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The Byzantine Empire (or Byzantium) was the predominantly Greek-speakingeastern Roman Empire of the Middle Ages, centered around its capital ofConstantinople, and ruled by emperors in direct succession to the ancient Roman emperors. It was called the Roman Empire and also Romania (Greek: Ῥωμανία,Rhōmanía) by its inhabitants and neighbours. As the distinction between “Roman Empire” and “Byzantine Empire” is largely a modern convention, it is not possible to assign a date of separation, but an important point is Emperor Constantine I’stransfer in 324 of the capital from Nicomedia (in Anatolia) to Byzantium on theBosphorus, which became Constantinople (alternatively “New Rome“).
During its existence of more than a thousand years, the Empire remained one of the most powerful economic, cultural, and military forces in Europe, despite setbacks and territorial losses, especially during the Roman–Persian and Byzantine–Arab Wars. The Empire recovered during the Macedonian dynasty, rising again to become a pre-eminent power in the Eastern Mediterranean by the late tenth century, rivaling the Fatimid Caliphate. After 1071, however, much of Asia Minor, the Empire’s heartland, was lost to the Seljuk Turks. The Komnenian restoration regained some ground and briefly re-established dominance in the twelfth century, but following the death of Andronikos I Komnenos and the end of the Komnenos dynasty in the late twelfth century the Empire declined again.
The Emperor Constantine (c274 – 306 – 337 (63)), founder of the Eastern Roman Empire based on the small Greek colony and port town of Byzantium, which he called New Rome but which quickly became known as Constantinople.
Constantine is shown on the left in Gold (3.4 cm diameter), above left with his mother Helen (Santa Helena – searcher for the True Cross in Jerusalem and Patron Saint of archaeologists) (Icon in the Byzantine Museum, Athens, copy in Casa Paradox), and (above) in a marble head, the surviving piece of a several meters high colossal statue of Constantine as Cosmocrator (Museo Conservatori, Rome). http://www.paradoxplace.com/Insights/Topkapi/Byzantine%20Constantinople.htm
The Empire received a mortal blow in 1204 by the Fourth Crusade, when it was dissolved and divided into competing Byzantine Greek and Latin realms. Despite the eventual recovery of Constantinople and re-establishment of the Empire in 1261, under the Palaiologan emperors, successive civil wars in the fourteenth century further sapped the Empire’s strength. Most of its remaining territory was lost in the Byzantine–Ottoman Wars, culminating in the Fall of Constantinople and its remaining territories to the Muslim Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth century.
For more details on this topic, see Names of the Greeks.
The designation of the Empire as “Byzantine” began in Western Europe in 1557, when German historian Hieronymus Wolf published his work Corpus Historiæ Byzantinæ, a collection of Byzantine sources. “Byzantine” itself comes from “Byzantium” (a Greek city, founded by colonists from Megara in 667 BC), the name of the city of Constantinople before it became the capital of Constantine. This older name of the city would rarely be used from this point onward except in historical or poetic contexts. The publication in 1648 of the Byzantine du Louvre (Corpus Scriptorum Historiæ Byzantinæ), and in 1680 of Du Cange‘s Historia Byzantinafurther popularized the use of Byzantine among French authors, such asMontesquieu. The term then disappears until the nineteenth century when it came into general use in the Western world. Before this time, Greek had been used for the Empire and its descendants within the Ottoman Empire.
The Empire was known to its inhabitants as the Roman Empire, the Empire of the Romans (Latin: Imperium Romanum, Imperium Romanorum, Greek: Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn, Αρχη τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Arche tôn Rhōmaíōn),Romania(Latin: Romania, Greek: Ῥωμανία, Rhōmanía), the Roman Republic(Latin: Res Publica Romana, Greek: Πολιτεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Politeίa tôn Rhōmaíōn),Graikía (Greek: Γραικία), and also as Rhōmaís (Ῥωμαΐς).
Although the empire had a multi-ethnic character during most of its history and preserved Greco-Roman traditions, it was usually known to most of its western and northern contemporaries as the Empire of the Greeks due to the increasing predominance of the Greek element. The use of the term Empire of the Greeks(Latin: Imperium Graecorum) in the West to refer to the Eastern Roman Empire also implied a rejection of the empire’s claim to be the Roman Empire. The claims of the Eastern Roman Empire to Roman inheritance had been actively contested in the West at the time of the Roman Empress Irene of Athens, due to the coronation ofCharlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in the year 800, by Pope Leo III, who, needing help against enemies in Rome, saw the throne of the Roman Empire as vacant (lacking a male occupant). Whenever the Popes or the rulers of the West made use of the name Roman to refer to the eastern Roman Emperors, they preferred the term Imperator Romaniæ instead of Imperator Romanorum, a title that Westerners maintained applied only to Charlemagne and his successors.
In modern historical atlases, the Empire is usually called the Eastern Roman Empire in maps depicting the empire during the period 395 to 610, after the new emperor Heraclius changed the official language from Latin to Greek (already the language known by the great majority of the population); in maps depicting the Empire after 610, the term Byzantine Empire usually appears.
The Empress Theodora, courtesan, sexual performer and Justinian’s wife and love (mosaic in the Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna). She also saved Justinian’s throne for him in 532 (early in his 527 – 565 reign) by facing down a rebellion after he had given up and was preparing to flee .
Main article: History of the Eastern Roman Empire
Territorial development of the Empire
Early History of the Roman Empire
The Roman army succeeded in conquering a vast collection of territories covering the entire Mediterranean region and much of Western Europe. These territories consisted of many different cultural groups, ranging from primitive to highly sophisticated. Generally speaking, the eastern Mediterranean provinces were more urbanized and socially developed, having previously been united under theMacedonian Empire and Hellenized by the influence of Greek culture. In contrast, the western regions had mostly remained independent from any single cultural or political authority, and were still largely rural and less developed. This distinction between the long-established Hellenized East and the younger Latinized West would persist and become increasingly important in later centuries.
Division of the Roman Empire
In 293, Diocletian created a new administrative system (the tetrarchy). He associated himself with a co-emperor, or Augustus. Each Augustus was then to adopt a young colleague, or Caesar, to share in the rule and eventually to succeed the senior partner. After the abdication of Diocletian and Maximian, however, the tetrarchy collapsed, and Constantine I replaced it with the dynastic principle of hereditary succession.
Constantine moved the seat of the Empire, and introduced important changes into its civil and religious constitution. In 330, he founded Constantinople as a second Rome on the site of Byzantium, which was well-positioned astride the trade routes between East and West.
Constantine built upon the administrative reforms introduced by Diocletian. He stabilized the coinage (the gold solidus that he introduced became a highly prized and stable currency), and made changes to the structure of the army. Under Constantine, the Empire had recovered much of its military strength and enjoyed a period of stability and prosperity.
The Baptism of Constantine painted byRaphael‘s pupils (1520–1524, fresco,Vatican City, Apostolic Palace). Eusebius of Caesaria records that, as was customary among Christian converts at the time, Constantine delayed receiving baptism until shortly before his death.
Under Constantine, Christianity did not become the exclusive religion of the state, but enjoyed imperial preference, since the Emperor supported it with generous privileges. Constantine established the principle that emperors should not settle questions of doctrine, but should summon general ecclesiastical councils for that purpose. The Synod of Arles was convened by Constantine, and the First Council of Nicaea showcased his claim to be head of the Church.
The state of the Empire in 395 may be described in terms of the outcome of Constantine’s work. The dynastic principle was established so firmly that the emperor who died in that year,Theodosius I, could bequeath the imperial office jointly to his sons: Arcadius in the East andHonorius in the West. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over the full extent of the empire in both its halves.
The Eastern Empire was largely spared the difficulties faced by the West in the third and fourth centuries, due in part to a more established urban culture and greater financial resources, which allowed it to placate invaders with tribute and pay foreign mercenaries. Theodosius II further fortified the walls of Constantinople, leaving the city impervious to most attacks; the walls were not breached until 1204. To fend off the Huns of Attila, Theodosius gave them subsidies (purportedly 300 kg (700 lb) of gold) Moreover, he favored merchants living in Constantinople who traded with the Huns and other foreign groups.
The Eastern Roman Empire in 500 AD.
His successor, Marcian, refused to continue to pay this exorbitant sum. However, Attila had already diverted his attention to the Western Roman Empire. After he died in 453, his empire collapsed and Constantinople initiated a profitable relationship with the remaining Huns, who would eventually fight as mercenaries in Byzantine armies.
After the fall of Attila, the Eastern Empire enjoyed a period of peace, while the Western Empire collapsed (its end is usually dated in 476 when the Germanic Roman general Odoacer deposed the titular Western Emperor Romulus Augustulus, but declined to replace him with another puppet).
To recover Italy, the emperor Zeno could only negotiate with the Ostrogoths of Theodoric, who had settled in Moesia. He sent the Gothic king to Italy as magister militum per Italiam (“commander in chief for Italy”). After the fall of Odoacer in 493, Theodoric, who had lived in Constantinople during his youth, ruled Italy on his own. Thus, by suggesting that Theodoric conquer Italy as his Ostrogothic kingdom, Zeno maintained at least a nominal supremacy in that western land while ridding the Eastern Empire of an unruly subordinate.
In 491, Anastasius I, an aged civil officer of Roman origin, became emperor, but it was not until 498 that the forces of the new emperor effectively took the measure of Isaurian resistance.Anastasius revealed himself to be an energetic reformer and an able administrator. He perfected Constantine I’s coinage system by definitively setting the weight of the copper follis, the coin used in most everyday transactions. He also reformed the tax system, and permanently abolished the hated chrysargyron tax. The State Treasury contained the enormous sum of 320,000 lbs (145,150 kg) of gold when Anastasius died in 518.
Reconquest of the Western provinces
Justinian I, who assumed the throne in 527, oversaw a period of recovery of former territories. Justinian, the son of an Illyrian peasant, may already have exerted effective control during the reign of his uncle, Justin I(518–527).In 532, attempting to secure his eastern frontier, Justinian signed a peace treaty withKhosrau I of Persia agreeing to pay a large annual tribute to the Sassanids. In the same year, Justinian survived a revolt in Constantinople (the Nika riots) which ended with the death of (allegedly) thirty thousand rioters. This victory solidified Justinian’s power. Pope Agapetus I was sent to Constantinople by theOstrogothic king Theodahad, but failed in his mission to sign a peace with Justinian. However, he succeeded in having the Monophysite Patriarch Anthimus I of Constantinople denounced, despite Empress Theodora‘s support.
The western conquests began in 533, as Justinian sent his general Belisarius to reclaim the former province of Africa from the Vandals with an army of about 15,000 men. Success came with surprising ease, but it was not until 548 that the major local independent tribes were subdued. In Ostrogothic Italy, the deaths of Theodoric the Great, his nephew and heir Athalaric, and his daughter Amalasuntha had left her murderer Theodahad on the throne despite his weakened authority. In 535, a small Byzantine expedition sent to Sicily met with easy success, but the Goths soon stiffened their resistance, and victory did not come until 540, when Belisarius captured Ravenna, after successful sieges of Naples and Rome.
Byzantine expansion during Justinian’s reign.
Nevertheless, the Ostrogoths were soon reunited under the command of Totila and captured Rome on 17 December 546; Belisarius was eventually recalled by Justinian in early 549. The arrival of the Armenian eunuch Narses in Italy (late 551) with an army of some 35,000 men marked another shift in Gothic fortunes. Totila was defeated and died at the Battle of Busta Gallorum. His successor, Teia, was likewise defeated at the Battle of Mons Lactarius (October 552). Despite continuing resistance from a few Goth garrisons and two subsequent invasions by the Franks andAlamanni, the war for the Italian peninsula was at an end. In 551, a noble of VisigothicHispania, Athanagild, sought Justinian’s help in a rebellion against the king, and the emperor dispatched a force under Liberius, who, although elderly, proved himself a successful military commander. The Byzantine empire held on to a small slice of the Spania coast until the reign ofHeraclius.
In the east, Roman-Persian Wars continued until 561 when Justinian’s and Khosrau’s envoys agreed on a 50-year peace. By the mid-550s, Justinian had won victories in most theaters of operation, with the notable exception of the Balkans, which were subjected to repeated incursions from the Slavs. In 559, the Empire faced a great invasion of Kutrigurs and Sclaveni. Justinian called Belisarius out of retirement, but once the immediate danger was over, the emperor took charge himself. The news that Justinian was reinforcing his Danube fleet made the Kutrigurs anxious, and they agreed to a treaty which gave them a subsidy and safe passage back across the river.
Justinian became universally famous because of his legislative work, remarkable for its sweeping character. In 529, a ten-man commission chaired by John the Cappadocian revised the ancient Roman legal code, creating the new Corpus Juris Civilis, a collection of laws that came to be referred to as “Justinian’s Code”.
During the sixth century, the traditional Greco-Roman culture was still influential in the Eastern empire with prominent representatives such as the natural philosopher John Philoponus. Nevertheless, the Christian philosophy and culture were in the ascendant and began to dominate the older culture. Hymns written by Romanos the Melodist marked the development of the Divine Liturgy, while architects and builders worked to complete the new Church of the Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, designed to replace an older church destroyed in the course of the Nika revolt. Hagia Sophia stands today as one of the major monuments of architectural history. During the sixth and seventh centuries, the Empire was struck by a series of epidemics, which would greatly devastate the population, contributing to a significant economic decline and weakening of the Empire.Thus, some historians trace to the period between Justinian‘s death and the accession of Heraclius the transformation of Classical civilization into Eastern Orthodox civilization.
After Justinian died in 565, his successor, Justin II refused to pay the large tribute to the Persians. Meanwhile, the Germanic Lombardsinvaded Italy; by the end of the century only a third of Italy was in Byzantine hands. Justin’s successor, Tiberius II, choosing between his enemies, awarded subsidies to the Avars while taking military action against the Persians. Though Tiberius’ general, Maurice, led an effective campaign on the eastern frontier, subsidies failed to restrain the Avars. They captured the Balkan fortress of Sirmium in 582, while the Slavsbegan to make inroads across the Danube. Maurice, who meanwhile succeeded Tiberius, intervened in a Persian civil war, placed the legitimate Khosrau II back on the throne and married his daughter to him. Maurice’s treaty with his new brother-in-law brought a new status-quo to the east territorially, enlarged to an extent never before achieved by the empire in its six century history, and much cheaper to defend during this new perpetual peace – millions of solidi were saved by the remission of tribute to the Persians alone. After his victory on the eastern frontier, Maurice was free to focus on the Balkans, and by 602 after a series of successful campaigns he had pushed the Avars and Slavs back across the Danube.
The shrinking borders
After Maurice’s murder by Phocas, Khosrau used the pretext to reconquer the Roman province of Mesopotamia. Phocas, an unpopular ruler who was invariably described in Byzantine sources as a “tyrant”, was the target of a number of senate-led plots. He was eventually deposed in 610 by Heraclius, who sailed to Constantinople from Carthage with an icon affixed to the prow of his ship. Following the ascension of Heraclius, the Sassanid advance pushed deep into Asia Minor, also occupying Damascus and Jerusalem and removing the True Cross to Ctesiphon. The counter-offensive of Heraclius took on the character of a holy war, and an acheiropoietos image of Christ was carried as a military standard. (Similarly, when Constantinople was saved from an Avar siege in 626, the victory was attributed to the icons of the Virgin which were led in procession by Patriarch Sergius about the walls of the city). The main Sassanid force was destroyed atNineveh in 627, and in 629 Heraclius restored the True Cross to Jerusalem in a majestic ceremony. The war had exhausted both the Byzantine and Sassanid Empire, and left them extremely vulnerable to the Arab Muslim forces which emerged in the following years. TheRomans suffered a crushing defeat by the Arabs at the Battle of Yarmuk in 636, and Ctesiphon fell in 634.
Byzantine Empire by 650; by this year it lost all of its southern provinces except the Exarchate of Carthage.
The Arabs, now firmly in control of Syria and the Levant, sent frequent raiding parties deep into Anatolia, and between 674 and 678 laid siege to Constantinople itself. The Arab fleet was finally repulsed through the use ofGreek fire, and a thirty-years’ truce was signed between the empire andUmmayyad Caliphate. The Anatolian raids continued unabated, and accelerated the demise of classical urban culture, with the inhabitants of many cities either refortifying much smaller areas within the old city walls, or relocating entirely to nearby fortresses. Constantinople itself dropped substantially in size, from 500,000 inhabitants to just 40,000–70,000, as the city lost the free grain shipments in 618 after the loss of Egypt to the Persians (province was regained in 629, but lost to Arab invaders in 642).The void left by the disappearance of the old semi-autonomous civic institutions was filled by the theme system, which entailed the division of Anatolia into “provinces” occupied by distinct armies which assumed civil authority and answered directly to the imperial administration. This system may have had its roots in certain ad hoc measures taken by Heraclius, but over the course of the seventh century it developed into an entirely new system of imperial governance.
The withdrawal of large numbers of troops from the Balkans to combat the Persians and then the Arabs in the east opened the door for the gradual southward expansion of Slavic peoples into the peninsula, and, as in Anatolia, many cities shrank to small fortified settlements. In the 670s, the Bulgarians were pushed south of the Danube by the arrival of the Khazars, and in 680 Byzantine forces which had been sent to disperse these new settlements were defeated. In the next year, Constantine IV signed a treaty with the Bulgarian khan Asparukh, and the new Bulgarian state assumed sovereignty over a number of Slavic tribes which had previously, at least in name, recognized Byzantine rule. In 687–688, the emperor Justinian II led an expedition against the Slavs and Bulgarians which made significant gains, although the fact that he had to fight his way from Thrace to Macedonia demonstrates the degree to which Byzantine power in the north Balkans had declined.
The final Heraclian emperor, Justinian II, attempted to break the power of the urban aristocracy through severe taxation and the appointment of “outsiders” to administrative posts. He was driven from power in 695, and took shelter first with the Khazars and then with the Bulgarians. In 705, he returned to Constantinople with the armies of the Bulgarian khan Tervel, retook the throne, and instituted a reign of terror against his enemies. With his final overthrow in 711, supported once more by the urban aristocracy, the Heraclian dynasty came to an end.
Isaurian dynasty to the ascension of Basil I
The Byzantine Empire at the accession of Leo III, c. 717. Striped land shows land raided by the Arabs.
Leo III the Isaurian turned back the Muslim assault in 718, and achieved victory with the major help of the Bulgarian khan Tervel, who killed 32,000 Arabs with his army. He also addressed himself to the task of reorganizing and consolidating the themes in Asia Minor. His successor, Constantine V, won noteworthy victories in northern Syria, and thoroughly undermined Bulgar strength.
In 826, the Arabs captured Crete, and successfully attacked Sicily, but on 3 September 863, general Petronas gained a huge victory against Umar al-Aqta, the emir of Melitene. Under the leadership of Bulgarian EmperorKrum, the Bulgarian threat also reemerged, but in 814 Krum’s son,Omortag, arranged a peace with the Byzantine Empire.
The eighth and ninth centuries were also dominated by controversy and religious division over Iconoclasm. Icons were banned by Leo and Constantine, leading to revolts by iconodules (supporters of icons) throughout the empire. After the efforts of Empress Irene, the Second Council of Nicaea met in 787, and affirmed that icons could be venerated but not worshipped. Irene is said to have endeavored to negotiate a marriage between herself and Charlemagne, but, according toTheophanes the Confessor, the scheme was frustrated by Aetios, one of her favourites. In 813, Leo V the Armenian restored the policy of iconoclasm, but in 843 Empress Theodora restored the veneration of the icons with the help of Patriarch Methodios.Iconoclasm played its part in the further alienation of East from West, which worsened during the so-called Photian Schism, when Pope Nicholas I challengedPhotios‘ elevation to the patriarchate.
Macedonian dynasty and resurgence
Wars against the Muslims
The Byzantine Empire, c. 867 AD.
By 867, the empire had re-stabilised its position in both the east and the west, and the efficiency of its defensive military structure enabled its emperors to begin planning wars of reconquest in the east.
The process of reconquest began with variable fortunes. The temporary reconquest of Crete (843) was followed by a crushing Byzantine defeat on the Bosporus, while the emperors were unable to prevent the ongoing Muslim conquest of Sicily (827–902). Using present day Tunisia as their launching pad, the Muslims conquered Palermo in 831, Messina in 842,Enna in 859, Syracuse in 878, Catania in 900 and the final Byzantine stronghold, the fortress of Taormina, in 902.
The military successes of the tenth century were coupled with a major cultural revival, the so-called Macedonian Renaissance. Miniature from the Paris Psalter, an example of Hellenistic-influenced art.
These drawbacks were later counterbalanced by a victorious expedition against Damietta in Egypt (856), the defeat of the Emir of Melitene (863), the confirmation of the imperial authority over Dalmatia (867), and Basil I’s offensives towards the Euphrates (870s). Unlike the deteriorating situation in Sicily, Basil I handled the situation in southern Italy well enough and the province would remain in Byzantine hands for the next 200 years.
In 904, disaster struck the empire when its second city, Thessaloniki, was sacked by an Arab fleet led by the Byzantine renegade Leo of Tripoli. The Byzantine military responded by destroying an Arab fleet in 908, and sacking the city of Laodicea in Syria two years later. Despite this revenge, the Byzantines were still unable to strike a decisive blow against the Muslims, who inflicted a crushing defeat on the imperial forces when they attempted to regain Crete in 911.
The situation on the border with the Arab territories remained fluid, with the Byzantines alternatively on the offensive or defensive. The Varangians, who attacked Constantinople for the first time in 860, constituted another new challenge. In 941, they appeared on the Asian shore of the Bosporus, but this time they were crushed, showing the improvements in the Byzantine military position after 907, when only diplomacy had been able to push back the invaders. The vanquisher of the Varangians was the famous general John Kourkouas, who continued the offensive with other noteworthy victories in Mesopotamia (943): these culminated in the reconquest of Edessa (944), which was especially celebrated for the return to Constantinople of the veneratedMandylion.
The soldier-emperors Nikephoros II Phokas (reigned 963–969) and John I Tzimiskes (969–976) expanded the empire well into Syria, defeating the emirs of north-west Iraq and reconquering Crete and Cyprus. At one point under John, the empire’s armies even threatened Jerusalem, far to the south. The emirate of Aleppo and its neighbours became vassals of the empire in the east, where the greatest threat to the empire was the Fatimid caliphate. After much campaigning, the last Arab threat to Byzantium was defeated when Basil II rapidly drew 40,000 mounted soldiers to relieve Roman Syria. With a surplus of resources and victories thanks to the Bulgar and Syrian campaigns, Basil II planned an expedition against Sicily to re-take it from the Arabs there. After his death in 1025, the expedition set off in the 1040s and was met with initial, but stunted success.
Wars against the Bulgarian Empire
Emperor Basil II the Bulgar Slayer (976–1025).
The traditional struggle with the See of Rome continued, spurred by the question of religious supremacy over the newly Christianized Bulgaria. This prompted an invasion by the powerful Tsar Simeon I in 894, but this was pushed back by Byzantine diplomacy, which called on the help of the Hungarians. The Byzantines were in turn defeated, however, at the Battle of Bulgarophygon (896), and obliged to pay annual subsides to the Bulgarians. Later (912), Simeon even had the Byzantines grant him the crown of basileus(emperor) of Bulgaria and had the young emperor Constantine VII marry one of his daughters. When a revolt in Constantinople halted his dynastic project, he again invaded Thrace and conquered Adrianople.
A great imperial expedition under Leo Phocas and Romanos Lekapenos ended again with a crushing Byzantine defeat at the Battle of Acheloos (917), and the following year the Bulgarians were free to ravage northern Greece as far as Corinth. Adrianople was captured again in 923 and in 924 a Bulgarian army laid siege to Constantinople. The situation in the Balkans improved only after Simeon’s death in 927. In 968, Bulgaria was overrun by the Rus’ under Sviatoslav I of Kiev, but three years later, the emperor John I Tzimiskes defeated the Rus’ and re-incorporated eastern Bulgaria into the Empire.
The Empire under Basil II.
Bulgarian resistance revived under the rule of theCometopuli dynasty, but the new emperor Basil II (reigned 976–1025) made the submission of the Bulgarians his primary goal. Basil’s first expedition against Bulgaria, however, resulted in a humiliating defeat at the Gates of Trajan. For the next few years, the emperor would be preoccupied with internal revolts in Anatolia, while the Bulgarians expanded their realm in the Balkans. The war was to drag on for nearly twenty years. The Byzantine victories of Spercheios and Skopje decisively weakened the Bulgarian army, and in annual campaigns, Basil methodically reduced the Bulgarian strongholds. Eventually, at the Battle of Kleidion in 1014 the Bulgarians were completely defeated. The Bulgarian army was captured, and it is said that 99 out of every 100 men were blinded, with the remaining hundredth man left with one eye so as to lead his compatriots home. When Tsar Samuil saw the broken remains of his once gallant army, he died of shock. By 1018, the last Bulgarian strongholds had surrendered, and the country became part of the Byzantine Empire. This victory restored the Danube frontier, which had not been held since the days of the emperor Heraclius.
Relations with the Kievan Rus’
Kievan Rus’ under the walls of Constantinople (860).
Between 850 and 1100, the Empire developed a mixed relationship with a new state that emerged to the north across the Black Sea, that of the Kievan Rus’. This relationship would have long-lasting repercussions in the history of the East Slavs. Byzantium quickly became the main tradingand cultural partner for Kiev, but relations were not always friendly. The most serious conflict between the two powers was the war of 968–971 in Bulgaria, but several Rus’ raiding expeditionsagainst the Byzantine cities of the Black Sea coast and Constantinople itself are also recorded. Although most were repulsed, they were concluded by trade treaties that were generally favourable to the Rus’.
Rus’-Byzantine relations became closer following the marriage of the porphyrogenita Anna toVladimir the Great, and the subsequent Christianization of the Rus’: Byzantine priests, architects and artists were invited to work on numerous cathedrals and churches around Rus’, expanding Byzantine cultural influence even further. Numerous Rus’ served in the Byzantine army as mercenaries, most notably as the famousVarangian Guard.
The Byzantine Empire then stretched from Armenia in the east to Calabria in Southern Italy in the west. Many successes had been achieved, ranging from the conquest of Bulgaria, to the annexation of parts of Georgia and Armenia, to the total annihilation of an invading force of Egyptians outside Antioch. Yet even these victories were not enough; Basil considered the continued Arab occupation of Sicily to be an outrage. Accordingly, he planned to reconquer the island, which had belonged to the Roman world since the First Punic War. However, his death in 1025 put an end to the project.
The eleventh century was also momentous for its religious events. In 1054, relations between the Eastern and Western traditions within the Christian Church reached a terminal crisis. Although there was a formal declaration of institutional separation, on 16 July, when three papal legates entered the Hagia Sophia during Divine Liturgy on a Saturday afternoon and placed a bull of excommunication on the altar, the so-called Great Schism was actually the culmination of centuries of gradual separation.
Crisis and fragmentation
Byzantium soon fell into a period of difficulties, caused to a large extent by the undermining of the theme system and the neglect of the military. Nikephoros II (963–969), John Tzimiskes and Basil II changed the military divisions (τάγματα, tagmata) from a rapid response, primarily defensive, citizen army into a professional, campaigning army increasingly manned by mercenaries. Mercenaries, however, were expensive and as the threat of invasion receded in the tenth century, so did the need for maintaining large garrisons and expensive fortifications. Basil II left a burgeoning treasury upon his death, but neglected to plan for his succession. None of his immediate successors had any particular military or political talent and the administration of the Empire increasingly fell into the hands of the civil service. Efforts to revive the Byzantine economy only resulted in inflation and a debased gold coinage. The army was now seen as both an unnecessary expense and a political threat. Therefore, native troops were cashiered and replaced by foreign mercenaries on specific contract.
At the same time, the Empire was faced with new, ambitious enemies. Byzantine provinces in southern Italy faced the Normans, who arrived in Italy at the beginning of the eleventh century. During a period of strife between Constantinople and Rome which ended in the East-West Schism of 1054, the Normans began to advance, slowly but steadily, into Byzantine Italy. The Byzantines also lost their influence over theDalmatian coastal cities to Peter Krešimir IV of Croatia in 1069.
It was in Asia Minor, however, that the greatest disaster would take place. The Seljuq Turks made their first explorations across the Byzantine frontier into Armenia in 1065 and in 1067. The emergency lent weight to the military aristocracy in Anatolia who, in 1068, secured the election of one of their own, Romanos Diogenes, as emperor. In the summer of 1071, Romanos undertook a massive eastern campaign to draw the Seljuks into a general engagement with the Byzantine army. At Manzikert, Romanos not only suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of Sultan Alp Arslan, but was also captured. Alp Arslan treated him with respect, and imposed no harsh terms on the Byzantines.In Constantinople, however, a coup took place in favor of Michael Doukas, who soon faced the opposition of Nikephoros Bryennios andNikephoros Botaneiates. By 1081, the Seljuks expanded their rule over virtually the entire Anatolian plateau from Armenia in the east toBithynia in the west and founded their capital at Nicaea, just 55 miles (88 km) from Constantinople.
Komnenian dynasty and the crusaders
Alexios I and the First Crusade
The Byzantine Empire and the Sultanate of Rûm before the Crusades.
After Manzikert, a partial recovery (referred to as the Komnenian restoration) was made possible by the efforts of the Komnenian dynasty. The first emperor of this dynasty was Isaac I (1057–1059) and the second Alexios I. At the very outset of his reign, Alexios faced a formidable attack by the Normans under Robert Guiscard and his son Bohemund of Taranto, who captured Dyrrhachium and Corfu, and laid siege to Larissa in Thessaly. Robert Guiscard’s death in 1085 temporarily eased the Norman problem. The following year, the Seljuq sultan died, and the sultanate was split by internal rivalries. By his own efforts, Alexios defeated the Pechenegs; they were caught by surprise and annihilated at the Battle of Levounion on 28 April 1091.
The very brief first coinage of theThessaloniki mint, which Alexios opened as he passed through in September 1081 on his way to confront the invading Normans under Robert Guiscard.
Having achieved stability in the West, Alexios could turn his attention to the severe economic difficulties and the disintegration of the empire’s traditional defences. However, he still did not have enough manpower to recover the lost territories in Asia Minor and to advance against the Seljuks. At the Council of Piacenza in 1095, Alexios’ envoys spoke to Pope Urban II about the suffering of the Christians of the East, and underscored that without help from the West they would continue to suffer under Muslim rule. Urban saw Alexios’ request as a dual opportunity to cement Western Europe and enhance papal power.On 27 November 1095, Pope Urban II called together the Council of Clermont, and urged all those present to take up arms under the sign of the Cross and launch an armed pilgrimage to recover Jerusalem and the East from the Muslims. The response in Western Europe was overwhelming.
Alexios had anticipated help in the form of mercenary forces from the West, but was totally unprepared for the immense and undisciplined force which soon arrived in Byzantine territory. It was no comfort to Alexios to learn that four of the eight leaders of the main body of the Crusade were Normans, among them Bohemund. Since the crusade had to pass through Constantinople, however, the Emperor had some control over it. He required its leaders to swear to restore to the empire any towns or territories they might conquer from the Turks on their way to the Holy Land. In return, he gave them guides and a military escort. Alexios was able to recover a number of important cities and islands, and in fact much of western Asia Minor. Nevertheless, the crusaders believed their oaths were invalidated when Alexios did not help them during the siege of Antioch (he had in fact set out on the road to Antioch, but had been persuaded to turn back by Stephen of Blois, who assured him that all was lost and that the expedition had already failed). Bohemund, who had set himself up as Prince of Antioch, briefly went to war with the Byzantines, but agreed to become Alexios’ vassal under the Treaty of Devol in 1108, which marked the end of Norman threat during Alexios’ reign.
John II, Manuel I and the Second Crusade
Medieval manuscript depicting theCapture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade.
Alexios’ son John II Komnenos succeeded him in 1118, and was to rule until 1143. John was a pious and dedicated emperor who was determined to undo the damage his empire had suffered at the Battle of Manzikert, half a century earlier. Famed for his piety and his remarkably mild and just reign, John was an exceptional example of a moral ruler, at a time when cruelty was the norm. For this reason, he has been called the Byzantine Marcus Aurelius. In the course of his twenty-five year reign, John made alliances with the Holy Roman Empire in the West, decisively defeated the Pechenegs at the Battle of Beroia, and personally led numerous campaigns against the Turks in Asia Minor. John’s campaigns fundamentally changed the balance of power in the east, forcing the Turks onto the defensive and restoring to the Byzantines many towns, fortresses and cities right across the peninsula. He also thwarted Hungarian, and Serbian threats during the 1120s, and in 1130 allied himself with the German emperor Lothair III against the Norman king Roger II of Sicily. In the later part of his reign, John focused his activities on the East. He defeated the Danishmend emirate of Melitene, and reconquered all of Cilicia, while forcing Raymond of Poitiers, Prince of Antioch, to recognize Byzantine suzerainty. In an effort to demonstrate the Byzantine emperor’s role as the leader of the Christian world, John marched into the Holy Land at the head of the combined forces of Byzantium and the Crusader states; yet despite the great vigour with which he pressed the campaign, John’s hopes were disappointed by the treachery of his Crusader allies. In 1142, John returned to press his claims to Antioch, but he died in the spring of 1143 following a hunting accident. Raymond was emboldened to invade Cilicia, but he was defeated and forced to go to Constantinople to beg mercy from the new emperor.
Byzantine Empire in violet, c.1180, at the end of the Komnenian period.
John’s chosen heir was his fourth son, Manuel I Komnenos, who campaigned aggressively against his neighbours both in the west and in the east. In Palestine, he allied himself with the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and sent a large fleet to participate in a combined invasion ofFatimid Egypt. Manuel reinforced his position as overlord of the Crusader states, with his hegemony over Antioch and Jerusalem secured by agreement with Raynald, Prince of Antioch, and Amalric, King of Jerusalem respectively. In an effort to restore Byzantine control over the ports of southern Italy, he sent an expedition to Italy in 1155, but disputes within the coalition led to the eventual failure of the campaign. Despite this military setback, Manuel’s armies successfully invaded the Kingdom of Hungary in 1167, defeating the Hungarians at the Battle of Sirmium. By 1168, nearly the whole of the eastern Adriatic coast lay in Manuel’s hands. Manuel made several alliances with the Pope and Western Christian kingdoms, and successfully handled the passage of the Second Crusade through his empire.
In the east, however, Manuel suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Myriokephalon, in 1176, against the Turks. Yet the losses were quickly made good, and in the following year Manuel’s forces inflicted a defeat upon a force of “picked Turks”. The Byzantine commander John Vatatzes, who destroyed the Turkish invaders at the Battle of Hyelion and Leimocheir, not only brought troops from the capital but also was able to gather an army along the way; a sign that the Byzantine army remained strong and that the defensive program of western Asia Minor was still successful.
Twelfth century Renaissance
John and Manuel pursued active military policies, and both deployed considerable resources on sieges and on city defenses; aggressive fortification policies were at the heart of their imperial military policies. Despite the defeat at Myriokephalon, the policies of Alexios, John and Manuel resulted in vast territorial gains, increased frontier stability in Asia Minor, and secured the stabilization of the empire’s European frontiers. From c.1081 to c.1180, the Komnenian army assured the empire’s security, enabling Byzantine civilization to flourish.
This allowed the Western provinces to achieve an economic revival which continued until the close of the century. It has been argued that Byzantium under the Komnenian rule was more prosperous than at any time since the Persian invasions of the seventh century. During the twelfth century, population levels rose and extensive tracts of new agricultural land were brought into production. Archaeological evidence from both Europe and Asia Minor shows a considerable increase in the size of urban settlements, together with a notable upsurge in new towns. Trade was also flourishing; the Venetians, the Genoese and others opened up the ports of the Aegean to commerce, shipping goods from the Crusader kingdoms of Outremer and Fatimid Egypt to the west and trading with the Byzantine Empire via Constantinople.
In artistic terms, there was a revival in mosaic, and regional schools of architecture began producing many distinctive styles that drew on a range of cultural influences. During the twelfth century, the Byzantines provided their model of early humanism as a renaissance of interest in classical authors. In Eustathius of Thessalonica, Byzantine humanism found its most characteristic expression.
Decline and disintegration
Main article: Decline of the Byzantine Empire
Dynasty of the Angeloi
Manuel’s death on 24 September 1180 left his 11-year-old son Alexios II Komnenos on the throne. Alexios was highly incompetent at the office, but it was his mother, Maria of Antioch, and her Frankish background that made his regency unpopular. Eventually, Andronikos I Komnenos, a grandson of Alexios I, launched a revolt against his younger relative and managed to overthrow him in a violent coup d’état. Utilizing his good looks and his immense popularity with the army, he marched on to Constantinople in August 1182, and incited a massacre of the Latins. After eliminating his potential rivals, he had himself crowned as co-emperor in September 1183; he eliminated Alexios II and even took his 12-year-old wife Agnes of France for himself.
Andronikos began his reign well; in particular, the measures he took to reform the government of the empire have been praised by historians. According to George Ostrogorsky, Andronikos was determined to root out corruption: Under his rule, the sale of offices ceased; selection was based on merit, rather than favoritism; officials were paid an adequate salary so as to reduce the temptation of bribery. In the provinces, Andronikos’ reforms produced a speedy and marked improvement. The aristocrats were infuriated against him, and to make matters worse, Andronikos seems to have become increasingly unbalanced; executions and violence became increasingly common, and his reign turned into a reign of terror. Andronikos seemed almost to seek the extermination of the aristocracy as a whole. The struggle against the aristocracy turned into wholesale slaughter, while the emperor resorted to ever more ruthless measures to shore up his regime.
Iconium was won by the Third Crusade.
Despite his military background, Andronikos failed to deal with Isaac Komnenos, Béla III who reincorporated Croatian territories into Hungary, and Stephen Nemanja of Serbia who declared his independence from Byzantium. Yet none of these troubles would compare to William II of Sicily‘s invasion force of 300 ships and 80,000 men, arriving in 1185. Andronikos mobilized a small fleet of 100 ships to defend the capital but other than that he was indifferent to the populace. He was finally overthrown when Isaac Angelos, surviving an imperial assassination attempt, seized power with the aid of the people and had Andronikos killed.
The reign of Isaac II, and, still more, that of his brother Alexios III, saw the collapse of what remained of the centralized machinery of Byzantine government and defense. Although, the Normans were driven out of Greece, in 1186 the Vlachs and Bulgars began a rebellion that was to lead to the formation of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The internal policy of the Angeloi was characterized by the squandering of the public treasure, and the fiscal maladministration. Byzantine authority was severely weakened, and the growing power vacuum at the center of the empire encouraged fragmentation. There is evidence that some Komnenian heirs had set up a semi-independent state in Trebizond before 1204. According to Alexander Vasiliev, “the dynasty of the Angeloi, Greek in its origin, […] accelerated the ruin of the Empire, already weakened without and disunited within.
The Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople, by Eugène Delacroix(1840).
In 1198, Pope Innocent III broached the subject of a new crusade through legates and encyclical letters. The stated intent of the crusade was to conquer Egypt, now the centre of Muslim power in the Levant. The crusader army that arrived at Venice in the summer of 1202 was somewhat smaller than had been anticipated, and there were not sufficient funds to pay the Venetians, whose fleet was hired by the crusaders to take them to Egypt. Venetian policy under the aging and blind but still ambitious Doge Enrico Dandolo was potentially at variance with that of the Pope and the crusaders, because Venice was closely related commercially with Egypt. The crusaders accepted the suggestion that in lieu of payment they assist the Venetians in the capture of the (Christian) port of Zara in Dalmatia (vassal city of Venice, which had rebelled and placed itself under Hungary’s protection in 1186). The city fell in November 1202 after a briefsiege. Innocent, who was informed of the plan but his veto disregarded, was reluctant to jeopardize the Crusade, and gave conditional absolution to the crusaders—not, however, to the Venetians.
After the death of Theobald III, Count of Champagne, the leadership of the Crusade passed toBoniface of Montferrat, a friend of the Hohenstaufen Philip of Swabia. Both Boniface and Philip had married into the Byzantine imperial family. In fact, Philip’s brother-in-law, Alexios Angelos, son of the deposed and blinded emperor Isaac II Angelos, had appeared in Europe seeking aid and had made contacts with the crusaders. Alexios offered to reunite the Byzantine church with Rome, pay the crusaders 200,000 silver marks, and join the crusade with 200,000 silver marks and all the supplies they needed to get to Egypt. Innocent was aware of a plan to divert the Crusade to Constantinople and forbade any attack on the city, but the papal letter arrived after the fleets had left Zara.
Map to show the partition of the empire following the Fourth Crusade, c. 1204.
The crusaders arrived at the city in the summer of 1203, Alexios III fled from the capital, and Alexios Angelos was elevated to the throne as Alexios IValong with his blind father Isaac. However, Alexios IV and Isaac II were unable to keep their promises and were deposed by Alexios V. Eventually, the crusaders took the city on 13 April 1204. Constantinople was subjected by the rank and file to pillage and massacre for three days. Many priceless icons, relics, and other objects later turned up in Western Europe, a large number in Venice. According to Choniates, a prostitute was even set up on the Patriarchal throne When Innocent III heard of the conduct of his crusaders, he castigated them in no uncertain terms. But the situation was beyond his control, especially after his legate, on his own initiative, had absolved the crusaders from their vow to proceed to the Holy Land.When order had been restored, the crusaders and the Venetians proceeded to implement their agreement; Baldwin of Flanders was elected emperor and the Venetian Thomas Morosini chosen patriarch. The lands parcelled out among the leaders did not include all the former Byzantine possessions. Byzantine rule continued in Nicaea, Trebizond, and Epirus.
Empire in exile
After the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by Latin Crusaders, two Byzantine successor states were established: the Empire of Nicaea, and the Despotate of Epirus. A third one, the Empire of Trebizond was created a few weeks before the sack of Constantinople by Alexios I of Trebizond. Of these three successor states, Epirus and Nicaea stood the best chance of reclaiming Constantinople. The Nicaean Empire struggled, however, to survive the next few decades, and by the mid-thirteenth century it lost much of southern Anatolia. The weakening of the Sultanate of Rûm following the Mongol Invasion in 1242–43 allowed many Beyliks and ghazis to set up their own principalities in Anatolia, weakening the Byzantine hold on Asia Minor. In time, one of the Beys, Osman I, created an empire that would conquer Byzantium. However, the Mongol Invasion also gave Nicaea a temporary respite from Seljuk attacks allowing it to concentrate on the Latin Empire only north of its position.
Reconquest of Constantinople
The Byzantine Empire c. 1263.
The Empire of Nicaea, founded by the Laskarid dynasty, managed toreclaim Constantinople from the Latins in 1261 and defeat Epirus. This led to a short-lived revival of Byzantine fortunes under Michael VIII Palaiologos, but the war-ravaged empire was ill-equipped to deal with the enemies that now surrounded it. In order to maintain his campaigns against the Latins, Michael pulled troops from Asia Minor, and levied crippling taxes on the peasantry, causing much resentment. Massive construction projects were completed in Constantinople to repair the damages of the Fourth Crusade, but none of these initiatives was of any comfort to the farmers in Asia Minor, suffering raids from fanatical ghazis.
Rather than holding on to his possessions in Asia Minor, Michael chose to expand the Empire, gaining only short-term success. To avoid another sacking of the capital by the Latins, he forced the Church to submit to Rome, again a temporary solution for which the peasantry hated Michael and Constantinople. The efforts of Andronikos II and later his grandson Andronikos III marked Byzantium’s last genuine attempts in restoring the glory of the empire. However, the use of mercenaries by Andronikos II would often backfire, with the Catalan Company ravaging the countryside and increasing resentment towards Constantinople.
Rise of the Ottomans and fall of Constantinople
The siege of Constantinople in 1453 according to a fifteenth century French miniature.
Things went worse for Byzantium during the civil wars that followed after Andronikos III died. A six-year long civil war devastated the empire, and an earthquake at Gallipoli in 1354 devastated the fort, allowing the Ottomans (who were hired as mercenaries during the civil war by John VI Kantakouzenos) to establish themselves in Europe.By the time the Byzantine civil wars had ended, the Ottomans had defeated the Serbians and subjugated them as vassals. Following the Battle of Kosovo, much of the Balkans became dominated by the Ottomans.
Eastern Mediterranean just before the fall of Constantinople.
The Emperors appealed to the west for help, but the Pope would only consider sending aid in return for a reunion of the Eastern Orthodox Church with the See of Rome. Church unity was considered, and occasionally accomplished by imperial decree, but the Orthodox citizenry and clergy intensely resented the authority of Rome and the Latin Rite. Some western troops arrived to bolster the Christian defence of Constantinople, but most Western rulers, distracted by their own affairs, did nothing as the Ottomans picked apart the remaining Byzantine territories.
Constantinople by this stage was underpopulated and dilapidated. The population of the city had collapsed so severely that it was now little more than a cluster of villages separated by fields. On 2 April 1453, Sultan Mehmed’s army of some 80,000 men and large numbers of irregulars laid siege to the city. Despite a desperate last-ditch defense of the city by the massively outnumbered Christian forces (c. 7,000 men, 2,000 of whom were foreign), Constantinople finally fell to the Ottomans after a two-month siege on 29 May 1453. The last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos, was last seen casting off his imperial regalia and throwing himself into hand-to-hand combat after the walls of the city were taken.
Mehmed II went on to conquer the Greek statelets of Mistra in 1460 and Trebizond in 1461. The nephew of the last Emperor, Constantine XI, Andreas Palaeologos had inherited the defunct title ofByzantine Emperor and used it from 1465 until his death in 1503. By the end of the fifteenth century, the Ottoman Empire had established its firm rule over Asia Minor and parts of the Balkan peninsula. Mehmed II and his successors continued to consider themselves proper heirs to the Byzantine Empire until the demise of the Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth century. Meanwhile, the Danubian Principalities harboured Orthodox refugees, including some Byzantine nobles.
At his death, the role of the emperor as a patron of Eastern Orthodoxy was claimed by Ivan III, Grand Duke of Muscovy. He had married Andreas’ sister, Sophia Paleologue, whose grandson, Ivan IV, would become the first Tsar of Russia (tsar, or czar, meaning caesar, is a term traditionally applied by Slavs to the Byzantine Emperors). Their successors supported the idea that Moscow was the proper heir to Rome and Constantinople. The idea of the Russian Empire as the new, Third Rome was kept alive until its demise with the Russian Revolution of 1917.
One of the economic foundations of the empire was trade. Textiles must have been by far the most important item of export; silks were certainly imported into Egypt, and appeared also in Bulgaria, and the West. The state strictly controlled both the internal and the international trade, and retained the monopoly of issuing coinage. The government exercised formal control over interest rates, and set the parameters for the activity of the guilds and corporations, in which it had a special interest. The emperor and his officials intervened at times of crisis to ensure the provisioning of the capital, and to keep down the price of cereals. Finally, the government often collected part of the surplus through taxation, and put it back into circulation, through redistribution in the form of salaries to state officials, or in the form of investment in public works.The Byzantine economy was among the most advanced in Europe and the Mediterranean for many centuries. Europe, in particular, was unable to match Byzantine economic strength until late in the Middle Ages. Constantinople was a prime hub in a trading network that at various times extended across nearly all of Eurasiaand North Africa, in particular being the primary western terminus of the famous silk road. Some scholars argue that, up until the arrival of the Arabs in the seventh century, the Empire had the most powerful economy in the world. The Arab conquests, however, would represent a substantial reversal of fortunes contributing to a period of decline and stagnation. Constantine V’s reforms (c. 765) marked the beginning of a revival that continued until 1204. From the tenth century until the end of the twelfth, the Byzantine Empire projected an image of luxury, and the travelers were impressed by the wealth accumulated in the capital. All this changed with the arrival of the Fourth Crusade, which was an economic catastrophe. The Palaiologoi tried to revive the economy, but the late Byzantine state would not gain full control of either the foreign or domestic economic forces. Gradually, it also lost its influence on the modalities of trade and the price mechanisms, and its control over the outflow of precious metals and, according to some scholars, even over the minting of coins.
Science, medicine, law
The frontispiece of the Vienna Dioscurides, which shows a set of seven famous physicians.
The writings of Classical antiquity never ceased to be cultivated in Byzantium. Therefore, Byzantine science was in every period closely connected with ancient philosophy, and metaphysics. Although at various times the Byzantines made magnificent achievements in the application of the sciences (notably in the construction of the Hagia Sophia), after the sixth century Byzantine scholars made few novel contributions to science in terms of developing new theories or extending the ideas of classical authors.Scholarship particularly lagged during the dark years of plague and the Arab conquests, but then during the so-called Byzantine Renaissance at the end of the first millennium Byzantine scholars re-asserted themselves becoming experts in the scientific developments of the Arabs and Persians, particularly in astronomy and mathematics.
In the final century of the Empire, Byzantine grammarians were those principally responsible for carrying, in person and in writing, ancient Greek grammatical and literary studies to early Renaissance Italy.During this period, astronomy and other mathematical sciences were taught in Trebizond; medicine attracted the interest of almost all scholars.
As a symbol and expression of the universal prestige of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Justinian built the Church of the Holy Wisdom of God, Hagia Sophia, which was completed in the short period of four and a half years (532–537).
|Location||Istanbul (historicallyConstantinople) Turkey|
|Designer||Isidore of Miletus
Anthemius of Tralles
|Type||Currently a Museum, formerly an ImperialMosque and Roman Catholic Cathedral; originally constructed as an Eastern Orthodox Church.|
|Length||82 m (269 ft)|
|Width||73 m (240 ft)|
|Height||55 m (180 ft)|
Fountain (Şadırvan) for ritual ablutions (Above)
(Immediately after the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Hagia Sophia was converted into the Ayasofya Mosque. As described by several Western visitors (such as theCórdoban nobleman Pero Tafur and the Florentine Cristoforo Buondelmonti), the church was in a dilapidated state, with several of its doors were off; sultan Mehmed II ordered the cleanup of the church and its conversion. The subsequent sultan, Bayezid II, had a new minaret built to replace that erected by his father.)
The survival of the Empire in the East assured an active role of the Emperor in the affairs of the Church. The Byzantine state inherited from pagan times the administrative, and financial routine of administering religious affairs, and this routine was applied to the Christian Church. Following the pattern set by Eusebius of Caesarea, the Byzantines viewed the Emperor as a representative or messenger of Christ, responsible particularly for the propagation of Christianity among pagans, and for the “externals” of the religion, such as administration and finances. The imperial role, however, in the affairs of the Church never developed into a fixed, legally defined system.
Christianity was never fully united and the Christians in the Byzantine Empire were diverse throughout the Empire’s history. The state church of the Roman Empire, which came to be known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, never represented all Christians in the Empire. Nestorianism, a view promoted by Nestorius who was a fifth century Patriarch of Constantinople, split from the imperial church leading to what is today the Assyrian Church of the East. In a greater schism during the sixth century the Oriental Orthodox churches split from the imperial church over the declarations of the Council of Chalcedon. Aside from these communions, Arianism and other Christian sects existed in the early Empire, although by the time of Rome’s fall in the fifth century Arianism was mostly confined to the Germanic peoples of Western Europe. By the Empire’s late stages, though, Eastern Orthodoxy represented most Christians in what remained of the Empire. Jews were a significant minority in the Empire throughout its history. Despite periods of persecution, they were generally tolerated, if not always embraced, during most periods. From 70, they were subject to a special tax which may have existed into the Middle Ages.
With the decline of Rome, and internal dissension in the other Eastern patriarchates, the church of Constantinople became, between the sixth and eleventh centuries, the richest and most influential center of Christendom. Even when the Empire was reduced to only a shadow of its former self, the Church, as an institution, had never exercised so much influence both inside and outside of the imperial frontiers. As George Ostrogorsky points out:
The Patriarchate of Constantinople remained the center of the Orthodox world, with subordinate metropolitan sees and archbishoprics in the territory of Asia Minor and the Balkans, now lost to Byzantium, as well as in Caucasus, Russia andLithuania. The Church remained the most stable element in the Byzantine Empire.
Art and literature
Miniatures of the sixth century Rabula Gospel display the more abstract and symbolic nature of Byzantine art.
Byzantine art is almost entirely concerned with religious expression and, more specifically, with the impersonal translation of carefully controlled church theology into artistic terms. Byzantine forms were spread by trade and conquest to Italy and Sicily, where they persisted in modified form through the twelfth century, and became formative influences on Italian Renaissance art. By means of the expansion of the Eastern Orthodox church, Byzantine forms spread to eastern European centers, particularly Russia. Influences from Byzantine architecture, particularly in religious buildings, can be found in diverse regions from Egypt and Arabia to Russia and Romania.
In Byzantine literature, therefore, four different cultural elements are to be reckoned with: theGreek, the Christian, the Roman, and the Oriental. Byzantine literature is often classified in five groups: historians and annalists, encyclopedists (Patriarch Photios, Michael Psellos, and Michael Choniates are regarded as the greatest encyclopedists of Byzantium) and essayists, and writers of secular poetry (The only genuine heroic epic of the Byzantines is the Digenis Acritas). The remaining two groups include the new literary species: ecclesiastical and theological literature, and popular poetry. Of the approximately two to three thousand volumes of Byzantine literature that survive, only three hundred and thirty consist of secular poetry, history, science and pseudo-science. While the most flourishing period of the secular literature of Byzantium runs from the ninth to the twelfth century, its religious literature (sermons, liturgical books and poetry, theology, devotional treatises etc.) developed much earlier with Romanos the Melodist being its most prominent representative.
Government and bureaucracy
|The themes c. 650.||The themes c. 950.|
In the Byzantine state, the emperor was the sole and absolute ruler, and his power was regarded as having divine origin. By the end of the eighth century, a civil administration focused on the court was formed as part of a large-scale consolidation of power in the capital (the rise to pre-eminence of the position of sakellarios is related to this change). The most important reform of this period is the creation of themes, where civil and military administration is exercised by one person, the strategos.
Despite the occasionally derogatory use of the word “Byzantine”, the Byzantine bureaucracy had a distinct ability for reinventing itself in accordance with the Empire’s situation. The Byzantine system of titulature and precedence makes the imperial administration look like an ordered bureaucracy to modern observers. Officials were arranged in strict order around the emperor, and depended upon the imperial will for their ranks. There were also actual administrative jobs, but authority could be vested in individuals rather than offices. In the eighth and ninth centuries, civil service constituted the clearest path to aristocratic status, but, starting in the ninth century, the civil aristocracy was rivaled by an aristocracy of nobility. According to some studies of Byzantine government, eleventh century politics were dominated by competition between the civil and the military aristocracy. During this period, Alexios I undertook important administrative reforms, including the creation of new courtly dignities and offices.
For more details on this topic, see Byzantine diplomacy.
After the fall of Rome, the key challenge to the Empire was to maintain a set of relations between itself and its neighbors. When these nations set about forging formal political institutions, they often modeled themselves on Constantinople. Byzantine diplomacy soon managed to draw its neighbors into a network of international and inter-state relations. This network revolved around treaty making, and included the welcoming of the new ruler into the family of kings, and the assimilation of Byzantine social attitudes, values and institutions.Whereas classical writers are fond of making ethical and legal distinctions between peace and war, Byzantines regarded diplomacy as a form of war by other means. For example, a Bulgarian threat could be countered by providing money to the Kievian Rus. The Orthodox Church also maintained a diplomatic function, and the spread of Orthodox Christianity was a key diplomatic goal of the Empire.
Diplomacy in the era was understood to have an intelligence-gathering function on top of its pure political function. The Bureau of Barbariansin Constantinople handled matters of protocol and record keeping for any matters dealing with “Barbarians”, and thus had, perhaps, a basic intelligence function itself. J.B. Bury believed that the office exercised supervision over all foreigners visiting Constantinople, and that they were under the supervision of the Logothete of the Course. While on the surface a protocol office—its main duty was to ensure foreign envoys were properly cared for and received sufficient state funds for their maintenance, and it kept all the official translators—it clearly had a security function as well. On Strategy, from the sixth century, offers advice about foreign embassies: “[Envoys] who are sent to us should be received honourably and generously, for everyone holds envoys in high esteem. Their attendants, however, should be kept under surveillance to keep them from obtaining any information by asking questions of our people.
Byzantines availed themselves of a number of diplomatic practices. For example, embassies to the capital would often stay on for years. A member of other royal houses would routinely be requested to stay on in Constantinople, not only as a potential hostage, but also as a useful pawn in case political conditions where he came from changed. Another key practice was to overwhelm visitors by sumptuous displays.According to Dimitri Obolensky, the preservation of civilization in Eastern Europe was due to the skill and resourcefulness of Byzantine diplomacy, which remains one of Byzantium’s lasting contributions to the history of Europe.
The original language of the government of the Empire, which owed its origins to Rome, had been Latin and this continued to be its official language until the seventh century AD when it was effectively changed to Greek by Heraclius. Scholarly Latin would rapidly fall into disuse among the educated classes although the language would continue to be at least a ceremonial part of the Empire’s culture for some time. Additionally, Vulgar Latin continued to be a minority language in the Empire, and among the Thraco-Roman populations it gave birth to the (Proto-)Romanianlanguage. Likewise, on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, another neo-Latin vernacular developed, which would later give rise to the Dalmatian language. In the Western Mediterranean provinces temporarily acquired under the reign of Justinian I, Latin (eventually evolving into Italian) continued to be used both as a spoken language and the language of scholarship.
Apart from the Imperial court, administration and military, the primary language used in the eastern Roman provinces even before the decline of the Western Empire had always been Greek, having been spoken in the region for centuries before Latin. Indeed early on in the life of the Roman Empire, Greek had become the common language in the Christian Church, the language of scholarship and the arts, and, to a large degree, the lingua franca for trade between provinces and with other nations. The language itself for a time gained a dual nature with the primary spoken language, Koine, existing alongside an older literary language with Koine eventually evolving into the standard dialect.
Many other languages existed in the multi-ethnic Empire as well, and some of these were given limited official status in their provinces at various times. Notably, by the beginning of the Middle Ages, Syriac and Aramaic had become more widely used by the educated classes in the far eastern provinces.Similarly Coptic, Armenian, and Georgian became significant among the educated in their provinces, and later foreign contacts made the Slavonic, Vlach, and Arabic languages important in the Empire and its sphere of influence.
Aside from these, since Constantinople was a prime trading center in the Mediterranean region and beyond, virtually every known language of the Middle Ages was spoken in the Empire at some time, even Chinese. As the Empire entered its final decline, the Empire’s citizens became more culturally homogeneous and the Greek language became integral to their identity and their religion.
As the only stable long-term state in Europe during the Middle Ages, Byzantium isolated Western Europe from newly emerging forces to the East. Constantly under attack, it distanced Western Europe from Persians, Arabs, Seljuk Turks, and for a time, the Ottomans. The Byzantine-Arab Wars, for example, are recognized by some historians as being a key factor behind the rise ofCharlemagne, and a huge stimulus to feudalism and economic self-sufficiency.
For centuries, western historians used the terms Byzantine and Byzantinism as bywords for decadence, duplicitous politics and complex bureaucracy, and there was a strongly negative assessment of Byzantine civilization and its legacy in Southeastern Europe. Byzantinism in general was defined as a body of religious, political, and philosophical ideas which ran contrary to those of the West. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries, however, have seen attempts by historians in the West to understand the Empire in a more balanced and accurate fashion including its influences on the West, and as a result the complex character of Byzantine culture has received more attention and a more objective treatment than previously.
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Church of Hagia Sophia (Sophia as in Theia Sophia – the Holy Spirit of the Trinity) in Istanbul, built by Justinian on the site of Constantine’s grand church which was burned down in the riots of 532. The task was carried out by over ten thousand workers and teams of hunter gatherers scouring the sites of ancient Asia Minor such as the Temple of Artarmis at Ephesus for “spare” columns (which partly explains why this, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, now has only one column left).
The work took just six years, and was celebrated by an opening feast (or sacrifice as they called it) of 100 Oxen, 600 Stags, 1,000 Pigs, 6,000 Sheep, 10,000 Hens, and 10,000 Roosters. The mosaic above shows Justinian giving a model of the church to the Virgin Mary, a representation common in churches throughout the middle ages.
View of the Hagia Sophia from Sultanahmet square
|Location||Istanbul (historicallyConstantinople) Turkey|
|Designer||Isidore of Miletus
Anthemius of Tralles
|Type||Currently a Museum, formerly an ImperialMosque and Roman Catholic Cathedral; originally constructed as an Eastern Orthodox Church.|
|Length||82 m (269 ft)|
|Width||73 m (240 ft)|
|Height||55 m (180 ft)|
Another interior view of the Hagia Sophia, showing Islamic elements in the ceiling.
Interior view of the Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia (from the Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, “Holy Wisdom“; Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia; Turkish: Aya Sofya) is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the cathedral of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople of the Western Crusader established Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1934, when it was secularized. It was opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.
The Church was dedicated to the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity, itsdedication feast taking place on December 25, the anniversary of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ. Although it is sometimes referred to as Sancta Sophia (as though it were named after Saint Sophia), sophia is the phonetic spelling in Latin of the Greek word for wisdom – the full name in Greek being Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God”.
Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have “changed the history of architecture.” It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. The current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and was the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to occupy the site, the previous two having both been destroyed by rioters. It was designed byIsidore of Miletus, a physicist, and Anthemius of Tralles, a mathematician.
The church contained a large collection of holy relics and featured, among other things, a 49 foot (15 m) silver iconostasis. It was the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the religious focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly one thousand years. It is the church in which Cardinal Humbert in 1054 excommunicated Michael I Cerularius – which is commonly considered the start of the Great Schism.
In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, who subsequently ordered the building converted into a mosque. The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels were removed and many of the mosaics were plastered over. Islamic features — such as the mihrab, minbar, and four minarets — were added while in the possession of the Ottomans. It remained a mosque until 1935, when it was converted into a museum by the Republic of Turkey.
For almost 500 years the principal mosque of Istanbul, Hagia Sophia served as a model for many other Ottoman mosques, such as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque of Istanbul), the Şehzade Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque, the Rüstem Pasha Mosque and the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque.
The first church was known as the Μεγάλη Ἐκκλησία (Megálē Ekklēsíā, “Great Church”), or in Latin “Magna Ecclesia”, because of its larger dimensions in comparison to the contemporary churches in the City. Inaugurated on 15 February 360 (during the reign of Constantius II) by the arian bishop Eudoxius of Antioch, it was built next to the area where the imperial palace was being developed. The nearby Hagia Eirene (“Holy Peace”) church was completed earlier and served as cathedral until the Hagia Sophia was completed. Both churches acted together as the principal churches of the Byzantine Empire.
Writing in 440, Socrates of Constantinople claimed that the church was built by Constantius II, who was working on it in 346. A tradition which is not older than the 7th – 8th century, reports that the edifice was built by Constantine the Great. Zonaras reconciles the two opinion, writing that Constance had repaired the edifice consecrated by Eusebius of Nicomedia, after it had collapsed.Since Eusebius was bishop of Constantinople from 339 to 341, and Constantine died in 337, it seems possible that the first church was erected by the latter.The edifice was built as a traditional Latin colonnaded basilica with galleries and a wooden roof. It was preceded by an atrium. It was claimed to be one of the world’s most outstanding monuments at the time.
The Patriarch of Constantinople John Chrysostom came into a conflict with Empress Aelia Eudoxia, wife of the emperor Arcadius, and was sent into exile on 20 June 404. During the subsequent riots, this first church was largely burned down. Nothing remains of the first church today.
Stone remains of the basilica ordered by Theodosius II, showing the Lamb of God
Marble blocks from the second church
A second church was ordered by Theodosius II, who inaugurated it on 10 October 415. The basilica with a wooden roof was built by architect Rufinus. A fire started during the tumult of theNika Revolt burned the second Hagia Sophia to the ground on 13–14 January 532.
Several marble blocks from the second church survive to the present; among them are reliefsdepicting 12 lambs representing the 12 apostles. Originally part of a monumental front entrance, they now reside in an excavation pit adjacent to the museum’s entrance. Discovered in 1935 beneath the western courtyard by A. M. Schneider, further digging was forsaken for fear of impinging on the integrity of the Hagia Sophia.
Third church (current structure)
On 23 February 532, only a few days after the destruction of the second basilica, EmperorJustinian I elected to build a third and entirely different basilica, larger and more majestic than its predecessors.
Construction of church depicted in codex Manasses Chronicle
Justinian chose physicist Isidore of Miletus and mathematician Anthemius of Tralles as architects; Anthemius, however, died within the first year of the endeavor. The construction is described in the Byzantine historian Procopius‘ On Buildings (Peri ktismatōn, Latin: De aedificiis). The emperor had material brought from all over the empire – such asHellenistic columns from the Temple of Artemis atEphesus, large stones from quarries in porphyry fromEgypt, green marble from Thessaly, black stone from the Bosporus region, and yellow stone from Syria. More than ten thousand people were employed. This new church was contemporaneously recognized as a major work of architecture. The theories of Heron of Alexandria may have been utilized to address the challenges presented by building such an expansive dome over so large a space. The emperor, together with the patriarch Eutychius, inaugurated the new basilica on 27 December 537 with much pomp. The mosaics inside the church were, however, only completed under the reign of Emperor Justin II (565–578).
Hagia Sophia was the seat of the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople and a principal setting for Byzantine imperial ceremonies, such as coronations. The basilica also offered asylum to wrongdoers.
Earthquakes in August 553 and on 14 December 557 caused cracks in the main dome and eastern half-dome. The main dome collapsed completely during a subsiquent earthquake on 7 May 558, destroying the ambon, altar, and ciborium. The emperor ordered an immediate restoration. He entrusted it to Isidorus the Younger, nephew of Isidore of Miletus, who used lighter materials and elevated the dome by 6.25 metres (20.5 ft) – giving the building its current interior height of 55.6 metres (182 ft). This reconstruction, giving the church its present 6th-century form, was completed in 562. The Byzantine poet Paul the Silentiary composed a long epic poem (still extant), known asEkphrasis, for the rededication of the basilica presided over by Patriarch Eutychius on 23 December 562.
In 726 the emperor Leo the Isaurian issued a series of edicts against the veneration of images, ordering the army to destroy all icons – ushering in the period of Byzantine iconoclasm. At that time, all religious pictures and statues were removed from the Hagia Sophia. After a brief reprieve under Empress Irene (797–802), the iconoclasts made a comeback. Emperor Theophilus (829–842) was strongly influenced byIslamic art, which forbids graven images. He had a two-winged bronze door with his monograms installed at the southern entrance of the church.
The basilica suffered damage, first in a great fire in 859, and again in an earthquake on 8 January 869, that made a half-dome collapse. Emperor Basil I ordered the church repaired.
After the great earthquake of 25 October 989, which ruined the great dome, the Byzantine emperor Basil II asked for the Armenian architectTrdat, creator of the great churches of Ani and Argina, to repair the dome. His main repairs were to the western arch and a portion of the dome. The extent of the damage required six years of repair and reconstruction; the church was re-opened on 13 May 994.
In his book De caerimoniis aulae Byzantinae (“Book of Ceremonies”), Emperor Constantine VII (913–919) wrote a detailed account of the ceremonies held in the Hagia Sophia by the emperor and the patriarch.
Upon the capture of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, the church was ransacked and desecrated by the Latin Christians. The Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates described the capture of Constantinople; many reputed relics from the church – such as a stone from the tomb ofJesus, the Virgin Mary‘s milk, the shroud of Jesus, and bones of several saints – were sent to churches in the West and can be seen there now in various museums. During the Latin occupation of Constantinople (1204–1261) the church became a Roman Catholic cathedral.Baldwin I of Constantinople was crowned emperor on 16 May 1204 in Hagia Sophia, at a ceremony which closely followed Byzantine practices. Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice who commanded the sack and invasion of the city by the Latin Crusaders in 1204, is buried inside the church. The tomb inscription carrying his name, which has become a part of the floor decoration, was spat upon by many of the angry Byzantines who recaptured Constantinople in 1261. However, restoration carried out during the period 1847–1849 cast doubt upon the authenticity of the doge’s grave; it is more likely a symbolic memorial rather than burial site.
After the recapture in 1261 by the Byzantines, the church was in a dilapidated state. The four buttresses in the west were possibly built during this time. In 1317, emperor Andronicus II ordered four new buttresses to be built in the eastern and northern parts of the church. New cracks developed in the dome after the earthquake of October 1344, and several parts of the building collapsed on 19 May 1346; consequently, the church was closed until 1354, when repairs were undertaken by architects Astras and Peralta.
Transition between Church and Mosque
In 1453 Sultan Mehmed laid siege to Constantinople, driven in part by a desire to convert the city to Islam. The Sultan promised his troops three days of unbridled pillage if the city fell, after which he would claim its contents himself. The Hagia Sophia was not exempted from the pillage, becoming its focal point as the invaders believed it to contain the greatest treasures of the city. Shortly after the city’s defenses collapsed, pillagers made their way to the Hagia Sophia and battered down its doors. Throughout the siege the Holy Liturgy and Prayer of the Hours were performed at the Hagia Sophia, and the church formed a refuge for many of those who were unable to contribute to the city’s defense. Trapped in the church, congregants and refugees became booty to be divided amongst the invaders. The building was desecrated and looted, and occupants enslaved or slaughtered; a few of the elderly and infirm were killed, and the remainder chained.Priests purportedly continued to perform Christian rites until stopped by the invaders. When the Sultan and his cohort entered the church, one of the Ulama climbed the pulpit and recited the Shahada, transforming at once the church into a mosque.
Fountain (Şadırvan) for ritual ablutions
The mihrab located in the apse where the altar used to stand, pointing towards Mecca
Immediately after the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Hagia Sophia was converted into the Ayasofya Mosque. As described by several Western visitors (such as theCórdoban nobleman Pero Tafurand the Florentine Cristoforo Buondelmonti), the church was in a dilapidated state, with several of its doors were off; sultan Mehmed II ordered the cleanup of the church and its conversion. The subsequent sultan, Bayezid II, had a new minaret built to replace that erected by his father.
In the 16th century the sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520–1566) brought back two colossal candles from his conquest of Hungary. They were placed on both sides of the mihrab. During the reign of Selim II (1566–1577), the building started showing signs of fatigue and was extensively strengthened with the addition of structural supports to its exterior by the great Ottoman architectMimar Sinan, who is also considered one of the world’s first earthquake engineers. In addition to strengthening the historic Byzantine structure, Sinan built the two additional large minarets at the western end of the building, the original sultan’s loge, and the mausoleum of Selim II to the southeast of the building (then a mosque) in 1577. The mausoleums of Murad III and Mehmed IIIwere built next to it in the 17th century.
Sultan Mahmud I ordered the restoration of the building in 1739 and added a medrese (a Koranic school, now the library of the museum), a soup kitchen (for distribution to the poor) and a library, and in 1740 a fountain for ritual ablutions (Şadirvan), thus transforming it into a külliye, i.e. a social complex. At the same time a new sultan’s gallery and a new mihrab were built inside.
The most famous restoration of the Hagia Sophia was ordered by Sultan Abdülmecid and completed by eight hundred workers between 1847 and 1849, under the supervision of the Swiss-Italian architect brothers Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati. The brothers consolidated the dome and vaults, straightened the columns, and revised the decoration of the exterior and the interior of the building. The mosaics in the upper gallery were cleaned. The old chandeliers were replaced by new pendant ones. New gigantic circular-framed disks or medallions were hung on columns. They were inscribed with the names of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, the first four caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, and the two grandchildren of Mohammed: Hassan and Hussain, by the calligrapher Kazasker İzzed Effendi (1801–1877). In 1850 the architect Fossati built a new sultan’s gallery in a Neo-Byzantine style connected to the royal pavilion behind the mosque. Outside the Hagia Sophia, a timekeeper’s building and a new madrasah were built. The minarets were altered so that they were of equal height. When the restoration was finished, the mosque was re-opened with ceremonial pomp on 13 July 1849.
Museum, current use
In 1935, the first Turkish President and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, transformed the building into a museum. The carpets were removed and the marble floor decorations appeared for the first time in centuries, while the white plaster covering many of the mosaics was painstakingly removed by expert restorers. Turkish fine art photographer Ahmet Ertuğ‘s close-up pictures of the restored mosaics can be viewed in the upper northern gallery of the Hagia Sophia in a permanent exhibition. The museum’s hours are 9.30am to 4.30pm, Tuesday through Sunday; entry fee is 20 TL, or free with the use of a Museum Card.
Use of the complex as a place of worship (mosque or church) is strictly prohibited.However, in 2006, it was reported that the Turkish government allowed the allocation of a small room in the museum complex to be used as a prayer room for Christian and Muslim museum staff.
A section of the original architecture of Hagia Sophia
Groundplan of the Hagia Sophia
One of the mighty stone columns with metal clasps.
Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. Of great artistic value was its decorated interior with mosaics and marble pillars and coverings. The temple itself was so richly and artistically decorated that Justinian proclaimed, “Solomon, I have outdone thee!” (Νενίκηκά σε Σολομών). Justinian himself had overseen the completion of the greatest cathedral ever built up to that time, and it was to remain the largest cathedral for 1,000 years up until the completion of the cathedral in Seville in Spain.
Justinian’s basilica was at once the culminating architectural achievement of late antiquity and the first masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. Its influence, both architecturally and liturgically, was widespread and enduring in the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Muslim worlds alike. The largest columns are of granite, about 19 or 20 metres high and at least 1.5 metres in diameter; the largest weigh well over 70 tons apiece. Under Justinian’s orders, eight Corinthian columns were disassembled from Baalbek, Lebanon and shipped to Constantinople for the construction of Hagia Sophia.
The vast interior has a complex structure. The nave is covered by a central dome 55.6 metres (182 ft 5 in) from floor level, supported in part by an arcade of 40 arched windows. Repairs to structure have left the dome somewhat elliptical – with the diameter varying between 31.24 m (102 ft 6 in) and 30.86 m (101 ft 3 in).
The dome is carried on four concave triangular pendentives that serve to transition from the circular base of the dome to its rectangular base. The weight of the dome passes through the pendentives to four massive piers at the corners; these were reinforced with buttresses during Ottoman times, under the guidance of the architect Mimar Sinan.
At the western entrance and eastern liturgical side, the arched openings are extended by half domes carried on smaller semi-domed exedras; a hierarchy of dome-headed elements built up to create a vast oblong interior, crowned by the main dome. Despite all of the aforementioned features, the weight of the dome remained a problem, requiring the addition of external buttresses.
Interior surfaces are sheathed with polychrome marbles, green and white with purple porphyry, and gold mosaics.
The exterior, clad in stucco, was tinted yellow and red during a restorations in the 19th century on the direction of the architect Fossati.
Interior of the Hagia Sophia by John Singer Sargent, 1891
The dome of Hagia Sophia has spurred particular interest for many art historians, architects and engineers because of the innovative way the original architects envisioned the dome. The dome is supported by pendentives which had never been used before the building of this structure. The pendentive enables the dome to transition gracefully into the square shape of the piers below. The pendentives not only achieve a pleasing aesthetic quality, but they also restrain the lateral forces of the dome and allow the weight of the dome to flow downward.
Although this design stabilizes the dome and the surrounding walls and arches, the actual construction of the walls of Hagia Sophia weakened the overall structure. The bricklayers used more mortar than brick, which weakened the walls. The structure would have been more stable if the builders at least let the mortar cure before they began the next layer; however, they did not do this. When the dome was placed atop the building, the weight of the dome caused the walls to lean outward because of the wet mortar underneath. When Isidorus the Younger rebuilt the original dome, he had to first build up the interior of the walls so that they were vertical in order to support the weight of the new dome. Another probable change in the design of the dome when it was rebuilt was the actual height of the dome. Isidore the Younger raised the height of the dome by approximately six metres so that the lateral forces would not be as strong and the weight of the dome would flow more easily down the walls.
A second interesting fact about the original structure of the dome was how the architects were able to place forty windows around the base of the dome. Hagia Sophia is famous for the mystical quality of light that reflects everywhere in the interior of the nave, which gives the dome the appearance of hovering above the nave. This design is possible because the dome is shaped like ascalloped shell or the inside of an umbrella with ribs that extend from the top of the dome down to the base. These ribs allow the weight of the dome to flow between the windows, down the pendentives, and ultimately to the foundation.
The unique character of the design of Hagia Sophia shows how this structure is one of the most advanced and ambitious monuments of late antiquity.
Lustration urn from Pergamon
Narthex and portals
The Imperial Gate was the main entrance between the exo- and esonarthex. It was reserved only for the emperor. The Byzantine mosaic above the portal depicts Christ and Emperor Leo VI the Wise.
A long ramp from the northern part of the outer narthex leads up to the upper gallery.
The upper gallery is laid out in a horseshoe shape that encloses the nave until the apse. Several mosaics are preserved in the upper gallery, an area traditionally reserved for the empress and her court. The best-preserved mosaics are located in the southern part of the gallery.
Loge of the Empress
The Loge of the Empress
The Loge of the Empress is located in the centre of the upper enclosure, or gallery, of the Hagia Sophia. From there the empress and the court-ladies would watch the proceedings down below. A round, green stone marks the spot where the throne of the empress stood.
The Marble Door inside the Hagia Sophia is located in the southern upper enclosure, or gallery. It was used by the participants in synods, they entered and left the meeting chamber through this door.
Originally, under Justinian’s reign, the interior decorations consisted of abstract designs of the marble slabs on the walls and mosaics on the curving vaults. Of these, one can still see the twoarchangels Gabriel and Michael in the spandrels of the bema. There were already a few figurative decorations, as attested by the eulogy of Paul the Silentiary. The spandrels of the gallery are revetted in opus sectile, showing patterns and figures of flowers and birds in precisely cut pieces of white marble set against a background of black marble. In later stages figurative mosaics were added, which were destroyed during the iconoclastic controversy (726–843). Present mosaics are from the post-iconoclastic period. The number of treasures, relics and miracle-working, painted icons of the Hagia Sophia grew progressively richer into an amazing collection. Apart from the mosaics, a large number of figurative decorations were added during the second half of the 9th century: an image of Christ in the central dome; Orthodox saints, prophets and Church Fathers in the tympana below; historical figures connected with this church, such asPatriarch Ignatius; some scenes from the gospel in the galleries.
Mosaics with geometric pattern decorate the upper imperial gallery
The church was richly decorated with mosaics throughout the centuries. They either depicted the Virgin Mother, Jesus, saints, or emperors and empresses. Other parts were decorated in a purely decorative style with geometric patterns.
During the Sack of Constantinople in 1204, the Latin Crusaders vandalized valuable items in every important Byzantine structure of the city, including the golden mosaics of the Hagia Sophia. Many of these items were shipped to Venice, whose Doge, Enrico Dandolo, had organized the invasion and sack of Constantinople.
Following the building’s conversion into a mosque in 1453, many of its mosaics were covered with plaster, due to Islam‘s ban on representational imagery. This process was not completed at once, and reports exist from the 17th century in which travellers note that they could still see Christian images in the former church. In 1847–49, the building was restored by two Swiss Italian brothers, Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati, and Sultan Abdülmecid allowed them to also document any mosaics they might discover during this process. This work did not include repairing the mosaics and after recording the details about an image, the Fossatis painted it over again. This work included covering the previously uncovered faces of two seraphim mosaics located in the centre of the building. The building currently features a total of four of these images and two of them are restorations in paint created by the Fossatis to replace two images of which they could find no surviving remains. In other cases, the Fossatis recreated damaged decorative mosaic patterns in paint, sometimes redesigning them in the process. The Fossati records are the primary sources about a number of mosaic images now believed to have been completely or partially destroyed in an earthquake in 1894. These include a great mosaic of Christ Pantocrator in the dome, a mosaic over a now-unidentified Door of the Poor, a large image of a jewel-encrusted cross, and a large number of images of angels, saints, patriarchs, and church fathers. Most of the missing images were located in the building’s two tympana. The Fossatis also added a pulpit (minbar) and the four large medallions on the walls of the nave bearing the names of Muhammad and Islam’s first caliphs.
Imperial gate mosaics
Imperial Gate mosaic
- Imperial Gate mosaics: located in the tympanum above the gate, used only by the emperors when entering the church. Based on style analysis, it has been dated to the late 9th or early 10th century. The emperor with a nimbus or halo could possibly represent emperor Leo VI the Wise or his son Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus bowing down before Christ Pantocrator, seated on a jeweled throne, giving His blessing and holding in His left hand an open book.The text on the book reads as follows: “Peace be with you. I am the light of the world”. (John 20:19; 20:26; 8:12) On each side of Christ’s shoulders is a circular medallion: on His left the Archangel Gabriel , holding a staff, on His right His Mother Mary. These mosaics express the timeless power bestowed on the Byzantine emperors by Christ.
Southwestern entrance mosaic
Virgin and Child flanked by Justinian I and Constantine I
- Southwestern entrance mosaics, situated in the tympanum of the southwestern entrance, date from 944. They were rediscovered during the restorations of 1849 by Fossati. The Virgin sits on a throne without a back, her feet resting on a pedestal, embellished with precious stones. The Child Christ sits on her lap, giving His blessing and holding a scroll in His left hand. On her left side stands emperor Constantine in ceremonial attire, presenting a model of the city to Mary. The inscription next to him says: “Great emperor Constantine of the Saints”. On her right side stands emperor Justinian I, offering a model of the Hagia Sophia. The medallions on both sides of the Virgin’s head carry the monograms MP and ΘY, an abbreviation of “Mētēr” and “Theou“, meaning “Mother of God”.
Apse mosaic of the Theotokos (Virgin Mother and Child)
- Virgin and Child: this was the first of the post-iconoclastic mosaics. It was inaugurated on 29 March 867 by Patriarch Photius and the emperors Michael III and Basil I. This mosaic is situated in a high location on the half dome of the apse. Mary is sitting on a throne without a back, holding the Child Jesus on her lap. Her feet rest on a pedestal. Both the pedestal and the throne are adorned with precious stones. These mosaics are believed to be a reconstruction of the mosaics of the 6th century that were previously destroyed during the iconoclastic era. The mosaics are set against the original golden background of the 6th century. The portraits of the archangels Gabriel and Michael (largely destroyed) in the bema of the arch also date from the 9th century.
Emperor Alexander mosaic
- The Emperor Alexander mosaic is not easy to find for the first-time visitor, located in the second floor in a dark corner of the ceiling. It depicts Emperor Alexander in full regalia, holding a scroll in his right hand and a globus cruciger in his left. A drawing by Fossati showed that the mosaic survived until 1849, and that Thomas Whittemore, founder of the Byzantine Institute of America who was granted permission to preserve the mosaics, assumed that it had been destroyed in the earthquake of 1894. Eight years after his death, the mosaic was discovered in 1958 largely through the researches of Robert Van Nice. Unlike most of the other mosaics in Hagia Sophia, which had been covered over by ordinary plaster, the Alexander mosaic was simply painted over and reflected the surrounding mosaic patterns and thus was well hidden. It was duly cleaned by the Byzantine Institute’s successor to Whittemore, Paul A. Underwood.
Empress Zoe mosaics
Empress Zoe mosaics
- The Empress Zoe mosaics on the eastern wall of the southern gallery date from the 11th century. Christ Pantocrator, clad in the dark blue robe (as always the custom in Byzantine art), is seated in the middle against a golden background, giving His blessing with the right hand and holding the Bible in His left hand. On either side of His head are the monograms IC andXC, meaning Iēsous Khristos. He is flanked by Constantine IX Monomachus and Empress Zoe, both in ceremonial costumes. He is offering a purse, as symbol of the donation he made to the church, while she is holding a scroll, symbol of the donations she made. The inscription over the head of the emperor says : “Constantine, pious emperor in Christ the God, king of the Romans, Monomachus”. The inscription over the head of the empress reads as follows : “Zoë, the very pious Augusta”. The previous heads have been scraped off and replaced by the three present ones. Perhaps the earlier mosaic showed her first husband Romanus III Argyrus or her adopted son Michael IV. Another theory is that these mosaics were made for an earlier emperor and empress, with their heads changed into the present ones.
- The Comnenus mosaics, equally located on the eastern wall of the southern gallery, date from 1122. The Virgin Mary is standing in the middle, depicted, as usual in Byzantine art, in a dark blue gown. She holds the Child Christ on her lap. He gives His blessing with His right hand while holding a scroll in His left hand. On her right side stands emperor John II Comnenus, represented in a garb embellished with precious stones. He holds a purse, symbol of an imperial donation to the church. Empress Irene stands on the left side of the Virgin, wearing ceremonial garments and offering a document. Their eldest son Alexius Comnenus is represented on an adjacent pilaster. He is shown as a beardless youth, probably representing his appearance at his coronation aged seventeen. In this panel one can already see a difference with the Empress Zoe mosaics that is one century older. There is a more realistic expression in the portraits instead of an idealized representation. The empress is shown with plaited blond hair, rosy cheeks and grey eyes, revealing her Hungarian descent. The emperor is depicted in a dignified manner.
The Deësis mosaic with Christ as ruler
Detail of Deësis mosaic
- The Deësis (‘Δέησις’ in Greek, meaning Entreaty) mosaic probably dates from 1261. It was commissioned to mark the end of 57 years of Roman Catholic use and the return to the Orthodox faith. It is the third panel situated in the imperial enclosure of the upper galleries. It is widely considered the finest in Hagia Sophia, because of the softness of the features, the humane expressions and the tones of the mosaic. The style is close to that of the Italian painters of the late 13th or early 14th century, such as Duccio. In this panel the Virgin Maryand John the Baptist (Ioannes Prodromos), both shown in three-quarters profile, are imploring the intercession of Christ Pantocrator for humanity on Judgment Day. The bottom part of this mosaic is badly deteriorated, probably due to rain since the mosaic is next to the windows. This mosaic is considered as the beginning of the Renaissance in Byzantine pictorial art.
Northern tympanon mosaics
Mosaic in the northern tympanon depicting Saint John Chrysostom
- The northern tympanon mosaics feature various saints. They have been able to survive due to the very high and unreachable location. They depict Saints John Chrysostom and Ignatius the Younger standing, clothed in white robes with crosses, and holding richly jewelled Holy Bibles. The names of each saint is given around the statues in Greek, in order to enable an identification for the visitor. The other mosaics in the other tympani have not survived probably due to the frequent earthquakes as opposed to any deliberate destruction by the Ottoman conquerors.
The interior of the dome undergoing restoration
A large number of mosaics were uncovered in the 1930s by a team from the Byzantine Institute of America led by Thomas Whittemore. The team chose to let a number of simple cross images remain covered by plaster, but uncovered all major mosaics found.
Because of its long history as both a church and a mosque, a particular challenge arises in the restoration process. The Christian iconographic mosaics are being gradually uncovered. However, in order to do so, important, historic Islamic art would have to be destroyed. Restorers have attempted to maintain a balance between both Christian and Islamic cultures. In particular, much controversy rests upon whether the Islamic calligraphy on the dome of the cathedral should be removed, in order to permit the underlying Pantocrator mosaic of Christ as Master of the World, to be exhibited (assuming the mosaic still exists).
One of the minarets (at southwest) was built from red brick while the other three were built from white limestone and sand stone; of which the slender one at northeast was erected by SultanBayezid II while the two larger minarets at west were erected by Sultan Selim II and designed by the famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan.
- Church of the Holy Apostles — formerly the second most important church of Constantinople
- Hagia Irene — neighbouring church
- Chora Church
- Oldest churches in the world
- Pammakaristos Church
- Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamamı — bath commissioned by Roxelana for the Hagia Sophia community
- Caferağa Medresseh — former Koranic school next to Hagia Sophia
- Soğukçeşme Sokağı — historical street between the Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace
- Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev
- Saint Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod
- Saint Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk
- Hagia Sophia Church (Sofia)
- Saint Clement Catholic Church, Chicago — the designer was said to be in influenced by the Hagia Sohia
- List of megalithic sites
- Conversion of non-Muslim places of worship into mosques