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Animated map showing the territorial evolution of the Byzantine Empire (in green).
The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul, and formerly Byzantium). It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. During most of its existence, the empire was the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe. Both "Byzantine Empire" and "Eastern Roman Empire" are terms created after the end of the realm; its citizens continued to refer to their empire simply as the Roman Empire (Greek: Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων, tr. Basileia Rhōmaiōn; Latin: Imperium Romanum), or Romania (Ῥωμανία), and to themselves as "Romans".
Several signal events from the 4th to 6th centuries mark the period of transition during which the Roman Empire's Greek East and Latin West diverged. Constantine I (r. 324–337) reorganised the empire, made Constantinople the new capital, and legalised Christianity. Under Theodosius I (r. 379–395), Christianity became the Empire's official state religion and other religious practices were proscribed. Finally, under the reign of Heraclius (r. 610–641), the Empire's military and administration were restructured and adopted Greek for official use in place of Latin. Thus, although the Roman state continued and its traditions were maintained, modern historians distinguish Byzantium from ancient Rome insofar as it was centred on Constantinople, oriented towards Greek rather than Latin culture, and characterised by Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
At the Battle of Taginae (also known as the Battle of Busta Gallorum) in June/July 552, the forces of the Byzantine Empire under Narses broke the power of the Ostrogoths in Italy, and paved the way for the complete Byzantine conquest of the Italian Peninsula.
From as early as 549 the Emperor Justinian I had planned to dispatch a major army to Italy to conclude the protracted war with the Ostrogoths initiated in 535. During 550-51 a large expeditionary force totaling 20-25,000 men was gradually assembled at Salona on the Adriatic, comprising regular Byzantine units and a large contingent of foreign allies, notably Lombards, Heruls and Bulgars. The imperial chamberlain (cubicularius) Narses was appointed to command in mid 551. The following spring Narses led this grand army around the coast of the Adriatic as far as Ancona, and then turned inland aiming to march down the Via Flaminia to Rome.
Basil II, later surnamed the Bulgar-slayer (Greek: Βασίλειος Β΄ Βουλγαροκτόνος, Basileios II Boulgaroktonos, 958 – December 15, 1025), known in his time as Basil the Porphyrogenitus and Basil the Young to distinguish him from his ancestor Basil I the Macedonian, was a Byzantine emperor from the Macedonian dynasty who reigned from 10 January 976 to 15 December 1025.
The first part of his long reign was dominated by civil war against powerful generals from the Anatolian aristocracy. Following their submission, Basil oversaw the stabilization and expansion of the Byzantine Empire's eastern frontier, and above all, the final and complete subjugation of Bulgaria, the Empire's foremost European foe, after a prolonged struggle. At his death, the Empire stretched from Southern Italy to the Caucasus and from the Danube to the borders of Palestine, its greatest territorial extent since the Muslim conquests, four centuries earlier.
Despite near-constant warfare, Basil also showed himself a capable administrator, reducing the power of the great land-owning families who dominated the Empire's administration and military, and filling the Empire's treasury. Of far-reaching importance was Basil's decision to offer the hand of his sister Anna to Vladimir I of Kiev in exchange for military support, which led to the Christianization of the Kievan Rus', and the incorporation of Russia within the Byzantine cultural sphere.
Did you know...
- ... that the Byzantine Cistern of Aetius in Constantinople, once containing 250–300 million liters of water, is now a football stadium in Istanbul?
- ... that two years after winning the throne of the Byzantine Empire in battle, Isaac I voluntarily abdicated and retired to a monastery?
- ... that the Byzantine harbour of Kontoskalion on the Marmara coast of Constantinople could host up to 300 galleys?
- ... that exhibits in the Konya Archaeological Museum relate to the Neolithic, Bronze Age,Iron Age, Classical, Hellenistic, Roman and the Byzantine periods?
- ... that the Hamdanid prince Abu Firas, widely regarded as one of the greatest Arab poets, wrote his most renowned work while a Byzantine prisoner of war?
External links and resources
Societies of Byzantine studies
Journals of Byzantine studies
Byzantine studies and research institutes
- AHRB Centre for Byzantine Cultural History (in English)
- Византолошки институт САНУ - Institute for Byzantine Studies of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (in Serbian) (in English)
- Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC (in English)
- Ινστιτούτο Βυζαντινών Ερευνών (ΙΒΕ) - Institute of Byzantine Research, National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens (in Greek) (in English)
- Institut für Byzantinische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte, University of Heidelberg (in German)
- Institut für Byzantinistik und Neogräzistik, Münster (in German)
- Institut für Byzantinistik und Neogräzistik, University of Vienna (in German)
- Institut für Byzanzforschung (IBF), Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna (in German)
- Κέντρο Βυζαντινών Ερευνών (ΚΒΕ) - Byzantine Research Centre, University of Thessaloniki (in Greek) (in English)
- The Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research (in English)
- Εταιρείας Βυζαντινών Σπουδών - Society for Byzantine Studies of Athens (in Greek)
Bibliography and primary sources
On-line manuscript collections
Art, museums and exhibitions
- Byzantine Coins (in English)
- Byzantine Coinage, Chronological Index of Byzantine Rulers (in English)
- Byzantium 1200 (in English)
- The Byzantine churches of Istanbul, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (in English)
- Byzantine Monuments of Attica, Institute of Byzantine Research, National Hellenic Research Foundation (in English) (in Greek)
- Byzantine Seals Online Catalogue, Dumbarton Oaks Research Institute (in English)
- Coins of the Byzantine Empire (in English)
- Digitales Forschungsarchiv Byzanz, University of Vienna (in German) (in English)
- Ίδρυμα Μείζονος Ελληνισμού - Foundation of the Hellenic World (in English) (in Greek)
- Interactive Map of Constantinople, University of Toronto (in English)
- Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilization, Harvard University (in English)
- ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World (in English)
- PLEIADES: A community-built gazetteer and graph of ancient places (in English)
- Η Καστροπολιτεία του Μυστρά, Hellenic Ministry of Culture (in Greek)
- LEVANTIA - Social history of the Levant (in English)
- Roman and Byzantine Law (in English)
- Suda On Line: Byzantine Lexicography (in English)
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