Civilization in Eastern Europe

Civilization in Eastern Europe



Civilization in Eastern Europe

Civilization in Eastern Europe: Byzantium and Orthodox Europe

Mackay – Chapter 8 – The Making of Europe

Advanced Placement World History expectations
Major Developments

  1. Questions of periodization
    1. Nature and causes of changes in the world history framework leading up to 600 E.C. – 1450 as a period
      1. Emergence of new empires and political systems
      2. Continuities and breaks within the period
  1. Interregional networks and contacts
    1. Development and shifts in interregional trade, technology, and cultural exchange
    2. Missionary outreach of major religions
    3. Contacts between major religions, e.g., Christianity and Islam


  1. Developments in Europe
    1. Restructuring of European economic, social, and political institutions
    2. The division of Christendom into eastern and western Christian cultures.
  1. Demographic and environmental changes
    1. Growth and role of cities


  1. Diverse interpretations
    1. Was there a world economic network in this period?
  1. Major Comparisons and Snapshots
    1. Analyze the role and function of cities in major societies
    2. Compare European and sub-Saharan African contacts with the Islamic world


In addition to the great civilizations of Asia and North Africa forming during the postclassical period, two related major civilizations formed in Europe.  The Byzantine Empire, in western Asia and southeastern Europe, expanded into eastern Europe.  The other was defined by the influence of Catholicism in western and cen tral Europe.  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 1450 C.E.  The empire continued Roman patterns and spread its Orthodox Christianity, without an imperial center,  spread in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia.   Catholic Christianity, without an imperial center, spread in western Europe.  Two separate civilizations emerged from the differing Christian influences.

The Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire, once part of the greater Roman Empire, continued flourishing from an eastern Mediterranean base after Roman decline.  Although it inherited and continued some of Rome’s patterns, the eastern Mediterranean state developed its own form of civilization.

The Origins of the Empire

Emperor Constantine in the fourth century C.E. established a capital at Constantinople.  Separate emperors ruled from it even before Rome fell.  Although Latin served for a time as the court language, Greek became the official tongue after the sixth century.  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 sixth century, Justinian, with a secure base in the east, attempted to reconquer Western territory but without lasting success.  The military efforts weakened the empire as Slaves and Persians attacked frontiers, and they 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 on 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 seventh 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 ad taxes, was weakened.  Aristocratic estates grew larger, and aristocratic generals became stronger.  The empire’s fortunes fluctuated as it resisted pressures from the Arabs a  nd Slavic kingdoms.  Bulgaria was a strong rival, but Basil II defeated and conquered it in the eleventh century.  At the close of the tenth century, the Byzantine emperor may have been the strongest contemporary ruler. 

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 is 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 aristocrats who were better educated.  The empire socially and economically depended on 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 class 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 on Hellenistic secular traditions and Orthodox Christianity.  Little artistic creativity resulted, except in art and architecture.  Domed buildings, colored mosaics, and painted icons expressed an art linked to religion.

The Split between East and West
Byzantine culture, political organization, and economic orientation help to explain the rift between the eastern and western versions of Christianity.  Different rituals grew grow Greek and Latin versions of the Bible.  Emperors resisted papal attempts to interfere in religious issues.  Hostility greeted the effort of the Frankish king, Charlemagne, to be recognized as Roman emperor.  The final break between the two churches occurred in 1054 over arguments about the type of bread used in the mass and the celibacy of priests.  Even though the two churches remained separate, they continued to share a common classical heritage.

The Empire’s Decline

A long period of decline began in the eleventh century.  Muslim Turkish invaders seized almost all of the empire’s Asian provinces, removing the most important sources of taxes and food.  The empire ever 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.  Crusaders, led by Venetian merchants, sacked Constantinople in 1204.  Italian cities used their navies to secure special trading privileges.  A smaller empire struggled to survive for another two centuries against western Europeans, Muslims, and Slavic kingdoms.  In 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople.

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 ninth century, missionaries Cyril and Methodius devised a written script, Cyrillic, 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 Czechoslovakia, Hungry, and Poland.  The region became a long-standing site of competition between the two influences.  A series of regional monarchies – Poland, Bohemia, Lithuania – with powerful landowning aristocracies developed.  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.  They possessed iron and extended agriculture in Ukraine and western Russia.  Political organization centered in family tribes and villages.  The Slavs followed an animist religion and had rich traditions of music and oral legends.  Scandinavian traders during the sixth and seventh centuries moved into the region along its great rivers and established a rich trade between their homeland and Constantinople.  Some traders won political control.  A monarchy emerged at Kiev around 855 under the legendary Danish merchant, Rurik.  The loosely organized state flourished until the twelfth 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’
Kiev borrowed much from Byzantium, but it was unable to duplicate its bureaucracy or education system.  Cultural, social, and economic patterns developed differently from the western European experience.  Rulers favored Byzantine ceremonials and the concept of a strong central ruler.  Orthodox Christian practices entered Russian culture – devotion to God’s 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 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.

Kievan Decline
Kievan decline began in the twelfth century.  Rival princes established competing governments while the royal family quarreled over the succession.  Asian invaders seized territory as trade diminished because of Byzantine decay.  The Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century incorporated Russian lands into their territories.  Mongol (Tartar) dominance further separated Russian from western European developments. Commercial contacts lapsed.  Russian Orthodox Christianity 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 fifteenth 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 Rome.”

In Depth:  Eastern and Western Europe: The Problem of Boundaries

Determining where individual civilizations begin and end is a difficult exercise.  The presence of many rival units and internal cultural differences complicates the question.  If mainstream culture is used for definition, Orthodox and Roman Catholic religion, each with its own alphabet, offers a logical answer.  Political organization is more complicated because of loosely organized regional kingdoms.  Commercial patterns and Mongol and Russian expansion also influenced cultural identities.

The End of an Era in Eastern Europe.
With the Mongol invasions, the decline of Russia, and the collapse of Byzantium, eastern Europe entered into a difficult period.  Border territories, such as Poland, fell under Western influence, while the Balkans fell to the Islamic world of the Turks.  Western and eastern Europe evolved separately, with the former pushing ahead in power and cross-cultural sophistication.

Global Connections: Eastern Europe and the World

The Byzantine Empire was active in interregional trade; Constantinople was one of the world’s great trading cities, and the empire served as a link between northern Europe and the Mediterranean.  When Byzantium declined and the Mongols conquered Russia, a period of isolation began.  By the fifteenth century, Russia began to regain independence and faced decisions about how to re-engage with the West.

Key Terms

Justinian: Sixth century Byzantine emperor; failed to reconquer the Western portions of the empire; rebuilt Constantinople; codified Roman law.

Hagia Sophia:  Great domed church constructed during the reign of Justinian.

Body of Civil Law: Justinian’s codification of Roman law; reconciled Roman edicts and decisions; made Roman law a coherent basis for political and economic life.

Bulgaria: Slavic kingdom in the Balkans; put constant pressure on the Byzantine Empire; defeated by Basil II in 1014.

Icons:  Images of religious figures venerated by Byzantine Christians.

Iconoclasm:  The breaking of images; religious controversy of the eighth century; Byzantine emperor attempted, but failed, to suppress icon veneration. 

Manzikert: Seljuk Turk victory in 1071 over Byzantium; resulted in loss of the empire’s rich Anatolian territory.

Cyril and Methodius: Byzantine missionaries sent to convert eastern Europe and the Balkans; responsible for creating the Slavic written script called Cyrillic.

Kiev: Commercial city in Ukrain established by Scandinavins in ninth century; became the center for a kingdom that flourished until the twelfth century.

Vladimir I: Ruler of Kiev (980-1015); converted kingdom to Orthodox Christianity.

Russian Orthodoxy: Russian form of Christianity brought from the Byzantine Empire.

Boyars: Russian landholding aristocrats; possessed less political power than their western European counterparts.

Tatars: Mongols who conquered Russian cities during the thirteenth century; left Russian church and aristocracy intact.

Fill in the blank


The eastern half of the Roman Empire survived after the fifth century as the __________________.

The Byzantine emperor __________________________ was responsible for the attempted reconstruction of the political unity of the ancient Roman Empire.

One of the military technological achievements of the Byzantine Empire was the invention of ___________, a weapon used against the Arab fleets.

The Slavic kingdom established in the northern portions of the Balkan peninsula as a major rival to the Byzantine Empire was _______________________.

Images of religious figures that became objects of veneration in Byzantine Christianity were __________

In 1204, a crusade led by _____________________ merchants conquered Byzantium and temporarily unseated the Byzantine emperor.


The form of Christianity that developed in Byzantium and spread to Russia and the Balkans was referred to as _________________________________ Christianity.

The Russian ruler credited with converting the country to Christianity was ______________________.

Russian aristocrats or __________________________ had less political power than their counterparts in Western Europe.

In 1236, a large force of Mongols, called according to Russian tradition _________________________, captured the major Russian cities.


True or False

There was little difference between the Christian cultures of eastern and western Europe from the fifth to the fifteenth century.

The capital of the Byzantine Empire was Kiev.

The emperor responsible for the attempted restoration of the unified Roman Empire was Justinian.

One of the most important cultural impacts of the Byzantine Empire on eastern Europe was the conversion of the Slaves to Orthodox Christianity.

The kings of Kiev were allegedly descendants of Scandinavian traders.

The alphabet devised by Orthodox missionaries for the Slavic peoples were called Slavic after the ethnicity of its creator.

The iconoclasts supported the use of icons in the eastern Orthodox Church.

Theodora was the courtesan who became wife and advisor to Justinian.

Latin was the official language of the Eastern Empire from the reign of Justinian.

One of the major works of architecture completed during the reign of Justinian was the huge church called Hagia Sophia.





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Civilization in Eastern Europe


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Civilization in Eastern Europe