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Essay/Term paper: The byzantine empire

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Religion

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The Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine Empire, the survivor of the Roman empire, flourished into
the oldest and longest lasting empire in our history. It began with Constantine
the Great's triumph of Christianity. He then transferred his capital from Rome
to the refounded Byzantium in the early 4th century, year 330 AD, and named it
Constantinople after himself. This city became the surviving safe spot after
the breakup of the Western Roman empire by the 5th century. It was by far the
largest and richest city in Christendom during the Middle Ages with a population
of about one million people. (Encarta)
Constantine the Great had established a criterion for the empire to
follow throughout its history. It included the harmony of the church, the
leaders and the teachers of the empire. Constantine created a successful new
monetary system based on the gold solidus, or nomisma which lasted well into the
middle of the 11th century. Because of the commercial thriving throughout the
4th, 5th, and 6th centuries, many ancient cities flourished. Large estates
dominated agriculture which continued to be fruitful in spite of the heavy
taxation causing an abandonment of land. From the beginning to the end of the
Byzantine empire, the church and the emperor had been the largest landholders,
therefore being the largest profiteers of Byzantine. (Encarta)
After the Roman empire fell in 476 AD, Byzantine conquered all. It took
over the space of southeastern Europe, southwestern Asia, and the northeast
corner of Africa. The present day countries in these areas include the Balkan
Peninsula, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. This large empire known as
Byzantine didn't get called Byzantine until scholars named it. The people of
that time were not thought of as Byzantines but as Romans who lived a Roman
lifestyle. Byzantine had been started and ruled by an emperor without any
formal constitution. It slowly formed a similar establishment of late Roman
institutions. Byzantine followed the Romans orthodox Christianity as well. The
predominant language of this era was Greek, although some subjects spoke Latin,
Coptic, and Armenian. (Great Ages)
The Greek language led to a Greek culture. The Byzantine empire stood
out for their Christian religion and their expression of it in their artwork.
These Romans carved exquisite ivories, illuminated manuscripts, and formed
mosaics out of glass and stone. Mosaics were pictures formed from these objects
with the intent to stimulate profound religious thought. The mood of these
mosaics was always honoring and respectful of Christianity and its components.
Another form of Christian expression was in the form of icons. These were parts
of the Gospel played out into visual pictures. The icons portrayed prayers,
hymns, and sermons in color. These too created a reverence for worshippers to
follow. That was the first goal of icons. The second goal was to form an
existential link between themselves as worshippers and God. These are only a
few ways that Byzantines use art as a part of their religion. (Great Ages)
Religion was a great part of the Byzantine empire. To form a bigger
Christian kingdom, Christian Justinian the first attempted to bring the west and
east Byzantine empires together in 527 AD Justinian became the second emperor
of Byzantine at that time. Him and his wife, Theodora, set a goal to restore
the former majesty. (Oxford History) They wanted to improve the intellectual
quality and their geographical limits of the Roman Empire. At a great cost,
they reconquered North Africa, Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, and parts of Spain.
This was part of the reason the Byzantine empire fell. Justinian and Theodora,
with substantial expenses, induced in fabricating public buildings and churches.
One of these famous churches was the Hagia Sophia, Church of the Holy Wisdom, in
Constantinople. After spending so much of the Byzantine's money, the empire was
overstrained when finally their resources ran dry. Along with that problem,
plagues crossed the nation and reduced the Byzantine population. (Encarta)
To fight the rundown of the Byzantine nation, they transformed their
armies into an elite expeditionary guard called tagmata and army corps labeled
themes or themata. Each of these were commanded by a strategos or general who
acquired civil and military authority of his army district. Thematic armies
became army corps districts whose soldiers acquired tax-exempt lands, preserving
the core of the empire while avoiding the incriminating drain of cash that had
overstrained the salaried armies of the period before the Arab invasions.
Finally, the invasions began. Byzantine was able to defend itself
against Germanic and Hunnic raids in the 5th and 6th centuries. They were also
able to stabilize a reasonably secure eastern frontier against the Sassanid
Persian Empire but they could not recover, hold, and govern the entire
Mediterranean world like they had. Warfare and the nations insecurity inhibited
agriculture and education. With their limited resources, the empire could no
longer maintain the full dimensions, foundation, and complexity of the late
Roman Empire. It barely managed to endure and adapt to its circumstances.
Beginning in the 9th century, Byzantium experienced a major recovery
that took many different forms. Many of the offensives halted on the eastern
frontier. The reasons being were the decline of the caliphate and of the
creativity of Byzantine strategy. In the 10th century, the lands that had been
lost to the Slavs were reconquered and reorganized. As well as the recovery of
old land, the recovery of learning occurred. Intellectual life was revived in
many new fashions. Ancient manuscripts were summarized and recopies,
encyclopedias were compiled, and mathematics, astronomy, and literature received
new attention. Art and literature also returned to the regained Byzantine.
The greatest Byzantine emperor seemed to be Basil II. He restrained a
lengthy rebellion and expanded the Byzantine empire. On the downside, he
replaced the power of many older families with a new group of loyal families.
This failure damaged the revenues, authority, personnel, and other military
resources of the state. After his death though, the empire prospered in
economic expansion but suffered from many mediocre emperors. These emperors
neglected new technological, cultural, and economic developments in the western
part of the empire. Meanwhile the army deteriorated. The old thematic armies
had been ruined.
The fall of the Byzantine empire had been on the decline for some time
though. By 1450, only Constantinople and a few small areas to the west were
left standing. The Ottomans of Turkey finally ended the Byzantine empire.
Mohammed II, the Ottoman sultan, wanted Constantinople as the capital of his
empire. After eight weeks of heavy bombardment, his army of 80,000 men got in
the walls of the final city standing in their way. They were surprised to be
met by such a fierce opposition led by Constantine XI. Finally, when
Constantine breathed his last, the Ottomans of Turkey could rejoice at the
collapse of the city and the end of the empire.
The end of the Byzantine empire showed an end to a great period in
history. Their artwork and culture are still admired today. Their perseverance
paid off to help them become the longest standing empire in history. Byzantium
is one empire that will never be forgotten.


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