"Byzantine Empire" is a term created after the end of the realm; its citizens continued to refer to their empire simply as the Roman Empire (Medieval Greek: Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων, romanized: Basileía Rhōmaíōn) or Romania (Medieval Greek: Ῥωμανία), and to themselves as Romans (Medieval Greek: Ῥωμαῖοι, romanized: Rhōmaîoi) – a term which Greeks continued to use for themselves into Ottoman times. Although the Roman state continued and its traditions were maintained, modern historians distinguish Byzantium from its earlier incarnation because it was centred on Constantinople, oriented towards Greek rather than Latin culture, and characterised by Eastern Orthodox Christianity. (Full article...)
The work as planned had three parts: the Code (Codex) is a compilation, by selection and extraction, of imperial enactments to date; the Digest or Pandects (the Latin title contains both Digesta and Pandectae) is an encyclopedia composed of mostly brief extracts from the writings of Roman jurists; and the Institutes (Institutiones) is a student textbook, mainly introducing the Code, although it has important conceptual elements that are less developed in the Code or the Digest. All three parts, even the textbook, were given force of law. They were intended to be, together, the sole source of law; reference to any other source, including the original texts from which the Code and the Digest had been taken, was forbidden. Nonetheless, Justinian found himself having to enact further laws and today these are counted as a fourth part of the Corpus, the Novellae Constitutiones (Novels, literally New Laws). (Full article...)
The Byzantine Empire was ruled by emperors of the Komnenos dynasty for a period of 104 years, from 1081 to about 1185. The Komnenian (also spelled Comnenian) period comprises the reigns of five emperors, Alexios I, John II, Manuel I, Alexios II and Andronikos I. It was a period of sustained, though ultimately incomplete, restoration of the military, territorial, economic and political position of the Byzantine Empire.
Byzantium under the Komnenoi played a key role in the history of the Crusades in the Holy Land, while also exerting enormous cultural and political influence in Europe, the Near East, and the lands around the Mediterranean Sea. The Komnenian emperors, particularly John and Manuel, exerted great influence over the Crusader states of Outremer, whilst Alexios I played a key role in the course of the First Crusade, which he helped bring about. (Full article...)
The emergence of Muslim Arabs from Arabia in the 630s resulted in the rapid loss of Byzantium's southern provinces (Syria and Egypt) to the Arab Caliphate. Over the next fifty years, under the Umayyad caliphs, the Arabs would launch repeated raids into still-Byzantine Asia Minor, twice besiege the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, and conquer the Byzantine Exarchate of Africa. The situation did not stabilize until after the failure of the Second Arab Siege of Constantinople in 718, when the Taurus Mountains on the eastern rim of Asia Minor became established as the mutual, heavily fortified and largely depopulated frontier. Under the Abbasid Empire, relations became more normal, with embassies exchanged and even periods of truce, but conflict remained the norm, with almost annual raids and counter-raids, sponsored either by the Abbasid government or by local rulers, well into the 10th century. (Full article...)
Byzantine Iconoclasm (Greek: Εἰκονομαχία, romanized: Eikonomachía, literally, "image struggle" or "war on icons") refers to two periods in the history of the Byzantine Empire when the use of religious images or icons was opposed by religious and imperial authorities within the Orthodox Church and the temporal imperial hierarchy. The First Iconoclasm, as it is sometimes called, existed between about 726 and 787. The Second Iconoclasm was between 814 and 842. According to the traditional view, Byzantine Iconoclasm was started by a ban on religious images by Emperor Leo III and continued under his successors. It was accompanied by widespread destruction of images and persecution of supporters of the veneration of images. The pope remained firmly in support of the use of images throughout the period, and the whole episode widened the growing divergence between the Byzantine and Carolingian traditions in what was still a unified church, as well as facilitating the reduction or removal of Byzantine political control over parts of Italy.
Iconoclasm is the deliberate destruction within a culture of the culture's own religiousicons and other symbols or monuments, usually for religious or political motives. People who engage in or support iconoclasm are called iconoclasts, Greek for "breakers of icons" (εἰκονοκλάσται), a term that has come to be applied figuratively to any person who breaks or disdains established dogmata or conventions. Conversely, people who revere or venerate religious images are derisively called "iconolaters" (εἰκονολάτρες). They are normally known as "iconodules" (εἰκονόδουλοι), or "iconophiles" (εἰκονόφιλοι). These terms were, however, not a part of the Byzantine debate over images. They have been brought into common usage by modern historians (from the seventeenth century) and their application to Byzantium increased considerably in the late twentieth century. The Byzantine term for the debate over religious imagery, "iconomachy," means "struggle over images" or "image struggle". (Full article...)
Thessalonica's ascendancy was brief, ending with the disastrous Battle of Klokotnitsa against Bulgaria in 1230, where Theodore Komnenos Doukas was captured. Reduced to a Bulgarian vassal, Theodore's brother and successor Manuel Komnenos Doukas was unable to prevent the loss of most of his brother's conquests in Macedonia and Thrace, while the original nucleus of the state, Epirus, broke free under Michael II Komnenos Doukas. Theodore recovered Thessalonica in 1237, installing his son John Komnenos Doukas, and after him Demetrios Angelos Doukas, as rulers of the city, while Manuel, with Nicaean support, seized Thessaly. The rulers of Thessalonica bore the imperial title from 1225/7 until 1242, when they were forced to renounce it and recognize the suzerainty of the rival Empire of Nicaea. The Komnenodoukai continued to rule as Despots of Thessalonica for four more years after that, but in 1246 the city was annexed by Nicaea. (Full article...)
Although Sicily had been raided by the Muslims since the mid-7th century, these raids did not threaten Byzantine control over the island, which remained a largely peaceful backwater. The opportunity for the Aghlabid emirs of Ifriqiya came in 827, when the commander of the island's fleet, Euphemius, rose in revolt against the Byzantine EmperorMichael II. Defeated by loyalist forces and driven from the island, Euphemius sought the aid of the Aghlabids. The latter regarded this as an opportunity for expansion and for diverting the energies of their own fractious military establishment and alleviating the criticism of the Islamic scholars by championing jihad, and dispatched an army to aid him. Following the Arab landing on the island, Euphemius was quickly sidelined. An initial assault on the island's capital, Syracuse, failed, but the Muslims were able to weather the subsequent Byzantine counter-attack and hold on to a few fortresses. With the aid of reinforcements from Ifriqiya and al-Andalus, in 831 they took Palermo, which became the capital of the new Muslim province. (Full article...)
A group of Andalusian exiles led by Abu Hafs Umar al-Iqritishi conquered Crete sometime c. 824 or 827/828, and established an independent Islamic state. The Byzantines launched a campaign that took most of the island back in 842 and 843 under Theoktistos, but the reconquest was not completed and was soon reversed. Later attempts by the Byzantine Empire to recover the island failed, and for the approximately 135 years of its existence, the emirate was one of the major foes of Byzantium. Crete commanded the sea lanes of the Eastern Mediterranean and functioned as a forward base and haven for Muslim corsair fleets that ravaged the Byzantine-controlled shores of the Aegean Sea. The emirate's internal history is less well-known, but all accounts point to considerable prosperity deriving not only from piracy but also from extensive trade and agriculture. The emirate was brought to an end by Nikephoros Phokas, who launched a huge campaign against it in 960–961. (Full article...)
After wintering in the western coastlands of Asia Minor, the Arab army crossed into Thrace in early summer 717 and built siege lines to blockade the city, which was protected by the massive Theodosian Walls. The Arab fleet, which accompanied the land army and was meant to complete the city's blockade by sea, was neutralized soon after its arrival by the Byzantine navy through the use of Greek fire. This allowed Constantinople to be resupplied by sea, while the Arab army was crippled by famine and disease during the unusually hard winter that followed. In spring 718, two Arab fleets sent as reinforcements were destroyed by the Byzantines after their Christian crews defected, and an additional army sent overland through Asia Minor was ambushed and defeated. Coupled with attacks by the Bulgars on their rear, the Arabs were forced to lift the siege on 15 August 718. On its return journey, the Arab fleet was almost completely destroyed by natural disasters and Byzantine attacks. (Full article...)
The East Roman or Byzantine Empire established and operated several mints throughout its history. Aside from the main metropolitan mint in the capital, Constantinople, a varying number of provincial mints were also established in other urban centres, especially during the 6th century. Most provincial mints except for Syracuse were closed or lost to invasions by the mid-7th century. After the loss of Syracuse in 878, Constantinople became the sole mint for gold and silver coinage until the late 11th century, when major provincial mints began to re-appear. Many mints, both imperial and, as the Byzantine world fragmented, belonging to autonomous local rulers, were operated in the 12th to 14th centuries. Constantinople and Trebizond, the seat of the independent Empire of Trebizond (1204–1461), survived until their conquest by the Ottoman Turks in the mid-15th century. (Full article...)
The cities of the empire expanded, and affluence spread across the provinces because of the newfound security. The population rose, and production increased, stimulating new demand while also helping to encourage trade. (Full article...)
Founded by the Laskaris family, it lasted from 1204 to 1261, when the Nicaeans restored the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople. (Full article...)
Byzantine music is the music of the Byzantine Empire. Originally it consisted of songs and hymns composed to Greek texts used for courtly ceremonials, during festivals, or as paraliturgical and liturgical music. The ecclesiastical forms of Byzantine music are the best known forms today, because different Orthodox traditions still identify with the heritage of Byzantine music, when their cantors sing monodic chant out of the traditional chant books such as the Sticherarion, which in fact consisted of five books, and the Irmologion.
As reported by the Byzantine chronicler Theophanes the Confessor, the Arab attack was methodical: in 672–673 Arab fleets secured bases along the coasts of Asia Minor, and then proceeded to install a loose blockade around Constantinople. They used the peninsula of Cyzicus near the city as a base to spend the winter, and returned every spring to launch attacks against the city's fortifications. Finally, the Byzantines, under Emperor Constantine IV, managed to destroy the Arab navy using a new invention, the liquid incendiary substance known as Greek fire. The Byzantines also defeated the Arab land army in Asia Minor, forcing them to lift the siege. The Byzantine victory was of major importance for the survival of the Byzantine state, as the Arab threat receded for a time. A peace treaty was signed soon after, and following the outbreak of another Muslim civil war, the Byzantines even experienced a period of ascendancy over the Caliphate. (Full article...)
The Byzantine economy was among the most robust economies in the Mediterranean for many centuries. Constantinople was a prime hub in a trading network that at various times extended across nearly all of Eurasia and North Africa. Some scholars argue that, up until the arrival of the Arabs in the 7th century, the Eastern Roman Empire had the most powerful economy in the world. The Arab conquests, however, would represent a substantial reversal of fortunes contributing to a period of decline and stagnation. Constantine V's reforms (c. 765) marked the beginning of a revival that continued until 1204. From the 10th century until the end of the 12th, the Byzantine Empire projected an image of luxury, and the travelers were impressed by the wealth accumulated in the capital. All this changed with the arrival of the Fourth Crusade, which was an economic catastrophe. The Palaiologoi tried to revive the economy, but the late Byzantine state would not gain full control of either the foreign or domestic economic forces.
One of the economic foundations of the empire was trade. The state strictly controlled both the internal and the international trade, and retained the monopoly of issuing coinage. Constantinople remained the single most important commercial centre of Europe for much of the Medieval era, which it held until the Republic of Venice slowly began to overtake Byzantine merchants in trade; first through tax exemption under the Komnenoi, then under the Latin Empire. (Full article...)
As the chief aide and closest friend of Emperor Andronikos III, Kantakouzenos became regent for the underage John V upon Andronikos's death in June 1341. While Kantakouzenos was absent from Constantinople in September the same year, a coup d'état led by Alexios Apokaukos and the Patriarch John XIV secured the support of Empress Anna and established a new regency. In response, Kantakouzenos' army and supporters proclaimed him co-emperor in October, cementing the rift between himself and the new regency. The split immediately escalated into armed conflict. (Full article...)
The Isaurian dynasty is chiefly associated with Byzantine Iconoclasm, an attempt to restore divine favour by purifying the Christian faith from excessive adoration of icons, which resulted in considerable internal turmoil. (Full article...)
Mount Athos is commonly referred to in Greek as the Agion Oros (Άγιον Όρος, 'Holy Mountain'), and the entity as the "Athonite State" (Αθωνική Πολιτεία, Athonikí Politía). Other languages of Orthodox tradition also use names translating to 'Holy Mountain'. This includes Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian (Света гора, Света Гора, Sveta Gora); Russian (Святая Гора, Svyataya Gora); and Georgian (მთაწმინდა, mtats’minda). However, not all languages spoken in the region use this name; in Romanian, it is simply called Muntele Athos or Muntele Atos. In the classical era, while the mountain was called Athos, the peninsula was known as Acté or Akté (Koinē Greek: Ἀκτή). (Full article...)
Basil, his son Constantine, and his second wife, Empress Eudokia Ingerina
Basil I, called the Macedonian (Greek: Βασίλειος ὁ Μακεδών, Basíleios ō Makedṓn; 811 – August 29, 886), was a Byzantine Emperor who reigned from 867 to 886. Born a simple peasant in the theme of Macedonia, he rose in the Imperial court. He entered into the service of Theophilitzes, a relative of Emperor Michael III (r. 842–867), and was given a fortune by the wealthy Danielis. He gained the favour of Michael III, whose mistress he married on the emperor's orders, and was proclaimed co-emperor in 866. He ordered the assassination of Michael the next year. Despite his humble origins, he showed great ability in running the affairs of state. He was the founder of the Macedonian dynasty. He was succeeded upon his death by his son (perhaps actually Michael III's son) Leo VI. (Full article...)
Nikephoros II Phokas (Νικηφόρος Φωκᾶς; c. 912 – 11 December 969), LatinizedNicephorus II Phocas, was Byzantine emperor from 963 to 969. His brilliant military exploits contributed to the resurgence of the Byzantine Empire during the 10th century. His reign, however, included controversy. In the west, he inflamed conflict with the Bulgarians and saw Sicily completely turn over to the Muslims, while he failed to make any serious gains in Italy following the incursions of Otto I. Meanwhile, in the east, he completed the conquest of Cilicia and even retook the island of Cyprus, thus opening the path for subsequent Byzantine incursions reaching as far as Upper Mesopotamia and the Levant. His administrative policy was less successful, as in order to finance these wars he increased taxes both on the people and on the church, while maintaining unpopular theological positions and alienating many of his most powerful allies. These included his nephew John Tzimiskes, who would take the throne after killing Nikephoros in his sleep. (Full article...)
Maurice campaigned extensively in the Balkans against the Avars – pushing them back across the Danube by 599. He also conducted campaigns across the Danube, the first Roman Emperor to do so in over two centuries. In the west, he established two large semi-autonomous provinces called exarchates, ruled by exarchs, or viceroys of the emperor. In Italy Maurice established the Exarchate of Italy in 584, the first real effort by the Empire to halt the advance of the Lombards. With the creation of the Exarchate of Africa in 590 he further solidified the power of Constantinople in the western Mediterranean. (Full article...)
Alexios I Megas Komnenos (Greek: Αλέξιος Α΄ Μέγας Κομνηνός; c. 1182 – 1 February 1222) or Alexius I Megas Comnenus was, with his brother David, the founder of the Empire of Trebizond and its ruler from 1204 until his death in 1222. The two brothers were the only male descendants of the Byzantine EmperorAndronikos I, who had been dethroned and killed in 1185, and thus claimed to represent the legitimate government of the Empire following the conquest of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Although his rivals governing the Nicaean Empire succeeded in becoming the de facto successors, and rendered his dynastic claims to the imperial throne moot, Alexios' descendants continued to emphasize both their heritage and connection to the Komnenian dynasty by referring to themselves as Megas Komnenos or Grand Komnenos.
While his brother David conquered a number of Byzantine provinces in northwestern Anatolia, Alexios defended his capital Trebizond from an unsuccessful siege by the Seljuk Turks around the year 1205. Further details of his reign are sparse. Muslim chroniclers record how, in 1214, Alexios was captured by the Turks in the field while defending Sinope; despite sending an envoy to seek their surrender the city refused to capitulate to Sultan Kaykaus I, and Alexios was tortured in sight of the Sinopians. The city submitted to Kaykaus and Alexios was freed after becoming Kaykaus' vassal. Alexios died at the age of forty. (Full article...)
A polymath whose fields of interest and contribution included law, theology, philosophy, and music, he was given the by-name of Chrysorrhoas (Χρυσορρόας, literally "streaming with gold", i.e. "the golden speaker"). He wrote works expounding the Christian faith, and composed hymns which are still used both liturgically in practice throughout the world including in the west Lutheranism at Easter. (Full article...)
Miniature from the manuscript of Pachymeres' Historia
John is the first ruler of Trebizond for whom we know more than a few incidents and hints; there is enough information to compose a connected narrative of the first part of his reign. The chronicle of Michael Panaretos, which is often terse and even cryptic, is relatively full for John's reign, and external sources add further details to Panaretos' account. Emperor John II faced many challenges to his rule, which partly explains his marriage to the daughter of the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. (Full article...)
In his early life, Maximus was a civil servant, and an aide to the Byzantine EmperorHeraclius. He gave up this life in the political sphere to enter the monastic life. Maximus had studied diverse schools of philosophy, and certainly what was common for his time, the Platonic dialogues, the works of Aristotle, and numerous later Platonic commentators on Aristotle and Plato, like Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus. When one of his friends began espousing the Christological position known as Monothelitism, Maximus was drawn into the controversy, in which he supported an interpretation of the Chalcedonian formula on the basis of which it was asserted that Jesus had both a human and a divine will. Maximus is venerated in both the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches. He was eventually persecuted for his Christological positions; following a trial, his tongue and right hand were mutilated. (Full article...)
Heraclius's reign was marked by several military campaigns. The year Heraclius came to power, the empire was threatened on multiple frontiers. Heraclius immediately took charge of the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628. The first battles of the campaign ended in defeat for the Byzantines; the Persian army fought their way to the Bosphorus but Constantinople was protected by impenetrable walls and a strong navy, and Heraclius was able to avoid total defeat. Soon after, he initiated reforms to rebuild and strengthen the military. Heraclius drove the Persians out of Asia Minor and pushed deep into their territory, defeating them decisively in 627 at the Battle of Nineveh. The Persian king Khosrow II was overthrown and executed by his son Kavad II, who soon sued for a peace treaty, agreeing to withdraw from all occupied territory. This way peaceful relations were restored to the two deeply strained empires. (Full article...)
Manuel the Armenian was a prominent Byzantine general of Armenian origin, active from circa 810 until his death. After reaching the highest military ranks, a palace conspiracy forced him to seek refuge in the Abbasid court in 829. He returned to Byzantine service the next year, receiving the position of Domestic of the Schools from Emperor Theophilos, who had married his niece Theodora. Manuel remained in the post throughout Theophilos's reign, and reportedly saved the emperor's life in the Battle of Anzen in 838. According to one report, he died on 27 July 838 of wounds received during the battle, but other sources record his survival past this date, ascribing him a major role in the regency that governed the empire after Theophilos's death, and report that he died some time around 860. (Full article...)
Nikephoros Phokas (Greek: Νικηφόρος Φωκᾶς, romanized: Nikēphoros Phōkas; died 895/6 or c. 900), usually surnamed the Elder to distinguish him from his grandson, Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas, was one of the most prominent Byzantine generals of the late 9th century, and the first important member of the Phokas family. As a youth he was taken into the personal retinue of Emperor Basil I the Macedonian, rising quickly to the posts of protostrator and then governor of Charsianon, whence he fought with success against the Arabs. In c. 886 he led a major expedition in southern Italy, where his victories laid the foundation for the Byzantine resurgence in the peninsula. After his return, he was raised to the post of Domestic of the Schools, in effect commander-in-chief of the army, which he led with success against the Arabs in the east and the Bulgarians of Tsar Simeon in the Balkans. He died either in 895/6 or, less likely, sometime c. 900. Contemporaries and later historians lauded him for his military ability and character. Both of his sons later succeeded him as Domestics of the Schools. His grandsons Nikephoros and Leo were likewise distinguished generals, while the former became emperor in 963–969, spearheading the recovery of several lost provinces from the Arabs. (Full article...)
Peter the Patrician (Latin: Petrus Patricius, Greek: Πέτρος ὁ Πατρίκιος, Petros ho Patrikios; c. 500–565) was a senior Byzantine official, diplomat, and historian. A well-educated and successful lawyer, he was repeatedly sent as envoy to Ostrogothic Italy in the prelude to the Gothic War of 535–554. Despite his diplomatic skill, he was not able to avert war, and was imprisoned by the Goths in Ravenna for a few years. Upon his release, he was appointed to the post of magister officiorum, head of the imperial secretariat, which he held for an unparalleled 26 years. In this capacity, he was one of the leading ministers of Emperor Justinian I (r. 527–565), playing an important role in the Byzantine emperor's religious policies and the relations with Sassanid Persia; most notably he led the negotiations for the peace agreement of 562 that ended the 20-year-long Lazic War. His historical writings survive only in fragments, but provide unique source material on early Byzantine ceremonies and diplomatic issues between Byzantium and the Sassanids. (Full article...)
He is also credited with the second and final destruction of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, by leading a mob. Cyril of Alexandria credited John Chrysostom with destroying the temple, referring to him as "the destroyer of the demons and overthrower of the temple of Diana". A later Archbishop of Constantinople, Proclus, noted the achievements of John, saying "In Ephesus, he despoiled the art of Midas", although there is little evidence to support this claim. (Full article...)