The Byzantine Empire
is the historiographical term used since the 17th century to describe the surviving eastern half of the Roman Empire
of the Middle Ages
, centered on its capital of Constantinople
There is no consensus on exactly when the Byzantine period of Roman history began, with dates ranging from the beginning of the Dominate in 284 to the beginning of the Muslim conquests and the death of Heraclius in 641, or even later. The most common dates are 330, when Constantine the Great inaugurated Constantinople as "New Rome", 395, when the Roman Empire was permanently split in western and eastern halves after the death of Theodosius II, 476, when the Western Roman Empire ended with the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, leaving sole imperial authority with the emperor in the Greek East, and 620, when Heraclius changed the official language from Latin to Greek. The Empire experienced a period of prosperity in the 4th–6th centuries, reaching a golden age under Justinian I, who attempted to recover the lost western provinces. The outbreak of plague and a long series of wars with Sassanid Persia weakened the state, which proved unable to face the sudden onset of the Muslim conquests.
The military and financial crisis of the 7th century ended the cosmopolitan urban culture of Late Antiquity and created a conservative, agrarian, military-dominated state, which until the 9th century fought for its very survival against enemies on all fronts. The social and political changes of the period were mirrored in the great religious quarrel known as the Byzantine Iconoclasm. Under the rule of the Macedonian dynasty, the 9th and 10th centuries saw a revival in the state's fortunes as well as in culture and learning; much territory was recovered in the East, and the Balkans were reconquered. A series of incompetent emperors and civil wars in the 11th century led to the loss of Asia Minor, the Empire's heartland, to the Seljuk Turks. Although pushed back by the Komnenian emperors with the aid of the Crusades, the Turks remained an ever-present menace. Despite territorial losses, the same period is marked by a thriving economy and culture.
The Byzantine state received its most crippling blow in 1204, when the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople and partitioned the empire. Although the city was recovered by the Byzantine Greeks of Nicaea in 1261 and the Empire restored, it was but a shadow of its former self. Constant foreign attacks and civil wars, the loss of trade to the Italian maritime republics and a divided society marked the final centuries of the Byzantine Empire, which however also produced a last cultural flowering. The Empire is considered to have ended after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, although Greek monarchies continued to rule over parts of the fallen empire's territories for several more years, until the fall of Mystras in 1460, Trebizond in 1461, and Monemvasia in 1473.
The Byzantine Empire and its civilization was characterized by a synthesis of Roman
law and state structure, Hellenistic
culture and Christian
faith. For much of its existence, it was the best-organized, wealthiest and most advanced state in Medieval Europe. Through its agents and missionaries, Christianity and Byzantine culture spread to the nations of Eastern Europe
, forming a "Byzantine commonwealth" surviving to this day. Its art and architecture heavily influenced Western Europe and the Islamic world alike, while the Empire played a crucial role in the preservation of Classical
heritage and the beginning of the Renaissance