Early Middle-Ages- Byzantium and Eastern Europe- the basics, part 2

Here in Part II of Early Medieval Europe, it will describe the eastern world this time. The eastern world was not fully just the powerful Byzantine Empire but the lands it controlled and lands and people tom other areas. In the eastern part of Europe, the Byzantine Empire was located there in the time the ruled an beyond it were other exotic interesting kingdoms and empires. The Byzantine Empire is basically the continued Roman Empire in the east which lasted after the Western Roman Empire fell until year 1453. The history of the Byzantine Empire begins in the 4th century when Rome was divided between east and west after the reign of Roman emperor Constantine the Great, who also the 1st Byzantine emperor. The eastern half then became different from the west growing more advanced, civilised, and populated and when the Western Empire fell and kingdoms were built by barbarians, the east remained being the sole empire from then.

Byzantine empire at its height
Byzantine Empire at its height
Constantinople visualized
Constantinople visualized

To wole story of Byzantium is basically about Constantinople first, the one city of the empire also called Byzantium or Istanbul. It is located in the Bosporus sea which comes out in the Black sea; Constantinople is on the north-west part of the Bosporus, on the Europe side, it has another body of water going through it, the Golden Horn, and across the Bosporus is the extension of the cit, which is part of Asia. The history of this place begins after the division of the Roman Empire, Constantinople became the city’s name and was the capital of the Eastern Empire. At the fall of the Western Empire, Byzantium then rose to power becoming the sole empire and the surviving Roman Empire. They grew conquering an making alliances with other lands, and with the lands they conquered, they were inspired by some of there cultures. The Byzantine Empire’s foundations was the code of laws by Emperor Justinian called Corpus Juris Civilis, Byzantium was strong with law. The empire was not only known for law but for arts, literature, architecture, warfare, and Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Justinian's code of laws
Justinian’s code of laws
sample of Byzantine art
Sample of Byzantine art

First of all Constantinople was the empire’s centre and everything that influenced Byzantium came to Constantinople having buildings of grand architecture and art. With the east for example, the Byzantines were strong enemies with the Persians or Sassanids. At the same time being enemies with the Sassanid Empire in the east, they still borrowed cultures and things from them. The idea of the emperor wearing a golden crown and having absolute power and the senate fully limited and later disband came from the east. The Byzantine style of art with gold tiles and patterns forming mosaics came from the east as well, however the Byzantines mdd their own using their own themes. In architecture, the Byzantine style was most likely their own style influenced by themselves; their architecture was made up of high ceiling buildings with domes above and arches supporting it also symmetrical shapes forming different ices. Within he domes, it was decorated with mosaics, outside were arches, the Byzantines too also used some of Roman architecture.

Byzantine architecture in Constantinople
Byzantine architecture in Constantinople
Byzantine architecture drawing
Byzantine architecture drawing

The Byzantines too had other major cities all over the empire but Constantinople was the chief city, located in the Black Sea area. The main part of Byzantine territory was in Turkey and Greece and in the west coast of the Black Sea, these parts remained under Byzantine rule from when they began to when they ended in 1453. Other Byzantine major cities were the ancient cities from Greek and Roman times like Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Athens. However the cities of Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch did not last under Byzantine rule but fell to different Islamic kingdoms and these cities became major cities for them while the Byzantines did not have such power anymore to take them back.

Sassanids against Byzantines
Sassanids against Byzantines
Byzantine Alexandria
Byzantine Alexandria

The Byzantine Empire too had control of the seas such as the Mediterranean, Bosporus, Aegean, and Black Seas, and with controlling the sea, they had a powerful fleet with powerful weapons. The Byzantines had different types of ships, both small and large and usually had their colours as sails. An example of a Byzantine ship was called a dromon, this ship carried a powerful deadly weapon called Greek fire which blew out waves of fire. An example of the Byzantine fleet out in battle was at the Black Sea between the Byzantine fleet of emperor Romanus and the Russian fleet of prince Igor of Kiev. The Byzantines trapped the Russian ships as the wind stopped and was able to fire them down with Greek fire making the Byzantines win. After all their navy was successful until the time their empire died.

Byzantine fleet
Byzantine fleet
Byzantine dromon ship
Byzantine dromon ship
Greek fire
Greek fire

In land, the Byzantines at times had a large empire covering the Mediterranean sea, Black Sea, and Balkans, from this they needed a strong army with different units to watch over it. At the beginning, they used simply barbarian German and Slavic mercenaries to fight for them and a few of there own east Roman legions, this however was at the early time of the empire under emperor Justinian and his legendary generals Belisarius and Narses. With the conquests of these generals, Byzantine territory reached to Italy, Illyria, Spain, and Armenia but after a time, the Byzantine army had to change having soldiers of their own from Byzantine territory. Having a new form of army, the Byzantines made a new unit which became their special forces, called cataphracts. The cataphracts were cavalry men forming a wedge formation with their horses in battle and performed a shock charge or fired arrows while ridding, they also protected the archers in battle. These units were armoured horsemen with armoured horses, inspired by the Parthian and Persian cavalry. However, the Byzantines were not fully successful with their military units and lost a few battles losing territory too. The greatest defeat of the Byzantine military was at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 to the Seljuk Turks from tactic errors.

Byzantine war flag
Byzantine war flag
Byantine cataphract cavalry
Byantine Cataphract Cavalry
Battle of Manzikert
Battle of Manzikert

Afterwards, the Byzantines relied on stronger units of mercenaries becoming the new special for units of Byzantium. One of these units of special forces were called Almogavres or Muslim Spanish mercenaries with strong melee attack. The most famous one was the Varangian guard, these were Russian and Viking mercenaries becoming the special forces and the imperial  bodyguard unit.

Almogavares mercenaries
Almogavares mercenaries
Varangian guard, imperial bodyguard
Varangian guard, imperial bodyguard
Byzantine army units from Assassin's Creed
Byzantine army units from Assassin’s Creed

Rather than the army, which was not overly successful leading to loss to territory, Byzantium’s specialty was art, literature, and sciences. The Byzantines established libraries, monasteries, and forms of entertainment too, the most popular was horse racing in hippodromes. What they also introduced was the education system wherein everyone could to school and be educated. In addition the Byzantines were focus on design, gold, and gems. It was no problem for them as their rich empire had simpler ways of getting colourful gems and silks with the trade routes. Silks of different colours patterned with gems were sometimes used for outfits and buildings were decorated with golden tile storming patterns of artworks.

Byzantine pattern design
Byzantine pattern design
Byzantine style outfits
Byzantine style outfits

Having territories across the sea, the Byzantines expanded north as well into eastern Europe. To the north, the Byzantines conquered the Slavic or Bulgar people fighting wars with them, the popular Byzantine emperor who fought them was Basil II the Bulgar Slayer. When they conquered the Slavs, they also converted them to Eastern Christianity but at the start did not bring Greek culture to them. Later on the Byzantines too brought Greek culture to them such as ancient Greek studies of philosophy, science, and literature making them more cultured. Another set of tribes to the north were called the Rus, these tribes were more Viking than Slavic as they originally came from northern Europe but travelled down to the Black Sea and ended up battling the Byzantines. After series of battles, the Byzantines defeated the Rus but did not fully conquer them as the Rus, who settled in Russia and above the Black Sea were converted to Eastern Christianity and learned Greek culture. The Viking Rus from Russia also chose to serve the Byzantine Empire as a military service serving as elite guard units. The Viking warriors then became the imperial protectors or Varangian guards.

The Rus in batttle
The Rus in battle
Varangians- Viking mercenaries
Varangians- Viking mercenaries and guard units

Back in Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire grew with their culture. Ancient Greek and Roman studies were a major part of Byzantine culture as people were educated with them making them one of the most sophisticated in Europe. The Greek language was Byzantium’s common language but the educated one too while Latin was more formal used in politics and the imperial court. In politics, the Roman senate still remained in the early days but their power was always limited by the emperor hough at times they would have power but the emperor had the ultimate power more than it was in Imperial Rome. Of course a major part of Byzantium was the Eastern Orthodox Church which also had ranks in the government but the Church remains powerful there too. The Eastern Church was led by different bishops in major cities called patriarchs but the one in Constantinople was the most powerful one; the rest were in Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Kiev, and Moscow. When the Empire fell, the Church was moved out the Church’s power then moved to Moscow. With the eastern Church, the Byzantines took traditions very seriously especially Christian celebrations, like on Easter and Christmas.

assorted Byzantine patterns
Assorted Byzantine patterns
additional Byzantine outfits
Additional Byzantine outfits
things of Byzantine culture
Things of Byzantine culture

The Byzantine empire however did not last but went on for more than 900 years. The exact fall of the Byzantine Empire was in 1453 when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. The last line of the Byzantine Emperors, the Palaiologi ended then and was amen over by the line of Emperor Mehmed II and the Ottomans continued. Parts of Byzantium still remains today even in Istanbul having great works of Byzantine architecture. It turns out for me, Byzantium and the Byzantines remain one of the most fascinating and inspiring topics in history I’ve learned.

So that’s it for P. Celdran’s everyday stuff for this year, see you again in 2015, which is not too long from now. Next year look forward to some more posts on Byzantium and Byzantine military as well as more things from history visualised, Happy New Year!!

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