Byzantine Empire

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Byzantine Empire

Byzantine Empire, successor state to the Roman Empire (see under Rome), also called Eastern Empire and East Roman Empire. It was named after Byzantium, which Emperor Constantine I rebuilt (A.D. 330) as Constantinople and made the capital of the entire Roman Empire. Although not foreseen at the time, a division into Eastern and Western empires became permanent after the accession (395) of Honorius in the West and Arcadius in the East.

Throughout its existence the Byzantine Empire was subject to important changes in its boundaries. The core of the empire consisted of the Balkan Peninsula (i.e., Thrace, Macedonia, Epirus, Greece proper, the Greek isles, and Illyria) and of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). The empire combined Roman political tradition, Hellenic culture, and Christian beliefs. Greek was the prevalent language, but Latin long continued in official use.

See the table entitled Rulers of the Byzantine Empire for a list of all the Byzantine emperors and the years they reigned.

Early Centuries

The characteristic Eastern influence began with Constantine I, who also introduced Christianity. Orthodoxy triumphed over Arianism under Arcadius' predecessor, Theodosius I, but violent religious controversy was chronic. The reigns (395–527) of Arcadius, Theodosius II, Marcian, Leo I, Leo II, Zeno, Anastasius I, and Justin I were marked by the invasions of the Visigoths under Alaric I, of the Huns of Attila, and of the Avars, the Slavs, the Bulgars (see Bulgaria), and the Persians. After the Western Empire fell (476) to Odoacer, Italy, Gaul, and Spain were theoretically united under Zeno but were actually dominated by, respectively, the Ostrogoths, the Franks, and the Visigoths, while Africa was under the Vandals. During this period arose the heresies of Nestorianism and Monophysitism and the political parties of Blues and Greens to divide the Byzantines.

Revival and Hellenization

Under the rule (527–65) of Justinian I and Theodora, Byzantine power grew. Their great generals, Belisarius and Narses, checked the Persians, repressed political factions, and recovered Italy and Africa, while Tribonian helped the emperor to codify Roman law. During Justinian's reign a great revival of Hellenism took place in literature, and Byzantine art and architecture entered their most glorious period.

Much was lost again under his successors. The Lombards conquered most of Italy; however, the Pentapolis (Rimini, Ancona, Fano, Pesaro, and Senigallia), Rome, Sardinia, Corsica, Liguria, and the coasts of S Italy and Sicily long remained under Byzantine rule, and at Ravenna the exarchs governed until 751. The Persians, under Khosrow I, made great gains against the empire, though Emperor Maurice temporarily checked them in 591.

The emperor Heraclius (610–41) defeated the Persians but was barely able to save Constantinople from the Avars. Muslim conquests soon afterward wrested Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Africa, and Sicily from the empire. Heraclius's attempt to reconcile Monophysitism and orthodoxy merely led to the new heresy of Monotheletism. His military reorganization of the provinces into themes proved effective and was continued by Constans II (641–48). Constantine IV (668–85) saved Constantinople from Arab attack.

The 7th cent. was marked by increasing Hellenization of the empire, outwardly symbolized by the adoption of the Greek title Basileus by the emperors. The church, under the patriarch of Constantinople, became increasingly important in public affairs. Theology, cultivated by emperors and monks alike, was pushed to extremes of subtlety. Literature and art became chiefly religious.

Under Justinian II and his successors the empire was again menaced by Arabs and Bulgars, but the Isaurian emperors Leo III (717–41) and Constantine V stopped the Arab advance and recovered Asia Minor. The grave issue of iconoclasm, which they precipitated, led to the loss of Rome. In 800, during the reign of Irene, the Frank Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the West at Rome. Thus ended even the theoretical primacy of Byzantium over Europe.

A Truly Eastern State

The political division of East and West was paralleled by a religious schism, intensified by the patriarch Photius, between the Roman and the Orthodox Eastern Church, later culminating in a complete break (1054). In all aspects the Byzantine Empire, having lost its claim to universality, became a Greek monarchy, though Constantinople still remained the center of both Greek and Roman civilization. Compared with its intellectuals, artists, writers, and artisans, those of Western Europe were crude and barbarous, though sometimes more vigorous and original.

In the empire the administrative machinery was huge, and competition among the courtiers was intense. Complex diplomacy, intrigue, and gross violence marked the course of events; yet moral decay did not prevent such emperors as Basil I, founder of the Macedonian dynasty, and his successors (notably Leo VI, Romanus I, Constantine VII, Nicephorus II, John I, and Basil II) from giving the empire a period of splendor and power (867–1025). The eastern frontier was pushed to the Euphrates River, the Bulgars were subjugated, and the Balkan Peninsula was recovered. Russia, converted to Christianity, became an outpost of Byzantine culture. In the unceasing struggle between the great landowners and the small peasantry, most of the emperors favored the peasants. Economic prosperity was paralleled by a new golden age in science, philosophy, and architecture.

The Ebb of Power

With the rule of Zoë (1028–50) anarchy and decline set in. The Seljuk Turks increased their attacks, and with the defeat (1071) of Romanus IV at Manzikert most of Asia Minor was permanently lost. The Normans under Robert Guiscard and Bohemond I seized S Italy and attacked the Balkans. Venice ruled the Adriatic and challenged Byzantine commercial dominance in the East, and the Bulgars and Serbs reasserted their independence.

Alexius I (1081–1118) took advantage of the First Crusade (see Crusades) to recover some territory in Asia Minor and to restore Byzantine prestige, but his successors of the Comnenus dynasty were at best able to postpone the disintegration of the empire. After the death (1180) of Manuel I the Angelus dynasty unwittingly precipitated the cataclysm of the Fourth Crusade. In 1204 the Crusaders and the Venetians sacked Constantinople and set up a new empire (see Constantinople, Latin Empire of) in Thrace, Macedonia, and Greece. The remainder of the empire broke into independent states, notably the empires of Nicaea and of Trebizond and the despotate of Epirus.

In 1261 the Nicaean emperor Michael VIII conquered most of the tottering Latin empire and reestablished the Byzantine Empire under the Palaeologus family (1261–1453). The reconstructed empire was soon attacked from all sides, notably by Charles I of Naples, by Venice, by the Ottoman Turks, by the new kingdoms of Serbia and Bulgaria, and by Catalonian adventurers under Roger de Flor. At the same time, the empire began to break down from within—the capital was at odds with the provinces; ambitious magnates were greedy for land and privileges; religious orders fought each other vigorously; and church and state were rivals for power.

Eventually the Turks encircled the empire and reduced it to Constantinople and its environs. Manuel II and John VIII vainly asked the West for aid, and, in 1453, Constantinople fell to Sultan Muhammad II after a final desperate defense under Constantine XI. This is one of the dates conventionally accepted as the beginning of the modern age. The collapse of the empire opened the way for the vast expansion of the Ottoman Empire to Vienna itself and also enabled Ivan III of Russia, son-in-law of Constantine XI, to claim a theoretical succession to the imperial title.


The classic, though biased, work on Byzantine history is Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. More recent standard works are those of J. B. Bury, C. Diehl, A. A. Vasil'ev, G. Ostrogorsky, and N. H. Baynes. See also studies by J. M. Hussey (1967, 1986), R. J. H. Jenkins (1967), D. Obolensky (1971), S. Runciman (1971, 1977), M. Angold (1985), J. Herrin (1987, 2008), J. J. Norwich (1995), M. Whittow (1996), and E. N. Luttwak (2009).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Byzantine Empire


or Byzantium, a state that arose in the fourth century during the decline of the Eastern Roman Empire and lasted until the middle of the 15th century.

The capital of the Byzantine Empire was Constantinople, which was founded by the emperor Constantine I between 324 and 330 on the site of the former Megaran colony of Byzantium (hence the name of the state Byzantium, which was introduced by the humanists after the empire fell). With the founding of Constantinople the Byzantine Empire began to become autonomous within the heart of the Roman Empire. (The history of the empire is usually dated from this time.) The culmination of this independence is generally considered to have taken place in 395, when, after the death of Theodosius I, the last emperor of a unified Roman state, who reigned from 379 to 395, the final division of the Roman Empire into the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire and the Western Roman Empire took place. Arcadius (395-408) be-came the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Byzantines called themselves Romans (in Greek, Romaioi) and their state “The Empire of the Romans.” Throughout the course of its existence the Byzantine Empire experienced many changes in its territorial possessions.

The ethnic composition of the empire was mixed: the population included Greeks, Syrians, Copts, Armenians, Georgians, Jews, Hellenized minor Asiatic tribes, Thracians, Illyrians, and Dacians. With the curtailment of Byzantine territory (beginning in the seventh century) some of these peoples were left outside of the frontiers of the empire. At the same time new peoples settled on Byzantine land (for example, the Goths in the fourth and fifth centuries, Slavs in the sixth and seventh centuries, Arabs in the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries, and Pechenegs and Cumans in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries). From the sixth to the 11th centuries the population of the Byzantine Empire included ethnic groups from which the Italian nationality was later formed. The dominant role in the economic, political, and cultural life of the empire was played by the Greek population. The official language of the empire from the fourth to the sixth centuries was Latin; from the seventh century until the end of the empire’s existence it was Greek.

There are many complex problems in the socioeconomic history of the Byzantine Empire, and there are different conceptions of their solutions in modern Byzantine scholarship. One example is the determination of the Byzantine Empire’s period of transition from a slaveholding society to a feudal one. In the opinion of N. V. Pigulevskaia and E. E. Lipshits, slavery in the Byzantine Empire had already lost its importance by the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries; but according to Z. V. Udal’tsova (and A. P. Kazhdan), until the sixth and seventh centuries slaveholding was predominant in the empire. (Although he agrees in general with this point of view, M. la. Siuziumov considers the period between the fourth and llth centuries “prefeudal.”)

The history of the Byzantine Empire can roughly be divided into three major periods. The first period (from the fourth century to the middle of the seventh) is characterized by a disintegration of the slaveholding system and the beginning of the establishment of feudal relations. The distinguishing feature of the genesis of feudalism in the Byzantine Empire was the spontaneous growth of a feudal system within a decayed, slaveholding society while a late classical government structure was being preserved. Agrarian relations in the early Byzantine Empire were characterized by the retention of masses of the free peasantry and peasant communes, the widespread extension of the coloni and long-term tenant leases (emphyteuses), and a distribution, more intensive than in the West, of portions of land in the form of peculia among slaves. In the Byzantine village in the seventh century there was an undermining or a complete abolition of large-scale land ownership based on slaveholding. A system of peasant communes was established on the territories of former estates. In the remaining large estates (primarily in Asia Minor) the labor of coloni and slaves began to be substituted by the increasingly extensive use of the labor of free peasants, or tenant farmers.

The Byzantine city of the fourth and fifth centuries basically remained a classical slaveholding polis; but at the end of the fourth century the smaller poleis began to decline and to turn into agrarian settlements, and during the fifth century new cities arose that were no longer city-states, but trading, craft, and administrative centers. The largest city in the empire was Constantinople, the center of crafts and international trade. The Byzantine Empire conducted a brisk trade with Iran, India, China, and other countries; moreover, in its trade with Western European states around the Mediterranean Sea it enjoyed hegemony. The Byzantine Empire was ahead of the countries of Western Europe in its level of development of crafts and trade and in the degree of intensity of its urban life during this period. In the seventh century, however, the city-states declined completely—a considerable number of them underwent agrarianization, and the center of public life shifted to the village.

During the fourth and fifth centuries the Byzantine Empire was a centralized, military-bureaucratic monarchy. Complete power was concentrated in the hands of the emperor (basileus). The Senate was an advisory organ to the emperor. The free population was divided into orders, the highest of which was the senatorial estates. Political parties of a sort known as demes were a serious social force in the fifth century and thereafter. The most important of these were the Veneti (led by the highest dignitaries) and the Prasinoi (which reflected the interests of the upper layers of tradesmen and craftsmen). In the fourth century Christianity became the dominant religion. (In 354 and 392 the government issued laws against paganism.) From the fourth to the seventh centuries Christian dogma was developed and a church hierarchy took shape. At the end of the fourth century monasteries began to be built and the church became a rich organization that possessed numerous landholdings. The clergy were freed from the payment of taxes and duties (with the exception of the land tax). As a result of the conflict between various tendencies within Christianity (Arianism, Nestorianism, and so forth), Orthodoxy became completely dominant in the Byzantine Empire during the reign of the emperor Justinian in the sixth century (although as early as the end of the fourth century the emperor Theodosius I attempted to reestablish church unity and transform Constantinople into the center of Orthodoxy).

In the 370’s both the foreign and domestic policy of Byzantium were determined by its relations with the barbarians. In 375, with the forced consent of the emperor Valens, the Visigoths settled on Byzantine territories south of the Danube. In 376 the Visigoths, enraged by their oppression at the hands of the Byzantine authorities, rose in revolt. In 378 the combined units of the Visigoths and sections of the rebellious population utterly routed the army of Valens at Adrianople. With great difficulty (at the price of concessions to the barbarian aristocracy) the emperor Theodosius succeeded in crushing the uprising in 380. In July 400 the barbarians almost occupied Constantinople, and they were driven from the city only because of the intervention in the battle of the broad strata of the urban population. By the end of the fourth century, with the increase in the number of mercenaries and foederati, the Byzantine army was barbarized; due to the barbarians’ settlement there was a temporary extension of small-scale free land ownership and colonization. Whereas the Western Roman Empire, which experienced a profound crisis, fell under attack by the barbarians, the Byzantine Empire proved to be economically and politically more viable, and this allowed them to stand up against the barbarian incursions. (In the Byzantine Empire the crisis of the slaveholding economy occurred with less force and the cities were preserved as centers of crafts and trade and retained a powerful apparatus of authority.) During the 470’s and 480’s the empire repelled the onslaught of the Ostrogoths.

At the end of the fifth century and during the sixth century a period of economic upturn and a certain political stabilization began in the Byzantine Empire. Financial reform was adopted in the interest of the upper echelons of the trade and crafts groups in the important cities of the Byzantine Empire, primarily Constantinople. For example, they abolished the chrysargyron (the tax that was collected from the urban population), farmed out the taxes that had formerly been collected by the state, and collected land taxes in money. Social dissatisfaction among the plebeian masses led to a sharpening of the conflict between the Veneti and the Prasinoi. In the eastern provinces of the empire there was intensified opposition from the Monophysitic religious movement, which combined the ethnic, ecclesiastical, social, and political interests of various classes of the populations of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine. At the end of the fifth century and the beginning of the sixth, Slavic tribes began to enter Byzantine territories from the north across the Danube (in 493, 499, and 502). During the reign of the emperor Justinian I (527-565) the Byzantine Empire reached the highest point of its political and military power. Justinian’s major goals were the reestablishment of the unity of the Roman Empire and the strengthening of the authority of a single emperor. He relied politically upon the broad circles of the middle and small landowners and slaveholders and limited the claims of the senatorial aristocracy; at the same time he made an alliance with the Orthodox Church. The first few years of Justinian’s reign were marked by major popular movements (for example, in 529 and 530 the uprising of the Samaritans in Palestine, and in 532 the Nika revolt in Constantinople). The government of Justinian carried out a codification of the civil law. Justinian’s laws, directed to a considerable degree at strengthening slaveholding relations, nevertheless reflected the changes that had occurred in Byzantine social life. It facilitated the standardization of forms of property and the equalization of the population’s civil rights, established a new system of inheritance, and compelled heretics to convert to Orthodoxy under threat of deprivation of their civil rights and even capital punishment. During Justinian’s reign, centralization of the government was intensified and a strong army was created. This made it possible for Justinian to repulse the attacks of the Persians in the east and the Slavs in the north and conduct extensive conquests in the west (in 533 and 534 the Vandal state in North Africa, in 535-555 the Ostrogoth kingdom in Italy, and in 554 the southeastern regions of Spain). The conquests of Justinian, however, proved to be unstable; in the western regions that had been won back from the barbarians, the rule of the Byzantines and their restoration of slavery, as well as the Roman tax system, inspired revolts among the population. (An uprising within the army in 602 became a civil war aad led to a change of emperors; the throne passed to the centurion Phocas.) At the end of the sixth century and during the seventh the Byzantine Empire lost the regions it had conquered in the west (with the exception of southern Italy). Between 636 and 642 the Arabs conquered the richest eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire (Syria, Palestine, and Upper Mesopotamia), and between 693 and 698 its possessions in North Africa. By the end of the seventh century the territory of the Byzantine Empire included no more than one-third of Justinian’s domains. At the end of the sixth century the settlement of the Balkan Peninsula by Slavic tribes began. In the seventh century they settled a considerable number of territories within the boundaries of the Byzantine Empire (in Moesia, Thrace, Macedonia, Dalmatia, Istria, and parts of Greece; and a number of slaves even in Asia Minor), although they pre-served their own language, daily life-style, and culture. There was also a change in the ethnic composition of the population in the eastern part of Asia Minor; settlements of Armenians, Persians, Syrians, and Arabs appeared. With the loss of some of its eastern provinces, however the Byzantine Empire as a whole became ethnically more uniform; its central territory consisted of lands that were settled by Greeks or Greek-speaking Hellenized tribes.

The second period (from the middle of the seventh century to the beginning of the thirteenth) was characterized by an intensive development of feudalism. As a result of the decrease in its territory at the beginning of this period, the Byzantine Empire was primarily a Greek state, and during the llth and 12th centuries (when it included Slavic lands) it was a Greco-Slavic state. Despite its territorial losses it remained one of the strongest powers in the Mediterranean area. In the Byzantine village from the eighth century to the first half of the ninth century the free rural commune began to predominate; the communal relations of the Slavic tribes that had settled in the Byzantine Empire also facilitated the strengthening of the local Byzantine peasant communes. The legislative landmark of the eighth century that is known as the Farmers’ Law testifies to the presence of neighborhood communes, the property differentiations within them, and the beginning of their disintegration. From the eighth century to the first half of the ninth century the Byzantine cities continued to experience a decline. During the seventh and eighth centuries important changes took place in the administrative structure of the empire. The old dioceses and provinces were replaced by new, military-administrative districts known as themes. All the military and civil authority in a theme was concentrated in the hands of the commander of the theme army—the strategus. The free peasants who made up the army, the stratiotai, were enrolled by the government in the class of hereditary owners of military land sections in return for undergoing military service. The theme system essentially signified the decentralization of the state. It strengthened the empire’s military potential and made the achievement of success in wars against the Arabs and Bulgars possible during the reigns of Leo Ill (717-741) and Constantine V (741-775). Leo Ill’s policy was directed at combating the separatist tendencies of the local aristocracy (as is shown by the publication in 726 of the collection of laws entitled Ecloga, which divided the themes into smaller units) and at limiting the self-government of the cities. During the eighth century and the first half of the ninth century an extensive religious and political movement known as iconoclasm began in the Byzantine empire, reflecting primarily the op-position of the popular masses to the ruling church, which was closely linked to the higher aristocracy of Constantinople. Iconoclasm was used by the provincial aristocracy in its own interests and was led by the emperors of the Isaurian dynasty, who confiscated monastery and church treasuries for their own use in the course of their struggle with the iconodules. This struggle raged with particular force during the reign of the emperor Constantine V. In 754 he convoked a church assembly that condemned the veneration of icons. The policy of the iconoclast emperors strengthened the provincial aristocracy. The growth of large landowning and the attack of the feudal lords on the peasant communes led to a sharpening of the class struggle. In the middle of the seventh century the popular-heretical movement of the Paulicians began in the eastern part of the Byzantine Empire in western Armenia, spreading throughout Asia Minor in the eighth and ninth centuries. Another major popular movement in the Byzantine Empire during the ninth century was the uprising of 820-825, led by Thomas the Slav (died 823), which took place on imperial territory in Asia Minor and in some parts of Thrace and Macedonia, and from the very beginning was antifeudal in thrust. The sharpening of the class struggle frightened the feudal lords; it compelled them to overcome the schism in their ranks and reestablish the veneration of icons in 843. The truce among the government, the military aristocracy, the higher clergy, and the monasteries was accompanied by fierce persecutions of the Paulicians. The Paulician movement, which became an armed uprising during the middle of the ninth century, was suppressed in 872.

The second half of the ninth century and the whole tenth century belonged to a period in which the Byzantines created a centralized feudal monarchy with a strong government and a pervasive bureaucratic administrative apparatus. One of the principal ways of exploiting the peasants during this time was the centralized rent, which was collected in the form of numerous taxes. The presence of a strong central authority explains to a considerable extent the absence in Byzantium of a feudal-hierarchical structure. In contrast to Western European states, the vassal-lien system remained undeveloped in the empire; feudal troops were detachments of bodyguards and retinues rather than an army of a feudal magnate’s vassals. Two strata of the ruling class played the major role in the country’s political life: the big feudal lords (dinati) in the provinces and the bureaucratic aristocracy connected with the trade and craft circles in Constantinople. These social groupings, constant rivals of each other, transferred power back and forth. By the 11th century feudal relations in the Byzantine Empire had basically become dominant. The utter defeat of the popular movements made it easy for the feudal lords to attack the institution of the free peasant commune. The impoverishment of the peasants and the military settlers (stratiotai) led to a decline in the general levy of the stratiotai and reduced the peasants’ capacity to pay. (The peasants were the principal taxpayers.) Several emperors of the Macedonian dynasty (867-1056) relied on the aristocratic officials and the trade and craft circles of Constantinople and had an interest in obtaining taxes from the peasants, so they tried to retard the process whereby the commune members were deprived of their lands, the disintegration of the peasant communes, and the formation of feudal patrimonies. But their efforts were not at all successful. During the llth and 12th centuries the formation of the basic feudal institutions in the Byzantine Empire was completed. Patrimonial exploitation of the peasants had come to fruition. The free commune remained only in the empire’s outlying regions; elsewhere the peasants became feudally dependent people (paroikoi). Slave labor had lost all its importance in farming. In the llth and 12th centuries the pronoia (a form of conditional feudal landholding) gradually became widespread. The government distributed to the feudal lords the right of exkuseia (a special form of immunity). A specific trait of feudalism in the Byzantine Empire was the combination of seignorial exploitation of dependent peasants with the collection of a centralized rent for the benefit of the state.

In the second half of the ninth century there was an upturn in the Byzantine cities. The growth of craft production was connected primarily with an increased demand for crafted items on the part of the strengthened Byzantine feudal aristocracy, but also with the growth of the empire’s foreign trade. The flourishing of the cities was facilitated by the policy of the emperors, who provided privileges to the trade and craft corporate guilds and other organizations. By the tenth century Byzantine cities had acquired the traits characteristic of medieval cities: small-scale craft production, the formation of trade and craft corporate guilds, and the regulation of the activity of these organizations by the state. A feature of the Byzantine city was the retention of the institution of slavery, although the main figure in production became the free artisan. In the tenth and llth centuries most Byzantine cities were no longer only fortresses or administrative or episcopal centers; they became a point of concentration for crafts and trade also. Until the middle of the 12th century Constantinople remained the center of transit trade between the East and the West. Byzantine seafaring and trade played an increasingly important role in the basin of the Mediterranean Sea despite competition from the Arabs and Normans. In the 12th century changes occurred in the economies of the Byzantine cities. There was a certain curtailment of craft production and a lowering of the standard of production techniques in Constantinople, although there was an upturn in the provincial cities—for example, Thessaloniki, Corinth, Thebes, Athens, Ephesus, and Nicaea. The penetration into the Byzantine Empire of the Venetians and the Genoese, who obtained considerable trading privileges from the Byzantine emperors, ruinously affected the economy of the Byzantine cities. The development of Byzantine crafts (especially in the capital) was hindered by government regulation of the corporate guilds’ activity.

In the second half of the ninth century the church’s influence increased. During the patriarchate of Photius (858-867), the Byzantine church, usually submissive to the emperors, began to defend the idea of the equality of the spiritual and the secular authorities and called for the active Christianization of neighboring peoples with the aid of church missions; there was an attempt to introduce Orthodoxy into Moravia and the Christianization of Bulgaria was carried out around 865 by the mission of Cyril and Methodius. Differences between the patriarchate of Constantinople and the papal throne, which sharpened during the patriarchate of Photius, led in 1054 to an official schism between the eastern and western churches. (From this time on the eastern church was called the Greco-Catholic [Orthodox] and the western church, the Roman Catholic.) The final separation of these churches occurred, however, after 1204.

The foreign policy of Byzantium from the second half of the ninth century to the llth century was characterized by continual wars against the Arabs, Slavs, and later the Nor-mans. In the middle of the tenth century the Byzantine Empire won back from the Arabs Upper Mesopotamia, part of Asia Minor, Syria, Crete, and Cyprus. In 1018 the empire conquered the kingdom of western Bulgaria, and the Balkan Peninsula as far as the Danube River came under Byzantine rule. During the period of the ninth to 11th centuries relations with Kievan Rus’ began to play a large role in Byzantine foreign policy. After the siege of Constantinople by troops of the Kievan prince Oleg (907), the Byzantines were compelled in 911 to conclude a trade agreement that was advantageous for the Russians and facilitated the development of trade ties between Rus’ and the Byzantine Empire along the great route “from the Varangians to the Greeks.” During the last third of the tenth century the empire fought Rus’ for control of Bulgaria, and despite initial successes by the Kievan prince Sviatoslav Igorevich, the Byzantine Empire was victorious. An alliance was concluded between Byzantium and Kievan Rus’ during the reign of the Kievan prince Vladimir Sviatoslavich. The Russians helped the Byzantine emperor Basil II put down the feudal revolt of Phocas Bardas (987-989), and Basil II was forced to agree to the marriage of his sister Anna to the Kievan prince Vladimir; this facilitated the alliance between the Byzantine Empire and Rus’. At the end of the tenth century Christianity was adopted by Russia from the Byzantine Empire (in the form of the Orthodox rite).

From the second third of the llth century to the early 1080’s the Byzantine Empire underwent a period of crisis. The state was shaken by “troubles” and a struggle was being waged by the provincial feudal lords against the aristocracy and officials of the capital (the feudal revolts of Maniaces [1043], Tornikios [1047], and Isaac Comnenus [1057], who temporarily seized the throne [1057-59]). The empire’s position vis-à-vis foreigners also worsened; the government was forced to repulse simultaneously the attacks of the Pechenegs and the Seljuk Turks. After the defeat of the Byzantine army by the Seljuk troops in 1071 at Manzikert (in Armenia) the empire lost most of Asia Minor. The West inflicted equally heavy losses on the Byzantine Empire. By the middle of the 11th century the Normans had seized the greater part of the empire’s possessions in southern Italy; in 1071 they occupied the last point of Byzantine resistance, the city of Bari (in Apulia).

The struggle for the throne sharpened in the 1070’s and culminated in 1081 with the victory of the Comnenian dynasty (1081-1185), which represented the interests of the provincial feudal aristocracy and relied upon a narrow layer of the aristocracy that was united to it by marital bonds. The Comneni tore the state administration away from the old bureaucratic system and introduced a new system of titles to be awarded only to the higher aristocracy. Power in the provinces was transferred to the military commanders (duxes). Instead of the general people’s levy of the stratiotai, the importance of which had declined as early as the tenth century, during the reign of the Comneni a major role began to be played by the heavily armed cavalry (katafraktoi), which resembled Western European knights, and by foreign mercenaries. The strengthening of the state and the army allowed the Comneni to make gains in their foreign policy at the end of the llth century and the beginning of the 12th (repulsing the Norman offensive in the Balkans, winning back a considerable part of Asia Minor from the Seljuks, and establishing sovereignty over Antioch). Manuel I compelled Hungary to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Byzantine Empire (1164) and consolidated his power in Serbia. But in 1176 the Byzantine army was defeated by the Turks at Myriocephalum. Along all its borders it was forced to go on the defensive. After the death of Manuel I a popular revolt began in Constantinople (1181), caused by dissatisfaction with the government’s policy of granting protection to Italian merchants and Western European knights who had joined the imperial service. Andronicus I (1183-85), a representative of a lateral branch of the Comnenus family, made use of this revolt to come to power. His reforms were directed at setting the state bureaucratic apparatus in order and fighting corruption. Failures in the war against the Normans, dissatisfaction among the burghers with the trading privileges that the emperor had granted to the Venetians, and the use of terror against the feudal magnates alienated even the former allies of Andronicus I. In 1185 the Angeli dynasty (1185-1204) came to power as a result of an insurrection by the Constantinople magnates; its rule marked the decline of the Byzantine Empire’s domestic and foreign power. The country underwent a profound economic crisis; feudal disintegration was intensified, there was a de facto independence of the provincial governors from the central authority, the cities fell into decay, and the army and navy grew weak. The disintegration of the empire had begun. In 1187, Bulgaria broke away, and in 1190 the empire was compelled to acknowledge the independence of Serbia. At the end of the 12th century there was a sharp increase in the number of conflicts between the Byzantine Empire and the West. The papacy strove to subordinate the Byzantine church to the Roman curia; Venice succeeded in pushing its competitors, Genoa and Pisa, out of the empire; and the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire nurtured schemes of subduing Byzantium. As a result of the interweaving of all these political interests the direction of the Fourth Crusade (1202-04) was changed; instead of going to Palestine it went to Constantinople. In 1204, under the attack of the crusaders, Constantinople fell, and the Byzantine Empire ceased to exist as a real empire.

The third period (1204-1453) was characterized by a further intensification of feudal disintegration, a decline of the central authority, and a continuous struggle against foreign invaders. Elements of the disintegration of the feudal economy began to appear. The Latin Empire (1204-61) was established in an area of Byzantine territory that had been conquered by the crusaders. The Latins suppressed Greek culture in Byzantium, and the dominance of the Italian trader-merchants hindered the rebirth of the Byzantine cities. Because of the resistance of the local population the crusaders did not succeed in extending their power over the entire Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor. On the Byzantine territories that they failed to subdue, independent Greek states came into being: the Nicaean Empire (1204-61), the Trebizond Empire (1204-1461), and the state of Epirus (1204-1337).

The Nicaean Empire played the leading role in the struggle against the Latin Empire. In 1261 the Nicaean emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus reconquered Constantinople and restored the Byzantine Empire with the support of the Greek population of the Latin Empire. The Palaeologan dynasty (1261-1453) was consolidated on the throne. During the final period of its existence Byzantium was only a small feudal state. The Trebizond Empire (until the end of the Byzantine Empire’s existence) and Epirus (until its annexation by Byzantium in 1337) remained independent. During this period feudal relations continued to predominate in Byzantium; under conditions of the complete domination of the great feudal lords in the Byzantine cities, the Italian economic predominance, and the Turkish military threat (from the end of the 13th century to the beginning of the 14th) the first manifestations of early capitalist relations (for example, tenant rent of the enterprise type in the village) quickly perished. The intensification of feudal exploitation brought about popular movements in the countryside and the city. In 1262 there was the uprising of the Bithynian border-fighters—frontier military settlers in Asia Minor. In the 1340’s, during a period of bitter struggle between two feudal cliques over the throne (the followers of the Palaeologan dynasty and those of the Cantacuzene), antifeudal uprisings raged in Thrace and Macedonia. A unique characteristic of the class struggle of the popular masses during this period was the joint action of the urban and rural populations against the feudal lords. The popular movement developed with particular strength in Thessaloniki, where the uprising was led by the Zealots (1342-49). The victory of the feudal reaction and the continual occurrence of feudal internecine conflicts weakened Byzantium, which could not stand up against the attacks of the Ottoman Turks. At the beginning of the 14th century they seized the Byzantine possessions in Asia Minor (in 1354, Gallipoli, and in 1362, Adrianople, whither the sultan transferred his capital in 1365), and later they took possession of all of Thrace. After the defeat of the Serbs at Maritsa (1371), Byzantium followed the example of Serbia and acknowledged its vassal dependence on the Turks. The defeat of the Turks by the forces of the Middle Asiatic conqueror Tamerlane in 1402 in a battle at Ankara postponed the fall of Byzantium for several decades. In this situation the Byzantine government sought support from the countries of Western Europe in vain; nor was there any real aid forthcoming from the Council of Ferrara-Florence, which in 1439 provided for a union between the Orthodox and Catholic churches on condition that the primacy of the papal throne be acknowledged. (This union was rejected by the Byzantine people.) The Turks renewed their attacks on Byzantium; and the economic decline of the latter, the sharpening of class conflicts, feudal internecine warfare, and the self-seeking, greedy policy of the Western European states all facilitated the victory of the Ottoman Turks. After a two-month siege, Constantinople was captured and plundered by an onslaught of the Turkish army on May 29, 1453. In 1460 the conquerers subdued Morea, and in 1461 they seized the Trebizond Empire. By the early 1460’s the Byzantine Empire had ceased to exist, and its territories were included in the Ottoman Empire.


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Byzantine culture. The characteristics of Byzantine culture can be explained to a considerable degree by the fact that the Byzantine Empire did not experience the radical crisis in its political system that Western Europe did, and the influence of the barbarians was not as strong there. Byzantine culture took shape under the influence of Roman, Greek, and Oriental (Hellenized) traditions. Like the culture of medieval Western Europe, it developed as a Christian culture; in the most important areas of knowledge, all the most essential ideas about the world, and often all significant thought, were clothed in the images of Christian mythology—in the traditional phraseology extracted from the Holy Scriptures and the works of the church fathers. Byzantine society defined its ethical values in terms of Christian religious doctrine, which considered man’s existence on earth a brief episode on the threshold of eternal life and deemed the basic task of his life to be preparation for death, regarded as the beginning of eternal life. Ethical values remained, but they were abstract ideals rather than a guide to practical activity; there was a disdain of earthly blessings, and work was considered to be primarily a means of discipline and self-humiliation rather than a creative endeavor (inasmuch as earthly blessings were regarded as being brief and insignificant). Humility and piety, a sense of one’s own sinfulness, and asceticism were considered by the Byzantines to be the highest Christian values; moreover, these values to a great extent also determined the artistic ideal. Traditionalism, characteristic of the Christian world view in general, proved to be especially strong in Byzantium, where the state itself was interpreted as the direct continuation of the Roman Empire and the language of written culture remained primarily Greek of the Hellenistic epoch. From this traditionalism flowed the reverence for the authority of books. The Bible and, to a certain extent, the ancient classics were regarded as the aggregate of necessary knowledge. The source of knowledge was proclaimed to be tradition rather than experience, because, according to Byzantine conceptions, tradition dealt with the essential, whereas experience acquainted a person with only the superficial phenomena in the world. Experimentation and scientific observation were extremely rare in Byzantium; the criterion of reliability was not developed, and a great deal of legendary knowledge was accepted as the truth. An innovation that was not supported by written authority was regarded as seditious. A tendency toward classification and a lack of interest in the analytical examination of phenomena were characteristic of Byzantine culture. These were features of the Christian world view in general, but in Byzantium they went deeper because of the influence of Greek classical philosophy (especially that of Aristotle), with its tendency toward classification. Another feature of Byzantine culture was the attempt to reveal the “true” (mystical) meaning of phenomena (which arose on the basis of the Christian counterposition of the divine [concealed] to the earthly [accessible to direct perception]); the Pythagorean and Neoplatonic traditions reinforced this tendency still more. Proceeding from a Christian world view, the Byzantines recognized the presence of divine (or in their conception, objective) truth, and accordingly they divided phenomena into the good and the bad; hence, for them everything on earth was evaluated ethically. From their illusory possession of the truth flowed their impatience toward all alien thought; the latter was treated as a departure from the good path and as heresy.
Byzantine culture was distinguished from Western European medieval culture by the following: (1) a higher level of material production (until the 12th century); (2) a firm retention of ancient traditions in education, science, literary creation, the fine arts, and everyday life; (3) individualism without freedom—lack of development of cooperative principles and the concepts of group honor, faith in the possibility of individual salvation (whereas the Western church made salvation dependent upon mysteries, that is, upon the actions of the church group), individualistic rather than hierarchical treatment of property, and the belief that the people are directly dependent on higher forces, namely, God and the emperor; (4) the cult of the emperor as a sacred figure, or earthly deity, demanding worship in the form of special ceremonies, clothing, and salutations; and (5) standardization of scientific and artistic creative work, which was facilitated by the bureaucratic centralization of the Byzantine state. Constantinople, the capital of the empire, determined artistic taste and subordinated local schools of expression to itself.
Considering their own culture to be the highest achievement of humanity, the Byzantines consciously protected themselves from foreign influences; not until the 11th century did they begin to draw upon Arabic medicine and translate the landmarks of oriental literature and later they showed interest in Arabic and Persian mathematics, as well as Latin scholasticism and literature. The bookish character of Byzantine culture was combined with the lack of a strict differentiation between the individual disciplines; for the Byzantine peoples the typical figure of a learned person was one who wrote in the most diverse fields of knowledge, from mathematics to theology and imaginative literature (for example, John Damascene, eighth century; Michael Psellus, llth century; Nicephorus Blemmydes, 13th century; and Theodorus Metochites, 14th century).
It is difficult to determine all the vestiges of Byzantine culture. First, there is the problem of the relationship between Byzantine culture and that of the late classical period in the fourth and fifth centuries (especially the Latin, Syrian, and Coptic ones), as well as the vestiges of medieval culture that exist beyond the borders of Byzantium—in Syria, Sicily, and Southern Italy; these are linked by ideological, artistic, or linguistic principles to the Eastern Christian culture. There is no well-marked boundary between the late classical and Byzantine cultures; there was a long transitional period when the classical principles, subject matter, and genres, if they did not predominate, at least coexisted with the new ones.
There were four principal phases in the development of Byzantine culture. (1) The first, which lasted from the fourth century to the middle of the seventh, marked a transition from classical to medieval culture. It is called the proto-Byzantine period. Despite the crisis of classical society, the Byzantine Empire preserved its basic elements, and the proto-Byzantine culture still had an urban character. In this period Christian theology was established while the achievements of classical scientific thought were retained, and Christian artistic ideals were developed. (2) From the middle of the seventh century to the middle of the ninth there was a period of cultural decline (although not as thorough as the one in Western Europe) connected with the economic decline, agrarianization of the cities, and the loss of the Byzantine eastern provinces and important centers. (3) From the ninth to the twelfth centuries there was a cultural upswing characterized by the reestablishment of classical traditions, the systematic classification of the preserved cultural heritage, the revival of elements of rationalism, and the transition from a formal use of the classical heritage to a mastery of it. (4) From the 13th century to the middle of the 15th there was a period of ideological reaction conditioned by the political and economic decline of Byzantium. Efforts were made to go beyond the medieval world view and aesthetic principles, but these efforts were not developed. (The question of the rise of humanism in the Byzantine Empire is still under discussion.)
Byzantine culture had a great influence on neighboring countries (for example, Bulgaria, Serbia, Rus’, Armenia, and Georgia) in the areas of literature, fine arts, religious beliefs, and so forth. It also played a significant role in preserving the classical heritage and passing it on to Italy on the eve of the Renaissance.
EDUCATION. Byzantium retained the traditions of classical education, and even as late as the 12th century education was on a higher level there than anywhere in Europe. Elementary education (instruction in reading and writing) took place in private grammar schools and usually lasted for two or three years. Until the seventh century the curriculum was based on the mythology of pagan religions. (Pupils’ notebooks from Egypt containing lists of mythological names have been pre-served.) Later the Christian psalter replaced this mythology as the basis of lessons. Secondary education (enkyklios paideia) was obtained under the direction of a grammar teacher or rhetorician using classical textbooks (for example, the Grammar by Dionysius Thrax, second century B.C.). Included in the curriculum were orthography, grammar, pronunciation, principles of versification, oratory, and sometimes tachygraphy and the art of drawing up documents. Philosophy, which included several disciplines, was also taught. According to the classification by John Damascene, philosophy included the theoretical (theology), the mathematical quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music), physiology (the natural environment), and the practical (ethics, politics, and economics). Sometimes the term “philosophy” was used to mean only “dialectics” in the contemporary meaning—logic—and it was regarded as a preparatory discipline; sometimes it was treated as the culminating branch of knowledge. History was included in the curricula of certain schools. There were also monastery schools in Byzantium, but unlike those in Western Europe they did not play a significant role. From the fourth to the sixth centuries colleges continued to function in Athens, Alexandria, Beirut, Antioch, Gaza, and Caesarea Palestinae, which had been preserved since the classical period. Gradually the provincial high school ceased to exist. The university (auditorium) in Constantinople, created in 425, overshadowed and replaced the other schools. The University of Constantinople was a state institution whose professors were considered to be state employees, and they alone were permitted to teach publicly in the capital. This university included 31 professors: ten in Greek grammar, ten in Latin grammar, three in Greek rhetoric, five in Latin rhetoric, two in law, and one in philosophy. The question of the university’s existence during the seventh and eighth centuries is disputed; according to legend the building of the University of Constantinople was burned down by the emperor Leo III in 726 along with its teachers and books. Efforts to organize another university began in the middle of the ninth century, when the university at Magnaura began to function; it was located in the Palace of Constantinople and was directed by Leo the Mathematician. Its curriculum was limited to subjects of a general educational nature. This school trained high secular and clerical dignitaries. In the middle of the llth century schools of law and philosophy were opened in Constantinople; these were state institutions that trained officials. Among the teachers in these schools were John Xiphilinus (law), Constantine Leichudes (law), and Michael Psellus (philosophy). At the end of the llth century the school of philosophy became a center of rationalistic views and the Orthodox church condemned two of its teachers, John Italus and Eustratius of Nicaea, as heretics. During the 12th century the school system came under the protection of the church, and it was assigned the task of combating heresies. At the end of the llth century the Patriarchal School opened: its curriculum included the interpretation of Holy Scripture as well as rhetorical training. Medicine was taught in addition to the traditional subjects at the school that was created in the 12th century in connection with the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. After 1204 secular schools of higher learning ceased to exist in Byzantium. The state schools were increasingly replaced by schools connected with monasteries, where scholars such as Nicephorus Blemmydes and Nicephorus Gregoras settled. Such a school usually closed after the death of its teacher or his disgrace.
The ancient libraries did not survive the early Byzantine period. The Alexandria library was destroyed in 391, and the public library in Constantinople (established around 356) burned down in 475. Little is known about later libraries. There were libraries belonging to the emperor, the patriarch, the monasteries, the colleges, and private persons. (The collections of Arethas of Caesarea, Michael Choniates, Maximus Planudes, Theodorus Metochites, and Bessarion of Nicaea are known to have existed.)
TECHNOLOGY. Byzantium inherited the ancient technology of crafts and of agriculture (the wooden wheelless plow with attached coulters, threshing machines to which cattle were harnessed, artificial irrigation, and so forth). This allowed the Byzantine Empire to remain the leader in production in Europe until the 12th century, specializing in jewelry-making, silk-weaving, the construction of monumental buildings, and shipbuilding. (In the ninth century the fore-and-aft sail began to be used.) In the same century the manufacture of glazed ceramics and glass according to ancient formulas also became widespread. However, the Byzantine attempt to preserve the ancient traditions impeded technical progress and caused most Byzantine crafts to lag behind those of Western Europe (for example, glassmaking and shipbuilding), a phenomenon that began in the 12th century. During the 14th and 15th centuries Byzantine textile production could no longer compete with that of Italy.
MATHEMATICS AND THE NATURAL SCIENCES. In Byzantium the social prestige of mathematics was considerably lower than that of rhetoric and philosophy (the most important medieval scholarly disciplines). From the fourth to the sixth centuries Byzantine mathematics was concerned primarily with revising and providing commentaries to the ancient classics—for example, Theon of Alexandria (fourth century) edited and interpreted the works of Euclid and Ptolemy, John Philoponus (sixth century) provided commentaries to Aristotle’s works in the natural sciences, and Eutocius of Ascalon (sixth century) annotated the works of Archimedes. Great attention was given to problems that turned out to be pointless (for example, squaring the circle and doubling the cube). Nevertheless, in certain areas Byzantine science advanced further than that of the ancients—for example, John Philoponus came to the conclusion that the velocity of falling bodies does not depend upon their weight; and Anthemius of Tralles, architect and engineer, who was well known as the builder of the Cathedral of Saint Sophia, proposed a new explanation for the action of igniting mirrors. Byzantine physics (physiology) remained bookish and descriptive; the use of experiments was rare. (It is possible that John Philoponus’ conclusion about the velocity of falling bodies was based on an experiment.) The influence of Christianity on Byzantine natural sciences was reflected in the attempts to create complete descriptions of the universe (for example, the Hexaemeron and the Physiologus), in which observations from life were interwoven with pious moralizations and explanations of allegorical meaning ostensibly inherent in natural phenomena. A certain upswing in the natural sciences may be traced from the middle of the ninth century. Leo the Mathematician was the first to use letters as algebraic symbols. (Evidently he was also one of the inventors of the fire telegraph and the automata—gilded figures that were set into motion by water and that decorated the Great Palace at Constantinople.) An attempt was apparently made during the 12th century to introduce Arabic numerals (the position system). The late Byzantine mathematicians showed an interest in the oriental sciences. The Trebizond scholars—Gregory Chioniates, 13th century, and his followers George Chrysococces and Isaac Argyrus, 14th century—studied the findings of Arabic and Persian mathematics and astronomy. The study of the oriental scientific heritage facilitated the compilation of a work by Theodorus Meliteniotes entitled Astronomy in Three Volumes (1361). In the field of cosmology the Byzantines maintained traditional ideas, some of which derived from the Biblical concept. (In its most exact form the doctrine of the flatness of the earth, washed by the ocean, was set forth in the sixth century by Cosmas Indicopleustes, who polemized against Ptolemy.) Other ideas stemmed from the scientific achievements of Greece, which recognized the spherical shape of the earth. Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa (fourth century), and Photius (ninth century) assumed that the doctrine of the earth’s spherical shape did not contradict the Bible. Astronomical observations were subordinated to the Byzantines’ widespread interest in astrology, which was subjected during the 12th century to sharp attacks by Orthodox theology. The latter condemned the idea that there is a connection between the movement of the celestial bodies and human destiny because it contradicts the belief in divine providence. In the 14th century Nicephorus Gregoras pro-posed a calendar reform and predicted a solar eclipse.
The Byzantines possessed a great deal of traditional and practical knowledge about chemistry that was necessary for the production of dyes, colored glazes, glass, and so forth. Alchemy, closely interwoven with magic, was widespread during the early Byzantine period, and perhaps to a certain degree was linked to the most important chemical discovery of that time—the invention at the end of the seventh century of Greek fire, a spontaneously flammable mixture of naphtha, potassium nitrate, and other materials that was used as ammunition against enemy ships and fortifications. Byzantine speculative natural science did not involve itself with the preoccupation with alchemy that took hold of Western Europe in the 12th century and that led ultimately to the establishment of experimental science.
Zoology, botany, and agronomy were purely descriptive sciences. (The imperial collection of rare animals in Constantinople was not of a scientific nature.) There were manuals compiled on agronomy (Geoponica, tenth century) and horsebreeding (Hippiatrica). In the 13th century Demetrios Pepagomenos wrote a book about falcons that contained a number of vivid and accurate observations. Byzantine descriptions of animals included not only real fauna but also legendary beasts such as unicorns. Mineralogy was concerned with the description of stones and soil types (the works of Theophrastus, late fourth century); moreover, it attributed occult properties to minerals.
Byzantine medicine was based on ancient tradition. In the fourth century Oribasius of Pergamum wrote the Corpus of Medicine, which was a compilation of the works of the ancient physicians. Despite the Byzantines’ Christian definition of disease as a test sent down by God and even as a unique kind of contact with the supernatural (especially epilepsy and insanity), hospitals did exist in Byzantium, at least in Constantinople, with specialized sections (for example, surgery or gynecology), and there were medical schools attached to them. In the llth century Symeon Seth wrote a book on nutrition that took Arabic experience into consideration, and in the 13th century Nicholas Myrepos wrote a pharmacopoeia that was used in Western Europe even as late as the 17th century. John Actuarius (14th century) introduced practical observations into his medical writings.
The foundations of geography in Byzantium were laid by official descriptions of regions, cities, and church dioceses. Around 535, Heraclius compiled his Ecthesis, a description of 64 provinces and 912 cities that became the basis for many later geographical works. In the tenth century Constantine Porphyrogenitus compiled a description of the themes in the Byzantine Empire; it was based more on tradition than on data available to him, and therefore it contains many anachronisms. To the same category of geographical literature belong the descriptions of journeys made by merchants (itineraries) and pilgrims. An anonymous itinerary of the fourth century contains a detailed description of the Mediterranean Sea with an indication of the distances between ports, the goods produced in ports and other cities, and so forth. Descriptions of the journeys of the following people have been preserved: the merchant Cosmas Indicopleustes (sixth century; Christian Topography, in which, in addition to general cosmological concepts, there are observations drawn from life and reliable information on the countries and peoples of Arabia, Africa, and so forth); John Phocas’journey to Palestine (12th century); Andrew Libadenus’ journey to Palestine and Egypt (14th century); and Cananus Lascaris’ journey to Germany, Scandinavia, and Iceland (end of the fourth century or beginning of the fifth). The Byzantines also knew how to draw up geographical maps.
PHILOSOPHY. The principal sources of Byzantine philosophy were the Bible and Greek classical philosophy (primarily Plato, Aristotle, and the stoics). Foreign influence on Byzantine philosophy was insignificant and, for the most part, negative (as is evidenced by the polemics against Islamic and Latin theology). Three schools were predominant in Byzantine philosophy during the period of the fourth to seventh centuries. (1) Neoplatonism (Iamblichus, Julian the Apostate, and Proclus), in the midst of the crisis of the ancient world, defended the idea of the harmonic unity of the universe, attainable because of the chain of dialectical transitions from the one (the deity) to matter. (The ethics of the Neoplatonists lacked the concept of evil.) The ideal of the polis organization was preserved, along with the classical polytheistic mythology. (2) Gnostic-Manichaeistic dualism proceeded from the conception of the irreconcilable division of the universe into the kingdom of good and the kingdom of evil, whose struggle must result in the victory of good. (3) The third school was that of Christianity, which took shape as a religion of “removed dualism,” midway between Neoplatonism and Manichaeism. The central factor in the development of theology from the fourth to the seventh centuries was the assertion of the doctrine of the trinity and the divine-human nature of Christ. (Neither of these concepts was in the Bible, and they were sanctified by the church only after a stubborn struggle against Arianism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism, and Monotheletism.)
Recognizing the essential difference between the earthly and the heavenly, Christianity allowed the possibility that this schism could be overcome by the supernatural with the aid of god-as-man (according to Athanasius of Alexandria, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa). In the field of cosmology there was a gradual affirmation of the biblical concept of creation. Anthropology (as expressed by Nemesius and Maximus the Confessor) proceeded from the idea of man as the center of all creation (“everything has been created for man”) and treated him as a microcosm, a miniature reflection of the universe. In ethics the problem of salvation was central. Diverging from Western theology (Augustine), Byzantine philosophy, and especially mysticism, which was strongly influenced by Neoplatonism, proceeded more from individual salvation through a personal “deification” (theosis), or physical attainment of divinity by man, than from corporate salvation through the church. The Byzantine philosophers, as distinct from Western theologians, recognized the importance of the ancient cultural heritage in continuing the traditions of the Alexandrian school (Clement of Alexandria and Origen).
The culminating point in Byzantine theology coincided with the decline of the cities in the seventh century. Byzantine philosophical thought had the task of preserving cultural values under strained economic and political conditions, rather than creatively developing Christian doctrine. John Damascene proclaimed the principle of compilation in his work, borrowing ideas from Basil the Great, Nemesius, and other church fathers, as well as Aristotle. Nevertheless, he strove to create a systematic exposition of Christian doctrinal belief, also including a negative program—the refutation of heresies. John Damascene’s Source of Knowledge was the first “summa” of philosophical theology to have a great influence on Western scholasticism. The principal ideological discussion of the eighth and ninth centuries—the dispute between the iconoclasts and the iconodules—was, to a certain extent, a continuation of the theological discussions of the fourth to seventh centuries. If the Orthodox church defended the thought that Christ embodied a super-natural connection between the divine and the human in its disputes with the Arians and other heretics during the fourth to seventh centuries, then in the eighth and ninth centuries the opponents of iconoclasm (such as John Damascene and Theodore the Studite) considered the icon to be a material image of the heavenly world and consequently an intermediate link connecting the above with the below. In the Orthodox interpretation the image of god-as-man and the icon served as a means of overcoming the dualism between the earthly and the heavenly. Paulicianism and Bogomilism, on the contrary, supported the dualistic traditions of Manichaeism.
The activity of the erudites, who revived the study of antiquity, took place in the second half of the ninth century and the tenth century. In the llth century, with the emergence of Byzantine rationalism, the philosophical struggle took on new characteristics. The trend toward systematic classification that had characterized the preceding period evoked criticism from two sides; the mystics, such as Symeon the New Theologian, opposed this sterile system and counterposed to it an emotional merging with the deity, and the rationalists revealed the contradictions in the theological system. Michael Psellus established the foundation for a new attitude toward the heritage of antiquity, viewing it as a unified phenomenon rather than a sum of information. His followers—John Italus, Eustathius of Nicaea, and Soterichus—basing their arguments on formal logic, expressed doubts about a number of theological doctrines. (Eustathius wrote, “Christ also used syllogisms.”) There was a growth of interest in applied knowledge, especially medicine.
After 1204 the disintegration of the Byzantine Empire into a number of states forced to struggle for their existence engendered a sharpened sense of the tragic nature of the human condition. The 14th century was a period of a new growth of mysticism—that is, Hesychasm, as espoused by Gregory Sinaites and Gregorius Palamas. Because they did not think it was possible to preserve their state and did not believe in reforms, the Hesychasts limited their ethics to religious self-perfection. They developed formal, “psychophysical” methods of prayer which opened the path to “deification.” Their attitude toward ancient tradition became ambiguous; on the one hand, in the restoration of the ancient institutions they saw the last chance to introduce religious reforms (Pletho), and on the other hand, the greatness of antiquity caused a feeling of despair about their own lack of creative resources (Georgius Scholarius). After 1453, Byzantine emigres such as Pletho and Bessarion of Nicaea facilitated the spread of ideas about ancient Greek philosophy, especially about Plato, to the West. Byzantine philosophy had a great influence on medieval scholasticism, the Italian Renaissance, and philosophical thought in the Slavic countries, Georgia, and Armenia.
HISTORICAL SCHOLARSHIP. There were still strong ancient traditions in Byzantine historical scholarship from the fourth century to the middle of the seventh century, and the pagan world view predominated. Even in the works of sixth-century authors such as Procopius of Caesarea and Agathias of Myrina the influence of Christianity is hardly expressed. Nevertheless, in the fourth century a new trend in historiography was already under way. It was represented by Eusebius of Caesarea, who regarded the history of mankind not as the result of the aggregate of human endeavors but as a teleological process. From the end of the sixth century to the tenth century the principal genre of historical works was the frankly didactic universal historical chronicle, whose subject was the global history of mankind, usually beginning with Adam. Ioannes Malalas, Theophanes the Confessor, and George Hamartolos wrote in this genre.
From the middle of the llth century to the 12th century historical scholarship was on the rise; historical works written by contemporaries of the events they were describing began to predominate. Works by such figures as Michael Psellus, Michael Attaliates, Anna Comnena, John Cinnamus, and Nicetas Choniates covered short periods of time and were emotionally colored and journalistic in their expositions. Events were no longer explained teleologically; God was not portrayed as the direct mover of history. Instead, human passions were viewed as the creators of history, especially in the works of Michael Psellus and Nicetas Choniates. A number of historians expressed a skeptical attitude toward the fundamental Byzantine social institutions. (For example, Choniates opposed the traditional cult of the emperor’s authority and contrasted Byzantine corruption with the military quality and strong moral fiber of the “barbarians.”) Psellus and Choniates departed from the usual, morally one-sided simplicity of personal characterizations and described instead complex characters with both good and bad qualities. In the 13th century historical scholarship began to undergo a decline; its principal subject matter became theological discussion. (The memoirs of John Cantacuzene, written in the 14th century, were an exception.) A final upswing in Byzantine historiography came at the end of Byzantium’s history, when the tragic perception of reality gave rise to the “relativistic” approach to history (for example, in the work of Laonicus Chalcocondyles). The moving force of history was perceived not in the guiding will of God but rather in tyche—fate or chance.
JURIDICAL SCHOLARSHIP. The striving for classification and the traditionalism that were characteristic of Byzantine culture were revealed with particular clarity in Byzantine juridical scholarship. The foundation of the Byzantine study of law was laid by the classification of Roman law and the compilation of codices of civil law, the most famous of which was the Corpus juris civilis (sixth century). This codex was also used later as a basis for Byzantine law; the task of the legal scholars was primarily confined to the interpretation and recapitulation of it. During the sixth and seventh centuries the Corpus juris civilis was partially translated from Latin into Greek; these translations were the foundation of the compiled collection known as the Basilica (ninth century), which was often recopied with scholia. Various reference manuals were written for the Basilica, including the Synopses, in which articles on specific legal questions are arranged in alphabetical order. In addition to Roman law, the Byzantines studied canon law, which was based on the decrees (regulations) established by church councils. There was an increase in juridical scholarship in the llth century, when a law school was founded in Constantinople. An attempt to generalize the practice of the Constantinople court was undertaken in the so-called Peira (“experience”), a collection of court decisions. During the 12th century Byzantine legal scholars such as Zonaras, Aristine, and Balsamon proposed a number of interpretations of the regulations issued by church assemblies in an effort to introduce standards of concordance between canon and Roman law. In the Byzantine Empire there was the office of the notary; moreover, during the 13th and 14th centuries individual provincial offices developed various local forms for drawing up documents.
LITERATURE. Byzantine literature was based on the thousand-year-old tradition of ancient Greek literature, which retained its importance as a model for literature during the entire course of Byzantium’s history. The works of Byzantine writers are full of the reminiscences of the ancient authors; the principles of ancient rhetoric, epistolography, and poetics were still in force. Nevertheless, in early Byzantine literature there were already new artistic principles, subject matter, and genres that had been developed partially under the influence of early Christian and oriental (primarily Syrian) traditions. This innovation was a response to the general tenets of the Byzantine world view and was expressed in the author’s sense of his own insignificance and his personal responsibility to God and in the evaluative perception of reality (good versus evil). The martyr-fighter was no longer the center of attention—instead, the ascetic, righteous man was. Metaphor yielded to symbol; logical connections to associations, stereotypes, and a simplified lexicon.
The theater, condemned by Christian theologians, had no opportunities for development in Byzantium. The transformation of the liturgy into a fundamental kind of dramatic action was accompanied by a flowering of liturgical poetry; the most important liturgical poet was Romanus Melodus. The liturgical singing of hymns was represented by the kontakion (in Greek, “a stick,” since the manuscript with the words of the hymn was wound around a stick); a kontakion was a poem consisting of an introduction of 20 to 30 lines (the troparion) and concluding with the same refrain. The content of such liturgical poetry was based on the legends of the Old and New Testaments and on the lives of the saints. The kontakion was essentially a poetical sermon, although at times it became a dialogue. Romanus Melodus, who began to use a tonic metrical scheme, made extensive use of alliteration and assonance (and at times even rhyme) and filled his poetry with bold aphorisms, comparisons, and antitheses. History as a narrative about the clash of human passions (Procopius of Caesarea) was replaced by the church history and the universal chronicle, in which the path of mankind is portrayed as a teleological drama of the struggle between good and evil (the works of Eusebius of Caesarea and loannes Malalas), and by the biography, or life, in which the same story unfolded within the framework of a single human life (the works of Palladius of Helenopolis, Cyril of Scythopolis, and John Moschus). Rhetoric, which in the works of Libanius of Antioch and Synesius of Cyrene still met the requirements of the ancient canons, was already being transformed by their contemporaries, Basil the Great and John Chrysostom, into a sermonizing art. The epigram and the poetical ekphrasis (description of monuments), which until the sixth century preserved the ancient system of imagery (Agathias of Myrina and Paulus), were replaced by moralizing gnomes.
During the following centuries (from the middle of the seventh to the middle of the ninth) the ancient traditions almost disappeared, and the new principles that had come to light in the proto-Byzantine period became predominant. In prose literature the principal genres were the chronicle (for example, the works of Theophanes the Confessor) and the life; hagiographic literature experienced a particular upswing during the period of iconoclasm, when lives served as a means of glorifying iconodulic monks. Liturgical poetry during this period lost its former freshness and dramatic quality; this loss was expressed externally in the replacement of the kontakion by the canon, a form of singing that consisted of several independent songs. The Great Canon by Andrew of Crete (seventh and eighth centuries) numbered 250 verses; it was marked by prolixity and extended length because of the author’s attempt to crowd into one work all the wealth of his learning. In contrast, Kasia’s gnomes and Theodore the Studite’s epigrams on themes of monastic life, in spite of their moralizing and occasional naivete, are sharp and realistic.
The middle of the ninth century marked the beginning of a new stage in literary activity. Literary compilations such as Photius’ Myriobiblion (the first attempt at critical bibliographical literature, covering about 280 books) and dictionaries such as Suidas’ appeared. Symeon Metaphrastes (Logothetes) made a compilation of Byzantine lives, arranging them according to the days of the church calendar.
In Byzantine literature of the llth century an interest in detail, humor, psychological motivation for action, and conversational language developed alongside elements of rationalism and criticism of monastic daily life (for example, in the work of Christopher of Mytilene and Michael Psellus). The leading genres of early Byzantine literature—liturgical poetry and biography—declined and became ossified. The universal historical chronicle, despite the effort of Joannes Zonaras to create a similar narrative based on the works of the best ancient historians, was replaced by memoir and semimemoir historical prose in which the author expressed his own subjective tastes. The military epic (for example, Digenes Akritas) appeared, as well as the erotic novel, which imitated that of antiquity but also claimed to be the allegorical expression of Christian ideas (Macrembolitus). A lively spirit of observation, colored with humor and at times even sarcasm, entered into rhetoric and epistolography. Although the foremost writers of the llth and 12th centuries (Theophylact the Bulgarian, Theodorus Prodromus, Eustathius of Thessaloniki, Michael and Nicetas Choniates, and Nicholas Mesarites) were primarily rhetoricians and historians, they were also philologists and poets. New forms of organizing literary creative work also emerged—literary circles grouped around influential patrons such as Anna Comnena, who was a writer herself. In contrast to the traditional individualistic world view (that held by Symeon the New Theologian and Cecaumenus), friendships were cultivated that in epistolography appeared in almost erotic images (“languor”). There was no break, however, either with the teleological world view or with the traditional aesthetic standards. Likewise there was no sense of tragedy about the crisis of the times; for example, the anonymous work Timarion describes a journey to hell in gently humorous tones.
The capture of Constantinople by the crusaders in 1204 put a practical end to the “pre-Renaissance” traces in Byzantine literature. Late Byzantine literature was marked by compilations and dominated by theological polemics. Even the most important poetry (that of Manuel Philes, for example) remained within the realm of subjects and images used by Theodorus Prodromus (a 12th-century court poet who wrote panegyrics to the emperors and great lords). A vivid and personal perception of reality such as that represented by the memoirs of John Cantacuzene was a rare exception. Elements of folklore, such as the “wild animal” theme in fables and epics were introduced, as was also an imitation of the Western chivalric romance (for example, Phlorios and Platziaphlora). It is possible that under Western influence in Byzantium during the 14th and 15th centuries theatrical pieces based on Biblical subjects appeared—for example, the story of the youths in the “fiery furnace.” Only on the eve of the fall of the empire and especially afterward a literature arose that was permeated with an awareness of the tragic nature of the situation and a sense of responsibility, even though it usually sought the solution to all problems in “all-powerful” antiquity (Georgius Gemistus Pletho). The conquest of Byzantium by the Turks brought a new resurgence of ancient Greek historical prose (that of Georgius Phrantzes, Ducas, Laonicus Chalcocondyles, and Critobulus), which falls chronologically outside the boundaries of Byzantine literature proper.
The best works of Byzantine literature had a great influence on the Bulgarian, Old Russian, Serbian, Georgian, and Armenian literatures. Individual masterpieces such as Digenis Akritas and the lives were well known even in the West.
ARCHITECTURE AND THE FINE ARTS. Unlike HlOSt of the European countries, Byzantium did not experience any real influence from the culture of the barbarian peoples. It also escaped the catastrophic destruction that besieged the Western Roman Empire. Therefore the ancient traditions were preserved for a long time in Byzantine art, especially because the first few centuries of its development occurred under the conditions of a slaveholding state. The process of transition to a medieval culture in Byzantium was greatly prolonged, and it proceeded along several channels. By the sixth century, the specific characteristics of Byzantine art were clearly defined.
In Byzantine urban construction and secular architecture the ancient cities were preserved to a considerable extent, and principles of medieval architecture slowly developed. The architecture of Constantinople during the fourth and fifth centuries (represented by the forum with Constantine’s column, the hippodrome, and the complex of imperial palaces with spacious apartments decorated with mosaic floors) preserved its ties with ancient architecture, primarily Roman. As early as the fifth century, however, a new radial plan for the Byzantine capital began to take shape. New fortifications made up of a well-developed system of walls, towers, moats, battlements, and glacis were installed to protect Constantinople.
In religious architecture new types of temples had already emerged in the fourth century—the church basilicas and central domed buildings, that were mostly baptisteries, differing in principle from their ancient predecessors. These cathedrals were erected not only in Constantinople (for example, the Basilica of John the Studite, c. 463) but also in other parts of the Byzantine Empire, where they acquired local traits and a great diversity of forms (for example, the severe stone Basilica of Qalb Louzeh in Syria, c. 480; the fifth-century brick basilica of the Church of St. Demetrius in Thessaloniki, which has preserved its picturesque Hellenistic interior; and the rotunda of the Church of St. George in Thessaloniki, reconstructed at the end of the fourth century). The spareness and simplicity of their exterior facades stand in contrast to the interiors, whose richness and splendor are required by the Christian worship service. Within the cathedral a special atmosphere is created, separate from the outside world. Gradually the interiors of the cathedrals became more fluid and dynamic and began to include the ancient components (columns, entablatures, and so forth), which were used abundantly in Byzantine architecture right up until the seventh and eighth centuries. In the architecture of church interiors there was a sense of the infinite and multidimensional quality of the universe, not subject to the power of human will in its development. This quality was the result of the most profound shocks caused by the fall of the ancient world.
Byzantine architecture reached the highest point in its development during the sixth century. Numerous fortifications were erected along the country’s frontiers. In the cities, palaces and cathedrals were built that were distinguished by a truly imperial magnificence (for example, the center-symmetrical churches of SS. Sergius and Bacchus in Constantinople, 526-527, and San Vitale in Ravenna, 526-547). The search for a synthetic religious building, which had begun as early as the fifth century with stone churches with wooden domes in Syria, Asia Minor, and Athens, reached its culmination—the basilica was combined with a domed structure. In the sixth century large domed cathedrals, cruciform in plan, were erected (for example, the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople and the Panaghia on the island of Paros), as well as domed basilicas that were rectilinear in plan (such as the churches in Philippi and St. Irene in Constantinople). The masterpiece of domed basilicas is the cathedral of St. Sophia in Constantinople (532-537, architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus). Its enormous dome is elevated on four columns with the aid of pendentives. Along the building’s longitudinal axis the pressure of the dome is borne by complex systems of semidomes and colonnades. The massive supporting columns, moreover, are concealed from the viewer, and the 40 windows that are cut through the base of the dome create an unusual effect—the inverted bowl of the dome seems to be lightly hovering over the cathedral. Commensurate with the greatness of the sixth-century Byzantine Empire, the cathedral of St. Sophia embodies in its architectural and artistic form ideas about eternal and inscrutable “superhuman” principles. This type of domed basilica, which requires extremely well-designed reinforcement of the building’s side walls, was not developed any further. By the sixth century, medieval traits were fully developed in Byzantine urban construction. A distinctive trait of cities in the Balkan Peninsula was the fortified upper city, along whose walls the residential quarters spread out. Cities in Syria were frequently built according to an irregular plan that corresponded to the local topography. The ancient dwelling with an inner courtyard long continued to exist in a number of regions of Byzantium (in Syria until the seventh century, and in Greece until the tenth or 12th). In Constantinople multistoried houses were built, often with arcades on their facades.
The transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages caused a profound crisis in the arts, resulting in the disappearance of some types and genres of the fine arts and the emergence of others. The most important role was played by the arts in connection with the needs of the church and state—cathedral paintings, icons, and miniatures for books (primarily in religious manuscripts). Because art was now permeated with medieval religious views, the nature of artistic imagery changed. The conception of a human being’s worth was transferred to the sphere of the other world. In conjunction with this, the ancient creative method was abolished, and a specifically medieval one developed in a conventional way. Fettered by religious ideas, art reflected reality not by means of its direct depiction but primarily by means of the spiritual and emotional tonality of the works of art. Sculpture became sharply expressive, thus destroying the ancient plasticity of form (for example, the Head of a Philosopher From Ephesus, fifth century, Museum of Art History, Vienna); as time passed, sculpture in the round almost completely disappeared in Byzantine art. In sculptural reliefs (for example, the so-called Consular Diptyches), separate observations from life accompany a schematization of the means of depiction.
Classical motifs were preserved most consistently in the products of artistic crafts (such as artifacts of stone, bone, and metal). In the church mosaics of the fourth and fifth centuries the ancient sentiment for the beauty of the natural world has been preserved (for example, the mosaics in the Church of St. George in Thessaloniki, dating from the end of the fourth century). The late classical devices in book miniatures were preserved right up until the tenth century (Scroll of Joshua the Son of Nun, Vatican Library, Rome). But during the period of the fifth to seventh centuries there was an increase in the spiritual-speculative principle in all types of painting, including the first icons (Sergius and Bacchus, sixth century, Kiev Museum of Western and Eastern Art). This principle, which conflicted with the three-dimensional spatial method of depiction (as represented by the mosaics in the Church of Hosios David in Thessaloniki, fifth century), later subordinated to itself all artistic methods. Architectural-landscape backgrounds were replaced by abstract-ceremonial gilded backgrounds; pictures became flat and two-dimensional. Expressiveness was indicated with the aid of the harmony of pure spots of color, the rhythmic beauty of lines, and generalized silhouettes; the human figures were given a fixed emotional signification (for example, the mosaics depicting the emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora in the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, c. 547; the mosaics of the Church of Panaghia Kanakaria on Cyprus and those of the Convent of St. Catherine in the Sinai, sixth century; and the mosaics of the seventh century, which were marked by a greater freshness in their perception of the world and by a directness of feeling—in the Church of the Assumption in Nicaea and the Church of St. Demetrius in Thessaloniki).
The historical shocks experienced by Byzantium from the seventh century to the beginning of the ninth century brought about an essential turning point in the arts. In the architecture of this period the transition to the domed cross cathedral was completed. (Its prototype was the church “outside the walls” in R’safah, sixth century; structures of a transitional type are the Church of the Assumption in Nicaea, seventh century, and the Church of St. Sophia in Thessaloniki, eighth century.) In the violent ideological struggle between the iconodules and the iconoclasts, the latter of which thought it improper to use realistic depictive forms to transmit religious content, the contradictions of the preceding period were resolved, and the aesthetics of a well-developed medieval art took shape. During the period of iconoclasm the churches were decorated mostly with Christian symbols and decorative wall-paintings.
From the middle of the ninth century to the 12th century, when Byzantine art was flourishing, there was a final affirmation of the domed cross cathedral with the dome resting on a barrel vault, which in turn was firmly attached to supports; from these supports four other vaults extended out in the shape of a cross. Lower corner areas were also covered with domes and vaults. Such a cathedral represented a system of reliably interconnected small spatial units, arranged in terraces into a slender pyramidal composition. The structure of the building was visible from inside the cathedral and was directly expressed in its exterior. The outside walls of such a cathedral were frequently decorated with ornamental brickwork, ceramic inlays, and so forth. The domed cross cathedral is an integral architectural type; subsequently Byzantine architecture merely developed variants of this type without developing anything more innovative in principle. In the classical variant of the domed cross cathedral the dome is elevated with the aid of pendentives on free-standing supports (for example, the Attic and Kalender churches, ninth century, the Church of Myrelaion, tenth century, the Pantocrator Cathedral complex, 12th century—all in Constantinople; also the Church of the Mother of God in Thessaloniki, 1028). On the territory of Greece there developed a type of cathedral with a dome set on drums resting on eight wall surfaces (for example, the Catholicon cathedral in the monastery of Hosios Loukas and the Church of Daphni, both from the llth century). In the monasteries of Mount Athos a type of cathedral plan developed with apses in the northern, eastern, and southern ends of the cross, forming the so-called tricunx on the plane section. In the provinces of the Byzantine Empire there were different varieties of the domed cross cathedral, and basilicas were also constructed.
During the ninth and tenth centuries cathedral paintings were done according to an orderly, harmonious plan. The church walls and vaults were completely covered with mosaics and frescoes arranged in a strictly determined hierarchical order and subordinate to the composition of the domed cross building. The interior formed an architecturally and artistically unified space that included icons placed on an iconostasis. In the spirit of the doctrine of the victorious iconodules, these depictions were regarded as a reflection of the ideal archetype; the subjects and composition of the paintings and the techniques of drawing and painting were subjected to definite regulation. Nevertheless, Byzantine painting expressed ideas through the medium of the human figure, revealing them as properties or states of this figure. Idealistic images of people are predominant in the art of Byzantium, which to a certain extent preserved in a recreated form the imaginative experience of classical art. Because of this factor the art of Byzantium appears relatively more “humanized” than many other great arts of the Middle Ages.
The general principles of Byzantine painting from the ninth to the 12th century developed differently within individual schools of art. The art of the capital was represented by the mosaics of Constantinople’s St. Sophia. Between the Macedonian period (middle of the ninth century to the middle of the llth) and the Comnenian period (middle of the llth century to 1204) in the art of the capital there was an increase in the solemn gravity and spirituality of the images and a sophistication in the manner of painting, combining elegance of linear drawing with refinement of the color scale. The best examples of icon painting, distinguished by a profound humanity of feelings, were connected with the capital (for example, Our Lady of Vladimir, 12th century, Tret’iakov Gallery, Moscow). A large number of mosaics were created in the provinces—the stately, peaceful ones in the Daphni monastery near Athens (llth century), the dramatically expressive ones in the monastery of Nea Moni on the island of Chios (llth century), and the provincially simplified examples in the Hosios Loucas Monastery in Phocis (llth century). There also existed a number of trends in fresco painting that became especially widespread (for example, the dramatically executed wall paintings in the Church of Panaghia Kuvelitissa in Kastoria, llth and 12th centuries, and the naïvely primitive paintings in the cave churches of Cappadocia).
In the area of book miniatures, after a brief flourishing of the art that was filled with a vital spontaneity and a political, polemical quality (for example, the Khludov Psalter, ninth century, Historical Museum, Moscow), and a period of interest in classical images (the Paris Psalter, tenth century National Library, Paris), a jewel-like decorative style emerged. These miniatures, however, are also sometimes characterized by specifically accurate observations drawn from life, as for example in the portraits of historical person-ages. Sculpture between the ninth and 12th centuries was primarily represented by relief icons and decorative carvings (altar railings, capitols, and so forth), distinguished by their wealth of ornamental motifs, frequently of classical or of oriental origin. Also flourishing highly at this time were the decorative applied arts—artistic fabrics, multicolored seamed enamels, and articles made of ivory and metal.
After the invasion of the crusaders, Byzantine culture was reborn in Constantinople (reconquered in 1261) and in the states connected with it on the territories of Greece and Asia Minor. Church architecture of the 14th and 15th centuries basically repeated the old types (for example, the small, elegant churches of Fetiyeh and Molla-Giurani in Constantinople, 14th century; and the Church of the Apostles in Thessaloniki, 1312-15, decorated with patterned brickwork and enclosed by a gallery). In Mistra, churches combining in themselves the basilica and the domed cross cathedral were built (such as the two-story Church of the Pantanassa Monastery, 1428). Basically medieval, such architecture sometimes absorbed certain motifs from Italian architecture and reflected the establishment of secular, renaissance tendencies (for example, the Church of Panaghia Parigoritissa in Arta, c. 1295; the Palace of Tekfur-Serai in Constantinople, 14th century; and the palace of the rulers of Mistra, the 13th to 15th centuries). The residential buildings of Mistra are picturesquely located on a rocky slope along the sides of the main street, which proceeds in a zigzag manner. The twoand three-story dwellings, with business areas below and living quarters on the upper floors, are reminiscent of small fortresses.
At the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th, painting experienced a brilliant though short-lived flowering; attention was paid to the specific content of life, real interrelationships between people, and the spatial depiction of the environment. The mosaics of the Chora Monastery (Kahrieh Djami) in Constantinople (beginning of the 14th century) and the Church of the Apostles in Thessaloniki (c. 1315) are the best examples of this painting. However, the break with medieval convention that was planned was not fully realized. In the middle of the 14th century an intensification of cold abstraction began in the painting of the Byzantine capital; minute decorative painting became widespread in the provinces, sometimes including narrativegenre motifs (for example, the frescoes in the churches of Peripleptos and Pantanassa in Mistra, second half of the 14th and first half of the 15th century). The traditions of Byzantine fine arts, as well as those of secular, religious, and monastery architecture, were passed on to medieval Greece after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, which marked the end of the his-tory of Byzantium.
MUSIC. The historical conditions and polyethnic composition of Byzantium’s population determined the motley nature of the sources, genres, forms, and intonational systems of Byzantine music. These drew upon Persian, Coptic, Hebrew, and Armenian song, as well as upon late Greek and Roman melos. The music of Byzantium absorbed elements of Syrian (fourth century), Arabic (eighth century), and Slavic song as well. In secular music performed at the imperial court the so-called acclamation developed as a kind of welcoming exclamation and glorification that was sung with verse texts, including euphemia (ritualistic holiday acclamations), which were part of the court liturgy. These euphemia were marked by ornamental melodies, and they included instrumental intermezzi performed by horn-players and cymbal-players. During the emperor’s ceremonial outings at the hippodrome, or arena, choral (antiphonal) polychronia (wishes for a long life) were chanted. Concerts on the hydraulic organ and later, on the pneumatic organ, were popular. Of the written scores, only the religious music, which was also performed at court, have survived. There were several types of Byzantine notation: ecphonetic (sixth to eighth centuries), stroke (eighth to 12th centuries), round (12th to 14th centuries), and Koukouzelian neumes (14th and 15th centuries). Byzantine church music was purely vocal and written for a single voice. The oldest forms of religious solo music are the chanting-style reading of prayers (reciting) and the melodically more developed psalmody, of ancient oriental origin. Poetic and musical improvisations similar to folk songs were introduced into church singing in the fourth century. These were known as troparia and were sung between the psalm verses for purposes of contrast (primarily by boys’ choirs), and by the sixth and seventh centuries they had replaced the psalmody. In the tenth century the troparia were replaced by the stichera, and with the development of the song principle, these were trans-formed into hymns—rather philosophical song lyrics that combined religious and mystical motifs with a vivid emotional content. Of the greatest importance was the creative work of the poet and songwriter Romanus Melodus (sixth century), who was from Emesa in Syria and created the kontakia. During the seventh and eighth centuries the canon became the predominant hymnal form. Its flourishing was connected with the activity of Andrew of Crete, John Damascene, Cosmas of Maiuma, and the famous Constantinople female singer and poet, Kasia (ninth century). One of the most important centers of hymnography was the monastery of Studion.
Until the ninth century, Byzantine music had a great influence on the musical culture of many European countries. Then, during the ninth century, a certain stagnation occurred in the musical art of Byzantium. The improvisors, songwriters, and creators of hymns were replaced by the erudite hymnographers and masters of adaptation, who wrote new verses to already existing hymn tunes. The revival of Byzantine musical culture is connected with the activity of the hymnist and theoretician John Koukouzelius from the Mount Athos Monastery; he revived the poetic and song techniques of Romanus Melodus. This period of upswing in the musical culture of Byzantium (14th and 15th centuries) received the title of the Koukouzelian Epoch, and it was ended only by the Turkish conquest of Byzantium.


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A. P. KAZHDAN, V. M. POLEVOI (architecture and the fine arts), and K. K. ROZENSHIL’D (music)

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Byzantine Empire

the continuation of the Roman Empire in the East, esp after the deposition of the last emperor in Rome (476 ad). It was finally extinguished by the fall of Constantinople, its capital, in 1453 See also Eastern Roman Empire
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