We are all familiar with the Roman Empire and its influence on the course of Western history, but few outside the realm of Byzantine studies know about the Byzantine Empire, which preserved the legacy of Roman society in the medieval era. Though it struggled against the advance of Muslim empires throughout most of its history, the Byzantine Empire was a realm in which a rich culture flourished and has left an indelible stamp on Eastern Orthodox Christianity, church-state relations, and many other areas.
The Byzantine Empire is named after Byzantium, the Greek colony that was later converted into the city of Constantinople, and is the designation historians use to describe the Eastern Roman Empire, which lasted for nearly 1,000 years after Rome fell to the barbarians in 461AD. We should note that scholars who specialize in Byzantine studies are the ones who refer to this portion of the Roman Empire as the Byzantine Empire, for the citizens of the Byzantine Empire itself always considered themselves to be citizens of the Roman Empire. In 1453 AD, Byzantium fell to the Ottoman Empire and was renamed Istanbul, the name by which the city is known even today.
The most well-known Byzantine emperor was Justinian the Great, who was active in Christian theological arguments and who helped to simplify the overly complicated system of Roman law that faced him when his reign began. During his reign from 527â€“565 AD., Justinian also made a concerted effort to recapture the glory of ancient Rome, through his many wars of conquest and reconquest. But these struggles came with a high cost, and would contribute to the later weakness of the empire, a weakness that was fully exploited by the Western Crusaders from about 1000â€“1300 AD. On their way to "free" Jerusalem from the Turks, the Crusaders pillaged the Byzantine Empire, leaving it open to its eventual fall to the Ottoman Empire.
Byzantine studies have proved that when Western Europe was in its the dark ages, the arts, economics, and scholarship thrived in Byzantine culture. Its silk trade with Persia helped to spread knowledge to and from its lands, and its gold was sought-after the world over. Later European nations even based their physical money off of the Byzantine Empire.
Perhaps most importantly, the Byzantine Empire helped leave an indelible religious legacy upon the world through the spread of what would come to be known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. Byzantine monks produced icons for use in worship and they also helped preserve classical Greek texts. Greek Orthodox missionaries also extended the Christian faith into Eastern Europe and Russia.
Scholars all over the world specialize in Byzantine studies and are constantly demonstrating how influential the Byzantine Empire remains on world cultures and civilizations. Majoring in such Byzantine studies at the University level or even reading more about this fascinating empire will repay any interested party.