History Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

What are the differences between the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire? 

Expert Answers info

rreitmeyer123 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2015

write27 answers

starTop subjects are History and Literature

The Byzantine Empire was, in a sense, the continuation of the Roman Empire. It is even sometimes called the eastern Roman Empire, it included the Greek speaking eastern part of the Mediterranean. The Byzantine Empire was a Christian one and it was known for warring with the Muslims. It was a flourishing empire during the reign of the Macedonian emperors and its demise resulted as a consequence of attacks from Crusaders and Turks. Byzantium was a small but important town, it acted as a frontier between the Persian and Greek world. Both would become a part of Alexander the Great’s hellenistic universe during the fourth century BCE. The approach of the third century CE saw the Roman Empire with thousands of miles of borders to defend. It was the Emperor Constantine that realized that the problems of empire could not be managed from great distances. The Emperor Constantine renamed Byzantium after himself, Constantinople, and in 330 CE he moved there making it his new permanent restaurant. Constantinople was halfway between the Euphrates and the Balkan, and was not very far from the wealth of Asia Minor which at the time was a major part of the empire. After Constantine died the Roman empire divided into eastern and western sections. The Western Roman Empire ended by 476 CE when the last ruler got dethroned and a military leader took power. The Roman Empire during the fourth century became increasingly Christian, and the Byzantine Empire was definitely Christian. It was the first empire that was not just founded on worldly power, but on the authority of the Christian Church. During the first few centuries of the Byzantine Empire polytheistic religions stuck around as an important source of inspiration. Once Christianity got organized the Church had five leading patriarchs who lived in Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Rome. In 451 CE the patriarch of Constantinople was named the second authority in ecclesiastical hierarchy, only the Pope in Rome was superior. The Great Schism of 1054 CE resulted in the eastern or Orthodox church(Byzantine) separating form the western church (Roman Catholic). Some basic comparisons between the two empires were the reasons for the end of the empires. The Byzantine Empire ended due to conquest where the Roman Empire ended because it was incorporated into a New Entity. Both of the Empires has the same form of government, Authoritarian, also both were ruled by hereditary rulers. The empires had differing main languages, in the Roman Empire they mainly spoke latin and in the Byzantine Empire the most common language was Greek. In the Roman Empire, until the reign of Constantine I, the main religion was polytheistic where they worshiped the various renamed Greek gods. Emperor Constantine I’s reign was when Christianity became the main religion of the empire. The Byzantine Empire was a Christian one from the start. The Roman Empire, before its division, covered a larger geographical area that the Byzantine Empire ever did.

jenniferwasson85 | Student

There are several important distinctions between the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. 

First, let's look at the Roman Empire. The Roman imperial period began in 31 BCE when the republican period ended and Augustus became emperor. The Roman Empire was centered in Rome itself. Culturally, it remained officially pagan until the 4th century. It held political and military control over the Mediterranean, including parts of African, Asia, and Europe. The Roman Empire began to destabilize in the 4th-6th centuries CE. Eventually, external conflicts and internal political issues (such as power struggles, economic depression, and changes to the military) led to its fracturing.

Second, let's consider the transition to the Byzantine Empire. (One other difference to note is that the west was Latin speaking, while the east was Greek speaking, predominantly.) The Roman Emperor Constantine had moved the capital from Rome to Byzantium in the 3rd century (when it was renamed Constantinople). The center of power had shifted from the western part of the Roman Empire to the eastern part. It was this area, once the Eastern Roman Empire, which became the Byzantine Empire. The split is generally considered complete - and the Western Empire finished - in 476 CE.

Finally, the Byzantine Empire (which can also be called the Eastern Roman Empire, as they themselves still called it). The Byzantines continued to be a powerful political force in the Mediterranean and western Asia for the next thousand years, waxing and waning at different points. It was based in Constantinople (formerly Byzantium and later Istanbul). It was culturally more eastern and Greek leaning than the Latin west had been. It was also Orthodox Christian. Eventually, they lost economic and military power to Turkish and Arab imperial powers and to the devastation of the crusades. Constantinople finally fell in 1453 to the Ottomans, ending the Byzantine Empire.