From Roman Empire to the New World

Thank you Wikipedia, illuminating my path of education as I search for understanding. Thank you also all the various sites on history and books of information on battles for control of areas of the known world which had previously been conquered by the Romans. 

I find this period so pivotal to the theme I am developing. I am asking myself, what kind of people conquered the New World? All this history culminates in Columbus setting off across the Atlantic with the unforeseen, devastating impact on the indigenous, still in Bronze Age mode, people of the Americas.

 It is amazing to me, to think in parts of the known world, humans were becoming sophisticated in battle; developing high levels of theology, science and maths; achieving amazing explorations and trading abilities, expressing high art in buildings and artefacts and displaying a huge range of cultural differences. 

The culmination of centuries of experience brought us to the point when Columbus left Italy and finally set foot on land as yet unknown to Europeans: The New World.

The impact is still reverberating today and that is why I am trying to get my mind round it, amateur as I am.

So here I go, putting together a timeline of some events which seem to show the seismic shift taking place over the centuries, up to the mid 1400s. I am focussing on the Byzantine Empire in this blog, in order to show how the last remaining Roman defence of the Empire was impinged by other empires until, as empires do, it was extinguished. Yet, throughout, whatever happened, the Christian religion spread and pervaded. Religion seems key to the true conquest of the minds of people, and what makes them embrace or reject ‘others’.

At 2010 statistics (see suggest Christianity was estimated to be by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31%) of all 6.9 billion people on Earth. 

Islam was second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23% of the global population.

Having written about the Roman Empire elsewhere, I am taking up at the point when the Empire was divided for administrative purposes:

Image of coin with the head of Diocletian stamped on it:

In 285 CE the Roman Empire had grown so vast that it was no longer feasible to govern all the provinces from the central seat of Rome. The Emperor Diocletian divided the empire into halves with the Eastern Empire governed out of Byzantium (later Constantinople) and the Western Empire governed from Rome.

Map of divided Roman Empire:

In 376, the Visigoths (a western Germanic nomadic tribe, named later as ‘visigoths’ by Roman Cassiodorus) invaded the Roman Empire beginning in 376 and defeated the Romans at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. 

Relations between the Romans and the Visigoths were variable, alternately warring with one another and making treaties when convenient. The Visigoths invaded Italy under Alaric I and sacked Rome in 410. After the Visigoths sacked Rome, they began settling down, first in southern Gaul and eventually in The Iberian Peninsula, where they founded the Visigothic Kingdom and maintained a presence from the 5th to the 8th centuries AD, until the Moors invaded.

After the Western Roman Empire fell in the 5th century AD, the Byzantine Empire remained for an additional thousand years (Late Antiquity) until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. 

During the Byzantine period, the people continued to think of themselves as Roman citizens belonging to Romania.

Below I have picked out significant battles and policies of notable emperors to plot the 977 years of the Byzantine expansion and then decline.

Some Notable emperors and events:

 • c. 330–337 Constantine I

Constantine I (r. 324–337) reorganised the empire, made Constantinople the new capital, and legalised Christianity. 

 • c. 375-395 Theodosius I 

Christianity became the Empire’s official state religion and other religious practices were proscribed.

410 The Visigoths invaded Italy under Alaric I and sacked Rome (Western Roman Empire).

 • 457–474 Leo I

A native of Dacia Aureliana near historic Thrace, he was known as Leo the Thracian. Ruling the Eastern Empire for nearly 20 years, Leo proved to be a capable ruler. He oversaw many ambitious political and military plans, aimed mostly for the aid of the faltering Western Roman Empire and recovering its former territories. He is notable for being the first Eastern Emperor to legislate in Greek rather than Latin.

After the fall of Rome, the papacy was influenced by the temporal rulers of the surrounding Italian Peninsula; these periods are known as the Ostrogothic Papacy, Byzantine Papacy, and Frankish Papacy. Over time, the papacy consolidated its territorial claims to a portion of the peninsula known as the Papal States. Thereafter, the role of neighboring sovereigns was replaced by powerful Roman families during the saeculum obscurum, the Crescentii era, and the Tusculan Papacy.

 • 527–565 Justinian I

Under Justinian I (r. 527–565), the Empire reached its greatest extent after reconquering much of the historically Roman western Mediterranean coast, including North Africa, Italy, and Rome itself, which it held for two more centuries. The population of the Byzantineb Empire in 565 AD est. 26,000,000c 

After his invasion of Italy, the Gothic War (535–554), Emperor Justinian I forced Pope Silverius to abdicate and installed Pope Vigilius, a former apocrisiarius to Constantinople in his place; Justinian next appointed Pope Pelagius I, holding only a “sham election” to replace Vigilius; afterwards, Justinian was content to be limited to the approval of the pope, as with Pope John III after his election. Justinian’s successors would continue the practice for over a century.

The Byzantine Papacy was a period of Byzantine domination of the Roman papacy from 537 to 752, when popes required the approval of the Byzantine Emperor for episcopal consecration, and many popes were chosen from the apocrisiarii (liaisons from the pope to the emperor) or the inhabitants of Byzantine Greece, Byzantine Syria, or Byzantine Sicily. Justinian I conquered the Italian peninsula in the Gothic War (535–554) and appointed the next three popes, a practice that would be continued by his successors and later be delegated to the Exarchate of Ravenna.

It was during this century that the term “Visigoth” was invented by Cassiodorus, a Roman in the service of Theodoric the Great.

(Theodoric, was king of the Ostrogoths (475–526), ruler of Italy (493–526), regent of the Visigoths (511–526), and a patricius of the Roman Empire. His Gothic name Þiudareiks translates into “people-king” or “ruler of the people”.

Theodoric was born in Pannonia, now northern Croatia in 454, after his people had defeated the Huns at the Battle of Nedao. His father was King Theodemir, a Germanic Amali nobleman, and his mother was Ereleuv.

Cassiodorus used his term of “Visigothic” to match that of “Ostrogothic”, in his mind signifying “western Goths” and “eastern Goths” respectively. The western–eastern division was a simplification (and a literary device) of 6th century historians; political realities were more complex. Further, Cassiodorus used the term “Goths” to refer only to the Ostrogoths, whom he served, and reserved the geographical term “Visigoths” for the Gallo-Spanish Goths. This usage, however, was adopted by the Visigoths themselves in their communications with the Byzantine Empire and was still in use in the 7th century.

 • 610–641 Heraclius

The Empire’s military and administration were restructured and adopted Greek for official use instead of Latin. Looking back at the reign of Heraclius, scholars have credited him with many accomplishments. He enlarged the Empire, and his reorganization of the government and military were great successes. His attempts at religious harmony failed, but he succeeded in returning the True Cross, one of the holiest Christian relics, to Jerusalem.

The Greek Popes (678–752)

Pope Agatho, a Greek Sicilian, started “a nearly unbroken succession of Eastern pontiffs spanning the next three quarters of a century”. Greek was the language of choice during this period as countless Easterners rose through the ranks of the clergy. According to Ekonomou, between 701 and 750, “Greeks outnumbered Latins by nearly three and a half to one”.

Although antagonism about the expense of Byzantine domination had long persisted within Italy, the political rupture was set in motion in earnest in 726 by the iconoclasm ( the social belief in the importance of the destruction of usually religious icons and other images or monuments, most frequently for religious or political reasons) of Emperor Leo III the Isaurian (Isauria was a rugged isolated district in the interior of South Asia Minor).

Pope Zachary, in 741, was the last pope to announce his election to a Byzantine ruler or seek their approval.

 • 976–1025 Basil II

The early years of his long reign were dominated by civil war against powerful generals from the Anatolian aristocracy (as, for example Eustathios Maleinos (Greek: Εὐστάθιος Μαλεΐνος) was a leading Byzantine general and one of the wealthiest and most influential members of the Anatolian military aristocracy during the late 10th century. He held senior administrative and military posts in the East, and was involved in the aristocratic rebellions against Emperor Basil II (r. 976–1025), fighting against Bardas Skleros but supporting the revolt of his nephew Bardas Phokas. After the failure of the latter, he was not punished, but his immense wealth caused his eventual downfall, as Basil II confined him to a mansion in Constantinople and confiscated his wealth after his death.)

Following their submission, Basil oversaw the stabilization and expansion of the eastern frontier of the Byzantine Empire, and above all, the final and complete subjugation of Bulgaria, the Empire’s foremost European foe, after a prolonged struggle. For this he was nicknamed the Bulgar Slayer (Greek: Βουλγαροκτόνος, Boulgaroktonos), by which he is popularly known. At his death, the Empire stretched from southern Italy to the Caucasus and from the Danube to the borders of Palestine, its greatest territorial extent since the Muslim conquests four centuries earlier. His reign is therefore often seen as the medieval apogee of the Empire.

800 – the papacy recognised Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor. This can be seen as symbolic of the papacy turning away from the declining Byzantium (Constantantinople) towards the new power of Carolingian Francia.

Charlemagne reached the height of his power in 800 when he was crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day at Rome’s Old St. Peter’s Basilica.

During the reign of Basil II, the Crescentii clan (in modern Italian Crescenzi) essentially ruled Rome and controlled the Papacy from the middle of the 10th century until the nearly simultaneous deaths of their puppet pope Sergius IV and the patricius of the clan in 1012.

 • 1081–1118 Alexius I

Alexios I Komnenos was Byzantine emperor from 1081 to 1118. Although he was not the founder of the Komnenian dynasty, it was during his reign that the Komnenos family came to full power. Inheriting a collapsing empire and faced with constant warfare during his reign against both the Seljuq Turks in Asia Minor and the Normans in the western Balkans, Alexios was able to curb the Byzantine decline and begin the military, financial, and territorial recovery known as the Komnenian restoration. The basis for this recovery were various reforms initiated by Alexios. His appeals to Western Europe for help against the Turks were also the catalyst that likely contributed to the convoking of the Crusades.(The Objectives of the crusades was at first to release the Holy Land, in particular Jerusalem, from the Saracens, but in time was extended to seizing The Iberian Peninsula from the Moors, the Slavs and Pagans from eastern Europe, and the islands of the Mediterranean. There were a total of nine crusades!)

Map at 1135 first and second crusades:

Michael VIII reigned as Byzantine Emperor 1259–1282. Michael VIII was the founder of the Palaiologan dynasty that would rule the Byzantine Empire until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. He recovered Constantinople from the Latin Empire in 1261 and transformed the Empire of Nicaea into a restored Byzantine Empire.

Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos, after re-establishing Byzantine Imperial rule, established an alliance with the Mongols, who themselves were highly favourable to Christianity, many of them being Nestorian Christians.

He signed a treaty in 1263 with the Mongol Khan of the Kipchak (the Golden Horde), and he married two of his daughters (conceived through a mistress, a Diplovatatzina) to Mongol kings: Euphrosyne Palaiologina, who married Nogai Khan of the Golden Horde, and Maria Palaiologina, who married Abaqa Khan of Ilkhanid Persia.

 • 1449–1453 Constantine XI

Constantine Palaiologos reigned 8 February 1405 – 29 May 1453) and was the last reigning Byzantine Emperor,reigning as a member of the Palaiologos dynasty from 1449 to his death in battle at the fall of Constantinople. Following his death, he became a legendary figure in Greek folklore as the “Marble Emperor” who would awaken and recover the Empire and Constantinople from the Ottomans. His death marked the end of the Roman Empire, which had continued in the East for 977 years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

So, in 1453 the capital, Constantinople, fell to the Ottomans who were commanded by the then 21-year-old Mehmed the Conqueror, the seventh sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The conquest of Constantinople followed a 53-day siege that had begun on 6 April 1453.

About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers. In 1998 I co-wrote Millennium Countdown (US)/ A Business Guide to the Year 2000 (UK) see
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