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Byzantium. Lesson 4. ID & SIG:. Byzantine bureaucracy, Byzantine Empire, caesarpapism , Constantine, Constantinople, Council of Nicea, Eastern Orthodox Church, iconoclasm, Justinian Code, Schism, theme system . Centralizing Aspects of Byzantine Civilization. Theme System Constantinople

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Lesson 4

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  • Byzantine bureaucracy, Byzantine Empire, caesarpapism, Constantine, Constantinople, Council of Nicea, Eastern Orthodox Church, iconoclasm, Justinian Code, Schism, theme system

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Centralizing Aspects of Byzantine Civilization

  • Theme System

  • Constantinople

  • Social Hierarchy

  • Religion

  • Justinian Code

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Byzantine Empire

  • In the centuries after 200 A.D., most of the classical societies collapsed in the wake of epidemic disease, declining population, economic contraction, political turmoil, social unrest, and external military threats

  • Only the eastern half of the Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire) survived

    • We’ll discuss the Roman Empire in Lesson 5

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Justinian (527-565 A.D.)

  • Most important of the early Byzantine emperors

  • Beginning in 533 he sent his general Belisarius on military campaigns that recaptured Italy, Sicily, northwestern Africa, and southern Spain

  • By the end of his reign in 565, Justinian had reconstituted a good portion of the classical Roman empire

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Importance of Byzantine Empire

  • Kept classical society alive as the political and economic powerhouse of the postclassical period

  • Dominated the wealthy and productive eastern Mediterranean until the 12th Century

    • Led to the formation of a large, multicultural zone of trade, communication, interaction, and exchange

  • Deeply influenced historical development of Slavic people in eastern Europe and Russia in terms of writing, Christianity, codified law, and political organization

    • “Byzantine commonwealth” refers to this broad political, cultural, and economic influence

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  • Inland areas focused on livestock farming, especially on the large estates and ranches

  • In the more well-watered coastal areas, the focus was on grain and olive production and fishing

  • Supported by free peasantry under theme system

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Social Hierarchy: Theme System

  • After the 8th Century, the Byzantine Empire was much reduced by an expansive Islamic state

  • The invasions broke up the large estates and Byzantine rulers reorganized society under the theme system

    • An imperial province (theme) was placed under the control of a general who was responsible for both its military defense and civil administration

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Social Hierarchy: Theme System

  • The generals were closely supervised to prevent decentralization of power and authority

  • They recruited their armies from the ranks of the free peasants who received land in exchange for their military service

    • This strengthened the class of free peasants which in turn solidified Byzantium’s agricultural economy

  • Proved to be an effective defense against Islamic aggression and also maintained the Byzantine political and social order from the 8th through the 12th Century

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Social Hierarchy: Free Peasants

  • The peasants weren’t slaves but they weren’t entirely free either

    • They were often either bound to the land or worked as sharecroppers

  • Gradually, however, wealthy landowners reestablished their large holdings and by the 11th Century they had reduced the peasants into an increasingly dependent class

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Social Hierarchy: Free Peasants

  • The decline of a free peasantry both eroded the imperial tax base and the pool of military recruits

  • Large landowners raised their own forces, but these served the interests of the estate rather than the imperial government

  • Concentration of land and rural resources in private hands caused political, military, and economic difficulties for the Byzantine government in its last centuries

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Hagia Sophia

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  • Roman emperor Constantine moved the imperial capital to Byzantium, which he had renamed Constantinople, in 340 A.D.

    • Huge maritime strategic significance by controlling Black Sea access via the Bosporus Straits

    • Reflected the fact that the eastern Mediterranean had become the more productive part of the Roman empire

  • Referred to simply as “the City”

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Constantinople: Living Conditions

  • Imperial palace employed a staff of 20,000

  • Aristocrats maintained enormous palaces

  • Women lived in separate apartments and did not receive male visitors from outside the household

  • Artisans and craftsmen usually lived in rooms above their shops

  • Clerks and government officials lived in multistory apartment buildings

  • Workers and the poor lived in rickety tenements with shared facilities

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Constantinople: Attractions

  • Justinian rebuilt and improved Constantinople after much of it had been destroyed in riots against high taxes

  • The was a stadium adjacent to the imperial palace that was the site of chariot races, athletic matches, and circuses

  • Baths for relaxation, exercise, and hygiene; taverns and restaurants; theaters

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Social Hierarchy

Soldier and Chancellor

Page and Emperor

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Social Hierarchy

  • Tightly centralized control in the hands of a highly exalted emperor

  • High officials presented themselves to emperors as slaves, not subjects

  • The emperor was served by a large bureaucracy

    • Today the word “byzantine” implies unnecessary complexity and convolution as reflected the intricacies of the Byzantine bureaucracy

Justinian’s wife Theodora did much to assist Justinian in establishing a grand imperial court

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Religion and Education

Holy Monastery of Ágiou Pavlou

The Virgin of Vladmir

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Religion: Caesaropapism

  • Constantine was the first Christian emperor and he claimed divine favor and sanction for his rule

  • He initiated caesaropapism by which the emperor ruled not only as secular lord but also played a prominent role in ecclesiastical affairs

    • Political and religious authority was mixed

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Religion: Caesaropapism

  • Constantine intervened regularly in theological debates

  • In 325 A.D., he called the Council of Nicea which brought together Christian leaders to consider the views of the Arians

    • Arians taught that Jesus was a mortal man rather than God Himself

    • Arianism was condemned as heresy

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Religion: Nicean Creed

          he ascended into heaven          and is seated at the right hand          of the Father.          He will come again in glory          to judge the living and the dead,          and his kingdom will  have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord,          and the giver of life,      who proceeds from the Father and the Son,      who with the Father and the Son          is worshiped and glorified,      who has spoken through the prophets.      We believe in the one holy catholic           and apostolic church.      We acknowledge one baptism          for the forgiveness of sins.      We look for the resurrection of the dead,          and the life of the world to come. Amen.

We believe in one God      the Father, the Almighty,      maker of heaven and earth,      of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,      the only Son of God,      eternally begotten of the Father,      God from God, Light from Light,      true God from true God,      begotten, not made,      of one Being with the Father;      through him all things were made.      For us and for our salvation          he came down from heaven,          was incarnate of the Holy Spirit          and the Virgin Mary          and became truly human.          For our sake he was crucified          under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again          in accordance with the


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Religion: Schism

  • Emperors appointed individuals to serve as the patriarch of Constantinople, the counterpart of the pope in Rome

  • Byzantine patriarchs and Roman popes disputed theology as well as their rights and powers

  • Ultimately relations became so strained that in 1054 the patriarch and the pope mutually excommunicated each other

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Religion: Schism

  • This split between eastern and western churches continues today

  • The eastern church after 1054 is known as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the western church is the Roman Catholic Church

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox

Church in Biloxi, MS

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Religion: Iconoclasm

  • Byzantium had a long tradition of producing icons-- paintings of Jesus, saints, and other religious figures

  • Emperor Leo III ruled that veneration of these icons amounted to idolatry

  • In 726, he embarked on the policy of iconoclasm (“the breaking of icons”)

  • The policy met much resistance and was abandoned in 843

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Religion: Monasteries

  • Christian ascetics devoted themselves to extreme self-denial

    • Disciples gathered around them and formed communities dedicated to following their example

    • These communities became the earliest monasteries

St. Basil of Caesarea (329 to 379) urged monasteries to adopt rules including giving up personal possessions, living communally, obeying elected superiors, and being devoted to work and prayer

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Religion: Mount Athos

  • The most famous austere monastery is Mount Athos, located in northern Greece

  • Since the 11th Century, Mount Athos has been off-limits to all females, human or animal

  • Monks at Mount Athos and other Basilian monasteries represented a more immediate and meaningful faith to the Byzantine laity than did the theological and ecclesiastical bureaucrats in Constantinople

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Religion: Missionaries

  • Byzantium sent missionaries to the Balkans to convert people to Orthodox Christianity

  • In the 9th Century, Cyril and Methodius went to Bulgaria and Moravia and devised the Cyrillic alphabet for the previously illiterate Slavs

    • Still used in Russia and other parts of the former USSR

  • Cyrillic writing stimulated conversion because it facilitated translation of the Scriptures and religious education was also included in literacy education

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Economic Exchange

Bezant ca. 690 A.D.

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Economic Exchange

  • Constantinople served as a clearinghouse for trade in the western part of Eurasia

  • Byzantium dominated trade to such an extent that traders recognized the Byzantine gold coin, the bezant, as the standard currency of the Mediterranean basin from the 6th through the 12th Centuries

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Economic Exchange

  • Byzantium grew wealthy from its control of trade, the customs duties it levied, and the value added it gained from processing raw materials brought to it

    • Principal supplier of silk in the Mediterranean basin

    • Took gems from India and made jewelry

    • Took raw woolen cloth from western Europe and dyed it

    • Organized banks and partnerships to fuel trade

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Justinian’s Code

  • Justinian ordered a thorough review of Roman law and codified it in the Corpus iuris civilis (Body of the Civil Law)

  • Compiled early Roman laws and legal principles and illustrated them by cases

  • Influenced civil law codes throughout much of western Europe

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Decline of Byzantium

  • In 1071 Muslim Saljuqs won an important victory at Manzikert

  • Byzantine factions them turned on each other in civil war, allowing the Saljuqs almost free rein in Anatolia

  • By the late 12th Century, the Saljuqs controlled much of Anatolia and crusaders from western Europe held much of the remainder

  • Without the wealthy region of Anatolia, Byzantium steadily declined until the Ottoman Turks finally captured Constantinople in 1453

    • We’ll discuss Islam in Lesson 15 and the Crusades in Lesson 22

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Next Lesson

  • Roman Empire

Julius Caesar