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The Byzantine Empire: Constantinople as the Center of Christianity
Inheriting the Roman Empire
By the year 1000 AD, the Byzantine Empire had become the sole heir of
the Roman Empire. At this time the emperor of Byzantium, Basil II,
lived and ruled in Constantinople, a city that had been founded by the
Roman emperor Constantine, and important religious figure in
Christianity. Constantinople, founded in 330 AD, was now the center of
the Byzantine Empire, and the new empire declared that Constantinople
was the new, more improved Rome. The Byzantine Empire had survived the
collapse of the Roman Empire, and now Byzantine was stronger than the
Roman Empire before it, they claimed. Byzantium, in 1000 AD, included
much of modern-day Turkey and extended all the way to the Italian
Peninsula as well as including areas of North Africa.
The Byzantine Empire closely followed the order of the Roman Empire, with the religious and secular authorities of both empires being closely tied together and, in the case of Rome, one. The capital of Constantinople housed both the religious Orthodox leader as well as the emperor, Basil II. The Byzantine Empire was the remnants of the East Roman Empire, whereas the Western Roman Empire had further crumbled and began a large amount of disorganized feudal states that was now Western Europe. The Byzantine Empire was much more organized than its ex-Roman counter-part, in part because it kept many of the bureaucratic institutions that Rome followed, including the ability to tax citizens. The states of Western Europe did not have this luxury because of the lack of a central, secular power like in Constantinople.
The Politics of Constantinople
The bureaucratic regime that was ruled over by Basil II began to deteriorate soon after his death, though the powerful army that he kept retained its power. The military power in Byzantine was very organized and rigid, and included two main forces, one being a provincial army and the other being a traditional army. The Byzantine armies, though largely including subjects of the empire itself, also included numerous mercenaries from Western Europe. This powerful army was maintained, allowing Byzantium a more powerful stance than that of Western Europe and comparable to the Islamic world.
Religion in Constantinople
Constantinople, to Basil and those in the Byzantine Empire, was not only the New Rome in the secular sense but a New Rome also in a religious sense. Another way to think about Constantinople as a religious center was the idea of being a "New Jerusalem" to the Byzantine Empire; Constantinople was to be the center of not only a strong central government but the center of Christianity, clashing with the ideas of the pope in "Old" Rome. As the center of Christianity and the center of the European world, this further meant the Constantinople was now the center of the entire world, second to none even in the face of the powerful Islamic world.
The Center of the World
Constantinople was considered (by the empire itself) as the center of the world for a number of reasons. It was the New Jerusalem and New Rome in a religious sense because of the power that the religious leader in Constantinople had. It was the center of religion is Byzantium and, because of the close relation of the emperor and the patriarch, the religious center of Byzantium had much more influence over its people than the pope in Rome had over its followers in Western Europe, who were stratified into a feudal system that was largely not organized above the local level. The religious leaders in Constantinople also had influence on the Baltic States as well as Russian and Slavic peoples outside of the empire. The East-West schism resulted from the large disagreement over supremacy between Rome and Constantinople, and the different directions taken by these religious organizations were reflected in the Crusades, just as the Islamic world and the internal conflict there over the successor of Muhammad, the holy prophet of Islam.
Even after the defeat of the Byzantine forces at Manzikert in 1071 at the hands of the Seljuk Turks, the Byzantine Empire was able to maintain itself, largely with the bureaucratic measured instituted by Basil II. After 1071 the trade that was expanded by Basil II, which included pilgrims to the holy land, was cut off by the Turks, which helped to spark the First Crusade religious grounds. There was a second imperial front of the Byzantine Empire in Bulgaria, which had been conquered by Emperor Basil II's Byzantine Empire by 1016, connecting the Byzantine Empire with Western Europe and providing an adjacent point. The second imperial front in Bulgaria allowed the Byzantine Empire to absorb the blow of the Seljuk Turks and provided political recovery.
Despite Western Europe now being the immediate neighbor of the Byzantine Empire, who also bordered the Middle Eastern Islamic world, Emperor Basil II was wary of Western Europe. Western European states provided for trade and a supplementary military force, but Western Europe was disorganized and provided for no shortage of potential enemies in Basil II's eyes. There was a large amount of tumultuousness in Europe, including rebellions and internal conflict that concerned Basil. The king of the Holy Roman Empire, or the king of the German Empire, claimed Italy for the Holy Roman Empire, the largest remnant of the Western Roman Empire.
Despite marriages between the king's family in the Holy Roman Empire and Basil's family, the two empires remained at odd ends. Mercenaries from France, Normans, were employed by both the king of the Holy Roman Empire as well as the Byzantine Empire, but this attempt went wayward as the Normans captured Sicily while forming their own empire and threatened Constantinople. Basil II only had the power to reinforce his alliances as protection but he was unable to recapture Sicily, and in 1025 Basil II died, leaving this crisis to his heirs.
Inheriting the throne was, itself, a crisis, with a powerful military leader coming to share the throne. Since the Byzantine Empire was between the Western European states and the Holy Land in the Middle East, peace was steady because of the ability for pilgrims to cross through Byzantium to get to Jerusalem. The disruption of this passage in 1071 brought about the First Crusade in 1095 along with no shortage of fighting in the next 200 years, pitting an alliance of Byzantium and the Western European feudal states against the Islamic world.
"The Making of Byzantium, 600-1025" by Mark Whittow