Byzantine Empire

A Truly Eastern State

The political division of East and West was paralleled by a religious schism, intensified by the patriarch Photius, between the Roman and the Orthodox Eastern Church, later culminating in a complete break (1054). In all aspects the Byzantine Empire, having lost its claim to universality, became a Greek monarchy, though Constantinople still remained the center of both Greek and Roman civilization. Compared with its intellectuals, artists, writers, and artisans, those of Western Europe were crude and barbarous, though sometimes more vigorous and original.

In the empire the administrative machinery was huge, and competition among the courtiers was intense. Complex diplomacy, intrigue, and gross violence marked the course of events; yet moral decay did not prevent such emperors as Basil I, founder of the Macedonian dynasty, and his successors (notably Leo VI, Romanus I, Constantine VII, Nicephorus II, John I, and Basil II) from giving the empire a period of splendor and power (867–1025). The eastern frontier was pushed to the Euphrates River, the Bulgars were subjugated, and the Balkan Peninsula was recovered. Russia, converted to Christianity, became an outpost of Byzantine culture. In the unceasing struggle between the great landowners and the small peasantry, most of the emperors favored the peasants. Economic prosperity was paralleled by a new golden age in science, philosophy, and architecture.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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