Ancient/Medieval Civilizations: Byzantine Chronology

Figure 1.--

Byzantium is somewhat difficult to place. It is of course the Eastern Roman Empire which broke off from the Western Empire in a gradual procress beginning in the 4th century AD. But as it survived the Barbarian invasions, its history continues into the Medieval era until overwealmed by the Turks in the 15th century. Thus it is both an Ancient and Medieval civilization with stronger Asian influences that the Western Empire. The Emperor Theodosum I divided the Roman empire when he entrusted his son Arcadius with the Eastern provinces and his other son Honorius with the Western priovinces (395 AD), although a temporary split occurred even earlier. The Western Empire headed by Honorius was soon to be overwealmed by Germanic Barbarians and Huns. The Eastern Empire while sorely pressed first by the Germans, Huns, Avars, and Persians and later by Islam was to endure and often prosper over an amazing span of 1,000 years until it was finally overwealmed by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II in 1453.

1st Century BC

Ceasar's relation ship with Cleopatra in the 1st century BC could have resulted in a shift east of the focus of the Empire. Later Anthony and Cleopatra attempted to estblish an eastern empire. Only Octavian's victory at Actium presented this (31 BC).

4th Century AD

The Eastern areas of the Empire did not experience the Barbarian invasions as masively as the Western Empire because of the nature of the Helenic culture and the tresures of Rome which were a greater lure. Diocletian in the Balkans withdrew south to what was once roughly Yugoslavia (305 AD). Civil war breaks out again and continues for 7 years until Constantine finally prevails (312 AD). One of his first acts is the Edict of Milan which adopts a policy of toleration for Christians (313 AD). Constantine unites the Eastern and western Empires (324 AD). He chosea Byzantion, a relatively small, but strategically placed Greek colony at the mouth of the Thracian Bosphorous to be his imperial residence (324 AD). It is renamed "Constaninopolis nova Roma". The Christian Church is betset by a great diversity in belief. Constantine convenes the Council of Nicaea and acts as the presiding officer (325 AD). The council is made up of 300 bishops to resolve the theological controversies. The principal controversy was the dispute between Arians and the Athanasians over the nature of Jesus and his relationship between God the Father. Constantine erects a new capital, Byzantium later to be called Constantinople (330 AD). This continues the shift of the empire east. Constantine passes rule to his three sons after his death (337 AD). Differences develop btween them and fighting breaks out. St. Basil (330-379) lays the foundation for eastern monasticism. He incourages monks to devote themselves to religious meditation and to submit to poverty and humility and discourages self-torture. Saint Augustine (354-430) was one of the great leaders of the early Christian Church and perhaps the most important theologian of the medieval Church. Augustine as of Bishop of Hippo defended Church doctrines against the Manichean and the Pelagian sects. During the doctrinal struggle against these important sects, Augustine developed doctines concerning sin, divince grace, and predestination that have been at the center of Church beliefs and contine important in both Catholic and Protestant theology. His most famous work is the City of God. There is one last attempt to supress Cristianity and restore the pagan religions. Emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus known as the "the Apostate," attempts to suppress the Christian Church, but dies after only a few years and is unable to achieve his goal (361-363). The Germanic Visigoths defeat a Roman army at Adrianople (378). This defeat and the death of Emperor Valens is a defining point in Roman/Bizantine history and is often seen as the dividing point between the ancient and medieval worlds, perhaps more important than the fall of Rome in the 5th cntury. Theodosius suceedes in making allies of the Visigoths (378 AD). Theodosius I is the last Roman emperor to command a united empire. After defeating two rivals, Theodosius founds a dynasty whch endures until 450 AD in the Eastern empire. Theodosius I declares Christianity the sole religion of the Roman Empire (380 AD). The Emperor Theodosum I divided the Roman empire when he entrusted his son Arcadius with the Eastern provinces and his other son Honorius with the Western priovinces (395 AD), although a temporary split occurred even earlier. At the time the Empire was divided in 395, the Byzantine Empire included Asian Minor, Syria, Pontus (Asiatic shore of the Black Sea), Egypt, Macedonia, Greece, and Crete.

5th Century

The Empire in the 4th Century confronts German Barbarians and the even more brutal Huns. During the century, the Huns and Germanic tribes while they conquer the Western Empire only succeed in obtaining tribute from Byzantium which is able to withstrand assaults behind its massive fortifications and walls. Theodosius II expanded the walls of Constantinople, leaving the city impenetrable to barbarian attacks. The Christian Church by the 5th century has established a hierarchy including priests, bishops, metropolitans (archbishops situated in larger cities), and patriarchs (bishops whose rule oversees larger and older cities such as Jerusalem, Alexandria, Rome and Constantinople). Rome unified Europe as never before or since. The end of classical antiquity is generally seen as the collapse of the Western Roman Empire the sacking of Rome. Rome had been in decline for some time, but in 410 the culminating event, that shattered the Rome's imperial pretentions was the pillaging of Rome by the Visigothic chief, Alaric. Other barbarians including the Alans, Huns, Goths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, and Visagoths swept Imperial armies aside. Roman culture and learning as well as Roman fashion did not disappear at once, but this mark the beginning of Europe's descent to what some have termed the Dark Ages, although some historians object to the negative connotations. In fact, the fall of Rome was not a catacylsmic event, but rather a gradual event that occurred over centuries. [Brown] There are many indicators by the 3rd centuray and more pronounved indications by the 4th century that Roman civilization is declining. By the 5th century it is patently obvious, Almost all of the monumental structures in the West are from an early period. The quality of workmanship begins to decline, not only in archetecture, but metelurgy, glass blowing, jewlery, art, and many other areas. The Roman legions gby the 5th century no longer as well equipped as they have been. The process of decline is not simple to follow, nor is it well recorded in the limited available written texts. Walpole complained of getting bogged down in Gibbon's account of the 5th and 6th centuries. Much of the process of a declining Rome can only be surmised from the expanding archeolgical evidence. What was shattered in the 5th century was the Pax Romana and the writ of Roman law only to be gradually replaced by the common Christain values of the developing medieval Europe. Theodoric the Great succeeds his father as king of the Ostrogoths, eastern relatives of the Visogoths (474 AD). Theodric had been educated in Rome from the age of 7. Odovacar, the leader of the united German tribes, takes the title of king of Rome (476). This is the date most commonly given for the fall of the western Roman Empire. After 476 there are no longer any western emperors. Zeno I is emperor when Rome fell. He negotiates with the Goths, ending their threats to Byzantium, but accepting their of the west. A Benedictine monknamed Cassiodorus influenced by St. Augustine believes that knowledge of the Greek and Latin classics is necessary to understand the Bible. He and the Benedictine monks he guided preserve many of the classics that have survived to the modern world. St. Benedict ( -547 AD) founded a monastery in the West and persues monastic rule like those of St. Basil in the east (480 BC). The Benedictine monks play a major role in spreading Christianity to England and Germany. Theodoric the Great of the Ostrogoths seizes control of Italy. He attempts unsuccessfuly to preserve Roman culture and political system (493). We have tombstone images from the early 5th century.

6th Century

The surviving Eastern Empire continued to play a major role in European politics. Theological crises, especially the issue of Monophysitism, dominated religious affairs. Emperor Theodoric ordered the arrest of the philosopher Boethius (480-524). He was tortured to death. He was the last important Roman philospher and writer. The Byzantine Empire had lost much of its territory by the time a Justian I becomnes emperor (527). Only a portioin of Asian Minor and the Balkans as well as Egypt remained. Justinian, an able administrator, was able to seize much of what had been lost as well as Italy and other areas in the West that had never been under control of the Eastern Empire. Able military commanders like Belisarius seized North Africa, pat of Spain, most of Italy and much of the Balkans. Justinian sought to recreate the old Roman Empire with one state, church, and law. He over saw the publication of the Corpus Juris Civilis, the basis for civil law in most European countries except England. This code was written in Latin, a language that was at the time becoming archaic. It was even poorly understood by the drafters. Justinian constructed the great church of St. Sophia in Constantinople which becomes the center of Byantine religious life and the developing Orthodox Church. Justinian closed Greek schools of philosophy, including Plato's Academy, to support the Church. Justinian succeeded in conquering the Vandal kingdom in northwest Africa in an effort to reconstruct the old empire (533). Next he invaded Italy (536). His armies were welcomed by the Catholic Italians, but fighting with the Ostrogoths rulers continues for nearly 30 years until finally ending (563). During the reign of Justinian I, Christian monks apparently managed to smuggle silk moth eggs into the Empire over the Silk Road, although the actual circumstances are unknown (553-54). This was enough to establish what was by the 7th century a major industry centered at Constaninople. Justinian brought the Byzantine Empire to greater prosperity and power than it would ever again see after his death (565). Justinian spent, however, vast sums to support the military and fight various wars, especially in Italy. At his death the treasury was depleted. His successors were unable to maintain the gains that he had achieved. The Lombards, another Germanic tribe, invade Italy (568). This leaves Italy divided into areas controlled by the Lombards, the Eastern Empire, and the Papacy which emerged as a temporal as well as a religious entity, in part out of a need to defend itself. The Visagoths recapture southeastrn Spain from the Byzantines. Emperor Maurice helped establish Chosroes II Shah of Persia (591-628).

7th Century

Latin remained the official language of Byzantium until the 7th century. The Avars invaded the Byzantine provinces of Macedonia and Thrace (600s). Their reign is short lived, hence the expression "Gone like a Avar." The military garison on the Danube revolt and proclaim Phokas emperor. He marches on Constantinople and murders Emperor Maurice (602). The Persians invade the eastern territories (603). The Persians capture Antioch (613). The Persians capture Jerusalem. Patriarch Zacharias and Christian population with True Cross are taken prisoners to Persia (614). The Persians occupy Egypt (619-29). Emperor Herakleios begins campaign against Persians (622-23). Under Heraclius the Empire is divided into military provinces called themes which are organized for defense. Urban life in the Byzantine north outside the capital declines. Constantinople expands to become the largest city in the world. The Avars and Persians stahe a combined siege of Constantinople, but it fails to breach the city walls (626). Here the Byzantines' commanding navy and use of Greek fire allows the supply of the beseiged city. Emperor Herakleios defeats the Persians and captures Nineveh. He liberates the Christian prisoners and True Cross. Syria, Palestine, and Egypt return to Byzantine control (628). By restoring the Eastern provinces, Emperor Heraclius is proclaimed the new Scipio. The True Cross is restored to Jerusalem. Heraclius promoted the Hellenization of the empire. He made Greek which had already replaced Latin in private life was made the official language. He took the title Basileus instead of the old Roman term Augustus. An Arabic prophet has founded a new religion Islam. Muhammad dies (632), but Islam is about to burst out of the Arabian desert. Eweakened by the long war with Persia and the need to administer hostile occupied territory, the Byzantine armies are in no condition to contront the new threat from Arabia. The rest of Byzantine history one way or another will involve efforts to contain Islam. Psephos issued by Herakleios, proclaims doctrine of Monotheletism which is the theory of one-will of Christ (634). The Arabs capture Damascus (634). The Arabs capture Antioch (637). Ekthesis imposes Monotheletism (638). The Arabs captured Jerusalem (638). The Arabs conquer Persia (640s). The Byzantines frustrate Aran efforts to penetrate closer to Constaniople and begins to adjust to the loss of territory. Byzantium had by the 7th century become noticely different than the West. The southern Byzantine provinces had differed significantly from the culture and accepted Orthodox doctrine in the north. The Arab seizure of the southern provinces made the remaining provinces much more uniform in culture and religion. The Emperor Herakleios dies and there is a disputed succession (641). The Senate of Constantinople exiles Empress Martina and her son. Constans II, grandson of Herakleios, becomes emperor (641). The Arabs capture Alexandria and seize the rest of Egypt (642). Caliph Mu'awiya raids Armenia (642). Mu'awiya begins regular raids into Asia Minor (647). The Arabs begin to build a navy and raid Cyprus (649). The Lateran Synod in Rome condemns Monotheletism (649). Trial of Pope Martin I is tried in Constantinople and exiled to Cherson in the Crimea (650-55). The First Arab civil war releaves the pressure on Byzantine armies temprarily The Abbasids dynasty moves the capital from Damascus to Baghdad (656-61). Emperor Constans II moves the capital to Syracuse, Sicily (662). The Mezezios revolt and murder Constans in his bath (668). Constantine IV, son of Constans II, becomes emperor (668). The Arabs siege Constantinople (674-78). Establishment of Anatolikon, Armeniakon and Thrakesion themata in Asia Minor (670s). Caliph Mu'awiya dies (680). The Church holds its Sixth General Council at Constantinople where Pope Agatho helps to obtain a condemnation of Monotheletism (680-81). The Bulgars, a remnant of the Huns, cross the Danube under Khan Asperuch (680-81). Constantine IV dies and his son becomes Emperor Justinian II without dispute (685). Caliph Abd al Malik constructs the Dome of the Rock (mosque) at Jerusalem (691-92). The Church Council in Trullo is held in Constantinople and issues 102 canons (692). Themata of Thrace, Sicily and Calabria, and Hellas (695). Rebellion of Leontios, strategos (governor) of Hellas, rebells. He deposes and mutilates Justinian II (a not uncommon traeatment of defeated emperors) and exiles him to Cherson (695). The Arabs sweep west through North Africa and capture Carthage (698). Troops under Apsimar who becomes Tiberius II depose Emperor Leontius (698).

8th Century

Byzantium in the 8th century was dominated by the iconoclasm controversey. Asperuch, Khan of Bulgars dies (702). Khazar support helps restore Justinian II to power with (705). Caliph Walid constructs the Great Mosque at Damascus (705-11). Troops loyal to exiled military commander Bardanes Philippikos kill Justinian (711). Emperor Philippikos, revives Monotheletism (711-13). Emperor Philippikos is deposed by troops who create Artemios, a civilian official emperor (713). Opsikion trrops make Theodosius III emperor (715). Leo, strategos of the Anatolikon thema, leads a revolt of Anatolikon and Armeniakon troops (717). Caliph Walid prepares major campaign against Byzantium (714). Naval trrops proclaim Theodosios III emperor (715). Pergamon, where pagan practices continue, is sacked (716). Theodosios III abdicates and Leo, the general of Anatolikon theme, is crowned emperor by Patriarch Germanos (717). The Arabs siege Constantinople (717-18). Leo III's son Constantine is crowned co-emperor (720). Caliph Yazid issues iconoclastic edict (721). Leo III forces the Jews to convert (722). The Arabs take Iconion (Konya) (723-24). Leo III issues an edict against icons and sends an ultimatum to Rome (726). There are revolts by iconophiles. Ekloga is published (about 730). The Arab besiege Nicaea (Iznik) (727). Patriarch Germanos is either deposed or resignas. Iconoclasm becomes an official policy (730). A Roman Church Council condemns iconoclasm (731). Leo III transfers the Diocese of East Illyricum from Rome to Constantinople (732-33). The Lombards under King Liutprand besiege Rome (739-41). Leo III and son Constantine defeat the Arabs at Akroinon (740). Emperor Leo III dies (741). His son Constantine V is challenged by Artabasdos, his brother-in-law. Artabasdos is killed during the civil war (742-43). A plague occurs in Constantinople (747-48). Pope Zacharias, has Pope Gregory the Great's Dialogues translated into Greek and negotiates a truce with the Lombards (741-52). Abbasid revolt begins Arab civil war (750). 751 Lombards capture Ravenna, previously capital of Byzantine exarchate. This end Byzantine imperial administration in northern Italy (751). 753-4 Pope Stephen II travels to Francia to make an alliance between the papacy and Pippin, king of the Franks (753-54). The Church Council of Hiereia, near Constantinople, condemns icon veneration and pronounces the theory of iconoclasm (754). The Lombard King Aistulf besieges Rome (755-56). Pippin invades Italy and attacks the Lombards (755-56). The Bulgars under Khan Tervel invade Thrace (756). Constantine V sends an diplomatic mission to Pippin, with gift of organ and marriage proposal (757). The Abbasids transfer the capital of the Caliphate from Damascus to Baghdad. (760s). Bulgarian wars resume. Slavs migrate into Bithynia in Asia Minor (763). Constantine V defeats the Bulgars (765). The Byzantine fleet is wrecked near Mesembria (766). Constantine V begins persecution of iconophiles (766). Byzantine and Frankish theologians gather at the Synod of Gentilly (767). The Franks support Rome and condemn iconoclasm. Pippin dies and Charles (Charlemagne) becomes king of the Franks (768). Lateran Synod in Rome supports cult of images and again condemns iconoclasm (769) Charlemagne conducts first first Italian campaign (774). Constantine V dies and is succeeded by his son, Leo IV (775). Leo IV associates his son Constantine in imperial matters which provokes the rebellion of his own half-brothers (776). Leo IV dies and his young son becomes Constantine VI, with his mother, Empress Irene, as regent (780). Constantine VI betrothed to Charlemagne's daughter Rotrud (781). Such a union was of imenense possible impact, perhaps leading to a union pf the two empires. The Arabs invade of Asia Minor and seize Chrysopolis, opposite Constantinople. Imperess Irene is forced to accept a humiliating peace (781). Patriarch Paul is forced to resign. The imperial secretary and layman Tarasios appointed in his place (784) Emperess Irene summons a Church council to reverse iconoclasm, but has to abandon attempt because of opposition of troops loyal to Constantine V (786). Empress Irene promotes the Second Council of Nicaea (787). The Council affirmed that icons could be venerated, but actually worshipping was prohibited. The Council decides to restores icon veneration with Pope Hadrian's approval (787). Charlenagne conducts his second Italian campaign (787-88). Empress Irene breaks off the Frankish betrothal and marries Constantine to Maria of Alania (788) Emperor Constantine VI rules alone (790). The Bulgars defeat Constantine VI (792). The Synod of Frankfurt condemns as idolatry the Council of Nicaea's support for icon veneration (794). The Arabs invade Asia Minor (795-96). Constantine VI repudiates Maria and confines her to a nunnery. He marries Theodotes. This adulterous relationship provokes monastic opposition led by St. Theodore of the Stoudion monastery (795). Charlemagne founds his capital at Aachen (796). Constantine VI is deposed and blinded. Empress Irene rules alone (797). The Arabs invade Asia Minor and reach the Bosphoros (798). 798 Pope Leo III flees from Rome to Charlemagne's protection (798).

9th Century

Pope Leo III in the West crowns Charleemagne Holy Roman Emperor (800). Charles sends marriage proposal to Irene (802). Empress Irene is overthrown in palace coup. Her finance minister becomes Emperor Nikephoros (802). The iconoclast controversy resurfaces in the early 9th century, but they were finally restored (843). The religious controversies complicated relations with both the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire. The power of both had increased while the power of Byzantium had seriously eroded.

10th Century

Macedonian emperors ruled with some success in the late 9th, 10th and early 11th centuries. The Empire resisted pressure from the Roman Catholic Church to depose patriarch Photius. They gained control of the Adriatic and parts of Italy. Basil II defeated the Bulgarians (1014). The Empire often worked closely with the new Russian state which had ceveloped around Kiev. An important mercenary force was recruited from Kiev--the Varangian Guard.

11th Century

The Selijuk Turks in the 11th century drive the Byzantines out of Asian Minor and threaten the Balkans. The Empire resisted pressure from the Roman Catholic Church to depose patriarch Photius. They gained control of the Adriatic and parts of Italy. Basil II defeated the Bulgarians (1014). The Empire often worked closely with the new Russian state which had ceveloped around Kiev. An important mercenary force was recruited from Kiev--the Varangian Guard. The Byzantine and Roman Churches split (1054). The Seljuk Turks advanced into Asia Minor which was most imprtant recruiting ground for Byzantine armies. Sultan Alp Arslan at Manzikert defeated emperor Romanus IV gaining control of much of asia Minor (1071). Alexius Comnenus sought to restablish the army by making feudal grants (pronoia). Some victories were achieved gainst the Seljuk Turks. Despite the split with Rime, the Byzantines appeal to the Pope for assiastance against Islamic incursions and attacks on pilgrims. Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus, perhaps concerned about the plight of the pilgrims, more likely seeking allies in his struggle against the Turks, wrote to a friend Robert, the Count of Flanders, in 1093. He recounted the alegeded atrocities inflicted on the pilgrims by the Turks to Pope Urban II. The Pope's response was the Crusades. Emperor Comnenus as a result of the First Crusade was able to reclaim Nicaea. The Byzantine emperors however distanced themselves and the Crusaders were to receive little imperial aid.

12th Century

The diplomacy of the Crusades is complicated. One would expect that Christian Byzantium would welcome the Crusaders and alies in support of their conglict with the Turks. Alexius' grandson Manuel I Comnenus favored the Crusaders, yet there were serious tensions. The breakup of the Eastern and Western Churches had created great illwill as did the acts of excommunication. The Byzantines were as a result suspicious Roman Catholic Crusaders who continually passed through their territory. There were actual attacks from the Holy Roman Empire as well as the Normans in Sicily and Italy continued to attack the empire in the 11th and 12th centuries. There were also tensions with the Italian city states which were establishing their independence. They were granted favorable trading rights in Constantinople. Some were the targets of growing anti-Western attitudes, primarily because they were the Westerners that were present. The Venetians as the most poweful maitime power were especially disliked. The Venetians provided the bulk of the Byzantine navy, the key to Byzatium's survival. The Seljuk Turks defeated Emperor Manuel at Myriokephalon (1176). Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa attempted to conquer the empire during the Third Crusade (1189-1192).

13th Century

The Fourth Crusade devastated the Byzantines. The Crusader's goal was to conquer Egypt as part of an overall effort to retake the Holyland. Normans and Venetians made up most of the Crusader force. The Venetians seized control of the expedition. They redirected it and instead seize and pillaged Constaninople (1204). They founded a feudal kingdom, the Latin Empire. Byzantine forces survived at Nicaea, Epirus, and Trebizond. Byzantine forces at Nicea controlled by the Palaeologan dynasty depose the Latins and seize control of the city (1261). They restablish the Empire under Michael VIII Paleologoi. Byzantine power, however, was permanently weakened. The Ottoman Turks rise from the Seljukian realm and seize most of Asian Minor.

14th Century

The Empire struggle on during the 14th century in large part because the Turks had internal divisions and challenges in the East. The Yzantines seemed more concerned with Euope rather than Asia Minor which was their traditional power base. The Ottomans gradually overran almost all of Aia Minor except for a few port cities. Emperors pleaded for Western assistance. The pope insisted on a return to Catholcism before supporting assistance. The Orthodox faithful in Constantinople, however, was not prepared to accept Western Catholicism. Some mercenaries were recruited, but for the most part the West was willing to let the Empire fall. Actually taking the city with its masive walls proved a daunting chllenge. The Ottomon's achieve their first European conquest at Gallipoli (1354).

15th Century

Constantinople was a tempting target, but the city's massive walls held the Turks at bay. The arrival of gunpowder from China, as in Western Europe, changed the military calculations of beseiging Medieval fortifications. Cannons devestated the walls that had protected the city for 1000 years. Mehmed II conducts a 2 year siege. Finnaly Turkish cannons achieve a break in the wall and Turkish soldiers pour through. Byzantium was finally overwealmed by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II (1453). The few remaining cities, such as Trebizond and Mistra, also fell to the Turks before the end of the century. The fall of Constantinople was a shock to Western Christendom. It was a great victory to the Ottomons who benefitted in many ways from possession of the great city. The city's fall also fueled the already increasing interest in Greek and classical studies, especially in Italy. This was a major factor in the appearance of the European Renaissance. [Runciman]


Brown, Peter. The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, A.D. 200-1000 2nd edition (Blackwell paperback: 2003), 625p.

Mango, Cyril. ed. The Oxford History of Byzantium.

Runciman, S. The Fall of Constantinople 1453 (Cambridge UP, 1965), 256p.


Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main Byzantine page]
[Return to the Main Roman page]
[Return to the Main Medieval page]
[Return to the Main Greek page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Art chronologies] [Biographies] [Chronologies] [Countries] [Style Index]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: August 28, 2003
Last updated: 7:38 AM 9/9/2011