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Byzantine Empire

Nation Building - Byzantine Empire The Byzantine Empire rose in the Medieval Era due to the triumphs of the well-known emperor, Constantine. During the time of Rome’s decline, the empire was split between four emperors, Constantine being one of them. And one by one Constantine eliminated his competition and defeated the other three, making himself the sole emperor. Here the Byzantine Empire begins

Before Constantine could build a government for his empire he needed a home for his government. One of the biggest reforms that he did to build his nation was creating the capital city. Once he moved the capital from Nicomedia to Constantinople, the nation building could begin. This step was a big deal in starting a new empire and it was the base and even the home to what was eventually going to become the Byzantine Empire.

Government: Constantine shaped and built his empire around the foundations of a monarchy and an aristocracy. He made himself sole ruler of the empire with other officials underneath him. Constantine had many advisers or courtiers to assist him. Within the courtiers were classes they could be ranked into. Courtiers with little administrative duties were known as comes and together they made a high class of patricians. Other courtiers were ranked within, where senior graded courtiers were ranked highly. A Senate was also created under Constantine, although it had a very scarce influence on the empire and had little power. Constantine also had a cabinet or sacrum consistorium. The name comes from the verb consistere meaning “to stand.” The emperor presided at its meetings that it was necessary for all members and those attending to remain standing. The cabinet had a chairman, the quaestor sacri palatii, and a small number of regular members.[2] Under Alexius I, the empire’s aristocracy really flourished with new official titles that were established beneath the emperor. The emperor was the top level of course and under him were despotes, sebastokrators and kaisars or Caesar to rule lesser portions of the empire. These titles were normally given to the royal family and they were each distinguished by different wardrobe and accessories, such as their crown.



In 527, Justinian was given the role of co-emperor to his uncle, Justin, and when he died, Justinian took over. Justinian’s reign changed the lives of the citizens of the empire he was known to have taken the idea of totalitarianism to the extreme, almost becoming a dictator. Justinian firmly believed that he was chosen by God to rule and governed the empire by his way only and disregarded any opposition. This harsh rule that Justinian demonstrated angered many citizens and become the cause of the Nika Revolt in 532.

The military in the Byzantine Empire was extremely important. It protected the society from intruders and allowed the empire to grow. The Byzantine army was one of the most helping armies towards an Empire during the time of the Middle Ages.[4] During the Byzantine Empire there were a couple different types of units of troops that were a part of the Army. There were the Kataphraktoi's who were the troops that were not scared to fight and wore a lot of armor that had protected there whole bodies. There were the Cavalry who mostly fought on flat ground, were equipped with many weapons such as swords and bows.

There were also the Infantry and the Pronoiars. The Infantry were basically regular soldiers, they wore some armor had shields and were equipped with swords and spears. And the Pronoiars were basically knights and they were paid to fight. But they were paid in land not money.[5] There military had many types of weapons, from spears to long blades. [6] There were a few key people from their military and they were Justinian, Diocletian and Constantine. Justinian was the most important ruling from 527 – 565. He had accomplished many things throughout his ruling and had won many wars. During his ruling he led his military to a very long war with the Persians, he had won many battles but he had also lost some. Throughout this war he had conquered many lands in the Western part of the Mediterranean and destroyed much of the kingdoms such as the Visigothic and the Vandals. After the war with the Persians was over, Justinian had paid the Persians for peace, “bought there peace.” Shortly after Justinian had died in the year of 565 and the Persians began to occupy some of the Byzantine empire.

Economics: The economic success of the Byzantine Empire, which lasted approximately 1000 years, was guaranteed by its geographical location. Constantinople, its capital, was located not just between the juncture of two continents, Europe and Asia, but also at the beginning of trade routes to civilizations and cultures in every direction.[8] At the time that the Roman Emperor Constantine founded Constantinople in 330 A.D., the Roman Empire was beginning to wane. Within the next couple hundred years, barbarian invasions on the Roman Empire caused a shift of power to the East, which helped form a new center for trade. The book Byzantium Greatness and Decline, describes how the centralized location and many ports of Byzantium allowed it to prosper through trade. “Bustling trade routes, in the Balkan Peninsula and the routes from Constantinople and Thessalonica followed the rivers of Thrace and Macedonia towards the Danube Valley. On the Black Sea there were ports, that led to many river valleys.” The fact that they could trade in every direction, even to Africa, China and India, opened doors for them to every great trade route.

The Emperor Justinian, who reigned from 518 to 565 A.D., expanded trade possibilities when he reconquered Africa and many areas of Europe. Byzantium was in control of the Syrian ports where caravans brought silk from China, enameled glass, fabrics, embroidery, fine jewelry, coral, amber, jade and wine. They traded with the Russians, who provided animal pelts, caviar and wheat. The Byzantine empire offered a variety of jobs such as craftsmen, goldsmiths, leatherworkers, wax-chandlers, bakers, and animal traders.

The Byzantine coin, called the Besant, was the worldwide currency of its era; which was used everywhere from India to Spain.

The Great Church of Hagia Sophia, which was restored during Justinian’s reign, brought tourists, attention and trading to the empire, which boosted the economy.[9]

The economy within the Byzantine Empire was quite different depending on the region, because each region achieved money in their own unique way based on the resources available in that geographic area. Because the economy was continuously changing, people had a tendency to move from province to province in search of the most affluent area.[10]

Social disorder in the population gave an individual the opportunity to move into another class, if they were fortunate enough. The most reputable city in the empire, Constantinople, pushed the ideas of urban growth and the exploitation of agriculture. Towns which had roads that lead to the famous city prospered, while other towns became neglected and some even vanished. Maintenance of the army, continuous warfare, the luxury of the court, and the construction of new buildings was extremely expensive. In order to manage these costs, they needed a tax system which funded the growing Empire. Taxation was modeled after the Roman system.

A governor, or Strategus,was elected by the Emperor to rule an individual province. The Strategus was in charge of local troops and local government, as well as organization of the justice system and control of all finances. By the Seventh century, the Empire had exhausted its financial and military strength, making it vulnerable to the Persians and the Arabs who sought to invade the region. Crisis overtook the region in between 610 and 717 which almost ended the Byzantine Empire.

Up until this time, the Empire had modeled itself after the Roman Empire, but from this point, Byzantium was about to have its own character, based more on Eastern influence, Christianity, and the Greek language rather than Latin. Once the Western influence of the Empire ended, the region could become stronger and better organized, allowing the economy to thrive again, due, in large part, to its perfectly centralized location.[11]

Population: On February 13, 528, Justinian appointed ten men to revise the Roman laws to become the Justinianic Code. These laws would be the basis of the Byzantine government. [12] In the Byzantine Empire, the emperor was the absolute ruler. He reigned until he was no longer able to. The people of the Byzantine Empire believed that God chose the Emperor. The Empire was cut into sections called themes. Each theme was self-governed by Strategos (military rulers), following the rules of the empire. [13] A healthy government could only be maintained if the people were loyal. During times of war the Empire counted on the people to fight. The government also depended on people to pay their taxes. The people needed to participate in the economy for it to work. All Byzantine people complained about taxation, especially the peasants. A large peasant class was vital to the society. Women were very important in the empire, too. They ran businesses, participated in the church as nuns, and occasionally engaged in political affairs.[14] Prevention of Rebellious Groups: In any society there will always be unrest. It is the natural tendency of people to want more or to think they know better.

During the beginnings of Byzantine Empire there were many different groups who believed they could rule better than Justinian. Justinian however, was a clever ruler and managed to suppress rebellious groups with wit. [15] His wife, Theodora, was equally impressive. Together they used their smarts and devotion to the Empire to keep it under control throughout the reign of Justinian. A famous uproar was the Nika Riots. On December 13, 532, the dissatisfied people of the Byzantine Empire began attacking much of the city. They split into two groups called the Blues and the Greens and chanted the word Nika, meaning conquer.



The senators saw this as an opportunity to overthrow Justinian and to declare a new emperor, Hypatius, who was a Green. It looked as if there was nothing left for Justinian to do but run. An escape route across the sea lay open for him. Theodora however, would not go down without a fight. She said, “Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss. Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as empress”. Justinian rallied himself for his wife and for his empire. He created a plan. [16] Justinian gave a bag of gold to one of his generals, Narses, and instructed him to go directly to the Blues. Narses did what he was told and reminded the Blues that Justinian supported them over the Greens and that the new Emperor, Hypatius, would favor the Greens. The Blues spoke among themselves and to their followers. Then, in the middle of Hypatius's coronation, the Blues stormed out. Justinian had his generals Belisarius and Mundus lead the Imperial Troops, who then continued to kill the remaining Green Rebels. Thirty thousand Green rioters were reportedly killed, including Hypatius and the senators who went against him. Justinian went on to rebuild the city of Constantinople. This is just one example among many of the riots that occurred. Although none of the riots amounted to anything of this magnitude ever again while Justinian was the Emperor.[17]

National Identity: The Byzantine Empire contained many different cultures and languages. Much of its culture had Greek (Hellenistic) origins whereas its government was based off the Romans. At times the different cultural beliefs caused turmoil in the Empire, but eventually the people began to unify, especially in times of need. Christianity was common ground among the people and worked as the glue during the early Byzantine Empire. Philosophy, art, and literature also helped to bring the people together. Eventually the Byzantine Empire became the powerhouse of the Middle Ages. The creation of a national identity in the Byzantine Empire outlasted any military conquests. In the present day we still cannot do what Justinian did. He unified an empire. Many diverse groups and even enemies developed a culture of their own.[18]

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