25 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Twenty-Five

The Byzantine Empire

What elements did Byzantium inherit from the Roman Empire that helped it to survive?

The Byzantine Empire did not rise out of the dust by its own bootstraps. Rather, it was the successor to the Eastern Roman Empire, and survived the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fourth century AD. Byzantium benefited from the best road system the world had yet known, excellent lines of communication and trade, and a bureaucracy that helped the Empire establish itself. Roman systems of taxation helped finance the empire, while Roman architecture and engineering were heavily reflected in the infrastructure and dwellings of Byzantine cities. Roman style baths and parks were common features Although it lost significant lands in Syria and the Levant to Muslim conquest, it retained dominance in much of Anatolia, the Balkans, and Greece, and wielded considerable influence from Constantinople until it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the fifteenth century AD.

Describe the significance of Justinian's reign. What was his legacy?

Justinian I reigned from 527 to 565 AD as Emperor of the Byzantine Empire. He is known for several accomplishments, mostly related to his attempts to reconquer the lost Western Roman Empire. Though he partially succeeded in life, regaining much of Italy and North Africa, his conquests did not long survive him, and he is generally known as the last Roman.

Perhaps his most enduring legacy is a complete rewrite of Roman law known as the Corpus Iuris Civilis, or Body of Civil Law. Its imprint can still be seen in modern civil law in much of Europe. He also embarked on a grand building campaign, crowned by the Hagia Sophia, a massive church (later turned into a mosque) that was the central locale of Eastern Orthodoxy for centuries. He passed a number of laws protecting women’s rights. His reign faced a number of natural disasters, including devastating volcanic eruptions in the 530s that cause global cooling and widespread famine. An outbreak of bubonic plague in 542 AD killed millions, further weakening the empire.

Although Justinian’s efforts to get the band back together ultimately failed, his reign left an enduring stamp on the civilized world. His codification of Roman law influenced the civil code of Europe, and hence of Europe’s New World colonies ever since. The last Roman Emperor to speak Latin as a first language, Justinian marked the end of the Roman Era. However, his influence can still be seen in art, law, and architecture, as the Hagia Sophia remains one of the grandest buildings of the Middle Ages. He is still venerated as Saint Justinian in the Eastern Orthodox Church and some Lutheran churches recognize a feast day in his honor on 14 November.

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