Chapter 10 Summary
Civilization in Eastern Europe. In addition to the great civilizations of Asia and Africa forming during the postclassical period, two related, major civilizations formed in Europe. The Byzantine Empire, with its capital in the great city of Constantinople, was based in western Asia and southeastern Europe and expanded into eastern Europe. The other was defined by the influence of Catholicism in western and central Europe.
The Power of the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire, with territory in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the eastern Mediterranean, maintained very high levels of political, economic, and cultural life between 500 and 1450c.e. The empire continued many Roman patterns and spread its Orthodox Christian civilization through most of eastern Europe, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. The empire was also a major agent of interregional trade. While Byzantine civilization had much in common with its western counterpart, the civilizations that expanded in the east and west operated largely on separate tracks.
The Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire, once part of the greater Roman empire, continued to flourish in the eastern Mediterranean base after Roman decline. Although it inherited and continued some of Rome’s heritage, the Byzantine state developed its own form of civilization.
The Origins of the Empire. In the 4th century c.e., the Emperor Constantine established a capital at Constantinople. Rule of the vast empire was split between two emperors, one ruling from Rome, one from Constantinople. Although Latin served for a time as the court language, from the 6th century, Greek became the official tongue. The empire benefited from the high level of civilization in the former Hellenistic world and from the region’s prosperous commerce. It held off barbarian invaders and developed a trained civilian bureaucracy.
Justinian’s Achievements. In the 6th century, Justinian, with a secure base in the east, attempted to reconquer western territory, without lasting success. These campaigns weakened the empire as Slavs and Persians attacked the frontiers and also created serious financial pressures. Justinian rebuilt Constantinople in classical style; among the architectural achievements was the huge church of Hagia Sophia. His codification of Roman law reduced legal confusion in the empire. The code later spread Roman legal concepts throughout Europe.
Arab Pressure and the Empire’s Defenses. Justinian’s successors concentrated upon the defense of their eastern territories. The empire henceforth centered in the Balkans and western and central Turkey, a location blending a rich Hellenistic culture with Christianity. The revived empire withstood the 7th-century advance of Arab Muslims, although important regions were lost along the eastern Mediterranean and the northern Middle Eastern heartland. The wars and the permanent Muslim threat had significant cultural and commercial influences. The free rural population, the provider of military recruits and taxes, was weakened. Aristocratic estates grew larger, and aristocratic generals became stronger. The empire’s fortunes fluctuated as it resisted pressures from the Arabs and Slavic kingdoms. Bulgaria was a strong rival, but Basil II defeated and conquered it in the 11th century. At the close of the 10th century, the Byzantine emperor was probably the strongest ruler of the time.
Byzantine Society and Politics. Byzantine political patterns resembled the earlier Chinese system. An emperor, ordained by god and surrounded by elaborate court ritual, headed both church and state. Women occasionally held the throne. An elaborate bureaucracy supported the imperial authority. The officials, trained in Hellenistic knowledge in a secular school system, could be recruited from all social classes, although, as in China, aristocrats predominated. Provincial governors were appointed from the center, and a spy system helped to preserve loyalty. A careful military organization defended the empire. Troops were recruited locally and given land in return for service. Outsiders, especially Slavs and Armenians, accepted similar terms. Over time, hereditary military leaders developed regional power and displaced better-educated aristocrats. Socially and economically, the empire depended upon Constantinople’s control of the countryside. The bureaucracy regulated trade and food prices. Peasants supplied the food and provided most tax revenues. The large urban population was kept satisfied by low food prices. A widespread commercial network extended into Asia, Russia, Scandinavia, western Europe, and Africa. Silk production techniques brought from China added a valuable product to the luxury items exported. Despite the busy trade, the large merchant class never developed political power. Cultural life centered upon Hellenistic secular traditions and Orthodox Christianity. Little artistic creativity resulted, except in art and architecture. Domed buildings, colored mosaics, and painted icons revealed strong links to religion.
The Split between Eastern and Western Christianity. Byzantine culture, political organization, and economic orientation help to explain the rift between the eastern and western versions of Christianity. Different rituals grew from Greek and Latin versions of the Bible. Emperors resisted papal attempts to interfere in religious issues.
The Schism. In 1054, the Patriarch Michael attacked Catholic practices more strenuously, raising contentious issues that separated the churches. The conflict resulted in mutual excommunication by the Patriarch and the Roman pope. Even though the two churches remained separate, they continued to share a common classical heritage, and informal contact persisted.
Empire’s Decline. A long period of decline began in the 11th century. Muslim Turkish invaders, the Seljuks, seized almost all of the empire’s Asian provinces, removing the most important sources of taxes and food. The empire never recovered from the loss of its army at Manzikert in 1071. Independent Slavic states appeared in the Balkans. An appeal for western European assistance did not help the Byzantines, and indeed, crusaders led by Venetian merchants sacked Constantinople in 1204. Italian cities secured special trading privileges. The greatly reduced empire struggled to survive for another two centuries against western Europeans, Muslims, and Slavic kingdoms. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, and by 1461 the empire had disappeared.
The Spread of Civilization in Eastern Europe. The Byzantine Empire’s influence spread among the people of the Balkans and southern Russia through conquest, commerce, and Christianity. In the 9th century, the missionaries Cyril and Methodius devised the Cyrillic script for the Slavic language, providing a base for literacy in eastern Europe. Unlike western Christians, the Byzantines allowed the use of local languages in church services.
The East Central Borderlands. Both eastern and western Christian missionaries competed in eastern Europe. Roman Catholics, and their Latin alphabet, prevailed in the Czech region, Hungary, and Poland. Competition in this area between western and eastern influences was long-standing. A series of regional monarchies with powerful, landowning aristocracies developed in Poland, Bohemia, and Lithuania. Eastern Europe also received an influx of Jews from the Middle East and western Europe. They were often barred from agriculture but participated in local commerce. They maintained their own traditions and emphasized education for males.
The Emergence of Kievan Rus’. Slavic peoples from Asia migrated into Russia and eastern Europe during the period of the Roman Empire. They mixed with and incorporated earlier populations and later invaders. The Slavs worked iron and extended the amount of land under cultivation in Ukraine and western Russia. Political organization centered in family tribes and villages, organized ultimately into regional kingdoms. The Slavs followed an animist religion and had rich traditions of music and oral literature. Scandinavian traders during the 6th and 7th centuries moved into the region along its great rivers and established a rich trade between their homeland and Constantinople. Some won political control. A monarchy emerged at Kiev around 855 under the legendary Danish merchant, Rurik. The loosely organized state flourished until the 12th century. Kiev became a prosperous commercial center. Contacts with the Byzantines resulted in the conversion of Vladimir I (980–1015) to Orthodox Christianity. The ruler, on the Byzantine pattern, controlled church appointments. Kiev’s rulers issued a formal law code. They ruled the largest single European state.
Institutions and Culture in Kievan Rus’. Cultural, social, and economic patterns developed differently from the western European experience. Kiev borrowed much from Byzantium, but it was unable to duplicate its bureaucracy or education system. Rulers favored Byzantine ceremonials and the concept of a strong central ruler. Orthodox Christian practices entered Russian culture: devotion to divine power and to saints, ornate churches, icons, and monasticism. Polygamy yielded to Christian monogamy. Almsgiving emphasized the obligation of the wealthy toward the poor. Literature, using the Cyrillic alphabet, focused on religious and royal events, while art was dominated by icon painting and illuminated religious manuscripts. Church architecture adapted Byzantine themes to local conditions. Peasants were free farmers, and aristocratic landlords (boyars) had less political power than similar westerners.
Kiev. The leading city of Kievan Rus’, with a population that reached 50,000 in 1200, Kiev was a major religious and economic center. Its location gave it crucial advantages. Not only was it easy to defend, it sat astride key trade routes, giving it substantial control over regional commerce. Kiev hit hard times after 1200, eventually falling to Mongol attack.
Kievan Decline. Kievan decline began in the 12th century. Rival princes established competing governments while the royal family quarreled over the succession. Asian invaders seized territory as trade diminished due to Byzantine decay. The Mongol invasions of the 13th century incorporated Russian lands into their territories. Mongol (Tartar) dominance further separated Russia from western European developments. Commercial contacts lapsed. Russian Orthodoxy survived because the tolerant Mongols did not interfere with Russian religious beliefs or daily life as long as tribute was paid. Thus, when Mongol control ended in the 15th century, a Russian cultural and political tradition incorporating the Byzantine inheritance reemerged. The Russians claimed to be the successors to the Roman and Byzantine states, the “third new Rome.”
The End of an Era in Eastern Europe. With the Mongol invasions, the decline of Russia, and the collapse of Byzantium, eastern European civilization entered into a difficult period. Much of Kievan social structure disappeared, but Christianity and other socio-political and artistic patterns survived. Western and eastern Europe evolved separately, with the former pushing ahead in power and cross-cultural sophistication.