The Break-up of Mediterranean Unity
Byzantine Empire

What are the Middle Ages?

What period of history do they cover?

The origin of the term

The Middle Ages formed the middle period in a traditional schematic division of European history into three "ages": the classical civilization of Antiquity, the Middle Ages and Modern Times. In several countries, among them Spain, another period: Contemporary Times come after Modern Times.

Between Ancient and Modern

In AD 476, warriors attacked the city of Rome and ended more than 800 years of glory for the “eternal city.” Historians mark the fall of Rome as the end of ancient history. The next one thousand years were called the Middle Ages. The Latin term for Middle Ages is "medieval." 

The beginning of the Middle Ages in Europe is often called the "Dark Ages" because the great civilizations of Greece and Rome had fallen. Life in Europe during the Middle Ages was very hard. Very few people could read or write and nobody expected conditions to improve. The only hope for most people during the Middle Ages was their strong belief in Christianity, and the hope that life in heaven would be better than life on earth.

The Dark Ages were anything but dark in other parts of the world. The Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa studied and improved on the works of the ancient Greeks while civilization flourished in sub-Saharan Africa, China, India, and the Americas.

Europe began to experience great change by about 1450. Within one hundred years, Columbus had sailed to America in 1492, literacy spread, scientists made great discoveries, and artists created work that still inspires us today. Historians call the next period of European history the "Renaissance," or the "rebirth." The Renaissance is the beginning of modern history.

Dowling, Mike, "Mr. Dowling's Feudalism page," available from; Internet; Saturday, June 17, 2006 .  © 2007, Mike Dowling. All rights reserved.

Where did the Byzantine Empire originate?

How and where did it expand?

The fail of the Western Roman Empire in 476 left Byzantium as the heir to the ancient Roman Empire for almost one thousand years. The Byzantine Empire, heir of the Eastern Roman Empire, withstood the Germanic invasions and developed a brilliant civilization.

The Eastern Roman Empire

It finally disappeared in 1453, when the capital, Constantinople (the name of ancient Byzantium), was seized by the Turks.

The splendour of the reign of Justinian

The most important Byzantine emperor was Justinian who governed with his wife Theodora from 527 to 565. His reign was a time of splendour.

  • The Byzantine Empire achieved its greatest extension with the conquests of Italy, northern Africa and the southeast of Visigothic Hispania.

  • Byzantium dominated trade in the Mediterranean Sea and golden coins were minted to facilitate exchanges.

  • The Justinian Code included an updated version of Roman laws.

The best symbol of this prosperity was the embellishment of Constantinople and the construction of the majestic church, of Santa Sophia.

Map of Byzantine Empire around 550

The threatened empire

The conquests of the Emperor Justinian did not last for long.

  • In the 6th century, the Lombards invaded Italy, and the Visigoths expelled the Byzantines from Hispania.

  • In the 7th and 8th century, the Muslims occupied the south and the east of the Mediterranean, from Syria and Palestine to northern Africa, and the Slavs settled to the south of the River Danube.

  • In the 11th century, the Turks conquered most of Anatolia peninsula.

The Byzantine Empire in 1081

In these centuries the influence of classical Rome started to be less significant. Greek replaced Latin as the official language. The emperor adopted the title of Basileus, which means «king» in Greek, and assumed all the powers of the empire. He also imposed his authority upon the Byzantine Church.

The religious disputes

In 380, the Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity the official religion in the Roman Empire. However, the Byzantine Church started to separate from the Roman Church.

This trend increased after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, and finally led to the schism of 1054. The Eastern Church did not accept the authority of the pope and developed its own Church, the Orthodox Church, headed by the patriarch of Constantinople.

The fall of Constantinople

Throughout the l4th and l5th centuries, the Turks occupied Asia Minor and part of the Balkans. As a consequence, Constantinople was isolated.

The Byzantines were not helped by the Catholic Church in the west, as they did not comply with the pope’s request: to accept papal authority. Eventually the Turks took Constantinople in 1453, in spite of the opposition of its inhabitants.

Germanic peoples