The Byzantine Empire. By History.com, adapted by Newsela staff on Word Count 1,009 Level 1060L

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1 The Byzantine Empire By History.com, adapted by Newsela staff on Word Count 1,009 Level 1060L Emperor Justinian and members of his court. Image from the public domain The origins of the Byzantine Empire can be traced to A.D That year the Roman emperor Constantine I dedicated a "new Rome" on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium. The western half of the Roman Empire fell in 476. The eastern half, however, survived for another 1,000 years, spawning a rich tradition of art, literature and learning. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 1

2 A new Rome The term "Byzantine" comes from Byzantium, an ancient Greek colony founded by a man named Byzas. It was located on the European side of the Bosporus, the strait linking the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. In A.D. 330, Roman Emperor Constantine I chose Byzantium as the site of a new Roman capital called Constantinople. Five years earlier, Constantine had established Christianity as the official religion of Rome. The citizens of Constantinople and the rest of the Eastern Roman Empire identified strongly as Romans and Christians, though many of them spoke Greek instead of Latin. Though Constantine ruled a unified Roman Empire, this unity broke apart after his death in 337. In 364, Emperor Valentinian I divided the empire into western and eastern sections. He made himself the ruler of the Western Roman Empire and his brother Valens the ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire. The fate of the two regions diverged greatly over the next several centuries. In the west, attacks from German invaders broke the struggling empire down until Italy was the only territory left under Roman control. In 476, the barbarian Odoacer overthrew the last Roman emperor, and Rome fell. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 2

3 Survival of the Byzantine Empire The eastern half of the Roman Empire proved safer from attack, thanks in part to its geographic location. Because Constantinople was located on a strait and had strong walls, it was extremely difficult to break through the capital's defenses. The eastern empire also benefited from a stronger government. This made it easier for leaders to gather the manpower to fight off invaders. As a result of these advantages, the Eastern Roman Empire was able to survive for centuries after the fall of Rome. Historians now call it the Byzantine Empire. But the people living in it just thought of it as the Roman Empire. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 3

4 The Byzantine Empire under Justinian One of the great rulers of the Byzantine Empire was Justinian I, who came to power in 527. During the years of his reign, the empire grew to include most of the land surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Many great monuments were built under Justinian, including the domed Church of Holy Wisdom, or Hagia Sophia. Justinian also reorganized Roman law, establishing a legal code that would last for centuries. At the time of Justinian's death, the Byzantine Empire was the largest and most powerful state in Europe. However, the army was not large enough to defend all of its territories. During the seventh and eighth centuries, attacks by Persians in the Middle East and Slavs in Eastern Europe threatened the empire. A new, even more serious threat arose in the form of Islam, the religion founded by the prophet Muhammad in 622. In 634, armies of Muslims began their assault on the Byzantine Empire. By the end of the century, Byzantium would lose Egypt, North Africa and many territories in the Middle East to Islamic forces. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 4

5 From iconoclasm to monasticism During the eighth and early ninth centuries, Byzantine emperors launched a movement that denied the holiness of icons, or religious images. They prohibited people from worshiping them. This movement was known as iconoclasm, or "the smashing of images." It did not end until 843, when a Church council decided that religious images could be displayed. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 5

6 During the late 10th and early 11th centuries, the Byzantine Empire enjoyed a golden age. Though it stretched over less territory, Byzantium had more wealth, reputation and control over trade than under Justinian. The strong government supported the arts and promoted the study of ancient Greek history and literature. Greek became the official language of the state, and a culture of monasticism developed in Greece. Many people became monks and devoted their lives to religion. They managed many institutions, such as orphanages, schools and hospitals. Byzantine missionaries were also sent to the Balkans and Russia to convert more people to Christianity. Byzantium and the Crusades The end of the 11th century saw the beginning of the Crusades. These were a series of holy wars waged by Western Christians against Muslims in the Middle East from 1095 to Western forces assisted the Byzantines in fending off the Muslim Turks, who wanted to capture Constantinople. However, the Crusades also created tensions between Byzantium and the West. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 6

7 The fall of the Byzantine Empire and its legacy This article is available at 5 reading levels at 7

8 Under the rule of the last emperors, the economy of the Byzantine Empire began to suffer. By 1373, the state was so poor that it was forced to become a vassal of the mighty Turks, who had formed the Ottoman Empire. As a vassal state, Byzantium paid tribute to the Turkish sultan and provided him with military support. But it was not long before the Turks laid siege to Constantinople, claiming the city for their own on May 29, Emperor Constantine XI died in battle that day, and the fall of the Byzantine Empire was complete. After the empire ended, Byzantine culture continued to influence the West. Scholars of the Italian Renaissance, for example, sought help from Byzantine scholars in translating Greek writings. Byzantine culture also influenced countries that practiced its Orthodox religion. These nations included Russia, Romania and Greece, among others. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 8

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