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Byzantine Empire

Byzantine Empire Collection

History Archive - Byzantine Empire Collection

Byzantine Empire, also called the East Roman, Eastern, Greek or Lower Empire, was founded in 395 A. D., when Theodosius the Great divided the Roman empire between his two sons, Honorius and Arcadius. Arcadius was made emperor of the eastern division: Syria, Asia Minor and Pontus in Asia; Egypt in Africa; and Thrace, Moesia (now Bulgaria), Macedonia, Greece and Crete in Europe. The empire thus formed lasted for more than a thousand years, and underwent a great variety of fortune. It took the name Byzantine from Byzantium, the old name of its capital, which, after 330 A. D., was usually called Constantinople or New Rome.

The period of Greek revival (395-716), as it is called, is marked by the victories of Justinian and Heraclius. Justinian (527-565) is celebrated for his code of laws and the victories of his great generals, Belisarius and Narses. Maurice (582-602), by his weak rule brought the country to a condition of lawlessness from which it was rescued by Heraclius, who overthrew him, and reigned from 610 to 641. Great as his genius was, he suffered 12 years of defeat before he could organize a victorious army. In 622 he began those splendid campaigns in which Persia was crushed, and which, Gibbon says, were equal to those of Scipio or Hannibal.

The period of prosperity lasted from 716-1057, and was marked by successful defense against Saracens and Bulgarians. Leo III, Constantine V, Leo IV, Basilius I and Nicephorus Phocas all won victories over the Saracens and Bulgarians. The dynasty founded by Basilius held the throne most of the time from 867 to 1056. John Zimices (969-976) won victories over Saracens, Bulgarians and Russians, while Basilius II (976-1025) conquered the Bulgarian kingdom. At the beginning of the 11th century the Saracen power, which had so long been dangerous to the empire, broke up, but the Seljuk Turks, a yet more formidable enemy, appeared on the eastern frontier.

The period of the decline (1057-1204) was marked by the crusades and the advance of the Turkish power. With Isaac Comnenus (1057-1059) the Comnenian dynasty began. In the reign of Alexius Comnenus (1081-1118) began the crusades, in which the Byzantine emperors had a hard part to play. The crusades, however, helped greatly to check the advance of the Turks, whose power already reached to the Hellespont. The last Comnenian prince, Andronicus, was killed in a rising excited by his own cruelty, in 1185, and left the country in a state of utter confusion.

The period of Latin occupation lasted from 1204 to 1261. In 1204 the French and Venetians, together called Latins, marched on Constantinople and captured it. The European part of the empire was carved into four divisions; the first part, including Constantinople, fell to the lot of Baldwin, the Count of Flanders. In Asia, Theodoras Lascaris set up a government at Nicaea, and Alexius Comnenus ruled at Trebizond. The Latin occupation was hurtful to the empire, which never regained its lost unity. Michael (VIII) Palaeologus, one of the rulers of Nicaea, captured Constantinople in 1261 with the aid of the Genoese, and so put an end to the Latin dynasty.

The period of the fall (1261-1453) was marked by the quick oncoming of the Turks. They took Nicaea in 1339, and first made a settlement in Europe by capturing Gallipoli in 1354. Adrianople fell in 1361, and became the Ottoman capital. By 1381 all that was left of the Byzantine empire became tributary to the Turks. The sultan, Bajazet, by defeating the Hungarians in 1396 forced Manuel II to cede to him a street in Constantinople. The whole city would soon have fallen had not Timur, the Tartar conqueror, defeated Bajazet at Angora in 1402. At last the capital fell before Mohammed II, May 29, 1453, when the Byzantine empire was brought to a close.

On the throne of this great empire, to which modern Europe owes its moral and intellectual development and which maintained a struggle with darkness for 1,000 years, sat 76 emperors and five empresses. Of these, 15 were put to death; seven were blinded or otherwise mutilated; four were deposed or imprisoned in monasteries; and ten were compelled to abdicate. In the 4th century she fought the Goths; in the 5th the Huns and Vandals; in the 6th the Slavs; in the 7th the Persians and Arabs; in the 8th, 9th and 10th the Bulgars, Magyars and Russians; in the 11th the Seljukian Turks; the Ottomans, Normans, Venetians, Crusaders and the Genoese. "No wonder she at last fell exhausted."

Reviewing its entire annals, the history of the fall of the empire may be said to be the record of a noble struggle in the face of overwhelming odds. For many centuries it was the bulwark of Christian culture.

See Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Finlay's and Grote's Histories of Greece.


The New Student's Reference Work (1914)

Available Books


Image Name
The Mosque of Orta Hissar, Trebizond - Plan
Church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Mosaic of Theodora
Tombs Cut in the Rock
The Church of St. Demetrius at Thessalonica - Elevation of the Narthex
Castle of Edessa
The Church of St. Elias, Thessalonica - West Elevation - Transverse Section
The Church of Dana - Plan - Transverse Section
Plan of the City of Perga - Tomb of Dana
The Golden Gate, Constantinople
Tail-Piece, from a Byzantine Bas-Relief
Sancta Sophia (Interior), Constantinople
View of Modern Trebizond
The Church of the Holy Apostles, Thessalonica - Elevation
Title Page
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna
The Church of St. Sophia at Trebizond - West Elevation - Plan of Trebizond
The Church of St. Demetrius at Thessalonica - Longitudinal and Transverse Sections
The Church of St. Sophia, Thessalonica - Mosaics of the Dome [II]
Title Page
Eastern Empire, A.D. 565
Plan of the Cathedral of Bozrah, in the Haouran
The Mausoleum of Theodoric
Byzantine Coins
The Church of the Holy Apostles, Thessalonica - North-East View
Christian Tomb Cut in One of the Pyramidal Rocks of Urgub
The Church of St. Sophia at Trebizond - Ground Plan
Eastern Empire, A.D. 1025
The Church of St. Bardias, Thessalonica - Plan - Longitudinal Section
Temple of Portumnus at Ostia - Elevation and Section
The Taurus Mountains near Adana
S. Maria in Porto
The Church of St. George, Thessalonica - Elevation - View of the East End
Church of San Vitale, Ravenna (Interior)
Byzantine Ornaments
The Church of St. Demetrius at Thessalonica - Elevation of a Bay of the Nave
View of a Grotto at Urgub
S. Vitale, the Presbytery
Eastern Empire, A.D. 800
Mosaic Pavements [I]
Tail-Piece, from a Marble Bas-Relief at Thessalonica
Corinthian Columns
Eski Djouma, Thessalonica - Capitals
II. The Dardanian House
A Capital in the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna
The Church of St. George, Thessalonica - Mosaics of the Side Chapel
Triumphal Arch at Reims
Ivory of the Empress Eudocia
Theodora Imperatrix'
Frescoes in a Monastery near Trebizond
The Church of St. Sophia at Trebizond - Fresco in the Apse
The Church of St. Nicholas at Myra
Plan of the Temple of Venus at Aphrodisias
The Church of the Holy Apostles, Thessalonica - Ground Plan
Plan of the Temple of Rome and Augustus
Caravanserai at Thessalonica
The Triple Wall of Constantinople from outside
Christian Tombstones at Sour Ghozlan (Auzia), Africa
Harbour of Bucoleon, Constantinople
Back Cover
Medallions of Justinian I. and John VII.
The Church of St. George, Thessalonica - Mosaics of the Dome [II]
Fresco at Urgub
The Church of St. Sophia, Thessalonica - Capitals
The Church of St. Sophia, Thessalonica - Plan of the Upper Story
Plan of Temple at Vernegue
Bapistry at Riez
Plan of the Castle of Edessa
Illustrated Title Page
[Untitled Drawing of Temple]
Eastern Empire, A.D. 959
Title Page
The Church of St. Elias, Broussa, - Plan - Section
The Marble Tower, Constantinople
The Church of St. Elias, Thessalonica - Longitudinal Section
S. Agata
View of the Temple of Augustus at Vienne
The Baths of Mahomet II at Constantinople - Plan - Section
St. Irene, Constantinople
Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, Constantinople
Church of St. Marcellinus and St. Peter
The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
The Church of St. Demetrius at Thessalonica - Various Capitals [II]
The Walls of Constantinople from the Seven Towers
Column of the Serpents, Constantinople
Eski Djouma, Thessalonica - Plan
The Polyarchy
S. Giovanni Battista
Elevation and Plan of the Columns of the Temple of Bacchus
The Church of St. George, Thessalonica - Plan and Section
Silk Brocade
Front Cover
VI. The Comnenoi, Dukai, Angeloi, and Palaeologoi
The Church of St. Sophia at Trebizond - Details of Sculpture
View of Perge
The Silver Ciborium in the Church of St. Demetrius
Temple at Vernegue - Details of the Order


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