The Byzantine Empire

By the 300s, the Roman Empire could no longer control its long borders and distant outposts. Constantine I divided the Roman Empire. The eastern half became the Byzantine Empire, which lasted for 1000 years.

Early History

As the Western Roman Empire fell apart, the Byzantine Empire prospered. The Byzantine Empire used its geographic advantages to build strong leadership, internal stability, and wealth. It became a rich center of art, literature and learning.

Justinian I

Justinian I was one of the best-known rulers of the Byzantine Empire. He expanded the empire to include most of the Mediterranean Sea area. He oversaw construction of a domed cathedral, the Hagia Sophia. Justinian reformed Roman Law in ways that later influenced modern European and international law.

Religion, Art and Architecture in the Byzantine Empire

Christianity took a particular form in the Byzantine Empire: the Eastern Orthodox Church. The church inspired a large body of art, such as illuminated manuscripts and icons.

The Golden Age

In the 900s and 1000s, the Byzantine entered a period of relative calm and prosperity. Rulers focused on expanding trade and wealth. The government restored churches and palaces and promoted the study of Greek history and language.

The Byzantine Empire rulers made treaties to protect peace and trade. Constantinople sat at the western endpoint of the Silk Road. Merchants brought silks, spices and jewels from the Far East to Constantinople.

The Fall of the Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine Empire acted as a buffer between Europe and Asia. Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land sacked Constantinople in 1204. The Byzantine Empire fell to Ottoman rule in 1453.


  • While Western Europe was in decline, the Byzantine Empire preserved elements of Greek and Roman culture, including classical manuscripts.
  • Byzantine architecture, such as the Hagia Sophia, influenced later building throughout the region.
  • Byzantine painting influenced Italian Renaissance artists.
  • The modern-day Eastern orthodox church has become the second largest Christian church in world.

Source: The Byzantine Empire
© 2021 History for Kids. All rights reserved.

Back to top