Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine Empire, Kievan Russia, and the Mongols
While barbarians plundered the western part of the Roman Empire in the A.D. 400s and 500s, the Byzantine Empire continued to thrive. Although surrounded by enemies, the Byzantine Empire maintained its independence and even expanded its influence to the north.

The Byzantine Empire. By the early 500s, the Western Roman Empire had broken down into a group of Germanic tribal kingdoms. The Eastern Roman Empire, on the of her hand, had defeated the barbarians and was primed for a great political, economic, intellectual, and artistic revival. Emperor Justinian, who ruled from 527 to 565, led this revival. In addition to recovering some of the old Roman territories in Italy and the Mediterranean, Justinian proved a capable ruler who preserved and further codified Roman law. During the Middle Ages, the Justinianic Code became the basis of many European legal systems and its influence continues today.

After Justinian’s death, however, the empire suffered from bofh internal civil wars and conflicts with the Persians to the east and Slavic and Germanic tribes to the north and west. During the 600s, a new power also emerged in the south, from the deserts of Arabia, inspired by the religious faith of Islam. Muslim armies soon overran major parts of the Byzantine Empire in North Africa and the Fertile Crescent. Under such blows, after 650 the Byzantine Empire was reduced to little more than Asia Minor, the southern Balkan peninsula, parts of Italy, and nearby islands of the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean.

In addition to preserving Roman law, the Byzantine Empire also profected and perpetuated its own brand of Christianity, sometimes called Orthodox Christianity. Because religion was so closely bound up with the state, Byzantine leaders saw controversies over religious doctrines and rituals as important matters of state. Such attitudes often involved the state in major controversies. One of the most important, for example, was the debate over the use of icons holy portraits of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the saints in the 700s and early 800s. Those who favored their use in worship fought the iconoclasts, who thought of icons as idols and wished to suppress their use. Eventually, the iconoclasts lost the debate, but in the meantime the state had been seriously disrupted. Despite such debates, Christianity remained one of the most important aspects of Byzantine society and proved instrumental in expanding Byzantine influence among the Slavic tribes that threatened the northern borders of the empire.

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