greece guide

Thee Greek Byzantine Empire

byzantine-coat-of-armsByzantium, the famed ancient city on the western side of the Bosporus, occupied the site of modern Constantinople. It is thought to have been founded (c.657 BC) by the Megarians and Argives. No trace of earlier inhabitants remains. Overrun by opposing forces during the Peloponnesian War, it was a valuable port of the Roman Empire until it opposed Septimius Severus and was destroyed (¥ 196). Byzantium was splendidly rebuilt (¥ 330) by Constantine I, who renamed it Constantinople; it became the capital of the Byzantine Empire.
Byzantium we mean the state created in the eastern territories of the Roman Empire, with Constantinople as its capital. It must be understood from the outset that a state with this name has never existed throughout its historical course, but is a creation of modern historians.

The citizens of this state themselves considered themselves Romans and the emperor had the official title “In Christ King of the Romans”. This means that the so-called Byzantines felt the heirs of the Roman Empire and its successors. From this feeling comes the name Romiosini and the surname Romoi, by which the Greeks even today identify themselves. After all, the name of the capital of the state was New Rome, another element that proves the sense of continuity with the old Rome that continued its subjects, regardless of whether the name Constantinople later prevailed, in honor of the founder of the city.

paleologos-emeperos-of-byzantiumThe emperors of the Eastern Roman state never recognised another state as Roman and this was one reason for their confrontation with the state known as the Holy Roman Empire, which was founded by Charlemagne. The name Byzantine Empire is an invention of Western historians and was first used by Jerome Wolf in 1567. After him, it is recorded as the dominant term in the study of the history of this state entity. The justification of the name by Western historians is based on the reasoning that during the 6th and 7th centuries such profound changes took place in the organisational structure of the state, for example with the change of ideology concerning the face of the emperor and the adoption of the Greek language as official language organ, in society, with the new productive relations connected with the new territorial realities as a result of the barbaric conquests in the West, where the term Roman can no longer be applied to the state entity that emerges through these changes. To distinguish this difference, historians used the term Byzantine, from the name of the ancient city of Byzantium, on which Constantinople was built.

For the past centuries they have accepted that the term Eastern Roman Empire can be used, because this state still retains several Roman features, with the use of Latin first of all. Another fact that we must keep in mind is that the term Greek, at least until the Palaeologian period, has no national significance, nor does it characterise any race or people. For the Byzantines it means the pagans, the pagans, while in the last centuries of the historical course of the empire it has an educational content, in the sense that it defines a certain kind of education. Greece is a limited geographical region, about as far as present-day Thessaly, a not so important region within the borders of the empire.

Only during the Palaeologian period does it begin to mean the Greek people, who speak the Greek language. However, the historian K. Paparrigopoulos uses the term “The Medieval State of the Greeks”, which can be accepted if we consider the conditions in which our important historian wrote and the hegemonic position held by the Greek language, as an instrument of state administration and as a means communication between different peoples. Finally, another stereotype must be demolished, which considers that the empire was a closed, static and theocratic state. Byzantine society was dynamic, its trade included the then known world, and the supposedly dividing lines with the outside world were not so strictly guarded.

agia-sophia-byzantium-konstantinopleThis is proved by the fact that many people from the peoples who were considered barbarians by the Byzantines ascended the imperial throne. The only condition imposed on a barbarian to get a career in the state machine was to be baptised a Christian and to swear allegiance to the emperor. Racism in the current sense of the term was probably unknown to the Byzantines. The Byzantines may have considered those living outside the empire barbarians, but they never closed their doors to their ambassadors, nor did they refuse to culturally assist them and make them part of their culture.

Even their settlement within the empire, under a regime of autonomy, a practice that began during the reign of Theodosius the Great, to reduce the pressures exerted by these peoples and which later became a constant of Byzantine diplomacy, was accepted under certain conditions. . It is a well-known cultural radiance and influence that Byzantium exerted on many peoples, as well as its heritage that still exists today, especially in the Orthodox world. Byzantium is a purely multinational society, homogenised by religion and the Greek language and not by racial origin.

byzantinesFor many years Byzantine historians argued over the question of the chronological beginning of the empire. The main views were two: the first considered that we should define the beginning of the construction of Constantinople, in 330, while the second that we should shift the time limit to 395, when the Roman state is divided into two parts and bequeathed to the two sons of Theodosius of AD. Others consider 476, the year in which the western Roman state was overthrown, as the beginning of the eastern empire and some finally consider that the era of Heraklion, when the Greek language was imposed as the official organ of administration, should be the beginning of the historical course of Byzantium.

But these views are the thoughts and theories of later historians, who see the state of the East as a new entity and not as a continuation of the old Roman. Since the Byzantines themselves consider themselves to be the successors of the old empire and since this state grew mainly in the eastern provinces of ancient Rome, it is correct to define the founding of Constantinople, the capital of this state, as beginning of the Eastern Roman Empire.

Things are simpler with regard to the end of the empire. It was placed almost unanimously in 1453, when the city was occupied by the Turks. Some, mainly Greek scholars, place in 1204, the year of the conquest of Constantinople by the Latins, the end of the empire, based mainly on the fact that the Greek language is now almost formed and is very similar to today’s language. However, this does not seem right, because the political and institutional organisation of the state, after its recovery in 1261 by the Palaeologians, continues to be based on the same bases as in previous periods.

Regarding the division of Byzantium’s history, we can distinguish three periods with their respective subdivisions

1) The Early Byzantine period: It lasts from 330 to 610 and is divided into 2 sub periods, the one that lasts from 330 to 518, during which the state is established and the period of the reign of Justinian and his successors, from 518 to 610, when the state reaches its maximum prosperity, from a territorial point of view.

2) The Middle Byzantine Period, which lasts from 610 to 1204. It is divided into four periods: The first from 610 to 717 has as its main feature the Hellenisation of the state, with the imposition of the Greek language as dominant in its position Latin. The second, from 717 to 867 is the period of iconoclasm. The third, from 867 to 1025 is the time of the military and cultural renaissance of Byzantium, with the Macedonian dynasty. The fourth and last, from 1025 to 1204, despite the relative prosperity of the Komnenian era, is characterised by the rapid decline of the state and the conquest of the city by the Crusaders.

3) The Late Byzantine period, which lasts from 1204 to 1453, is divided into two periods. The first from 1204 to 1261, when Constantinople was in the hands of the Latins and various Greek states were founded in the territory of the empire and the second, the Palaeologian period, which ends in 1453 with the fall of the city to the Turks.