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Byzantine Empire

Walls of Constantinople Walls of Constantinople While the western half of the Roman Empire collapsed, overrun by Germanic tribes, the eastern half continued to flourish. In AD 330, the Roman emperor Constantine I had founded a new capital at Byzantium, a city-port on the European side of the Bosporus. This capital was renamed Constantinople, and it became the flourishing centre of the eastern half of the Roman Empire, which historians call the Byzantine Empire. Today that city is known as Istanbul. Under Roman emperor Theodosius I, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Constantinople became the Christian capital of the East.

Mosaic portrait of JustinianMosaic portrait of Justinian


The greatest of the emperors that ruled the Byzantine Empire was Justinian (reigned 527–565). Under Justinian, the Byzantine Empire expanded to its largest size. The Byzantine armies, under their commander Belisarius, reconquered much of the land lost from the Roman Empire in North Africa, Greece, Turkey, Italy and parts of Spain. Justinian is remembered for his legal and administrative skills. He tried to stamp out injustice and corruption in his empire, issuing a code of laws that has since been used to form the basis for legal systems in many countries.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul Hagia Sophia, Istanbul It was during Justinian’s reign that the Byzantines built the magnificent church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, with its massive dome, beautiful wall paintings and golden, glittering mosaics.

A map of the Byzantine Empire in 1025A map of the Byzantine Empire in 1025

Later years

After its construction in 537, Hagia Sophia remained the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the completion of Seville Cathedral in 1520.

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