The name Byzantine Empire is a western designation for the continuation of the Roman Empire in the Greek-speaking (Eastern part) of the Mediterranean. The name comes from Byzantium, which was a small, but important town at the Bosporus. In Greek times the town was at the frontier between the Greek and the Persian world. Byzantium became Constantinople when Constantine the Great expanded it and moved his residence and later his capital there. The people who lived in what we call the Byzantine Empire called it the Roman Empire and referred to themselves as Romans even though they spoke primarily Greek. (we often see western Christianity referred to as "Latins" in Eastern Orthodox literature.) This Eastern part of the Empire survived 1000 years longer than the Roman Empire of the West, although there were unsuccessful attempts by the East to retake the West, the Byzantine Empire was never as vast. The Roman polity with its large administrative state also gives its name to our English adjective byzantine meaning complex or intricate.

By the third century, the Romans had many thousands of miles of border to defend. Growing pressure caused a crisis, especially in the Danube/Balkan area, where the Goths often violated the borders. In the East, the Sasanian Persians transgressed the frontiers along the Euphrates and Tigris. Constantine the Great, who rules from 306 to 337 was one of the first to realize the impossibility of managing the empire's problems from distant Rome. In 330 Constantine decided to make Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople after himself, his new residence. Constantinople lay halfway between the Balkan and the Euphrates, and not too far from the immense wealth and manpower of Asia Minor, the vital part of the empire. My list of Byzantine Emperors begins with Constantine because that is Eastern Tradition even though he was the last Emperor to rule the Unified Roman Empire.

By the time of the final crumbling of the Roman Empire (in the west usually thought of as finishing in 476 with the fall of the city of Rome) the Roman Empire had been retreating for some time and consolidating in the East. Christianity had been the official religion of the Roman Empire for about 100 years by this time. Coming onto the world stage at the time was the rise of Islam, from Mohammad's birth in 570 to 1258 which is considered the end of Islam's golden age. The Byzantine Empire was the first world empire that was perennially at war with the Muslims. It flourished during the reign of the Macedonian emperors, its demise was the consequence of attacks by Seljuk Turks, Crusaders (from the Christian west), and Ottoman Turks. (A confusing bit of history as it was Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus who petitioned the Pope for help because of his constant wars with the Seljuq Turks.)

The Byzantine Empire was certainly a Christian state. It was the first empire in the world to be founded not only on worldly power, but also on the authority of the Church. Paganism, however, remained the religion or at least the source of inspiration for many people especially during the first centuries of the Byzantine Empire.

When Christianity became organized, the Church was led by five patriarchs, who resided in Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, and Rome. The Council of Chalcedon (451) decided that the patriarch of Constantinople was to be the second in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Only the pope in Rome was his superior. After the Great Schism of 1054 the eastern (Orthodox) church separated form the western (Roman Catholic) church. The center of influence of the orthodox churches was in Constantinople but later shifted to Moscow due in large measure to pressure from the Muslims.

This Byzantine history goes from the founding of Constantinople as imperial residence on 11 May 330 until Tuesday 29 May 1453, when the Ottoman sultan Memhet II conquered the city. Generally the history of the Empire is divided in three periods. Beginning with Justinian and ending with the fall to the Turks.


Date  Event 
285 Diocletian splits the Roman empire is  into the Western and Eastern Roman empires. Maximean would rule the West.
306-324 Civil War - By the end, Constantine I becomes Emperor of a united Roman Empire.
313 Roman emperors Decius and Constantine I tolerates Christianity. The Edict of Toleration.
330 The city of Constantinople is founded on the site of old Byzantium and designated "the new Rome."
337 Constantine dies
361 Roman emperor Julian the Apostate attempts to revive Paganism.
376 The Visigoths are fleeing the Huns, entering the Eastern Roman Empire.
378 The Goths defeat Emperor Valens is near Adrianople
391 Emperor Theodosius closes pagan temples.
395 Empire permanently divided - East and West.
510 Muhammed Born
533 Belisarius defeats the Persians to the east of the Byzantine Empire and the Vandals of Africa.
533 - 534 The Vandal War launched by Emperor Justinian I, aimed a reconquering Africa from the Vandals.
534 Justinian of the Byzantine Empire conquers the Vandal kingdom in Africa.
535 Belisarius' first campaign against the Ostrogoths in Italy. - an attempt to retake the West
536 The city of Rome falls to Belisarius.
536 - 562 The Byzantine Empire conquers Italy.
545 Belisarius' second campaign against the Ostrogoths in Italy.
554 Byzantine Empire conquers southern Iberia.
556 - c. Jul 572  Samaritan revolt beginning in Caesarea Maritima, perhaps with Jewish support. A number of churches are destroyed and there is a significant loss of life.
607 - 627 East Rome defeats Sasanian Persia.
610 - 632 Qur'an revealed to Muhammad
610 - 622  Heraclius restructures the Eastern Roman empire into the Byzantine empire.
628 Byzantine Empire re-takes Alexandria, Egypt, from the Persians.
637  Muslim invasion of the Levant. The Byzantines are driven out.
867-1057 Macedonian dynasty
1054 The Great Schism
1071 Battle of Manzikert
1202-1204 Fourth (Western) Crusade
1204 - 1261 Empire of Nicaea - one of the Greek successor states - regained Constantinople in 1261 and continued to be the reconstituted Byzantine Empire until constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1479.
1204 - 1479

Despotate of Epirus - one of the successor states of the Byzantine Empire established in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade 

lost to the advancing Ottoman Empire, with the last stronghold, Vonitsa, falling to the Ottomans in 1479

1204 - 

Empire of Trebizond - Originally formed during a revolt against the usurpation of the imperial throne by the grandsons of Emperor Andronikos I Komnenos, Trebizond (current Trabzon, Turkey, with which the name of the empire is a cognate) became a Byzantine Greek successor state established after the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine) in the Fourth Crusade

survived the longest of the Byzantine successor states.


1453 Ottoman Empire (which had replaced the Sultanate of Rum) under Mehmet II conquered Constantinople



The first of these, from 330 till 867 CE, saw the creation and survival of a powerful empire. During the reign of Justinian (527-565), a last attempt was made to reunite the whole Roman Empire under one ruler, the one in Constantinople. This plan largely succeeded: the wealthy provinces in Italy and Africa were reconquered, Libya was rejuvenated, and money bought sufficient diplomatic influence in the realms of the Frankish rulers in Gaul and the Visigothic dynasty in Spain. The refound unity was celebrated with the construction of the church of Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, in Constantinople. The price for the reunion, however, was high. Justinian had to pay off the Sasanian Persians, and had to deal with firm resistance, for instance in Italy.

Under Justinian, the lawyer Tribonian (500-547) created the famous Corpus Iuris. The Code of Justinian, a compilation of all the imperial laws, was published in 529; soon the Institutions (a handbook) and the Digests (fifty books of jurisprudence), were added. The project was completed with some additional laws, the Novellae. 

After Justinian, the Byzantine and Sasanian empires suffered heavy losses in a terrible war. The troops of the Persian king Khusrau II captured Antioch and Damascus, stole the True Cross from Jerusalem, occupied Alexandria, and even reached the Bosphorus. In the end, the Byzantine armies were victorious under the emperor Heraclius (reign 610-642 CE).

However, the empire was weakened and soon lost Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Cyrenaica, and Africa to the Islamic Arabs. For a moment, Syracuse on Sicily served as imperial residence. At the same time, parts of Italy were conquered by the Lombards, while Bulgars settled south of the Danube. The ultimate humiliation took place in 800 CE, when the leader of the Frankish barbarians in the West, Charlemagne, preposterously claimed that he, and not the ruler in Constantinople, was the Christian emperor.

Macedonian Dynasty

The second period in Byzantine history is the Macedonian Dynasty (867-1057).  While under the Macedonian Dynasty the empire hit it's high point but it also fell during this period. After an age of contraction, the empire expanded again and in the end, almost every Christian city in the East was within the empire's borders. On the other hand, wealthy Egypt and large parts of Syria were forever lost, and Jerusalem was not reconquered.

In 1014 CE the mighty Bulgarian empire, which had once been a very serious threat to the Byzantine state, was finally overcome after a bloody war, and became part of the Byzantine Empire. The victorious emperor, Basilius II, was surnamed Boulgaroktonos, "slayer of Bulgars". The northern border now was finally secured and the empire flourished.

Throughout this whole period the Byzantine currency, the nomisma, was the leading currency in the Mediterranean world. It was a stable currency ever since the founding of Constantinopel. Its importance shows how important Byzantium was in economics and finance.

Constantinople was the city where people of every religion and nationality lived next to one another, all in their own quarters and with their own social structures. Taxes for foreign traders were just the same as for the inhabitants. This was unique in the world of the middle ages.


Despite these favorable conditions, Italian cities like Venice and Amalfi, gradually gained influence and became serious competititors. Trade in the Byzantine world was no longer the monopoly of the Byzantines themselves. Fuel was added to these beginning trade conflicts when the pope and patriarch of Constantinople went separate ways in 1054 (the Great Schism).

Decay became inevitable after the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. Here, the Byzantine army under the emperor Romanus IV Diogenes, although reinforced by Frankish mercenaries, was beaten by an army of the Seljuk Turks, commanded by Alp Arslan ("the Lion"). Romanus was probably betrayed by one of his own generals, Joseph Tarchaniotes, and by his nephew Andronicus Ducas.

After the battle, the Byzantine Empire lost Antioch, Aleppo, and Manzikert, and within years, the whole of Asia Minor was overrun by Turks. From now on, the empire was to suffer from manpower shortage almost permanantly. In this crisis, a new dynasty, the Comnenes, came to power. To obtain new Frankish mercenaries, emperor Alexius sent a request for help to pope Urban II, who responded by summoning the western world for the Crusades. The western warriors swore loyalty to the emperor, reconquered parts of Anatolia, but kept Antioch, Edessa, and the Holy Land for themselves.

Decline and Fall

For the Byzantines, it was increasingly difficult to contain the westerners. They were not only fanatic warriors, but also shrewd traders. In the twelfth century, the Byzantines created a system of diplomacy in which deals 12/2/16