Leaders of the Byzantine Empire hoped to bring back the power of the Roman Empire. The emperor Justinian led this revival from 527A.D. to 565A.D.
One of Justinian’s greatest accomplishments was his law code. Justinian Code – was a collection of laws taken from the Roman Empire. It was organized into 4 parts The Code – contained useful Roman laws The Digest – contained a summary of Roman legal opinions The Institutes – a guide for law students The Novellae – contained laws passed after 534A.D.
The Justinian Code formed the basis for Byzantine law. Covered areas like crime, marriage, property, and slavery. Over time, the Justinian Code became the framework for the laws of many other European countries – including English civil law. Maintained the idea that people should be ruled by laws instead of the views of leaders.
Justinian chose his advisers very carefully. His wife, Theodora, was one of his advisers and convinced Justinian to change the law to allow women more benefits in divorce, and allowed them to own property up the value of their dowry. Dowry – the money or goods the wife brought with her into the marriage.
In 532A.D. a rebellion called the Nika Revolt threatened to overthrow Justinian. During the attack Justinian wanted to flee to Constantinople, but Theodora convinced him to stay & fight. Justinian made Belisarius the general of the army. Belisarius led the army to victory over the rebels and gained the land occupied by the Germanic tribes. This made the Byzantine Empire the largest it would ever be.
A powerful emperor and strong central government ruled the empire. Government officials were highly skilled in politics and made sure the empire ran smoothly. The empire had good diplomatic skills – created alliances with foreign nations by marrying people from other places. Had an effective military to protect the empire. Strong capital at Constantinople. Strategically located on trade routes.
The army in the Byzantine Empire was well trained, and had very good weapons and armor. The Byzantines also built a strong navy. Naval ships had a chemical weapon called “Greek Fire” that would be sprayed onto enemy ships. The liquid would catch fire when sprayed and set the enemy ships on fire.
The Christian church was important to life in the Byzantine Empire, but church leaders in the East & West had different ideas about church practices. Example: East – most important church leader was the patriarch of Constantinople. West – most important church leader was the Pope. People also disagreed over the role of icons – a holy picture of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, or the saints. Some Byzantines kept icons in the homes & worshipped them. Others said that this was the same as having idols above God – these people were called Iconoclasts.
This is the debate between those who supported and opposed keeping icons. In 726A.D. Emperor Leo III ordered all icons to be destroyed. Many people refused to give up the icons. In 787A.D. the Pope and his bishops met to discuss the controversy. They decided that it was heresy to refuse to allow people to keep their icons. Heresy – a conflict with church beliefs The iconoclasts were threatened with excommunication – not being allowed to be a member of the church anymore.
The decision of the Pope & the bishops caused conflict between the Pope in Rome and the patriarch in Constantinople. Finally the church split into two churches in 1054C.E. This is called the Great Schism The church in the West became known as the Roman Catholic Church – the pope was their leader. The church in the East became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church – the patriarch of Constantinople was their leader. The two churches are still separate today. The Eastern Church eventually came to accept icons & they are still an important part of the church today.
The Byzantine Empire also spread its culture many faraway places. Christian missionaries such as Cyril and Methodius tried to spread Christianity throughout Europe.
Art Religion was the purpose of all Byzantine art. Mosaics (pictures made of small pieces of glass, stone, or tile) were the main type of art. Architecture Also based on religion Built the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. This building was rectangular in shaped but had a large domed ceiling – never done before.
After Justinian died in 565A.D. the empire became involved in many wars and conflicts with outside powers. By 650A.D. the Byzantines had lost much of their land. In 1000A.D. the Byzantines, with help of many western European countries began fighting to regain control of the land. By 1261A.D. the Byzantines had regained control of Constantinople. But in the 1300s the Ottoman Turks moved into the area and began taking over the territory. In 1453 the Byzantine empire had completely come to an end.