Under the rule (527–65) of Justinian I and Theodora, Byzantine power grew. Their great generals, Belisarius and Narses, checked the Persians, repressed political factions, and recovered Italy and Africa, while Tribonian helped the emperor to codify Roman law. During Justinian's reign a great revival of Hellenism took place in literature, and Byzantine art and architecture entered their most glorious period.
Much was lost again under his successors. The Lombards conquered most of Italy; however, the Pentapolis (Rimini, Ancona, Fano, Pesaro, and Senigallia), Rome, Sardinia, Corsica, Liguria, and the coasts of S Italy and Sicily long remained under Byzantine rule, and at Ravenna the exarchs governed until 751. The Persians, under Khosrow I, made great gains against the empire, though Emperor Maurice temporarily checked them in 591.
The emperor Heraclius (610–41) defeated the Persians but was barely able to save Constantinople from the Avars. Muslim conquests soon afterward wrested Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Africa, and Sicily from the empire. Heraclius's attempt to reconcile Monophysitism and orthodoxy merely led to the new heresy of Monotheletism. His military reorganization of the provinces into themes proved effective and was continued by Constans II (641–48). Constantine IV (668–85) saved Constantinople from Arab attack.
The 7th cent. was marked by increasing Hellenization of the empire, outwardly symbolized by the adoption of the Greek title Basileus by the emperors. The church, under the patriarch of Constantinople, became increasingly important in public affairs. Theology, cultivated by emperors and monks alike, was pushed to extremes of subtlety. Literature and art became chiefly religious.
Under Justinian II and his successors the empire was again menaced by Arabs and Bulgars, but the Isaurian emperors Leo III (717–41) and Constantine V stopped the Arab advance and recovered Asia Minor. The grave issue of iconoclasm, which they precipitated, led to the loss of Rome. In 800, during the reign of Irene, the Frank Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the West at Rome. Thus ended even the theoretical primacy of Byzantium over Europe.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.