The last days of the Roman Empire saw many attempts to revive it. Europe tried to renew Pax Romana under the leadership of Emperor Constantine. He established the city of Constantinople and called it the new Rome. This move started the rule called the Byzantine Empire, or what is also called the Eastern Roman Empire. The Roman Empire started breaking at the seams; its disintegration started along the edges, where territories, dissatisfied by the mismanagement and corruption of local officials, started claiming their independence from Roman Rule.
Slowly, these edges moved inward, until it reached the seat of Rome, where the Empire made its last stand, before finally breaking apart. Emperor Constantine, who ruled the Roman Empire around 300 A. D. , made some very radical decisions in the hopes of saving the Empire. Constantines decision to move the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople was incited by several factors.
Some of these factors are the following: the strategic geographic position of the city (Constantinople was in the heart of maritime trade as its position made it the gateway to trade in all of the Mediterranean, and Europe and Asia as well); the volatile political situation made it a necessity (to centralize and unite the empire, providing two seats of power for greater control); the need to create an image of a strong and powerful authority that has recall (Constantine named the city Constantinople, after his own name). In any case, the changes that Constantine instituted were gradual and deliberate.
There was a slow move of the center from Rome to Constantinople. By 330 AD, Constantinople was inaugurated as the new capital, marking the beginning of the Byzantine Empire. From the time, the process of revival of the classical Greek culture, alongside the campaign for Christianization was well on its way. Soon after shifting the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople, several changes became apparent. Among the many achievements of this radical move were in terms of the economic, social, political, and cultural aspects of both Asia and Europe. Constantinople was located on the crossroad where Asia and Europe met.
It was the center of both short and long-distance trade routes, where the crossing of many trade goods enriched the cultures of those along the route. That Constantinople was a main artery in the trade route benefited the economy of the Roman Empire. The Emperor can now directly supervise trade and commerce and derive income from it from taxes and other derivative businesses like services. Emperor Constantine himself, being located in Constantinople, can exercise control over this very important industry which, if managed well, can benefit the entire empire, even those far from Constantinople.
Moreover, these commercial exchanges created cultural exchanges as well. The revival of trade provided the Byzantine Empire with a constant fresh flow of cultural, artistic and religious forces. Merchants from the East who travelled to Europe brought with them an exotic culture that was imbibed by the Europeans, and the merchants, upon their return to their native countries, brought with them new ways of doing things which they adapt as well. As a result, the Byzantine Empire, through Constantinople was culturally enriched.
It gained more cultural and educational weight that was in direct contrast with the rest of the regions that was in a state of cultural stagnation. All the essential trades could be found in Constantinople. It had something to offer for everyone, but the city was especially noted for luxurious, exotic items. Fine goods such as silk, jewelry, and carved ivory were very popular, and their craftsmanship was unparalleled. Paintings, glassware, and other ornamentals were also of fine artistic quality and had a high level of creativity so characteristic of the empire itself.
Constantinople was the trade center of Eastern Europe. From here, merchants sold silks from China via the Silk Road, wheat from Egypt, gems from India, spices from Southeast Asia, slaves from Western Europe, and furs from the Viking lands. Merchants from all over the world, Arabs, Jews, Russians, Venetians and Genoese bought and sold their goods here. Politically, the Byzantine Empire is located in the highly strategic site overlooking the Bosporus. Constantines decision to create the Byzantine Empire was also a very shrewd political and tactical move.
That Constantinople is in a highly sensitive geographical position helped to unite the eastern and western parts of the empire, which were at that time in danger of breaking apart. The Byzantine Empire brought the Roman Rule closer to the people who lived on the edges of the empire, and in so doing, created a sense of political stability and control. At the heart of trade, the seat of government went, in a move that proved to be to the benefit of the entire empire, or what remains of it.
For medieval times, Constantinople was a gigantic city, both in physical size and population. At its height, its population 400,000 people, already formidable in those times. Physically, Byzantine was a formidable sight, with fortifications worthy of a mighty empire. It was protected by mighty walls, ramparts and towers and its vestiges continue to impress tourists and visitors of modern times. . Another change that the Byzantine Empire achieved was in terms of religion and the spread of Christianity.
The spread Christianity took place secondary to the flourishing of trade. The interchange of goods between Europe and Asia encouraged the spread of Christianity in the area, as Asians were exposed to the precepts of the Christian religion. Some were immediately converted, while others brought the basic tenets of Christianity to their mother land, creating small changes in how they practice their own faith in their native countries. Byzantium created a struggle for religious power, between Rome and Constantinople.
This conflict culminated in the Great Schism, where the people of Byzantine moved away from the authority in Rome put more weight to the ruler in Constantinople. By 1054 this schism had become irreparable when the pope in Rome and the patriarch in Constantinople excommunicated each other over a historically celebrated and infamous debate. Prior to Emperor Constantines rule, the Roman Empire was a pagan empire, with no one religion to unite them. In yet again another radical move, Constantine converted himself to Christianity.
This mover created a strong statement to the world, virtually creating a Christian Empire. His move may have most probably earned the respect and gained the strong support of the faithful and thoughtful converts, the intellectual elites and the common citizens. By converting to Christianity, Constantinople practically made it the official religion throughout the entire Roman territory. This perhaps, more than the move of the capital to Constantinople, is the most important of Constantines decisions, and the one that will make him resound in history for all time to come.
More than any other event in history, Constantines conversion to Christianity and proclaiming it as the Empires official religion has been instrumental in shaping the world and the succeeding events thereafter. So, the decisions of Constantine were truly of great historical significance. It renewed and revitalized an empire that was lost in all its vastness. This decision installed a strong political, religious and cultural center that to strengthen the power of the emperor and united a fragile empire.
However, it is also worth noting that while Constantine indeed revived the Roman Empire, most experts agree that it is difficult to unify the central Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. They were very different in soul and character. There were disagreements and conflicts that create a line that delineates one from the other. The Byzantine Empire centered around Constantinople, created an entirely new culture and identity unique from its mother land. For the Byzantines, there was no difference, they were the Roman Empire, and not merely an extension or branch in Eastern Europe and Asia.
The capital city, Constantinople, may have been founded as the capital of Rome by the Emperor Constantine, but it kept its uniquely Greek or Byzantine identity that is so far removed from that in Rome. The mix of Asian cultures and traditions imbued the Byzantine Empire with a soul that it can uniquely claim as its own. As the Byzantine Empire continued its existence, internal changes took place as well. Constantinople itself evolved into small pockets of different civilizations, , with each location taking on a different character.
The eastern portion of the Byzantine Empire has historically been predominately Greek or Hellenic in culture and character. However, during its entire existence, Constantinople, and the rest of the Byzantine Empire have had to deal with overt political threats and cultural impositions from European cultures, Asian cultures. However, the greatest threat to the Byzantine Empire was from the encroachment of the Islams, especially during the time of the seventh to eighth century AD. The glorious Byzantine Empire that Constantine founded also gradually declined.
During the later part of the Middle Ages, Byzantium gradually declined in terms of political power even as it became more and more isolated from the rest of Europe. During the European Middle Ages, there was a gradual but deliberate move to consolidate and unify the disparate pockets of European states and culture into one bigger and overarching European identity that straddled all of Europe. In the last centuries of the European Middle Ages, this area saw the final integration of all of Europe, solidly united under the European banner. Byzantium was left out of this new and consolidated European concept.
That Constantinople was left out was due primarily to its distance. This distance refers not just to the physical distance, but to the cultural differences which were even more difficult to bridge. As Europe emerged from the Dark Ages, transformed and improved, this began the modern period of Europe as signaled by the Renaissance. As the new Europe came forward as a solid cultural entity, Byzantine had come to an end when the Islamic Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople, and thus ended the Roman Empire in the East for good. In the Byzantium era, the Emperor exercised most of the powers of the state.
From him emanated military, legislative, and executive powers. He also defined the faith of the empire, and was the supreme protector of the people. In 527-565 AD, under Emperor Justinian, the Byzantine Empire reached its greatest size. Under his efforts, Emperor Justinian almost regained the glory of the ancient Roman Empire. His campaign was intense and highly targeted. He channeled all the resources of Byzantium towards expanding its territories. However, this endless fighting created cracks that would weaken Byzantium as it does all empires.
Justinians rule was one of the greatest in both Roman and Byzantine Empires His other legacies are the construction of the Hagia Sophia and the establishment of the Justinians code of laws, the emperors attempt to codify and consolidate previous Roman laws into a form useable in his time. The Byzantine Empire straddles a long and significant period in world history. It arches in a continuous line that bridge the latter days of Rome to the very dawn of the modern age. The Byzantine Empire, through Constantinople served as the link that transmitted the classical Hellenic culture of Greece and Rome into modern times.
But Byzantium stood apart from Greek and Roman classical cultures because it was able to develop unique historical and cultural character that is singular in all of history. The unique and seamless fusion of Hellenic, Roman, European, and Islamic elements created the Byzantine identity that is comparable to none. Most scholars consider the Byzantine Empire as a period that harkens back to the glorious days of early Roman Empire, when there was prosperity and peace among all the land. However, the Byzantine Empire only delayed the inevitable.
As most glorious empires come and go, the Roman Empires time was up, falling in the wayside of the greater forces that play a role in all of our lives, both individually and collectively. Nothing anyone could have done could have stopped the Roman Empire from ending. Indeed for all its shortcomings the Byzantine Empire was a moment that deserves respect and dear remembrances. It was the bridge that linked religions, cultures, economies, and eras, all under one unforgettable and breathtaking moment in all of mans collective history.