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   Byzantine Empire : Imperial Office

The Byzantine Empire was ruled by autocratic emperors who were the source of governmental authority. Emperors were responsible for upholding correct religious doctrine by placing the full force of imperial power behind doctrinal uniformity. Emperors strove for religious unanimity, in part to cultivate favor from church officials, but also because they believed that the survival and welfare of the empire depended on divine favor.

The emperor embodied living law, issued legislation, and was the final interpreter of secular law. Ultimate responsibility for all political and military appointments rested with him, and he had a decisive role in selecting and removing the patriarch of Constantinople and other church officials. The emperor was at the summit of a splendid formal etiquette, and Byzantine society was characterized by rank consciousness and minute attention to protocol.

   The Empire

The Byzantine Empire is also known as the East Roman Empire, for it was in fact a continuation of the Roman Empire into its eastern part. At its greatest size, during the 500's AD, Byzantine included parts of southern and eastern Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa.

The Byzantine people called themselves Romans although they were actually descendants of various ancient peoples and they spoke Greek. The word Byzantine, in fact, comes from "Byzantium," which is the Greek name for a city on the Bosphorus. The Greeks colonized the area first, in the mid-600's BC, even before Alexander the Great brought his troops into Anatolia (334 BC). Greek culture continued its influence long after the region became part of the Roman Empire, in the 100's BC.

But it was when Roman emperor Constantine the Great moved the capital of the Empire from Rome to Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople, in 330 AD, that the Byzantine Empire really began. It lasted over 1000 years, ending finally in 1453, when the Turks conquered Constantinople and renamed it Istanbul.

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Christianity had a strong influence on Byzantine art, music, and architecture. Since Constantinople was the political center of the Empire, it also was the educational center, where future government officials learned to read and write the language of ancient Greece. Thus this period produced remarkable works in history as well as fine poetry, and much religious prose. All the visual arts flourished, too.

Most of the artists worked as servants of the court or belonged to religious orders, and they remained anonymous. Ivory carvings, Byzantine crosses, and "illuminations," or small manuscript paintings, attest to their skill. Almost all that survives of the Byzantine architecture are its churches, with their glorious frescoes and mosaics. With Hagia Sophia as an example, their architects and artisans reached heady heights of magnificence, indeed.

For 1100 years, the Byzantine's were able to maintain control of their empire, although somewhat tenuously at times; the empire's expansion and prosperity were balanced by internal religious schisms and recurring wars with enemies from the outside. Finally, weakened by recurring waves of attack, the Ottomans overcame the exhausted Byzantines and a new era of leadership began. The Byzantine Empire, however, had left its mark on the culture, never to be entirely erased.

    French revolution

French Revolution, major transformation of the society and political system of France, lasting from 1789 to 1799. During the course of the Revolution, France was temporarily transformed from an absolute monarchy, where the king monopolized power, to a republic of theoretically free and equal citizens. The effects of the French Revolution were widespread, both inside and outside of France, and the Revolution ranks as one of the most important events in the history of Europe.

During the ten years of the Revolution, France first transformed and then dismantled the Old Regime, the political and social system that existed in France before 1789, and replaced it with a series of different governments. Although none of these governments lasted more than four years, the many initiatives they enacted permanently altered France's political system. These initiatives included the drafting of several bills of rights and constitutions, the establishment of legal equality among all citizens, experiments with representative democracy, the incorporation of the church into the state, and the reconstruction of state administration and the law code.

Many of these changes were adopted elsewhere in Europe as well. Change was a matter of choice in some places, but in others it was imposed by the French army during the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1797) and the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815). To later generations of Europeans and non-Europeans who sought to overturn their political and social systems, the French Revolution provided the most influential model of popular insurrection until the Russian Revolution of 1917.


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