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Collapse of an Empire Travel Journal

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1. What was Justinian I’s role in the decline of the Byzantine Empire? First, his constant wars and the rebuilding of Constantinople after the Nika Riot caused serious financial problems for the empire. The reconstruction of the Hagia Sophia alone cost about 320,000 pounds of gold. Second, Justinian left the Byzantine army scattered across the empire. Many units were occupied fighting fierce nomads. One of these groups, a Germanic barbarian tribe called the Lombards, had managed to conquer much of northern Italy. The thinly-spread Byzantine forces fought to prevent the Lombards from pushing further into Italy. Finally, during the last years of Justinian’s reign, the empire suffered from several attacks of bubonic plague. Called Justinian’s Plague by modern historians, the illness killed millions of people. This created a severe shortage of human power, which weakened the military and the government.

2. What challenges did the Byzantine Empire face from foreign forces? The Slavs fled the attacking Avars and traveled south, deeper into the Balkans. Many Slavs settled in this region.  After this, the Avars themselves decided to attack the Byzantines with armies made up of conquered Slavs. In 626 CE, the Avars laid siege to Constantinople, and the Sassanids advanced toward the city. Using soldiers trained in themes in Asia Minor, Heraclius defeated the Avars and drove away the Sassanids. He then used war payments by the Sassanids to refill the Byzantine treasury Arab armies swept across Persia and Byzantine territories in North Africa and East Asia. They then turned their attention toward capturing Constantinople. The Arabs attacked the city twice, in 674 CE and in 717 CE, and were defeated both times. The Byzantines were greatly aided by a weapon called Greek Fire. This weapon spewed fire at attacking ships, causing them to burst into flames. By the 800s, fighting against the Byzantines had so weakened the Arab forces that they no longer posed a threat to the empire.

In the early 600s, the Bulgar people united to form a powerful kingdom that stretched along the Danube in the Balkans. This group mixed with the Slavic people. The Bulgarian Kingdom attacked the Byzantine Empire several times, which caused the Byzantine emperor to lead an army against them in 811 CE. The Bulgars crushed the Byzantine troops, killed the emperor, and two years later, attacked Constantinople. Once again, however, the attacking army could not break through the city’s defenses, and the Bulgarian siege failed. Soon the Bulgars formed peaceful relations with the empire.

3. What effect did each of the different leaders of the Byzantine Empire between 800 CE and 1025 CE have on the strength of the Empire itself? Trade flourished under Basil and provided the empire with large amounts of wealth. Also, Basil strengthened the military and conquered regions in western Anatolia (now Turkey) and southern Italy. Indeed, the empire became almost as powerful as it had been under Justinian’s rule. The Powerful regained control of much of the military, and the armies loyal to the emperor were depleted. In addition, political corruption spread throughout the government. All this internal turmoil once again weakened the empire.

4. How did the Crusades affect the Byzantine Empire? At first, the Crusade was successful. The European armies reconquered parts of Anatolia and then captured Jerusalem in 1099 CE. Also, the crusaders returned the land they conquered in Anatolia to the Byzantine Empire. Then the crusaders set up four kingdoms in East Asia. The Muslims, however, soon regrouped and conquered these domains. After this, many western Europeans who took part in the Crusade remained in the Byzantine Empire. These Europeans were called Latins. They did business in Constantinople and some of them held government positions. Relations between the Byzantines and Latins, though, were often strained. The Byzantines viewed the Latins as savage barbarians. In addition, the Byzantines thought that the religious beliefs of the Latins were heretical, and the Latins felt similarly about the beliefs of the Byzantines Venice took control of several Byzantine trade routes.

As a result, the trade profit of Byzantine merchants decreased significantly. All of these factors fueled a growing Byzantine resentment of the Latins and Venetians. In fact, this hatred boiled over in a riot of Byzantines in Constantinople, during which thousands of Latins were killed. The Second and Third Crusades had little effect on the Byzantine Empire. The Fourth Crusade, however, had a major impact on this domain. This crusade, consisting mostly of Latin soldiers, began in 1198 CE. When the crusaders arrived in Venice, Alexius Angelus, the nephew of the Byzantine emperor, offered them a deal. Alexius offered to pay for the necessary warships for the crusaders if they would defeat the current Byzantine emperor and make Alexius the ruler. The crusaders and Venetians agreed. In 1203 CE, the crusaders and Venetians attacked Constantinople, causing the emperor to flee the city. Alexius then declared himself emperor and the crusaders, encamped around the city, waited for their pay.

The Byzantines, however, discovered Alexius’s deal with the crusaders and killed him. Left with no pay, the crusaders captured and plundered Constantinople, destroying part of the city. After this, the crusaders established a Latin Empire, which controlled only Constantinople. The Byzantines set up a government in exile. In 1259 CE, the exiled Byzantine emperor, Michael VIII, defeated the Latin army. Then in 1261 CE, he led a small army into Constantinople, which was undefended. The Latin forces were away fighting near the Black Sea. When the Latins realized that Michael had taken control of Constantinople, they fled the area. This ended the period of Latin rule and restored the Byzantine Empire. he effect of the Latins on the Byzantine Empire, however, was devastating; it never fully recovered. Indeed, the plundering of Constantinople was so extensive that the resulting damage was only partially repaired even 50 years later.

During the mid-500s, the bubonic plague attacks the Byzantine empire, weakening the empire’s military and economy.Justinian I dies in 565 CE. He leaves the Byzantine army scattered across the empire and the empire in serious financial trouble.The Slavs raid the Byzantine empire during the late 500s. In the late 500s and early 600s, the Lombards conquer Byzantine territory in northern Italy. The Avars attack Constantinople in 626 CE and are defeated. The Arabs attack Constantinople in 674 CE and 717 CE and are defeated both times.In 811 CE, the Bulgars crush the Byzantine army and kill the Byzantine empire.In 813 CE, the Bulgars lay siege on Constantinople but are defeated. During the 1100s, after the first Crusade, many Latins settle in the Byzantine Empire. Resentment between the Byzantines and Latins grows. During the 1100s, Venice gains control over many Byzantine trading routes. Resentment between the Byzantines and Latins grows. During the Fourth Crusade, crusaders (mostly Latins) and Venetians capture Constantinople in 1203 CE and do extensive damage to the city. The Latins set up a Latin Empire. In 1259 CE, exiled Byzantine emperor Michael VIII drives out the Latins and restores the Byzantine Empire.

However, the empire is left in shambles because of the damage done by the Latins and Venetians.During the 1300s, the Ottoman Turks conquer Byzantine territory in Asia Minor. In 1453 CE, the Ottoman Turks capture Constantinople, thereby ending the Byzantine Empire. The Turks change the name of Constantinople to Istanbul and make the city the capital of their empire. 5. Why did the Turks concentrate their attention on capturing the Byzantine Empire? The Ottomans wanted to rule this territory so they could benefit from the wealth that passed through this region. 6. Why was it important for the Turks to capture Constantinople? In 1453 CE, led by the sultan Mehmet II, the Ottoman Turks laid siege on Constantinople. Constantinople was an economic and cultural center. Situated between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, it served as a major trade hub between the Middle East and Western Europe.

It was also a place known for its art, literature, and architecture. Much of this was inspired by Christianity. The Ottomans knew that conquering Constantinople would give them religious and economic power over the entire region. They would make it a Muslim empire, and the Ottomans would be able to control the trade routes. The Byzantine Empire would fall, once and for all. 7. In what ways did the culture of Byzantium persist even after the Turkish conquest? he Ottomans used Byzantine artistic and architectural styles and sometimes changed churches, such as the Hagia Sophia, into mosques. Although the Ottomans changed the name of Constantinople to Istanbul, the city remained the capital and the cultural and economic center of their empire. The Ottomans set up a society with three social classes: the ruling class, the lower class, and slaves. The ruling class consisted of wealthy landowners, military commanders, and religious leaders. The huge lower class included craft workers and peasant farmers. The Ottomans also had a large number of slaves.

This society did not have a middle class, however. In this way, it was different from Byzantine society which had a small but active middle class.

8. What remnants of the Byzantine culture do you see today?

9. as you have learned, the legal system set up by Justinian I shaped legal systems throughout Europe. Also, Byzantines preserved many of the classic literary works of ancient Greece and Rome, which were later read by European thinkers. Inspired by these works as well as those preserved in Arabic
translation, later thinkers helped to start the Renaissance in Western Europe. In addition, the Byzantine Empire had a major religious and political influence on Russia. The Russians converted to Orthodox Christianity in the 900s. After the empire collapsed, the ruler of Russia became the only remaining Orthodox monarch in the world. In fact, some people looked at Russia as the continuation of the Byzantine Empire and, in this way, of the old Roman Empire. Indeed, the name for the Russian ruler, tsar, comes from the ancient Roman title of Caesar. Finally, the Byzantine Empire prevented Muslim states from overrunning Western Europe.

Justinian I left the Byzantine army scattered around the empire. Justinian’s Plague ravaged the Byzantine Empire.
Basil II died, leaving no true heirs to the throne.
Byzantine emperor Alexius I feared the Turks would attack Constantinople.


The lines of defense were not strong in any one area, leaving certain regions open to attack from foreign invaders.

Millions of people died, leaving a shortage of human capital that resulted in a weakened army and government.

A series of several incompetent leaders took control of the empire, making room for the Powerful to grasp more authority.

Eastern and western Christians joined forces in a Crusade to protect its territory from attack.

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