If you read several history books, you will see that the Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th century CE. However, this will be considered a surprise by the millions of those who existed in the Roman Empire during the Middle Ages. This is because this Medieval Roman Empire, which is now known to us as the Byzantine Empire, started when Emperor Constantine, the first Christian ruler, decided to shift Rome’s capital.
This vast empire dominated the late antiquity period, a time known for vast migrations and one that saw the rise and fall of several kingdoms. Despite the constant flux, the Byzantine Empire managed to dominate much of Europe for over 1,000 years.
The origin of the Byzantine Empire can be directly traced to the collapse of the classical Roman Empire. Even though the history of Byzantines reek of pride and magnificence, it stems from more unpleasant roots. The expansive Roman Empire started experiencing major problems around the 3rd century and it almost collapsed totally from the relentless invasions launched by barbarian tribes coupled with several economic and political challenges. The problems of the 3rd century would eventually create a chasm that led to the division of the unified empire into two separate halves, which are the Eastern and Western Roman Empires.
These two halves were under two different political authorities and even ended up growing even further apart. The west became increasingly absorbed into the Latin sphere while the eastern portion moved towards the Hellenistic spectrum. Hence, from the year 285 AD, the empire became split, and while the western half fell under the influence of Rome, Byzantium took control of the other eastern half.
By 330 AD, Emperor Constantine decided to shift the capital of the vast empire to Constantinople. This was a new city that he had established on the ruins of ancient Byzantium. It is this city that will have a lot of roles to play in history as it was perched at the crucial point along the trade routes connecting Asia and Europe. Another crucial factor that came into play here was the great tolerance that Constantine had for Christianity. Later on, he later decided to become the very first emperor to take up Christianity personally.
Theodosius I was his successor and took it a step further when he turned Christianity into the state’s official religion. Theodosius I was to become the last emperor to control the two halves of the dying empire.
Period of Glory
The expansive nature of the empire and the coming of the two separate halves led to a new set of issues. The Hun Empire, which had been a massive threat for the eastern empire, ended in 435 AD, and that ushered in a relative period of peace. But the same thing was not applied to the Western Roman Empire.
The deterioration continued and was speeded up by the waves of invasions from Germania’s barbaric tribes, which continued until the Western Roman Empire ultimately collapsed in the second half of the 5th century. This meant that the eastern emperor Zeno was going to become the sole ruler and real claimant to the emperor’s position of the historic Roman Empire, which is based on the east. What was left was the Imperium Romanum and it was later going to transform into the Byzantine Empire and that remained for centuries to come.
The Golden Age
The Justinian dynasty commenced with the rule of Justin I who was a usurper who was in office for almost a decade to be followed by Justinian, his nephew. The time of the Justinians ushered great development to the empire and reached its peak.
Loss of territories commenced in what is now called the Dark Ages of Byzantium. The times of Justin II and Tiberius II Constantine witnessed a devastating decline and loss of colonies. This continued until another renaissance with the Macedonians. However, the era of prosperity would not continue for eternity. The medieval era came with relentless waves of invasions, with new dynasties taking over. Eventually, the volatility would become too much for the aging Byzantium, and it finally succumbed to the sacking of Constantinople.
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