01.05 The Byzantines: Objectives
Who Were the Byzantines?
The Roman Empire had stretched so large by the fourth century CE that it had several provincial capitals. The two most important political centers were Rome in the West and Constantinople in the East, which had formerly been called Byzantium. The emperor, Constantine the Great, rebuilt Byzantium to resemble “Old Rome,” and so this political center became known as the “New Rome.” Although those who lived in Constantinople referred to themselves as Romans and were part of the Roman Empire, historians now refer to the peoples of the Eastern Roman Empire as Byzantines. Though the Byzantine Empire no longer remains, evidence from the era exists across Southern Europe, North Africa, Southwest Asia, and beyond. The Byzantines are famous for their intricate mosaics, like the golden ones here inside a church in Istanbul, Turkey, which was once known as Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. How Did the Byzantines Continue the Roman Empire?
By the end of the fourth century CE, the Roman Empire was permanently split into East and West. While the Byzantine Empire in the East thrived, the Western Roman Empire experienced a series of invasions, a declining economy, and poor leadership. In 476 CE, the last Roman emperor of the West, Romulus Augustulus, was overthrown by a Germanic prince named Odovacar. After the fall of Rome, Germanic kingdoms claimed former Roman lands. Roads and other public structures fell into disrepair. Likewise, trade and commerce in the West declined. Without a powerful Western Roman Empire, the Roman Catholic Church became a unifying and powerful force in western Europe. In contrast, Byzantine emperors in the East were successful in keeping a powerful army that they could send long distances. While the West was repeatedly invaded after the fourth century CE, the East succeeded in defending itself well enough that Constantinople survived nearly 1,000 years after the fall of Rome....
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