  • The Frankish king Charlemagne received an imperial crown from the pope in 800 and Otto of Saxony claimed to rule the west in 962.

Byzantine Economy and Society

  • While its political authority fluctuated over the centuries, Byzantium remained an economic power.

  • Byzantium was at its strongest when free peasants formed the engine that drove the state.

    • free peasants were bolstered by the theme system that provided land in return for military service.

Byzantine Economy and Society

  • The consolidation of power and land in the hands of the nobles not only hurt the peasants but also damaged the Byzantine empire militarily.

  • Constantinople remained the major center of trade and industry in the Mediterranean world.

    • major innovation was the rise of a silk industry

  • Byzantium’s domination of trade is best shown in the bezant, which became the standard currency in the Mediterranean for centuries.

  • Constantinople—the largest city in Europe, with a population of around one million—stood in the center of everything and was a worthy successor to Rome as “the city” of the Mediterranean basin.

Classical Heritage and Orthodox Christianity

  • Byzantium was most strongly influenced by Greek culture.

    • Greek became the official language

  • Byzantine education clearly showed the Greek influence

    • a state-supported school system provided for widespread literacy.

    • A school for the study of law, medicine, and philosophy in Constantinople survived for a thousand years.

Classical Heritage and Orthodox Christianity

  • Big difference between the western and eastern halves of the empire in ecclesiastical matters

  • The Byzantine emperors played a very active role in religious issues

    • Constantine calling together the Council of Nicaea to attack Arian views on the nature of Jesus

    • Leo III’s iconoclasm is a classic example of imperial meddling in religious affairs.

Council of Nicaea, 325 CE

Classical Heritage and Orthodox Christianity

  • Monasticism

  • Byzantine monasteries were known for their spiritual and social aid to their communities

  • Tensions over issues ranging from doctrine to power led to the patriarch and pope mutually excommunicating each other in 1054,

    • the beginning of the schism between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.

The Influence of Byzantium in Eastern Europe

  • Byzantine power was threatened by internal social problems and challenges from the west and east.

  • The sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 devastated Byzantium and increased tensions between the old halves of the Roman Empire.

The 4th Crusade and Constantinople falls

The Influence of Byzantium in Eastern Europe

  • The victory of the Saljuq Turks at Manzikert in 1071 led to the loss of Anatolia and economic devastation.

  • After centuries of decay, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

  • While Byzantium’s direct hold on the Mediterranean world threatened by Islamic expansion,

    • its influence on the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe and Russia only increased.

The Influence of Byzantium in Eastern Europe

  • Greek Orthodox missionaries spread the faith northward

  • Two missionaries, Saints Cyril and Methodius, adopted the Greek alphabet to the Slavic tongue to create the Cyrillic alphabet,

    • which allowed for the further spread of religious as well as secular thought.

The Influence of Byzantium in Eastern Europe

  • Prince Vladimir’s conversion turned Kiev, the first center of Russian power, into a center of Byzantine culture.

  • By the sixteenth century Russians spoke of Moscow as the world’s third Rome.

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