Siege of Byzantium, 340-339 BC

Siege of Byzantium, 340-339 BC

The siege of Byzantium (340-339 BC) was an unsuccessful attempt by Philip II to defeat a former ally, and was begun after his siege of nearby Perinthus ran into difficulties. Both sieges came in the build-up to the Fourth Sacred War.

In around 343 BC a new Athenian commander, Diopeithes, was sent to the Chersonese, to support the Athenian colonists in the area. He soon became involved in a clash with Cardia, an ally of Philip's at the northern end of the Chersonese. During this struggle Diopeithes rather overstepped the mark, capturing two Macedonian heralds, and torturing and ransoming the second. Unsurprisingly Philip decided to move to the area to try and support his allies, and he called for help from Perinthus and Byzantium. Both cities were allied with Philip, but he must have seemed a rather more threatening presence since expanding his empire across most of Thrace, and both refused to help.

Philip responded by besieging Perinthus (340-339 BC). Byzantium sent supplies and men to the besieged city, as did the Persians. Philip's siege engines managed to break down the outer city wall, only to find that the defenders had built a new wall between the first rows of houses. Philip was also struggling at sea. At this stage he was officially at peace with Athens, but the Athenians had prevented his fleet from passing through the Hellespont. Eventually he decided to land his troops on the Chersonese, and use them to escort the fleet through Athenian territory. Even this didn't help, and after about three months Philip decided to launch a surprise attack on Byzantium.

In the late summer of 340 BC he led half of his army to Byzantium, but the city turned down his offer of terms, and prepared to resist. Most of their men and weapons were indeed at Perinthus, but the defenders managed to survive the initial crisis.

At about the same time an Athenian grain fleet was gathering at Hieron, waiting for Chares to escort it to the Aegean. While Chares was away meeting with local Persian officials, Philip's fleet captured the merchant fleet. Fifty neutral ships were released, but 180 Athenian ships were captured. The supplies went to Philip's armies outside Byzantium and Perinthus while the timber from the ships was used to build more siege engines. Philip then sent a letter to Athens in which he claimed that the merchant ships had been supplying his enemies. This letter was treated as a declaration of war in Athens, and open conflict between the two finally began.

Chares was ordered to use his forty ships to relief Byzantium. The Macedonian fleet was forced to retreat into the Black Sea, where it could neither help at the siege, nor return to Macedon. Byzantium received help from her allies at Chios, Cos and Rhodes, although the Persians don't appear to have intervened here, despite having helped the defenders of Perinthus.

At first the relationship between the Byzantines and the Athenians wasn't good, as the Byzantines didn't trust Chares. Things got better when a second fleet, commanded by Phocion and Cephisophon, reached the area. Phocion and the Byzantine commander Leon were personal friends, and they were able to coordinate a successful defence. The Byzantines also received aid from their allies at Chios, Cos and Rhodes.

In the early spring of 339 BC Philip launched one last assault on the walls, using the spring moonlight to aid a night attack. The barking of dogs was said to have betrayed the attack, and Philip decided to give up and retreat. His biggest problem was that his fleet was trapped in the Black Sea by an Athenian force that held the Bosporus.

Philip resorted to a simple trick to get his fleet to safety. He sent a letter to Antipater, informing him that Thrace was in revolt, and his garrisons under siege. Antipater was ordered to join Philip as he marched into Thrace to restore control. The Athenians relaxed their guard in the Bosporus, or possibly withdrew their fleet from the area, allowing Philip to get his own fleet out of the Black Sea.

In both sieges Philip had the support of the great Thessalian siege engineer Polyeidus, and had the most modern siege engines. His failure demonstrated how hard it was to capture coastal cities if you didn’t also have control of the seas.

Byzantium was soon forced to come to terms to Philip, probably after the Athenians and Thebans suffered their great defeat at the battle of Chaeronea (338 BC), although this might have come earlier. She retained enough independence to continue to issue her own coinage.

History of War Elephants

In Antiquity and the Middle Ages, war elephants were a formidable force due to the awesome effect they had on the enemy, but with the advent of firearms and, in particular, artillery, the role of elephants began to decline.

There is no exact data on the beginning of combat employment of elephants. It is known that war elephants were used in ancient China during the Shang dynasty (1600-1027 BC). Battle elephants are mentioned in the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata. In the armies of Ancient India , where a large number of elephants lived, they were used regularly, and the elephant was considered the main heavy fighting unit. Moreover, such use was often due not so much to the combat effectiveness of the elephant, as to the psychological effect of one species of this animal, managed by man.

Gradually the tactics of using elephants changed. In antiquity and the Middle Ages, individual elephant connections, who with weak support of infantry attacked the enemy lines, not only breaking through their system, but also having a significant psychological impact. Subsequently, the situation changed , in the High Middle Ages fighting elephants played the role of strongholds for infantry, a kind of mobile fortresses. In this case, the fighting elephants were lined up with a barrier line, interspersed with closed rows of infantry and occasionally, at critical moments of the battle, sent them into a short counterattack. The elephant was also used as an observation commander’s point .

In ancient times, fighting elephants were used mainly against cavalry, as horses were afraid of elephants and the attack of cavalry was choked. Elephants, having a speed comparable with cavalry, but at the same time incomparably greater in mass, turned any cavalry into flight, as, for example, it was in the battle of Heracleia: King Pyrrhus, seeing the actual defeat of his army from the Roman cavalry, threw In the battle reserve forces of elephants and this drew the outcome of the battle in their favor.

By VI century BC. fighting elephants began to carry up to four people, several more soldiers on the ground protected the legs of the animal. On the back of the elephant was fastened a wooden platform or wicker basket, where there were three shooters armed with darts or bows. The walls of the basket served as a defensive barrier. On the backs of elephants towering above the battlefield, drums or signal flags were also installed to send commands to the soldiers.

Siege of Masada

Following Menahem’s murder in 66 A.D. in Jerusalem, Eleazer Ben Yair fled from Jerusalem to Masada to command a group of Judean rebels. When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D., the remaining rebels joined਎leazarਊt Masada to live in Herod’s former palaces.

With Jerusalem in ruins, the Romans turned their attention to taking down Masada, the last community in Judea with 960 rebels, including many women and children. Led by Flavius Silva, a legion of 8,000 Romans built camps surrounding the base, a siege wall, and a ramp on a slope of the Western side of the mountain made of earth and wooden supports.

After several months of siege without success, the Romans built a tower on the ramp to try and take out the fortress’s wall. When it became clear that the Romans were going to take over Masada, on April 15, 73ਊ.D., on the instructions of Ben Yair, all but two women and five children, who hid in the cisterns and later told their stories, took their own lives rather than live as Roman slaves.

According to Josephus’s account in The Wars of the Jews:

“They had died in the belief that they had left not a soul of them alive to fall into Roman hands The Romans advanced to the assault … seeing none of the enemy but on all sides the awful solitude, and flames within and silence, they were at al loss to conjecture what had happened here encountering the mass of slain, instead of exulting as over enemies, they admired the nobility of their resolve.”

For several centuries, Masada remained uninhabited. During the Byzantine period, in the fifth century A.D., a group of monks known as the Iaura took of the Masada and built a hermetic monastery.

Two centuries later, as Islam took hold of the region, the site was again abandoned.


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Finds from the Neolithic near today 's Kadıköy district and from the Bronze Age in the Sultanahmed district show that the banks of the Bosporus were inhabited very early. This strait was already of decisive importance for the Greeks. The ships that supplied Athens and other poles with grain from the Black Sea region passed here. To secure this strategically important point, which is also a key point of the land connection from Europe to Asia as well as the sea route from the Aegean to the Black Sea , Megarian settlers founded around 685 BC. The first colony on the Asian side of the Bosporus: Kalchedon ( Greek Καλχηδών), on the site of today's Kadıköy.

In the area on the European side, already settled by Thracians , it happened around 660 BC. A second city was founded by the Megarians, together with colonists from Argos and Corinth . The Thracian name of the new settlement, Byzantion , was later interpreted as that of one of the legendary leaders, Byzas of Megara. The new foundation, the area of ​​which roughly corresponded to that of today's Topkapı Palace , was located on the eastern tip of a peninsula bordering north to the Golden Horn and south to the Sea of ​​Marmara . Since this place was much more suitable for the founding of a city, Kalchedon was from then on considered the “city of the blind” because its residents preferred the uglier place to a more beautiful one.

Due to their location, the two cities were affected by almost all wars that took place in the Greco-Asia Minor region in the centuries that followed. During the Ionian Uprising , both cities were besieged and captured by the Persians , after which parts of the population moved to other Greek Black Sea colonies such as Mesembria . After the unsuccessful campaigns of the Persians against Greece, Byzantion became oligarchic . 478 BC It was taken by the Spartan Pausanias . This ruled there for two years, but was then driven out by the population. Since 476 BC Chr. Byzantion had a democracy as a form of government.

Both Kalchedon and Byzantium (from 476 to 405 BC) were members of the Attic-Delian League , the latter with a very high tribute. 411 BC After a conflict with Samos both converted to the Peloponnesian League , but as early as 409 BC. Both cities were recaptured by Alcibiades for the Attic League. After its dissolution as a result of the Peloponnesian War , Byzantion entered 378/377 BC. In the newly founded second Attic Sea League . From 387 B.C. Kalchedon was under Persian rule, 357 BC. However, it was liberated by the Persians from Byzantium. In the following year Byzantion left the now weakened Attic League. 340/339 BC The Macedonian king Philip II besieged Byzantion in vain. This maintained its independence under his son and successor Alexander .

Kalchedon was founded in 315 BC. Besieged by Zipoites , but Antigonus broke the siege. 302/301 BC The siege was successful, and Byzantion negotiated peace. 281 BC Both cities entered the anti-Seleucid alliance. 220 BC There was an economic war of Byzantion against Rhodes . In the wars against Philip V , Antiochus III. and Perseus both cities sided with the Romans , 202 BC. However, Kalchedon was conquered by Philip V. 196 BC In BC Titus Quinctius Flamininus proclaimed the freedom of the Greeks, Byzantion became civitas libera et foederata .

Under Emperor Vespasian (69–79) Byzantion was incorporated into the Roman Empire as part of the province of Bithynia et Pontus .

After the city was founded in the 4th century BC. BC had experienced an economic boom through the control of sea trade, its growth was slowed down by the tax liability towards the Roman governor. Septimius Severus had the city destroyed in 196 AD as a punishment for aiding his rival Pescennius Niger , but it was rebuilt at the intercession of Caracallas . In 258 Byzantium and Kalchedon were plundered and destroyed by the Goths .

On May 11, 330 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great made it his main residence , expanded it generously and officially named it Nova Roma ( Νέα ̔Ρώμη Nea Rhome ). A little later, however, it was given the new name Constantinopolis (Greek " Κωνσταντινούπολις ", city ​​of Constantine ).

Justinian I

Justinian I, who took power in 527 and would rule until his death in 565, was the first great ruler of the Byzantine Empire. During the years of his reign, the empire included most of the land surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, as Justinian’s armies conquered part of the former Western Roman Empire, including North Africa.

Many great monuments of the empire would be built under Justinian, including the spectacular domed Church of Holy Wisdom, or Hagia Sophia. Justinian also reformed and codified Roman law, establishing a Byzantine legal code that would endure for centuries and help shape the modern concept of the state.

At the time of Justinian’s death, the Byzantine Empire reigned supreme as the largest and most powerful state in Europe. Debts incurred through war had left the empire in dire financial straits, however, and his successors were forced to heavily tax Byzantine citizens in order to keep the empire afloat.

In addition, the imperial army was stretched too thin, and would struggle in vain to maintain the territory conquered during Justinian’s rule. During the seventh and eighth centuries, attacks from the Persian Empire and from Slavs, combined with internal political instability and economic regression, threatened the vast empire.

A new, even more serious threat arose in the form of Islam, founded by the prophet Muhammad in Mecca in 622. In 634, Muslim armies began their assault on the Byzantine Empire by storming into Syria.

By the end of the century, Byzantium would lose Syria, the Holy Land, Egypt and North Africa (among other territories) to Islamic forces.

The Torsion Engine: A Technical Breakthrough

Around the middle of the fourth century bc appeared the first artillery that was based on torsion (“twisting”) rather than tension: the oxybeles (“sharp-projectile”). The secret was the same ox or horse sinew used for composite bows. Sinew or tendon is the tough, flexible connective tissue that attaches muscle to bone. Carefully cured (we don’t know exactly how, but olive oil was said to “nourish” the fiber) and possibly braided with human or horse hair, a thick bundle of sinew, wrapped around a lever and fixed in a wooden frame, could be repeatedly twisted and released without breaking. Two such levers connected by a sinew bowstring made a powerful and durable weapon.

Greek engineers over the next two centuries developed a variety of bolt-shooting and rock-throwing torsion engines, carefully working out the ideal proportions for best performance at minimum weight. The critical dimension was the diameter of the sinew “spring” or torsion bundle. For a bolt shooter, the ideal diameter was one-ninth the length of the bolt. For a rock thrower the ratio was more complex the diameter (d) of the bundle in dactyls (about 3/4 inch) should equal 1.1 times the cube root of 100 times the mass of the ball (m) in minas (about a pound):

Saddled with a numerical notation system even more awkward than Roman numerals, the Greeks developed sophisticated geometric methods to compute cube roots.

Manzikert 1071: The breaking of Byzantium

Osprey’s Campaign book on the Battle of Manzikert continues their proud tradition of featuring just about every military disaster Rome had. (Well, yes, we are just a bit ‘post-Rome’ here, though it’s still the Roman Empire.) As usual, it’s a well-produced book with plenty of maps and pictures (including of a fair number of buildings that survive from the period, though some may not have made it through the four years since it was published).

The maps are the main weak point in this one. They are Osprey’s Campaign book on the Battle of Manzikert continues their proud tradition of featuring just about every military disaster Rome had. (Well, yes, we are just a bit ‘post-Rome’ here, though it’s still the Roman Empire.) As usual, it’s a well-produced book with plenty of maps and pictures (including of a fair number of buildings that survive from the period, though some may not have made it through the four years since it was published).

The maps are the main weak point in this one. They are very well done, and informative, but three of them in particular try to convey too much information at once. They’re maps of the region, showing movements of armies over a few years, keyed to entries describing what’s going on. However, when there’s 30-50 entries per map, it gets difficult to pull out what’s going on. Worse, the maps are rotated sideways (the area that needs covering fits much better that way), leaving the keying on the opposite page hard to look at at the same time as the map.

The main description of the campaign is interesting. With help from the maps, it gives the general background, including just where the Seljuks had come from, and what other groups they were dealing with at the time. Very interesting is the idea that neither side was in any way anticipating a climatic battle in the region around Lake Van. The Byzantines were busy in the region trying to strengthen their border and stop Türkmen raids (which were often blamed on the Seljuks, but were generally independent), while Alp Arslan was concentrating on fighting the Fatimid Caliphate.

With everything else, the course of the battle itself doesn’t take too long to tell, and the Byzantine defeat mostly comes from poor coordination in the army after a hard day of advancing without being able to force a setpiece battle. More of the problems come from disastrously bad intelligence leading up to the confrontation. The maps are not a great help here, being done in something of a muddy ‘natural’ style that doesn’t point up any features of the terrain.

The defeat of Byzantium still shouldn’t have been nearly the history-changing even it was, but Emperor Romanos IV was captured, and before he was released eight days later, a new emperor had been crowned in Constantinople, leading to a civil war that, combined to concessions to the Seljuks, allowed the border region to collapse and Türkmen tribes to gain control of most of central Anatolia. Sadly, these afterproducts of Manzikert aren’t treated in any detail, even though they’re usually blamed on the battle itself.

With all of that, this Osprey book feels a bit more limited than some others, and seems like it was struggling with the demands of format and the fixed page count. That said, it’s still a good look at the battle itself, and provides (often contrary) details from several first-hand accounts. . more

Roman history has been among the most influential to the modern world, from supporting the tradition of the rule by law to influencing the Founding Fathers of the United States to the creation of the Catholic Church.

The Imperial Roman Empire began in 27 BCE when the Senate and People of Rome voted Octavian imperator ("commander") thus beginning the Principate, the first epoch of Roman imperial history usually dated from 27 BCE to 284 CE they later awarded him the name Augustus, "the venerated". Roman history has been among the most influential to the modern world, from supporting the tradition of the rule by law to influencing the Founding Fathers of the United States to the creation of the Catholic Church.

The Imperial Roman Empire began in 27 BCE when the Senate and People of Rome voted Octavian imperator ("commander") thus beginning the Principate, the first epoch of Roman imperial history usually dated from 27 BCE to 284 CE they later awarded him the name Augustus, "the venerated".

But the history of Rome predates Octavian Augustus by at least 600 years, maybe even 700 years if the legends are to be believed. And the Imperial Roman Empire finally collapsed with the death of Constantine XI Palaiologos during the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 CE, when the remaining territories were captured by the Ottoman Empire under Mehmed II. The Imperial Roman Empire lasted nearly for 1,500 years – probably the longest in Ancient History.

Legend has it that Romulus founded Rome in 753 BCE. Again Legend has it that Seven Kings ruled Rome (eight if we include Titus Tatius – Romulus, Numa Pompilius, Tullus Hostilius, Ancus Marcius, Tarquinius Priscus, Servius Tullius, Tarquinius Superbus – till 509 BCE, when monarchy was abolished the Roman Republic was established. It was this Republic that built up the Roman Empire –having been sacked by Gauls in 390 BCE, fought the Punic Wars including the destruction of Carthage between 264 and 146 BCE. In the first century BCE power struggle broke out between the senators, first between Julius Caesar and Pompey, and finally between Octavian and Mark Antony. Antony was defeated at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC.

In the late 3rd century, the rise of powerful Barbarian tribes along the borders of the empire and the challenge they posed to defense of far-flung borders and unstable imperial succession led Diocletian (reigned 284 – 305 CE) to divide the administration geographically of the Empire in 286 with a co-Augustus. In 330 CE, Constantine the Great established a second capital in Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople. For most of the period from 286 to 480 CE, there was more than one recognised senior emperor, with the division usually based in geographic terms.

The fall of the Western Roman Empire is dated either from the de facto date of 476 when Romulus Augustulus was deposed by the Germanic Herulians led by Odoacer or the de jure date of 480, on the death of Julius Nepos, when Eastern Emperor Zeno ended recognition of a separate Western Court. Thereafter, most historians refer to the Eastern Roman Empire as Byzantine Empire.

Earlier, in 324 CE, Constantine I emerged victorious in a series of civil wars against Emperors Maxentius and Licinius to become sole ruler of both west and east. In 330 CE Constantine built a new capital at Byzantine, which he renamed Constantinople (modern Istanbul) and shifted the administration there, Rome becoming a subsidiary court. It remained the Capital of the Roman Empire for more than a millennium.

The birth and rise in Islam from 622 CE led to the Roman Empire spending more on defending itself and the Christian faith. In the eleventh century CE, in spite of having ceded areas like Egypt and Syria to the Moslems, and in spite of being regularly raided by nomadic Turks, the Roman Empire was strong and fairly healthy. It was to their advantage that a civil war raged in Islam between the Fatimid and Abasid Caliphates. Alp Arslan was with the Abasid faction and his main aim was to finish off the rival Fatimid Caliphate, but in 1071 CE there occurred a small battle at Manzikert.

The Battle of Manzikert had far reaching effects on region and on world history, but that was much later. With hindsight a question arises – was this battle necessary at all? Could not Emperor Romanos Diogenes IV and Sultan Alp Arslan have diplomatically sorted out their problems? Possibly yes, but the imperial pride of the Byzantine Emperor and the contempt in which the held the nomadic barbarian Turks, came in the way.

Final result the Byzantines lost the battle, their Emperor was captured and imprisoned, large ransom and annual tribute had to be paid to the Abasid Caliphate and Alhat, Manzikert and Anatolia ceded to the Turks. The victory gave the Turks more encouragement to expand their realms, which is exactly what happened. The Byzantine power suffered its prestige shattered and gradual decline led to the capture of Constantinople by the Turks – Ottoman Emperor Mehmed II about 400 years later in 1453 CE.

Western influence in Asia Minor and Middle East gradually vanished and Islamic Caliphate ruling over vast swathes of Asia and Africa and some pockets of Europe became a reality.

‘Manzikert 1071 – The Breaking of Byzantium’ is quite informative, eminently readable book. For a lay student of History, like me and probably others, awareness of this historic battle is absent. I don’t recall our history books highlighting this momentous battle that started the decline of the Byzantine Empire. There were of course mentions of constant raids by Turks which weakened the Empire and as the Ottoman power grew, more and more defeats to Byzantine and the ultimate sacking of Constantinople in 1453 – but that there was a starting point 400 years earlier at Manzikert – NO.

Well written, illustrated with colour plates and situation maps with detailed index, I enjoyed the book and the knowledge it imparted.

Recommend the book to all students of History, who are interested in Medieval period, growth of Islam and decline of Christianity in Asia Minor.
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History of Greece The Byzantine Period

The Byzantine Period of Greek History is one of the least understood and the most important. The Byzantine Empire laid the foundations for Orthodox Christianity in Greece, the Balkans and Russia. The Fall of Constantinople meant the end of Christianity in the Middle East, the rise of Ottoman-Muslim power and the East-West friction that exists today. Byzantine Scholars brought with them from Constantinople the knowledge and art that would play a pivotal role in bringing about the Renaissance in Western Europe. (And unfortunately bypassing Greece entirely)

In 51 AD Christianity had been introduced when Saint Paul preached in Athens on Mars Hill as well as in Thessaloniki and Corinth. On the island of Patmos The Book of Revelation, otherwise known as The Apocalypse was written by St. John the Theologian between 95 and 97 A.D. He had been exiled to the island by the Roman emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus for 18 months.

In the 3rd century Attika is attacked by the Goths followed by the Huruli, Alemanni, the Franks, the Vandals and Sassanians. The Pax Romana is starting to fall apart. In the 4th Century the emperor Constantine converts to Christianity and moves the capital of the Roman Empire to the city of Byzantium on the shores of the Bosphorus, renaming it Constantinople. (City of Constantine). During this period a group within the church led by Father John Chrysostom, which believes in a literal interpretation of scripture, (as opposed to the allegorical interpretation of the Gnostics), seizes control of the church and begins to persecute as heretics all those who disagree, forcing many of them into hiding. Some believe the purest teachings of Jesus and his apostles went with them. If this is true it adds fuel to the belief that there is a hidden church that reappears from time to time in the form of groups like the Bogomils and the Cathars, only to be labeled heretics, and forced into hiding again. (Those who are not exterminated) These groups claim to be the true church. It is during the third and fourth century that Christianity goes from being an agglomeration of persecuted sects with a variety of beliefs and practices based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, to an enormous secular power that imposes its dogma on others, executes heretics, fights wars and basically enriches itself as a self-serving institution.

In 364 the empire officially splits into the Roman Empire in the west and the Byzantine Empire in the east. As Rome declines, Constantinople becomes more important. In 394 The Emperor Theodocious declares Christianity the official religion of the empire, outlawing the worship of the ancient Greek and Roman Gods. This is the beginning of the Byzantine empire which lasts a thousand years. Greek replaces Latin as the official language, monasteries and churches are built and religious art in the form of frescos, icons and mosaics become the primary form of artistic expression in a society that has no separation of church and state whatsoever. In 529 the emperor Justinian conquers the land to the south as well as North Africa and Italy, then declares the study of the ancient Greek philosophers of the classical period to be illegal. The only philosophy of the empire is to be Christian theology. The Church of Agia Sophia is built in the reign of Justinian. The church, named for the Holy Wisdom of God is the second largest temple ever built, after the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The architects of this massive domed basilica are Anthemius from Tralles and Isidorus from Miletus.

The 7th and 8th centuries see the rise of Islam and there are a number of attacks by the Arabs with Crete falling in 823. If not for Greek-fire, the Byzantine's secret weapon, Constantinople would have fallen too. An explosive and incendiary substance made from sulphur, pitch and petroleum Greek fire's effect was the equivalent of what airplanes and tanks had on 20th century warfare. It enabled a smaller Byzantine force to defeat a much larger enemy. The substance was squirted from bellows mounted in the Byzantine ships and caused great terror and destruction.

In 726 Emperor Leo and his advisors conclude that perhaps the reason for these attacks and the near destruction of the empire is that they have somehow managed to anger God. Leo hits upon the idea of destroying religious images ( Icons ) to appease God, since their veneration comes close to breaking the commandment about idolatry. This policy of Iconoclasm, (which means image breaking) divides Byzantine society and politics for the next 120 years. The last iconoclast emperor is Theophilos. After he dies in 842, his widow Theodora acting as regent for their young son, Michael III restores the veneration of Icons as an acceptable form of worship.

It is also during the 8th Century that the Emperor Michael I imposes the death penalty on the Paulicans, a Gnostic Christian group that is critical of the clergy and rejects its cult of saints and icons and the veneration of the cross (among other things). It is estimated that over 100,000 are killed as heretics though a number of them survive in the eastern provinces of the empire until they are deported to the Balkans in the 10th century.

In 1204 the Frankish crusaders, on their way to retake the Holyland during the 4th Crusade, stop at Constantinople, sack it and install their own government. Constantinople becomes the capital of a Latin empire when these 'crusaders' capture Thessaloniki and most of central Greece and much of the Peloponnese. These areas are broken up into states or fiefs as in a feudal society, ruled by nobles. While the Franks and the Byzantines fight each other and amongst themselves the Venetians are busy taking over the island of Crete and other essential ports for their new role as traders and merchants in the Mediterranean. Following the sack of Constantinople, the town of Nicaea becomes a centre where monks establish a school of philosophy that includes not only Christian philosophy but also classical ancient Hellenic culture. This period also results in some of the most glorious iconography produced.

In 1259 the Byzantine Emperor Michael Paleologos defeats Guillaume de Villehardouin and the Frankish forces in the battle of Pelagonia. Many nobles are captured and held prisoner and for their return Paleologos receives the fortified town of Monemvasia and the town and castle of Mystras (photo) which Villehardouin has just finished building. Two years later Paleologos recaptures the city of Constantinople.

During the 4th Crusade Athens becomes the fiefdom of Otho de la Roche from Burgundy. He passes the city on to his son Guy de la Roche who is declared Duke of Athens by King Louis IX of France. Athens is now a Dukedom. In 1308 Walter of Breinne inherits the Dukedom of Athens and invites mercenaries from Catalan to help defend his city. The Catalans are an unruly bunch and after he decides he needs to send them home, or anywhere, they turn on Walter, defeating him. They make one of their own Duke, Manfred of Sicily. In 1387 the Florentine Nerio Acciajuoli invades Athens and becomes a popular leader. The Florentines are the most accepted of the rulers by the Athenian population and many stay in the city even after the conquest by the Ottomans, intermarrying and Hellenizing their names. (The Iatros or Iatropoulos family claim descent from the Midicis.)

By the 14th Century the Ottoman Turks have taken Thessaloniki and Macedonia. On 1453 the siege and fall of Constantinople is one of the major events of world history heralding the end of the Byzantine Empire and the beginning of the Ottoman empire. Mehmed the Conqueror, with an army of 150,000 Turks besieges Constantinople starting on April 5th. On Tuesday May 29th, comes the final assault. The Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX is killed, and the city falls.

Three years later Athens falls and then in 1460 Mistras surrenders without a fight. Monks, scholars, artists and thinkers flee to the west bringing with them the great works of the ancient Hellenes, sparking the period in Europe known as The Renaissance . Others flee into the Mani and mountain monasteries to keep the spark of Hellenism alive in Greece for the next four centuries of Turkish occupation, at least in the popular romantic mythology. In truth the clergy were to have it pretty good under the Turks and how much they saved Hellenism is a topic that is debatable.

Most of the sources seem to overlook the fact that while the Byzantine Empire was Greek speaking and its idealism was based on a singular interpretation of both Christianity and on Roman Hellenism - that it was not Greek ethnically. Most of the Emperors were Armenians, Syrian - in terms of dynastic origins. The only Dynasty that was distinctly 'Greek' was that of the Palaeologues and it was through their bungling and family disputes and general lack of imagination that the Empire fell as it did. It is also important to note that during the entire period of the Palaeologue dynasty and even before, there are hardly any new churches erected as most of their time and money is spent in family disputes and wars with what remained of the Crusaders scattered around the empire . Then suddenly after the beginning of the 16th century churches are built everywhere during the period of Ottoman rule.

To understand modern Greece one has to realize that for centuries it was their dream to restore the Byzantine empire with Constantinople as capital of a Greater Greece. This is known as the 'Megali Idea', the Great Idea and nearly 500 years later it almost happens. But was their Megali Idea really a restoration of a Hellenic-Christian empire or a nationalistic pipe-dream that served the purpose of uniting the Greeks at the expense of peaceful relationships with their neighbors?


Melvyn Bragg discusses the culture, history and legacy of the eastern Byzantine Empire, and examines why it has so often been sidelined and undermined by historians.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the culture, history and legacy of the eastern Byzantine Empire. In 453 with the Barbarians at the gate, through the gate and sacking the city of Rome “the wide arch of the ranged empire” finally began to fall. Or did it? In AD 395 the Emperor Theodosius had divided the vast Roman Empire between his two sons. The Northern and Western Europe provinces were governed from Rome, but the Eastern Empire became based on the Bosphorous in the city of Constantinople. And when Rome crumbled and the Dark Ages fell across Western Europe, the Eastern Roman Empire endured, with its ancient texts, its classical outlook and its Imperial society…for another one thousand years. How did the East survive when the West fell, were they really Romans and why do we know so little about one of the most successful and long lived Empires ever to straddle the globe? Did its scholars with their Greek manuscripts enable the Western Renaissance to take place? And why has it so often been sidelined and undermined by history and historians? With Charlotte Roueché, Reader in Classical and Byzantine Greek, Kings College London John Julius Norwich, author of a three part history of Byzantium: The Early Centuries, The Apogee and Decline and Fall Liz James, Senior Lecturer in the History of Art, University of Sussex.

Watch the video: Battle of Achelous Byzantine Empire vs Bulgarian Empire (January 2022).