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Part I: The Survival of the Eastern Empire
Notes Background Knowledge The invasion of Europe by the Germanic tribes led to the collapse of the
Western Roman Empire. But in the East, Roman government, law, and culture survived for another
thousand years. In this section, you will read about the rise of a “New Rome” in the Eastern, or
Byzantine Empire.
Power Shifts to the East
The shift of the Roman power to the East began long before the collapse of the Western
Empire. Military power struggles plagued the late Roman Empire. Diocletian restored order in the late
200s. He ruled from Asia Minor, in the eastern part of the empire. After his death, however, the power
struggles resumes.
The Rise of Constantine: A Roman leader named Constantine fought several rivals for the control
of the empire. Constantine fought several rivals for control of the empire. Constantine began life as a
pagan, or someone who believes in more than one god. Christians believe in only one God.
After a great victory in 324, Constantine became sole ruler of the empire. BY this time, he had
abandoned his pagan beliefs and became a Christian. As emperor, he supported the growth of the
Constantine decided to move the capital of his government eastward to the site of an old Greed
city called Byzantium. Unlike pagan old Rome, his “New Rome” was to be a Christian city. Constantine
named the new capital Constantinople is known as Istanbul, Turkey.
The people of Constantinople did not call themselves Byzantines. They thought of themselves
as Romans living in the Roman Empire. The term Byzantine was created much later by historians to
describe the later Eastern Roman Empire.
The New Capital: Constantine chose an excellent location for his new capital. The city lay at the
south end of the Bosporus, a strait that links the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The Bosporus
also lies between southeast Europe and southwest Asia. Waterways, caravan tracks, and paved Roman
roads made Constantinople a crossroads for trade between Asia and Europe.
The new capital was also much easier to defend than roman was. Built on a peninsula, most of
the city was surrounded by the sea. Thick walls and a moat, or trench filled with water, protected the
city from attack by land. From Constantinople, Roman armies could quickly travel to the empire’s
eastern frontiers.
Constantinople’s strategic location, plus its good harbors, made it an ideal trading center.
Ships and caravans came to the city with spiced from India, fur from Russia, silk from China and Grain
from Egypt. This made Constantinople rich.
Constantine used this wealth to make his new city as magnificent as the old Rome. He built
palaces, government buildings, marketplaces, and a stadium for chariot races.
Constantine laid the foundation for the future Byzantine Empire. Some years after his death,
the Roman Empire was divided into an Easter and Western empire. The capital of the Eastern Empire
was Constantinople. After the Western Empire fell in 476, the Eastern of Byzantine Empire survived.
Justinian and Theodora
The first great Byzantine emperor was Justinian. Justinian ruled for nearly 40 years, from 527
to 6565. Justinian and his wife, Theodora, were colorful and unusual royal couple. Justinian was born
to a family of peasants. His uncle began his career as an impoverished soldier and battled his way up
through the army to the throne. Justinian was his successor. Theodora’s father was a bear trainer in
the circus. When she grew up, she became a performer. Both Justinian and Theodora were talented,
intelligent, and self-confident.
Justinian’s Conquests: Justinian dreamed of restoring Rome’s lost empire. “We have good hope
that God will allow us to reconquer the lands of the old Roman Empire,” he wrote, “which have been
lost through indolence [laziness].” He worked for more than thirty years trying to do just that.
As the map on this page shows, Justinian did win back lands around the Mediterranean.
During his reign, the Byzantine Empire reached its greatest size. His many wars, however, left the
1 empire with severe money problems. In the coming years, attackers from outside would gradually chip
away most of the territory he had gained.
Justinian’s Legacy:
Although Justinian did not succeed in restoring the Roman Empire, he had
other accomplishments. His greatest gift to the world was Justinian’s Code. This law code is the
foundation for several modern legal systems. In 532, an urban revolt in Constantinople challenged
Justinian’s power. Ruthlessly crushing this revolt helped his gain absolute power or unlimited power,
over the empire.
After this revolt destroyed much of the city, Justinian launched a grand rebuilding program.
The greatest of the new buildings was a church called the Hagia Sophia (HAY jee uh soh FEE uh), or
Holy Wisdom, which still stands today. It is regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful buildings.
Summary :______________________________________________________________
Part II: The Division of the Christian Church
The Early Christian Church
Christianity began in Palestine. In the early years, the Apostles, or followers of Jesus traveled
throughout the Roman Empire. They founded churched in major cities along trade routes. These early
Christians shared the belief that Jesus was the Messiah, a savior sent by God. But other issues divided
the early believers. Some of the issues concerned beliefs. Others had more to do with church
Church Organization: Christianity had to compete with any other religions in the Roman Empire.
The early Church survived because of its strong organization. A bishop headed each local church, aided
by deacons, deaconesses, and elders. Eventually, a bishop gained authority over all churches in a
certain region.
The bishop’s authority is based on tradition known as apostolic succession. According to this
tradition, Jesus gave authority over his Church to the original Apostles. They then passed this authority
down to each generation of bishops.
The bishops of Rome, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople were known as patriarchs.
These five cities had the largest and most important Christian communities.
Patriarchs and the Pope: At first, the five patriarchs were equal in authority. Over time, however,
the bishop of Rome claimed authority over Christians everywhere. He took the title of pope, which
meant father, or head, of the Church.
The pope based his claim on apostolic succession from the Apostle Peter. In a passage of the
Bible, Jesus is quoted as saying to Peter:
“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build y church… I will give you the keys of the kingdom of
heaven; and whatever you bind on earth, it shall be bound also in heaven…”
The pope argued that Jesus had made Peter the head of the Church. According to tradition,
Peter had traveled to Rome to become its first bishop. After his death, authority as head of the Church
passed on to the bishops who followed hi,. The Eastern patriarchs, however, did not accept this
The Nicene Creed: As Christianity grew, different groups began to argue about the nature of Jesus.
The emperor Constantine decided that the Church needed one clear set of religious beliefs to settle this
argument. Soon after gaining power, he called a council of Church officials.
In 325, bishops met in Nicaea (ni SEE uh), present-day Turkey. There, they adopted a
statement of beliefs, or a creed, called the Nicene Creed. Versions of this creed are still recited in
churches today.
2 Notes The Controversy Over Icons
Notes Early Christians argued over the use of icons. An icon is a holy image, usually a portrait of
Jesus or a saint. Mary Christians displayed icons in their homes and churches. For them, honoring an
icon was a pathway to God. But to others, praying to an icon seemed like worshipping and object.
In the 700s, several Byzantine emperors tried to stop icon worship. They were known as
iconoclasts, or “image-breakers.” They ordered their followers to go into churches and smash the icons.
These attacks on icons angered Christians in Western Europe. There, Church leaders saw holy images
as a way to teach people about God- not as objects of worship. The Byzantine emperors eventually gave
up their campaign against icons. But the icon controversy left a feeling of mistrust between the Eastern
and Western churches.
The Great Schism
As time went on, differences between the Eastern and Western churches continued to grow.
The result was the development of two religious traditions. In 1054, there two traditions split in an
event known as the Great Schism (SIHZ uhm). The word schism comes from a Greek word meaning
“split or division”
Two Christian Traditions: The Eastern tradition came to be known as the Eastern Orthodox
Church. The word “orthodox” means following traditional or established beliefs. The Orthodox Church
had a strong influence on the culture of Eastern Europe.
In the Eastern tradition, the Byzantine emperor was the head of the Church, the Patriarch of
the Constantinople as the highest church official. He handled day-to-day church affairs. Other bishops
chose the patriarch from a list drawn up by the emperor. But the emperor could remove a patriarch he
The Western tradition became known as the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic means
universal, or concerned with all people. The Catholic Church dominated the culture of Western Europe.
The pope was the head of the Western Church. After the fall of Rome, Western Europe was
divided among many rulers. As spiritual leader of the Church, the pope claimed authority over all of
them. He would not recognize any ruler, including the Byzantine emperor, as his superior.
The Final Split: There were other differences between the two churches. The language of the Eastern
Orthodox Church was Greek. The language of the Roman Catholic Church was Latin. Orthodox priests
were allowed to marry. Catholic priests were not.
The final schism was over church rituals. “Great pain and universal sorrow obsess me,” wrote
Pope Gregory VII about the split. “The Eastern Church is moving further way from the Catholic faith.”
However, neither the pope nor the patriarch would give in to the other. Since 1054, the Eastern Church
has remained separate from the Western Church.
The Conversion of the Russians Inspired by Cyril and Methodius, Eastern Orthodox missionaries
traveled north to Rus- known today as Ukraine and Russia, Cyril invented an alphabet for the Slavic
language. Then the brothers translated the Bible for Slavs to read. In 988, Prince Vladimir of RUs sent
officials to Constantinople to learn more about the Eastern Orthodox faith. Their visit to the Hagia
Sophia dazzled them. They reported back to the prince.
“We knew not whether we were in Heaven or on earth, and we are at loss to describe it. We only know
that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations.”
Soon after that, Prince Vladimir and the Russians converted or changed their religion or Eastern
Orthodox religion.
Summary :
3 Part III: Byzantine Civilization
Notes A Unique Culture
Constantinople stood at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. There, traditions from the
East mixed with the classical Greek and Roman ideas. The result was a cultural blend that was unique,
or distinct from other cultures.
Preserving Roman Law: The system of Roman law might have been lost if it had not been
preserved in the Byzantine Empire. This was largely the work of Justinian.
Justinian was a man who admired order. He found the vast legal legacy, he inherited from
Rome to be a confusing jumble of local laws, imperial laws, and judges’ decisions. He ordered a group
of lawyers to organize this material. He had them produce a unified code, or a systematic body of law.
Justinian’s Code was published in 529. Compared with modern laws it seems harsh. However,
the code did protect some individual rights. Perhaps because of Theodora’s influence, it also allowed
women to inherit property. Most importantly, the code preserved Roman legal tradition.
Art and Architecture: the Byzantine civilization produced its own style of architecture. The most
famous example is Justinian’s Hagia Sophia. It was built with a cross-shaped floor plan, which is a
typical of other churches at the time. But it was topped by something new- an enormous dome. The
dome rose 185 feet above the floor. Light from hanging lamps filled the church with a golden glow.
Most Byzantine art was flat, formal, and religious. Icons and mosaics were the most typical art
forms. A mosaic is a design made with colored stones and small pieces of glass. Many mosaics were
backed with shimmering gold. Byzantine artists used this art form in striking new ways. Mosaics
flowed with rich color covered the walls and domes of churches.
Education and Literature: Education was an important aspect of byzantine civilization. The
government supported schools were children learned to read. Older students studied philosophy, math,
and music.
Libraries in Byzantine cities copied and preserved the manuscripts, or hand written
documents, from Greece and Rome. The works saved include Homer’s epics and Greek and Roman
philosophy texts. Many of these works would have been lost if Byzantine librarians had not saved them.
The End of the Byzantine Empire
For all the brilliance of Byzantine civilization, the empire was almost always under attack. To
the west, Germanic tribes regained control of the lands conquered by Justinian. To the east, the
Persian Empire was a constant threat. Arabs invaded the empire from the south, and Slavs invaded
from the north. Invaders aimed to conquer the rich city of Constantinople. For centuries, however, the
city fended off every assault. Those who were attacked by land could not get past the city’s strong walls.
Those who attacked by sea were destroyed by Greek fire. Greek fire was a chemical mixture that
burned furiously, even in water. The Byzantines shot Greek fire at enemy ships. The result was terrible
to see.
The end of the empire came slowly. Bit by bit, attackers nibbled away at the Byzantine
territory. But even as the empire was shrinking, Byzantine emperors continued to rule Constantinople.
The final attack came from a people known as the Turks. Greek fire was no match for the
Turks’ new weapon: gunpowder. The Turks used a giant cannon to hurl 1200-pound balls at
Constantinople’s walls. In 1453, the city fell to the Turks. The Byzantine Empire was no more.
Prentice Hall (2006) Medieval and Early Modern Times