Who Were the Byzantines?
The Roman Empire had stretched so large by the fourth century CE that it had several provincial capitals. The two most important political centers were Rome in the West and Constantinople in the East, which had formerly been called Byzantium. The emperor, Constantine the Great, rebuilt Byzantium to resemble “Old Rome,” and so this political center became known as the “New Rome.” Although those who lived in Constantinople referred to themselves as Romans and were part of the Roman Empire, historians now refer to the peoples of the Eastern Roman Empire as Byzantines. Though the Byzantine Empire no longer remains, evidence from the era exists across Southern Europe, North Africa, Southwest Asia, and beyond. The Byzantines are famous for their intricate mosaics, like the golden ones here inside a church in Istanbul, Turkey, which was once known as Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. How Did the Byzantines Continue the Roman Empire?
By the end of the fourth century CE, the Roman Empire was permanently split into East and West. While the Byzantine Empire in the East thrived, the Western Roman Empire experienced a series of invasions, a declining economy, and poor leadership. In 476 CE, the last Roman emperor of the West, Romulus Augustulus, was overthrown by a Germanic prince named Odovacar. After the fall of Rome, Germanic kingdoms claimed former Roman lands. Roads and other public structures fell into disrepair. Likewise, trade and commerce in the West declined. Without a powerful Western Roman Empire, the Roman Catholic Church became a unifying and powerful force in western Europe. In contrast, Byzantine emperors in the East were successful in keeping a powerful army that they could send long distances. While the West was repeatedly invaded after the fourth century CE, the East succeeded in defending itself well enough that Constantinople survived nearly 1,000 years after the fall of Rome. Byzantine leaders continued Roman law and traditions. The Byzantine emperor Justinian is well known for codifying Roman laws. In the process, the authors removed conflicting, duplicated, and outdated Roman laws. Also during Justinian's reign, artists revived Hellenistic art and literature. Many historians credit the Byzantine Empire for today's knowledge of ancient Greek and Roman cultures. As the West went into decline, scholars in the East maintained great libraries and established schools for the study of ancient Greek and Roman history. They also continued Roman culture by combining it with aspects of peoples closer to Constantinople. Most Byzantines were Greek, but a mix of North Africans, Arabs, Persians, and Turks also lived within the borders of the Eastern Roman Empire. Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire, but more people spoke Greek in the East. Eventually Greek became the official language in the Byzantine Empire. How Did Christianity Develop in the Byzantine Empire?
Time and distance from Rome caused the Byzantine Empire to develop practices that were different from the West. This was especially true of ChristianityByzantine emperors saw themselves as having authority over the whole Roman Empire, including the Catholic Church. The emperor had final authority on church matters. The Patriarch and otherbishops answered to the emperor. In the Byzantine Empire, the highest political authority and highest religious authority was the same person. However, in the West, kings and church leaders were separate, though kings answered to the popeChristianity helped unify the diverse people of the Byzantine Empire. Being head of the church gave the emperors the right to rule in the eyes of the people. Byzantine mosaics often show emperors with halos, emphasizing the connection to the church. The prominent role of Christianity in the empire is evident in the many Byzantine-era churches and the detailed works of art they contain. What Was the Iconoclast...