The success and the longevity (1123 years) of the Byzantine Empire was not based on faith but rather was, a result of clever, flexible and farseeing administrative skills of her leaders. Constantine did two strategically important things to provide for the unity of the East Roman Empire. First of all, with the famous pronouncement known as ‘ Edict of Milan ‘ in 313 he declared that Christians and followers of other religions were completely free to worship.

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Hagia Sophia from the air

Secondly on the purpose of leaving the chaotic burden of the old past, he initiated the establishment of the new capital, Constantinople, and granted the inhabitants of different cultures like, Macedonians, Tracians and Dacians, Bithynians and Armenians, Syrians, Egyptians and even Arabians. He did not forget to attract the high-ranking officials from Italy. These strategic measurements caused a spontaneous composition of the Byzantine Empire. Under Constantine’s reign, there were 3 factors which maintained the unity in this new capital:

-First,the Latin language was accepted.

-Second, the inhabitants of the new capital were proud of being called Romans ‘Romaioi’ and considered themselves as the legitimate successors of the Ceasars.

-Third, Constantinople was a Christian city.

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interior of the Hagia Sophia

It can be said that the strong foundation of the city by Constantine played an important role in preparing herself for a powerful future empire of Byzantine. Besides , when the West Roman Empire was assaulted by the barbarian invasions and declined, the East Roman Empire dealt with the problems by employing various measures. Diplomatic persuasion method was one of the important methods which played a crucial role in keeping them intact. The successful combination of the Hellenistic tradition with the Roman culture, the rich economic resources, political, economic and military relations with territories east and west were other reasons for their rise.

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After Christianity became an accepted religion in the west, the Patriarchates were centered in Rome instead of Constantinople due to a formal decision by the Second Council in Constantinople in 381. This resolution was also approved by the Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon in 451. However, this case gave rise to a long-lasting debate and antagonism between The Byzantine Empire and the West Roman Empire even after the collapse of the west. The attempts of the Byzantines to be recognized by the west to impose its own uniform practices of rituals and disciplines failed in the Quinisextum Council of Constantinople in 692. The diversity of Latin and Orthodox churches was furthered in 800 when Pope Leo 3 crowned Charlemagne emperor in Rome. Apart from these contradictions, the Byzantine Empire was also surrounded by enemies from the east and attacked by Avars, Bulgars, Peceneks, Uzs, Kuman-Kipcaks and Slavic tribes .Some of these clans were also migrating to Anatolia and the population became a mixture of these cultures. Arabians were also on the scene and invaded the lands of Byzantine and even knocked on the door of Constantinople from time to time .

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Hagia Sophia

If we take a short look to the emperors of the Byzantine we find Justinian as one of the most respectable characters of the empire (527-565). He conquered the lands of the Western Mediterranean, changed the constitution and introduced Greek as the official language. He launched the construction of monuments and religious places. His attempts towards the construction of a huge church bore fruit in the famous ‘ Hagia Sophia ‘.

However, Emperor Herakleios (610-641) could not resist Arabians and lost Egypt, Syria and the lands in Africa. After that, Arabians gained control over trade routes of the Near east but then the Byzantine economy started to deteriorate. The period starting with Leo III saw the long lasting debate of iconoclasts since he prohibited the worship of images. However, some of the succeeding emperors respected iconoclasts while some did not. On the other side, the schism between Rome and Constantinople was declared and approved by the Patriarch of Constantinople between 863-867.

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Interior of Hagia Sophia

The Macedonian Emperor Basil II helped the Byzantine to defeat Bulgars (963-1025). However the debate between east and west accelerated and the final schism occurred in 1054. During the Patriarchate of Michel Celarius the conflict between the two churches reached its height and Latins encompassed and seized Constantinople in the course of the Fourth Crusade in 1204. This situation led to the break down of the unity in the Byzantine Empire and the Empire divided into East Latin Empire, Nicomedia Empire, Trebizond-Pontus Empire and Epeiros Empire.

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Theotokos Pammakaristos manastry
(Fethiye Mosque)

In 1261 Constantinople was held by Michel IV once more. It is evident that the continuing wars between the west led the empire to ignore the lands in the east and Anatolia. As a result the Turks started invasions and settled into Anatolia. Even though the Seljuks were not strong enough to survive longer in Anatolia their decline caused the rise of the Ottomans which was to be the means of the decline of the Byzantines. Briefly, Byzantine collapsed over the two centuries after its division it could not resist to the Ottomans and lost Constantinople and its sovereign power in 1453.

Art in the Byzantine Era

The Byzantine art which is a fertile product of Anatolia was a combination of the Roman and Hellenististic art with fresh ideas drawn from early Christianity and the noble idea that Byzantines were the true successors of the Roman Empire.

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It can be said that Byzantine and early Christian art initiated a new era in architecture.The traces of this new style can be seen in the cities of Ephesus, Aphrodisius, Hierapolis, Side, Antioch. However, the newly constructed city of Constantinople displayed the highly developed and matured works of art.

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Ear rings

Every emperor tried to increase the number of public and religious buildings, private houses, etc. Constantinople became the center of culture and art between the years 330-565. Hagia Sophia, Church of St.Irene,Church of St.Savior in Chora, St.Mary Pammakaristos in Constantinople ,Basilica of St.John in Ephesus and Church of Alahan in South of Anatolia display to the beauty and high level of architectural skill.The light-shadow effects of changing day light was an important component of the Byzantine architectural design.

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mosaic from Hagia Sophia

Besides the frescoes and mosaics played a compensating role in architectural works of art in these famous churches. The recently finished restoration of the Great Palace Floor mosaics by Australian and Turkish archaeologists enables us to rediscover the magic of the skillful artisans of the Byzantine era. The characteristic feature of this era was that every branch of art existed to compensate and merge with each other. However, the iconoclast debate prohibited sculpture and painting to develop in this era.

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