Christian History

Byzantine Empire

Excerpt(s) from: Internet Source(s), Church sites, (2007-2008)

Page Index

Byzantine Empire:
    Introduction - time and place
    Citizenship: - absorption of provinces
    The Roman Empire: - c.395 AD.
    Eastern Roman Empire - c. 476 AD.
    Byzantine Empire - around 550
    Byzantine Empire - at the accession of Leo III, c. 717
    Byzantine Empire - under Basil II, c. 1025
    Byzantine Empire - Alexios I Komnenos, c. 1081
    Byzantine Empire - John II Comnenus, c. 1118-1143
    Byzantine Empire - Manuel Komnenos, c. 1170
    Byzantine Empire - up to the Fourth Crusade, c.1204
    The Final Days - the Sack of Constantinople, 1204


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Byzantine Empire

Excerpt: from Timothy Ministries online

Headings added for clarity and navigation purposes.

The Byzantine Empire

(Eastern Christian Empire)

The Time and Place of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantine Empire (Greek: Βασιλεία) is the term conventionally used since the 19th century to describe the Greek-speaking Roman Empire (see Rome) during the Middle Ages, centered at its capital in Constantinople. In certain specific contexts, usually referring to the time before the fall of the Western Roman Empire, it is also often referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire. There is no consensus on the starting date of the Byzantine period. Some place it during the reign of Diocletian (284–305) due to the administrative reforms he introduced, dividing the empire into a pars Orientis and a pars Occidentis. Some consider Constantine the Great its founder. Others place it during the reign of Theodosius I (379–395) and Christendom's victory over Roman religion, or, following his death in 395, with the division of the empire into western and eastern halves. Map of the Roman Empire ca. 395, showing the dioceses and praetorian prefectures of Gaul, Italy, Illyricum and Oriens (east), roughly analogous to the four Tetrarchs‘ zones of influence after Diocletian's reforms. Map of the Roman Empire ca. 395, showing the dioceses and praetorian prefectures of Gaul, Italy, Illyricum and Oriens (east), roughly analogous to the four Tetrarchs‘ zones of influence after Diocletian's reforms.

Others place it yet further in 476, when the last western emperor, Romulus Augustus, was forced to abdicate, thus leaving sole imperial authority to the emperor in the Greek East.

In any case, the changeover was gradual and by 330, when Constantine inaugurated his new capital, the process of further Hellenization and increasing Christianization (see Christianity was already underway.

The name Byzantine Empire is derived from the original Greek name for Constantinople, Byzantium. The name is a modern term and would have been alien to its contemporaries. The Empire's native Greek name was Ῥωμανία Romanía or Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων Basileía Romaíon, a direct translation of the Latin name of the Roman Empire, Imperium Romanorum. The term 'Byzantium' seems to have been first re-introduced by 15th century classicising Greeks who preferred it to 'Constantinople'. Through the translations of their texts into Latin, its usage was picked up north of the Alps by historians who were just becoming acquainted with the art of historiography. Hence, to the best of our knowledge, the term Byzantine Empire was introduced in 1557, about a century after the fall of Constantinople by German historian Hieronymus Wolf, who presented a system of Byzantine historiography in his work Corpus Historiae Byzantinae in order to distinguish ancient Roman from medieval Greek history without drawing attention to their ancient predecessors. So far, it appears that there has been no study tracking the reasons why that term came to gain prominence.

Nevertheless, standardization of the term began gradually in the 18th century, when French authors such as Montesquieu began to popularize it. Hieronymus himself was influenced by the rift caused by the 9th century dispute between Romans (Byzantines as we render them today) and Franks, who, under Charlemagne's newly formed empire, and in concert with the Pope, attempted to legitimize their conquests by claiming inheritance of Roman rights in Italy thereby renouncing their eastern neighbours as true Romans. The Donation of Constantine, one of the most famous forged documents in history, played a crucial role in this. Henceforth, it was fixed policy in the West to refer to the emperor in Constantinople not by the usual "Imperator Romanorum" (Emperor of the Romans) which was now reserved for the Frankish monarch, but as "Imperator Graecorum" (Emperor of the Greeks) and the land as "Imperium Graecorum", "Graecia", "Terra Graecorum" or even "Imperium Constantinopolitanum".

This served as a precedent for Wolf who was motivated, at least partly, to re-interpret Roman history in different terms. Nevertheless, this was not intended in a demeaning manner since he ascribed his changes to historiography and not history itself. Later, a derogatory use of 'Byzantine' was developed.

"Byzantium may be defined as a multi-ethnic empire that emerged as a Christian empire. It soon comprised the Hellenized empire of the East and ended its thousand year history, in 1453, as a Greek Orthodox state: An empire that became a nation, almost by the modern meaning of the word".

In the centuries following the Arab and Lombard conquests in the 7th century, its multi-ethnic (albeit not multi-national) nature remained even though its constituent parts in the Balkans and Asia Minor contained an overwhelmingly large Greek population. Ethnic minorities and sizeable communities of religious heretics often lived on or near the borderlands, the Armenians being the only sizeable one.

The Byzantines identified themselves as Romans (Ρωμαίοι – Romans) which, by the 12th century, had already become a synonym for a Hellene (Έλλην – Greek). However, the term was used for mainly legal and administrative purposes. The Byzantines preferred to call themselves Romioi (Ρωμιοί – Christian Greeks with Roman citizenship). The Byzantines were also developing a national consciousness as residents of Ρωμανία (Romania, as the Byzantine state and its world were called). This nationalist awareness is reflected in literature, particularly in the acritic songs, where frontiersmen (ακρίτες) are praised for defending their country against invaders, of which the most famous is the heroic or epic poem Digenis Acritas.

To the Byzantines, "Romans" and "Latins" were two completely different, almost opposite terms. From all their contemporaries, it was only the Islamic world that referred to them under their constitutional name "Rum" (=Romans). Northern Europeans, Latins and Slavs (namely Russians), would refer to them simply as "Greeks". Modern historians use terms such as Byzantines, Greeks, or even Byzantine Greeks interchangeably.

The overwhelming majority of the Byzantines were conscious of their continuity with the ancient Greeks. Even though the ancient Greeks were not Christians, the Byzantines regarded them as their ancestors. In fact, the Byzantines did not only refer to themselves as Romioi in order to retain both their Roman citizenship and their ancient Hellenic heritage. A common substitute for the term Hellene (which had pagan connotations) other than Romios was the term Graekos (Γραίκος). This term was often used by the Byzantines (along with Romios) for ethnic self-identification.

Evidence of the use of the term Graekos can be found in the works of Priscus, a historian of the 5th century AD. The historian stated in one of his accounts that while on an unofficial embassy to Attila the Hun, he had met at Attila's court someone who dressed like a Scythian yet spoke Greek. When Priskos asked the person where he had learned the language, the man smiled and said that he was a Graekos by birth.

Many authors spoke of the Eastern Roman Empire's natives as Greeks [Graekoi] or Hellenes such as Constantine Porphyrogenitus of the 10th century AD. His accounts discuss the revolt of a Slavic tribe in the district of Patras in the Peloponnesos. On a sidenote, the Slavic revolt was not the outcome of a larger Slavic invasion since most Slavs were placed in Sclavinai or segregated Slavic communities meant to provide Byzantine forces extra man-power for military campaigns. Constantine states that the Slavs who revolted first proceeded to sack the dwellings of their neighbors, the Greeks (ton Graikon), and next they moved against the inhabitants of the city of Patras.

The official dissolution of the Byzantine state in the 15th century did not immediately undo Byzantine society. During the Ottoman occupation Greeks continued to identify themselves as both Ρωμαιοί (Romans) and Έλληνες (Hellenes), a trait that survived into the early 20th century and still persists today in modern Greece, albeit the former has now retreated to a secondary folkish name rather than a national synonym as in the past.

Citizenship in the Empire

Caracalla's decree in 212, the Constitutio Antoniniana, extended citizenship outside of Italy to all free adult males in the entire Roman Empire, effectively raising provincial populations to equal status with the city of Rome itself. The importance of this decree is historical rather than political. It set the basis for integration where the economic and judicial mechanisms of the state could be applied around the entire Mediterranean as was once done from Latium into all of Italy. Of course, integration did not take place uniformly. Societies already integrated with Rome such as Greece were favored by this decree, compared with those far away, too poor or just too alien such as Britain, Palestine or Egypt.

The division of the Empire began with the Tetrarchy (quadrumvirate) in the late 3rd century with Emperor Diocletian, as an institution intended to more efficiently control the vast Roman Empire. He split the Empire in half, with two emperors (Augusti) ruling from Italy and Greece, each having as co-emperor a younger colleague of their own (Caesares). After Diocletian's voluntary abandonment of the throne, the Tetrarchic system began soon to crumble: the division continued in some form into the 4th century until 324 when Constantine the Great killed his last rival and became the sole emperor. Constantine decided to found a new capital for himself and chose Byzantium for that purpose. The rebuilding process was completed in 330.

Constantine renamed the city Nova Roma, but the populace would commonly call it Constantinople (in Greek, Κωνσταντινούπολις, Constantinoúpolis, meaning Constantine's City). This new capital became the centre of his administration. Constantine deprived the single praetorian prefect of his civil functions, introducing regional prefects with civil authority. During the 4th century, four great "regional prefectures" were also created.

Constantine was also probably the first Christian emperor. The religion, which had been persecuted under Diocletian, became a "permitted religion" and steadily increased its power as years passed, apart from a short-lived return to pagan predominance under the emperor Julian. Although the empire was not yet "Byzantine" under Constantine, Christianity would become one of the defining characteristics of the Byzantine Empire, as opposed to the pagan Roman Empire (see Rome.

Constantine also introduced a new stable gold coin, the solidus, which was to become the standard coin for centuries, and not only in the Byzantine Empire. Another defining moment in the history of the Roman/Byzantine Empire was the Battle of Adrianople in 378 in which the Emperor Valens and the best of the remaining Roman legions were killed by the Visigoths. This defeat has been proposed by some authorities as one possible date for dividing the ancient and medieval worlds.

The Roman Empire, c.395 AD.

The Roman Empire was divided further by Valens' successor Theodosius I (also called "the Great"), who had ruled both parts since 392: following the dynastic principle well established by Constantine, in 395 Theodosius gave the two halves to his two sons Arcadius and Honorius; Arcadius became ruler of the eastern half, with his capital in Constantinople, and Honorius became ruler of the western half, with his capital in Ravenna. Theodosius was the last Roman emperor whose authority covered the entire traditional extent of the Roman Empire. At this point, it is common to refer to the empire as "Eastern Roman" rather than "Byzantine."

The Eastern Roman Empire was largely spared the difficulties of the west in the 3rd and 4th centuries (see Crisis of the Third Century) in part because urban culture was better established there and the initial invasions were attracted to the wealth of Rome. Throughout the 5th century, various invasions conquered the western half of the Roman Empire and at best only demanded tribute from the eastern half. Theodosius II fortified the walls of Constantinople, leaving the city impenetrable to attacks: it was to be preserved from foreign conquest until 1204. To spare the Eastern Roman Empire from the invasion of the Huns of Attila, Theodosius gave them subsidies of gold. Moreover, he favored merchants living in Constantinople who traded with the barbarians. His successor, Marcian, refused to continue to pay the great sum. However, Attila had already diverted his attention from the Western Roman Empire and died in 453 after the Battle of Chalons. The Hunnic Empire collapsed and Constantinople was free from the menace of Attila. This started a profitable relationship between the Eastern Roman Empire and the remaining Huns. The Huns would eventually fight as mercenaries in Byzantine armies during the following centuries.

At the time since the fall of Attila, the true chief in Constantinople was the Alan general Aspar. Leo I managed to free himself from the influence of the barbarian chief favouring the rise of the Isauri, a crude semi-barbarian tribe living in Roman territory, in southern Anatolia. Aspar and his son Ardabur were murdered in a riot in 471, and henceforth, Constantinople became free from foreign influences for centuries. Leo was also the first emperor to receive the crown not from a general or an officer, as evident in the Roman tradition, but from the hands of the patriarch of Constantinople. This habit became mandatory as time passed, and in the Middle Ages, the religious characteristic of the coronation had totally substituted the old form. In 468, Leo unsuccessfully attempted to reconquer North Africa from the Vandals. By that time, the Western Roman Empire was already restricted to Italy (Britain had fallen to Angles and Saxons, Spain fell to the Visigoths, Africa fell to the Vandals and Gaul fell to the Franks).

Eastern Roman Empire, c. 476 AD.

In 466, as a condition of his Isaurian alliance, Leo married his daughter Ariadne to the Isaurian Tarasicodissa, who took the name Caesar Flavius Zeno. When Leo died in 474, Zeno and Ariadne's minor son (Leo I's grandson) succeeded to the throne as Leo II, with Zeno acting as regent. When Leo II died later that year, Zeno I became emperor. The end of the Western Empire is sometimes dated to 476, early in Zeno's reign, when the barbarian general Odoacer deposed the titular Western Emperor Romulus Augustus, but declined to replace him with another puppet.

To recover Italy, Zeno could only negotiate with the Ostrogoths of Theodoric who had been settled in Moesia. He sent the barbarian king in Italy as magister militum per Italiam ("chief of staff for Italy"). After the fall of Odoacer in 493, Theodoric, who had lived in Constantinople during his youth, ruled over Italy on his own, maintaining a merely formal obedience to Zeno.

In 475, Zeno was deposed by a plot to elevate Basiliscus (the general who led Leo I's 468 invasion of North Africa) to the throne. Zeno recovered the throne twenty months later. However, Zeno had to face the threat coming from his Isaurian former official Illo and the other Isaurian, Leontius, who was also elected rival emperor. Isaurian prominence ended when an aged civil officer of Roman origin, Anastasius I, became emperor in 491 and after a long war defeated them in 498. Anastasius revealed himself to be an energetic reformer and an able administrator. He perfected Constantine I's coin system by definitively setting the weight of the copper follis, the coin used in most everyday transactions. He also reformed the tax system in which the State Treasury contained the enormous sum of 320,000 pounds of gold when he died.

The reign of Justinian I, which began in 527, saw a period of extensive imperial conquests of former Roman territories (indicated in green on the map below). The 6th century also saw the beginning of a long series of conflicts with the Byzantine Empire's traditional early enemies, such as the Sassanid Persians, Slavs and Bulgars. Theological crises (see theology), such as the question of Monophysitism, also dominated the empire.

Justinian I had perhaps already exerted effective control during the reign of his predecessor, Justin I (518–527). Justin I was a former officer in the imperial army who had been chief of the guards to Anastasius I, and had been proclaimed emperor (when almost 70) after Anastasius' death. Justinian was the son of a peasant from Illyricum, but was also a nephew of Justin. Justinian was later adopted as Justin's son. Justinian would become one of the most refined people of his century, inspired by the dream to re-establish Roman rule over all the Mediterranean world. He reformed the administration and the law, and with the help of brilliant generals such as Belisarius and Narses, he temporarily regained some of the lost Roman provinces in the west, conquering much of Italy, North Africa (see Africa), and a small area in southern Spain.

In 532, Justinian secured for the Eastern Roman Empire peace on the eastern frontier by signing an "eternal peace" treaty with the Sassanid Persian king Khosrau I. However, this required in exchange a payment of a huge annual tribute of gold. The same year, the Nika riots, or Nika revolt, lasted for one week in Constantinople. It was the most violence the Polis had ever seen to that point and nearly half of it was burned or destroyed.

Justinian's conquests in the west began in 533 when Belisarius was sent to reclaim the former province of North Africa with a small army of 18,000 men who were mainly mercenaries. Whereas an earlier expedition in 468 had been a failure, this new venture was successful. The kingdom of the Vandals at Carthage lacked the strength of former times under King Gaiseric and the Vandals surrendered after few battles against Belisarius' forces. General Belisarius returned to a Roman triumph in Constantinople with the last Vandal king, Gelimer, as his prisoner. However, the reconquest of North Africa would take a few more years to stabilize. It was not until 548 that the main local independent tribes were entirely subdued. In 535, Justinian I launched his most ambitious campaign, the reconquest of Italy. At the time, Italy was still ruled by the Ostrogoths. He dispatched an army to march overland from Dalmatia while the main contingent, transported on ships and again under the command of General Belisarius, disembarked in Sicily and conquered the island without much difficulty.

the Byzantine Empire around 550

The marches on the Italian mainland were initially victorious and the major cities, including Naples, Rome and the capital Ravenna, fell one after the other.

The Goths were seemingly defeated and Belisarius was recalled to Constantinople in 541 by Justinian. Belisarius brought with him to Constantinople the Ostrogoth king Witiges as a prisoner in chains. However, the Ostrogoths and their supporters were soon reunited under the energetic command of Totila. The ensuing Gothic Wars were an exhausting series of sieges, battles and retreats which consumed almost all the Byzantine and Italian fiscal resources, impoverishing much of the countryside. Belisarius was recalled by Justinian, who had lost trust in his preferred commander. At a certain point, the Byzantines seemed to be on the verge of losing all the positions they had gained. After having neglected to provide sufficient financial and logistical support to the desperate troops under Belisarius' former command, in the summer of 552 Justinian gathered a massive army of 35,000 men (mostly Asian and Germanic mercenaries) to contribute to the war effort. The astute and diplomatic eunuch Narses was chosen for the command. Totila was crushed and killed at the Busta Gallorum. Totila's successor, Teias, was likewise defeated at the Battle of Mons Lactarius (central Italy, October 552). Despite continuing resistance from a few Goth garrisons, and two subsequent invasions by the Franks and Alamanni, the war for the reconquest of the Italian peninsula came to an end.

Justinian's program of conquest was further extended in 554 when a Byzantine army managed to seize a small part of Spain from the Visigoths. All the main Mediterranean islands were also now under Byzantine control. Aside from these conquests, Justinian updated the ancient Roman legal code in the new Corpus Juris Civilis. Even though the laws were still written in Latin, the language itself was becoming archaic and poorly understood even by those who wrote the new code. Under Justinian's reign, the Church of Hagia Sofia ("Holy Wisdom") was constructed in the 530s. This church would become the center of Byzantine religious life and the center of the Eastern Orthodox form of Christianity. The 6th century was also a time of flourishing culture and even though Justinian closed the university at Athens, the Eastern Roman Empire produced notable people such as the epic poet Nonnus, the lyric poet Paul the Silentiary, the historian Procopius, the natural philosopher John Philoponos and others.

The conquests in the west meant that the other parts of the Eastern Roman Empire were left almost unguarded even though Justinian was a great builder of fortifications in Byzantine territories throughout his reign. Khosrau I of Persia had, as early as 540, broken the pact previously signed with Justinian and plundered Antiochia. The only way Justinian could forestall him was to increase the sum he paid to Khosrau I every year. The Balkans were subjected to repeated incursions where Slavs had first crossed the imperial frontiers during the reign of Justin I. The Slavs took advantage of the sparsely-deployed Byzantine troops and pressed on as far as the Gulf of Corinth. The Kutrigur Bulgars had also attacked in 540. The Slavs invaded Thrace in 545 and in 548 assaulted Dyrrachium, an important port on the Adriatic Sea. In 550, the Sclaveni pushed on as far to reach within 65 kilometers of Constantinople itself. In 559, the Eastern Roman Empire found itself unable to repel a great invasion of Kutrigurs and Sclaveni. Divided in three columns, the invaders reached Thermopylae, the Gallipoli peninsula and the suburbs of Constantinople. The Slavs feared the intact power of the Danube Roman fleet and of the Utigurs (paid by the Romans themselves) more than the resistance of the ill-prepared Byzantine imperial army. This time the Eastern Roman Empire was safe, but in the following years the Roman suzerainty in the Balkans was to be almost totally overwhelmed.

Soon after the death of Justinian in 565, the Germanic Lombards, a former imperial foederati tribe, invaded and conquered much of Italy. The Visigoths conquered Cordoba, the main Byzantine city in Spain, first in 572 and then definitively in 584. The last Byzantine strongholds in Spain were swept away twenty years later. The Turks emerged in the Crimea, and in 577, a horde of some 100,000 Slavs had invaded Thrace and Illyricum. Sirmium, the most important Roman city on the Danube, was lost in 582, but the Eastern Roman Empire managed to maintain control of the river for several more years even though it increasingly lost control of the inner provinces.

Justinian's successor, Justin II, refused to pay the tribute to the Sassanid Empire. This resulted in a long and harsh war which lasted until the reign of his successors Tiberius II and Maurice, and focused on the control over Armenia. Fortunately for the Byzantines, a civil war broke out in the Persian Empire. Maurice was able to take advantage of his friendship with the new king Khosrau II (whose disputed accession to the Persian throne had been assisted by Maurice) in order to sign a favorable peace treaty in 591. This treaty gave the Eastern Roman Empire control over much of western Armenia. Maurice reorganized the remaining Byzantine possessions in the west into two Exarchates, the Ravenna and the Carthage. Maurice increased the Exarchates' self-defense capabilities and delegated them to civil authorities.

The Avars and later the Bulgars overwhelmed much of the Balkans, and in the early 7th century the Sassanids invaded and conquered Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Armenia. The Persians were eventually defeated and the territories were recovered by Emperor Heraclius in 627. However, the unexpected appearance of the newly-converted and united Muslim Arabs took the territories by surprise from an empire exhausted from fighting against Persia, and the southern provinces were overrun. The Eastern Roman Empire's most catastrophic defeat of this period was the Battle of Yarmuk, fought in Syria. Heraclius and the military governors of Syria were slow to respond to the new threat, and Byzantine Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, and the Exarchate of Africa were permanently incorporated into the Muslim Empire in the 7th century, a process which was completed with the fall of Carthage to the Caliphate in 698.

The Lombards continued to expand in northern Italy, taking Liguria in 640 and conquering most of the Exarchate of Ravenna in 751, leaving the Byzantines with control of only small areas around the toe and heel of Italy, plus some semi-independent coastal cities like Venice, Naples, Amalfi and Gaeta.

The Eastern Roman Empire's loss of territory was offset to a degree by consolidation and an increased uniformity of rule. Emperor Heraclius fully Hellenized the Eastern Roman Empire by making Greek the official language, thus ending the last remnants of Latin and ancient Roman tradition within the empire. The use of Latin in government records, (Latin titles such as Augustus and the concept of the Eastern Roman Empire being one with Rome) fell into abeyance, which allowed the empire to pursue its own identity. Many historians mark the sweeping reforms made during the reign of Heraclius as the breaking-point with Byzantium's ancient Roman past. It is common to refer to the Eastern Roman Empire as "Byzantine" instead of as "East Roman" from this point onwards. Religious rites and religious expression within the empire were now also noticeably different from the practices upheld in the former imperial lands of western Europe. Within the empire, the southern Byzantine provinces differed significantly in culture and practice from those in the north, observing Monophysite Christianity rather than Chalcedonian Orthodox. The loss of the southern territories to the Arabs further strengthened Orthodox practices in the remaining provinces.

Constans II (reigned 641–668) subdivided the empire into a system of military provinces called thémata (themes) in an attempt to improve local responses to the threat of constant assaults. Outside of the capital, urban life declined while Constantinople grew to become the largest city in the Christian world. Several attempts to conquer Constantinople by the Arabs failed in the face of the Byzantines' superior navy, the Byzantines' monopoly over the still-mysterious incendiary weapon (Greek fire), their strong city walls, and the skill of Byzantine generals and warrior-emperors such as Leo III the Isaurian (reign 717–741). Once the assaults were repelled, the empire's recovery resumed.

In his landmark work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the 18th century historian Edward Gibbon depicted the Byzantine Empire of this time as effete and decadent. However, an alternate examination of the Byzantine Empire shows instead that the empire was a military superpower during the early Middle Ages. Factors contributing to this view entail the empire's heavy cavalry (the cataphracts), its subsidization (albeit inconsistent) of a free and well-to-do peasant class forming the basis for cavalry recruitment, its extraordinarily in-depth defense systems (the themes), and its use of subsidies in order to make Byzantium's enemies fight against one another. Other factors include the empire's prowess at intelligence-gathering, a communications and logistics system based on mule trains, a superior navy (although often under-funded), and rational military strategies and doctrines (not dissimilar to those of Sun Tzu) that emphasized stealth, surprise, swift maneuvering and the marshalling of overwhelming force at the time and place of the Byzantine commander's choosing.

After the siege of 717 in which the Arabs suffered horrific casualties, the Caliphate was no longer a serious threat to the Byzantine heartland. It would take a different civilization, that of the Seljuk Turks, to finally drive the imperial forces out of eastern and central Anatolia.

The 8th century was dominated by controversy and religious division over iconoclasm. Icons were banned by Emperor Leo III, leading to revolts by iconophiles throughout the empire.

Byzantine Empire at the accession of Leo III, c. 717

After the efforts of Empress Irene, the Second Council of Nicaea met in 787 and affirmed that icons could be venerated but not worshipped.

Irene also attempted a marriage alliance with Charlemagne. This alliance would have united the two empires and thus would have recreated the Roman Empire (the two European empires both claimed the title). Moreover the alliance would have created a European superpower comparable to the strength of ancient Rome. However, these plans were destroyed when Irene was deposed. The iconoclast controversy returned in the early 9th century, only to be resolved once more in 843 during the regency of Empress Theodora (9th century), who restored the icons. These controversies further contributed to the disintegrating relations with the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire, both of which continued to increase their independence and power.

The Eastern Roman Empire reached its height under the Macedonian emperors of the late 9th, 10th and early 11th centuries. During these years the Empire held out against pressure from the Roman church to remove Patriarch Photios, and gained control over the Adriatic Sea, southern Italy, and all of the land held by the Bulgarians. The cities of the empire expanded, and prosperity was able to spread across the provinces thanks to the empire's new-found security. The population of the empire rose, and production increased, stimulating new demand while also helping to encourage trade. Culturally, this was a productive period of Byzantine history, as there was considerable growth in education and learning. Ancient texts were preserved and patiently re-copied. Byzantine art flourished, and brilliant mosaics graced the interiors of new churches, which were being built across the empire in this period.

The soldier emperors Nicephoros II Phocas (reigned 963-969) and John I Tzimiskes (969-976) expanded the empire well into Syria, defeating the emirs of north-west Iraq (see also: Iraq Maps) and reconquering Crete and Cyprus. At one point under John, the empire's armies even threatened Jerusalem, far to the south. The emirate of Aleppo and its neighbours became vassals of the empire in the east, where the greatest threat to the empire was the Egyptian Fatimid kingdom. Under the emperor Basil II (reigned 976-1025AD), the Bulgarians, who had conquered much of the Balkans from the Byzantines since their arrival three hundred years previously, became the target of annual campaigns by the Byzantine army. The war was to drag on for nearly twenty years, but eventually at the battle of Kleidon the Bulgarians were completely defeated. The Bulgarian army was captured, and it is said that 99 out of every 100 men were blinded, with the remaining hundredth man left with one eye so as to lead his compatriots home. When the Bulgarian Tsar saw the broken remains of his once gallant army, he died of shock. In 1014, Bulgaria surrendered, and became part of the empire. This stunning victory restored to the empire the Danube frontier, which had not been held since the days of the emperor Heraclius (reigned 610-641AD). The empire also gained a new ally (yet sometimes also an enemy) in the new Varangian state in Kiev, from which the empire received an important mercenary force, the Varangian Guard, in exchange for Basil's sister Anna as a wife for the Varangian King Vladimir.

The Byzantine Empire under Basil II, c. 1025

The Byzantine Empire now stretched from Azerbaijan and Armenia in the east, to Calabria in Southern Italy to the west. Many successes had been achieved, ranging from the conquest of Bulgaria, to the annexation of Armenia, to the total annihilation of an invading force of Egyptians outside Antioch. Yet even these victories were not enough; Basil considered the continued Arab occupation of Sicily (it had been lost to the Arabs c.902AD), to be an outrage.

Accordingly, he planned to reconquer the island, which had belonged to the empire for over three hundred years (c.550-c.900AD). However, his death in 1025AD put an end to the project. Basil's reign was the culmination of over three hundred years of desperate struggle, which had seen the Byzantine empire fighting for its very survival, and reaching the nadir of its fortunes with two sieges of Constantinople in 674-78, and 717-18 AD. Yet the empire had clawed its way back from the brink of destruction, and by 1025AD Byzantium was once again the greatest power in the Mediterranean. Such was the impression that the formidable Byzantine army built up during this period, that the mere threat of an Imperial Army marching eastwards was enough to keep local rulers in line.

The eleventh century was also momentous for its religious events. In 1054, relations between Greek-speaking Eastern and Latin-speaking Western traditions within the Christian Church reached a terminal crisis. There was never a formal declaration of institutional separation, and the so-called Great Schism actually was the culmination of centuries of gradual separation. From this split, the modern (Roman) Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches arose. This development was to be fateful indeed for the Byzantine empire.

However, like Rome before it, Byzantium soon fell into a period of difficulties, caused to a large extent by the growth of aristocracy, which undermined the theme system. The succession of weak rulers who succeeded Basil II after 1025 disbanded the large armies which had been defending the eastern provinces from attack; instead gold was stockpiled in Constantinople, ostensibly in order to hire mercenaries should troubles arise. In fact, however, most of the money was frittered away in the form of gifts to favourites of the emperor, extravagant court banquets, and expensive luxuries for the imperial family. Meanwhile, the remnants of the once-formidable armed forces were allowed to decay, to the point where they were no longer capable of functioning as an army. Old men with rusting weapons and tattered banners mixed with new recruits who had never participated in a training excercise. Facing its old enemies (the Holy Roman Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate), the Eastern Roman Empire might have recovered, but around the same time new invaders appeared on the scene who had little reason to respect its reputation.

In 1040 the Normans, originally landless mercenaries in search of plunder, began attacking the Byzantine strongholds in southern Italy; to deal with them, a mixed force of mercenaries and conscripts under the formidable George Maniakes was sent to Italy in 1042. Maniakes and his army engulfed the land in a fury of destruction, leaving a trail of burning ruins and shattered fortresses behind them. Any who opposed this terrifying advance were tortured to death; many were buried alive. However, before he could complete his campaign of annihilation, the general was recalled to Constantinople due to palace intrigue. Gripped by murderous rage at a serious of outrages against his wife and property by one of his rivals, he was proclaimed emperor by his troops, and led them across the Adriatic to victory against a loyalist army. However, a mortal wound led to his death shortly afterwards. With the opposition absent in the Balkans, the Normans were able to complete the expulsion of the Byzantines from Italy by 1071.

It was in Asia Minor, however, that the greatest disaster would take place. The Seljuk Turks, who were mainly interested in defeating Egypt under the Fatimids, nevertheless conducted a series of damaging raids into Armenia and eastern Anatolia, which was the main recruiting ground for Byzantine armies. With the imperial armies weakened by years of insufficient funding and civil warfare, Emperor Romanus IV realised that a time of re-structuring and re-equipment was necessary. Consequently, he attempted to lead a defensive campaign in the east until his forces had recovered enough to defeat the Seljuks. However, due to treachery from his opponents who deserted him on the field of battle, he suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of Alp Arslan (sultan of the Seljuk Turks) at Manzikert in 1071. Romanus was captured, and although the Sultan's peace terms were not excessive, the battle was catastrophic for the Byzantine Empire in another way.

On his release, Romanus found that his enemies had conspired against him to place their own candidate on the throne in his absence. After two defeats in battle against the rebels, Romanus surrendered and suffered a horrific death by torture. The new ruler, Michael VII, refused to honour the treaty that had been signed by Romanus. In response, the Turks began to move into Anatolia in 1073, while the collapse of the old defensive system meant that they met no opposition. To make matters worse, chaos reigned as the empire's remaining resources were squandered in a series of disastrous civil wars. Thousands of Turkoman tribesmen crossed the unguarded frontier and moved into Anatolia. By 1080, an area of 30,000 square miles had been lost to the empire. It is almost impossible to overestimate the significance of these events, as within less than a decade more than half of the manpower of the empire had been lost, along with much of its grain supply. Thus the battle of Manzikert resulted in the greatest blow to the empire in its 700 years of history. After Manzikert, a partial recovery was made possible due to the efforts of the Comnenian dynasty. The first emperor of this royal line was Alexius Comnenus (whose life and policies would be described by his daughter Anna Comnena in the Alexiad). Alexius' long reign of nearly 37 years was full of struggle. At his accession in 1081, the Byzantine Empire was in chaos after a prolonged period of civil war resulting from the defeat at Manzikert.

At the very outset of his reign, Alexius had to meet the formidable attack of the Normans under Robert Guiscard and his son Bohemund, who took Dyrrhachium and Corfu, and laid siege to Larissa in Thessaly (see Battle of Dyrrhachium).

The Byzantine Empire - Alexios I Komnenos, c. 1081

Alexius led his forces in person against the Normans, yet despite his best efforts his army was destroyed in the field.

Alexius himself was wounded in the battle, and for a time it looked as though the empire's final hour had come. However, at the moment of supreme crisis fate relented on the unfortunate Alexius, and the Norman danger was ended for the time being with Robert Guiscard's death in 1085.

However, Alexius's trials and tribulations were only just beginning. At the very moment when the Emperor urgently needed to raise as much revenue as possible from his shattered empire, taxation and the economy were in complete disarray. Inflation was spiralling out of control, the coinage was heavily debased, the fiscal system was confused (there were six different nomismata in circulation), and the imperial treasury was empty. In desperation, Alexius had been forced to finance his campaign against the Normans by using the wealth of the Orthodox Church, which had been put at his disposal by the Patriarch.

In 1087, Alexius must have despaired when news reached him of a new invasion. This time, the invaders consisted of a horde of 80,000 Pechenegs from north of the Danube, and they were heading for Constantinople. Without enough troops to repel this new threat, Alexius used cunning diplomacy to achieve a victory against the odds. Having bribed the Cumans, another barbarian tribe, to come to his aid, he advanced against the Pechenegs, who were caught by surprise and annihilated at the battle of Levunium on 28 April 1091.

With stability at last achieved in the west, Alexius now had a chance to begin solving his severe economic difficulties and the disintegration of the empire's traditional defences. In order to reestablish the army, Alexius began to build a new force on the basis of feudal grants (próniai) and prepared a to advance against the Seljuks, who had conquered Asia Minor and were now established at Nicaea.

However, he still did not have enough manpower to recover the lost territories in Asia Minor, so once again he devised an intelligent solution to his predicament. Having been impressed by the abilities of the Norman cavalry at Dryrrhachium, he sent his ambassadors west to ask for reinforcements from europe. The amabassadors dispatched their mission with great success - at the Council of Piacenza in 1095, Pope Urban II was impressed by Alexius's appeal for help, which spoke of the suffering of the Christians of the east, and hinted at a possible union of the eastern and western churches. Pope Urban wanted to find a way in which the martial energy of the western nobility could be channelled to benefit the church. Alexius's appeal offered a means not only to accomplish this goal, but also to consolidate the authority of the Pope over christendom by uniting all christian nations under one commmon cause.

On 27 November 1095, Pope Urban II called together a council of bishops and clergy in Clermont in France. There, amid a crowd of thousands who had come to hear his words, he urged all those present to take up arms under the banner of the Cross and launch a holy war to recover Jerusalem and the east from the 'infidel' Muslims. Enticed by the offering of eternal salvation to all those who took part in the great enterprise, many promised to carry out the Pope's command, and word of the Crusade soon spread across europe.

The help which Alexius had wanted from the West was simply mercenary forces and not the immense hosts which soon arrived, to his consternation and embarrassment. The first group, under Peter the Hermit, he sent to Asia Minor, ordering them to stay close to the coast and await reinforcements. However, the unruly crusaders refused to listen and began looting and pillaging the local inhabitants, who were all Christian. As they marched on Nicaea, in 1096, they were caught by the Turks and massacred almost to the last man.

The second and much more serious host of knights, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, Alexius also led into Asia, promising to supply them with provisions in return for an oath of homage. By their victories, Alexius was able to recover for the Byzantine Empire a number of important cities and islands — Nicaea, Chios, Rhodes, Smyrna, Ephesus, Philadelphia, Sardis, and in fact much of western Asia Minor (1097–1099). This is ascribed by his daughter Anna as a credit to his policy and diplomacy, but good relations were not to last. The crusaders believed their oaths were made invalid when Alexius did not help them during the siege of Antioch (he had in fact set out on the road to Antioch, but had been pursuaded to turn back by Stephen of Blois, who assured him that all was lost and that the expedition had already failed); Bohemund, who had set himself up as Prince of Antioch, briefly went to war with Alexius, but agreed to become Alexius' vassal under the Treaty of Devol in 1108.

Despite his many successes, during the last twenty years of his life, Alexius lost much of his popularity. This was largely due to the harsh measures he was forced to take in order to save the embattled empire. Conscription was introduced, causing resentment among the peasantry, despite the pressing need for new recruits to the imperial army. In order to restore the imperial treasury, Alexius took measures to tax the aristocracy heavily; he also cancelled many of the exemptions from taxation that the church had previously enjoyed. In order to ensure that all taxes were paid in full, and to halt the vicious cycle of debasement and inflation, he completely reformed the coinage, issuing a new gold hyperpyron (highly refined) coin for the purpose. By 1109, he had managed to restore order by working out a proper rate of exchange for the whole coinage. His new hyperpyron would be the standard Byzantine coin for the next two hundred years.

The final years of Alexius's reign were marked by persecution of the followers of the Paulician and Bogomil heresies — one of his last acts was to burn at the stake the Bogomil leader, Basil the Physician, with whom he had engaged in a theological controversy; by renewed struggles with the Turks (1110–1117); and by anxieties as to the succession, which his wife Irene wished to alter in favour of her daughter Anna's husband, Nicephorus Bryennius, for whose benefit the special title panhypersebastos ("honored above all") was created. This intrigue disturbed even his dying hours. Nevertheless, it is without doubt that Alexius' heroic efforts saved his empire from complete annihilation, and the measures he undertook were all urgently needed, despite their unpopularity. Alexius I Comnenus was a brave and determined emperor, and he deserves much of the credit for making possible the restoration of the empire that occurred under his successors.

The Byzantine Empire - John II Comnenus, c. 1118-1143

Alexius' son John II Comnenus succeeded him in 1118, and was to rule until 1143. On account of his mild and just reign he has been called the Byzantine Marcus Aurelius. John was unusual for his lack of cruelty — despite his long reign, in an age where violence was the norm, he never had anyone killed or blinded. He was loved by his subjects, who gave him the name 'John the Good'. He was also an energetic campaigner, spending much of his life in army camps and personally supervising sieges.

A brief look at John's life gives an indication of the difficulties Byzantium faced in this period: enemies confronted the empire on all sides. An invasion of nomadic horsemen from the north threatened to overrun the Balkans. The Turks were harassing Byzantine territory in Asia Minor. However, this was an age where the empire depended on strong personal action by the emperor, and the way in which these problems were dealt with follows a pattern that was to recur throughout the reigns of the three Comneni emperors. Thanks to John's intelligent defence, the nomadic horsemen were soundly defeated, and the Danube frontier was secured. Likewise, Turkish expansion in Asia Minor was halted, and John took the fight to the enemy, leading a series of campaigns against the Danishmends in the north-east. However, despite extensive campaigning disappointingly little territory was gained and held in this region. Towards the end of his reign, John made a concerted effort to secure Antioch. On the way, he captured the southern coast of Asia Minor and Cilicia (these conquests proved more lasting). He advanced into Syria at the head of his veteran army, which had been seasoned by a lifetime of campaigning. Although John fought hard for the Christian cause in the campaign in Syria, there was a famous incident where his allies Prince Raymond of Antioch and Count Joscelin II of Edessa sat around playing dice while John pressed the siege of an enemy town. These Crusader Princes were suspicious of each other and of John, and neither wanted the other to gain from participating in the campaign, while Raymond also wanted to hold on to his City, which he had agreed to hand over to John if the campaign was successful. Ultimately, Joscelin and Raymond conspired to keep John out of Antioch, and while he was preparing to lead a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and a further campaign, he accidentally grazed his hand on a poison arrow while out hunting. The poison set in, and shortly afterwards he died.

The Byzantine position had improved enormously under John. Substantial territories had been recovered, and his successes against the invading Petchenegs, Serbians and Seljuk Turks, whose progress in Asia Minor he reverted, along with his attempts to establish Byzantine suzerainty over the Crusader States in Antioch and Edessa, did much to restore the reputation of his empire. He left the empire in a much better state than he had found it, and by the time of his death he had earned near universal respect, even from the Crusaders, for his courage, dedication and piety. His early death meant his work went unfinished — his last campaign might well have resulted in real gains for Byzantium and the Christian cause. Map of the Byzantine Empire under Manuel Komnenos, c.1170. By this time, the empire was once again the most powerful state in the Mediterranean, with client states stretching from Hungary to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and a network of allies and diplomatic contacts stretching from Aragon, France, Germany, Pisa, Genoa and Rome in the west, to Antioch, Jerusalem, Konya and Damascus in the east.

The Byzantine Empire - Manuel Komnenos, c. 1170

By this time, the empire was once again the most powerful state in the Mediterranean, with client states stretching from Hungary to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and a network of allies and diplomatic contacts stretching from Aragon, France, Germany, Pisa, Genoa and Rome in the west, to Antioch, Jerusalem, Konya and Damascus in the east. (larger image)

John's chosen heir, his son Manuel I Comnenus, was a worthy successor who had an optimistic outlook and saw possibilities everywhere. The Latin historian William of Tyre described Manuel as "beloved of God... a great-souled man of incomparable energy", whose "memory will ever be held in benediction". Manuel was further extolled by Robert of Clari as a "generous and worthy man". Famous for his charisma and enthusiasm for western customs, Manuel arranged jousting matches, even participating in them, an unusual and discomforting sight for the Byzantines.

Indoctrinated with the idea of a universal Empire, and with a passion for theological debate, he was also perhaps the only chivalrous Emperor-Knight of Byzantium. He is a representative of a new kind of Byzantine ruler who was influenced by the contact with the western crusaders.

Eager to restore his empire to its past glories as the superpower of the Mediterranean world, Manuel pursued an energetic and ambitious foreign policy. In the process he made alliances with the Pope and the resurgent west, invaded Italy, successfully handled the passage of the dangerous Second Crusade through his empire, and established a Byzantine protectorate over the Crusader kingdoms of Outremer. Facing the Islamic jihad in the Holy Land, he made common cause with the Kingdom of Jerusalem and participated in a combined invasion of Fatimid Egypt. Manuel reshaped the political map of the Balkans and the east Mediterranean, placing the kingdoms of Hungary and Outremer under Byzantine hegemony and campaigning aggressively against his neighbours both in the west and in the east. Disputes between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches occasionally harmed efforts at cooperation with the latins, but in many other ways Byzantine civilisation was flourishing in this period.

Recent research has revealed that the twelfth century was a time of significant growth in the rural economy, with rising population levels and extensive tracts of new agricultural land being brought into production. The widespread construction of new rural churches is a strong indication that prosperity was being generated even in remote areas. A steady increase in population led to a higher population density in many areas of the empire, and there is good evidence that the demographic increase was accompanied by the return of a thriving network of revitalised towns and cities. According to Alan Harvey in his book Economic expansion in the Byzantine Empire 900-1200, Archaeological evidence from both Europe and Asia Minor shows a considerable increase in the size of urban settlements, together with a ‘notable upsurge’ in new towns. For example, Harvey explains that in Athens the medieval town experienced a period of rapid and sustained growth, starting in the eleventh century and continuing until the end of the twelfth century. The 'agora' or 'marketplace', which had been deserted since late antiquity, began to be built over, and soon the town became an important centre for the production of soaps and dyes. Thessaloniki, the second city of the Empire, hosted a famous summer fair which attracted traders from across the Balkans and even further afield to its bustling market stalls. In Corinth, silk production fuelled a thriving economy.

Further evidence is provided by the coinage of the empire in this period. After a long period in the early middle ages during which the only coins were struck in Constantinople, the twelfth century saw the return of a provincial mint regularly operating at Thessaloniki. Yet the most convincing evidence for what Harvey calls a "substantial increase in the volume of money in circulation" comes from the quantity of coins found on archaeological sites. Thousands of coins have been found both at Athens and at Corinth. Some idea of the scale of the expansion that took place here can be gained from comparing the number of Corinthean coins dating from the reign of Theophilus (813-842), at the start of the expansion, with the number of coins dating from other periods. Harvey states that "About 150 coins can be attributed to this emperor compared with only twenty from the previous century". By contrast, excavations in 1939 revealed 4495 coins dating from the reign of Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118) and 4106 coins from that of Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180). At Athens, coins from the Comnenian period have also been found in abundance (over 4,000 from Manuel's reign).

Similar evidence of economic expansion has been discovered elsewhere in the empire, especially in the European provinces. In Asia Minor, some areas had become depopulated due to Turkish raiding in the late eleventh century. Yet as the Comnenian emperors built up extensive fortifications in rural areas during the twelfth century, repopulation of the countryside took place.

The Byzantine Empire - the Fourth Crusade, c.1204.

The restoration of order in western Asia Minor enabled the demographic trend to resume its upward course after the setbacks of the late eleventh century, and indeed it was in the thirteenth century that this process reached its peak.

It is quite possible that an increase in trade, made possible by the growth of the Italian city-states, may have been a factor in the growth of the economy. Certainly, the Venetians and others were active traders in the ports of the Holy Land, and they made a living out of shipping goods between the Crusader Kingdoms of Outremer and the West while also trading extensively with Byzantium and Egypt. Overall, given that both population and prosperity increased substantially in this period, economic recovery in Byzantium appears to have been strengthening the economic basis of the state. This helps to explain how the Comnenian emperors, Manuel Comnenus in particular, were able to project their power and influence so widely at this time. Yet this is by no means the only effect of economic expansion in the empire; the effect on Byzantine Culture and society was also quite profound, as we shall see.

The new wealth being generated during this period had a positive impact on Byzantine cultural life. In artistic terms, the twelfth century was a very productive period in Byzantine history. There was a revival in the mosaic art, for example, with artists showing great interest in depicting natural landscapes with wild animals and scenes from the hunt. Mosaics became more realistic and vivid, with an increased emphasis on depicting three-dimensional forms. In the provinces, regional schools of Architecture began producing many distinctive styles that drew on a range of cultural influences. All this suggests that there was an increased demand for art, with more people having access to the necessary wealth to commission and pay for such work. According to N.H.Baynes in Byzantium, An Introduction to East Roman Civilization,

"With its love of luxury and passion for colour, the art of this age delighted in the production of masterpieces that spread the fame of Byzantium throughout the whole of the Christian world. Beautiful silks from the work-shops of Constantinople also portrayed in dazzling colour animals -lions, elephants, eagles, and griffins- confronting each other, or representing Emperors gorgeously arrayed on horseback or engaged in the chase."

"Yet the marvellous expansion of Byzantine art during this period, one of the most remarkable facts in the history of the empire, did not stop there. From the tenth to the twelfth century Byzantium was the main source of inspiration for the West. By their style, arrangement, and iconography the mosaics of St. Mark's at Venice and of the cathedral at Torcello clearly reveal their Byzantine origin. Similarly those of the Palatine Chapel, the Martorana at Palermo, and the cathedral of Cefalu, together with the vast decoration of the cathedral at Monreale, demonstrate the influence of Byzantium οn the Norman Court of Sicily in the twelfth century. Hispano-Moorish art was unquestionably derived from the Byzantine. Romanesque art owes much to the East, from which it borrowed not only its decorative forms but the plan of some of its buildings, as is proved, for instance, by the domed churches of south-western France. Princes of Kiev, Venetian doges, abbots of Monte Cassino, merchants of Amalfi, and the Norman kings of Sicily all looked to Byzantium for artists or works of art. Such was the influence of Byzantine art in the twelfth century, that Russia, Venice, southern Italy and Sicily all virtually became provincial centres dedicated to its production."

The 12th century was marked by a series of wars against the Hungarians and the Serbs. Emperor Manuel Comnenus campaigned successfully in this region, forcing the rebellious Serbs to vassalage (1150-1152) and leading his troops into Hungary. In 1168, a decisive victory near Zemun enabled him to conclude a peace by which Dalmatia and other frontier territories were ceded to him. Manuel's success enabled him to choose the next king of Hungary, and he duly appointed Béla III in 1172.

However, from the moment of Manuel's death on 24 September 1180, the Byzantine Empire began a steep decline that would never be reversed. The succession of disastrous rulers who followed him quickly lost virtually all of the gains of the last hundred years. As a result of unwise demands for increased taxation, a rebellion was organised in 1185 in Bulgaria; it was successful and one year later these lands were officially lost. These events significantly contributed to the decline of the Byzantine empire. In view of the difficulties the empire faced in its Asian territories at this time, control of the Balkans was vital to imperial security. Therefore, the empire's losses in Bulgaria and Serbia were a disaster, significantly reducing the amount of territory, manpower and revenue available to the state. They also meant that the easily-defensible Danube frontier was replaced by a long and vulnerable land frontier which separated the rich provinces of Greece, Macedonia and Thrace from the two aggressive revived states to the north.

The Final Days - the Sacking of Constantinople, 1204.

Of all the turbulent events that occurred during its long life, the Fourth Crusade had the most devastating effect on the empire. Although the stated intent of the crusade was to conquer Egypt, the leaders of the Crusade ran in to trouble when they found that considerably fewer men had responded to the call than had been expected. As a result, they could not afford to pay the Venetians for all the ships they had hired. After some time spent arguing over what to do next, the Venetians came up with a new proposal, and under their influence the Crusaders sailed to Constantinople, sacking the town of Zara (which was an enemy of Venice) on the way. In 1204, through treachery the Crusaders were able to gain entry to the city, and soon their troops poured into the city of Constantine, a city that had withstood every siege for nearly a thousand years. The Crusaders ransacked the wealth of a millennium, stretching back to the days of the Roman Empire. Buildings were burned down, and the four bronze horses which famously stand in Saint Mark's Square in Venice today, were looted from the Hippodrome at Constantinople. As a result, a short-lived feudal kingdom was founded (the Latin Empire), and Byzantine power was permanently weakened. At this time, the Serbian Kingdom under the Nemanjic dynasty grew stronger with the collapse of Byzantium, forming a Serbian Empire in 1346.

After the sacking of Constantinople in 1204, three successor states were established. These states included the Empire of Nicaea, the Empire of Trebizond, and the Despotate of Epirus. The first state, controlled by the Palaeologan dynasty, managed to reclaim Constantinople in 1261 and defeated Epirus. This led to the reviving of the Eastern Roman Empire, but the empire's attention was more focused on Europe than on the Asian provinces that were the primary concern. For a while, the empire survived simply because the Muslims were too divided to attack. However, the Ottomans eventually overran many Byzantine territories except for a handful of port cities.

The Eastern Roman Empire appealed to the west for help, but they would only consider sending aid in return for reuniting the churches. Church unity was considered, and occasionally accomplished by law, but the Orthodox citizens would not accept Roman Catholicism. Some western mercenaries arrived to help, but many preferred to let the empire die, and did nothing as the Ottomans picked apart the remaining territories.



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Original Footnotes:

1. For instance, the scholar, teacher and translator, John Argyropoulos (Constantinople, c.1415-c,1490) addressed Ioannis (John) VII as ‘Sun King of Hellas’ and urged to last Emperor, Constantine XI, to proclaim himself ‘King of the Hellenes’ (ref: Woodhouse 1986, 109; Sp.Lambros, Argyropouleia, Athens 1910, 7,29).











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