The word “Byzantine” is derived from Byzantium, an ancient Greek colony founded by a man named Byzas. It is located on the European side of the Bosporus (the strait between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean), the Byzantium site was ideally situated to serve as a transit and trade point between Europe and Asia.
The Byzantine Empire was a vast and powerful civilization with origins dating back to 330 AD, when the Roman emperor Constantine I dedicated a “New Rome” on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium. Although the western half of the Roman Empire collapsed and fell in 476 AD, the eastern half survived for another 1,000 years, generating a rich tradition of art, literature and culture and serving as a military buffer between Europe and Asia. The Byzantine Empire fell definitively in 1453, after an Ottoman army assaulted Constantinople during the reign of Constantine XI.
The eastern half of the Roman Empire proved less vulnerable to external attacks, partly due to its geographical location. With Constantinople in a strait, it was extremely difficult to break the defenses of the capital; Furthermore, the eastern empire had a much shorter common border with Europe.
It has also greatly benefited from a stronger administrative centre and internal political stability, as well as a great deal of wealth compared to other states of the early Middle Ages. The Eastern emperors were able to exercise greater control over the economic resources of the empire and more effectively gather enough staff to fight the invasion.
The Byzantine emperor resided in the magnificent Grand Palace of Constantinople and reigned as the absolute monarch over a vast empire. As such, the basileus needed the help of an experienced government and a generalized and efficient bureaucracy. Although he was an absolute ruler, his government, the people and the Church expected an emperor to rule with wisdom and justice. More importantly, an emperor had to be a military success because the army remained the most powerful institution in Byzantium in real terms. The generals of Constantinople and the provinces could root out, and did so, an emperor who did not defend the borders of the empire or that caused an economic catastrophe. Even so, in the normal course of events, the emperor was commander-in-chief of the army, head of the church and government, controlled the finances of the state, and appointed or fired the nobles at will; few rulers before or after exercised this power.
It is not known exactly when the new emperor, Giuliano, decides to reintegrate the ancient gods of Rome and Greece. At the beginning it behaves with religious tolerance, returning to its headquarters, for example, the Catholic bishops who were exiled by Constancio, a faithful follower of Arius. But at 362, Julian is making a prominent demonstration of the ritual sacrifices he makes personally in the resurrected pagan temples.
When Christians protest, withdraw their relics from the old shrines, impose special taxes on Christian priests and give preference to pagans in civil service.
Julian is repeating, in reverse, the actions of his uncle Constantine in favor of Christianity. It aims to establish a network of pagan priests and officials throughout the empire of the type established by Christians. This vision of tomorrow does not appeal to yesterday’s elite.
To what extent the young emperor may have achieved his goal is one of the interesting speculations of history. In the Christian eyes, God gives a quick and decisive answer when Julian is killed, in 363, in a skirmish against the Persians. A voice, heard for the first time a century later, offers an ironic satisfaction. It is said that in his last words the apostate gives victory to Christ: Vicisti, Galilea.
Numerous signal events from the 4th to the 6th century mark the transition period during which the Greek East and the Latin West of the Roman Empire were separated. Constantine I (324-337) reorganized the empire, converted Constantinople into the new capital and legalized Christianity. Under Theodosius I (379-395), Christianity became the official religion of the state of the Empire and other religious practices were banned. Finally, under the reign of Heraclius (610-641), the army and administration of the Empire were restructured and adopted Greek for official use rather than Latin. Thus, although the Roman state continued and its traditions were maintained, modern historians distinguish Byzantium from ancient Rome as cantered on Constantinople, oriented to Greek culture rather than to Latin culture, and characterized by Orthodox Christianity.
The empire recovered again during the restoration of Komnenian, and in the twelfth century Constantinople was the largest and richest city in Europe. However, he received a mortal blow during the fourth crusade, when Constantinople was sacked in 1204 and the territories that the empire ruled in the past were divided into concomitant Byzantine and Latin dominions. Despite the eventual recovery of Constantinople in 1261, the Byzantine Empire remained one of several small rival states in the area during the last two centuries of its existence. His remaining territories were gradually annexed by the Ottomans during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The fall of Constantinople in the Ottoman Empire in 1453 ended definitively with the Byzantine Empire. The last of the successive Byzantine imperialist states, the Empire of Trebizond, would have been conquered by the Ottomans eight years later, in the siege of Trabzon 1461.
The Byzantine court survives, in a very small state, in the ancient city of Nicea. From this base, for the next three generations, Byzantine emperors gradually push their Latin adversaries westwards from Anatolia. Finally, in alliance with the bitter enemy of Venice, Genoa, they managed to recover Constantinople in 1261.The Byzantine emperors reign in Constantinople for almost two centuries. But they are isolated, they are weak and, in the end, they are impotent in the face of the siege of a new and powerful enemy: the Ottoman Turks.