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The throne is a glorious sepulcher.

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E.Napp
“The throne is
a glorious
sepulcher.”
Empress Theodora
EASTERN CHRISTENDOM
With the collapse of the Roman Empire in the
West, its eastern half, now known as the
Byzantine Empire or Byzantium, continued the
traditions of the Roman Empire on a smaller
scale until its conquest by the Muslim Ottoman
Turks in 1453
п‚ў Centered on the magnificent city of
Constantinople
-Great location for trade
-Between Asia and Eastern Europe
п‚ў Particular form of Christianity known as Eastern
Orthodox
п‚ў
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Unlike most empires, Byzantium has no clear
starting point. Its leaders, neighbors, and
enemies viewed it as a continuation of the Roman
Empire but historians date its beginning to 330
CE when the Roman emperor Constantine, who
became a Christian, established a new capital,
Constantinople, on the site of an ancient Greek
city called Byzantium.
With the fall of Rome, the Roman Empire was
formally divided into eastern and western halves,
thus launching a division of Christendom that
lasted into the twenty-first century
п‚ў Although the western Roman Empire collapsed
in the fifth century, the eastern half persisted for
another thousand years
п‚ў The eastern Roman Empire was far wealthier,
urbanized, and more cosmopolitan than its
western counterpart
-Possessed a much more defensible capital
-A shorter frontier to guard
-Access to the Black Sea and command of the
eastern Mediterranean Sea
-Stronger army and navy – able to deflect the
Germanic and Hun invaders who had
overwhelmed the West
п‚ў
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Like Tang dynasty China seeking to restore the
glory of the Han era, Byzantium consciously
sought to preserve the legacy of classical
civilization and the Roman Empire.
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Constantinople was to be a “New Rome” and
Byzantines referred to themselves as “Romans”
 Fearing contamination by “barbarian” customs,
emperors forbade the residents of Constantinople
from wearing boots, trousers, clothing made from
animal skins, and long hairstyles
-Only Roman-style robes and sandals
п‚ў But the western Roman Empire was
permanently lost to Byzantium, despite the
Emperor Justinian’s (reigned 527-565) shortlived attempt to reconquer the Mediterranean
basin
п‚ў The rapid Arab/Islamic expansion in the seventh
century resulted in the loss of Syria/Palestine,
Egypt, and North Africa
п‚ў
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Yet until the 1200s, a more compact Byzantine
Empire remained a major force in the eastern
Mediterranean, controlling Greece, much of the
Balkans, and Anatolia.
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Political authority remained tightly centralized
in Constantinople, where the emperor claimed to
govern all creation as God’s worldly
representative
-The imperial court tried to imitate the awesome
grandeur of what was believed to be God’s
heavenly court which in fact resembled ancient
Persian imperial splendor
п‚ў Yet this centralized state only lightly touched the
lives of most people
-Focused primarily on collecting taxes,
maintaining order, and suppressing revolts
п‚ў After 1085, Byzantine territory shrank, owing to
incursions by aggressive Christian European
powers, Catholic Crusaders, and later Turks.
п‚ў
E.Napp
The end came in 1453 when the Turkic Ottoman
Empire, then known as the “sword of Islam,”
finally took Constantinople.
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Intimately tied to the Byzantine state was the
Church, a relationship that became known as
caesaropapism
-Unlike Western Europe, where the Roman
Catholic Church maintained some degree of
independence from political authorities, in
Byzantium the emperor assumed something of
the role of both “Caesar,” as head of state, and
the pope, as head of the Church
-The emperor appointed the patriarch, or leader,
of the Orthodox Church and generally treated the
Church as a “government department”
п‚ў Orthodox Christianity had a pervasive influence
on every aspect of Byzantine life
-It legitimated the rule of the emperor
п‚ў
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Byzantine churches were filled with icons –
religious paintings of Jesus, Mary, and other
saints which many believed conveyed the divine
presence to believers.
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As Eastern Orthodoxy evolved, it came to define
itself against an emerging Latin Christianity
centered on papal Rome, as a deepening divide
opened within the world of Christendom
п‚ў This growing religious divergence reflected the
political separation and rivalry between the
Byzantine Empire and the emerging kingdoms of
Western Europe
п‚ў As the growth of Islam, submerged earlier
centers of Christianity in the Middle East and
North Africa, Constantinople and Rome alone
remained as alternative hubs of the Church
п‚ў Disagreements about the nature of Trinity or the
relative importance of faith and reason gave rise
to much controversy
п‚ў
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п‚ў
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One major issue involved the veneration of icons,
popular paintings of saints and biblical scenes,
usually painted on small wooden panels
-Between 726 and 843, the Eastern Orthodox
Church, on orders from Byzantine emperors, took
the offensive against the use of icons, arguing
that they became “idols,” distracting believers
from the adoration of God himself
-This effort, known as iconoclasm, involved the
destruction of icons and generated opposition
within Byzantium until it was ended
-But while it lasted, iconoclasm was highly
offensive within Roman Catholic circles for most
Roman Popes were supporters of icon veneration
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Priests in the West shaved and, after 1050 or so,
were supposed to remain celibate, while those in
Byzantium allowed their beards to grow long and
were permitted to marry and Eastern Orthodox
leaders sharply rejected the growing claims of
Roman popes to be the sole and final authority
for all Christians everywhere.
By 1054, representatives of both churches
mutually excommunicated each other, declaring
in effect that those in the opposing tradition were
not true Christians
п‚ў The Crusades, launched in 1095 by the Catholic
pope against the forces of Islam, made things
worse as Crusaders passing through the
Byzantine Empire engaged in frequent conflict
with local people
п‚ў But the remarkable growth of the Arab Empire
threatened the Byzantines
-Yet the Byzantines were able to hold off for a
time with their military innovation known as
“Greek fire”- a combination of oil, sulfur, and lime
that was launched from bronze tubes
п‚ў
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And the Byzantines were central players in the
long-distance trade of Eurasia, with links to
Western Europe, Russia, Central Asia, and the
Islamic world.
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The Byzantines preserved Greek and Roman
learning
п‚ў They transmitted this classical learning to the
Islamic world as well as to the Christian West
п‚ў Byzantine religious culture spread among Slavicspeaking peoples in the Balkans and Russia
-Byzantine missionaries, Cyril and Methodius,
developed an alphabet, based on Greek letters,
with which Slavic languages could be written
п‚ў The most significant expansion of Orthodox
Christianity occurred among the Slavic peoples of
what is now Ukraine and western Russia
-A modest state known as Kievan Rus - named
after the most prominent city, Kiev - emerged in
the ninth century CE
п‚ў
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The development of Rus was stimulated by trade,
in this case along the Dnieper River, linking
Scandinavia and Byzantium. Growing
interaction with the larger world prompted
Prince Vladimir of Kiev to affiliate with one of
the major religions of the area. The splendor of
Constantinople’s Orthodox churches captured the
imagination of Rus’s envoys.
IN CONTRAST: WESTERN CHRISTENDOM
The western half of the Christian world followed
a rather different path than that of the Byzantine
Empire
п‚ў For most of the postclassical millennium, it was
distinctly on the margins of world history, partly
because of its location at the far end of the
western half of the Eurasian landmass
-Not until the Eastern and Western hemispheres
were joined after 1500 did Western Europe
occupy a geographically central position in the
global network
 Internally, Europe’s geography made unity
difficult
п‚ў
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Europe’s population centers were divided by
mountain ranges, dense forests, and five major
peninsulas and two large islands (Britain and
Ireland). However, its extensive coastlines and
interior river systems facilitated exchange within
Europe, while a moderate climate, plentiful
rainfall, and fertile soils enabled a productive
agriculture that could support a growing
population.
The traditional date marking the fall of Rome is
476 CE, when the German general Odoacer
overthrew the last Roman emperor in the West
-Much that had characterized Roman civilization
also weakened, declined, or disappeared in the
several centuries before and after 476
п‚ў Any semblance of large-scale centralized rule
vanished
 Disease and warfare reduced Western Europe’s
population by more than 25 percent
п‚ў Urban life diminished as Europeans reverted to a
largely rural existence
п‚ў Germanic peoples, whom the Romans viewed as
barbarians – Goths, Visigoths, Franks,
Lombards, Angles, and Saxons emerged as the
dominant peoples of Western Europe
п‚ў
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Europe’s center of gravity moved away from the
Mediterranean toward the north and west. Yet
much that was Roman persisted as regional
kingdoms – led by Visigoths in Spain, Franks in
France, Lombards in Italy, and Angles and
Saxons in England – organized in small kinshipbased tribes with strong warrior values had
already been substantially Romanized.
Several of the larger Germanic kingdoms also
sought to re-create something of the unity of the
Roman Empire
п‚ў Charlemagne (reigned 768-814), ruler of the
Carolingian Empire, erected an embryonic
imperial bureaucracy, standardized weights and
measures, and began to act like an imperial ruler
-On Christmas Day of the year 800, he was
crowned as a new Roman emperor by the pope,
although his realm splintered shortly after his
death
п‚ў Otto I of Saxony (reigned 936-973) gathered
much of Germany under his control and was
likewise invested with the title of emperor by the
pope – His realm became known as the Holy
Roman Empire
п‚ў
E.Napp
These efforts testify to the continuing appeal of the
classical world, even as a new political system
and rival kingdoms blended Roman and
Germanic elements.
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QUESTIONS
п‚ў
п‚ў
п‚ў
п‚ў
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п‚ў
In what respects did Byzantium continue the patterns
of the classical Roman Empire? In what ways did it
diverge from those patterns?
How did Eastern Orthodox Christianity differ from
Roman Catholicism?
In what ways was the Byzantine Empire linked to a
wider world?
How did links to Byzantium transform the new
civilization of Kievan Rus?
How did the historical development of the European
West differ from that of Byzantium in the
postclassical era?
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