The Roman Empire, one of the greatest state formations of antiquity, fell into decay in the first centuries of our era. Numerous tribes, standing on the lower levels of civilization, destroyed much of the heritage of the ancient world. But the Eternal City was not destined to perish: it was reborn on the banks of the Bosporus and for many years amazed contemporaries with its splendor.
The history of the emergence of Byzantium dates back to the middle of the 3rd century, when Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantine, Constantine I (the Great) became Roman emperor. In those days, the Roman state was torn apart by internal strife and besieged by external enemies. The state of the eastern provinces was more prosperous, and Constantine decided to move the capital to one of them. In 324, the construction of Constantinople began on the banks of the Bosporus, and already in 330 it was declared the New Rome.
This is how Byzantium, whose history spans eleven centuries, began its existence.
Of course, there was no talk of any stable state borders in those days. Throughout its long life, the power of Constantinople then weakened,then regained power.
Justinian and Theodora
In many ways, the state of affairs in the country depended on the personal qualities of its ruler, which is generally typical for states with an absolute monarchy, to which Byzantium belonged. The history of its formation is inextricably linked with the name of Emperor Justinian I (527-565) and his wife, Empress Theodora, a woman of a very extraordinary and, apparently, extremely gifted.
By the beginning of the 5th century, the empire had turned into a small Mediterranean state, and the new emperor was obsessed with the idea of reviving its former glory: he conquered vast territories in the West, achieved relative peace with Persia in the East.
The history of Byzantine culture is inextricably linked with the reign of Justinian. It is thanks to his care that today there are such monuments of ancient architecture as the Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul or the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna. Historians consider the codification of Roman law, which became the basis of the legal system of many European states, to be one of the most notable achievements of the emperor.
Construction and endless war required huge expenses. The Emperor raised taxes endlessly. Discontent grew in society. In January 532, during the appearance of the emperor at the Hippodrome (a kind of analogue of the Colosseum, which could accommodate 100 thousand people), riots broke out, which grew into a large-scale riot. It was possible to suppress the uprising with unheard-of cruelty: the rebels were persuaded to gather in the Hippodrome, as if for negotiations, after which they locked the gates andkilled every single one.
Procopius of Caesarea reports the death of 30 thousand people. It is noteworthy that his wife Theodora saved the emperor’s crown, it was she who convinced Justinian, who was ready to flee, to continue the fight, saying that she prefers death to flight: “royal power is a beautiful shroud.”
In 565, the empire included part of Syria, the Balkans, Italy, Greece, Palestine, Asia Minor and the northern coast of Africa. But the endless wars had an adverse effect on the state of the country. After the death of Justinian, the borders began to shrink again.
In 867, Basil I came to power, the founder of the Macedonian dynasty, which lasted until 1054. Historians call this era the "Macedonian revival" and consider it the maximum flourishing of the world medieval state, which at that time was Byzantium.
The history of the successful cultural and religious expansion of the Eastern Roman Empire is well known to all the states of Eastern Europe: one of the most characteristic features of the foreign policy of Constantinople was missionary work. It was thanks to the influence of Byzantium that the branch of Christianity spread to the East, which after the church schism in 1054 became Orthodoxy.
European Capital of Culture
The art of the Eastern Roman Empire was closely connected with religion. Unfortunately, for several centuries, political and religious elites could not agree on whether the worship of sacred images was idolatry (the movement receivedname of iconoclasm). In the process, a huge number of statues, frescoes and mosaics were destroyed.
The history of art is extremely indebted to the empire: Byzantium throughout its existence was a kind of custodian of ancient culture and contributed to the spread of ancient Greek literature in Italy. Some historians are convinced that the Renaissance was largely due to the existence of the New Rome.
During the reign of the Macedonian dynasty, the Byzantine Empire managed to neutralize the two main enemies of the state: the Arabs in the east and the Bulgarians in the north. The history of victory over the latter is very impressive. As a result of a sudden attack on the enemy, Emperor Basil II managed to capture 14,000 prisoners. He ordered them to be blinded, leaving only one eye for every hundredth, after which he let the crippled people go home. Seeing his blind army, the Bulgarian Tsar Samuil suffered a blow from which he never recovered. Medieval customs were indeed quite severe.
After the death of Basil II, the last representative of the Macedonian dynasty, the history of the fall of Byzantium began.
In 1204, Constantinople first surrendered under the onslaught of the enemy: enraged by an unsuccessful campaign in the "promised land", the crusaders broke into the city, announced the creation of the Latin Empire and divided the Byzantine lands between the French barons.
The new formation did not last long: on July 51, 1261, Michael VIII Palaiologos occupied Constantinople without a fight, who announcedabout the revival of the Eastern Roman Empire. The dynasty he founded ruled Byzantium until its fall, but this rule was rather miserable. In the end, the emperors lived on handouts from Genoese and Venetian merchants, and even robbed church and private property.
Fall of Constantinople
By the beginning of the XIV century, only Constantinople, Thessaloniki and small scattered enclaves in southern Greece remained from the former territories. The desperate attempts of the last emperor of Byzantium, Manuel II, to enlist the military support of Western Europe were not successful. On May 29, 1453, Constantinople was conquered for the second and last time.
The Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II renamed the city Istanbul, and the main Christian temple of the city, the Cathedral of St. Sophia, turned into a mosque. With the disappearance of the capital, Byzantium also disappeared: the history of the most powerful state of the Middle Ages ceased forever.
Byzantium, Constantinople and New Rome
It is a very curious fact that the name "Byzantine Empire" appeared after its collapse: for the first time it is found in the study of Hieronymus Wolf already in 1557. The reason was the name of the city of Byzantium, on the site of which Constantinople was built. The inhabitants themselves called it none other than the Roman Empire, and themselves - the Romans (Romeans).
The cultural influence of Byzantium on the countries of Eastern Europe can hardly be overestimated. However, the first Russian scientist who began to study this medieval state,was Yu. A. Kulakovsky. "History of Byzantium" in three volumes was published only at the beginning of the twentieth century and covered the events from 359 to 717. In the last few years of his life, the scientist was preparing the fourth volume of the work for publication, but after his death in 1919, the manuscript could not be found.