Famous Grammarians and Poets of the Byzantine Empire

Making a grammar book was one of the principal tools of Byzantine scholars to preserve the correct form of Classical Greek. Introduction Overview In the wake of the downfall of the Western Roman Empire and the intellectual collapse of Athens, Byzantine scholars engaged in preserving the Classical Greek language and its literature. Thus they became the guardians of a vanished culture. This article[…]

Miniature Mosaics in the Byzantine World

The Byzantines began creating portable mosaic icons by setting small tesserae into wax or resin on wood panels. Introduction For many of us, the term “mosaics” evokes the soaring golden walls and ceilings of the Eastern Roman “Byzantine” Empire. But from approximately the twelfth to the fourteenth century, the Byzantines also began creating mosaics that[…]

Medieval Byzantine Secular Art

The Byzantines also created art and architecture with no religious imagery and without explicit religious functions in mind. Religious vs. Secular? Admittedly, classifying medieval art in tidy categories of the “religious” or “secular” is a bit anachronistic, especially in the arts of the Byzantine court, where religious and political elements were often seamlessly blended. For[…]

Byzantine Iconoclasm and the Triumph of Orthodoxy

Who were the players and what was this Controversy all about? Introduction The “Iconoclastic Controversy” over religious images was a defining moment in the history of the Eastern Roman “Byzantine” Empire. Centered in Byzantium’s capital of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) from the 700s–843, imperial and Church authorities debated whether religious images should be used in Christian[…]

An Introduction to Icons in the Medieval Byzantine Empire

Christians initially disagreed over whether religious images were good or bad, resulting in the iconoclasm controversy. What Is an Icon? In our time, we often refer to celebrities as cultural icons, pop icons, and fashion icons. Rebels are sometimes labeled iconoclasts. Icons are also the little images that populate the screens of our computers, phones, and[…]

The Chronological Periods of the Byzantine Empire

Introducing the periods of Byzantine history, with attention to developments in art and architecture. From Rome to Constantinople In 313, the Roman Empire legalized Christianity, beginning a process that would eventually dismantle its centuries-old pagan tradition. Not long after, emperor Constantine transferred the empire’s capital from Rome to the ancient Greek city of Byzantion (modern[…]

The Fall of Constantinople in 1453

Constantinople had withstood many sieges and attacks over the centuries. Introduction The city of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) was founded by Roman emperor Constantine I in 324 CE and it acted as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantine Empire as it has later become known, for well over 1,000 years. Although the city[…]

Magical Uses of Imagery in Ancient and Medieval Byzantine Art

These images were sometimes augmented with texts that were used for protective or healing purposes. Introduction Christianity was central to the outlook and personal identity of the average Byzantine; nonetheless, there is abundant physical evidence that some types of popular religious or “magical” practices were widespread from late antiquity to the end of the empire.[…]

Queen Tamar: First Female Monarch of Medieval Georgia

She presided over Georgia’s greatest territorial expansion, taking advantage of the decline of other major powers in the region. Introduction Tamar was the queen of Georgia from 1184 to 1213 CE. She is considered one of the greatest of medieval Georgia’s monarchs, and she presided over its greatest territorial expansion, taking advantage of the decline[…]

The Decline and Collapse of the Byzantine Empire

The rise of Turkish power in Anatolia eventually gave rise to the Ottoman Empire which rapidly conquered the Byzantines. Introduction The Byzantine Empire experienced several cycles of growth and decay over the course of nearly a thousand years, including major losses during the Arab conquests of the 7th century. In the 11th century the empire[…]

The Byzantine Empire: Its Rise, Growth, and Fall to the Ottomans

This great empire lay in two continents, Europe and Asia. It lasted from about 500 to 1453 C.E., when it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Introduction At first, the Byzantine Empire was the continuation of the Roman Empire in the east. In 330 C.E., the Roman emperor Constantine moved his capital from Rome to[…]

Daily Life in the Ancient Byzantine Empire

The family one was born into in Byzantium greatly determined one’s social status and profession in adult life. Introduction Daily life in the Byzantine Empire, like almost everywhere else before or since, largely depended on one’s birth and the social circumstances of one’s parents. There were some opportunities for advancement based on education, the accumulation[…]

Basileía Romaíon: An Historical Overview of the Byzantine Empire

The name “Byzantine Empire” is a modern term and would have been alien to its contemporaries. Introduction The Byzantine Empire is the term conventionally used to describe the Greek-speaking Roman Empire during the Middle Ages, centered at its capital in Constantinople. Much of this territory had first fallen to Greek rule under Alexander the Great.[…]

Queen Constantinople of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires

In the Middle Ages, Constantinople was the richest European city and was known as the “Queen of Cities”. Introduction Constantinople (Greek: Κωνσταντινούπολη) was the capital of the Byzantine Empire and, following its fall in 1453, of the Ottoman Empire until 1930, when it was renamed Istanbul as part of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s Turkish national reforms.[…]

Byzantine Art as Propaganda: Justinian and Theodora at Ravenna

Justifications for the propagandizing elements in these mosaics are not difficult. Power on earth was once – and sometimes even now – perceived as a result of power in heaven. The great double mosaic of Justinian and Theodora at San Vitale in Ravenna is a forceful exercise in demonstrating power through art as propaganda, fusing[…]

Byzantine Culture and Society

The Byzantine Empire had an important cultural legacy, both on the Orthodox Church and on the revival of Greek and Roman studies. Introduction People living under the early Byzantine Empire saw themselves as Romans, but the culture of the empire changed over the centuries. As it incorporated Greek and Christian culture, it transformed into a[…]

Justinian’s Plague (541-542 CE)

The outbreak continued to sweep throughout the Mediterranean world for another 225 years, finally disappearing in 750 CE. Introduction During the reign of the emperor Justinian I (527-565 CE), one of the worst outbreaks of the plague took place, claiming the lives of millions of people. The plague arrived in Constantinople in 542 CE, almost[…]

Exploring Ancient Mosaics

We can see how the world once was and glimpse now lost landscapes, flora and fauna. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Mosaics, where designs and images are created using small pieces (tesserae) of stone or other materials, have been used to decorate floors, walls, ceilings, and precious objects since before written records began. Like pottery, mosaics have[…]

The Byzantine Empire and a Centuries-Old Religious Dispute over Ukraine’s Orthodox Church

Ukraine’s Orthodox Church recently broke off from Russia. This dispute has a history that goes back to medieval Christianity. Introduction A new Orthodox Church was recently established in Ukraine. Shortly after, Bartholomew I, the Patriarch of Constantinople and the spiritual head of global Orthodox Christianity, granted independence to the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine and[…]

Ukraine in the Medieval Byzantine Empire

Byzantine influence was pronounced in Ukraine’s religious, political, and cultural spheres. Byzantium was originally a Greek colony, founded ca 660 BC on the European side of the Bosporus. Because of its strategic location between the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea, the colony controlled the traffic between Asia and Europe. The city was completely razed by[…]

The Hippodrome of Constantinople: Sports and Entertainment in Ancient Byzantium

Many important Roman cities had an arena which hosted thrilling chariot races and more for public entertainment. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The Hippodrome of Constantinople was an arena used for chariot racing throughout the Byzantine period. First built during the reign of Roman emperor Septimius Severus in the early 3rd century CE, the structure was[…]

Roman and Byzantine Cilicia Campestris

Cilicia Campestris was the most valuable Roman district because of its fertile plains which produced abundant crops. Introduction Cilicia Campestris was one of the six districts of the Roman province of  Cilicia organized by Pompey the Great (l. c. 106-48 BCE) in 64 BCE. The name translates roughly into “Cilicia of the Plains” and corresponds to the earlier name for the[…]

The Theodosian Walls of Ancient Byzantium

The fortifications were the largest and strongest ever built in either the ancient or medieval worlds. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The Theodosian Walls are the fortifications of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, which were first built during the reign of Theodosius II (408-450 CE). Sometimes known as the Theodosian Long Walls, they built upon[…]

The Varangian Guard: The Byzantine Emperor’s Secret Service

The Varangians were probably as shocking a sight to Byzantine enemies as tanks would have been to WWI infantry. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The mercenary Varangian Guard was an elite Byzantine army corps and the personal bodyguard of emperors beginning with Basil II in c. 988 CE. The Viking unit was famous for the stature[…]

The Campaign of Asad Bin Alfurat to Conquer Byzantine Sicily

An introduction and prologue for the first campaigns against Sicily and the relations between both Sicily and Byzantines with Aghlabids state. By Dr. Sattam Zuheir AlkhateebDepartment of Basic SciencesMaan CollegeBalqa Applied University Early Islamic Campaigns against Sicily The first attempted invasion against Sicily had occurred during the reign of Mu’awiah bin Abi Sufain in Syria[…]

Pilgrimage in the Byzantine Empire

Well-worn routes resulted along which regular stopping points allowed pilgrims to sleep, eat, and be cared for in a network of monasteries and churches. Introduction Pilgrimage in the Byzantine Empire involved the Christian faithful travelling often huge distances to visit such holy sites as Jerusalem or to see in person relics of holy figures and[…]

The Fall of the Byzantine Empire and Rise of the Renaissance

The Byzantine Empire, is one of the most tragically understudied topics in modern American historical curriculum. By Gabriel Johnson Introduction Not only did Byzantium achieve greater feats of art and science than Rome, they safeguarded (and advanced) for nearly 1,500 years the ancient knowledge of the Greeks and Romans. Combined with exposure to Islamic and[…]

The Sultan of Byzantium: A Byzantine Past Hiding in Plain Sight

The journey begins with a quiet academic living in Istanbul who receives a cryptic message that will change his life. Introduction Istanbul makes an exotic first impression: Boat traffic on the Bosporus sends waves brushing up against the shores of both Europe and Asia as enormous mosques and monuments from previous empires stand guard. The[…]

The Byzantine Empire – A History of Eastern Rome

The name Byzantine Empire is a modern term and would have been alien to its contemporaries, who would have known it as Ῥωμανία Romanía (Imperium Romanorum). Introduction The Byzantine Empire is the term conventionally used to describe the Greek-speaking Roman Empire during the Middle Ages, centered at its capital in Constantinople. Much of this territory had first fallen to Greek rule[…]

The Differences between Ancient and Medieval Byzantine and Armenian Christianity

The types of Christianity they professed had important differences that led to a lack of recognition and tensions between the two groups. Introduction Although both the Byzantines and the Armenians were Christian, the types of Christianity they professed had important differences that led to a lack of recognition and tensions between the two groups and[…]