This is part of the Medieval European History Metanode.

The Roman Emperor Constantine moved the capital of his Empire to Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople on 11 May 330 CE. This Byzantine Empire remained strong long after the fall of the Roman Empire. It did not suffer the economic depression that plagued the West, and its cities remained strong. Constantinople was nearly impregnable and well-placed for trade. The Emperor drew taxes and soldiers from Asia Minor, and maintained a strong army and navy. Byzantine civilization was the synthesis of three elements:

1. Culturally, it was both Greek and Persian, which made it different from Western culture.
2. Its Christianity was very Greek, with a different focus than Roman Christianity.
3. The Empire had a Roman government, complete with very Roman Emperors.

The Emperor Justinian (527-565) was either the last true Roman Emperor or the first true Byzantine Emperor, depending on how you look at it. He wanted to restore Roman power in the West, and sent troops all over southern Europe and northern Africa for that purpose. He also revolutionized the Law by instituting the Corpus Juris Civilis, consisting of:

1. codex, which organized 1000 years of Roman Law
2. digest, a summary of major cases that set precedents
3. institutes, a summary of the Law for laymen and students
4. novellae, the new laws

The Corpus Juris Civilis was the primary means through which Roman Law was transmitted after the fall of the Roman Empire. It became the basis of Law in the West, and was even taught at the University of Bologna in 1050.

The Byzantine Emperors conquered and lost Cyrpus, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. The Muslim Arabs besieged Constantinople on several occasions, but they did not conquer it until the 15th century.

The Iconoclastic Controversy arose in the 8th century. Emperors Leo III and Constantine IV were iconoclasts, or "image breakers". They outlawed the use of religious icons in worship. The "image worshippers" were known as "iconodules". The Iconoclastic Controversy became an attack on the monasteries, who held much land that the Emperors craved. The army was iconoclastic, and the clergy and laypeople were iconodules. Many assassinations and skirmishes surrounded the controversy until the reign of Michael III, who restored the use of religious images in 843 and ended the controversy. Icons are still a major part of Eastern Orthodoxy to this day.

The Macedonian Dynasty (867-1056) was characterized by conflicts with the barbaric tribes of Eastern Europe. Emperors in this dynasty conquered the Balkan Penninsula and converted the Slavs to Christianity. One Emperor stands out as particularly nasty: Basil the Bulgar-Slayer (976-1025), who lived up to his name. He completely destroyed the Bulgar army and sent 14,000 Bulgars home blinded. Unfortunately, he was succeeded by weak emperors.

The end of the Macedonian Dynasty marked the beginning of the decline of the Byzantine Empire. In 1071, Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantine Army at the Battle of Manzikert. In 1204, Crusaders diverted from their true task sacked Constantinople (see Pope Innocent III). Finally, in 1453, the Ottoman Turks laid a fatal siege to Constantinople. After 50 days and many cannon blasts to the walls of the city, Constantinople fell, and the Turkish leader Mehmed II renamed the city Istanbul.
The Roman Empire had had a division of responsibility since Diocletian named a co-emperor in 286. The eastern and western halves each had an emperor and a deputy called a caesar. But with the death of Theodosius the Great in 395, the empire was divided into two fully independent states. His son Arcadius inherited the Eastern Roman Empire, with its capital at Constantinople. This had been called Byzantium until 330, and the eastern empire is usually called the Byzantine Empire.

With the accession of Heraclius in 610, the title used was Basileus, the classical Greek word for 'king', and Autocrator. Some of these emperors had junior partners or co-regents; for clarity I am not including them in the main list. Another problem is that many of them had surnames or epithets as well as regnal numbers, so Leo III and Leo the Isaurian are the same. This presents a problem deciding how to hardlink them. If you ever want to node any of these people and would prefer to see them referred to differently, please let me know.

  1. Arcadius 395-408
  2. Theodosius II 408-450
  3. Marcian 450-457
  4. Leo I the Thracian 457-474
  5. Leo II 474
  6. Zeno the Isaurian 474-475
  7. Basilicus 475-476
  8. Zeno the Isaurian again 476-491
  9. Anastasius I 491-518
  10. Justin I 518-527
  11. Justinian I the "Great" 527-565
    with his depredations the Dark Ages begin
  12. Justin II 565-578
  13. Tiberius II Constantine 578-582
  14. Maurice 582-602
  15. Phocas 602-610
  16. Heraclius 610-641
  17. Constantine III 641
  18. Heracleonas 641
  19. Constans II Pogonatus 641-668
  20. Constantine IV 668-685
  21. Justinian II Rhinotmetus 685-695
  22. Leontius 695-698
  23. Tiberius III (Apsimar) 698-705
  24. Justinian II Rhinotmetus again 705-711
  25. Philippicus (Bardanes) 711-713
  26. Anastasius II (Artemius) 713-715
  27. Theodosius III 715-717
  28. Leo III the Isaurian 717-741
  29. Constantine V Copronymus 741
  30. Artavasdus 741-743
  31. Constantine V Copronymus again 743-775
  32. Leo IV the Khazar 775-780
    Despite being called a Khazar, he was the son of Constantine V
  33. Constantine VI 780-797
  34. Empress Irene 797-802
  35. Nicephorus I 802-811
  36. Stauracius 811
  37. Michael I Rhangabe 811-813
  38. Leo V the Armenian 813-820
  39. Michael II the Amorian 820-829
  40. Theophilus 829-842
  41. Michael III the Drunkard 842-867
  42. Basil I the Macedonian 867-886
  43. Leo VI the Wise 886-912
  44. Alexander 912-913
  45. Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus 913-919
    His surname refers to porphyrogeniture, by which the succession fell to the first son born while his father was emperor (born to the purple).
  46. Romanus I Lecapenus 919-944
  47. Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus again 944-959
  48. Romanus II 959-963
  49. Basil II Bulgaroctonus 963
  50. Nicephorus II Phocas 963-969
  51. John I Tzimisces 969-976
  52. Basil II Bulgaroctonus again 976-1025
    the Bulgar-slayer
  53. Constantine VIII 1025-1028
  54. Romanus III Argyrus 1028-1034
  55. Michael IV the Paphlagonian 1034-1041
  56. Michael V Calaphates 1041-1042
  57. Empresses Zoë and Theodora 1042
    daughters of Constantine VIII; Zoë's husbands were Romanus III, Michael IV, and Constantine IX
  58. Constantine IX Monomachus 1042-1055
  59. Theodora again 1055-1056
  60. Michael VI Stratioticus 1056-1057
  61. Isaac I Comnenus 1057-1059
  62. Constantine X Ducas 1059-1067
  63. Empress Eudocia Macrembolitissa 1067-1068
  64. Romanus IV Diogenes 1068-1071
  65. Eudocia Macrembolitissa again 1071
  66. Michael VII Parapinaces 1071-1078
  67. Nicephorus III Botaniates 1078-1081
  68. Alexius I Comnenus 1081-1118
  69. John II 1118-1143
  70. Manuel I 1143-1180
  71. Alexius II 1180-1183
  72. Andronicus I 1183-1185
  73. Isaac II Angelus 1185-1195
  74. Alexius III 1195-1203
  75. Alexius IV 1203-1204
    with Isaac II restored as co-regent
  76. Alexius V Ducas (Murtzuphlus) 1204
  77. Theodore I Lascaris 1204-1222
    In 1204 Constantinople was taken by the Crusaders, who created the Latin Empire and the Empire of Thessalonica. The remnants of the Byzantine state held out in remote parts of Greece. Theodore I held the title of despot until 1208. At this time one branch of the Byzantine dynasty fled and founded the tiny Empire of Trebizond on the Black Sea.
  78. John III Vatatzes 1222-1254
  79. Theodore II Lascaris 1254-1258
  80. John IV 1258-1261
  81. Michael VIII Palaeologus 1261-1282
    retook Constantinople and restored the Byzantine Empire
  82. Andronicus II 1282-1328
  83. Andronicus III 1328-1341
  84. John V 1341-1347
    At this point the internecine strife gets so confused that I offer the next few as at most roughly right.
  85. John VI Cantacuzene 1347-1355
  86. John V again 1355-1376
  87. Andronicus IV 1376-1379
  88. John V again 1379-1390
  89. John VII 1390
  90. John V again 1390-1391
  91. Manuel II 1391-1425
  92. John VIII 1425-1448
  93. Constantine IX Palaeologus (Dragases) 1448-1453
The Seljuq Turks defeated the Byzantines at Manzikert in 1071 and occupied most of Anatolia (Asia Minor). In 1353 they crossed over and settled in Europe for the first time, and took Adrianople (now Edirne) in 1357. The last of Anatolia fell in 1390. The Turks besieged Constantinople for the first time in 1422. Their final victory came under Mehmet Fâtih (Mehmet the Conqueror) on 29 May 1453.

The Byzantine Empire was the last remnant of Roman Imperialism in Europe until the medieval ages. It was in these ages that it began to fall, but it was almost doomed to do so from the beginning. Firstly, the Empire was split into two completely separate entitites, separate of government, economy, society and eventually culture and religion. This was a fatal mistake, nevertheless, when the Western Empire did fall, the East still had ancestral ties to it, and the West was now an invitation for a large Byzantine Empire to replace the glory of the Roman Empire.

Not everything was so simple though, and as others, such as Charlemagne, were soon to find out, the Medieval period was ushering in a mild form of nationalism. People were coming together under one regional banner, due to the fact that clusters of people now spoke similar languages and had ancestral ties with one another. Still, they were divided, and as the Byzantines sought to reclaim the Western lands they were at least moderately effective.

Yet here is where the fatality of seperating the Empire into separate identities begins to come into play. The Byzantine religion was that of Catholic Orthodox, and this was not a popular religion. In fact, the only other national identity that followed the religion as a whole was the rising power of Novgorod. The complication here is that the Byzantines controlled mostly Eastern provinces, and while these provinces were being converted with the rise of Islam, the Byzantine Emperors were not, and it sought to clarify the fact that the Byzantines indeed were foreign in these lands.

Thus there was a sense of nationalism in the East, and many sought to free themselves of this western cultured dominance. The Byzantines now were incapable of expansion, and attempted to consolidate their Eastern provinces, but this was further complicated by the arrival of the Turks. These were people from the Russian Steppes, barbaric horse warriors who were searching for a place to live, and they settled to the east of the Holy Lands (including the provinces of Edessa, Tripoli, Palestine and Antioch). The Byzantines were now in decline by the beginning of the Medieval period in 1000, and the stage was set. The Arabs, Egyptians and Turkish had established themselves as independent Eastern identities, and the Western European nations, just after the collapse of Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire, were well established outside of Imperial rule. At the beginning of this period the last vestige of Imperial rule in the West lay in the Byzantine control of Naples, but this entirely lost by 1200 with the expansion of the Sicilians into Italy.

Where Byzantine word had once stretched far and wide, now it was barely even heard beyond the walls of Byzantium (Constantinople). The Slavic provinces were finding more common ground with either the Hungarians or the Polish, or deciding to establish themselves on their own, and the Greek provinces were unwilling to remain a subject people. The East was virtually lost, and all Byzantium had left to rely on were its Western relations. Unfortuneately, the fatality of their Orthodox religion comes into play yet again here, as these Western relations were to crumble.

The Pope had been cordial with the Byzantines, but had tolerated them as Catholic Orthodox was derived from Western Christianity. As time progressed, however, the Orthodox church became more and more separate from Christianity, and the Pope began to take offence. The crusade in 1204, under Pope Innocent III, was now redirected from the Islams against the Byzantines. While the Pope approved thisdue to religious politics, the Westerners' goals were far less "pure". By taking Constantinople, the Westerners plundered its vast riches, and sent them back home to fund yet another crusade. After this the Western crusaders abandoned Constantinople, it fell into chaos, and along with it the Bulgarian, Slavic and Greek provinces openly revolted against the Byzantines.

The Byzantine Empire was at its worst position ever. It controlled no Western provinces what so ever, its Eastern provinces were mostly lost, and those it did control were spiteful and resilient, and now it failed to even control Byzantium, and the riches it once commanded were lost. The Emperor's word was dead, it carried no weight, and the Byzantine Empire was more of a memory than a reality. Byzantine power was now only evident in the Eastern provinces of Nicaea and Anatolia, but even here it was not great. The Byzantines were collapsing, and the expansionist Turks were ready to strike the final blow.

Yet the Byzantines were now to make a miraculous recovery, and were even poised to begin reclaiming their lost power. They drove out all elements of Western crusaders in Byzantium and consolidated their control over it. They opened the coffers of Byzantium and took what was left, sending out their money in every direction and hiring thousands of mercenaries to produce a proud Byzantine army. They equipped these mercenaries with their post-Roman equipment, and launched campaigns into Macedonia, Bulgaria and drove towards Syria. However the Turkish, as mentioned earlier, were poised to strike, and they met the mercenary army in 1390, decimating the army, and conquering all of Anatolia. While the armies in Bulgaria and Macedonia were faring well, they were forced to return, and these provinces once again collapsed. Now Byzantine power truly only existed in Byzantium, and the Turks were all too happy to take the rebellious Nicaea off their hands.

The Byzantines had made a last ditch effort, and it was a gamble, as the money they had expended meant that if the Empire did not reclaim some of its riches, it could not continue paying its vast mercenary armies. The coffers were dry, and thus, as expected, much of the army left. What was left was soon to be defeated when the Turks made their final offensive in 1422. The headlong drive into Constantinople was viscious, and lasted many years. The Byzantines fought battle after battle, losing almost every one, but they held steadfast, and were stubbonly entrenched. They showed little sign of moving, but after many years, much of the army, starving and demoralized, simply defected or packed up and left. In 1453 the Byzantine army was routed, and forced to flee into the Citadel at Constantinople. The Turks surrounded the Citadel, but it was formidable, and its supplies could last for years on end. However the age of Castles was gone, and they were becoming an outdated technology. Gunpowder was now becoming a mainstream technology, and the Turks were especially fond of it, so for 50 days the Turks bombarded the Citadel with cannons until the Byzantines surrendered, marking the fall of the Byzantine Empire.

Yet the Byzantines had vastly superior numbers in their Mercenary army, and the Mercenaries were hardened professionals, therefore it would seem that the smallish Turkish army should have been defeated. It must be noted, as this is a major decider in the fall of the Byzantines, that their post-Roman equipment was severely outdated by this stage. At the beginning of the Medieval period no technology in the world could even hope to match the post-Roman equipment. Byzantine Infantry, Varangian Elites and Kataphraktoi were the three most heavily armoured and disciplined infantry and cavalry. Kataphraktoi, particularly, instilled fear in the hearts of any who had to cross them, yet by the High Medieval period, 1200, this technology was simply equaling world wide technology, and was no longer so fearsome.

The Byzantines should have realised this, and adapted their technology, as they had adapted Roman technology to post-Roman technology, but they did not, and by the Late Medieval period, 1400, their technology was more quaint than anything else. Their second technological failure was to incorporate the ever more widely used gunpowder, and, therefore, their large mercenary army was nothing more than a large mass of four hundred year old technology.

The Final 200 Years

Reconquering Constantinople proved a mixed blessing for Michael Palaeologos in midsummer 1261. While it allowed him to claim glory for restoring Byzantium, his small Anatolian-based Empire of Nicaea now had to somehow pay the huge city’s immense administration costs. The burden naturally fell to its farmers, whom under onerous taxation often welcomed the Muslim ghazi warriors who streamed in from the east as a better alternative to their co-religionists. In this manner Anatolia was almost completely lost by 1310.

News was little better on the European front; Serbia and Bulgaria had flourished in Byzantium’s sixty-year absence, and threatened what feeble manpower the Empire possessed. While the Emperors managed to occupy an area roughly coterminous with northern Greece for almost a century, most of it was subject to raids and pillages, often from Turks, and sometimes from their own family members.

The Palaiologos family who ruled until the end proved their own worst enemy, fighting five civil wars that destroyed what little was left of their territory and tax base. Money to fight with was tight; both the crown jewels and Imperial Navy were pawned off during the 1340s to pay their often Turkish mercenaries. Byzantium made itself an easy target for the growing Ottomans, who crossed into Gallipoli in 1354, and Adrianople and Didymoteichon fell to them within a decade.

The Empire's final sixty years consisted of increasingly frantic appeals to Western Europe for help (including Catholic-Orthodox merger offers) and gradual absorption of its territory by the Ottomans. Although the civil wars had largely ended, it was too late; Thrace was mostly lost by the 1420s, Thessaloniki in 1430. When the final assault on Constantinople came, its defense, though valiant, proved insufficient; it took until Tuesday, May 29th 1453 for the Roman Empire to finally end.


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