Chapter 15 Outline

Civilization in Eastern Europe Byzantium and Orthodox Europe

  1. Introduction
  2. Two civilizations survived in postclassical Europe: the Byzantine Empire and its culturally related cultures of eastern Europe and the Catholic cultures of western Europe. The Byzantine Empire was a political heir of Rome, but with a different geographical focus. Byzantine civilization was more than a continuation of Roman culture. Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium, was one of the greatest European cities. Orthodox Christianity spread from Byzantium to the rest of eastern Europe. One of the most important cultural heirs of Byzantium was Russia. As in western Europe, Byzantine culture spread northward from the Mediterranean into the plains of Europe stimulating the development of derivative political units. Eastern Europe retained its distinctive commercial, religious, and political patterns into the modern world.

  3. The Byzantine Empire


    1. Introduction
    2. Although the Byzantine Empire's origins lay in the eastern half of the Roman Empire, it increasingly developed a separate identity with the fall of the western half of the ancient empire.

    3. Origins of the Empire
    4. The eastern half of the Roman Empire survived the invasions that ruined the West and flourished after the fourth century. From the capital of Constantinople, emperors ruled the eastern Mediterranean and northern Africa. Increasingly the eastern empire became culturally Greek rather than Roman. The eastern empire developed a highly centralized bureaucracy that shifted administrative control from the military.

    5. Justinian's Achievements
    6. After 533 C.E., Emperor Justinian attempted to restore the unity of the ancient Mediterranean. Justinian was responsible for rebuilding Constantinople, including construction of Hagia Sophia. Under his direction, bureaucrats recodified Roman law Justinian's armies conducted campaigns against Germanic kingdoms in northern Africa and Italy. Victories in these regions proved to be short-lived. The attempts to conquer the western Mediterranean while continuing to defend the eastern borders against the Persians exhausted both the treasury and the emperor. Justinian died in 565 C.E.

    7. Arab Pressure and the Empire's Defenses
    8. Justinian's successors concentrated more on holding the eastern frontier than in conquering the western Mediterranean. The Islamic explosion of the seventh century resulted in the loss of the empire’s provinces along the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean. In the early eighth century, the Arabs besieged Constantinople, but the capital survived. Wars with the Muslims created greater taxation, weakened the position of the small farmers, and led to greater aristocratic control of the Byzantine countryside. Slavic kingdoms, especially Bulgaria, produced pressure on the western frontiers of the empire. One Bulgar king was able to force the Byzantines to recognize him as an independent tsar in the tenth century. Emperor Basil II defeated the Bulgarian kingdom in the early eleventh century and restored its territories to Byzantium. Despite increasing pressure on the frontiers, the Byzantine Empire continued to demonstrate some strength.

    9. Byzantine Society and Politics
    10. The centralization of Byzantium resembled the political structure of early China. The emperor was head of both state and church. The power of the emperor was sustained through an elaborate bureaucracy. As in China, aristocrats dominated the bureaucracy, but there was some openness to all ranks of society. Provincial governors were appointed from the center, and a system of spies sought to preserve loyalty to the central government. The military consisted of soldiers recruited locally and granted land in return for service. The military requirement was hereditary. Hereditary military commanders were able to establish considerable regional control. The military system successfully held off the Muslim advance in eastern Europe until the fifteenth century.

      Byzantine society and economy depended on the role of Constantinople. The imperial bureaucracy regulated all trade. Food prices were kept low to feed the enormous population, but taxes on the peasantry were high. The dominance of Constantinople led to the decline of other imperial cities. Trade linked Byzantium with Asia, the Middle East, and northern Europe. Luxury industries flourished in the capital. Although merchants became wealthy, they never exercised much political control. Cultural life centered on Hellenism and the development of Orthodox Christianity.

      Particularly in the monasteries, a tradition of icon painting became prominent. In the eighth century, some emperors attacked the use of religious symbols, such as icons, in worship. Iconoclasm the attack on icons in religious worship created a popular reaction. The use of icons was eventually restored.

    11. The Split Between East and West
    12. Byzantine culture and trade accentuated the cultural differences with western Europe. Nowhere was the growing separation more evident than in the rift between Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism. In 1054, an Orthodox patriarch in Constantinople raised theological issues which led to a complete break between the Roman and Eastern versions of Christianity. The split from the West reflected not simply religious but also developing political and cultural differences.

    13. The Empire's Decline
    14. Shortly after the religious schism with the West, the Byzantine Empire entered a long period of decline. The Seljuk Turks seized most of the Asiatic provinces in the eleventh century following their defeat of Byzantine forces at the battle of Manzikert in 1071. Appeals to western leaders helped initiate the Crusades, but did little to relieve the military decline of the Byzantines. The Fourth Crusade resulted in the conquest of Constantinople and the establishment of a brief Latin Empire in 1204. In the Balkans, new kingdoms emerged to limit the influence of the Byzantines. Constantinople finally fell to the Turks in 1453, ending the Byzantine Empire.

  4. The Spread of Civilization in Eastern Europe


    1. Introduction
    2. Missionary expeditions, Byzantine conquests in the Balkans, and commercial relations with northeastern Europe created contacts with Slavic peoples, particularly the Russians. In 864 Cyril and Methodius converted peoples in the Balkans and southern Russia to Orthodox Christianity. One of their most important contributions was the development of a Cyrillic script for the Slavic alphabet.

    3. The East Central Borderlands
    4. Orthodox and Catholic missionaries both experienced some success in converting the peoples of eastern Europe. In the centuries after conversion, much of the region was organized into loosely governed regional monarchies. Trade and industry were significant. Jews, fleeing from western Europe, settled in the newly formed kingdoms, where they most often became active in commerce.

    5. The Emergence of Kievan Rus'
    6. The centuries of Byzantine influence were important to the eventual form of Russian culture. The Slavs moved into the region of Russia during the period of the Roman Empire. Slavic political and social organization were typically tribal based on kinship and family. Their early religious beliefs were animist. In the sixth and seventh centuries, Scandinavian traders established routes from the north along Russian rivers to Byzantium. More powerful than the Slavs, the Scandinavians set up governments along the trade route, most notably at Kiev.

      Rurik of Denmark was the first prince of Kievan Rus' by about 855 C.E. The Kievan principality flourished until the twelfth century. A descendant of Rurik, Prince Vladimir I converted his entire kingdom to Orthodox Christianity. Early church leaders were imported from Byzantium, but the king remained head of the Russian Orthodox Church. The last of the great Kievan monarchs, Yaroslav I, codified Russian law.

    7. Institutions and Culture in Kievan Rus'
    8. Russia adopted many of the cultural attributes of Byzantium, particularly with respect to the practice of religion. Orthodox liturgy, monasticism, and the use of icons became common in the Kievan Rus'. Russian literature that developed using the Cyrillic alphabet chronicled religious and royal events. Divine interference played a major role in historical interpretation. Just as Russian culture evolved separately from that of western Europe, so did the Russian economy and social organization. Russian peasants remained largely free, although aristocratic landholders boyars existed. Russian aristocrats exercised little political influence.

    9. Kievan Decline
    10. The Kievan principality declined after the twelfth century for a host of reasons: succession disputes, conflict with regional princes, invasions from Asia, and the collapse of their commercial ties to Byzantium. In two invasions during the first half of the thirteenth century, much of Russia fell to the Mongols, or Tatars. For two centuries, the Mongols controlled the Russian cities. The Mongol supervision cut the north-south trade axis, but did not disrupt the development of Russian Orthodoxy. The indigenous aristocracy continued to exist. When the Tatars were finally expelled in the fifteenth century, the Russians were prepared to take up the cultural mantle of the Byzantine Empire as the "third Rome".

  5. Conclusion: The End of an Era in Eastern Europe
  6. With both Russia and Constantinople in the hands of invaders, east European civilization was in decline at the end of the postclassical era. The capture of eastern Europe confirmed the cultural and political separation of the East from the rest of Europe. Tatar control and Byzantine collapse in the face of Turkish invasion helped to truncate cultural ties to Byzantium, although Orthodox Christianity continued to thrive in Russia.


© 2000-2001 by Addison Wesley Longman
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