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The Commonwealth of Byzantium

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THE COMMONWEALTH OF
BYZANTIUM
Main Topics
I. The early Byzantine empire
II. Byzantine economy and society
III. Classical heritage and Orthodox
Christianity
IV. The influence of Byzantium in eastern
Europe
I. The later Roman empire and
Byzantium
•
Fifth century, eastern
half of empire
remained intact while
west crumbled
Challenges:
Sassanids and
Germans
Highly centralized
state
•
•
–
–
Emperor with aura of
divinity-Caesaropapism
Large and complex
bureaucracy
I. Justinian (527-565 C.E.) and his
legacy; Theodora (empress)
•
•
•
Rebuilt
Constantinople,
including Hagia
Sophia
Codified Roman law
Corpus iuris civilis
(The Body of the
Civil Law)
Sent Belisarius to
reconquer the
western Roman
empire (didn't last)
I. Islamic conquests and Byzantine revival
• The emergence of the Islamic state, seventh century
– Arab peoples conquered the Sassanid empire and part of
Byzantium
– Prolonged sieges of Constantinople by Islamic armies
– Byzantium survived partly because of Greek fire
• Byzantine society reorganized
– Provinces (themes) under generals
– Armies of free peasants helped agricultural economy
I. Byzantium and western Europe:
ecclesiastical and political tensions
• The Iconoclastic Controversy of 710AD completed the break between
Rome and Constantinople.
• Facing numerous defections to the Muslims along his southern border,
and the creation of a Muslim Persia along his eastern border, Emperor
Leo initiated religious reforms in an attempt to retain followers.
• The main item was a declaration that religious images were corrupt.
This appealed to Eastern Monophysites and to Muslims who
distrusted the worship of anything that came between the individual
and the deity (saints), but it also resulted in the destruction of much
Byzantine religious art.
• Reforms had political goals as well as spiritual goals.
• By purifying Christianity, they hoped to reduce the attractiveness of
Islam to Eastern Monophysites and other religious opponents.
• By eliminating religious images, they hoped to undermine the
worship of saints, including that of St. Peter, who was the
ancestral founder of the Roman bishopric.
• Finally, by doing away with the worship of saints, the emperor also
found a reason to close monasteries and confiscate their wealth
for the Empire.
II. Rural economy and society
•
Large agricultural base to
support cities
Economy strongest when
large class of free
peasants (themes) existed
Economy weakened when
large landholders
consolidated and made
peasants dependent
•
•
Byzantine Farm
–
They do not have as much
$$, so they do not spend as
much.
II. Industry and trade
•
Constantinople was major site of crafts and
industry
–
–
•
Constantinople was clearinghouse for trade
–
–
•
Glass, linen, textiles, gems, jewelry, gold, and silver
Silk developed into major industry in sixth century;
secrets came from China
Bezant (gold coins) was the standard currency of
Mediterranean basin
Western anchor of trade route revived silk roads
Banks and partnerships supported commercial
economy
II. Urban life
•
Housing in
Constantinople
varied widely by
class
Attractions of
Constantinople:
baths, taverns,
theaters (culture)
•
–
–
Hippodrome used
for mass
entertainment
Chariot races most
popular; Greens
and Blues rivalry
III. The legacy of classical Greece
• Official language went from
Latin to Greek
• State-organized school
system trained workforce
– Primary education: reading,
writing, grammar
– Later education: classical
Greek, literature, philosophy,
science
– Higher education in
Constantinople: law,
medicine, philosophy
• Byzantine scholarship
emphasized Greek tradition
– Wrote commentaries on
Greek literature
– Preserved and transmitted
Greek thought to later
cultures
III. The Byzantine church
•
Most distinctive
feature was
involvement of the
emperor
(Caesaropapism)
–
–
•
Council of Nicaea
(325 C.E.) in which
Arianism was declared
heresy
Iconoclasm
controversy (726-843)
was started by Leo III
Greek philosophy
applied to Byzantine
theology
St Arius - Founder of Arianism
III. Monasticism and popular piety
• Monasticism origins in
early Christian ascetics
(hermits)
– "Pillar saints" like St.
Simeon Stylite
– St. Basil of Caesarea (329379 C.E.) organized
monastic movement
• Mt. Athos, monastery in
northern Greece from
ninth century to present
• Monks/nuns very popular
with laity
– Provided social services to
the community
– Opposed iconoclasm
Tensions between eastern and
western Christianity
• Constantinople and
Rome: strains mirrored
political tensions
• Ritual and doctrinal
differences, such as
iconoclasm
• Schism in 1054--Eastern
Orthodox versus Roman
Catholic
– the East-West Schism was
actually the result of an
extended period of
estrangement between
Latin and Greek
Christendom
IV. Domestic problems and foreign
pressures
• Generals and local aristocrats allied; new elite
class challenged imperial (religious) power
• Western Europe took parts of Byzantium
– Normans in southern Italy and Sicily
– Crusaders carved out states and sacked
Constantinople (1204)
• Muslim Saljuq Turks invaded Anatolia, defeated
Byzantines at Manzikert, 1071
• Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople in 1453,
the end of the empire
IV. Early relations between Byzantium and Slavic
peoples
• Byzantines began to
influence Bulgarian politics
and culture after the eighth
century
• Missions to the Slavs
– Saints Cyril and Methodius,
mid-ninth century
– Cyrillic writing stimulated
conversion to Orthodox
Christianity (syncretism)
– Education and religion tied
together, led to more
conversions
Byzantium and Russia
• Mid-ninth century, Russians started to organize a large
state: Kiev
• The conversion of Prince Vladimir, 989
– Kiev served as a conduit for spread of Byzantine culture and
religion
– Cyrillic writing and literature and Orthodox missions spread
Byzantine culture
– Byzantine art and architecture dominated Kiev: icons and onion
domes
• Princes established caesaropapist control of Russian
Orthodox church
• Russian culture flourishes from eleventh century
– Moscow claimed to be world's "third Rome"
– Sent out many missionaries from sixteenth century on
Summary
•
•
•
•
Eastern half of Rome became known as Byzantium
Survived and, mostly, thrived for a millennium
This culture blended Roman and Greek traditions
Declined over centuries (slow fall)--culminating in its conquest by
the Islamic Ottoman Turks in 1453.
• Several unique features of the Byzantine civilization contributed to
its prosperity:
– A strategically located capital city called Constantinople that was one of
the largest, most influential, and cosmopolitan urban centers in the
world.
– A highly centralized and autocratic governmental structure consisting of
an exalted emperor with an aura of divinity and a large and intricate
bureaucracy.
– A rich Christian tradition elaborated by the emperor and the patriarchs
that eventually evolved into an independent and separate faith referred
to as Eastern Orthodox.
– An unusual and effective administration system whereby generals
governed over free peasants who received small tracts of land to work
in exchange for military service.
– The extension of Byzantine cultural traditions to eastern Europe and
Russia through political, cultural, and economic relations.
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