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crossbow a medieval weapon made up of a bow that was fixed across a wooden stock (which had a groove to direct the arrow’s flight) and operated by a trigger

longbow a large bow used for firing feathered arrows

truce an agreed-upon halt in fighting

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Chapter 6

The Byzantine Empire

A modern drawing re-creates the city of Constantine during the Byzantine Empire.
6.1 Introduction

In the last chapter, you learned about the decline of feudalism in western Europe. In this chapter, you will learn about the Byzantine Empire in the east. This great empire straddled two continents, Europe and Asia. It lasted from about 500 to 1453 C.E., when it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks.

The Byzantine Empire was the continuation of the Roman Empire in the east. As you learned in Chapter 1, in 330 C.E. the emperor Constantine moved his capital from Rome to the ancient city of Byzantium. The city was an old Greek trading colony on the eastern edge of Europe. Constantine called his capital New Rome, but it soon became known as Constantinople (Greek for “Constantine’s City”).

After Constantine’s reign, control of the huge empire was usually divided between two emperors. One was based in Rome, and one in Constantinople. After the fall of Rome, the eastern half of the empire continued for another 1,000 years. Today we call this eastern empire the Byzantine Empire, after Byzantium, the original name of its capital city.

East and west remained connected for a time through a shared Christian faith. But the church in the east developed in its own unique way. It became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. Over time, Byzantine emperors and church officials came into conflict with the pope in Rome. The conflict eventually led to a permanent split between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

In this chapter, you’ll learn about the Byzantine Empire, one of its greatest emperors, and its distinctive church. Let’s begin by exploring the empire’s capital—the fabulous city of Constantinople.

You will use this map as a graphic organizer to help you explore the development of the Byzantine Empire and its political and religious traditions.
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6.2 Constantinople

Constantinople was more than 800 miles to the east of Rome. Why did Constantine choose this site to be the capital of the Roman Empire?

One reason was that the site was easy to defend. It was surrounded on three sides by water. The Byzantines fashioned a chain across the city’s harbor to guard against seafaring intruders. Miles of walls, fortified by watchtowers and gates, made invasion by land or sea difficult.

Constantinople also stood at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and the many sea and overland trade routes linking east and west. Under the Byzantines, this location helped make the city, and some of its citizens, fabulously wealthy. For more than 700 years, Constantinople was the richest and most elegant city in the Mediterranean region. Ivory, silk, furs, perfumes, and other luxury items flowed through its markets. A French soldier who saw the city in 1204 exclaimed, “One could not believe there was so rich a city in all the world.”

At its height, Constantinople was home to around one million people. The city’s language and culture were Greek, but traders and visitors spoke many languages. Ships crowded the city’s harbor, loaded with goods. The city streets, some narrow and twisting, some grand and broad, teemed with camel and mule trains.

Life in Constantinople was more advanced than in western Europe. The city boasted a sewer system, rare in medieval times. Social services were provided by hospitals, homes for the elderly, and orphanages.

Despite the luxuries enjoyed by the rich, many people lived in poverty. The emperor gave bread to those who could not find work. In exchange, the unemployed performed such tasks as sweeping the streets and weeding public gardens.

Almost everyone attended the exciting chariot races at a stadium called the Hippodrome. Two chariot teams, one wearing blue and the other green, were fierce rivals. In Constantinople and other cities, many people belonged to opposing groups called the Blues and Greens after the chariot teams. At times the rivalry between Blues and Greens erupted in deadly street fighting. But in 532, the two groups united in a rebellion that destroyed much of Constantinople. You’ll find out what happened in the next section.

Constantinople’s location made it easy to defend from attacks by land or sea. It was also an important location for trade routes linking east and west.
(Map Title)

The Byzantine Empire, Mid-Sixth Century
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6.3 The Reign of Justinian I

One of the greatest Byzantine emperors was Justinian I, whose long reign lasted from 527 to 565. But Justinian’s reign nearly came to an abrupt end much sooner. In January 532, the emperor and his beautiful wife, Theodora, were attending the chariot races at the Hippodrome. In the past, Blues and Greens at the races had often fought with each other. This time, however, both groups were upset over the arrests of some of their members. To Justinian’s horror, they united in denouncing him. Fighting broke out, spilled into the streets, and escalated into a full-scale rebellion.

The rioting continued for a week while Justinian and Theodora hid in the palace. Much of the city was in flames. Justinian’s advisors wanted him to flee the city. Theodora, however, urged him to stay and fight. With her encouragement, Justinian put down the revolt. According to the official court historian, Procopius, 30,000 people were killed in the fighting. Constantinople lay in ruins.

Justinian was determined to rebuild the city on an even grander scale than before. He put huge sums of money into public works. Soon Constantinople had new bridges, public baths, parks, roads, and hospitals. The emperor also built many grand churches, including the magnificent Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom”). Today this great cathedral is one of the most famous buildings in the world.

Besides rebuilding Constantinople, Justinian tried to reclaim some of the empire’s lost territory. He launched military campaigns that, for a time, won back parts of North Africa, Italy, and southeastern Spain.

Justinian is most famous, however, for creating a systematic body of law. Under his direction, a committee studied the thousands of laws the Byzantines had inherited from the Roman Empire. They revised outdated and confusing laws. They also made improvements, such as extending women’s property rights. The result of their work is known as Justinian’s Code. It became the basis for many legal codes in the western world.

Procopius, the court historian, wrote glowing accounts of Justinian’s achievements. But he also wrote the Secret History, in which he called the emperor “a treacherous enemy, insane for murder and plunder.” Throughout Byzantine history, distrust and divisions often plagued the imperial court. Justinian’s court was no exception.

During rioting in Constantinople, Theodora encouraged her husband, Emperor Justinian I, to stay and fight for his city.

public works construction projects built by a government for public use, such as buildings, roads, and bridges
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6.4 The Eastern Orthodox Church

To the Byzantines, Christianity was more than a religion. It was the very foundation of their empire.

When Constantine built his new capital, he intended it to be the religious center of the empire as well as the seat of government. Constantine himself tried to settle religious disputes by calling bishops together in council.

Over time, the Byzantine church became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. The word orthodox means “in agreement with right belief.” The medieval Eastern Orthodox Church was based on a set of beliefs that its leaders traced back to Jesus Christ and to the work of bishops in early Christian councils.

The Role of the Eastern Orthodox Church in the Empire Religion and government were more closely linked in the Byzantine Empire than in the west. The Byzantines viewed the emperor not just as the head of the government but as the living representative of God and Jesus Christ. This meant that church and state were combined into one all-powerful body.

The state religion also united people in a common belief. The Eastern Orthodox Church played a central role in daily life. Most people attended church regularly. Religious sacraments gave shape to every stage of the journey from birth to death. Monasteries and convents cared for the poor and the sick. These institutions were supported by wealthy people and became quite powerful. Let’s look at some of the practices of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Church Hierarchy Like Roman Catholic clergy, Orthodox clergy were ranked in order of importance. In Byzantine times, the emperor had supreme authority in the church. He chose the patriarch of Constantinople, who ranked next to him in matters of religion.

The Hagia Sophia was built between the years 532 and 537. Its architectural features have inspired the design of many Orthodox churches.

patriarch in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the bishop of an important city
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Unlike the pope in the west, the patriarch did not claim strong authority over other patriarchs and bishops. Instead, he was “first among equals.” The patriarch of Constantinople (which today is Istanbul, Turkey) still holds this honor.

Orthodox priests served under patriarchs and other bishops. Unlike Roman Catholic priests, who were not allowed to marry, many Orthodox priests were married. Bishops, however, could rise only from the ranks of unmarried clergy.

Liturgy and Prayer The Orthodox church service corresponding to the Roman Catholic mass was the Divine Liturgy. Both the clergy and worshippers sang or chanted the liturgy. The liturgy was conducted in Greek or in the local language of the people.

Orthodox Christians also prayed to saints. Two saints were particularly important in Byzantine times. Saint Basil promoted charity and reformed the liturgy. Saint Cyril helped create the Cyrillic alphabet, which allowed scholars to translate the Bible for people in eastern Europe to read.

Architecture and Art Christian faith inspired magnificent works of architecture and art in the Byzantine Empire. With its square base and high dome, Hagia Sophia served as a model for many Orthodox churches. The architecture of the church also reflects Orthodox views. The simple base represents the earthly world. Upon it rests the “dome of heaven.” Rich decorations on the inside were meant to remind worshippers of what it would be like to enter God’s kingdom.

Building on the Greek love of art, the Orthodox church used many images in its services and prayers. Byzantine artists created beautiful icons, which were usually painted on small wooden panels. Artists also fashioned sacred images as mosaics and painted them in murals.

An image of Christ as the Pantocrator, or ruler of all, gazed down from the dome of all Orthodox churches. Christ was usually shown holding a gospel and giving a blessing. Most churches also placed an icon of Jesus’ mother, Mary (called the Theotokos, or god-bearer) and the Christ child over the altar.

Many Byzantines believed that sacred pictures helped bring them closer to God. But icons also became a source of violent disagreement, as you will see next.

The architecture of Greek Orthodox monasteries copied the features of the Hagia Sophia. The simple bases and domed roofs echoed Orthodox views of life rooted in the earth with the “dome of heaven” above.

liturgy a sacred rite of public worship

icon a type of religious image typically painted on a small wooden panel and considered sacred by Eastern Orthodox Christians
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6.5 Conflict Between East and West

Medieval Europe and the Byzantine Empire were united in a single faith, Christianity. Over the centuries, however, cultural, political, and religious differences brought the two parts of the old Roman Empire into conflict.

The two regions had been quite different even in the days of the old Roman emperors. The eastern half of the empire had many cities, much trade, and great wealth. The western half was mostly rural and agricultural, and not nearly as wealthy.

Other differences became more pronounced after the fall of Rome. Byzantine culture was largely shaped by its Greek heritage. The west was influenced by Frankish and Germanic cultures. In Constantinople, people spoke Greek. In the west, Latin was the language of scholars, diplomats, and the church.

Perhaps most important was the conflict that developed between the churches of east and west. After the fall of Rome, popes gradually emerged as powerful figures in western Europe. The popes claimed supreme religious authority over all Christians. The emperors and patriarchs of the east resisted such claims.

Other differences added to the conflict. Let’s look at three major disagreements and how they led to a split in the Christian church.

Iconoclasm The first major disagreement concerned religious icons. Many Christians in medieval times used images of Jesus, Mary, and the saints in worship and prayer. Some Christians in the east, however, believed that people were wrongly worshipping the icons themselves as if they were divine. In 730 C.E., Byzantine emperor Leo III banned the use of religious images in all Christian churches and homes.

The policy of iconoclasm (“icon smashing”) led to the destruction of much religious art. Throughout Christian lands, people cried out in protest. In Rome, popes were angry because Leo’s order applied to parts of Italy that were under Byzantine control. Pope Gregory III even excommunicated the emperor.

The Byzantine Empire lifted its ban on icons in 843. But the dispute over iconoclasm had caused a major split between the east and west. It also helped drive popes in Rome to look for support and protection against enemies.

After many disagreements between the Byzantine Empire and Pope Leo IX, Pope Leo excommunicated Cerularius, the patriarch of Constantinople. Cerularius then excommunicated the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church.
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The Crowning of a Holy Roman Emperor Another major disagreement occurred in 800 C.E. At the time, Empress Irene was the ruler of the Byzantine Empire. Because she was a woman, Pope Leo III did not view her as a true ruler. More important, the pope needed the protection of a strong leader to help defend the church in the west.

As you learned in Chapter 2, Leo decided to crown Charlemagne, the king of the Franks, as Holy Roman emperor. The pope’s action outraged the Byzantines, who felt that they were the rightful rulers of the Roman Empire.

The Final Break Matters between east and west came to a head in 1054. The patriarch of Constantinople, Cerularius, wanted to reassert Byzantine control of the church. He closed all churches that worshiped with western rites. Pope Leo IX was furious. He sent Cardinal Humbert to Constantinople. The cardinal marched up to the altar of Hagia Sophia. In front of everyone, he laid down a bull (a proclamation by the pope) excommunicating Cerularius.

Cerularius responded by excommunicating the cardinal. This was only a symbolic act, for the patriarch did not have that power. But it showed that the split, or schism, between east and west was complete. Despite future attempts to heal the division, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church were now separate churches.
6.6 Chapter Summary

In this chapter, you learned about the Byzantine Empire and the Eastern Orthodox Church. After the fall of Rome, the eastern half of the Roman Empire lived on with its capital at Constantinople. Today it is referred to as the Byzantine Empire. Destroyed by rioting in 532, Constantinople was rebuilt by the emperor Justinian I.

The Byzantine Empire was a Christian state. The Eastern Orthodox Church was at the center of daily life and inspired great art and architecture.

Byzantine emperors and patriarchs clashed with popes in Rome over a number of issues. These disagreements led to a schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. In Unit 2, you will read more about the fate of the Byzantines.

The division between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches lasted until 1964. Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagonas met in Jerusalem and made a formal statement that undid the excommunications of 1054.

schism a formal division in a church or religious body
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Medieval Europe Timeline

About 800 Scholars in Charlemagne’s schools begin to write with lowercase letters.
1054 A schism leads to two separate Christian churches: Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox.
1194 Construction of the present-day Chartres Cathedral begins in France.
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1066 William the Conqueror introduces feudalism to England
1215 King John puts his seal to the Magna Carta
1346 English archers use longbows to defeat the French at Crecy during the Hundred Years’ War.

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Unit 2
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(Unit TOC)

The rise of Islam

Chapter 7 The Geography of the Arabian Peninsula

Chapter 8 The Prophet Muhammad

Chapter 9 The Teachings of Islam

Chapter10 Contributions of Muslims to World Civilization

Chapter 11 From the Crusades to New Muslim Empires
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Setting the Stage
The Rise of Islam

In the last unit, you learned about Europe and the Byzantine Empire. In this unit, you will explore rise of Islam and the history of Muslim empires, from about 600 to 1500 C.E. Islam is one of the world’s major religions, and those who practice the religion are called Muslims.

Islam began in Arabia, a peninsula of southwest Asia between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. The Arabian Peninsula is part of the region known as the Middle East. Today the peninsula includes the countries of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.

Most of the people living on the Arabian Peninsula when Islam arose were Arabs. Arabs also lived in other places. What all Arabs shared was a common language, Arabic.

In the early 600s C.E., an Arab man named Muhammad introduced Islam to the people of the Arabian Peninsula. His followers became known as Muslims. Among other things, Muslims believe there is one God (the Arabic word for God is Allah) and that Muhammad is his prophet.
(Map Title)

Muslim Trading Routes
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Although the first Muslims lived in Arabia, Islam spread throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Persia (now called Iran), and other parts of Asia and Europe. Many non-Arabs became Muslims. In fact, today Arabs are a small minority of Muslims worldwide.

If you look at a map of the Middle East, you will see that the Arabian Peninsula is located at the crossroads of North Africa, Europe, and Asia. Arab Muslims were very active traders. It’s not surprising, then, that one of the ways Islam spread was along Muslim trading routes. You’ll learn more about the spread of Islam in this unit.

In this unit, you will also learn about Muhammad, the teachings of Islam, and some of the contributions Muslims have made to world civilization. You will take a close look at the crusades, a series of religious wars that European Christians waged against Muslims during medieval times. You’ll also find out how Islam and Muslim societies continued to thrive and spread after the crusades.

Let’s start our explorations with a closer look at the geography of the Arabian Peninsula, where Islam first arose.
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Chapter 7

The Geography of the Arabian Peninsula

This photograph of the Arabian Peninsula was taken from a satellite in space.
7.1 Introduction

Our study of Islam begins with the

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