Roman and Byzantine Empire Comparison Series- Part3: Imperial Life and Culture

Posted by Powee Celdran


Previous Article on the comparison series: Roman and Byzantine armies (Part1)

Previous article on the comparison series: Emperors and the Imperial System (Part2)


Welcome back to another Byzantium Blogger article and part3 of the Roman and Byzantine Empire comparison series! This will be the final part of the 3-part comparison series and my longest ever article so far. In the last 2 articles of this series I have gone through the topics first on the evolution of the Roman army to the Byzantine army and in the next one about the imperial systems of Rome which had continued onto the life of their successor, the Byzantine Empire. Now this is the third and final part of this series, and will be the longest of the 3, I will now move on to the last but not the least important element of the Roman and Byzantine worlds, their culture and life in those empires as after all you cannot really tell the story of these ancient empires by just explaining how the empire was ruled or what kind of armies they had but by the way the empire as whole operated and how people lived in it. The last 2 articles have been extremely long ones as it had documented the whole stories of both empires from 753BC to 1453AD, though this one too will go on explaining the whole story within that long period of time, though cultural traditions compared to army structures and changes of emperor after all take centuries to evolve. Basically, before starting off the article, of course the Byzantine Empire is just another name for the Roman Empire continued in the Middle Ages all the way up to the 15th century, the only difference is the name mainly because the Byzantine Empire which was the Eastern Roman Empire was in the east and not based in Rome, and only for a short amount of time controlled Rome. Despite being a different empire in name, the Byzantines took with them almost all traditions from the Roman world before them including the Christian religion which grew in the times of the Roman Empire with great challenge until being tolerated and eventually the official state religion in the 4th century, though the biggest difference the Byzantines had from their predecessors, the Romans was language as the Romans of old used Latin and the Byzantines after them at first used it but shortly after would completely turn into a Greek speaking empire but the people of the empire despite speaking Greek and being mostly Greek in blood called themselves Rhomaioi which is Greek for “Romans”. Back to the beginning in fact, in the early days of Roman civilization, a lot of their ideas and traditions came from the ancient Greeks possibly due to their proximity as both civilizations were in the Mediterranean, and in fact the Romans had even claimed that they have originated from the ancient Greek city of Troy. Ideas of government, mythology and religious practices, war, and architecture were among some of the many things Rome borrowed from the Greeks and their neighboring Italian civilization, the Etruscans but over centuries, Rome became its own city state expanding its rule all over Italy and once it had control of Greece, Greek cultural influences have influenced Rome even more. From 27BC onwards, Rome would grow as a global empire controlling the entire Mediterranean as a “Roman lake” and spanning north to south from Britain to Egypt, west to east from Portugal to Iraq with roads and sea trade routes connecting it from end to end and with armies garrisoned all over the borders to keep the peace and progress within the empire known as the Pax Romana. Within the vast expanse of the Roman Empire, many people of different races have inhabited it including Italians, Gauls, Celts, Iberians, Germans, Africans, Punics, Egyptians, Jews, Syrians, and Greeks meaning several languages were spoken but Latin remained the official language of the state while Greek on the other hand especially in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire was the commonly used language. Why the Greek language became the highly spoken language in the east which was not only in Greece but in Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt was because of another great empire that existed there before, the Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great which was built up in only a quick amount of time during his short reign (336-323BC) but despite his large empire under him lasting only for 13 years until being divided by his generals after his death in 323BC, Greek customs, language, and people expanded out of Greece and Macedonia into Egypt, Syria, Persia, and all the way to India and for centuries these lands would take in the Greek culture. For instance, Egypt would end up becoming a Greek kingdom known as the Ptolemaic Kingdom and what was once the powerful Achaemenid Persian Empire would become the Greek Seleucid Empire until its fall to the new Persian Parthian Empire in the 1st century BC. In the east, Greek culture had become dominant while in the west the Romans expanded their territory even more after winning the Punic Wars against Carthage (North Africa) in the 2nd century BC but had also started expanding east conquering the Greek world, but at the end the saying was “Rome conquered Greece but Greece conquered Rome” which meant that despite the Romans taking over the Greek world, they did not destroy the Greek culture but instead embraced it and learned from it to build their empire culturally. When building their empire, the Romans learned new things from the civilizations they conquered and brought their culture and rule to them at the same time but the one thing the Romans did that helped them keep their empire alive for centuries unlike other empires before them which just simply fell without leaving much of a legacy was that they (the Romans) adapted to the changing of times when they needed to such as in the 3rd century with the weakening of their empire, barbarian invasions from the north, and the threat of the Persians in the east, the Romans had to adapt by changing the structure of their army and earlier on because of civil wars that could bring down Rome itself, the Romans had to adapt so therefore the republic was reformed into the empire with the emperor beginning with Augustus Caesar as its supreme leader, although still keeping institutions from the centuries old republic such as the senate. Now in the 4th century after a long period of chaos, Rome once again survived thanks to the civil and military reforms of the emperor Diocletian and in the long reign emperor Constantine I the Great (306-337), things changed even more with Christianity now made an official religion after a long period of operating in hiding and later century even fully becoming Rome’s official religion fully replacing the old Pagan religion and the old gods. The year 395 draws the line where the eastern and western Roman worlds would separate after the death of the emperor Theodosius I, the east which was the Greek speaking part of the Roman world then would go on as Byzantium for the next 1,000+ years and the west would only last very quickly and quietly vanish away. Many would put the year 476 as when the Roman civilization had ended and the start of the Middle Ages but that was only the year the Western Roman Empire quietly died out as the east survived under many more emperors as the Byzantine Empire going through a non-linear history of increasing and decreasing in power and influence lasting all the way up to 1453 living through the entire Middle Ages. Throughout its existence, the Byzantine Empire had preserved the ancient knowledge of the Greeks and Romans by maintaining a highly civilized and educated society compared to the rest of Europe in their time after the Roman Empire faded away turning into many kingdoms having to survive on their own and only in the Renaissance in the 15th century did Europe start discovering the knowledge of the past but this rediscovery did not come out the blue, the Byzantine Empire too was responsible for it as they preserved the old knowledge bringing it to Western Europe when the Byzantines fled they lost their empire to the Ottomans in 1453. Of course it has hard to think of the Byzantine Empire in the east as the continuation of imperial Rome in the Middle Ages when the Byzantines spoke Greek instead of Latin and adopted oriental fashions and practices, but behind it all, they kept the knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome from science and architecture to philosophy and art as well as the imperial systems from Rome. Nowadays it is obvious to see that Rome was such an advanced civilization with their roads, aqueducts, and structures that you can still see today as well as the knowledge we know of their armies and strong government systems but little do we know that the Romans learned from others in order to make their civilization such an advanced one and little do we also know that these superior systems the Romans had lived on in the Middle Ages in Byzantium while they have mostly been forgotten in Western Europe which was under Rome’s control too; also in the Middle Ages the west such as France and Britain may seem so far away from Constantinople wherein back then centuries ago they were under one empire but because many kingdoms arose and so did the immigrations of many races, these worlds started to seem further apart from each other. For such a long time, the Romans have left their mark in 3 continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa and till today it is obvious to see Rome’s legacy with the Roman numerals we still use, the alphabet many of us use depending where, the calendar and the planets of the Solar System named after Roman gods, and the languages of Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian spoken by many which were languages that were derived from Latin; the language of imperial Rome and these languages that come from Latin today are not only spoken in Europe but in many parts of the world as well including countries in the Americas and Africa which had been colonies of these European countries that had Latin based languages. Now with Byzantium, the successor of Rome they had both kept the knowledge of Ancient Rome but had also developed their own culture that they had influenced to most of Eastern Europe including Russia. Now this article will be very long as it will cover 5 topics to discuss: the extent of the Roman and Byzantine worlds and how far they have left their mark, Roman and Byzantine architecture, arts and fashion, entertainment, and education and languages of the Roman and Byzantine worlds and will not anymore go through the imperial systems or military history as these have been discussed in the 2 previous articles of this series. If this article may be too long for you readers, you can skip to which section of it you would like to read by scrolling down. Also, this took me some time since the last one to write it basically because in the past weeks I have been quite busy finishing the new Byzantine Lego epic film I made “War of the Sicilian Vespers” set in the late 13th century: you can click here watch it. Anyway, let’s begin with the last and final part of this 3 part comparison series.

The Roman Empire at its height, 117AD with all its provinces
Extent of the Byzantine Empire in 3 different periods
Countries (global) that speak Latin based languages

Related Articles (Byzantine life articles) from The Byzantium Blogger :

7 Reasons to be Interested in Byzantium

The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

The Ravenna Mosaics and What to Expect

Byzantine Science and Technology

Byzantine Crime and Punishment

Foreign Lands and People According to the Byzantines Part1

Foreign Lands and People According to the Byzantines Part2

A Guide to the Byzantine Empire’s Themes

15 Byzantine Related States Part1 (1-7)

15 Byzantine Related States Part2 (8-15)

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

Constantinople: The Queen of Cities and its Byzantine Secrets

Ethnic Origins of the Byzantine Emperors

The many sieges of Constantinople

Story of 3 plagues across centuries- COVID-19 Related

Thoughts on quarantine, self-isolation, and social distancing- COVID-19 Related

Related Read:

Roman Empire at its height (from Imperium Romanum).

Related Videos:

Ancient Rome in 20 Minutes (from Arzamas).

Daily life in the Late Roman Empire (from Eastern Roman History).


I. Extent of the Roman and Byzantine Worlds and Globalization


It is a known fact that for a time Rome controlled most of the known world but it did not happen in an instant as Rome itself before expanding had to fight its way from a small insignificant city state to the dominant city of Italy. The early history of Rome though is shrouded in mystery and its origins are mostly legends; and as legend claims the Romans were descendants of the ancient Greek city of Troy in Asia Minor and as the city fell to the Greeks of the mainland after the 10-year-long Trojan War, in the famous story The Aenid by Virgil, the Trojan leader Aeneas, the demigod son of the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Trojan Anchises escaping Troy sailed down the Mediterranean and found himself in Italy where he would found the city of Alba Longa in Latium which is now the region of Lazio where Rome is located and his descendants from Alba Longa, the twins Romulus and Remus who were the demigod sons of the Roman god of war Mars would be the ones to establish the city in the 7 Hills which would be named Rome after Romulus after he killed Remus and became Rome’s first king. The early history of Rome though wherein from 753 to 509BC it was ruled by 7 kings remains unclear but a known fact is that Rome began as a small but growing settlement that was founded by immigrants and run-away criminals from all over Italy running away from their government making Rome be built as a haven for fugitives wherein they could restart their lives, the same way Australia was founded some centuries ago. In the early days of Roman history, Rome was basically only the city itself including surrounding areas and the port of Ostia while the rest of Italy was inhabited by different peoples such as the Italic tribes of the Samnites, Sabines, Umbrians and others occupying the central parts, the powerful Etruscan kingdom of Etruria occupying the lands north of Rome including Tuscany, Greek colonists at the south including in the island of Sicily, and in the north of Italy were the Gauls who were identified as Celts. Rome was though governed by a senate consisting of the patrician families of the city who were in that position because of their importance and heritage while the rest of the people even if they were as rich as patricians belonged to the class known as the Plebs which did not have the same rights or privileges as the patricians until later on when they would and the Plebs as they were citizens were allowed to enter the senate and have political positions. By the 3rd century BC, the Romans now restructured their army from the traditional phalanx formation of the Greeks to their own Manipular army structure consisting of 3 lines of differently armed and armored soldiers which enabled Rome to expand its control over Italy defeating all neighboring tribes and the Etruscans as well, also fighting off the Gauls who in 390BC attacked Rome, then Rome too took the south from the Greeks. Now at this time, Rome now being a regional power would engage in a series of 3 wars known as the Punic Wars with the Mediterranean naval superpower, Carthage and in 146BC, Rome became the dominant Mediterranean power after fully defeating Carthage as well as taking over Greece. When conquering Italy, the Romans had done conquests differently as when they conquered the people there, they gave them citizenship as a way to make a diplomatic alliance with conquered peoples in order to grow their army and have new members enter the senate so over time the Roman army and senate would not only consist of Romans but of people from beyond Rome especially from Italy while the people they conquered from lands beyond Italy who were bitter enemies to Rome were mostly enslaved when conquered. Meanwhile, in the 4th century BC when Rome was still expanding its rule over Italy, it was the Greeks who had dominated most of the world, particularly the east, this was under the empire of Alexander the Great, the king of the Greek kingdom of Macedonia built within only 13 years (336-323BC) with him personally commanding the armies and with them at all times to expand his empire. At his early death in 323BC, Alexander’s Empire stretched from Greece all the way to the Indus River, which was the border of India, but almost all his wars to build his empire were fought against the once powerful Achaemenid Persian Empire and after defeating it, Alexander took over the entire territory of Persia including Egypt but right after his death, he did not leave behind any dynasty that would continue to rule the vast empire he conquered, instead his empire was divided among his generals who formed their own empires such as Seleucus Nicator who created the Seleucid Empire building Antioch as its capital consisting of what was once Persian territory in the Middle East and the general Ptolemy Soter taking Egypt forming the Ptolemaic Kingdom with Alexandria as its capital. The Romans on the other hand coming from the “center” of what was the known world conquered both east and west and in the 1st century BC, the Romans themselves defeated the long lasting successor empires of Alexander the Great first defeating the Seleucid Empire in the east taking the Eastern Mediterranean, although the new Persian power known as the Parthians helped destroy the Seleucids from the east before engaging in a centuries long war with Rome beginning with their defeat at the Battle of Carrhae in 53BC, although 10 years before this the Romans began their conquest of the east under the general Pompey Magnus who had also captured Jerusalem in 63AD making Judea and the Levant under Roman rule. In the west meanwhile, the Greeks and Phoenicians have already made colonies along the Mediterranean coasts of France and Spain which include Massalia (Marseilles) and Cadiz but the Romans went further not just taking the coast but the inland parts as well conquering Spain and Portugal from the Iberian tribes and France from the Gauls, it was in the 50s BC when the Roman general Gaius Julius Caesar annexed the entire Gaul (France) as part of Roman territory. After Caesar’s death in 44BC the now large extent of Rome’s Empire was fought between his adopted successor Octavian and the general Mark Antony who made an alliance with Ptolemaic Egypt. Octavian won though and in 30BC after the defeat and deaths of Mark Antony and the Queen of Ptolemaic Egypt Cleopatra VII following the Battle of Actium in 31BC, the descendant of Ptolemy Egypt was annexed as a Roman province and particularly the emperor’s personal province as it proved to be a rich one and a strategic position in terms of trade as it linked the Mediterranean to the Red Sea which enabled access for the Romans to trade with lands as far as Africa and India where they could obtain rare luxuries such as ivory tusks, tortoise shells, and wild animals, but also Egypt supplied the Roman people heavily with grain as it had large amount of land and water to grow wheat and reeds for papyrus for scrolls.

Now in 27BC, Octavian became the first emperor Augustus Caesar and the Roman Empire was born and so was “Pax Romana”, the term used for Roman globalization wherein the vast extent of land was under one ruler and under Rome which was the Caput Mundi or “capital of the world” and under this Pax Romana, the whole empire would be connected by efficient roads and sea routes, trade would function all over it, and its legions would be stationed along the borders from end to end. With such a vast empire, the Romans would subdivide it into provinces, though these provinces turned out to be as big as actual countries and some countries today originated as Roman provinces (like Portugal which was once the province of Lusitania); some would be under the rule of the senate which included Italy, Greece, Southern Gaul and Spain, Asia Minor and North Africa while others such as Egypt, the rest of Gaul, Judea, Syria and later Britain were imperial provinces directly under the emperor wherein the emperor himself appointed the governor in charge while in senatorial provinces the senate managed it and appointed its governor, basically the senatorial provinces were Rome’s more “peaceful” and “civilized” provinces which already had existing cities while the imperial provinces were the less peaceful or provinces in risk of invasion which needed more military presence. In the reign of Augustus (27BC-14AD), the empire’s natural borders were drawn and like many empires of the ancient days, Rome used natural borders to define their territory, these borders were then known as the Limes; in the north under Augustus the rivers Rhine which flowed out to the North Sea and Danube which flowed east into the Black Sea were set as the Roman borders of continental Europe while in the east the Euphrates River was set as the border with the Parthian Empire and in the southeast it was the Arabian desert, then in Africa the Sahara Desert was set as the border and in the west it was no other than the Atlantic Ocean as the Romans had no idea yet what existed beyond it. The land borders had permanent fortresses across it and would be built to station the legions in charge of protecting the borders, these fortresses called Castra especially the ones in Germany and Britain would evolve into existing cities today like York in England and Cologne in Germany, and these new settlements built by the Romans at the frontiers would be called Colonia while even in the Sahara, the Romans too built fortresses, though in some places like in the east where empires had already existed before, the Romans made these old fortresses theirs. In 43AD, the emperor Claudius I (r. 41-54AD) would annex Britain as a Roman province making it the farthest Rome reached to the north as well as adding the rest of North Africa which is today’s Morocco known as Mauretania and Thrace to Roman rule but it was under the emperor Trajan (r. 98-117) that Rome was at its largest extent after annexing Dacia beyond the Danube (today’s Romania) with the Carpathian Mountains as the new borders there, as well as annexing Armenia all the way to the Caspian Sea, and Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq) all the way down to the Persian Gulf with the Tigris River now the eastern border, then in the reign of Trajan’s successor Hadrian (r. 117-138), Rome’s imperial borders would be clearly defined and the wall in Britain built from coast to coast not to keep away the barbarian invaders from Caledonia (Scotland) but to stop Roman territory from further expanding, although a further wall would be built afterwards in Scotland known as the Antonine Wall by Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius (r. 138-161) in whose long peaceful reign was when the Pax Romana was fully in effect wherein wars or rebellions were very rare. Another part of the world under Roman rule though a client kingdom which had its own king who served Rome was the large area in the Crimea (today’s Ukraine) above the Black Sea which was the Greek speaking Scythian Bosporan Kingdom. Though the Romans controlled such a large territory, some parts of it were barely inhabited or were easily conquered as its inhabitants called barbarians did not have great cities the way things were in the east but were rich in resources as the provinces in Germany had wood from the forests, Dacia had gold mines, Gaul and Spain were rich in farmland, and Britain in wool while the eastern provinces were home to advanced ancient civilizations already having large cities such as Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem that had existed for much longer whereas the west just had wooden settlements rather than full cities. Rome’s mission though when being control of the west and north belonging to barbarians was to “civilize” them by building roads and cities as the east was already highly civilized so in the west the Romans built cities or Colonias that began as trading posts along the roads that connected the empire, these trading posts would later become the cities of Milan in Italy, Lyon, Marseilles, and Paris in France, London in Britain, and another one being Sirmium in Serbia (today’s Sremska Mitrovica) which would be more important in the late Roman age. The east meanwhile was more crucial as it produced grain and made the empire rich also in the trade of spices, jewellery, and luxury goods that came from there while Egypt had turned out to be the most crucial province for Rome as said earlier giving Rome access to the Red Sea which allowed Rome to trade east with India and even with China and to the south with Africa and as trade passed Egypt particularly the capital Alexandria, Rome earned more from the taxation of trade when goods passed Egypt and Alexandria grew to be a rich and important city because of this making it also the 2nd most populated city in the empire next to Rome. Egypt meanwhile would be used as a kind of personal province for Roman emperors meaning they were the ones basically in charge of it and not the senate as it was the source of riches for the empire, therefore emperors wanted to be in charge of it and its riches which means it was the emperor who personally assigned the governor of Egypt which was a position of great importance and senators too were not allowed into Egypt without the emperor’s consent as it could mean wanting to take control of it. Also Egypt provided a lot of income to Rome from tourism as citizens were fascinated with Egypt, the pyramids, and its exotic ancient culture and there they could buy books on ancient magic the Egyptians made if tourists were interested. Basically, the soldiers in charge of protecting the borders would secure trade within the empire both in land and sea routes, and although provinces along the borders despite the Roman peace were not peaceful places, the Roman peace was effective as Rome remained not only peaceful but because of the trade all over the empire, a hub where goods from all over the world could be seen and bought, in fact even obelisks and a pyramid from Egypt was brought to Rome in order to display Rome as the “center of the world”. The popular saying “all roads lead to Rome” may be true in some ways but not entirely true; it is true because most roads led to Rome and trade in the empire usually passed Rome and as the center Rome was the hub of trade but saying is not entirely true as well as Roman roads went across the empire wherein some did not even pass Rome and because roads connected the whole empire goods could be brought from one end to another which is why you could find eastern perfumes and jewellery or exotic Asian or African animals as far as Gaul and weapons from Gaul as far as Egypt. Looking at the map of the Roman Empire, you would see roads (called Via in Latin) connecting the empire with many of them in Britain and Gaul but not much in North Africa but today many of them still stand such as the Via Appia from Rome down to Brundisium (Brindisi) in Southern Italy and the Via Egnatia in the Balkans which stretched all the way from today’s Albania to Thrace and into Asia Minor and along these roads, milestones were found along the way which told you how far you were to Rome, also they pointed the direction to Rome and to nearby cities. The Romans being masters of measurement math built these highways not only in a systematic way wherein they connected to other roads but built them as if they were meant to last by building first a 1m ditch covering it with sand and stones before putting the actual layer of the stone road and at the side of it was a ditch wherein water would flow, something like a sewer, later on this article will discuss more on Roman architecture. The roads meanwhile were used to make trade around the empire easier and a long them there were inns for travellers to stop in and guards patrolled it as well and so were there signs that advertised products like modern billboards- an early form of marketing the Romans developed, though road travel took much longer and was often times not that safe especially due to bandits and wild animals so sea travel was much quicker and efficient which is why the Romans had sea routes for ships as well and provinces like in North Africa would be more connected to the rest of the empire by sea routes than roads as after all the entire Mediterranean Sea was controlled by Rome as a “Roman lake” known to the Romans as Mare Nostrum meaning “our sea”. The Pax Romana was then effective in keeping trade running across the empire as well as keeping standard currency all over the empire but it could not be kept forever as the Roman Empire grown too big and expensive to manage, plague had killed many of its inhabitants, and in the late 2nd century the empire would be too difficult to run as the emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180) spent the rest of his reign traveling across the empire defending its borders, also the peace was not fully existent as Rome and Parthia at the east were constant wars and neither empire could conquer each other. Then later on, without much people left as citizens, the emperor Caracalla in 212 granted citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire but to add more to the population, immigrants started coming in mostly barbarians from the north entering as soldiers in the Roman army known as the Foederati until eventually seeing Rome’s politics was weak, they would plan taking over the empire. In the 3rd century, Rome went through a long decline with weak emperors and military takeovers especially from the scheming Praetorian Guard and because of the Pax Romana and citizenship granted to anyone in the empire in this 3rd Century Crisis, emperors who came to the throne would no longer be Romans or Italians but provincials who gained experience in the army and were usually from the Balkans while at the same the borders were threatened by the Germanic Goths and Franks in the north and Sassanid Persians in the east who have defeated the Parthian Empire in around 225. At this time, in 260 the empire was at its lowest point as the emperor Valerian was defeated by the new enemy at the east, the Sassanid Persians who had defeated the Parthians, thus central Roman rule was weakened and from 260-274, the empire was even divided whereas 2 independent empires were proclaimed; the Gallic Empire consisting of Gaul, Britain, and Germania as well as Spain at one point and Syria becoming its own with Palmyra as its capital because Rome itself couldn’t defend the eastern borders from the Persians and northwest from barbarians though in the reign of the emperor Aurelian (270-275) both breakaway empires were added back to the main Roman Empire, also at this point the farthest province of Dacia was abandoned to further protect Rome. In 286, the Roman Empire under the emperor Diocletian would be for the first time divided into two official halves each ruled by an official emperor or Augustus appointed by the emperor and in 293 it was divided into 4 halves this would be known as the Tetrarchy as a way to make the empire easier to govern wherein one emperor does not have to run everything yet the emperors running it were all official and not usurpers, the 2 senior emperors would be known as Augustus, one in charge of the east and the other in the west and his junior emperor would be called a Caesar, though the highest in rank of the 4 emperors was the Augustus Diocletian who would take the easternmost of the 4 parts with Nicomedia as his capital acting as the most senior of the 4, from here on the east would be meant to last. At this point, Rome would no longer be the capital rather the capital would be where the emperor was which were in parts closer to the borders so in the east it was Nicomedia for Diocletian and his Caesar or junior emperor Galerius had Sirmium, in the west the Augustus Maximian had Milan and his Caesar Constantius I had Trier in Germany. Not long after, Constantine I the Great the son of Constantius I gained full control of the whole Roman world in 324 and in 330 established the port of Byzantium in the Bosporus between Thrace and Asia Minor as the new capital calling it Constantinople after him, from then on Byzantine history would begin.

Watch this to learn the history of Rome (from Fire of Learning).

Watch this to learn about the history of the Fall of Rome (from Fire of Learning).

Roman territories conquered from various peoples
The Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage summarized
Map of the Western Mediterranean in the 3 Punic Wars, 264-146BC
The Roman world at 100BC
The Macedonian Greek Empire of Alexander the Great at 323BC
The Roman Republic at 44BC (red, yellow, blue), Rome at 63BC (red), Rome at 58BC conquered by Pompey (blue), Rome at 44BC  conquered by Julius Caesar (yellow), Vassal kingdoms of Rome (green)
Roman senatorial provinces (red) and imperial provinces (purple)
The Roman Empire at Augustus’ rise to power, 27BC
The Roman Empire at Trajan’s death, 117
Roman Empire divided (260-274) in the 3rd Century Crisis, Gallic Empire (green) and Palmyrene Empire (yellow)
Map of the original Tetrarchy of Diocletian (293-305)


From 330 onwards, the Roman world would change with Constantinople (Greek: Konstantinoupolis, Latin: Constantinopolis) now being the dominant city in the east and the new “Caput Mundi” also known as Nova Roma or “New Rome” and compared to Rome it was in a much more strategic position in the waterway known as the Bosporus between Asia and Europe and in a location that was hard to attack, Christianity then was once illegal became the dominant religion, also the structure of the provinces would change from larger regions to smaller ones which was the new system under Diocletian’s Tetrarchy where each emperor of each of the 4 parts had their own provinces; in this case of the empire divided into 4 in the original Tetrarchy, Diocletian had control of the whole east and Egypt, Galerius had Greece and the Balkans, Maximian had Italy, Spain, and North Africa except Egypt, and Constantius I had Gaul, Germany, and Britain. Under Constantine I (306-337), the empire was whole again until split between his 3 sons after his death, afterwards the empire would remain this way always split between east and west with different emperors in joint-rule to make managing easier, though also at this time large waves of Germanic immigrants especially Goths came flooding into the Roman Empire as their homeland consisting of today’s Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Romania, and the Baltic countries were in danger from Hun invasions from the east. It was in 395 however after the death of Emperor Theodosius I who was the last to rule the full Roman Empire north to south from Britain to Egypt west to east from Portugal to Syria, the Roman Empire was fully and formally divided between east and west acting as their own independent empires; the east passed on to his older son Arcadius (r. 395-408) and the west to the younger son Honorius (r. 395-423). In the west, in less than a hundred years, Roman rule would disappear as barbarian tribes from all over Europe who had immigrated into Roman territory began declaring their own kingdoms, first were the Visigoths under Alaric who sacked Rome in 410 and established his own independent kingdom in Spain afterwards, the Vandals then would travel into North Africa building their own kingdom with Carthage as its capital, thus in 455 after building a navy would again sack Rome. Britain too would be abandoned by the Romans who needed their troops there to fight off more barbarian invasions in Europe particularly the Franks who later beat the Romans and took over the north of Gaul, but the deadliest enemy came from the east (probably today’s Kazakhstan) these were the Huns, however they had posed more of a threat to the eastern empire than to the west but the west still did not live long enough. In 476, the barbarian general in the Western Roman army Odoacer after being denied territory given to him deposed the last Western Roman emperor the boy Romulus Augustus in the Western Roman capital which was Ravenna with a barbarian army, and instead of becoming the new emperor Odoacer decided the age of the emperors are done and instead made himself king of Italy and acknowledged the emperor in the east Zeno based in Constantinople as the real emperor. Not long after, in 493 was Odoacer overthrown and the Ostrogoths under their king Theodoric took over Italy. In the east meanwhile, things were far more stable, that the empire had all it needed to survive as it still had the rich provinces of Syria and Egypt and the old Roman roads connecting it, it had Greece and the Balkans as well and also Asia Minor which was vital in providing food supply as their main focus was in fighting the mortal enemy in the east, the Sassanid Empire; then as the new capital, Constantinople continued growing stronger and richer as the powerful 3-layered fortification was built under the emperor Theodosius II (r. 408-450), laws too were published, and a university too was built in the capital, though the only problem with them was having scheming barbarian generals particularly Goths in their army using the emperors as their puppet, which was one way to easily make the empire fall to barbarian invasion. However, the eastern emperor Leo I (r. 457-474) was able to end barbarian influence and his successor Zeno (r. 474-491) helped keep the east free from falling to barbarians the way the west did by keeping them out of the east and paying them to attack the west instead believing the west was no longer needed; then Zeno’s successor Anastasius I (r. 491-518) in his long stable reign made the eastern empire or Byzantium rich enough to take back the fallen west for the Romans. After 476, it was never though of that the Romans would once again rule the a large reunited empire with western parts that had fallen to barbarians but in the reign of the ambitious eastern emperor Justinian I the Great (527-565) it did actually happen that the Romans (Byzantines) with his ambitious project Renovatio Imperii helped the empire expand westwards and it was only under him and no one else that the Byzantines actually managed to do it. Justinian I meanwhile came at the right time to do such an achievement of in a way restoring the old Pax Romana, this was because the empire was rich after Anastasius I’s financial reforms, politically stable at the same time, and with the enemy, which were the Sassanid Persians, peace was made. In Justinian I’s long reign, his successful general Belisarius took back North Africa from the Vandals and Italy from the Ostrogoths placing them under Byzantine rule and not to be viewed as conquerors but liberators. However after these conquests, plague hit the Byzantine Empire hard in 542 and most of the hard work of Justinian was undone but not long after, things recovered again, the rest of Italy put back to Roman rule and later on the Southern coast of Spain too recaptured; aside from this Rome was once again under Roman rule but no longer as important as it was, instead it was just symbolic that they had Rome as the pope was now in charge of the city; also the Mediterranean was again a “Roman lake”. At Justinian I’s death in 565, the Roman world was again once more larger than ever spanning north to south from the Crimea in Ukraine to Egypt, west to east from Spain to Syria, but this moment of glory wouldn’t last long especially at this time, Europe was now in the dark ages, barbarian invasions became constant, and in the east Persia was still hungry for conquest, before all this tings looked bright for Byzantium but after Justinian I’s death in 565 it would never remain this way always. Justinian I’s successor Justin II (r. 565-578) could not live up to his uncle’s successful rule and as the new invaders, the Germanic Lombards began invading Italy he went mentally insane being unable to manage such a large empire that he abdicated making his adopted successor Tiberius II (r. 578-582) manage the empire for him. Under the Byzantine emperor Maurice (r. 582-602) the golden age of Justinian began falling apart as a new enemy rose from the north, the Slavs who began raiding the Danube frontier at the Balkans, Italy too began falling to the Lombards and Spain back to Visigoths and imperial territory was too much to handle that Maurice turned Byzantine Italy and North Africa into 2 semi-autonomous empires under the emperor known as Exarchates, however he also made peace with Persia after helping his Persian ally Chosroes II become king in Persia. Maurice however was constantly pressured by the Slavic invaders in the Balkans that his armies had to constantly fight even if their payment would be cut off because too much had already been spent in war. The soldiers though were not happy and in 602 they proclaimed the centurion Phocas as emperor and Maurice and his sons were executed, thus the Persian king with his friend dead saw it as an excuse to attack the Byzantines and because of this, Phocas pulled the army out of the Balkans to fight the Persians in the east allowing the Balkans to fall to the Slavs and Avars, and soon enough the Byzantines began to loose to the Persians. In 610, the Exarch of Africa’s son Heraclius after rebelling against Phocas sailed to Constantinople, overthrew and killed Phocas, and became emperor but the empire was now in ruins especially with the Persians swiftly taking Syria and Egypt as well. Heraclius however fought back, raised an army, and marched into Persian territory and in 628 after the king Chosroes II was deposed, the Byzantines won the war except it was not at all a great victory, many soldiers died, resources ran out, and instead of taking over Persia, the Byzantines and Persians returned to the same borders before the war that began in 602. Not so long after would the Byzantine Empire be again ruined, Heraclius in his last years in power saw another threat rise, this time of all people, the Arabs from the deserts of the south who had taken the new religion of Islam swearing to take the Roman world for themselves. After Heraclius’ death in 641, the Romans would now lose Egypt and Syria to the Arabs and this time for good seeing that they could not longer hold these places anymore especially since the Arabs threat was too strong and nothing familiar to them, before that the Romans and Greeks knew the Arabs existed in the deserts at the south but never knew they would rise and make their own empire, at the same time they were unfamiliar with the warfare of the Arabs as it was never thought they would be such a strong naval or military power. From then on, the Byzantine Empire would for the next 3 centuries have to fight on the defensive side against the Arabs and also the Slavs and Lombards, now during the reign of Heraclius’ grandson and successor Constans II (r. 641-668), the empire gave up the old system of Roman provinces and introduced the new governing system known as the “Themes” which were smaller provinces across the empire beginning in Asia Minor, the new heartland of the empire; these Themes were made to increase military presence and to recruit locally as Byzantium needed more soldiers to defend the borders, also each of these Themes had to provide food for the army and resources for the empire and both civil and military administration of each Theme would fall to one person, the Strategos which was a military or naval governor. Also with the loss of Egypt and Syria to the Arabs, which had for such a long time provided the Roman world with a lot with grain and resources, the Themes were needed to be created to increase more space for planting grain but at least Asia Minor had a lot of land for, also compared to Roman times in Byzantine times, with more immigrations into empire and new cities built, populations grew more, therefore people were needed to be moved around to different Themes across the empire to balance population. Several Themes created in Asia Minor (Turkey) were vital in producing grain and food for the empire while the naval Themes created among the Greek islands in the Aegean and Ionian Sea were to supply Byzantium with ships, sailors, and ship equipment like ropes, anchors, and nets. In the reigns of the emperors Constans II (641-668), Constantine IV (668-685) and Justinian II (685-695), Byzantium would now have fight on the defensive side, borders now had shrunken in the east that the Taurus Mountains in Asia Minor became the new eastern border with the Arab states, and most of Greece except for the coastal areas slipped away into Slavic control, however Italy still remained under Byzantine control although most of it had already fallen to the Lombards and North Africa would soon be entirely taken by the Arabs and so was Spain. However, in 681 a new enemy came in, the Bulgars coming from the Eurasian Steppes and after winning over the Byzantines in a battle, the emperor Constantine IV surrendered giving up Byzantine territory in Thrace (which is today’s Bulgaria) to them, thus the Bulgarians established their own kingdom becoming both an enemy and ally to the Byzantines. At this time, the Arabs attacked Constantinople twice, once from 674-678 and another from 717-718, but in both times the defending Byzantines won with the help of a new weapon invented, Greek Fire. Although within this time as well, Byzantium in 695 fell into what would be known as the “20-year-Anarchy” wherein there would be a change of 7 emperors within 22 years (695-717) that had weakened the empire so much that in 717 it seemed that the empire would easily be ended by the Arabs until in 718 both the Byzantines and their Bulgarian allies won a great victory forcing to the Arabs to retreat and never attack Constantinople again. Here, the general Konon who became Emperor Leo III (r. 717-741) restoring order after a long period of anarchy, and in his reign he continued to successfully fight against the Arabs pushing them away from Asia Minor and continued expanding the Theme system; his son and successor Constantine V (r. 741-775) did the same too also taking back most of the Balkans from the Bulgarians but Italy would eventually be ignored by the Byzantines causing the Lombards to further grow as a threat capturing Ravenna in 751 limiting Byzantine control to only Sicily and southern Italy, the pope in Rome would no longer trust the Byzantines as allies, instead he turned to the Franks who ruled France for support and with the help of the Franks, the Lombards were taken care off and Rome and its surroundings became independent under the rule of the pope becoming the Papal States. With the pope and the Franks allied, the pope in 800 crowned the Frankish king Charlemagne as “Roman Emperor” with the title Augustus or better known as the “Holy Roman Emperor” but this shocked the Byzantines who were really the successors of Imperial Rome while Charlemagne was a Frank and not at all Roman but Charlemagne and the Franks did not see Byzantium at all as an empire and their ruler not at all the Roman emperor basically because in 800, the Byzantine ruler was a woman, the empress Irene (r. 797-802) and the Franks saw that a woman could never rule, though Irene planned to marry Charlemagne to unite both empires and in a way restore Roman rule to most of the world that was once Roman, but instead the people of Constantinople lost faith in her especially in agreeing to marry a barbarian so in 802, she was overthrown and the finance minister Nikephoros I (r. 802-811) took over; though as emperor he refused to even acknowledge Charlemagne as western emperor and chose to instead destroy the Bulgarians once and for all, although in 811 his plan failed and the war with Bulgaria ended in total disaster with Nikephoros I dead and his skull turned into the Bulgarian king’s drinking cup. Byzantium would once again enter chaos especially facing war with the Bulgarians, but within this time period, emperors worked hard in developing the army and further increasing military rule across the empire. In the reign of Michael II the Amorian (820-829), the empire stabilized again despite Crete and Sicily falling to the Arabs and under his son and successor Theophilos (829-842), things had improved by a lot as the Theme system proved to be highly effective and a beacon system as built in equal distance from each other built across mountain tops or towers stretching from the Taurus Mountain borders to Constantinople, this was made to signal every Theme in time of war, but also to let the emperor be informed when the Arabs are raiding and to give a message to the Themes to send their army to help another Theme in danger. Now Byzantium would come out of its dark ages and once again enter another period of rebuilding the glory of the past under the long-lived Macedonian Dynasty beginning with its first ruler Basil I (r. 867-886), originally a peasant from Macedonia who as a wrestler usurped the throne in 867 and rebuilt Constantinople back into a glorious capital and began expanding east fighting the Arabs turning Byzantium from fighting on the defensive side back to fighting on the offensive. The next emperors after Basil I would do the same turning the tide of war against the Arabs pushing them back to deserts from where they came allowing the Byzantine Empire to live in peace once again like how things were in the “Pax Romana” under the Roman Empire in the past. The 10th century saw the Byzantine Empire become the most powerful and invincible army in the Middle Ages allowing Constantinople to grow rich and for emperors to now not only focus on the protection of the empire but in growing the empire culturally. At this time emperors like Leo VI the Wise (r. 886-912) and Constantine VII (r. 913-959) focused on writing books, establishing universities, building up the art scene of the capital, and making the imperial court as lavish as possible. While at this time as well, Byzantium’s borders began to expand again under capable military emperors like Romanos I (r. 920-944) who began pushing the Arabs out of Asia Minor, Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969) who as a general in 961 took back Crete from the Arabs and as emperor reclaimed parts of Syria and the rest of Cyprus from the Arabs, then his successor John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976) who once again returned parts of the Middle East to Byzantium after 3 centuries of Arab rule while also he took back most of Bulgarian territory. However it was during the successful reign of Basil II (976-1025) that the Byzantine Empire again reached its fullest extent of territory but not as large as it was in Justinian I’s reign; under Basil II known as “the Bulgar-Slayer”, the whole Bulgarian Empire was defeated and the rest of the Balkans was brought back to Byzantine rule, Armenia too was annexed but through diplomacy and not war, by his death in 1025 Byzantine territory stretched from Southern Italy to Armenia, the Crimea to Syria wherein at this point Byzantium had the most number of Themes, and all their neighbors came to respect Byzantium as culturally superior and fear attack them or else they would suffer the same way Bulgaria did being wiped off the map. However Basil II’s empire did not live that long and just right after his death, things would slowly fall apart again under a series of weak emperors. The rest of the 11th century after golden age of Basil II would be known as the “11th Century Crisis” which was similar to Imperial Rome’s “3rd Century Crisis” which was a period of turmoil that followed a period of great success, but for the Byzantines things got worse especially when another new Islamic enemy, and not Arabs but Seljuk Turks from Asia Minor this time started raiding into Asia Minor and in the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, the Byzantine army led by Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes (r. 1068-1071) was defeated allowing the Seljuks to takeover most of Asia Minor ending Byzantine rule which had been there for centuries. The Byzantines losing both Asia Minor to the Turks and Italy to the Normans, as well as most of the Balkans to the Pecheneg raiders still did not give up and could not afford to lose Asia Minor in which was vital in providing food resources for the empire and as the general Alexios I Komnenos came to the throne in 1081, he immediately set off in crushing Byzantium’s enemies at all sides, first dealing with the Normans who had invaded the Balkans and though later beating them was still unable to take back Italy, the Pechenegs too would be dealt with, and so would the Turks although Alexios I needed help from the west for the Seljuk threat but instead of a support army from the kingdoms of Western Europe, the 1st Crusade was launched which at the end did not help Byzantium and give back their lost territories but instead turned on them and took lost territories for themselves all the way down to Palestine. At this time at the end of the 11th century, Western Europe began to rise and the Crusades had begun, though it did not fully harm Byzantium, as when taking the Levant, they would instead focus on defending it from the Muslim armies leaving Byzantium to their own business. Alexios I died in 1118 with Byzantium much more stable than when he came to power, though his son and successor John II (r. 1118-1143) did even more than his father could by restoring most of Asia Minor to Byzantine rule and making the new Crusader states of Westerners acknowledge the supremacy of Byzantium in the east. It was under the reign of John II’s son and successor Manuel I (1143-1180) that Byzantium would see its last golden age and largest extent of territory as well as a time of great wealth and culture at the capital. Under Manuel I, Byzantine rule was restored to most of Asia Minor, Antioch was put under their rule as a vassal kingdom, and most of the Balkans still remained theirs, however Manuel I was a bit too ambitious that he still thought he could take back Italy and Egypt for the Byzantines but at the end his army was heavily defeated by the Seljuks at 1176, he then died in 1180 which mark the start of another decline, which happened mostly because of his spending but also because he trusted the west too much, the people began to grow unhappy. The next emperor, Andronikos I (r. 1183-1185), Manuel I’s cousin who took the throne after killing Manuel I’s son Alexios II (r. 1180-1183) would begin tensions with the west after the massacre of thousands of Italians in the capital but in 1185, the brutal emperor was killed by the same mob that put him in power when they turned their support to his rival Isaac Angelos who was crowned Emperor Isaac II (r. 1185-1195), but his reign was no better, he grew more and more suspicious of the west and had no other solution to improve the empire than raising taxes and neglecting the army making the Bulgarians rise up again and declare once again a new Bulgarian Empire in 1185 in which the Byzantines would never be able to beat. In 1195, Isaac II was suddenly overthrown by his older brother Alexios III (r. 1195-1203) and his reign was even much worse that the army devolved to the point of uselessness that when the 4th Crusade arrived to attack Constantinople in 1203, he could not do anything but flee making the Crusaders put Isaac II’s son Alexios IV in power, thus Isaac II though blind was released and put in the throne with his son, however both father and son did not have the amount of money needed to pay back the Crusaders and could not live up to their promises to help the Crusaders by providing an army so the people of Constantinople deposed and killed them in 1204 but still without the money to pay back the Crusaders, the Crusaders after months camping outside the city attacked while the Byzantines were defenseless, so as it happened Constantinople fell to the Crusades and the Latin Empire was established, most of Greece would be under different Latin states and Crete under Venice. The Byzantines however did not see it as the end, in the city of Trebizond in the Black Sea, a new empire was formed but did not really become a world power, and then in the city of Nicaea the Byzantines from the capital made it their empire in exile waiting to take back Constantinople. The Balkans and Asia Minor as well as Greece turned into a constant warzone wherein the Latin Empire, the Byzantines of Nicaea, Bulgarians, and the rogue Byzantine state of Epirus fought for control of but the Latins in Constantinople were too poor to actually keep their empire running so in only a few decades, the Byzantines surrounded them to only Constantinople but unable to breach the walls. However in 1261, in a great stroke of luck as the Latin forces left the city on a raid, a small Byzantine army from Nicaea which now had become a strong empire in Asia Minor even though in exile in one night took back Constantinople and their leader Michael Palaiologos was crowned emperor. Michael VIII (r. 1261-1282) was the first one to rule a restored Byzantine Empire once again in Constantinople after only 57 years of Byzantium’s absence, but not all was well anymore, the army had grown smaller, most of the old Themes were gone and when focusing on keeping the Latins away, Byzantine rule in Asia Minor began collapsing as the Turks started taking over, the people too were disunited and unwilling to submit to the pope and Catholicism even if that could help them. Michael VIII ended his reign tragically being hated by his own people for trying to save his empire by Church Union even if he took back the capital, but he still saved the Byzantines again from being taken back by the Latins in 1282, by the time the age of the Crusades too were over and during the reign of Michael VIII’s son and successor Andronikos II (r. 1282-1328), a new enemy rose in Asia Minor in 1299 this time to finish Byzantium for good, this was the sultan Osman beginning the Ottoman Empire. For the next years, the Byzantines would forever be fighting on the defensive again, this time against the Ottomans, however there was only one short period of revival under Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341) where the Byzantines became the dominant rulers of Greece only but were only still at the same level of power as their Balkan neighbors Serbia and Bulgaria. What would really be the death blow for Byzantium was the civil war of 1341-1347 between Andronikos III’s son John V and general John Kantakouzenos wherein John VI Kantakouzenos won with the help of the Ottomans giving them their first territory in Europe. By the end of the 14th century, Byzantium was now only limited to Constantinople which was a shadow of its old glories, and Southern Greece the rest already falling to Ottomans rule, Serbia and Bulgaria too were defeated by the Ottomans but the emperor then Manuel II Palaiologos (r. 1391-1425) despite being only emperor within the walls of the city still managed to keep Byzantium alive and through diplomacy weakened the Ottomans by starting civil wars among them. However, in 1402 Byzantium would be saved when the Mongol ruler Timur (Tamerlane) defeated the Ottomans in the Battle of Ankara giving the remains of the Ottoman Empire time to recover while Byzantium too recovered and was able to live for 50 more years. Both Manuel II’s sons John VIII (r. 1425-1448) and Constantine XI (r. 1449-1453) were the last emperors but still managed to keep their empire from falling, however in 1451 the young Mehmed II became the Ottoman sultan and swore to take Constantinople and finish Byzantium for good so he also asked Constantine XI if he could just surrender the city and he would spared but he disagreed saying he would instead fight to the death so in 1453, Mehmed II laid an army of about 100,000 to besiege Constantinople and within 6 weeks, the Ottomans won and Constantinople fell once and for all. Now for the Byzantine Empire from the fall of Western Rome in 476 to its fall in 1453, it may have lived a long life longer than its predecessor but its life was much more turbulent than Imperial Rome. Imperial Rome had enjoyed a long time of stability within the empire for more than 2 centuries from Augustus’ rise to power in 27BC to 193AD known as the “Year of the 5 Emperors” whereas for the Byzantines their “golden age” was on and off as it was only at its height of power in Justinian I’s reign (527-565) but where the actual golden age would take place was at the middle of its existence under the Macedonian Dynasty from Basil I to Basil II (867-1025), this is when the empire enjoyed stability and peace within the empire allowing the Byzantines to have a revival of arts and culture while the armies won several victories against their enemies, the Arabs and Bulgars. Before this, life in the Byzantine Empire for centuries since the 7th century was a hard one, invasions were constant and military presence was needed more, therefore Byzantium could not enjoy the same stability Imperial Rome had as the empire went on for 3 centuries of fear and martial law, but this gave time for Byzantium to develop their army into a powerful killing machine. The last centuries of Byzantium though would be a very different story, here the proud army they once had no longer meant anything as emperor thought it was too much to spend on them. The Byzantines on the other hand at least inherited all the hard work Rome had built including roads, aqueducts, and cities making the Byzantines able to keep their empire running. The only difference basically was the foreign situation, the Romans before did not face enemies as numerous and powerful as the Byzantines did, the Romans too did not see kingdoms in Europe become powerful the way the Byzantines did, while the Byzantines had to keep reforming systems including military structure, taxes, and economic to adapt to the changing of times.

Watch this to learn the history of the Byzantine Empire (from Fire of Learning).

Watch this to learn the history of the Fall of the Byzantine Empire (from Fire of Learning).

Constantinople, the “New Rome”, City of Constantine
Map of the Barbarian Invasions into the Western and Eastern Roman Empires
Division of the Roman Empire after the death of Theodosius I, 395
Map of the Byzantine Empire at its greatest extent under Justinian I, 555
The Byzantine Empire at the end of the 6th century bordering the Persian Sassanid Empire
The Byzantine Empire at 641 with the loss of Egypt and Syria
Early Byzantine Theme System in Asia Minor, 750
The Byzantine Empire (yellow) by 867
Byzantine Empire at Basil II’s death in 1025 with the fullest extent of the Themes
The Byzantine Empire (purple) in 1180 at Manuel I’s death
Route of the 4th Crusade, Venice to Constantinople
Aftermath of 1204, includes Empire of Nicaea (exiled Byzantines), Break-away Byzantine Empire of Trebizond, Latin Empire, Latin states in Greece, Venetian territories (green), new Bulgarian kingdom, and Break-away Byzantine Despotate of Epirus
Byzantine Empire restored in 1261 (yellow)
The last of the Byzantine Empire (purple) in 1450
Constantine XI and the ghosts of the former emperors of Byzantium


II. Roman and Byzantine Architecture and Engineering


One of the things the Romans were best known for was their architecture that was not only spectacular but meant to last, but this unforgotten legacy of theirs was not entirely their own but something they borrowed from both the Greeks and the Etruscans. First of all ancient civilizations even before the Greeks such as the Egyptians and Babylonians have already built spectacular and massive structures in which some can be seen today like the pyramids in Egypt or the Gates of Babylon (which can be seen as a rebuilt version) but the Greeks have built actually more practical and sturdier structures in which many are still visible today even if they remain in ruins like the Parthenon in Athens, though what the Romans did that outdid the architecture of previous civilizations was that they built their structures not so much for show but to be meant to work and last for centuries. The one architectural element developed by the Romans was putting more use to the arch in all forms of public work as a way to strongly support structures as before that civilizations like the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians used the arch but very limitedly, although the Romans had learned the technique of the arch from the Etruscans, but the Romans took the use of the arch to even higher levels which was in making larger structures such as high-rise amphitheaters, bridges, and aqueducts. The kind of architecture the Romans basically used was Classical architecture consisting mainly of columns, marble, brick, and triangular roofs which was the architecture of the Greeks too. Of course since Rome just began as a small city state, they did not come up with all those ideas on architecture and engineering which is the science of building on their own, rather they learned techniques of engineering from the Italian neighbor, the Etruscans who had already built trenches called a Cuniculus to irrigate land but over centuries the Romans further improved the engineering techniques the Etruscans once had making their own structures actually work so close to structures with modern engineering. Another thing the Romans had over centuries that remains one of their greatest legacies was constructing cities from scratch, especially in Western Europe where back then people weren’t as civilized compared to the east where there were actual cities. As Rome expanded its borders towards Europe (Gaul, Germany, Britain), they built simple army camps with wooden walls, which later involved into actual settlements with stone walls, roads, houses, and shops, which later became towns and trading posts along the highways that connected the empire. Some of these towns even grew to become cities like Lutetia Parisiorum which became Paris, Londinium which became London, and Mediolanum which became Milan. These Roman settlements in the rest of Europe since being built from scratch had a distinct yet simple layout of a grid pattern for streets wherein the roads intersected at right angles wherein engineers would use a tool called a Groma to measure street corners at exactly right angles, also longer diagonal main roads went across them, and the city was usually in a square or rectangular shape being surrounded by a wall, although these Roman settlements despite having already a large population did not necessarily have an actual stone wall the way larger cities like Rome did with the Aurelian Walls built between 271 and 275 that surrounded all of Rome’s 7 hills, rather they were just protected by a wooden wall, though a highway passed through them connecting them to the rest of the empire. On the other hand it is quite ironic that the new cities the Romans built across their empire especially in Europe were laid out in a simple grid system while the capital, Rome was not all laid out that way, this was because Rome’s structure was never planned and back in the past no one knew it would grow into such a large imperial metropolis. In the case of Rome, over centuries the city just kept on expanding in size as more people migrated from not just Italy but all over the empire as it kept growing, which meant nothing was really planned so over years and centuries buildings were just built here and there without much of a system. At the time of the republic however, the Romans being simple and practical people just built structures usually for practical uses such as theatres for entertainment, a forum for people to gather and shop, and a Basilica for government meetings to be held; meanwhile in Republican Rome the most important buildings in the city happened to be where the Roman Forum was, this was of course where the senate hall was where the Roman state was based in, also in the area of the Forum was where the Capitoline Hill was, the location of the Capitolium, the temple of Rome’s 3 major gods Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. However after Rome’s conquest of Greece in the mid-2nd century BC, things began to change in Roman culture and it could be seen in their architecture; although long before that the early Romans adopted a lot of architectural elements from the Greeks who had also settled in Southern Italy, but after the conquest of Greece, the Romans started learning to have a more sophisticated lifestyle including constructing more extravagant than practical structures such as elaborate temples, triumphal arches, and triumphal columns with highly detailed sculptures, although triumphal arches had dated back to the Etruscans and triumphal columns began out as Obelisks with the Ancient Egyptians, in which the Greeks adopted later on. During the time of Rome’s first emperor Augustus Caesar, Rome had already grown into a congested and densely populated imperial capital, also buildings kept on being built without any height regulations and sometimes some buildings built as flats to house common people could be more than 6 floors high which were rectangular or square with a central courtyard, and sometimes if these buildings were not strongly built as many of them were built with only wood and clay, they could collapse killing people. For safety measures, Augustus as emperor had to issue a law to limit the height of buildings in Rome and other cities to 6 floors, however people too had complained about the congestion and traffic jams due to Rome’s narrow streets, irregular buildings, and warm climate which makes people want to be out more than indoors especially those living in cramped flats known as Insulae, so rulers beginning with Julius Caesar who was not emperor but dictator issued a law that horse drawn vehicles could only move at night to decongest the streets, although horses had also made it hard for people on foot to move around and their dung could cause disease so to deal with it, the emperor Claudius I (r. 41-54AD) forced people not only in Rome but in the other crowded cities of Roman Italy to walk on foot. In city life in Rome as well as in other cities all over the empire, streets were usually lined with shops specializing in certain products as in Ancient Rome there were no supermarkets that sold everything, instead shops sold their own particular goods such as meats from a butcher, olive oil and wine from their own shops, and some shops even sold specialty goods from the far parts of the empire and beyond such as ivory tusks and tortoise shells from Africa and perfumes from the Near East, also signs were placed outside stores to advertise what they sell. Meanwhile, Rome in the 2 centuries of the Pax Romana from the reign of Augustus (27BC-14AD) to the end of the 2nd century, Rome had 500,000 to 1 million people living in it from all parts of the empire and was in fact smaller in size compared to the great cities in the east like Antioch and Alexandria which meant in Rome houses were definitely packed and everything was very dense which meant it was in high risk of fires and disease to spread and true enough fires were very common and could just be started if someone’s candle fell, therefore it would scatter very fast especially since houses or flats of commoners and poor citizens were not only cramped but made of wood and clay while the houses of the rich were isolated and had more space including courtyards; the poet Martial even said that “there’s nowhere a poor man can get any quiet in Rome” in response to the cramped living conditions in the city. Rome though had a firefighting force that also served as a police force for the city known as the Vigiles which was created under Augustus who in his long reign spent a lot of time remodelling Rome although it still remained congested, though when talking about his reign, Augustus said he “founded Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble”, and true enough he was responsible for many of Rome’s construction projects one of them being his forum in the center of Rome and the original structure of the Pantheon, the temple to all the gods which will be discussed later. One of the greatest feats of ancient architecture found in Rome is its sewer system known as the Cloaca Maxima or the “greatest sewer” which has been there ever since the beginning said to have been around since 600BC according to legend when Rome was under the rule of its Etruscan kings though it began as an open-air sewer wherein the waste from the drains of houses flowed into it and the sewer system flowed out into the Tiber River; the sewer system though got a major overhaul in 33BC by the general and architect Marcus Agrippa, the friend of Augustus before Augustus’ coronation as emperor in 27BC. It turns out many houses in Rome though not having modern plumbing at least had toilets connected to the sewage system, though many houses didn’t so people threw their waste down communal drains; meanwhile in other cities around the empire the Romans too developed them further by building sewer systems in them. Aside from the sewer systems, one of the greatest achievements of Roman architecture and engineering are aqueducts which were massive bridges that carried water above it and the waterline above was supported by a series of arches sometimes going up to 3 levels high depending on the elevation of the ground; the water here came from springs in mountains and hills and travelled for miles sometimes intersecting each other. At one point Rome had 11 aqueducts supplying water to its fountains and bathhouses, however not only Rome but the rest of the empire too had aqueducts which supplied water directly to other cities in the empire, although in the final days of Rome after the 5th century, the invading barbarian tribes destroyed many of these aqueducts to cut water supply to Rome and other cities but still many of these Roman era aqueducts can be seen today most notably the one in Segovia, Spain. Speaking about water, the Romans had taken it very seriously that they built up many fountains and entire buildings as bathhouses as well as communal public lavatories in their cities and not only in Rome but of course the grandest of these water related structures were in Rome although around the empire there were many bathhouses (called Thermae in Latin) that still exist today like the Roman Baths of Bath in England which gets its water supply from natural hot springs which people used for healing purposes. In Rome, one of the best examples of a Roman bathhouse is the Baths of Caracalla built between 212 and 216 with a heating facility underneath the heated baths which consisted of boilers (Hypocausts) beneath the tiled floor of the pools. Rome at the time of the empire wasn’t all just a congested and overpopulated city but supposed to be the grandest city of the world as after all it ruled the empire that controlled most of the known world so it had to have some of the grandest buildings in which emperors put a lot of attention to building. Some of the grandest structures Rome ever had in its imperial age was no other than the Colosseum or Flavian Amphitheatre built under Emperor Vespasian (r. 60-79AD) and opened under his son and successor Titus (r. 79-81AD); it was so large that it could seat up to 60,000 people to watch gladiator games and other shows, and it is so massive that most of its structure today remains intact; though this will be discussed later together with the Circus Maximus, another great work of architecture. Another of the grandest structures Rome had was Trajan’s Forum built under Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117AD) who in his reign Rome was at its height of territory which meant this forum would be where people could see and buy products all over the vast expanse of the empire and at the center of it was his triumphal column showing his military campaigns and victory over Dacia (today’s Romania) from 101-106, the column which is still intact today shows in perfect detail what Roman army units looked like and how they fought and lived also showing many scenes of the emperor Trajan. This column aside from the Column of Marcus Aurelius near it also shows detailed sculptures of the Roman army but aside from columns the Romans in Rome particularly built triumphal arches made for victorious generals, which at first were in the Via Appia heading to Rome but inside the city in the Forum exactly today are 3 triumphal columns still standing; one made for Emperor Titus when crushing the Jewish Revolt of 70AD as a general, the 2nd for Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211) built to commemorate his victories over Parthia, and the other one for Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337), and these arches depict scenes of battle too and not only in Rome can you find these arches but across the empire as well and as late as 19th century Paris, the Arc de Triomphe was built to resemble a Roman triumphal arch while the column of Place Vendome to resemble a triumphal column. And lastly within Rome another grand imperial structure being one of the most impressive and still very much intact today is the Pantheon, built originally by Marcus Agrippa under Augustus but highly renovated under Emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138) which was built as a temple to all the Roman gods but the most impressive part of it is its domed roof being one of the earliest versions of a dome and in its time the largest dome in the world, within the high dome were symmetrical squares in the ceiling with stars in them made to represent the sky while above the dome was a large open hole where sunlight entered and despite it being open 24/7 rain water did not enter as the air inside from the marble floor pushed water out, another fine example of Roman engineering. Outside Rome there were several structures built to represent the power of Rome and many of them built by Hadrian such as his villa in Tivoli which had artificial lakes and Greek statues making the villa look like the complete edition of a luxury Roman villa built by the same emperor who built the architectural feat of a coast-to-coast wall in Britain. The Roman countryside on the other hand was far different from the congested cities but people there complained usually about crop failures and some about high rents they had to pay to the landowners who lived in the cities and not in the farm. However, the Roman countryside too shows sophisticated examples of Roman architecture which were not only found in large scale buildings like temples and theatres but in villas especially in the western parts which had a layout having a central courtyard surrounded by rooms and halls and usually consisted of 2 floors but the unique thing Roman villas had was an indoor pool known as an Impluvium for water supply underneath an open roof that gave it rain water and beneath the floors the same Hypocaust steam room as in the baths to heat it. Meanwhile, the Romans had highly improved the structure of ports by making them have artificial enclosed harbors with concrete structures built into the sea as well as a lighthouse to keep ships safe from the rough waters of the sea and a road leading directly to the city from the port, in fact Rome’s port of Ostia has 2 enclosed harbors the first one circular and the inner one hexagonal; although before the Romans the Greeks and Carthaginians had already built this kind of structure for their ports which most notably ancient Carthage had. Now as for other cities in the empire that had already been built up long before like Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria they already had sophisticated structures most notably Alexandria built under the Ptolemaic kings as their capital making it have a massive library, a main promenade street at the middle of the city, canals, and outside it at the seaside a towering lighthouse known as Pharos still there. However some cities in the east had already existed but grew to importance when being under the Romans such as Ephesus in Asia Minor which was another busy metropolis with a main promenade, a large library, and temple making it one of the largest cities in the empire for a time, then in North Africa (today’s Libya) the city of Cyrene rose to importance under Rome as intellectual center known for its medical school, then in Syria there was Palmyra which was an oasis city in the middle of the desert that rose due to its location as a major stopover in the trade route between the Roman Empire and Persia. Other mega cities were built by emperors over the existing town they were born in, these include Leptis Magna in Libya built by Emperor Septimius Severus and Philippopolis in Syria built by Emperor Philip I. Now basically why a lot of Roman structures still stand today is because for construction, the Romans in the 2nd century BC developed the material of concrete made of volcanic ash mixed with limestone and water made to be as hard as rock and with it they built their structures including roads. Today some of the best still intact Roman landmarks and feats of their architecture include the Maison Carrée in Nimes, France dating back to 2AD which shows the standard structure of a Roman temple, the Lighthouse of Hercules in the far end of northwestern Spain known as the “edge of the earth”, and in Rome aside from the Pantheon the Curia Julia in the Forum. Within the Roman world, seeing their landmarks as far as Spain or Britain shows that they built their influence all the way up to those far reaches, though on the other hand some far off places like Dacia in today’s Romania or Lusitania (Portugal) may have been under Roman control but you wouldn’t see much of their structures still standing possibly because it was too far away or emperors did not care much about these far off lands. Also by constructing villas and buildings such as temples in the Classical architecture shows in parts as far as Gaul and Britain shows that the Romans were interested to conquer those parts and bring “civilization” there. For the Romans to make such grand structures that are still visible today, they must have needed a lot of slaves to build it for them but also, all the knowledge they borrowed from the Greeks and Egyptians in terms of building were put into use with these structures.

Watch this to see what Ancient Roman architecture and life really looked like (from New Historia).

Early Roman architecture, Etruscan influenced
Non-systematic layout of ancient Rome
Inside a multi-level Roman Insula
Diagram of a Roman bath complex (Baths of Caracalla in Rome), includes pools, gymnasium, library
Diagram of the architecture of the Pantheon and other Roman temples
Diagram of a basic Roman countryside villa (west)

Watch this to learn about 5 still intact Ancient Roman structures (from Kings and Things).

Read this article for news on a newly discovered Roman grid pattern foundation of a town (from Sky News).


In Rome’s successor Empire, the Byzantine Empire in its earlier years, they very much kept the same architecture their predecessors the Romans had which meant that they built their cities in the same way the Romans did which meant that the Eastern Roman cities which they had built in their Balkan territories or updates on earlier cities had the same Roman layout including streets in a grid formation, a public market or forum, a basilica for government offices, public baths, and a theatre either an amphitheater or racetrack or sometimes both while at the same the Byzantines when building structures retained Classical Roman architecture elements like columns and arches. However most of the cities the Byzantines had were already existing Roman cities like Ephesus, Antioch, Nicaea, and Nicomedia in Asia Minor, Thessaloniki and Athens in Greece, and in the earlier part of their imperial era they still had the 3 most important cities of the east Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem; though what the Byzantines had different which was now common after 4th century Romans was that instead of building temples to the gods they replaced them with Christian churches, also many old Pagan Temples were destroyed or converted into Christian churches, even the Parthenon in Athens became a Byzantine Christian church, but aside from churches, Byzantines built numerous monasteries and libraries as well. Of course the city the Byzantines would put most of their attention to was their capital Constantinople, and like Rome it was also built on 7 hills in which you would notice today when going to Istanbul, and surprisingly it only took 6 years for Constantine the Great to turn the port town of Byzantium which originates to the 7th century BC founded by the Greek colonist Byzas of Megara into an imperial metropolis, and according to legend Constantine marked the city’s borders himself using his spear. Why Constantine chose this location out of everything else as Rome’s new capital was because it was in a strategic position between 2 continents (Europe and Asia), hard to attack as it was on a peninsula unlike Rome which was only surrounded by hills, also since 284 Rome was no longer the imperial capital and had been too overcrowded and decadent for a serious emperor to rule in it. However, before Constantine, the port of Byzantium was already quite populated as it was a port and it even had an Acropolis being the first hill with a temple above it and a Hippodrome or racetrack that had been there since the 190s built by the emperor Septimius Severus when he rebuilt the city after destroying it in a civil war, though Constantine when building the city to make it instantly an imperial metropolis by looting cities around the empire and taking its structures to the new city and moving several families from Rome and all over the empire into it, also he created a new senate there and a marble senate house resembling the one in Rome and outside it a large open air public square called the Augustaeum surrounded by roofed colonnades on all 4 sides and within the area was the Great Palace, later a large column with a statue of Emperor Justinian I on his horse would be built here. When Constantinople was built, it used the same architecture the Romans used for their cities including a systematic structure of streets whereas in Constantinople, a main boulevard known as the Mese (Greek for “middle street”) ran through the city starting at the 4 arched landmark known as the Milion or the dead center of the new Roman world beside the Augustaeum then passing through the city’s Praetorium or law court and through the Forum of Constantine, a large oval-shaped forum which was the city’s main square with the triumphal column of Constantine the Great at the middle which was made of the precious purple stone known as porphyry from Egypt and built by Constantine himself to commemorate the foundation of the city, today it is the oldest structure in Istanbul if not for the Hippodrome. The Forum of Constantine meanwhile had the other senate house and was surrounded by another set of colonnades going around in a circle, another Byzantine architectural feat surpassing that of the Romans, and aside from this, most of the Mese too was lined with covered colonnades on both sides. Now for architecture, the Byzantines like the Romans before them relied heavily on columns to support their structures and arches, though for columns the Byzantines heavily used the composite style ones which were used a lot in imperial Roman structures which were a mix of the Classical Greek style Ionic and Corinthian columns, and these columns can be seen a lot in Byzantine churches. Now for churches, the Byzantines built them in the unique layout of a Greek cross, which was square in shape but had 4 edges sticking out forming 4 naves and at the middle was where the dome was and this here is the layout of what was the largest cathedral in the world found in Constantinople, the Hagia Sophia. The original structure of the Hagia Sophia built under Constantine the Great’s son Constantius II (r. 337-361) was in the shape of a Roman basilica being rectangular in shape with a courtyard outside and inside the 2 sides lined with colonnades and the roof was simply just made of wood but this was later destroyed in a riot and rebuilt again but when being fully destroyed in the Nika Riot of 532, the emperor Justinian I in only 5 years had it rebuilt into the grandest cathedral ever with a dome 56m high with a diameter of 140m, also it surpasses the Pantheon’s dome in height but not so much in width, though this dome was built using the technique of penditives to support it as well as 3 semi-domes. The Hagia Sophia was constructed by the 2 greatest architects of Justinian’s time the Greeks Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus, and only within 5 years as construction of it happened 24/7 with 5,000 workers and slaves from all over the empire building it per shift in which it was 2 shifts a day. Although 5 years was just for the construction of the main structure as the rest of it took years and years to decorate with its mosaics, marble and porphyry columns, and precious stones brought in from all over the empire including Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Greece. The Byzantines after the Hagia Sophia and even before it built structures similar especially for churches and many of them having domes, the other famous one being the Hagia Eirene Church in Constantinople in which its dome is not as high and round as the Hagia Sophia but from inside it surely is shaped like a semi-sphere, this is because of its outer layer which is higher vertically than it is inside, also the Byzantines commonly used small arch shaped windows all over the walls of their churches as well as arched facades and rows of columns. In later centuries beginning with the Macedonian Dynasty (867-1056), Byzantine church architecture evolved into a narrows cross-shaped layout with a central dome, later this evolved to a style with multiple domes, particularly 4 smaller domes with the central one being the largest, this could be seen in other Byzantine era churches of Constantinople like the Pantokrator church and the Chora church as well as the Church of the Holy Apostles which does not exist today in its original form, though the Holy Apostles church is what inspired the architecture of the famous St. Mark’s basilica in Venice, though overall the Byzantines have left behind hundreds of churches in the capital which almost all became mosques under the Ottomans. Now when it came to building structures, the Byzantines like the Romans before them relied heavily on brick and in their area the bricks they used were mostly red bricks compared to the brown ones used in Italy and to construct them, plaster was used; although marble too was highly used by the Byzantines but mostly for columns and for palaces including palace floors and church floors. When it comes to palace architecture, the Byzantines also used marble for the colonnaded facades, which was possibly how the exterior of the Great Palace and seaside Boukoleon Palace of Constantinople along the Marmara Sea looked like. However today, there is not much proof of what a Byzantine era palace looks like but when looking at the church mosaics in Ravenna, Italy one panel shows in good detail the imperial palace of Ravenna which was late in Roman and early Byzantine architecture showing it having Classical architecture with colonnades, arches, and sliding roofs. Byzantine cities like Constantinople and all others basically had similar architecture with the same brick houses, red roofs which were either sloping or flat, as well as villas for the rich population, which were usually 2 floors high like the typical Roman villa though its small windows which were round, square, or octagonal usually faced its inner courtyard rather than the busy street outside, meanwhile these city villas too had its own stables, animal sheds, storage rooms, and its own cistern or Impluvium where rain water is collected. City houses meanwhile usually had balconies as residents used them to get fresh air and if not balconies they used their flat roofs for that, though balconies had become very popular so at one point the emperor Zeno (r. 474-491) passed a law that balconies cannot block the views of others houses and also cannot block from others the view of the sea, also they had to be 10ft apart from the neighbors house and 15ft above the ground. The balconies however also created porticos on the street to give pedestrians protection from rain, snow, or heat, and later on the upper floors of houses rather than having balconies protruded out from above the ground floor. Many of the wealthier houses were made of brick and some even of marble and many having mosaic floors, also they would have their own enclosed private gardens, fountains, central heating underneath the floors or Hypocaust, a private chapel, and a connection to the draining system of Constantinople which flowed out into the Bosporus and Marmara Seas, same as in Rome where it flowed out into the Tiber River, though other Byzantines cities too had a sewer system as they were also Roman built. Like in ancient Rome, Constantinople too had busy streets lined with shops and traffic of people but horses, wagons, and carriages. The lower class people though like in Rome also lived in the cramped Insulae, which in Constantinople went from 5-9 floors high, meanwhile these flats which were so densely packed were the perfect place for fires and plagues to spread especially since they were made of weaker material like clay and wood and people in them kept their chickens or pigs. Other lower class workers of Constantinople had lived in shacks or hovels in some areas of the city, which were the dangerous parts wherein plague and fire as well as revolts could spread and rise up from. When it came to burying, the Byzantines who replaced the Roman burial pattern of cremation with burial in the ground buried their dead outside the city as the city was a place for life not death but also the dead bodies could be a source of disease, and only the imperial families could be buried within the city. Now aside from innovative houses, Constantinople had some of the grandest and most massive landmarks of their day for centuries and not only was this the Hagia Sophia but its massive oval marble Hippodrome which could sit up to 400,000 people and at the Spina in middle of it wherein chariots turned around were 3 columns, 2 Egyptian obelisks and the Serpent Column from Delphi in Greece as a way to show that Constantinople was the hub of the empire and all things met there, the same way Rome was. When it came to water, Constantinople at first did not have adequate fresh water supply nearby so emperors had to build cisterns to store water for the city and aqueducts to supply water all the way from Thrace into the city, which flow down into the cisterns. Constantinople then had 3 major aqueducts supplying it water and combined they measure up to 592km, longer than all the 11 aqueducts of Rome combined, the most famous Byzantine aqueduct being the one built by Emperor Valens (r. 364-378) which still stands today, though this is one of the only things he would be best known for. As for the cisterns, Constantinople had hundreds scattered all over the city, some underground and some open air, and more creatively the Byzantines did not just make them look like water storage plants but decorated them with recycled columns from all over the empire, one cistern being the Cistern of Philoxenos had over a thousand columns but the best known cistern is the Basilica Cistern across the Hagia Sophia which has 336 columns and had supplied water to the imperial palace, also the Byzantines used Roman engineering to connect the cisterns to supply water to fountains and houses. Constantinople and other cities meanwhile had a distinct pattern of the Mese running through several forums or public squares but also the city had several public parks for people to enjoy. Constantinople though was not built like the other symmetrical square Roman colonias as it was not on flat land but rather on a hilly peninsula sticking out into the Bosporus so the city had a triangular shape with a colony across it from the inlet known as the Golden Horn but most impressive of all were the 3-layered walls that surrounded all 3 sides of the city, the larger part of these walls being on the land on the west side while the other sides were surrounded by walls that were built into the seashore. These walls known as the Walls of Theodosius II built during his reign (408-450) was one of the greatest works of military architecture having 3 layers, first a moat, then an outer wall, and higher walls and in fact these walls were so strong that no medieval army could breach them except for the 4th Crusade in 1204 though they only breached through the lower and weaker sea wall, and only were the cannons of Sultan Mehmed II in 1453 were able to breach it. The entire span of the walls had 192 towers making it the walls mark the entire area of Constantinople making it the same size as Rome surrounded by the Aurelian Walls though the Theodosian Walls were much stronger and made of stronger stone and brick having the right amount of towers to station soldiers to guard it, also the Theodosian Walls have protected the city for about a thousand years and even in Ottoman times it was still in use and today most it still stands wherein you can really see it was built in perfect symmetry and not only does it look strong but it looks quite stunning as well in color with red bricks lining certain portions going on for kilometers. Other Byzantine cities too built walls like this and some can still be seen today like the walls of Thessaloniki, which also shows the same layout of a Byzantine city with columns, arches, and forums, but Constantinople was till the grandest of all Byzantine cities especially in the reign of Basil II (976-1025) that even the Varangian Rus mercenaries said no other city could like that and when returning to their native Scandinavia they called Constantinople no other than “the city” after seeing the walls, Hippodrome, forums, and Hagia Sophia. Throughout the empire no matter how far away from Constantinople, the Byzantines left their mark in their architecture particularly in churches and monasteries and some of the most notable Byzantine structures today include the churches of Ohrid in today’s Republic of Macedonia though some were built under the Bulgarians who adopted Byzantine architecture, then Thessaloniki in Greece and Sofia in Bulgaria too show many Byzantine churches, in Greece the monasteries in Mt. Athos and Meteora and in Eastern Turkey the Sumela Monastery of Trebizond dating back to the late 4th century show how talented the Byzantines were in building monasteries above high rocks and cliffs, and as far as the Sinai Peninsula you could see the walled Monastery of St. Catherine in the middle of the desert which was founded all the way in 565 by Emperor Justinian I. As for the Byzantine countryside compared to Western Rome where villas were scattered all over, in the east stone village communities with churches, baths, forums, streets, barns, and fountains were common whereas in the west by the 5th century onwards, people had already abandoned their farm villas to live in fortified settlements. The Byzantine countryside in Greece and Asia Minor too had many villas wherein the landowners had lived in, and usually communities would grow around it. In the west however, Byzantine style structures built in the late Roman age can still be seen like the Palace of Diocletian in Split, Croatia and the gates of Trier in Germany but the most impressive ones in Ravenna which include the churches with the most impressive mosaics on the walls and apses, some dating back to the 5th century Western Roman Empire but the most impressive of them being the Basilica of San Vitale dating back to the Byzantine era founded by Justinian I. The rest of Western Europe though falling into the Dark Ages still would not forget the architecture and building techniques of the Romans that in fact in the capital of Charlemagne’s empire which was Aachen in Germany, the churches and palaces were built resembling late Roman and Byzantine ones and some centuries later the west would improve on previous architecture building structures and churches in the impressive Romanesque and Gothic styles in which their spires and vaulted ceilings surpass the architectural wonders of the Romans and Byzantines, one of the largest and most impressive medieval structures in the west was the Romanesque style St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome long before it got its Renaissance dome, this structure in fact dates back to the late Roman Empire built under Constantine I. The medieval Europeans despite not enjoying the stability of Imperial Rome still focused on building impressive and strong structures even if losing the formula of making concrete the way the Romans did, but not only were these churches but castles wherein it required a lot of military engineering, basically the west after the fall of Rome did not forget the building techniques of the past, especially since they needed to use them for military purposes. In the early modern age, some countries would revive the Byzantine architecture of arches and domes for some buildings the same way they have revived Classical Roman architecture for government buildings and palaces with the Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical architectures. Meanwhile, countries that took in Byzantine culture like Bulgaria, Serbia, and Russia too built their churches in Byzantine style.

Byzantine Constantinople, city of many churches
Structure of the Hagia Sophia dating back to 537 under Justinian I
Different types of Byzantine structures
Map of downtown Constantinople including the Hippodrome
Diagram of the 3-layered Walls of Theodosius II