A Resource to Accompany
History Alive! The Ancient World
Brings Learning Alive!
Teachers’ Curriculum Institute
n Chapter 37, you learned how the emperor
Constantine moved his capital from Rome to
the ancient city of Byzantium in 330 C.E. This
city eventually became known as Constantinople.
After Constantine’s reign, power was usually
divided between two emperors. One was based in
Rome, and one in Constantinople.
After the fall of Rome, the eastern half of the
empire continued for another 1,000 years. Today
we call this eastern empire the Byzantine Empire,
after Byzantium, the original name of its capital
city. This great empire straddled two continents,
Europe and Asia. It lasted from about 500 to
1453 C.E., when it was conquered by the Ottoman
East and west did remain connected for a time
through a shared Christian faith. But the church
in the east developed in its own unique way. It
became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Over time, Byzantine emperors and church officials came into conflict with the pope in Rome. The conflict eventually led to a permanent split
between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the
Roman Catholic Church.
In this reading, you will learn about the
Byzantine Empire, one of its greatest emperors,
and its distinctive church. Let’s begin by exploring the empire’s capital—the fabulous city of Constantinople.
onstantinople was more than 800 miles to
the east of Rome. Why did Constantine
choose this site to be the capital of the Roman
One reason was that the site was easy to
defend. It was surrounded on three sides by
water. The Byzantines fashioned a chain across
the city’s harbor to guard against seafaring
intruders. Miles of walls, fortified by watchtowers and gates, made invasion by land or sea difficult.
Constantinople also stood at the crossroads of
Europe and Asia, and the many sea and overland
trade routes linking east and west. Under the
Byzantines, this location helped make the city,
and some of its citizens, fabulously wealthy.
For more than 700 years, Constantinople was the
richest and most elegant city in the Mediterranean
region. Ivory, silk, furs, perfumes, and other luxury items flowed through its markets. A French soldier who saw the city in 1204 exclaimed,
“One could not believe there was so rich a city in
all the world.”
At its height, Constantinople was home to
around one million people. The city’s language
and culture were Greek, but traders and visitors
spoke many languages. Ships crowded the city’s
harbor, loaded with goods. The city streets, some
narrow and twisting, some grand and broad,
teemed with camel and mule trains.
Life in Constantinople was more advanced
than in western Europe. The city boasted a
sewer system, rare in medieval times. Social
services were provided by hospitals, homes for
the elderly, and orphanages.
Despite the luxuries enjoyed by the rich,
many people lived in poverty. The emperor gave
bread to those who could not find work. In
exchange, the unemployed performed such tasks
as sweeping the streets and weeding public
Almost everyone attended the exciting chariot
races at a stadium called the Hippodrome. Two
chariot teams, one wearing blue and the other
green, were fierce rivals. In Constantinople and
other cities, many people belonged to opposing
groups called the Blues and Greens after the
chariot teams. At times the rivalry between Blues
and Greens erupted in deadly street fighting. But
in 532, the two groups united in a rebellion that
destroyed much of Constantinople. You’ll find
out what happened in the next section.
1. Why was Constantinople ideally located to be
the capital of the Byzantine Empire?
2. What were some of Constantinople’s main
3. What was daily life like in Constantinople?
The Reign of Justinian I
ne of the greatest...
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