When the Roman Empire split into two separate empires, the Eastern Roman Empire became known as the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire continued on for 1000 years after the Western Roman Empire collapse in 476 CE.

The Byzantine Empire ruled most of Eastern and Southern Europe during the Middle Ages. Its capital city, Constantinople, was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe.


Emperor Constantine I came to power as emperor in 306 CE. He made the Greek city of Byzantium the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The city was renamed to Constantinople. Constantine ruled as emperor for 30 years. Under Constantine, the Empire became powerful. Constantine also converted Christianity.

The Making of Constantinople: Constantine's “New Rome”

Justinian Dynasty

Byzantine Empire Map Justinian

The peak of the Byzantine Empire occurred during the Justinian Dynasty. In 527 Justinian I became Emperor. Under Justinian I, the empire gained territory and would reach the peak of its power and wealth.

Justinian also established many reforms. One major reform had to do with the law. First, he had all the existing Roman laws reviewed. These laws had been written down over the course of hundreds of years and existed in hundreds of different documents. Then he had the laws rewritten into a single book called the Corpus of Civil Law, or the Justinian Code.

The Hagia Sofia Church in Constantinople (Istanbul today)

Justinian also encouraged the arts. He funded many public works. Perhaps his best known project was the Hagia Sophia, a beautiful and massive church built in Constantinople.

Split from the Catholic Church

In 1054 CE, the Catholic Church split. Constantinople became the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church and it no longer recognized the Catholic Church in Rome.

Wars against the Muslims

The Byzantium Empire fought the Muslims for a long time for control of the eastern Mediterranean. This included asking the Pope and the Holy Roman Empire for help during the first Crusade to regain control of the Holy Land. They battled the Seljuk Turks and other Arab and Muslim forces for hundreds of years. Finally, in 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire and with it came the end of the Byzantine Empire.

Byzantine Empire Map Constantinople


The emperor had absolute power in the Byzantine era. His authority was supposed to be given by God. Therefore, there was a close relationship between the church and the emperors. Emperors were considered as church protectors and they elected the patriarch of Constantinople.

Emperors lead the army and were supreme legislators.

Emperors divided the territory in themes or provinces ruled by strategui or governors appointed by the Emperor.

The administration was efficient as well as there was a well-trained army. However, the crisis of the 11th century and the loss of territories forced the Byzantine empire to hire mercenaries.

History CSI: the Collapse of Byzantium


The main economic activities were:

  • Agriculture was the most important activity and each province specialized in producing some crops such as cereals, olives, etc.
  • Craftwork was developed in the cities. Silk, jewelry and perfumes were the most important craftworks.
  • Trade routes linked East and West and met in Constantinople. Textiles, spices, ivory, precious stones were imported whereas textiles, wine and jewels were exported.

Byzantine Culture and Society – Brewminate


The Byzantine empire combined rural and urban societies.

Rural society

  • The most important group was the rural landowners who had large estates called latifundia.
  • Coloni worked on the latifundia
  • Some peasants were owners of small plots but many free peasants sold their lands to the landowners because they could not face the increasing taxes.

Urban society

  • The ruling class consisted on the large rural landowners who lived in the cities, high officials and wealthy merchants.
  • The lower class consisted of small merchants , craftsmen organized into collegia and slaves.


CC Fall of the Roman Byzantine Empire Video Guide (1)


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