Guided practice: continuity and change in the Byzantine Empire
- The Byzantine Empire was the eastern continuation of the Roman Empire after the Western Roman Empire's fall in the fifth century CE. It lasted from the fall of the Roman Empire until the Ottoman conquest in 1453.
- Continuities: The Byzantine Empire initially maintained many Roman systems of governance and law and aspects of Roman culture. The Byzantines called themselves "Roman". The term "Byzantine Empire" was not used until well after the fall of the Empire.
- Changes: The Byzantine Empire shifted its capital from Rome to Constantinople, changed the official religion to Christianity, and changed the official language from Latin to Greek.
From Rome to Byzantium
There can be no doubt that, from 312 CE onward, Constantine favored the Christian church and that he offered it considerable wealth. He clearly became deeply involved in the religious controversies of the age and he favored Christians in the employ of the state. At the same time, Constantine continued to hold the office of pontifex maximus (chief priest of the state religion), and pagan symbols continued to appear on his coins, at least until 323 CE.
The early Byzantine state
A changing empire
Since the days of Diocletian and Constantine, at the turn of the third and fourth centuries, rigid separation of civil and military authority had been the rule. Civilian governors of provinces had no authority over troops stationed in their area. Army commanders had none over the civilian population. [...] It was a system designed to keep generals from dabbling in politics and staging military coups, and it worked. But it was cumbersome, it depended on the cooperation of the governing bodies of cities, which had to undertake much of the execution of government policy, and it made coordination of military and civil policy slow and difficult. Now that no region of the empire was safe from attack, something different was needed. [...] Territories still under Byzantine control were formed into military districts under the command of a strategos (army leader), who was responsible for all aspects of government, civil and military. [...] These new military districts were called themes, a word whose primary connotation is that of a division of troops.