In addition to the great civilizations of Asia and North Africa forming during the postclassical period, two related major civilizations formed in Europe. The Byzantine Empire, in western Asia and Southeastern Europe, expanded into Eastern Europe. The other was defined by the influence of Catholicism in western and central Europe. The Byzantine Empire, with territory in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the eastern Mediterranean, maintained very high levels of political, economic, and cultural life between 500 and 1450 C.E. The empire continued many Roman patterns and spread its Orthodox Christianity civilization through most of Eastern Europe, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. Catholic Christianity, without an imperial center, spread in Western Europe. Two separate civilizations emerged from the differing Christian influences.
The Byzantine Empire:
Constantine built Constantinople as his capital in the 4th century, and the city became the capital of the Byzantine Empire when the Roman Empire split. Complex administration around a remote emperor, who was surrounded by elaborate ceremonies, increasingly defined the empire’s political style. Eventually Greek became the empire’s official language.
Justinian’s positive contributions to the Byzantine Empire lay in rebuilding Constantinople, including the remarkable Hagia Sophia, and systematizing the Roman legal code. His 6th century military gains (made with the help of his general, Belisarius) were accomplished at great cost.
Justinian’s successors were able to hold off Arab invaders from the east (“Greek fire” was instrumental in this process), but the empire’s size and strength was greatly reduced. The empire also successfully defeated challenges from Bulgaria.
The Byzantine political system had remarkable similarities to the earlier patterns in China. The emperor was held to be ordained by God, head of church as well as state. Women could (and did) serve as emperor. An elaborate bureaucracy organized the empire militarily, socially and economically, while cultural life blended Hellenism and Orthodox Christianity.
In 1054 longstanding disagreements came to a head, and the church split into two traditions: one Western (or Roman Catholic), and one Eastern (or Orthodox).
The Byzantine Empire entered a long period of decline following the church schism. It was able to survive by careful diplomacy until Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453.
The Spread of Civilization in Eastern Europe:
Christian missionaries like Cyril and Methodius helped bring Orthodoxy northward into Russia and the Balkans, and created a new alphabet, Cyrillic.
Roman Catholicism also competed for converts in Eastern Europe. Jews, who valued education and literacy, migrated into the region in large numbers, gaining strength in local commerce.
Kievan Rus’, which began along the trade route between Scandinavia and Constantinople, gained influence and power after Vladimir converted to Orthodox Christianity around 1000. The state soon developed its own Russian Orthodox Christianity around 1000. The state soon developed its own Russian Orthodox Church, and Yaroslav issued a unifying code of laws.
Russian culture borrowed much from Byzantium, though the bureaucracy and education system were not as developed. Boyars, the Russian nobility, were less powerful than their western counterparts.
Mongol invasions (the Tartars), aided by rival princes and the fall of the Byzantine Empire, ended this period of Russian history.
This cut the region off from western contacts, stifling economic, political, and cultural sophistication.