Around the World in the Byzantine Era- Part1 (300-1000AD)

Posted by Powee Celdran

Part2: Around the World in the Byzantine Era (1000-1461)



So, welcome back to another article by the Byzantium Blogger! It’s been quite a while since I last posted something, so here’s something again. Previously over the past months I have done articles that involve both Ancient Roman and Byzantine societies followed by an extremely long one on No Budget Films’ most recent 13th century Byzantine Lego epic War of the Sicilian Vespers, but now here’s another one I’ve always wanted to write about and again it will be focusing on the 1,100 year history of the Byzantine Empire covering all its 12 centuries but unlike another one I wrote a long time ago which mainly focused on the events happening within the Byzantine Empire, this will focus on both the events within the empire but put side-by-side with what was happening around the rest of the world while Byzantium was existing. However since it would be too long to cover all 12 centuries in one article, it will be a 2-part series wherein this one as the first part will cover Byzantine history from its beginnings in the 4th century ending in the year 1000 while next part will go on from 1000 to the end of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 and the events after. This article will be divided in two sections per century, the first section discussing what is  going on in Byzantium and the next one on what is happening in different places around the world, but of course this article would only focus on the key events in these centuries as it would go on forever to talk about what happened each year but will still come to highlight not just important events but some interesting trivia like inventions and discoveries happening between the 4th and 15th centuries around the world. In this article, the final division of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires in 395 then from the 5th century onwards, the Eastern Roman Empire which is Byzantium would be on its own paragraph while the western part of the Roman Empire which would be dissolved in 476 would be in the other paragraph with the events happening all over the world and speaking of events all over the world, this article will talk about what was going on in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, China, India, the rest of Asia, and even in the Americas all while the Byzantine Empire was existing for 1,100 years. Also take not here that the part on the 5th century will be divided in 3 sections with one on Byzantium or the Eastern Roman Empire, the next on the Western Roman Empire and Western Europe, and the last on the rest of the world. This article as you read it would be your chance to travel around the world over the centuries with Byzantium as your base where you would from there in each century travel around the world by knowing what is happening in each part of the world, what powers are rising and falling, and what new inventions are being made. In this article, such key events that will be brought up here would include the same turning points in Byzantine history over the 7 centuries but other bigger events around the world like the expansion of the Arabs in 7th century, the rise of the kingdoms in Europe together with the Holy Roman Empire, and changes of dynasties in China. Now when reading this please forgive me if I’m getting some facts wrong since the happenings around the world from the 4th to 11th centuries outside Byzantium is some new information to me in which I had mostly discovered when writing this article which especially includes dates of the formations and declines of various empires and kingdoms around the world. This article though will not go all the way back to Rome’s founding in 753BC, or to the time of the Roman Republic or imperial age known as the Principate, rather its main focus would be more on the story of the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium which begins in the 4th century and this article will be starting around the year 300AD with the exception of events before that such as the transformation of the Roman Empire into the Tetrarchy which laid the foundations for Byzantium while this article will end in the year 1000 when the Byzantium turns again into a powerful force and the rest of Europe too becomes stronger entering the High Middle Ages right before the age of the Crusades. Of course, this article too will not forget to mention the names of all the Byzantine emperors through the centuries to show also who was ruling Byzantium while such events were happening around the world. It is plain and simple that in the 1,100 years the Byzantine Empire existed, several others kingdoms and empire rose and fell; Byzantium then had seen its western half disappear in 476 following with the rise of kingdoms in Europe including England, France, and the Holy Roman Empire, the rise and expansion of the Arabs from the 7th century onwards, the rise and fall of their neighboring Bulgarian Empire twice (7th-11th and 12th-14th centuries), the beginning and end of the Crusades, the rise and fall of the massive Mongol Empire, as well as the rise and fall of the Seljuks, and also several changes of dynasties in China, the whole Viking age, the slow rise of Russia, and the unexpected rise of the Ottomans all while Byzantium within itself saw 15 changes of dynasties, civil wars, political reforms, and countless enemies threatening its borders. To put it short, the Byzantine Empire lived from the time of the Roman Empire all the way to the start of the Renaissance, meaning Byzantium survived the entire Middle Ages though not very steadily as Byzantium went though many ups and downs throughout the centuries but despite its civil, military, and cultural changes, Byzantium still stayed the same empire with one emperor under one God even if several break-away Byzantine Empires happened and by being one empire, Byzantium despite becoming very different from Ancient Rome culturally and especially in language from going from Latin to Greek and after a time not having Rome, it still stayed the “Roman Empire” or Romania in name and all its emperors still being Roman emperors, but while all of Europe was transforming over the centuries of the Middle Ages, Byzantium would remain the advanced and sophisticated empire of the Middle Ages as the remnant of Imperial Rome before them, although in Byzantium’s last years it was obviously no longer a powerful world empire but a regional power as the west had already surpassed Byzantium in power and influence, although Byzantium despite having grown weak with age would still be the powerful empire symbolically as its capital was Constantinople which was for a long time known as the “Queen of Cities” and one of the most advanced cities of the Middle Ages. Now this article would not really go so deep to analyze the turn of events throughout the centuries, but instead will try to focus more on facts, dates, and key events to keep it simple, but obviously this will be a very long article since Byzantium’s existence surpassed a thousand years.

Now for all of you reading, please do also like and follow The History of Byzantium and listen to their podcasts as this article I’m doing is something similar to it. Also like their Facebook page.

Credits to AMELIANVS for some of the art.

Map of the Roman Empire at its height, 117AD
The Byzantine Empire extent in 3 different eras
Constantinople, the “Capital of the World”

Related articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

The Complete Genealogy of the Byzantine emperors and dynasties

Foreign Lands and People According to the Byzantines Part1

Foreign Lands and People According to the Byzantines Part2

Constantinople: The Queen of Cities and its Byzantine Secrets

The Ravenna Mosaics and What to Expect

The Byzantine Emperors

Byzantine Science and Technology

The Art of War in the Byzantine World

A Guide to the Byzantine Empire’s Themes

15 Byzantine Related States Outside Byzantium Part1 (1-7)

15 Byzantine Related States Outside Byzantium Part2 (8-15)

Byzantine Imperial Personalities Part1

Byzantine Imperial Personalities Part2

Natural Disasters in Byzantine History

Ethnic Origins of the Byzantine emperors

The Sieges of Constantinople

The Story of 3 Plagues across centuries

Roman and Byzantine Imperial Systems Compared

Roman and Byzantine Imperial Cultures Compared

Imperial Women in the Roman and Byzantine Empires

Related Videos:

Rulers of Europe every year, 400BC-2017 (from Cottereau)

History of the Byzantine Empire Part1 (from Fire of Learning).

History of the Byzantine Empire Part2 (from Fire of Learning).

History of the World every year (from Ollie Bye).

The 4th Century


In Byzantium (Roman Empire):

Before beginning, historians of the Roman Empire do not really mean only the 300s AD when referring to the 4th century, rather they use the term “Long 4th Century” which begins with the accession of Diocletian as Roman emperor in 284 and end in in the year 450, though here in this article, the 4th century would instead go from 300-399. So basically, before the 4th century began, the Roman Empire faced the turbulent times of the Crisis of the 3rd century (235-284) which saw the Roman Empire have a succession crisis with several change of emperor usually every other year, foreign invasions north by barbarians and east by the new Sassanid Persian Empire, several plagues, economic crisis, and an empire broken apart with 2 break-away states (260-274), though the crisis would be resolved with the emperor Aurelian (r. 270-275) reuniting the empire, the emperor Probus (r. 276-282) securing all its borders, and in 284 the army officer Diocles being proclaimed Emperor Diocletian who would transform the imperial system from the Principate to the Dominate with the emperor now having more divine authority, though Diocletian also began power sharing to make the empire easier in order to avoid usurpers which was the problem of the 3rd century so in 286 the Roman Empire was split east and west with Diocletian in control of the east from Nicomedia and Maximian in control of the west based in Milan forming the Diarchy which would then evolve into the Tetrarchy in 293 with the empire now split into 4 parts with Diocletian as the senior emperor or Augustus of the east with Galerius as his junior emperor or Caesar while Maximian would be the western Augustus and Constantius I his Caesar, and all 4 rulers would have their own provinces to govern with their own capitals whereas the Caesar Galerius ruled from Sirmium and Constantius I from Trier and Rome at this point no longer the imperial capital and in the year 300 this was the situation with the Roman Empire, and a quick mention in the year 301 the Christian monk St. Marinus from Dalmatia heads across the Adriatic and founds a monastery in Italy in what would be the country of San Marino today. In the year 303, Diocletian as Eastern Augustus and Galerius as Eastern Caesar begin the great persecution of the Christians in the Roman Empire while Western Augustus Maximian also follows though Western Caesar Constantius I was instead not active in it rather protecting the Christians. In the next year (304), Diocletian visits Rome for the first time to celebrate 20 years in power but in the next year (305) he announces his abdication and retires to his palace in today’s Split Croatia while Maximian too is forced to retire as Augustus in the west making Galerius the new Eastern Augustus and Constantius I the Augustus in the west with Galerius’ nephew Daia as the new Eastern Caesar and friend Valerius Severus as the Western Caesar, although in 306, Constantius I dies of sickness in Britain while his son Constantine is proclaimed Augustus for a short time by the army until Galerius makes Western Caesar Valerius Severus the new Augustus and Constantine demoted to Caesar. Although the retired former Augustus of the west Maximian in 307 tries to take back power from Valerius Severus executing him and shortly after Maximian’s son Maxentius usurps power in Italy though in 308 this issue is resolved by the retired Diocletian making Maximian retire again, Maxentius not legitimized as emperor and Constantine as western Caesar and Galerius’ friend Licinius as the new Western Augustus though Maximian would still want to return to power but fails as he is executed by Constantine in 310 and in the following year (311) Galerius dies ending the Christian persecution making Daia the new Eastern Augustus with Licinius heading east to challenge him and later that year Diocletian dies seeing his dream of a stable empire fall into chaos. In 312, Constantine as Caesar of the west marches into Rome and defeats the usurper Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge after receiving a vision of the cross in which afterwards Constantine becomes the self-proclaimed Western Augustus then in the following year (313) Licinius defeats Daia and becomes sole Eastern Augustus and together Constantine and Licinius as Western and Eastern Augusti issue the Edit of Milan which would now tolerate all religions particularly allowing Christianity to come out of hiding and be acceptable in Roman society. The peace in the empire though would not come to last as Constantine and Licinius would turn on each other leading into another civil war which Constantine defeated Licinius first in a naval battle in 323 and finally in 324 in Thrace making Constantine I the Great now the sole ruler of the Roman Empire; then in the following year (325) Licinius is executed by Constantine I who then organizes the First Christian Church Council of Nicaea that settles the doctrine of Orthodox/ Catholic Christianity in a meeting of several bishops all over the empire that lasts for months therefore declaring Arianism a heresy, then the following year (326) Constantine orders the death of his wife Fausta by suffocating in a hot bath. Not so long after, on May 11, 330 Constantine I turns the port of Byzantium in Thrace into the Roman Empire’s new capital in which it would be for the next 1,100 years therefore making the port of Byzantium into a metropolis naming it “Constantinople” after himself while at the same time his mother St. Helena recovers the true cross of Christ from Judea dying shortly after; meanwhile the original structure of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the original Hagia Sophia of Constantinople begins construction. In 337, Constantine I the Great is baptized a Christian though by an Arian bishop being the first Roman emperor to do so right before his death which left the empire once again in chaos. Following Constantine I’s death the empire was split among his 3 sons; the eldest Constantine II having the least important western provinces of Britain, Gaul, and Spain while the youngest Constans I having the biggest part including Italy, the Balkans, Greece, and North Africa while the Middle son Constantius II ruling from Constantinople had the east including Egypt though the brothers Constantine II and Constans I fought each other ending with Constantine II dead in 340 and Constans I in charge of the whole west, though in 350 Constans I was usurped by the general Magnentius and killed starting a war against the legitimate emperor Constantius II who defeats Magnentius in 353. Constantius II is then sole emperor but has to constantly fight off the Sassanid Persians in the east making his last surviving male cousin Julian as Caesar of the west in 355 and as Caesar Julian successfully halts a Frankish invasion into Gaul at the Battle of Strasbourg in 357 then is made Augustus by his army in 360 causing Constantius II to be outraged but before facing off Julian in battle, Constantius II dies in 361 naming Julian his successor, therefore Julian becomes the sole ruler of the Roman Empire and as a Pagan tries to return to the Pagan past. Julian however does not rule long enough as in 363 when leading a massive campaign against the Sassanid Persians he is killed at the Battle of Ctesiphon and with the Romans defeated, all their territories gained recently in the east is ceded back to the Persian king of kings Shapur II while the Romans with the commander Jovian elected as their new emperor return to Constantinople, though in 364 Jovian suddenly dies suffocating from sleeping beside a newly painted wall somewhere in Asia Minor making the soldiers proclaim the nearby general Valentinian as their new emperor but right when Valentinian I is made emperor he splits the empire with his younger brother Valens who is given the east while the older Valentinian takes the west to fight off several barbarian Germanic invasions from across the Rhine. With the brothers in charge of the empire, the future does not seem bright as in 365 a massive earthquake causes destruction in Crete, Greece, Egypt, Libya, Cyprus, and Sicily while at the same time Julian’s cousin Procopius usurps power in the east but is defeated and executed by Valens in 366, and in 367 a great conspiracy erupts in Britain in which the disloyal Romans plot to overthrow Roman rule with the help of the native Celts including the Picts of Scotland and Hibernians of Ireland as well as the Germanic Franks and Saxons from across the English Channel but in the next year (368), the western emperor Valentinian I through his general the Roman-Spanish Count Theodosius the Elder crushes the conspiracy and pacifies Britain once more. Valentinian continued his reign in the west fighting against Germanic raids from across the Rhine and Danube while Valens would focus on the problem of the Persian king Shapur II in the east, though after losing his patience in negotiating with the Germanic tribes of the Danube in 375 Valentinian I dies of a stroke caused by his own anger leaving the west to be ruled by his two young sons Gratian and Valentinian II while in the next year (376) Count Theodosius after quelling a Moorish rebellion in North Africa is executed for treason against the new emperors of the west and a new branch of the Goths known as the Visigoths emerge across the Danube borders of the east in the hundreds of thousands trying to seek refuge within Roman borders as their homeland north of the Danube is under attack by the nomadic Huns of Central Asia who have already captured and destroyed the Roman client Bosporan Kingdom in Scythia north of the Black Sea in 370. Rather than invading the east, the Visigoths led by their king Fritigern are let inside Roman borders but prove too hard to feed and manage that the Goths had to sell their children fo dog meat while some Gothic leaders were tricked and executed leading them to turn against the Romans causing the eastern emperor Valens to declare war on the Visigoths leading to his own downfall at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 where Valens is outnumbered, defeated, and killed leaving Constantinople without an emperor and open for an attack, the following year (379) the Persian king Shapur II who had ruled since birth dies. With Valens dead his nephew Gratian ruling the west sends the young Theodosius, son of Count Theodosius to rule the east from Constantinople in 379 and as eastern emperor Theodosius I begins a crusade against Paganism in order to make Nicene Christianity now the official religion of the Roman world at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 in which the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is added as well. In his reign, Theodosius I settles the Visigoth issue by making peace with Fritigern and integrating them in the Roman army as the Federated troops or Foederati in exchange for land to settle in and in such a short time these barbarians in the Roman army would rise up to powerful positions like generals; at the same time the western emperor Gratian is assassinated in 383 by the usurper in Britain Magnus Maximus leaving the west to his younger brother Valentinian II while Theodosius I defeats Magnus Maximus in Italy in 388, then in 390, the people of Thessalonica rebel against the Goth army in the city killing making Theodosius I punish the people by having a Gothic horde attack the city and kill them making him guilty which the bishop of Milan St. Ambrose has Theodosius begin to make decrees banning Paganism and destroying temples. In 392 Valentinian II is found mysteriously dead as his Frankish general Arbogast had chosen a new emperor for the west named Eugenius and in 394 Theodosius I defeats Eugenius and Arbogast at the Battle of Frigidus in today’s Slovenia while in the same year abolishes several Pagan institutions including the Olympics in Greece and the Vestal Virgins in Rome all before he meets his end in January of the next year. In 395, Theodosius I died in Milan as the last ruler of a complete Roman Empire and with his death, the empire was now to be formally divided east and west as separate empires whereas the older son Arcadius took the east ruling from Constantinople and the younger son Honorius took the west ruling from Milan, though both due to their young age would be under regents, Arcadius under the general Rufinus and Honorius under the half-Roman half-Vandal Flavius Stilicho who wanted a untied empire making him assassinate Rufinus in 395 though the Western Empire will not have much longer to live and the east would continue on for the next thousand years.

The Roman Empire divided (260-274)
Division of the Roman Empire in the Tetrarchy (293-324)
Map of the division of the Roman Empire among Constantine I’s sons (337-361)
Division of the Roman Empire between east and west in 395 after the death of Theodosius I

Watch this to learn more about the unbiased history of Constantine the Great (from Dovahhatty).

Watch this to learn more about the unbiased history of the 4th century Roman Empire (from Dovahhatty).

Watch this to learn more about the Romans’ defeat at the Battle of Adrianople, 378 (from Kings and Generals).

The Rest of the World:

Now in the wider world first of all just outside Roman borders, the Kingdom of Armenia in 301 adopts Christianity as their official state religion before Rome even tolerated it and made it their official religion. While the Sassanid Persian Empire was fighting constant wars against Rome, in 350 while at war with Constantius II, the Sassanids’ northeastern borders in today’s Iran or Afghanistan were beginning to be under attack by the Huns.

Back in 325 when Constantine I the Great settled official Christian doctrine at the Council of Nicaea, the Kingdom of Aksum in Ethiopia too adopts Christianity as their official religion and by 350, Aksum had conquered the Kingdom of Kush in Nubia (Sudan).

In the Gothic homeland north of the Danube (Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania) before they came into Roman territory in 376, the Greek missionary Ulfilas born into Gothic captivity in 311 later converts the Goths to Arian Christianity also translating the Bible into Gothic. The Goths are pushed into Roman territory from the Danube by the expansion of the Huns from Central Asia into Europe.

In India on the other hand, the Gupta Empire expands across the north and east under their ruler Samudragupta from 335 to 375 while at the same time the ancient Sanskrit text on sexuality known as Kama Sutra was published in India.

Meanwhile the empire in China in the 4th century was also facing a great crisis which was known as the 16 Kingdoms which emerged in Northern China by barbarian tribes in 304 that would fracture the empire ruled by the Jin Dynasty forcing the Jin court to flee south across the Yangtze River, and this issue though would only be resolved in 439. Also, in China in the year 383 the Battle of the Fei River was fought between the current Jin Empire against a revival of the former Qin Empire resulting in the Jin being victorious. Now as a result of the chaotic 16 Kingdoms in Northern China, in 395 the same year Theodosius I died and the Roman Empire fully split in halves, the two Northern Chinese kingdoms of Later Yan and Northern Wei clashed in the Battle of Canhe Slope resulting in the Northern Wei victorious, also in China in around 322 the stirrups were first invented and would later travel west.

In Japan, the Kofun Era would begin in around 300 and continue until 538 and this was the period where Japanese history was first recorded while in Korea sometime within the century the 3 kingdoms of Baekje, Goguryeo, and Silla would come to exist.

Meanwhile in the American Continent, the Mayan Empire of Central America continues to expand when the warlord Siyaj K’ak’ conquers Waka, Tikal, and Uaxactun all in 378, the same year the Visigoths heavily defeat the Romans at the Battle of Adrianople.

The 5th Century


In Byzantium (Eastern Roman Empire):

The death of Emperor Theodosius I in 395 was the fateful event that forever split the Roman world between east and west and the older 18-year-old son Arcadius got the east ruling from Constantinople but was a weak ruler dominated by his advisors and generals who were once his father’s though his 10-year-old younger brother Honorius now ruling the west was much worse and did not seem to care much on imperial duties, rather his  general Flavius Stilicho ran the show and all while the west was already falling apart which will be discussed later. Anyway in the eastern empire or Byzantium ruled from Constantinople, the Goth general Gainas who assassinated Rufinus back in 395 is banished from Constantinople in 400 for growing fear of his influence and when chased out, he flees across the Danube to get the Huns and attack Constantinople only to be killed by them. The Visigoths meanwhile serve as the Federate troops settling in Greece rebel under their leader Alaric I who previously served in Theodosius I’s army and makes himself king in 395 within Byzantine territory but instead turns west to invade Italy at the beginning of the 5th century and in 410 sacks Rome. Arcadius was under the influence of his wife Aelia Eudoxia until her death in 404, afterwards he would be dominated by the city prefect the general Anthemius, though Arcadius died at only 31 in 408 and was succeeded by his son Theodosius II who was only 7 years old so instead he was ruling under the regency of the city prefect Anthemius who would be responsible for Constantinople famous triple layered Walls of Theodosius II which was named after the reigning emperor and built with the purpose to keep any invader way and yet it protected the city for over a thousand more years, though Anthemius would disappear from history in 414 and instead the emperor’s sister Pulcheria would very much dominate his reign. In Theodosius II’s long reign, he compiled laws of the Roman emperors since Constantine I and merged it with Christian morality having compiled the Theodosian Code of Laws in 429 which took effect in both Eastern and Western Empires in 439, in 431 he also organized the Council of Ephesus in which the emperor and his sister headed it and here the idea of Mary as the Theotokos or “Mother of God” is set up as Christian doctrine, and in 425 he founded the University of Constantinople. Theodosius II would then rule quite a peaceful empire choosing to pay tribute to their enemy, Attila the Hun who had raided Byzantine Thrace in 1443 and 1447 in order to prevent war; Theodosius II would die in 450 caused by a horse riding accident and without children he was succeeded by his sister Pulcheria as a regent until she married the officer Marcian later that year who was put into power by Aspar, a powerful Goth general in the Byzantine court. During Marcian’s reign he and his wife Empress Pulcheria organized the Church Council of Chalcedon in 451 which ruled against the Monophysite heresy declaring that Christ is one divine person in two natures, while in 452 as Attila the Hun was invading Italy, Marcian ordered the Byzantine army to attack the Huns’ homeland in Hungary to protect Italy by sending Attila back who then died the next year (453) same year as Pulcheria died while Marcian ruled until his death in 457 dying without any heir. Since Marcian was childless, the general Aspar who unable to be emperor because of his Goth origins named his Thracian soldier friend Leo Marcellus as the new emperor of Byzantium who would then be crowned Emperor Leo I and his wife as Empress Verina. Leo I’s rule was successful except for the reconquest of North Africa from the Vandals in 468 when the Eastern Roman forces led by Leo I’s brother-in-law Basiliscus joined the Western forces of the Western emperor Anthemius who Leo I appointed as western emperor which led to a defeat at the Battle of Cape Bon, although Leo I finally got rid of the Germanic influence in the Byzantine court by assassinating Aspar in 471, replaced the Gothic armies with Isaurians from within the empire with the Isaurian Tarasis Kodisa renamed Zeno as their general; securing his own dynasty, Leo I then died in 474 and was succeeded by his 7-year-old grandson Leo II who died later that year and was succeeded by his father the general Zeno who was married to Leo I’s daughter Ariadne. Because of his Isaurian origins seen as barbaric, Zeno was deposed by Leo I’s brother-in-law Basiliscus the next year but in the next year (476), Zeno coming back from exile in his native Isauria returned to power and overthrew Basiliscus and returning to power at the same time the last Western Roman Emperor Romulus Augustus was deposed by the barbarian general Odoacer in Ravenna, Zeno would now be the sole Roman ruler receiving the crown of the last western emperor. Zeno’s reign though was unstable and usurpers would come in every now and then to rebel such as Marcian’s grandson in 479 and the other Isaurian general Illus from 484-488, but the bigger threat Zeno faced was the Ostrogoths who were settled as the Federate troops in the Balkans and were turning their eye on Constantinople but instead in 486 when the Ostrogoth’s king Theodoric attempted to attack Constantinople, Zeno asked him to turn west and invade Italy which Theodoric did and in 493 captured Ravenna and executed its current ruler Odoacer who became king in 476 after ending the western empire. Also, in Zeno’s reign in 482, the future Byzantine emperor Justinian I was born to a peasant family in Illyria and Zeno had died in 491 leaving his wife Ariadne to marry the experienced Roman-Illyrian senator and finance minister Anastasius Dicorus (known for having mismatched eyes) who would then become emperor Anastasius I ruling a now stable Byzantium for 27 more years.

Map of Barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire

Watch this to learn more about the unbiased history of the end of the Roman Empire (from Dovahhatty).

In the Western Roman Empire/ Western Europe: 

Now in the Western Roman Empire which like the eats had also formed from the original empire in 395, things already went downhill since the start with a series of weak emperors already beginning with the first western emperor Honorius who in 402 moves the western empire’s capital from Milan to Ravenna to be safe from attacks and at the same year the Visigoths led by their king Alaric I first invaded Italy from the east as Honorius’ general Flavius Stilicho was away in the northern border defending it against a Vandal invasion. On December 31 406, the eastern borders of the Western Roman Empire in Germany collapse as waves of barbarian Germanic tribes of the Suevi, Alans, and Vandals cross the frozen Rhine into Gaul while at the same in Gaul though, the first instance of a metal horseshoe was found. In 407, the Western Roman armies practically withdraw from and abandon Britain under the usurper emperor Constantine III who was however recognized by Honorius as his co-emperor settling in Arelate (Arles, France) though Constantine III is later executed in 411. In 408, Honorius has his general and regent Stilicho executed being suspected for making a deal with the Visigoths and in the next year (409) the Alans, Vandals, and Suevi cross from Gaul into Hispania while in Italy Alaric I plans to invade again. In 410, Alaric and his army turn on Rome which however was not the capital but brutally sack in anyway being the first time the city of Rome was invaded and sacked after 800 years ago when the Gauls attacked it, and when hearing about it Honorius thought his chicken named Rome died but when finding out Rome had fallen and his chicken was still alive he was relieved, though Alaric dies later that year and is succeeded as king by his brother-in-law Athaulf who is defeated and driven into Spain from Gaul in 414 by Honorius’ new master general or Magister Militum Constantius who rescues Honorius’ sister Galla Placidia from Athaulf’s captivity though Athaulf when taking Galla Placidia to Gaul had married her but when rescued she was married to Constantius while at the same time the empire begins to lose Spain as the Visigoths establish their kingdom there while in 411 the Suevi too had established their own kingdom in northwestern Spain being the first independent Christian kingdom in Western Europe and so did the Burgundians establish their kingdom in France that year (411) all while in North Africa in 413 the theologian and Bishop of Hippo St. Augustine writes The City of God which was his response to the fall of Rome to these barbarian invasions but defends Christianity saying it had nothing to do with it. Honorius then died in 423 without an heir making one of his ministers Joannes be proclaimed emperor until he was defeated and executed 2 years later (425) by Honorius’ nephew Valentinian III who is then named emperor of the west by his cousin the eastern emperor Theodosius II. In 439, Valentinian III issues the code of laws made by his contemporary eastern emperor Theodosius II for the Western Empire but also in 439, the Western Roman Empire loses North Africa as the Vandals and Alans from Spain led by the Vandal king Gaiseric invade it and make Carthage their capital where they would build a navy to invade Rome while in Ravenna the emperor Valentinian III would be nothing more but a puppet of his Goth general Flavius Aetius, while at the same time the Nomadic Huns from the steppes of Central Asia led by their king Attila have already invaded Eastern Europe and start to raid into eastern and western Roman territory; it was also in Valentinian III’s early reign when his mother Galla Placidia had built the famous landmarks of Ravenna known for its mosaics that are still around. In 451, the Western Romans under the general Aetius who knew the fighting skills of the Huns and the Visigoths of Gaul and Spain combined forces and defeat the hordes of Attila’s Huns at the Battle of Chalons in today’s France while in the next year after Attila destroys the city of Aquileia in Italy in order to march into Rome, the people of Northern Italy flee to a lagoon by the sea soon to establish Venice and Pope Leo I persuades Attila at the Mincio River to back off from Italy while a Byzantine invasion of Attila’s base in Hungary forces him back there, and in the next year (453) Attila dies from a nosebleed possibly from overdose of alcohol after his wedding leaving the Huns’ empire fragmented and their short-lived threat that could have fully ended the Roman world over as the Huns’ empire is divided between the two sons of Attila and in 454 at the Battle of Nedao the Germanic tribes of the Gepids, Heruli, Rugii, Scirii, and Suevi once more defeat the Huns heavily in Pannonia ending the Hunnic domination there. Back in Ravenna, the western emperor Valentinian III growing suspicious of his general Aetius’ rising influence due to his victory of over the Huns kills Aetius himself in 454 wanting to be rid of Germanic influence but in the next year (455) Valentinian III himself is assassinated by Aetius’ Scythian followers ordered by the senator Petronius Maximus who is then proclaimed emperor but only rules for 2 months in 455 as his unpopularity causes him to be stoned to death by a mob in Rome right before the Vandal navy from Carthage arrives in Italy in June and once again sack Rome, however Pope Leo I again this time persuaded the Vandals’ king Gaiseric that they can loot and damage the city but spare its people and the Vandals honor their word and spared the people, and following the sack of Rome by the Vandals the general Avitus is proclaimed the new western emperor. In 457 the Roman general Majorian deposed Avitus and became emperor and spent his reign reviving the empire taking back most of Gaul from the Burgundians and Visigoths and Spain from the Visigoths returning the Visigoths and Burgundians independent kingdoms to federate status under the empire though Majorian would not end up recapturing North Africa from Vandals though he had support from the eastern empire but when losing the support of the Germanic general Ricimer, Majorian was executed in 461 turning the federate status barbarians into their own kingdoms again and making Ricimer appoint Libius Severus as the new western emperor who also lost the support of Ricimer who poisoned him in 465 leaving no emperor in the west for 2 years (465-467) until Anthemius is appointed western emperor by the eastern emperor Leo I but also with the consent of Ricimer while at this time both Eastern and Western Romans empires attempt to take back Carthage from the Vandals in 468 to punish them for sacking Rome but end up failing as the eastern and western Roman armies fail to cooperate and Ricimer again ends up executing Anthemius in 472 making Olybrius the new emperor but dies the same year of natural causes while Ricimer too died around this time but was succeeded in his position by his nephew Gundobad who in 473 becomes the king of the new Burgundian kingdom in Gaul but also appoints Glycerius as the new western emperor in the same year though the eastern empire makes their ally Julius Nepos emperor of the west deposing and making Glycerius the bishop of Salona in 474. Julius Nepos however in 475 is deposed in Italy by his barbarian general Orestes who makes his son Romulus emperor in Ravenna while Nepos rules as exiled emperor in Ravenna as he was the support of the eastern emperor Zeno while Romulus did not. In 476, the young emperor of the west Romulus Augustus who is his father’s puppet ruler is deposed by the barbarian general Odoacer who kills the emperor’s father Orestes in battle and on September 4, 476 Romulus surrenders to Odoacer and is exiled while Odoacer instead of choosing to make himself emperor instead chooses to end Roman rule in the west making Italy his own kingdom with him as king while Julius Nepos as the last acting emperor is assassinated by Odoacer’s orders in 480. Meanwhile in Gaul, Roman control disintegrates as most of it is under the Visigoths and the Western Franks have now occupied the northeast and in 481 begin their own independent kingdom with Clovis I as their king founding the Merovingian Dynasty and in 486 Clovis I defeats the last Western Roman territory in northwest Gaul under the general Syagrius annexing it to the Frankish kingdom, then in 491 Clovis defeats and subjugates the Kingdom of Thuringia in Germany, then in 496 conquers the Germanic Alamanni people and is baptized a Catholic Christian in Reims with Northern Gaul now all united under one kingdom which would be the predecessor to the medieval Kingdom of France. Meanwhile back in Italy the barbarian general Odoacer rules as king until 493 when the Ostrogoth king Theodoric by the urging of the eastern emperor Zeno attacks Ravenna, kills Odoacer, and takes over as king establishing the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths in Italy while Britain now being abandoned by the Romans survives independently with Roman-Britons and Celts living side-by-side though according to legend it is in 490 when the Battle of Mt. Badon happened in which the Roman-British and Celt forces led by the legendary King Arthur defeat the invading Saxons; yet is also said that by 450 the Old English language had formed around this time and so was the Anglo-Saxon rune alphabet introduced to Britain around this time as some time after 440, the Anglo-Saxons begin to settle in Britain and traditions says the king there named Vortigern invited them there. In the Britain that has been abandoned by the Romans in the 5th century, one particularly famous Roman-British Christian person was St. Patrick who was brought as a slave to Ireland but instead ended up converting Pagan Hibernians or natives of Ireland to Christianity.

Western Europe under Barbarian kingdoms before 500

Watch this for more info on the Western Roman emperor Majorian (from Eastern Roman History).

Watch this to learn more about the Battle of Chalons of 451 (from Kings and Generals).

In the Rest of the World:

In the wider world outside the Eastern and Western Roman empires, first of all in neighboring Armenia, 36 out of 38 letters are developed into their alphabet in 405 by Mesrop Mashtots while in nearby Georgia the city Tbilisi which is its capital today is founded though the founding date is unclear but it was founded by the king of Iberia Vakhtang I (r. 447-502) and in 451 while Attila had invaded the Western Roman Empire, the Sassanid Persian Empire declares war on Armenia.

The Hunnic Empire that reached its peak during Attila’s reign (434-453) comes to an end in 469 when the last Hunnic khan Dengizich, the son of Attila dies. In India, the 5th century begins with the golden age of the Gupta Empire under the reign of Chandragupta II (380-415) who is succeeded by his son Kumaragupta I who rules a long reign (415-455) although his son Skandagupta (r. 455-467) rules as the last great Gupta emperor of India as by the end of the 5th century, the same nomadic Huns from Central Asia that invaded Europe invade India from the north, although the Indians refer to the Huns as the Huna people.

Meanwhile in China, the unstable period of the 16 Kingdoms in the north formed by barbarian tribes continue to exist until 439 when the north is reunited by the Northern Wei Empire while in the south the Jin Dynasty ends in 420 when the general Liu Yu consolidates power and forces the last Jin emperor Gong to abdicate therefore founding the Liu Song Dynasty which lasts until 479 ruling the south of China, though China will be divided into the Northern and Southern Dynasties until 589 while in Japan the Kofun Era continues. At the beginning of the century starting 399 and ending in 415, the Chinese Buddhist monk Faxian sails through the Indian Ocean to gather Buddhist scriptures in both India and Sri Lanka while at same time Buddhism flourishes in Asia with the Chan Buddhists in China establishing the Shaolin Monastery in Mt. Song in either 477 or 495 and Buddhism too reaches both Burma and the islands which are Indonesia, also around this time the horse collar was invented in China.

In the Hindu kingdoms in Java, Indonesia in around 450 several stone edicts were made for the rest of island to see which shows the decrees issued by their king Purnavarman while in this century as well though the year or years not mentioned, African and Indonesian settlers reach Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

Back in Europe in 482, the territory of what is Ukraine is established around Kiev which was inhabited by the Slavic tribes at that time and at this point, the heavy plough was said to be first put into use by the Slavs.

Meanwhile in the Americas, the Mayan civilization of Central America continues to flourish with the North Acropolis of the city of Tikal in Guatemala built at the beginning of the century although the eruption of the Ilopango volcano in 430 in today’s El Salvador goes as far as to devastate nearby Mayan cities, although in 455 which was the same year the Vandals sacked Rome, the Mayans build one of their largest cities being Chichen Itza in today’s Mexico, then in North America the Hopewell culture of the Native Americans is said to have ended sometime in the 5th century.

Attila the Hun’s Empire, 434-453

Watch this to learn more about the origins of the Huns (from Kings and Generals).

The 6th Century


In Byzantium (Eastern Roman Empire):

As the 6th century begins, the Byzantine Empire ruled from Constantinople is now in a time of stability under Emperor Anastasius I although in his reign many old Roman pagan traditions are ended but the economy of the empire is reformed as Anastasius I reforms the tax system by devaluing the currency so that everyone can pay taxes, the Byzantine here at this point controls the Balkans, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt but from 502-505 the Byzantines are engaged in war with the Sassanid Persians in a war known as the Anastasian War named after the Byzantine emperor which ends with a treaty wherein Anastasius I pays gold in exchange for taking back the city of Amida but more fortifications such as the city of Dara are built to strengthen Byzantium’s eastern front from Persian attacks, while in Byzantium’s northern frontiers across the Danube the nomadic Bulgars begin to raid and for further protection against the new threat, Anastasius I has the Anastasian Wall or “Great Wall of Thrace” constructed between 507 and 512 stretching 70km from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. As the 6th century had begun, the Romans had already lost control of the west, the Ostrogoth king Theodoric rules Italy, the Visigoths ruling in Spain, and the Franks under their king Clovis I secure their control over Gaul (France) and in 507, Clovis I defeats the Visigoth king Alaric II in battle annexing Visigoth controlled Southwest France into the Frankish kingdom, and in return Byzantine emperor Anastasius I gives Clovis the honorary title of Roman consul, Clovis then dies in 511 in Paris. Anastasius I’s wife Empress Ariadne married to Emperor Zeno previously died in 515, then Anastasius himself died in 518 at age 87 after a 27-year reign and without any heirs the commander of his palace guard (Excubitors) Justin I is crowned emperor despite originating as an Illyrian peasant, his nephew Flavius Petrus Sabbatius later known as Justinian at this point would already be the intellectual power behind his uncle. In his reign, Justin I maintains good relations between Byzantium and the Papacy in Rome all while conflict between Byzantium and the Sassanid Persians continue, and in 526 a massive earthquake strikes Antioch killing about 250,000 people while at the same year King Theodoric of Ostrogoth Italy dies and also in Justin I’s reign probably in 522, Byzantines begin to learn silkworm cultivation after obtaining Chinese silkworms. In 527, Justin I dies and is succeeded by his nephew who is crowned Emperor Justinian I together with his wife who becomes Empress Theodora beginning Byzantium’s golden age known as the Rennovatio Imperii and in 529 Justinian I’s code of laws compiled by the lawmaker Tribonian known as the Corpus Juris Civilis is compiled and published as the Byzantium’s official book of laws and in 530 the Byzantine army under their general Belisarius and their Germanic and Arab Ghassanid allies win over the Sassanid Persians and their Arab Lakhmid allies in the Battle of Dara. In 532, the chariot races in Constantinople break out into the events known as the Nika Riots in which the blue and green factions of the Constantinople Byzantines turn on Justinian I seeking to overthrow him and replace him with Anastasius I’s nephew Hypatius, the riots then go as far as burning parts of the city and the original Hagia Sophia cathedral but due to Empress Theodora’s urging the riots are put down when the army massacres 30,000 rioters in the Hippodrome, afterwards Justinian I rebuilds the ruined Hagia Sophia into what would be the world’s grandest cathedral with the largest dome at that time in which Justinian had his architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus build. In 533, Justinian I begins war with the Vandal kingdom in North Africa to begin his dream to rebuild the Roman Empire and his general Belisarius sets sail for Carthage, then in 534 the whole Vandal Kingdom in North Africa including Sardinia and Corsica are annexed to the Byzantine Empire with the Vandal king Gelimer brought before Justinian although allowed to retire peacefully after. Right after the Vandal War, the Gothic War between the Byzantines and Ostrogoths of Italy begins in 535 to take back Italy for the Romans with Belisarius again leading the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) army coming from the south and invading from Sicily and this long war included the 1 year siege of Rome (537-538) which ended with the Byzantines taking back Rome all while the structure of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was completed (December 537), a Burgundian intervention which ended up sacking Milan in 538 though a Frankish invasion of Italy too came to help the Byzantines in 539, and in 540 the Byzantines were able to take back the Goth’s capital and former Western Roman capital of Ravenna although the Sassanid king Khosrow I attack Byzantium’s east again by the urging of the Ostrogoths making Khosrow I sack Byzantine Antioch, though the Ostrogoth king Vitiges is brought to Constantinople as a captive but Belisarius is for a time dismissed from command due to fear that he would usurp Justinian. In 541 the bubonic plague first breaks out in the Port of Pelusium in Egypt and by 542 it becomes a pandemic that kills most of Byzantium’s population including 5,000-10,000 a day in Constantinople but also spreads all over Europe and devastates the Sassanid Empire even more therefore stopping their war with Byzantium that had just resumed. This plague had then weakened the Byzantine economy and became known as the Plague of Justinian wherein the emperor too had it but recovered though with the war in Italy put on hold, the Ostrogoths begin to reemerge to take back Italy making Justinian who had recovered from the plague send Belisarius back to Italy in 544 though in 546 the new Gothic king in Italy Totila took back Rome which was taken back by Belisarius in 547, and in 548 in Constantinople Empress Theodora dies. In 551, the Byzantine army under the old general Narses assists Belisarius in taking back Italy and in the Battle of Taginae in 552, the Byzantines defeat the Ostrogoths and kill their king Totila in battle then in 553, Narses finally defeats the Goths at the Battle of Mons Lactarius killing their last king Teia and by 554 all of Italy is reunified under Byzantine rule; and with Italy under the Byzantines construction of the impressive cathedral mosaics of San Vitale in Ravenna would begin while in Constantinople in 553 Justinian I holds the 2nd Council of Constantinople which would be the 5th Church Council while a year before that silkworms smuggled from China were bought to Justinian in Constantinople by travelling Byzantine monks therefore beginning silk production in Byzantium. Also, back in 552, the people in Spain had revolted against their Arian Visigoth rulers giving Justinian I a reason to invade it to defend Orthodoxy but also to set a base for further conquests into Spain and in 555 the south and west coasts of Spain are annexed into the Byzantine province of Spania. In 557, an earthquake hits Constantinople at midnight partially damaging the dome of the Hagia Sophia but barely killing anyone and in 559 the Bulgar hordes come close to attacking Constantinople but Belisarius comes back to battle one last time to stop them, though in 562 Belisarius is tried for corruption, jailed, but pardoned by Justinian while in 565 Belisarius dies and in November of that year Justinian dies as well at age 83 without any children but before death the last structure he had built was the Monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai, Egypt. At Justinian I’s death in 565, the Mediterranean was again under Roman control though the full extent of the Roman Empire it once was in 395 was never restored; Justinian I was succeeded by his nephew Justin II who stops paying tribute to the Sassanid Persians resuming the war against Khosrow I again while after such hard work to put Italy back in Byzantine control, the Lombards led by their king Alboin from the northeast invade in 568 while in the Balkans Byzantine rule starts to collapse along the Danube when Slavs begin to make raids in around 574, Justin II in 573 stats showing signs of madness and in 574 he abdicates making his friend and palace guard commander Tiberius rule for him as Caesar together with Justin II’s wife empress Sophia and with Justin II dead in 578, Tiberius II becomes Augustus or Byzantine emperor through adoption by Justin II. The reign of Tiberius II is focused on war against Persia which ends up with the Kingdom of Iberia in today’s Georgia to be dissolved and split between the Byzantines and Sassanids in 580, many too are recruited into the army despite the funds starting to run out, but his death comes suddenly in 582, he is then succeeded by his son-in-law the general Maurice who ruled an eventful 20 years establishing 2 Byzantine semi-autonomous regions under the empire known as the Exarchates first with the Exarchate of Italy based in Ravenna in 584 and the Exarchate of Africa based in Carthage in 590. In 591, Maurice concludes the war with the Sassanids by making his Persian ally Khosrow II son of the former Sassanid Persian king Hormizd IV the new Persian king, and in 599 Maurice campaigns against the raiding Avars in the Danube and pushes them back across the river. Also, in the 590s, Emperor Maurice’s project of the military manual called the Strategikon on how to fight the different enemies of Byzantium is completed.

Map of Europe in 510, Byzantine Empire (yellow) under Anastasius I
The Justinian Dynasty (518-602)
Byzantine Empire at its height (555) under Emperor Justinian I

Watch this to learn more about the Byzantine-Sassanid Battle of Dara in 530 (from Kings and Generals).

Watch this to learn more about Justinian I’s Byzantine Restoration Project (from Khan Academy).

In the Rest of the World:

In the wider world outside Byzantium, first of all in Rome in 525 when still under the Ostrogoths before being under Byzantium, the Scythian monk Dionysius Exiguus invents the Anno Domini calendar we still use today which is based on the estimated birth year of Jesus Christ then in 529 in Italy, the monk St. Benedict of Nursia establishes the monastery of Monte Cassino, then in 590 Pope Gregory the Great becomes pope who in 595 sends Roman monks led by St. Augustine to England to convert the Saxons to Christianity. Basically, the 6th century was when many Christian missionary activities happened in the far parts of Europe like Britain to convert the barbarians to Christianity.

In France, the first Frankish king Clovis I of the Merovingian Dynasty dies in 511 and his kingdom is divided into 4 parts among his 4 sons Theuderic I, Chlodomer, Childebert I, and Chlothar I and by 560 the Thuringian, Burgundian, Saxon, and Frisian people were incorporated into the Frankish rule making Frankish territory extend deep into Germany and the Netherlands.

In Spain, Visigoth rule continues to solidify despite the Byzantine conquest in the south but in 585, the Visigoths crush and annex the Suevi kingdom in Northwest Spain then in 587 the Visigoth Spanish king Reccared I converts from Ariansim to Catholicism, and in 589 the Council of Toledo in Spain is held adding the Filioque clause to the Nicene Creed.

Now in Britain, the Scots and Irish would invade and colonize Caledonia which would be today’s Scotland with the Monastery of Iona established off the coast of Scotland in 563 by St. Columba, the Irish missionary who converted the Scots and Picts of Scotland to Christianity while the Saxons from across the North Sea had already been starting to take over what is England and according to legend the Battle of Camlann which was King Arthur’s final battle took place in 537, the same year Justinian I in Byzantium completed the Hagia Sophia, while another contemporary of Justinian I was the hero and king of the Geats Beowulf from Sweden though it is not said what years of the 6th century he was alive.

Right to the east of Byzantium, the Sassanid Persian Empire enters a golden age under their emperor Khosrow I (r. 531-579) while Byzantium too was entering its golden age under Emperor Justinian I and in his reign Khosrow I founds the first academy in Iran, the Buddhist Jataka stories are translated into the Persian language, while Chess from India is introduced to Persia and the game of Backgammon too is invented in Khosrow I’s Persia and although Persia went through a golden age the plague of 542 hit it hard which stopped its war with the Byzantines. Khosrow I died in 579 and is succeeded by his son Hormizd IV who’s army was defeated by Byzantine emperor Maurice and these defeats caused the Persian general Bahram Chobin to overthrow him in 590 but Hormizd IV’s son Khosrow II is put into the Persian throne by Maurice in 591 ending the Byzantine-Persian war since 572.

In the northeast of Sassanid lands, the Gokturk Khaganate in the Steppes of Central Asia is established in 551 by Bumin Khagan and from 588-89, the Sassanids and Gokturks fight a war, meanwhile by 576 the Gokturk Empire was at their greatest extent of territory in one straight line from Northern China to the Azov Sea in Ukraine.

Back in 520s when Byzantium and Persia were at war with each other, they too had a proxy war in the south where the Sassanid Persians supported the Kingdom of Himyar in Yemen ruled by a Jewish king while the Byzantine emperor Justin I supported the Christian Kingdom of Aksum in Ethiopia, however in 525 Aksum defeated the Himyarite Kingdom that had existed since 110BC and annexed the whole kingdom making Yemen across the Red Sea to the Ethiopian kingdom, meanwhile in the Arabian Peninsula north of Yemen in 570 the Islamic Prophet Muhammad is born in Mecca in today’s Saudi Arabia.

In Africa 3 Nubian kingdoms in today’s Sudan convert to Christianity brought to them by Byzantine missionaries first being the Kingdom of Nobatia in 545, then the kingdoms of Alodia and Makuria in 569.

In India, invasions of the Huna or Huns from the north bought the Gupta Empire to its knees dissolving it in 543 into several smaller kingdoms although in the early 6th century the Indian arts and sciences textbooks of Shilpa Shastras was written, however after the collapse of the Gupta Empire in 543 one of the major structures built in India was the Elephanta and Jogeshwari Caves. Meanwhile from 561-592 a Buddhist monk named Jnanagupta from today’s Pakistan translates 39 sutras from Sanskrit to Chinese and the Bengali Calendar used in Bengal region of India begins in the year 594, while also in 6th century India the astronomer and mathematician Aryabhata discovers the number 0 though the year is not said, he too made a discovery that the earth revolves around the sun.

China meanwhile for most of the 6th century was still divided between the Northern and Southern Dynasties though in 502 Chinese annals mention the existence of Buddhist kingdoms in today’s South Sumatra in Indonesia while in China itself the short-lived Chen Dynasty in Southern China (557-589) invents matches in 577; however in 589, China is reunited once more under the Sui Dynasty which although lives only until 618 to be replaced by the Tang Dynasty in which its founder Li Yuan was born in 566, also 589 was when the Chinese scholar Yan Zhitui makes the first reference to the use of toilet paper in history.

In Japan meanwhile, the Kofun Era ends with Asuka Period beginning in 538 and it is in this period when Buddhism is introduced to Japan from the Kingdom of Baekje in Korea in 552 while in the early 6th century Zen Buddhism is introduced to Vietnam from China, and the Kingdom of Funan in today’s Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand which had been around since around 50AD dies out in around 550.

In the Americas the 6th century had seen the golden age of the Maya Civilization of Central America with the city of Uxmal founded in today’s Mexico in the early part of the century while in the South America the Tiwanaku Empire based in the area of Lake Titicaca between Bolivia and Peru starts in 550. Lastly one of the biggest events of the 6th century was the Extreme Weather Events from 535-536 when temperatures had dropped and it was said to have been caused by a chain reaction of volcanic eruptions in Central America, Iceland, Indonesia, and the Pacific which in return caused famines in the Northern Hemisphere.

Sassanid Persian Empire under Khosrow I (531-579)

Watch this to learn more about the story of the Gokturk Empire (from Kings and Generals).

The 7th Century


In Byzantium (Eastern Roman Empire): 

As the 7th century begins, the Classical Era fades away into the Middle Ages not only in Europe but in Byzantium as well. In 600, the emperor Maurice rules Byzantium and fights constant wars to keep the Avars and Slavs away from the Danube frontiers but because of too much war funds run out and the soldiers are forced to camp out in the winter of 602 across the Danube with their payment cut off causing them to rebel against Maurice. The army in the Danube meanwhile proclaim the centurion Phocas their emperor and march to Constantinople to dethrone Maurice who escapes with his family but when caught on November of 602, he watches all his 6 sons executed before Maurice himself is beheaded and as Phocas usurps the throne, the Sassanid Persian emperor Khosrow II who was put in power by Maurice in 591 declares war on Phocas for the execution of his friend once again resuming the Persian war. Phocas though would be an ally to Pope Gregory I in Rome and succeeding popes but the army of Byzantium became overwhelmed as the Persians had invaded in massive numbers leaving the Danube undefended for the Slavs and Avars to raid again. By 607, the Persian armies have already invaded Syria and Asia Minor coming close to Constantinople making the Byzantines displeased with their emperor Phocas’ brutality and incompetence making the Exarch of North Africa Heraclius the Elder based in Carthage to rise up in rebellion against Phocas cutting the grain supply to Constantinople in 608. In 610 Exarch Heraclius’ son also named Heraclius arrives in Constantinople by ship from Carthage and deposes and executes Phocas and is crowned Byzantine emperor and turns his attention to deal with the Persian threat, but also in one of his first acts changes the empire’s official language from Latin to Greek which would be the official language from then on. In 615, the Sassanids capture and sack Jerusalem stealing the relic of the True Cross and in 616 the Sassanids march south and invade Byzantine Egypt cutting Constantinople’s grain supply. Only after raising a large army in 622 does Heraclius turn on the Persians by marching into the Sassanid heartland of Mesopotamia and Iran while in 626 the Sassanid Persians joining together with the Avars and Slavs besiege Constantinople while Heraclius is away although fail to take the city due to strength of its land and sea wall. Back in Persia, Heraclius pays off the Turkic Khazar tribes north of the Sassanid Empire in Central Asia to fight against the Sassanids  as well as turning the Sassanid general Shahrbaraz against Khosrow II to weaken the Sassanids and in 627 at the Battle of Nineveh in today’s Iraq, Heraclius wins a heavy victory against the Sassanids ending not just this war but the entire Roman-Persian War that began all the way back in 53BC when the Persian Parthian Empire defeated the Roman Republic at the Battle Carrhae, Khosrow II is then deposed and executed by the Persian nobility in 628 and with the True Cross recovered from Persia, Heraclius returns it to Jerusalem in 629 while all lands the Persians took from Byzantium since 602 including Egypt and Syria were returned to the Byzantines, however also in 629 the Arabs now taking the religion of Islam being the followers of the Prophet Muhammad begin making raids in the southern territories of Byzantium (today’s Jordan). Just when the Byzantium concluded their war with the Persians, a new enemy came out of the Arabian deserts, the Arab armies of the Rashidun Caliphate fighting under their new religion of Islam and in 636 the Arabs won a major victory over the Byzantines at the Battle of Yarmouk in 636 before capturing Jerusalem in 637 but before it Heraclius was able to take back the True Cross from there and return it to Constantinople. In 640, the Arab Rashidun Caliphate at this time ruled by Caliph Umar invades Byzantine Egypt and in 641 Heraclius dies having lost both Egypt and Syria once again but this time to the Arabs while the Byzantine province of Spania in Spain had been brought back to the Visigoths and most of the Balkans down to Greece was lost to the Avars and Slavs. Following Heraclius’ death a succession dispute in his family broke out known as the “Year of the 4 Emperors” (641) with his son Constantine III succeeding but dying after 3 months to be succeeded by his half-brother Heraclius and Empress Martina’s son Heraklonas who was deposed also in the same year with his mother with Constantine III’s 11-year-old son Constans II made the new emperor and as child he ruled under the regency of the senate and his generals. In 645, the Byzantine navy briefly retakes Alexandria but lose it again when the Caliph Uthman takes it back in 646 when it was said he had the library destroyed and abandoning the city moving his capital to what would be Cairo in the Nile Delta and by 647 the Arabs began their conquest of Byzantine North Africa. In 654, the Arabs come close to taking Asia Minor when defeating the Byzantine navy at the Battle of the Masts in the Mediterranean coast of Asia Minor where the Byzantine emperor Constans II defeated flees with his life but a civil war breaks out among the Arabs in 656 and in 661 the Rashidun Caliphate is replaced by the Umayyads making Damascus their capital. Constans II as emperor reorganizes the Byzantine governing system from provinces into smaller military provinces called Themes creating 4 of them in Asia Minor and fearing Constantinople would be attacked by the Arabs leaves the city for good in 663 heading to Italy to defend its major cities still under Byzantine control from the Lombards but in 668 while in Syracuse, Sicily Constans II is assassinated in his bath and afterwards usurped in Sicily by the general Mizizios though in 669, Constans II’s son defeats Mizizios and becomes Emperor Constantine IV. In 670 the Umayyad Arabs begin conquering the rest of Byzantine North Africa and by 674 their fleet arrives outside Constantinople to besiege it but Emperor Constantine IV has the invention of Greek Fire approved and made which in 677 fatally destroys the attacking Arab fleeing forcing them to abandon their siege in 678. From 680-681, Constantine IV organizes the 6th Church Council at Constantinople which solves the Miaphysite Heresy his father failed to solve all while the Bulgar hordes led by their king Asparukh invade Byzantium from the north and in 680 the Bulgars defeat the Byzantines at the Battle of Ongal near the Danube Delta in today’s Romania and in 681 Constantine IV recognizes the Bulgarians’ independence by ceding Byzantine territory in what is today’s Bulgaria to them. Constantine IV dies in 685 and is succeeded by his son Justinian II who spends his reign energetically fighting wars against the Arabs and Bulgars to return Byzantium to its greatness which he comes close to doing so after defeating the Bulgars in 688 but his unrealistic imperial ambitions and tyrannical rule gets him overthrown by the senate, army, people, and Church in 695 being exiled to the remote Byzantine Theme of Cherson north of the Black Sea with his nose mutilated, he is then replaced by the Isaurian general Leontios and at this time Carthage had fallen to the Arabs but the Byzantines reclaim it in 697 though in 698 the Arab fleet returns and defeat the Byzantines and to avoid the anger of the emperor Leontios, the Byzantine army turns on Leontios, deposing him, and replacing him with the army commander of Germanic descent Tiberius III Apsimar who did not attempt to retake Africa anymore while at around the same time just next to Byzantium to the northeast its neighboring small kingdom of Lazica in Georgia had ended (697).

The Byzantine Empire (green) next to the Sassanid Empire (orange) in 600
The Byzantine Empire in 641 (orange)

Watch this to learn more about the Byzantine-Sassanid War from 602-628 (from Kings and Generals).

Watch this to learn more about the beginning of the Byzantine-Arab conflict at the Battle of Yarmouk, 636 (from Kings and Generals).

Watch this to learn more about the formation of the Themes System under Constans II (from Eastern Roman History).

In the Rest of the World: 

Now for the rest of the world, due to wars, plagues, and many disasters the world’s population in the 7th century shrinks to about 208 million people and at the beginning of the century in 600 smallpox spreads from India into Europe. For the Sassanid Persians their wars with Byzantium beginning in 602 makes them each their height of territory in the 620s under Shah Khosrow II with an empire stretching all the way from Asia Minor to Pakistan from the Caucasus mountains down to Egypt and Oman while Yemen which the Ethiopian Kingdom of Aksum conquered in the previous century from the old Himyarite Kingdom too had been annexed to the Sassanid Empire but in 628 all land taken from Byzantium is returned to Byzantium while the Sassanids too had been fighting wars with the Turkic tribes at the north. However, the long war not only affected Byzantium but the Persians as well and by 636 they were no match to the invading forces of the Arab Rashidun Caliphate who defeated the Sassanids at the Battle of Al-Qadisiyah in Iraq beginning the Arab conquest of Persia and in 651 Iran and the Sassanid Empire was absorbed into the Rashidun Caliphate and the Sassanid Dynasty over after the murder of the last Sassanid emperor Yazdegerd III.

The main highlight of the 7th century though would be the sudden expansion of the Arabs from the Arabian deserts and the rise of Islam which all begins in 622 also the year the Islamic calendar begins as it was here when the Prophet Muhammad fled from Mecca to Medina with his first followers and would later take back Mecca in 630 while his armies now fighting under the religion of Islam would conquer the rest of the Arabian Peninsula down to Yemen and east to the Persian Gulf resulting into uniting the tribes of Arabia but also defeating the Ghassanid and Lakhmid tribes that lived the Arabian borders of the Byzantine and Sassanid Empires, while the Quran would first be written and documented at this time. The Prophet Muhammad died in 632 beginning the Muslim conquests out of Arabia into the Middle East and Byzantium as well as the start of the Rashidun Caliphate under Caliph Abu Bakr, a close friend and follower of Muhammad who sent armies to invade Byzantium and Persia. In the 640s the Arab Rashidun Caliphate had already taken all of Egypt converting its people to Islam as well as beginning their conquests on Armenia conquering the Kingdom of Caucasian Albania in today’s Azerbaijan which was then under the Sassanids before falling to the Arabs and in 650 engaged in a war with the Khazar Khaganate in the Steppes along the Caspian Sea right after the Arabs had defeated the Persians. In 656 however instability broke out in the Rashidun Caliphate in what would be known as the First Fitnah following the assassination of Caliph Uthman the same year by the rebels leading to a war between them and Uthman’s successors Ali and Hasan which ends with the rebellion winning in 661 and Muawiyah I as the new Caliph beginning the Umayyad Caliphate making Damascus his capital and the new Caliphate expands even further capturing the city of Kabul in Afghanistan for Islam in 664, North Africa in the 670s wherein Arab explorers would go as far as south to Lake Chad, and at the same laying siege but failing to take Constantinople from 674-678 however from 683-685 the Second Fitnah broke out with different factions rebelling against the Umayyads though ended with the Umayyads winning and crushing the rebellions and becomes even more successful almost ready to take Spain.

In the rest of Europe things in the 7th century remain almost the same as in the end of the end of the 6th as France and Western Germany is still ruled by the 4 Frankish kingdoms of Nuestria, Aquitaine, Burgundy, and Austrasia all under the Merovingian Dynasty; Italy is split between Lombard and Byzantine rule; all of Spain is now under the Visigoth kingdom, the rest of Germany is divided into the territories of Alamannia, Bavaria, Thuringia, and the Saxons; Scandinavia is made up the kingdoms of the Angles, Danes, Jutes, and Swedes; and everything east of Germany was home to several tribes.

At the beginning of the 7th century the Avar Khaganate above Byzantium was in its extent of territory from the Eurasian steppes to Hungary but the Avars are later downsized when fighting the Slavs as in 623 the Slavs get their first ruler which is a Frankish merchant named Samo who helps the Slavic tribes defeat the Avars. In the Balkans, the Slavs quickly occupy land in it including Serbia and Croatia and in an unknown date in this century, the Slavs already form the Duchy of Croatia in today’s Croatia and also some time in the 7th century a Slav leader known as the Unknown Archon settles in Byzantine Serbia with his people becoming the first Serbs, though also later on in the 7th century the Slavs raid into Byzantine Greece all the way down to the Gulf of Corinth.

By the early 7th century the Anglo-Saxons now ruling England convert to Catholic Christianity while England is divided into the 7 Kingdoms of East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex, and Wessex known as the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy while Wales, Ireland, and Scotland remain independent though the Welsh are defeated by Northumbria in battle in 616; the earliest form of English poetry too is attested at this time.

In Central Asia, the massive empire of the Gokturk Khaganate is destroyed from 629-630 when the new Chinese Tang Empire launches military campaigns against them, which splits the Turkic Khaganate between east west, then in 657 the western Khaganate is defeated by China, although in 682 the old Turkic Khaganate has a revival as Ilterish Khagan and Tonyukuk revive it.

Other than the Arabs, the 7th century too was a big one for China as the short-lived Sui Dynasty that brought stability and unity back to China in 589 comes to an end in 618 being replaced by the Tang Dynasty founded Li Yuan or Gaozu, and this dynasty of imperial China expands their rule in Asia very quickly setting up military bases from Korea to Central Asia going as far as to already having contact with Islam and as early as 618, the city of Guangzhou in Southern China becomes a major international seaport already receiving merchants and travellers from Egypt, East Africa, Arabia, Persia, India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, and even Nestorian Christians while already as early as the 630s a close follower of Muhammad named Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas after sailing from Ethiopia establishes the first Islamic mosque in China which is in Guangzhou also introducing the Quran to China. In 643, the Tang emperor of China Taizong had received Byzantine ambassadors from the young Byzantine emperor Constans II while Taizong’s son and successor Emperor Gaozong (r. 649-683) in 638 issues and edict of universal toleration for all religions in China and permits the establishments of Christian monasteries in China as the Nestorian Christian missionaries from Persia have arrived in China sometime between 635 and 649, it is also Gaozong who defeats the Western Turkic Khaganate in 657. In 663, the combined forces of Chinese Tang Empire and expanding kingdom of Silla in Korea defeat the combined forces of the Korean kingdom of Baekje and the Japanese Yamato Empire at the naval Battle of Baekgang resulting in Baekje annexed to the Silla Kingdom and the Japanese to withdraw from Korea and 5 years later (668), the Gorguryeo-Tang War ends when the combined Tang and Silla Kingdom forces defeat the Korean kingdom of Gorguryeo which is annexed into the unified Kingdom of Silla. In 677, the last crowned prince of the Sassanid Persian Empire after losing the empire flees to the Tang court of Gaozong and in 690 7 years after Gaozong’s death, Gaozong’s wife Wu Zetian becomes empress by seizing power over China who in 691 makes Buddhism the state religion of China while in 698 an active but unofficial anti-Christian persecution begins in China and at the same year as the Christian persecutions in China begin, the north and south of Korea into the Kingdom of Silla in the south and Balhae in the north which consists of North Korea, Northern China, and Far East Russia. In China paper money is first used in 650 and 2 large impressive pagoda structures still standing today are built within the 7th century first being the Xumi Pagoda of Zhengding in 636 and the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda of Xi’an in 652; also by 602 which was the same year Byzantium’s Justinian Dynasty ended with Emperor Maurice’s execution, the Chinese come to dominate Vietnam for the 3rd time after the Vietnamese Ly Dynasty collapses while in Southern Vietnam the old Funan kingdom is absorbed by the new Chenla Kingdom in 618 which consists of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. In Tang Dynasty China, the chronicler I-Tsing mentions several kingdoms in Indonesia including the Kingdom of Holing in Java in 664, Srivijaya and Malayu in Sumatra as well as Kedah in the Malay Peninsula and Nalanda in India all in 671; by 683 the Buddhist Kingdom of Srivijaya in Sumatra gains control over most the area and becomes a naval power in the region of the Malacca and Sunda straits.

In Japan, the religion of Shugendo in the mountains starts which evolved from Buddhism, Taoism, and Shinto while in 607 the Horyu-ji Temple of Ikaruga in Japan was believed to be completed, and in 658 2 Chinese monks Zhi-Yu and Zhi-You reconstruct a 3rd century compass which is given to Emperor Tenji of Japan, this time in Japan is known as the Asuka Period.

Meanwhile in India and the area around it, Buddhist rule in the Sindh which is in Pakistan ends while the Dharmaraja Ratha of Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu, India is built in the mid-7th century in which this part being the south of India was under the Pallava Dynasty, but in Northern India with the fall of the Gupta Empire in the previous century, many of the divided states under different Maharajahs are united again into the empire of the Vardhana Dynasty under the emperor Harsha (r. 606-647).

In Central America the city of Teotihuacan is sacked by unnamed invaders in an unknown date in the 7th century while Pakal the Great becomes the king of the Mayan city-state of Palenque in Southern Mexico in 615 and rules all the way until his death at age in 80 in 683.

Sassanid Persian Empire at its greatest extent under Khosrow II from 602-328
Conquests of Islam in the 7th century; of Muhammad (red), the Rashidun Caliphate (orange), and the Umayyad Caliphate (yellow)
Map of Europe and the Middle East in the 7th century
Map of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy (7 Kingdoms of England) with their respective flags
Tang Dynasty Empire of China, 7th century