History of the Byzantine Empire
Constantine founded the new capital of the Roman Empire in a geographically strategic point as it was in the crossroads of east and west and close to the eastern territory, which was rich in produce. From Constantine to Heraclius (d. 641), little by little the empire gradually became detached from the west especially during the reign of Theodosius (379-95 A.C.) which marked the end of the idea of the Roman Empire (he was the last ruler of the united Roman Empire). With his sons, Arcadius and Honorius, there is the division of the Empire in two and the subsequent subjugation of the western part to Germanic tribes from the north. The eastern part continued to exist and flourish, as Byzantine Empire, for c. 1,000 years. Since the 5th century the Greek language became official and Empress Eudocia from Athens, brought to the palace the Greek way of life and founded the Pandidaktirio, a university where Greek, Latin, Philosophy, Rhetoric and Law were studied.
During the reign of Justinian (527-65 A.C.) the last purely roman-minded emperor, the idea of Roman sovereignty found expression in his efforts to recapture the lost areas of the Roman Empire and create a new Mare Nostrum. He glorified the empire with the creation of majestic public works, such as the church of Aghia Sophia and gives emphasis on the codification of the Roman law and the glorification of Christianity under his power (caesaropapism). The Justinian wars exhausted the empire both financially and in manpower. Neighbouring peoples presented an ever-present danger and they were kept away through the advanced diplomacy the Byzantines exercised, or through the introduction of the Christian religion, trade and cultural exchanges. During the 7th century, the Avars, who had come from the Russian steppes and had established themselves in the Hungarian plains, entered the northern territories and Heraclius made peace with them offering money. When- in their second expedition- they joined forces with the Persians, they posed real threat to the capital itself. The capital was saved due to the sea power of the Byzantines. The following year, Heraclius advanced into the heart of Persia and freed Syria, Egypt and Asia Minor and returned the Holy Cross to Jerusalem.
Since the 7th century the Arabs had become a real danger for the Empire. They occupied the eastern areas and islands (Cyprus and Rhodes) and they advanced against the capital. The siege lasted five years and the Byzantines defeated them with the use of a new "weapon", the "liquid fire". Under these constant attacks, the Byzantine Empire assumed its "medieval" form and started facing eastward. It became attached to the "Greek" element in its civilization and the Orthodox Christian faith. With the Isaurian Emperors the administrative policy changed, the Empire was divided in "themes" and the codification of new laws introduced a more humanistic approach. During this period the Iconoclast movement divided the Byzantines and it ended with the restoration of the icons and the triumph of the icon-defenders in 843. The reign of the Macedonian Dynasty (9th-11th c.) was the greatest period for the Empire. Old and new enemies were defeated and new laws set the ground for the rise in trade.
Art flourished. The freedom given to the Venetian shipping and commerce (in order for the Byzantines to protect their ships from the pirates and the Normads, they asked the aid of the Venetian ships and, in return, access to the Byzantine ports was granted to them), the loss of rich eastern provinces and the internal problems caused by the fight between the army and the "palatial" powers, caused the gradual decline of the Empire. From the East, the Seljuks occupied Armenia and Cappadocia and the Byzantines lost the decisive battle at Matzikert (1071 A.C.) thus opening the road for the Turks. In 1204 A.C., the Crusaders (4th Crusade) used the Venetian ships and sailed against Constantinople, which they sacked and occupied. In 1261, Michael VIII Paleologus entered Constantinople and reoccupied it. The Paleologian Dynasty lasted until May 29, 1453, when the city was taken by the Ottomans and Muhammad II, despite the heroic resistance of Constantine XI and the people.
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The city of Byzantium was established (in 658 B.C.) on a bay controlling the Straits of Bosporus, by the city of Megara as part of the colonization process. In 480 B.C. it was burned by the invading forces of Darius and in 479 it was occupied by the Spartans.
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Vissarion (one of the greatest Greek scholars to relocate to Italy) wrote in 1455: "while Constantinople was standing I did not care for the collection and preservation of Greek manuscripts.