The Byzantine Empire

The Eastern Roman empire:

Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium and renamed the city Constantinople. It became the capital of the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire.

The Byzantine Empire lost land to invaders.  The Emperor Justinian's armies managed to reconquer Italy, northern Africa, and southern Spain. With the Empress Theodora he ruled from 527-565.

Justinian built schools, hospitals, and churches in Constantinople. The most famous church was the Hagia Sophia which means “holy wisdom” in Greek. Justinian developed a legal code named the Justinian code that was based on Roman law. The Byzantines studied Roman law, literature, and Latin and thought of themselves as Roman.


The church splits:

The division of the Empire into East and West resulted in the split of Christianity into Eastern and Western churches.

In the East, the Emperor had authority over church and state. In the West, the pope assumed authority as the head of the former Western Empire. The pope claimed authority over the churches in both the East and the West. Byzantine emperors considered themselves the head of both church and state. Eventually, the Eastern Church did not recognize the authority of the Pope.

In 1054, the Christian church split in two. The church in the West became known as the Roman Catholic Church. The church in the East became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Pope claimed authority over emperors and kings, but the Byzantine Emperor claimed authority over the patriarch, the leader of the Orthodox Church.


Decline and fall:

After Justinian’s death in 565, the Byzantine Empire started to decline because of religious quarrels, battles over the crown, and foreign threats.

Slavic peoples attacked from the North. Persians attacked in the East. Arab armies began to attack Byzantine borders in the 600s.

Civil wars, and attacks by Serbs and Turks, weakened the Empire.

Constantinople held out until the Turks captured the capital in 1453, marking the end of the Byzantine Empire, 1000 years after the fall of Rome.


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