Grade level: 9-12 subject area: World History credit

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Two class periods



World History

Wendy Eagan, a world history teacher at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland.


Students will understand the following:

1. Rule and control of the city that began as Byzantium and that we now call Istanbul shifted many times.

2. At times, the city was a center of great culture.


For this lesson, you will need:

Reference materials about the decline of the Roman Empire, the split into western and eastern Roman empires, the Byzantine Empire, and the beginning of the Ottoman Empire
Roll paper
Markers in a variety of colors
Staples, pushpins, tape, or another fastening device to attach the roll paper to the wall

1. Tell students that they will produce a large-scale time line, called “Byzantium—Constantinople—Istanbul,” to help them see what happened to a single city over the course of about two millennia—from just after 700 B.C. to just before A. D. 1600. The time line will have dates and, above or below the dates, will contain details about

- leaders
- military expansion or retrenchment
- economic developments
- social changes
- and other major events in the life of the city
Go on to tell students that after groups collaborate to finish the time line, each group will write a brief analysis of what the overall time line shows.

2. Ask students, perhaps those who most often display mathematical intelligence, to figure out how long a piece of roll paper they should mount horizontally for the time line. (If you have room to give one foot to each century, students will need twenty-three feet of paper, plus some paper for left and right margins; if you don't have that much room, ask students to calculate a new length per century or to propose an alternative to ticking off every hundred years.)

3. On the large piece of roll paper—stapled, pinned, or taped to the wall—direct one or several students to draw a continuous horizontal line and to tick off on it the equal segments of one hundred years each (or to proceed with the alternative mathematical plan). They should begin, on the left, with 700 B.C. and end, on the right, with A.D. 1600. The students should label each tick mark with its corresponding year.

4. Divide the 2300 years up as follows, assigning a group of students to each period:

- 700 B.C.-323 B.C.

- 322 B.C.-A.D. 324

- A.D. 325-542

- 543-866

- 867-1600

Respond to students' concerns that some periods are longer than others by saying that, based on historians' reports, these divisions mark major changes. You might add that sometimes decades went go by with few developments but at other times, events occurred fast and furiously within just a few years.

5. Explain what printed and electronic resources students may use to identify key events in the city for the period they are being asked to research. Remind students of the five categories of facts to uncover; they are enumerated above. Give students responsibility for finding one or more facts for specific categories rather than all students collecting the same information for all categories from the sources. Students should take notes from their reading.

6. Once all the groups have done their research—that is, once the students in each group have collected facts for their period (in as many categories as possible)—ask each group to make a draft, on notebook paper, of their section of the time line for you to review. Make sure each contains the following key events (plus any pertinent information about economic and social changes). If a period is lacking information, send the students back to do more research, and review their second drafts.

a. 700B.C.–323 B.C.

667 B.C.: city founded by Greek named Byzas; becomes major port

590 B.C.: city destroyed by Persian, Darius I

479 B.C.: city rebuilt by Spartans

479–340 B.C.: city fought over by Athens and Sparta

336–323 B.C. Alexander the Great, of Macedonia, in charge


b. 322 B.C.–A.D. 324

after Alexander: city independent; then attacked by Scythians

279 B.C.: tribute imposed by Celts on city; war between Byzantium and Rhodes

1st and 2nd centuries B.C.: city helpful to Rome in several wars, but city then controlled by Rome

A.D. 196: city captured by Roman Emperor Severus, who razed walls

A.D. 293: Byzantium named by Roman Emperor Diocletian as a new center of Roman

Empire with power split between Rome (West) and Byzantium (East)

324: Roman Emperor of East defeated by Roman Emperor of the West, Constantine (first Christian emperor); Byzantium renamed Constantinople andbuilt up by Constantine


c. A.D. 325–866

476: Constantinople considered capital of Byzantine Empire after Rome falls

527+: Constantinople further built up by Emperor Justinian I (e.g., Hagia Sophia, major Christian church; codification of Roman laws)

565+: city increasingly Greek in nature

7th to 8th centuries: many Arab (Muslim) sieges of city; Byzantine Empire shrunken


d. 867–1600

9th to 11th centuries: glory of city regained under Emperor Basil I; revival of learning (art and literature: older Greek models); major invasion by Turks

1054: break between Rome (papacy) and Constantinople (Greek Orthodox)

11th and 12th centuries: city and empire hurt by Crusades

1204: city taken by Crusaders

14th century: Byzantine land in Asia taken by Ottoman Turks

1453: city of Constantinople taken by Ottoman Turks (Mehmet, or Muhammad, II);renamed Istanbul, made capital of Ottoman Empire, and revived as center of learning and religious tolerance

1520–1566: under Sultan Suleiman I, city at its height

1566+: years of decline

7. When you've signed off on each group's timeline, call the groups together to discuss how they will transfer their facts to the time line on the wall.
- How they will word the facts on the time line so that all the groups' postings are consistent? (Will they use full sentences? phrases? active voice or passive voice?)

- Will they write directly on the time line, or will they write or type their information on other paper and paste or pin the labels onto the time line?

- Will they write in dates, or will they show approximate dates with tick marks on the time line?

- Do they want to use different colors to differentiate visually the various categories of facts (e.g., social, economic)?

- What other issues or factors should the groups discuss and agree on before they start filling in the time line?

8. After students have finished filling in the time line, ask each group to collaborate on a short analysis (three paragraphs will do) of what the time line says to them. Ask them to comment on the history of the city known as Byzantium, then Constantinople, then Istanbul from its original founding until the late 1500s. Remind them to include examples throughout their report.

Select from the events listed above a half dozen or so of the most significant ones. Ask individual students to find out the year in which these particular events occurred and to mark the date on a time line that you have already mounted to cover the period 700 B.C. to A.D. 1600.

1. List and discuss the most impressive and beautiful accomplishments of the Byzantine Empire.
2. One thousand years is a really long time for a civilization to last. The United States civilization is about 300 years old. Do you think we'll make it to 1,000? Why or why not? What will be considered our crowning achievements?
3. Compare the power of Roman and Byzantine emperors to current international political leaders. Be sure to consider different forms of government and the routes to power available to 20th century heads of state. Make sure to note their similarities and differences.
4. Explain why certain cities are associated with specific architectural structures. List international capitals and choose one symbolic structure for each. Be prepared to defend your choices.
5. Brainstorm and discuss reasons underlying the fall of the Byzantine Empire.
6. Analyze the decision of Mehmet II to convert St. Sophia into a mosque after his conquest of Constantinople. What other options did he have?

You can evaluate the groups' work using the following three-point rubric:
- Three points:full listing of key developments in the life of the city; clearly written analysis with thesis statement and many examples

- Two points:adequate listing of key developments in the life of the city; adequately written analysis with thesis statement and some examples

- One point:inadequate listing of key developments; weak analysis lacking meaningful thesis statement and enough examples

You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining the minimum number of key developments to be listed and the minimum number of examples to be included in the report.

Map of Trade Routes

Provide for each student a photocopy of an outline map that includes Africa, Asia, and Europe. Ask students to locate and label (a) the Byzantine trade routes that linked the three continents and (b) the changing boundaries of the Byzantine Empire over time. Using different colors and styles of lines (all to be explained in a key to the map), students should also show (c) prominent cities, (d) land and water routes, and (e) symbols representing the goods and products exchanged along the routes.

Report on Trip to Byzantium

Each student should assume the role of a diplomat to the court of Justinian and Theodora. Ask each to research this emperor's era in more detail and then to compose a letter to family back home. The letter should relate the student's journey to the capital, impressions of the sights of the city and the royal couple, and customs that are new to the student. You may opt to have students include sketches to accompany their writing.

A Short History of Byzantium

John Julius Norwich. Knopf, 1997.

This book chronicles the life of the city of Constantinople, starting in A.D. 330 when Constantine the Great moved his capital from Rome to Asia Minor until its downfall at the hands of the Turks in 1453.
Istanbul: The Imperial City

John Freely. Penguin, 1998.

The modern city of Istanbul, once Byzantium, then Constantinople, is steeped in history and intrigue. This book serves both as travel guide to the modern city and history guide to its rich past.

The Internet Medieval Sourcebook

The Internet Medieval Sourcebook is a comprehensive historical resource. It contains an incredible number of links to Byzantine primary documents. Be sure to have the Adobe PDF plug-in handy.
The Byzantium

A graphically pleasing Web site, these pages hold a variety of links on Byzantium. The designers are Turkish, but write in English.
Anatolia throughout the Ages

This site contains a timeline of Asia Minor, the peninsula on which Turkey is found.
Byzantium Studies on the Internet

This Web site is a list of reference materials on Byzantium by the same author who constructed the Ancient and Medieval Sourcebooks.
Dumbarton Oaks Library Byzantine Studies

This library site has some images and useful links on Byanztium.
ByzNet: Byzantine Studies on the Web

Offers some maps and scans of coins, plus a Byzantine art section.


A large hemispherical roof or ceiling.


Byzantine architects created the largest domes ever built in the ancient world. The most famous example is St. Sophia built by Justinian and Theodora in Constantinople.


A long narrative poem celebrating the deeds of a hero.


The world's oldest epic hero was Gilgamesh, a Mesopotamian king who sought the plant (tree of life) bearing the secret of immortality.


A person expelled by force from his country or a person who chooses to leave voluntarily.


In Rome, a group of Byzantine exiles gathered in an academic setting to help maintain and preserve Byzantine culture and ideals.


An Islamic place of worship.


After the fall of Christian Byzantium, the Turkish rulers built mosques over existing sites or converted churches into mosques where the Muslim faithful could worship.


An object esteemed or venerated because of its age or special association with an important historical figure or saint.


Often there are political ceremonies or religious rituals involving relics of the past or objects believed to have sacred powers. One example was the procession of Constantine and his priests in the fourth century.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

world history


Understands how major religious and large-scale empires arose in the Mediterranean Basin, China, and India from 500 B.C. to A.D. 300.


Understands shifts in the political framework of Roman society (e.g., major phases in the empire's expansion through the first century A.D.; how imperial rule over a vast area transformed Roman society, economy, and culture; the causes and consequences of the transition from republic to empire under Augustus in Rome; how Rome governed its provinces from the late Republic to the Empire; how innovations in ancient military technology affected patterns of warfare and empire building).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

world history


Understands the imperial crises and their aftermath in various regions from A.D. 300 to A.D. 700.


Understands political and social elements during the decline of the Roman and Han empires and the rise of the Byzantine Empire (e.g., the strengths and weaknesses of the eastern and western Roman empires and the factors that enabled the Byzantine Empire to continue as Rome fell; how Constantine selectively supported aspects of western rule with eastern institutions to create a new, independent, Byzantine state in the fourth century A.D.; the links between military, social, and economic causes for the decline in the Han and Roman empires; the impact of barbarian movements on the regions of Europe, China, and India by the end of the seventh century A.D.; the life of Germanic people and society including the status and role of women).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

world history


Understands the causes and consequences of the development of Islamic civilization between the seventh and tenth centuries.


Understands the political, social, and religious problems confronting the Byzantine and Sassanid Persian empires in the seventh century and the commercial role of Arabia in the Southwest Asian economy.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

world history


Understands the redefinition of European society and culture from A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1300.


Understands the spread of philosophy to Europe (e.g., the importance of the Islamic states of Iberia and Sicily as well as the Byzantine Empire in transmitting scientific and philosophical knowledge to western and central Europe; how classical works such as those of Aristotle and Plato became part of medieval philosophy in western Europe, and the attitude of the Church toward these non-Christian philosophies).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

visual arts


Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures.


Knows a variety of historical and cultural contexts regarding characteristics and purposes of works of art.
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