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THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE
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PAGE CONTENTS

01 - INTRODUCTION
02 - JUSTINIAN & THEODORA
03 - THE END OF THE EMPIRE
04 - BYZANTINE SOCIETY
05 - BYZANTINE CHRISTIANITY
06 - AUDIO RESOURCES

01 - INTRODUCTION

Constantinople was built on the site of an ancient Greek trading city called Byzantium. It lay near both the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. This location between the two seas protected the city from attack and let the city control trade between Europe and Asia. Constantinople was in an ideal place to grow in wealth and power.

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02 - JUSTINIAN & THEODORA
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After Rome fell in 476, the emperors of the eastern Roman Empire dreamed of taking it back and reuniting the old Roman Empire. For Justinian, an emperor who ruled from 527 to 565, reuniting the empire was a passion. He couldn't live with a Roman Empire that didn't include the city of Rome, so he sent his army to retake Italy. In the end this army conquered not only Italy but also
much land around the Mediterranean.

Justinian's other passions were the law and the church. He ordered officials to examine all of Rome's laws and remove any out-of-date or unchristian laws. He then organized all the laws into a legal system called Justinian's Code. By simplifying Roman law, this code helped guarantee fair treatment for all.

Despite his achievements, Justinian made many enemies. Two groups of these enemies joined together and tried to overthrow him in 532. These groups led riots in the streets and set fire to buildings. Scared for his life, Justinian prepared to leave Constantinople.

Justinian was stopped from leaving by his wife, Theodora. She convinced Justinian to stay in the city. Smart and powerful, Theodora helped her husband rule effectively. With her advice, he found a way to end the riots. Justinian's soldiers killed all the rioters - some 30,000 people - and saved the emperor's throne.

03 - THE END OF THE EMPIRE

After the death of Justinian in 565, the eastern empire began to decline. Faced with invasions by barbarians, Persians, and Muslims, later emperors lost all the land Justinian had gained. The eastern empire remained a major power for several hundred years, but it never regained its former strength.

The eastern empire's struggles finally ended nearly 700 years after the death of Justinian. In 1453 a group called the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople. With this defeat the 1,000-year history of the eastern Roman Empire came to an end.

04 - BYZANTINE SOCIETY

In many ways Justinian was the last Roman emperor of the eastern empire. After he died, non-Roman influences took hold throughout the empire. People began to speak Greek, the language of the eastern empire, rather than Latin. Scholars studied Greek, the language of the eastern empire, rather than Latin. Scholars studied Greek, not Roman, philosophy. Gradually, the empire lost its ties to the old Roman Empire, and a new society developed.

The people who lived in this society never stopped thinking of themselves as Romans. But modern historians have given their society a new name. They call the society that developed in the eastern Roman Empire after the west fell the Byzantine Empire, named after the Greek town of Byzantium.

One reason eastern and western Roman society was different was the Byzantines' interaction with other groups. This interaction was largely a result of trade. Because Constantinople's location was ideal for trading between Europe and Asia, it became the greatest trading city in Europe. Merchants from all around Europe, Asia, and Africa traveled to Constantinople to trade. Over time Byzantine society began to reflect these outside influences as well as its Roman and Greek roots.

The forms of government that developed in the eastern and western empires also created differences. Byzantine emperors had more power than western emperors did. They liked to show off their great power. For example, people could not stand while they were in the presence of the eastern emperor. They had to crawl on their hands and knees to talk to him.

The power of an eastern emperor was greater, in part, because the emperor was considered the head of the church as well as the political ruler. The Byzantines thought the emperor had been chosen by God to lead both the empire and the church. In the west the emperor was limited to political power. Popes and bishops were the leaders of the church.
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05 - BYZANTINE CHRISTIANITY

Just as it was in the west, Christianity was central to the Byzantines' lives. From the beginning, nearly everyone who lived in the Byzantine Empire was Christian. To show their devotion to God and the Christian Church, Byzantine artists created beautiful works of religious art. Among the grandest works were mosaics, pictures made with pieces of colored stone or glass. Some mosaics sparkled with gold, silver, and jewels.
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Even more magnificent than their mosaics were Byzantine churches, especially Hagia
Sophia. Built by Justinian in the 530s, its huge domes rose high above Constantinople.
According to legend, when Justinian saw the church he exclaimed in delight

"Glory to God who has judged me worthy of accomplishing such as work as this! O
Solomon I have outdone you!"

As time passed, people in the east and west began to interpret and practice Christianity
differently. For example, eastern priests could get married, while priests in the west could
not. Religious services were performed in Greek in the east. In the west they were held
in Latin.

For hundreds of years, church leaders from the east and west worked together peacefully despite their differences. However, the differences between their ideas continued to grow. In time the differences led to a split within the Christian Church. In the 1000s Christians in the east broke away from the rest of the church and formed what became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. As a result, eastern and western Europe were completely divided.




06 - AUDIO RESOURCES