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Sunday, 13 October 2013

Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine Empire (395–1453) was the direct continuation of the Roman Empire in the East, and inherited many of its traditions and institutions.

When the Roman Empire was divided in the 4th century AD, Byzantium, later named Constantinople and known today as Istanbul, became the capital of the eastern part.

Christianity had an effect on Byzantine dress. In keeping with the puritanical teachings of the Orthodox Church, the men and women of Byzantium concealed their bodies entirely. Both sexes wore long, straight, sleeved tunics made of silk or linen and bound at the waist with a belt that was often heavily encrusted with jewels.  The silk and gold threads that were used in Byzantine garments made them look very different from those of Greece and Rome.

The greatest of the public buildings in Constantinople was the Hippodrome, an arena that could seat over 40,000 people. Byzantines gathered there to sit under silk awnings and watch chariot races, jugglers, circus acts, and fights between wild animals

The earliest known record of a carousel device is a Byzantine etching from 500 AD which portrays riders swinging in baskets tied to a center pole.

Chariot racing was a popular sport in the Byzantine Empire. In Constantinople the chariot drivers were divided between two teams, the blues and the greens. Their supporters clashed over not only sport but also political matters. In 521 a political demonstration and disturbances between Blues and Greens almost brought the overthrow of the Byzantine emperor Justinian.

In 674 a Muslim fleet attacking Constantinople was deterred by the first known use of the Byzantine secret recipe for liquid fire.

In 730 Emperor Leo III forbade the use of images in worship, except the cross, by Imperial decree. It was feared that the growing power of the Arabs, which was threatening the Byzantine empire, was due to the Byzantine sin of icon worship.

The Byzantine Empire decisively defeated an invading Arab army in the Battle of Lalakaon in Paphlagonia (modern northern Turkey on September 3, 863. This meant that the main threats to the Byzantine borderlands were eliminated. The victory begun the era of Byzantine ascendancy, which would culminate in the great conquests of the 10th century.

The Battle of Lalakaon, as depicted in the Madrid Skylitzes

The Byzantine Empire maintained an increasingly precarious existence and on May 29, 1453 it was finally overthrown when the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople. The conquest of Constantinople followed a siege that had begun 53 days earlier. The end of the Byzantine Empire marks, for some historians, the end of the Middle Ages.

The last siege of Constantinople, contemporary 15th century French miniature

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