The Byzantine Empire and Eastern Roman Empire are recent names used to describe the Roman Empire during the Middle Ages. The ancient Roman Empire having been divided into two parts, an Eastern and a Western, the Eastern remained subject to successors of Constantine, whose capital was at Byzantium or Constantinople.
As an outgrowth of the eastern portion of Empire founded in Rome, the Byzantine Empire's evolution into a separate culture from the West can be seen as a process beginning with Emperor Constantine's transferring the capital from Nicomedia in Anatolia to Byzantium, which was renamed Constantinople, on the Bosphorus. By the 7th century, under the reign of Emperor Heraclius, whose reforms changed the nature of the Empire's military and recognized Greek as the official language, the Empire had taken on a distinct new character.
During its thousand-year existence the Empire suffered numerous setbacks and losses of territory but remained one of the most powerful economic, cultural and military forces in Europe and the Near East. The empire's influence also spread into North Africa and the near East for much of the Middle Ages. After a final recovery under the Komnenian dynasty in the 12th century the Empire slipped into a long decline culminating in the capture of Constantinople and the remaining territories by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century.
The Empire, a bastion of Christianity and one of the prime trade centers in the world, helped to shield Western Europe from early Muslim expansion, provided a stable gold currency for the Mediterranean region, influenced the laws, political systems, and customs of much of Europe and the Middle East, and preserved much of the literary works and scientific knowledge of ancient Greece, Rome, and many other cultures.
The History of the Byzantine Empire can be divided into six distince periods.
- The first period of the empire, which embraces the dynasties of Theodosius, Leo I, Justinian, and Tiberius, is politically still under Roman influence.
- In the second period the dynasty of Heraclius in conflict with Islam, succeeds in creating a distinctively Byzantine State.
- The third period, that of the Syrian (Isaurian) emperors and of Iconoclasm, is marked by the attempt to avoid the struggle with Islam by completely orientalizing the land.
- The fourth period exhibits a happy equilibrium. The Armenian dynasty, which was Macedonian by origin, was able to extend its sway east and west, and there were indications that the zenith of Byzantine power was close at hand.
- In the fifth period the centrifugal forces, which had long been at work, produced their inevitable effect, the aristocracy of birth, which had been forming in all parts of the empire, and gaining political influence, at last achieved its firm establishment on the throne with the dynasties of the Comneni and Angeli.
- The sixth period is that of decline; the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders had disrupted the empire into several new political units; even after the restoration, the empire of the Palaeologi is only one member of this group of states. The expansion of the power of the Osmanli Turks prepares the annihilation of the Byzantine Empire.