Byzantium

City for David and Catherine

Location

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byzantium

  • Between the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and alongside the Bosphorus Strait
  • On the geographical landmass called an Isthmus.

History

Byzantium can be traced back to 660 BCE on the Sarayburnu promontory, then the Roman emperor Constantine I dedicated a “new Rome” on the site of the ancient Greek colony, where it was then renamed Constantinople, after him on May 11, 330 CE. The western half of the Roman Empire crumbled and fell in 476, the eastern half though survived for 1,000 more years, giving life to a rich tradition of art, literature, and learning. The city also served as a military buffer between the states of Europe and the threat of invasion from Asia. During this time it served as an imperial capital for almost 16 centuries, during the Roman and Byzantine (330–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin (1204–1261), and the Ottoman (1453–1922) empires. This city was also instrumental in the advancement of Christianity during Roman and Byzantine times, when Roman Emperor Constantine I was baptized on his deathbed. The Byzantine Empire finally fell in 1453, after an Ottoman army stormed Constantinople during the reign of Constantine XI. This once great city is now known as Istanbul.

Culture

During the late Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium was the largest and richest urban center in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Up until Emperor Constantine Byzantium was of the Roman culture, but he issued the 313 Edict of Milan which legalized Christianity. With this Christianity spread across the Roman Empire at unparalleled rates, Churches developed and changed the landscape. Many emperors since then have made the effort to increase and spread Christianity even further. Emperor Theodosius the Great even closed the famous philosophical schools of Athens, the same schools where Plato and Aristotle taught earlier. 

Language changed as well, Latin was the official court language from Constantine to Justinian, while Greek was the primarily spoken. Court language means that all official documents and laws were written in that language. Byzantine Greek then became the primarily language for both spoken and court, after Justinian. With the differences in language of the West and East of the Roman Empire tensions began to rise with misunderstandings and a rift began to form. The West Latins and the Eastern Greeks endured the Great Schism in 1504, where the Greek Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church split and had many debates on Jesus Christ, the nature of God, and even the date of Easter. This lasted until  1204 when the Fourth Crusade was launched by the Latins to mainly reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims. Most of the army did not make it to the holy lands and instead sacked Byzantium, this was the turning point in the Great Schism.

Rulers

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  • Constantine I pictured above

Byzantium comes under the rule of great emperors  beginning with Constantine I in 324. After Constantine’s rule ends in 337, Constantius II then comes into power from (337-361). Constans I rules over Byzantium from (337-350) and finally Julian ruled for a short period of (361-363). These first four rulers constituted the Constantinian dynasty. From that period until the early 16th century, there are dozens of dynasties and rulers who take control of the city.

Politics

Byzantine politics was generally focused on absolute rule by the emperor. The emperor would also delegate power to a strong bureaucracy throughout the empire. The bureaucracy essentially helped the emperor carry out his duties. The emperor also relied on a capable military force to guard the empire’s frontiers or even expand them. The bureaucracy was an advanced system of civil officials from all classes of society. These officials would have attained an education in philosophy, science, history, and classics. Beyond that they generally received training so that they could be specialists in their given field. The officials were given key positions throughout the empire to assist the emperor. Examples of these duties include a provincial governor to help with military control, or serving as an advisor on the inner circle to the emperor. These advisers would give general direction on matters relating to the entire empire. Military leaders often had much support from their troops and as a result, emperors were often wary of their presence. The bureaucracy tried to keep them under constant surveillance to prevent any military leader from potentially taking all power away from the emperor.

Art

Byzantine art mostly religious in nature and was heavily controlled by the church in their efforts for uniform, anonymous, and formality. So naturally individual features were replaced with a standard facial type, figures were flattened, and draperies were reduced to patterns of swirling lines. This left us with the effect of disembodiment, the three-dimensional representation of an individual human figure replaced by a spiritual presence, the force of which depended upon vigor of line and brilliance of color.

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  • Byzantine frescoes in the 11th–12th-century Church of Panayia Phorviotissa in Asinou

Byzantine architecture favored the extensive use of large domes and vaults. Circular domes however were not structurally safe so in the 10th century, a radial plan, consisting of four equal vaulted arms proceeding from a dome over their crossing, had been adopted in most areas.

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  • Byzantine quincunx church

There was little sculpture produced, the most use of any sculpture was small relief carvings in ivory, used for book covers, reliquary boxes, and similar objects. Even other miniature arts like, embroidery, goldwork, and enamelwork, flourished in the sophisticated and wealthy society of Byzantium.

Trade

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  • Byzantine amphorae used to transport honey, oil, wine, and other goods pictured above
  • Trade routes around Constantinople pictured above

Almost all of the economics in the city was controlled by the state. The state controlled activities such as importing, exporting, wages, and tariffs. They were willing to trade with other territories as long as they did not trade goods that were essential to the Byzantine state. Therefore, gold, lumber, iron, salt were all goods not able to be traded outside of the city. They also feared that traded these goods would directly assist their enemies in attacking them. Also all silks died purple were strictly for the imperial court. By the time the city was known as Constantinople, it was rich and supply and demand were not a major issue. The city had plenty of goods for all their needs. Venetian merchants were also partial to trading in Constantinople because they were exempt from taxation. Russian merchants usually arrived from the Black Sea bringing with them caviar, fish, honey, fur leather goods, and wax. Silk and spices were brought in from India and China and usually shipped further west. Constantinople imported ivory from Africa. With so many products coming from the east and many different countries, this was an essential destination for traders.

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Byzantine_emperors

http://www.medievalchronicles.com/medieval-history/medieval-history-periods/byzantine-empire/byzantine-politics/

A very short history of Merchants and Trade in Constantinople.

http://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/byzantine-empire

http://study.com/academy/lesson/the-byzantine-empire-history-culture-timeline.html

https://www.britannica.com/art/Byzantine-art