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The Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. It emerged in the 4th century AD and lasted until the 15th century AD. The exact starting point of the Byzantine Empire is often debated among historians, but it is generally accepted to have been established in 330 AD when Emperor Constantine I[2], the first Emperor to be converted to Christianity, moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to the newly founded city of Constantinople[3] (present-day Istanbul, Turkey).

The Byzantine Empire peaked in the 6th century under the rule of Emperor Justinian I[4]. During his reign, Justinian expanded the empire’s territory, reformed the legal system, and undertook monumental building projects, including the construction of the Hagia Sophia[5], which remains an iconic symbol of Byzantine architecture.

Over the centuries, the Byzantine Empire faced numerous challenges, including invasions from various barbarian groups, territorial losses, and conflicts with neighbouring powers such as the Sasanian Empire[6] and later the Islamic Caliphates[7]. Despite these challenges, the Byzantines managed to maintain Roman traditions, the Greek language, Orthodox Christianity, and a unique blend of Roman, Greek, and Eastern influences.

The Byzantine Empire finally ended in 1453 AD when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, led by Mehmed the Conqueror[8]. The fall of Constantinople marked the end of the Byzantine Empire, and it is often considered a significant event in history, as it signalled the end of the Middle Ages[9] and the beginning of the Renaissance[10] in Western Europe.

Caption: Battle of Constantine and Maxentius (detail of part of a fresco by Giulio Romano in the Hall of Constantine in the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican), copy c. 1650 by Lazzaro Baldi, now at the University of Edinburgh.
Attribution: After Giulio Romano, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Challenges Faced by the Western Roman Empire
As stated in the introduction to this paper, the decision to establish a new capital in the east was made by Emperor Constantine I. He recognised the vulnerability of the western capital, Rome, and sought a new location that could be better defended. The key challenges that influenced his decision to establish a new capital of the Roman Empire were:

Barbarian Invasions:
Invasions from various barbarian groups frequently targeted the western provinces of the Roman Empire. Germanic tribes such as the Visigoths[11], Vandals[12], and Ostrogoths[13], as well as other groups like the Huns[14], posed a significant threat to the stability and security of the western territories. You can read my paper “Attila the Hun” at:

Citation: The Huns, led by Attila, invade Italy (Attila, the Scourge of God, by Ulpiano Checa, 1887).
Attribution: Ulpiano Checa, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Political Instability:
The western part of the empire experienced a series of political upheavals, including frequent changes in Emperors, internal power struggles, tensions between the Roman aristocracy and the military, and social unrest and revolts by various groups within the empire. This instability weakened central authority and hindered effective governance and defence against external threats.

Economic Decline:
The western provinces suffered from economic decline, marked by issues such as decreasing agricultural productivity, increased taxation, and inflation. These factors contributed to social unrest and a decline in the overall prosperity of the region.

Administrative Challenges:
The vast size of the Roman Empire made it increasingly difficult to administer effectively from a single central location. The logistical and administrative challenges of governing such a vast territory, combined with the ongoing external threats, strained the resources and capabilities of the imperial administration.

These challenges collectively weakened the western part of the Roman Empire and influenced the decision to establish a new capital in the east, which eventually led to the founding of Constantinople. Constantine sought to create a more defensible and prosperous centre that could better address these challenges and ensure the continuity of the Roman Empire.

The challenges, such as barbarian invasions, political instability, economic decline, administrative difficulties, and internal conflicts, played a significant role in prompting the need for a new capital. Emperor Constantine I recognised these challenges and sought a new location to address them better and ensure the Empire’s stability and security.

Rise of the Byzantine Empire
In 286 AD, Roman Emperor Diocletian[15] divided Rome into two sections to try and stabilise the Empire. For 100 years, Rome experienced more divisions, and by 395 AD, it finally became The Western Empire and The Eastern Empire. This division changed Roman life and government forever. After the division of the Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire emerged as the Byzantine Empire, with its capital at Constantinople. The city’s strategic location on the Bosporus Strait[16] allowed it to control key trade routes between Europe and Asia.

Caption: San Vitale (Ravenna) – Mosaic of Iustinianus I.
Attribution: Petar Milošević, CC BY-SA 4.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

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Emperor Justinian I (reigned 527-565 AD) is often regarded as one of the most important of all the Byzantine Emperors. He sought to reclaim the lost territories of the Western Roman Empire and launched military campaigns to restore Roman rule in the Mediterranean region.

Justinian’s most significant achievement was the codification of Roman laws.[17] He commissioned legal experts to compile and organise existing Roman laws, resulting in the Corpus Juris Civilis (Body of Civil Law)[18], which became the foundation of the Byzantine legal system and had a lasting impact on legal development in Europe.

Under Justinian’s rule, Byzantine art and architecture flourished. The construction of the Hagia Sophia, an architectural marvel, demonstrated the empire’s grandeur and influence.

Challenges and Transformations
The Byzantine Empire faced numerous external threats and internal challenges throughout its existence. In the 7th century, it confronted the expanding Islamic Caliphates, which conquered vast territories in the Middle East and North Africa, posing a significant threat to Byzantine territories.

The Byzantines repelled several Arab invasions but lost significant territories, including Egypt, Syria, and Palestine. These losses weakened the empire economically and militarily.

The Byzantine Empire experienced a period of resurgence under the Macedonian Dynasty[19] (867-1056 AD). Emperors like Basil I and his successors launched successful military campaigns, regained territories, and expanded Byzantine influence.

In the 11th century, the Byzantine Empire faced the Seljuk Turks, who captured Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) and threatened Constantinople, leading to the call for help from Western Europe and resulting in the First Crusade (1096-1099 AD).

Instead of reaching the Holy Land, the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204 AD) deviated and attacked Constantinople, resulting in the temporary fragmentation of the Byzantine Empire. The Latin Empire was established, while a Byzantine successor state, the Empire of Nicaea, continued the fight against the Latin occupiers.

The Empire of Nicaea, under the Palaiologos Dynasty, managed to recapture Constantinople in 1261 AD, restoring the Byzantine Empire. However, the empire was a shadow of its former self and faced constant threats from the Ottoman Turks.

Choosing Constantinople as the Centre of the Eastern Roman Empire
The decision to establish a new capital in the east was a response to the challenges faced by the western part of the Roman Empire. Constantinople was chosen as the new capital because it offered strategic advantages, better defence capabilities, economic opportunities, and symbolic continuity with the Roman imperial legacy. In addition, the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire were more economically vibrant and prosperous than the western regions. By establishing the capital in the east, Constantine aimed to tap into the economic resources and wealth of the eastern provinces to sustain and strengthen the empire.

Constantinople was strategically located on the Bosporus Strait, which connected the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. This location provided control over key trade routes between Europe and Asia, allowing for economic prosperity and easier defence against external threats from land and sea invasions.

The eastern part of the Roman Empire had a long-standing Hellenistic influence. By choosing Constantinople as the new capital, Constantine embraced and aligned with the cultural and intellectual heritage of the eastern territories. This decision also had political advantages, as it gained support from the Greek-speaking population and allowed for a smooth transition of power.

Finally, Constantine wanted to present himself as the legitimate successor to the Roman Empire and sought to establish a new capital that embodied continuity with Rome’s imperial legacy. By naming the city Constantinople (Constantine’s City), he emphasised the idea that the new capital was an extension of Rome and maintained the empire’s continuity.

Why was it called the Byzantine Empire?
The term “Byzantine Empire” was not used during the actual existence of the Empire itself. It is a later designation created by historians to distinguish the medieval Roman Empire in the east from its earlier classical phase centred in Rome. The people of the Byzantine Empire referred to themselves as Romans and considered their state as a continuation of the Roman Empire.

The name “Byzantine Empire” comes from the ancient Greek city of Byzantium, which was located on the site of present-day Istanbul, Turkey. The city of Byzantium was originally founded as a Greek colony and later became an important Roman city. When Emperor Constantine I chose Byzantium as the new capital of the Roman Empire in 330 AD, he renamed it Constantinople in his honour.

The use of the description “Byzantine Empire” emerged during the 16th century in Western Europe, primarily among scholars and historians. It gained wider usage in the 19th century. The description was used to distinguish the medieval Roman Empire in the east from the ancient Roman Empire in the west and to reflect the cultural and political changes that occurred during the empire’s later period.

While the term “Byzantine Empire” is commonly used to refer to the medieval eastern Roman Empire, it is important to recognise that the people of the Empire themselves did not identify as Byzantines but rather as Romans.

Fall of the Byzantine Empire
In the 14th century, the Ottoman Turks, led by the Ottoman dynasty, emerged as a powerful force in Anatolia. They steadily expanded their territories, capturing Byzantine territories in the Balkans and Asia Minor.

In 1453, Mehmed the Conqueror, the Ottoman Sultan, besieged Constantinople. Despite valiant defence efforts led by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI, the city fell on 29th May 1453. The fall of Constantinople marked the end of the Byzantine Empire.

The Ottoman Empire absorbed much of the Byzantine territories and became a dominant power in the region. The conquest of Constantinople also prompted a wave of Byzantine scholars and artists fleeing to Western Europe, contributing to the intellectual and cultural revitalization known as the Renaissance.

Citation: The Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople, by Eugène Delacroix, 1840
Attribution: Eugène Delacroix, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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Byzantine Art
Byzantine art comprises the body of Christian Greek artistic products of the Eastern Roman Empire,[20] as well as the nations and states that inherited culturally from the Empire. Though the Empire emerged from the decline of Rome and lasted until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453,[21] the start date of the Byzantine period is rather clearer in art history than in political history, even if still imprecise.

Many Eastern Orthodox states in Eastern Europe, as well as to some degree the Islamic states of the eastern Mediterranean, preserved many aspects of the empire’s culture and art for centuries afterwards.

Several contemporary states with the Byzantine Empire were culturally influenced by it without actually being part of it (the “Byzantine commonwealth“). These included the Rus, as well as some non-Orthodox states like the Republic of Venice, which separated from the Byzantine Empire in the 10th century, and the Kingdom of Sicily, which had close ties to the Byzantine Empire and had also been a Byzantine territory until the 10th century with a large Greek-speaking population persisting into the 12th century. Other states having a Byzantine artistic tradition had oscillated throughout the Middle Ages between being part of the Byzantine Empire and having periods of independence – such as Serbia and Bulgaria.

After the fall of the Byzantine capital of Constantinople in 1453, art produced by Eastern Orthodox Christians living in the Ottoman Empire was often called “post-Byzantine.” Certain artistic traditions that originated in the Byzantine Empire, particularly regarding icon painting and church architecture, are maintained in Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, and other Eastern Orthodox countries to the present day.

Citation: Mosaic from San Vitale in Ravenna, showing the Emperor Justinian and Bishop Maximian, surrounded by clerics and soldiers.
Attribution: Carole Raddato, CC BY-SA 2.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons
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This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Byzantine Architecture
Byzantine architecture refers to the architectural style that developed and flourished in the Byzantine Empire from the 4th to the 15th centuries. It is characterised by a unique blend of Roman, Greek, and Eastern influences, combined with distinct Byzantine elements.

Key features of Byzantine architecture include:

  • Centralised Plan: Byzantine churches often followed a centralised plan, with a central dome or a series of domes supported by piers or columns. This architectural form symbolised the spiritual centre of the church and created a sense of unity and harmony.
  • Dome and Pendentives: The use of domes was a prominent feature of Byzantine architecture. Large, impressive domes were supported by pendentives, which are triangular sections that transition the circular base of a dome to a rectangular or polygonal base.
  • Mosaics: Byzantine architecture is renowned for its intricate and vibrant mosaic artwork. Mosaics were used to adorn the interiors of churches and palaces, depicting religious scenes, figures, and elaborate decorative patterns. These mosaics were often made of colourful glass or stone tesserae.
  • Iconostasis: The Byzantine church interior featured an iconostasis, a screen or partition adorned with icons that separated the sanctuary from the nave. The iconostasis served as a visual barrier and displayed religious images and icons central to Byzantine worship.
  • Basilica Plan: While centralised plans were prevalent, some Byzantine churches followed a basilica plan with a rectangular shape, featuring a central nave and side aisles. These basilicas often had a dome over the crossing or a series of smaller domes.
  • Brick and Stone Construction: Byzantine architecture extensively used brick and stone as building materials. Brick was used for structural elements, while stone was used for decorative detailing and facades. Marble and other precious stones were often incorporated into the design for added grandeur.
  • Emphasis on Light: Byzantine architects placed a strong focus on light to create a sense of divine radiance. The use of clerestory windows, domes with windows or oculi, and the reflective surfaces of mosaics contributed to the play of light and enhanced the spiritual atmosphere within the buildings.

Citation: Turkey-3019 – Hagia Sophia” by archer10 (Dennis) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Notable examples of Byzantine architecture include the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul), the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, and the Church of the Holy Apostles in Thessaloniki, Greece. These structures showcase the magnificence and technical prowess of Byzantine architects and provide a lasting influence on later architectural styles in the Byzantine sphere and beyond.

Notable scholarly works on Byzantine architecture include:

  • Byzantine Architecture, by Cyril Mango
  • Byzantine Churches in Constantinople: Their History and Architecture, by Alexander Van Millingen
  • The Art of Byzantium, by Cyril Mango
  • Byzantine Architecture: History of World Architecture, by Spiro Kostof
  • Byzantine Architecture and Decoration, by Oleg Grabar

Legacy of the Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire’s legacy is significant and multifaceted. It preserved and transmitted classical Greek and Roman knowledge, contributing to the preservation of ancient texts and ideas that later influenced intellectual and cultural developments in both the Byzantine Empire itself and the wider world.

The Byzantines were crucial in preserving and transmitting classical Greek and Roman knowledge. Byzantine scholars preserved ancient texts, including works of philosophy, science, and literature, that would have otherwise been lost. Byzantine scholars also made significant contributions to fields such as medicine, astronomy, and mathematics.

The Byzantine Empire’s religious legacy is notable. It played a central role in the development and spread of Orthodox Christianity. Byzantine emperors held the title “Defender of the Faith” and exerted significant influence over religious affairs. The Byzantine Church, with its rich liturgical traditions and distinctive religious art, had a lasting impact on the development of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Byzantine art and architecture left a lasting imprint on the cultural heritage of the region. Iconography, the religious art of depicting holy figures, developed and flourished in the Byzantine Empire. Byzantine architecture, characterised by grand domes, intricate mosaics, and ornate decorations, influenced later architectural styles, particularly in Eastern Europe.

The Byzantine legal system, as codified by Emperor Justinian, profoundly influenced the development of legal systems in Europe. The Corpus Juris Civilis formed the basis of civil law in the Byzantine Empire and later served as a model for legal codes in Western Europe, including Justinian’s Code.

Byzantine diplomacy and administrative structures left a lasting impact. Byzantine diplomacy involved intricate networks of alliances, negotiations, and diplomacy, which influenced subsequent European diplomatic practices. The Byzantine administrative system, with its hierarchical structure and efficient bureaucracy, set a standard for governance in the medieval world.

The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks had far-reaching consequences. It marked the end of the medieval period and the beginning of the Early Modern era. The influx of Byzantine scholars into Western Europe following the fall of Constantinople contributed to the dissemination of Byzantine knowledge and sparked intellectual and cultural changes that played a significant role in the Renaissance.

The Byzantine Empire’s military strategies, such as using fortified cities and naval power, influenced subsequent military tactics and technologies in Europe and the Mediterranean region.

Was Constantinople the Right Choice?
An interesting question is: In hindsight, could a better location have been chosen to establish the Eastern Roman Empire? Hindsight allows us to speculate on alternative possibilities, but it is challenging to definitively determine whether a better location could have been chosen to stabilize the Eastern Roman Empire. The selection of Constantinople as the new capital by Emperor Constantine I was based on various factors, including its strategic position, economic potential, and historical significance. At the time, it was considered a suitable choice considering the circumstances and the available options.

However, it is worth considering a few hypothetical scenarios:

  • Different Geographical Location: If the Byzantine Empire had chosen a different geographic location, such as a more inland area, it might have faced different challenges and opportunities. For example, a more centrally located capital might have provided advantages regarding internal cohesion, communication, and defence against external threats.
  • Stronger Fortifications: While Constantinople was already well fortified, investing even more in its defensive structures might have enhanced its resilience against future invasions. This could have potentially prolonged the empire’s existence or allowed it to withstand attacks more effectively.
  • Greater Emphasis on Naval Power: Given Constantinople’s maritime setting, placing a stronger emphasis on naval power could have provided the Byzantine Empire with additional strategic advantages. It might have facilitated greater control over key trade routes, protection against seaborne invasions, and the ability to project power across the Mediterranean.
  • Internal Reforms and Stability: Regardless of the location, internal reforms and efforts to address underlying challenges, such as political instability, economic decline, and social unrest, would have been crucial for the long-term stability of the Eastern Roman Empire. Focusing on governance, administration, and socioeconomic factors might have helped to strengthen the empire from within.

Citation: The Byzantine Empire” by oriana.italy is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

It is important to remember that historical outcomes are shaped by numerous complex factors, and altering one aspect may have created unintended consequences elsewhere. The Byzantine Empire faced significant external pressures and internal challenges throughout its existence, making it difficult to predict with certainty how a different location would have influenced its overall stability.

Summary, Review and Conclusion

The Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire, emerged as the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces. It faced numerous challenges throughout its existence, including invasions, territorial losses, political instability, economic decline, and conflicts with neighbouring powers. However, the Byzantines managed to maintain their traditions, language, and unique blend of influences, leaving a lasting impact on various aspects of history.

The decision to establish Constantinople as the new capital played a crucial role in the empire’s development and resilience. It offered strategic advantages, better defence capabilities, economic opportunities, and cultural continuity with the Roman Empire. The Byzantines achieved remarkable achievements under Emperor Justinian I, expanding their territory, reforming the legal system, and contributing to the flourishing of art and architecture.

Despite its challenges, the Byzantine Empire lasted for over a thousand years, exerting its influence on the Mediterranean region and beyond. Its legacy includes the preservation and transmission of ancient knowledge, the development and spread of Orthodox Christianity, the advancement of art and architecture, and the influence on legal systems, diplomatic practices, and military strategies.

Ultimately, the Byzantine Empire ended in 1453 when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. This event marked the end of an era and had significant implications, including the influx of Byzantine scholars into Western Europe, contributing to the Renaissance and the shaping of the modern world.

The Byzantine Empire stands as a testament to resilience, cultural richness, and enduring influence. Its impact on various aspects of history, coupled with the unique blend of Roman, Greek, and Eastern influences, makes it a fascinating subject of study and reflection.

Review and Conclusion
It is important to remember that the Byzantine Empire wasn’t “established” in the same way that a new nation or colony might be. The Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire was a direct continuation of the Roman Empire following its administrative rearrangement in the late 3rd and 4th centuries. However, the shift to the east and the establishment of a new capital at Byzantium (named Constantinople and now known as Istanbul) was a strategic and thoughtful move by Emperor Constantine I in 330 AD.

Location and Urban Planning
The site chosen for the new capital had a number of benefits. Byzantium was strategically located at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, and it had easy access to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean through the Bosporus strait. The city was also easily defensible with water on three sides and had fertile lands in the surrounding region.

Byzantium was a relatively small town when it was chosen to be the new capital. The city was laid out following the model of Rome, including a similar street system laid out in a grid pattern, baths, a hippodrome, palaces, and grand Christian churches such as the Hagia Sophia. It had a central forum, the Augustaion, surrounded by the major public buildings, and the imperial palace was located to the east of this square.

The city was divided into 14 regions and had grand walls for defense, which were later expanded and strengthened.

The city planning also included sophisticated infrastructure such as aqueducts, cisterns, and sewers. The Aqueduct of Valens, for example, was built to bring water from the hills west of the city to the city centre. The city’s cisterns, like the famous Basilica Cistern, were built to store and supply water throughout the city.

The city was famed for its architectural grandeur, reflected in structures such as the Hagia Sophia, an enormous cathedral with a large dome. The city’s water supply system was an engineering marvel, with aqueducts and reservoirs supplying the city, such as the Aqueduct of Valens and the Basilica Cistern.

Administration and Culture
In terms of administrative systems, the Eastern Roman Empire inherited the well-established structures of the Roman Empire. They had a centralised bureaucracy, a codified legal system, and an Emperor. Over time, as Greek influence increased, the court culture and administration took on a unique blend of Roman, Greek, and Christian elements. The Empire was divided into a series of provinces (thema), each governed by a military governor (strategos). The central government was a bureaucracy, managed by the Emperor and his appointed officials. It was highly centralised, with the emperor having the ultimate authority.

One of the major contributions of the Byzantine Empire was in the realm of law. The Corpus Juris Civilis (“Body of Civil Law”), compiled by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century was a significant legal achievement, compiling and codifying Roman law, becoming one of the foundational documents of Western law.

In terms of the military, the Byzantine Empire maintained and adapted the Roman military structure, including the legions. However, over time, they developed their own unique strategies, such as the use of Greek fire[22], and military units, like the Varangian Guard[23].

Religion was also a central part of Byzantine life, and the Eastern Orthodox Church played a prominent role in society. Constantine the Great, who founded Constantinople, was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. In Byzantium, Christianity was not just a religion – it was a component of the state, shaping the culture, politics, and even the system of governance. The Eastern Orthodox Church held significant influence, with the Patriarch of Constantinople being a major figure in the empire. The Church held significant influence over political and cultural affairs, and several Emperors attempted to use religious policy and theology to strengthen their rule and unify their territory.

Economic Systems
Economically, Constantinople was set up as a hub of trade due to its strategic location. Over time, it became one of the wealthiest cities in the world due to trade between Europe and Asia. It was also a centre of art and culture, attracting artists, scholars, and craftsmen from across the empire and beyond.

The Byzantine economy was a complex and thriving system, due in part to Constantinople’s prime position along key trade routes. It was a crucial hub for the silk trade, and its merchants conducted business across Europe, Asia, and North Africa. The solidus, the gold coin of the Byzantine Empire, was a de facto currency in the Mediterranean world. They also had a system of taxation based on land ownership.

These elements, combined with a powerful defensive position and complex diplomatic relationships, allowed the Eastern Roman Empire to survive for a millennium despite numerous challenges. Over this long period, there were numerous changes and adaptations in response to both internal and external pressures.

The Strategic Significance of Constantinople
The location of Byzantium (renamed Constantinople, modern Istanbul) was chosen by Emperor Constantine for its strategic significance. It was located at a critical junction between East and West, serving as a bridge between Europe and Asia, and also held control over the passage from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. This positioning gave the city a significant advantage in terms of trade and military strategy.

Military and Defence
The Byzantine military was a formidable force and a key to the empire’s longevity. Its strategy emphasised strong fortifications (like the Theodosian Walls around Constantinople), a well-organised bureaucracy for logistics, and the use of diplomacy to manage potential threats.

The foundations laid by Constantine and his successors created an empire that was culturally distinct yet a direct heir to the Roman Empire, capable of withstanding various challenges for more than a thousand years. This is not to say that the Byzantine Empire was static – indeed, it continually adapted to changing circumstances, making it a fascinating study of resilience and adaptability.

In the early years of the Byzantine Empire, the military was based on a citizen army model inherited from the later Roman Empire, where citizens were levied from each province for military service. Over time, this evolved into the thematic system where each thematic province provided soldiers in proportion to their land and wealth.

Additionally, there were also professional soldiers in the army, often serving in the imperial guard or other elite units. The Byzantine military was quite heterogeneous, and they also employed many mercenaries from various regions, including Slavs, Vikings (the Varangian Guard), and others.

Estimating the size of the Byzantine army is difficult due to the scarcity of accurate historical records, but it’s believed that it was typically around 100,000 to 150,000 men, although it could have been larger or smaller at certain times. The Byzantine military strategy focused less on the size of the army and more on the strategic deployment of troops, the building and maintenance of fortifications, and the use of diplomacy to manage potential threats.

Byzantine soldiers underwent rigorous training, and the military manuals from the period (like the Tactica of Emperor Leo VI) provide some insight into their training regimen. Soldiers were trained in various aspects of warfare, including archery, cavalry tactics, formation drills, and siege warfare.

The equipment of a Byzantine soldier would typically include a shield, spear, and a sword or other sidearm. Armour ranged from mail and scale armours for ordinary soldiers to lamellar and plate armour for the wealthier ones. Helmets were also common. Byzantine forces also made use of a variety of siege engines and naval ships.

As for housing, soldiers in the field would have set up camps much like their Roman predecessors. In the cities and forts, they would be housed in barracks. The provisioning of the Byzantine military was a significant logistical undertaking, involving the transportation of food, equipment, and other supplies to the troops. The annona militaris was the military’s supply system, responsible for the provision of food, while a separate administration handled the supply of arms and equipment.

Initially, soldiers were paid a salary, but as the empire evolved into the thematic system, soldiers were given a grant of land in return for military service. This was not only a form of payment but also served as a means of ensuring their loyalty and incentivising them to protect the Empire, as they were directly defending their own lands.

Citation: Late Roman soldiers, probably barbarians, as depicted (back row) by bas-relief on the base of Theodosius I‘s obelisk in Constantinople (c. 390). The troops belong to a regiment of palatini as they are here detailed to guard the emperor (left). More than third of soldiers in the palatini were barbarian-born by this time. Note the necklaces with regimental pendants and the long hair, a style imported by barbarian recruits, in contrast to the short hair that was the norm in the Principate.
Attribution: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro
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Sources and Further Reading


CAUTION: This paper is compiled from the sources stated but has not been externally reviewed. Parts of this paper include information provided via artificial intelligence which, although checked by the author, is not always accurate or reliable. Neither we nor any third parties provide any warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness or suitability of the information and materials covered in this paper for any particular purpose. Such information and materials may contain inaccuracies or errors and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. Your use of any information or materials on this website is entirely at your own risk, for which we shall not be liable. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this paper meet your specific requirements and you should neither take action nor exercise inaction without taking appropriate professional advice. The hyperlinks were current at the date of publication.

End Notes and Explanations

  1. Source: Compiled from research using information at the sources stated throughout the text, together with information provided by machine-generated artificial intelligence at: [chat] and
  2. Explanation: Constantine I (Latin: Flavius Valerius Constantinus) (27 February c. 272 – 22 May 337), also known as Constantine the Great, was Roman Emperor from AD 306 to 337. He was the first emperor to convert to Christianity. Born in Naissus, Dacia Mediterranea (now Niš, Serbia), he was the son of Flavius Constantius, a Roman army officer of Illyrian origin who had been one of the four rulers of the Tetrarchy. His mother, Helena, was a Greek woman of low birth and a Christian. Later canonised as a saint, she is traditionally attributed with the conversion of her son. Constantine served with distinction under the Roman emperors Diocletian and Galerius. He began his career by campaigning in the eastern provinces (against the Persians) before being recalled in the west (in AD 305) to fight alongside his father in the province of Britannia. After his father’s death in 306, Constantine was acclaimed as imperator by his army at Eboracum (York, England). He eventually emerged victorious in the civil wars against emperors Maxentius and Licinius to become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire by 324. Upon his ascension to emperor, Constantine enacted numerous reforms to strengthen the empire. He restructured the government, separating civil and military authorities. To combat inflation, he introduced the solidus, a new gold coin that became the standard for Byzantine and European currencies for more than a thousand years. The Roman army was reorganised to consist of mobile units (comitatenses) and garrison troops (limitanei) which were capable of countering internal threats and barbarian invasions. Constantine pursued successful campaigns against the tribes on the Roman frontiers—such as the Franks, the Alemanni, the Goths and the Sarmatians—and resettled territories abandoned by his predecessors during the Crisis of the Third Century with citizens of Roman culture. Source:
  3. Explanation: Following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the late 5th century, Constantinople remained the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire; 330–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922). Following the Turkish War of Independence, the Turkish capital then moved to Ankara. Officially renamed Istanbul in 1930, the city is today the largest city and financial centre of the Republic of Turkey. It is also the largest city in Europe. Byzantium took on the name of Kōnstantinoupolis (“city of Constantine”, Constantinople) after its refoundation under Roman emperor Constantine I, who transferred the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium in 330 AD and designated his new capital officially as Nova Roma (Νέα Ῥώμη) ‘New Rome’. During this time, the city was also called ‘Second Rome’, ‘Eastern Rome’, and Roma Constantinopolitana (Latin for “Constantinople Rome”). As the city became the sole remaining capital of the Roman Empire after the fall of the West, and its wealth, population, and influence grew, the city also came to have a multitude of nicknames. As the largest and wealthiest city in Europe during the 4th to 13th centuries AD and a centre of culture and education of the Mediterranean basin, Constantinople came to be known by prestigious titles such as Basileuousa (Queen of Cities) and Megalopolis (the Great City) and was, in colloquial speech, commonly referred to as just Polis ‘the City’ by Constantinopolitans and provincial Byzantines alike. Source:
  4. Explanation: Justinian I (482 – 14 November 565), also known as Justinian the Great, was the Eastern Roman Emperor from 527 to 565. His reign is marked by the ambitious but only partly realised renovatio imperii, or “restoration of the Empire”.This ambition was expressed by the partial recovery of the territories of the defunct Western Roman Empire. His general, Belisarius, swiftly conquered the Vandal Kingdom in North Africa. Subsequently, Belisarius, Narses, and other generals conquered the Ostrogothic kingdom, restoring Dalmatia, Sicily, Italy, and Rome to the empire after more than half a century of rule by the Ostrogoths. The praetorian prefect Liberius reclaimed the south of the Iberian peninsula, establishing the province of Spania. These campaigns re-established Roman control over the western Mediterranean, increasing the Empire’s annual revenue by over a million solidi. During his reign, Justinian also subdued the Tzani, a people on the east coast of the Black Sea who had never been under Roman rule before. He engaged the Sasanian Empire in the east during Kavad I‘s reign, and later again during Khosrow I‘s reign; this second conflict was partially initiated due to his ambitions in the west. A still more resonant aspect of his legacy was the uniform rewriting of Roman law, the Corpus Juris Civilis, which is still the basis of civil law in many modern states. His reign also marked a blossoming of Eastern Roman (Byzantine) culture, and his building program yielded works such as the Hagia Sophia. Source:
  5. Explanation: Hagia Sophia (lit. ‘Holy Wisdom‘; RomanizedHagía SophíaLatinSancta Sapientia), officially the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque (TurkishAyasofya Camii), is a mosque and major cultural and historical site in IstanbulTurkey. The building was erected three times by the Eastern Roman Empire. The present Hagia Sophia is the third, built in 537 AD. Although its title was accepted as an orthodox church, a mosque, a museum and then a mosque again, the building carried the title of Catholic cathedral for a long time after the fourth crusade. In other words, after the construction of the Orthodox Church, then the Catholic Cathedral, then the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul on 29th May 1453, it was converted into a mosque; after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, it became a museum in 1935, then a mosque again in 2020. The current structure was built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I as the Christian cathedral of Constantinople for the Byzantine Empire between 532 and 537, and was designed by the Greek geometers Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles. It was formally called the Church of the Holy Wisdom and upon completion became the world’s largest interior space and among the first to employ a fully pendentive dome (In architecture, a pendentive is a constructional device permitting the placing of a circular dome over a square room or of an elliptical dome over a rectangular room). It is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have “changed the history of architecture”. The present Justinianic building was the third church of the same name to occupy the site, as the prior one had been destroyed in the Nika riots. As the episcopal see of the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, it remained the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. Beginning with subsequent Byzantine architecture, Hagia Sophia became the paradigmatic (serving as a typical example of) Orthodox church form, and its architectural style was emulated by Ottoman mosques a thousand years later. Source:
  6. Explanation: The Sasanian Empire, officially known as Eranshahr (“Land/Empire of the Iranians”) was the last Iranian empire before the early Muslim conquests of the 7th to 8th centuries AD. Named after the House of Sasan, it endured for over four centuries, from 224 to 651 AD, making it the longest-lived Persian imperial dynasty. The Sasanian Empire succeeded the Parthian Empire, and re-established the Persians as a major power in late antiquity alongside its neighbouring arch-rival, the Roman Empire (after 395 the Byzantine Empire). The empire was founded by Ardashir I, an Iranian ruler who rose to power as Parthia weakened from internal strife and wars with the Romans. After defeating the last Parthian shahanshah, Artabanus IV, at the Battle of Hormozdgan in 224 AD, he established the Sasanian dynasty and set out to restore the legacy of the Achaemenid Empire by expanding Iran’s dominions. At its greatest territorial extent, the Sasanian Empire encompassed all of present-day Iran and Iraq, and stretched from the eastern Mediterranean (including Anatolia and Egypt) to parts of modern-day Pakistan as well as from parts of southern Arabia to the Caucasus and Central Asia. According to legend, the vexilloid[b] of the Sasanian Empire was the Derafsh Kaviani. The period of Sasanian rule is considered to be a high point in Iranian history and in many ways was the peak of ancient Iranian culture before the conquest by Arab Muslims under the Rashidun Caliphate and subsequent Islamization of Iran. The Sasanians tolerated the varied faiths and cultures of their subjects, developed a complex and centralized government bureaucracy, and revitalised Zoroastrianism as a legitimising and unifying force of their rule. They also built grand monuments, public works, and patronized cultural and educational institutions. The empire’s cultural influence extended far beyond its territorial borders—including Western Europe, Africa, China, and India—and helped shape European and Asian medieval art. Persian culture became the basis for much of Islamic culture, influencing art, architecture, music, literature, and philosophy throughout the Muslim world. Source:
  7. Explanation: A caliphate or khilāfah is an institution or public office under the leadership of an Islamic steward with the title of Caliph, a person considered a political-religious successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad and a leader of the entire Muslim world (ummah). Historically, the caliphates were polities based on Islam which developed into multi-ethnic trans-national empires. During the medieval period, three major caliphates succeeded each other: the Rashidun Caliphate (632–661), the Umayyad Caliphate (661–750), and the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258). In the fourth major caliphate, the Ottoman Caliphate, the rulers of the Ottoman Empire claimed caliphal authority from 1517. Throughout the history of Islam, a few other Muslim states, almost all hereditary monarchies such as the Mamluk Sultanate (Cairo) and Ayyubid Caliphate, have claimed to be caliphates. The first caliphate, the Rashidun Caliphate, was established in 632 immediately after Muhammad’s death. It was followed by the Umayyad Caliphate and the Abbasid Caliphate. The last caliphate, the Ottoman Caliphate, existed until it was abolished in 1924 by the Turkish Republic. Not all Muslim states have had caliphates, and only a minority of Muslims recognise any particular Caliph as legitimate in the first place. The Sunni branch of Islam stipulates that, as a head of state, a caliph should be elected by Muslims or their representatives. Followers of Shia Islam, however, believe a Caliph should be an Imam chosen by God from the Ahl al-Bayt (the “Household of the Prophet”). Source:
  8. Explanation: Mehmed II (30 March 1432 – 3 May 1481), commonly known as Mehmed the Conqueror (‘the Father of Conquest’), was an Ottoman sultan who ruled from August 1444 to September 1446, and then later from February 1451 to May 1481. In Mehmed II’s first reign, he defeated the crusade led by John Hunyadi after the Hungarian incursions into his country broke the conditions of the truce Peace of Szeged. When Mehmed II ascended the throne again in 1451, he strengthened the Ottoman navy and made preparations to attack Constantinople. At the age of 21, he conquered Constantinople and brought an end to the Byzantine Empire. After the conquest, Mehmed claimed the title Caesar of the Roman Empire, based on the fact that Constantinople had been the seat and capital of the surviving Eastern Roman Empire since its consecration in 330 AD by Emperor Constantine I. The claim was only recognised by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Nonetheless, Mehmed II viewed the Ottoman state as a continuation of the Roman Empire for the remainder of his life, seeing himself as “continuing” the Empire rather than “replacing” it. Mehmed continued his conquests in Anatolia with its reunification and in Southeast Europe as far west as Bosnia. At home he made many political and social reforms, encouraged the arts and sciences, and by the end of his reign, his rebuilding program had changed Constantinople into a thriving imperial capital. He is considered a hero in modern-day Turkey and parts of the wider Muslim world. Among other things, Istanbul’s Fatih district, Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge and Fatih Mosque are named after him. Source:
  9. Explanation: In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period (also spelled mediæval or mediaeval) lasted approximately from the late 5th to the late 15th centuries, similar to the post-classical period of global history. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and transitioned into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the three traditional divisions of Western history: classical antiquity, the medieval period, and the modern period. The medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages. Source:
  10. Explanation: The Renaissance is a period in European history marking the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity and covering the 15th and 16th centuries, characterised by an effort to revive and surpass ideas and achievements of classical antiquity. It occurred after the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages and was associated with great social change. In addition to the standard periodisation, proponents of a “long Renaissance” may put its beginning in the 14th century and its end in the 17th century. Source:
  11. Explanation: The Visigoths were a Germanic people united under the rule of a king, and living within the Roman Empire during late antiquity. The Visigoths first appeared in the Balkans, as a Roman-allied barbarian military group united under the command of Alaric I. Their exact origins are believed to have been diverse but they probably included many descendants of the Thervingi who had moved into the Roman Empire beginning in 376 and had played a major role in defeating the Romans at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. Relations between the Romans and Alaric’s Visigoths varied, with the two groups making treaties when convenient, and warring with one another when not. Under Alaric, the Visigoths invaded Italy and sacked Rome in August 410.

    The Visigoths were subsequently settled in southern Gaul as foederati to the Romans, a relationship that was established in 418. This developed as an independent kingdom with its capital at Toulouse, and they extended their authority into Hispania at the expense of the Suebi and Vandals who had taken control of large swathes of Roman territory. In 507, Visigothic rule in Gaul was ended by the Franks under Clovis I, who defeated them in the Battle of Vouillé. Source:

  12. Explanation: The Vandals were a Germanic people who first inhabited what is now southern Poland. They established Vandal kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula, Mediterranean islands, and North Africa in the fifth century. The Vandals migrated to the area between the lower Oder and Vistula rivers in the second century BC and settled in Silesia from around 120 BC. They are associated with the Przeworsk culture and were possibly the same people as the Lugii. Expanding into Dacia during the Marcomannic Wars and to Pannonia during the Crisis of the Third Century, the Vandals were confined to Pannonia by the Goths around 330 AD, where they received permission to settle from Constantine the Great. Around 400, raids by the Huns from the east forced many Germanic tribes to migrate west into the territory of the Roman Empire and, fearing that they might be targeted next, the Vandals were also pushed westwards, crossing the Rhine into Gaul along with other tribes in 406. In 409, the Vandals crossed the Pyrenees into the Iberian Peninsula, where the Hasdingi and the Silingi settled in Gallaecia (northwest Iberia) and Baetica (south-central Iberia). On the orders of the Romans, the Visigoths invaded Iberia in 418. They almost wiped out the Alans and Silingi Vandals who voluntarily subjected themselves to the rule of Hasdingian leader Gunderic. Gunderic was then pushed from Gallaecia to Baetica by a Roman-Suebi coalition in 419. In 429, under king Genseric (reigned 428–477), the Vandals entered North Africa. By 439 they established a kingdom which included the Roman province of Africa as well as Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, Malta and the Balearic Islands. They fended off several Roman attempts to recapture the African province, and sacked the city of Rome in 455. Their kingdom collapsed in the Vandalic War of 533–34, in which Emperor Justinian I‘s forces reconquered the province for the Eastern Roman Empire. As the Vandals plundered Rome for fourteen days, Renaissance and early-modern writers characterized the Vandals as prototypical barbarians. This led to the use of the term “vandalism” to describe any pointless destruction, particularly the “barbarian” defacing of artwork. However, some modern historians have emphasised the role of Vandals as continuators of aspects of Roman culture, in the transitional period from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages. Source:
  13. Explanation: The Ostrogoths (Latin: Ostrogothi, Austrogothi) were a Roman-era Germanic people. In the 5th century, they followed the Visigoths in creating one of the two great Gothic kingdoms within the Roman Empire, based upon the large Gothic populations who had settled in the Balkans in the 4th century, having crossed the Lower Danube. While the Visigoths had formed under the leadership of Alaric I, the new Ostrogothic political entity which came to rule Italy was formed in the Balkans under the influence of the Amal dynasty, the family of Theodoric the Great. After the death of Attila and collapse of the Hunnic empire represented by the Battle of Nedao in 453, the Amal family began to form their kingdom in Pannonia. Byzantine Emperor Zeno played these Pannonian Goths off against the Thracian Goths, but instead the two groups united after the death of the Thracian leader Theoderic Strabo and his son Recitach. Zeno then backed Theodoric to invade Italy and replace Odoacer there, whom he had previously supported as its king. In 493, Theodoric established the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy, when he defeated Odoacer’s forces and killed his rival at a banquet. Following the death of Theodoric, there was a period of instability, eventually tempting the Byzantine Emperor Justinian to declare war on the Ostrogoths in 535, in an effort to restore the former western provinces of the Roman Empire. Initially, the Byzantines were successful, but under the leadership of Totila, the Goths reconquered most of the lost territory until Totila’s death at the Battle of Taginae. The war lasted almost 21 years and caused enormous damage across Italy, reducing the population of the peninsula. Any remaining Ostrogoths in Italy were absorbed into the Lombards, who established a kingdom in Italy in 568. Source:
  14. Explanation: The Huns were a nomadic people who lived in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe between the 4th and 6th century AD. According to European tradition, they were first reported living east of the Volga River, in an area that was part of Scythia at the time; the Huns’ arrival to Europe is associated with the migration westward of an Iranian people, the Alans. By 370 AD, the Huns had arrived on the Volga, and by 430, they had established a vast, if short-lived, dominion in Europe, conquering the Goths and many other Germanic peoples living outside of Roman borders and causing many others to flee into Roman territory. The Huns, especially under their King Attila, made frequent and devastating raids into the Eastern Roman Empire. In 451, they invaded the Western Roman province of Gaul, where they fought a combined army of Romans and Visigoths at the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields, and in 452, they invaded Italy. After the death of Attila in 453, the Huns ceased to be a major threat to Rome and lost much of their empire following the Battle of Nedao (c. 454). Descendants of the Huns, or successors with similar names, are recorded by neighboring populations to the south, east, and west as having occupied parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia from about the 4th to 6th centuries. Variants of the Hun name are recorded in the Caucasus until the early 8th century. Source:
  15. Explanation: Diocletian (Latin: Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus), nicknamed “Jovius”, was Roman emperor from 284 until his abdication in 305. He was born Diocles to a family of low status in the Roman province of Dalmatia. Diocles rose through the ranks of the military early in his career, eventually becoming a cavalry commander for the army of Emperor Carus. After the deaths of Carus and his son Numerian on a campaign in Persia, Diocles was proclaimed emperor by the troops, taking the name Diocletianus. The title was also claimed by Carus’s surviving son, Carinus, but Diocletian defeated him in the Battle of the Margus. Diocletian’s reign stabilised the empire and ended the Crisis of the Third Century. He appointed fellow officer Maximian as Augustus, co-emperor, in 286. Diocletian reigned in the Eastern Empire, and Maximian reigned in the Western Empire. Diocletian delegated further on 1 March 293, appointing Galerius and Constantius as junior colleagues (each with the title Caesar), under himself and Maximian respectively. Under the Tetrarchy, or “rule of four”, each tetrarch would rule over a quarter-division of the empire. Diocletian secured the empire’s borders and purged it of all threats to his power. He defeated the Sarmatians and Carpi during several campaigns between 285 and 299, the Alamanni in 288, and usurpers in Egypt between 297 and 298. Galerius, aided by Diocletian, campaigned successfully against Sassanid Persia, the empire’s traditional enemy. In 299, he sacked their capital, Ctesiphon. Diocletian led the subsequent negotiations and achieved a lasting and favorable peace. Source:
  16. Explanation: The Bosporus Strait or Bosphorus Strait is a natural strait and an internationally significant waterway located in Istanbul in northwestern Turkey. It forms part of the continental boundary between Asia and Europe, and divides Turkey by separating Anatolia from Thrace. Source:
  17. Explanation: Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome, including the legal developments spanning over a thousand years of jurisprudence, from the Twelve Tables (c. 449 BC), to the Corpus Juris Civilis (AD 529) ordered by Eastern Roman emperor Justinian I. Roman law forms the basic framework for civil law, the most widely used legal system today, and the terms are sometimes used synonymously. The historical importance of Roman law is reflected by the continued use of Latin legal terminology in many legal systems influenced by it, including common law. After the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire, the Roman law remained in effect in the Eastern Roman Empire. From the 7th century onward, the legal language in the East was Greek. Roman law also denoted the legal system applied in most of Western Europe until the end of the 18th century. In Germany, Roman law practice remained in place longer under the Holy Roman Empire (963–1806). Roman law thus served as a basis for legal practice throughout Western continental Europe, as well as in most former colonies of these European nations, including Latin America, and also in Ethiopia. English and Anglo-American common law were influenced also by Roman law, notably in their Latinate legal glossary (for example, stare decisis, culpa in contrahendo, pacta sunt servanda).[1] Eastern Europe was also influenced by the jurisprudence of the Corpus Juris Civilis, especially in countries such as medieval Romania (Wallachia, Moldavia, and some other medieval provinces/historical regions) which created a new system, a mixture of Roman and local law. Also, Eastern European law was influenced by the “Farmer’s Law” of the medieval Byzantine legal system. Source and further information:
  18. Explanation: The Corpus Juris (or Iuris) Civilis (“Body of Civil Law”) is the modern name for a collection of fundamental works in jurisprudence, issued from 529 to 534 by order of Justinian I, Byzantine Emperor. It is also sometimes referred to metonymically after one of its parts, the Code of Justinian. The work as planned had three parts: the Code (Codex) is a compilation, by selection and extraction, of imperial enactments to date; the Digest or Pandects (the Latin title contains both Digesta and Pandectae) is an encyclopedia composed of mostly brief extracts from the writings of Roman jurists; and the Institutes (Institutiones) is a student textbook, mainly introducing the Code, although it has important conceptual elements that are less developed in the Code or the Digest.[2] All three parts, even the textbook, were given force of law. They were intended to be, together, the sole source of law; reference to any other source, including the original texts from which the Code and the Digest had been taken, was forbidden. Nonetheless, Justinian found himself having to enact further laws; today these are counted as a fourth part of the Corpus, the Novellae Constitutiones (Novels, literally New Laws). Source:
  19. Explanation: The Macedonian dynasty ruled the Byzantine Empire from 867 to 1056, following the Amorian dynasty. During this period, the Byzantine state reached its greatest extent since the Muslim conquests, and the Macedonian Renaissance in letters and arts began. The dynasty was named after its founder, Basil I the Macedonian who came from the theme of Macedonia, which, at the time, was part of Bulgaria. The dynasty’s ethnic origin is unknown, and has been a subject of debate. During Basil’s reign, an elaborate genealogy was produced that purported that his ancestors were not mere peasants, as everyone believed, but descendants of the Arsacid (Arshakuni) kings of Armenia, Alexander the Great and also of Constantine the Great. Some Persian writers such as Hamza al-Isfahani or Al-Tabari, called Basil a Saqlabi, an ethnogeographic term that usually denoted the Slavs, but it can be interpreted as a generic term encompassing the inhabitants of the region between Constantinople and Bulgaria. Thus, claims have been made for the dynasty’s founder (Basil I) being of Armenian, Slavonic, or “Armeno-Slavonic” descent from his paternal side. The name of his mother points to a Greek origin on the maternal side.The author of the only dedicated biography of Basil I in English has concluded that it is impossible to be certain what the ethnic origins of the emperor were, though Basil was definitely reliant on the support of Armenians in prominent positions within the Byzantine Empire. Source:
  20. Source: Michelis 1946Weitzmann 1981. Cited at:
  21. Source: Kitzinger, Ernst (1977) pp. 1‒3, Byzantine Art in the Making: Main Lines of Stylistic Development in Mediterranean Art, 3rd‒7th Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0571111541. Cited at:
  22. Explanation: Greek fire was an incendiary weapon used by the Eastern Roman Empire beginning AD 672. Used to set enemy ships on fire, it consisted of a combustible compound emitted by a flame-throwing weapon. Some historians said it could be ignited on contact with water, and was probably based on naphtha and quicklime. Source:
  23. Explanation: The Varangian Guard was an elite unit of the Byzantine Army from the 10th to the 14th entury who served as personal bodyguards to the Byzantine emperors. The Varangian Guard was known for being primarily composed of recruits from northern Europe, including mainly Norsemen from Scandinavia but also Anglo-Saxons from England. The recruitment of distant foreigners from outside Byzantium to serve as the emperor’s personal guard was pursued as a deliberate policy, as they lacked local political loyalties and could be counted upon to suppress revolts by disloyal Byzantine factions. Source:

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