THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE
The Roman Empire, which had dominated the whole Mediterranean world and much of Europe in ancient times, fell apart by the fifth century, A.D. But it did not disappear--it kept going in a different way. From their fabulous capital of Constantinople (today's Istanbul, Turkey), the people we call "Byzantine" kept the Roman Empire alive for another thousand years. Actually, they called themselves "Romans," even though their culture was Greek--and even though their religion was always in conflict with the Catholic Church of Rome.
Religion--the Orthodox form of Christianity, was all-important to the Byzantines. The emperor had a sacred mission as "God's deputy." And he had to be a good warrior! The Byzantines, believing that their Christian faith must triumph, had to fight endlessly against many enemies: pagan tribes, Muslims, and other Christians. Yet in spite of the emperor's holy role, emperors often came to power by violence--and ended just as violently.
The most evident heritage of the Byzantines today is the Orthodox churches of Greece, Russia, and parts of the Middle East, along with the beautiful artistic legacy in architecture, mosaic art, and icons. Although people in the West have too often overlooked the importance of the Byzantine Empire,it's very much part of our civilization today.
Like other volumes in the excellent "Cultures of the Past" series, THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE can by ordered from your usual book supplier or directly from the publisher, Marshall Cavendish (which may be a little more economical), at 1-800-821-9881.
SOME QUESTIONS TO TALK ABOUT . . . .
What stands out in your mind as the most interesting or attractive thing about Byzantine culture?
There are probably some contradictions in every culture. What about the Byzantines?
Do you think these contradictions led to the downfall of the Byzantine Empire? Or was it only a matter of time?
Are you aware of any "echoes" of Byzantine culture or history in the world today?