Who led the Eastern Roman Empire?

The history of the Byzantine Empire

These pages cannot be displayed correctly because you are using your Internet Explorer with the compatibility view activated. We recommend removing 'fu-berlin.de' from the list of websites with activated compatibility view:

  1. Please display the menu bar in your Internet Explorer by either pressing 'Alt' or right-clicking in the address bar and then selecting 'Menu Bar'.
  2. Click on 'Tools' and select the 'Compatibility View Settings' menu.
  3. Under 'Websites added to compatibility view' select 'fu-berlin.de'.
  4. Click on 'Remove'.

The Byzantine Empire emerged seamlessly from the ancient Roman Empire. The emperor Theodosius divided this into two halves in 395 AD, of which the western one was destroyed in 476 due to the conquest of Rome by the Teutons. The eastern part of the empire, however, persisted into the 15th century and is now known as the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines themselves did not know this term; they referred to themselves as Romans throughout.

The more than 1000-year history of the Byzantine Empire can be roughly divided into an early, a middle and a late Byzantine phase.

Use the overview of the history of the Byzantine Empire to assign the terms to the appropriate time phases. To do this, drag the individual terms into the correct position with the mouse.

Overview of the history of the Byzantine Empire

There are different opinions as to when the beginning of the Byzantine Empire should be set. A crucial phase for the transition from the ancient Roman to the Byzantine empire is the reign of Constantine. Constantine was the first emperor to allow and promote Christianity, which was later established as the state religion. Furthermore, Constantine had the city of Byzantion expanded and rebuilt with extremely extensive construction measures and inaugurated it in 330 as the new imperial city of Constantinople. Constantinople will play an extremely important role as the political and intellectual-cultural center of the Byzantine Empire.

In the course of the 5th century, the Roman Empire felt the effects of the great migration through attacks by a large number of different peoples. This led to the loss of the western half of the empire in 476.

In the 6th century, Emperor Justinian I (reign 527-565) began various campaigns through which he succeeded in recapturing the former western territories. Justinian's policy is described by the term “Renovatio Imperii (Restoration of the Empire)”. The Byzantine Empire was at its greatest territorial extent during Justinian's reign. Very soon after his death, however, large parts were lost again.

The strength of the Arabs posed a new threat to the Byzantine Empire. Within a few decades they conquered large areas, resulting in the fact that the Byzantine Empire lost Syria, Palestine and the North African territories in the early 7th century. The loss of Egypt in 642, which, as the so-called “granary of the empire”, had provided food for large parts of the population, was particularly catastrophic.

The 7th and 8th centuries were characterized by heavy defensive battles, domestic political crises and population losses due to several waves of plague.

In 867 the so-called Macedonian imperial dynasty (until 1056) came to power. During this time the Byzantine Empire began to consolidate its power again. The empire had a great expansion under Emperor Basil II (976-1025). During his reign, the empire included the Balkans, part of the Crimean peninsula, Asia Minor, Armenia, part of Syria, Cyprus, Crete and southern Italy. In the time of the Macedonian dynasty there was also a cultural and spiritual boom known as the “Macedonian Renaissance”. In the art and literature of this time, an increased orientation towards ancient models can be felt.

But also during this time there were heavy defensive battles in different border areas. The Seljuks pose a new threat. In 1071 the Byzantine Empire suffered a heavy defeat in the battle of Mantzikert, which led to the final loss of Asia Minor. The so-called Komnenian imperial dynasty ruled from 1081 to 1185. The Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118) requested help from Western Europe to repel the Seljuks. This call for help triggered the call for the first crusade in the west in 1096, which was to lead to the liberation of Jerusalem from the hands of the Seljuks. In the following century a total of seven crusades took place, of which the fourth was directed against the Byzantine Empire itself in 1204 with the attack on Constantinople.

From 1204 to 1261 Constantinople was in the hands of the Western European Crusaders. The conquest was connected with several major fires and looting and thus represented a significant turning point in the history of the city of Constantinople. The Crusaders also divided up the imperial territory among themselves; in the three provinces of Trebizond, Nikaia and Epirus, however, remnants of the Byzantine Empire could continue to exist.

In 1261, however, Michael VIII Palaiologos managed to recapture Constantinople from Nicaea. The dynasty of the palaeologists ruled from 1261 to 1453, which is why the late Byzantine period is also known as the "palaeological period". In an attempt to restore the former grandeur and splendor of Constantinople, the imperial family carried out extensive reconstruction measures and promoted art and literature, so that during this time there was a renewed cultural bloom in the capital, which is commonly known with the term "palaeological renaissance" becomes.

The Byzantine Empire, however, was nowhere near the size it once was and was subject to constant attacks from various neighboring peoples. There was also internal instability due to ongoing battles for the throne. Due to the large-scale conquests of the Ottomans, more and more imperial territories were lost until the capital Constantinople was taken in 1453, which meant the end of the Byzantine Empire.

The early Byzantine period
The Middle Byzantine period
Western European occupation and late Byzantine times
Establishment of Christianity
Smallest territorial expansion
The West European idea of ​​the crusade emerged
Sack of Constantinople
Largest territorial expansion

The early Byzantine period

  • Renovatio Imperii
  • Establishment of Christianity
  • Largest territorial expansion
  • Great Migration

The Middle Byzantine period

  • Macedonian Renaissance
  • Emergence of the Western European idea of ​​the crusade
  • Comnenian dynasty
  • Loss of Asia Minor

Western European occupation and late Byzantine times

  • Palaeological time
  • Sack of Constantinople
  • Ottoman conquests
  • Smallest territorial expansion