Byzantine Empire

History of the Byzantine Empire

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The history of the Byzantine Empire (also known as the Eastern Roman Empire) began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. Following this, the empire continued to exist for another thousand years in its eastern provinces, until the fall of its capital Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. During most of its tenure, the Byzantine Empire was the most formidable economic, cultural, and military force in Europe. Although the Roman state continued in the east and its traditions were maintained, the empire was now centered on Constantinople. Its new orientation was to the east, embracing Greek rather than Latin culture, and practicing Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

The Roman Empire’s Greek Eastern and Latin Western halves diverged when Constantine I (r. 324–337) reorganized the empire. He made Constantinople the new capital and allowed Christianity to flourish to the point where it became the state religion and other religions were forbidden. Then in the 7th century, he restructured the Empire’s government and military and adopted Greek for government use in place of Latin.

Under Justinian I (r. 527–565), the empire reached its greatest extent after it reconquered many of the lands of the former Western Roman Empire around the Mediterranean basin, and held them for two centuries more. But the empire’s wars with Persia in the early 7th century exhausted its resources, and it lost its richest provinces, Egypt and Syria, to Muslim conquest. During the Macedonian dynasty (10th–11th centuries), the empire grew again. This Macedonian Renaissance provided a longer period of prosperity. But the loss of much of Asia Minor to the Seljuk Turks after the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 opened the way for the Turks to establish themselves in Anatolia. During the Komnenian restoration, the empire recovered and Constantinople became the largest and wealthiest city in 12th-century Europe. The Fourth Crusade dealt a mortal blow with its sack of Constantinople in 1204. With this, the empire’s lands were parceled out to its rivals, and the once-mighty Byzantine Empire became just one of several small feuding states in the area. Finally, the last of its territories were absorbed by the Ottomans in their conquests of the 14th and 15th centuries, and the fall of Constantinople to its Ottoman conquerors in 1453 put an end to the Byzantine Empire.

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