73 The Collapse of the Byzantine Empire

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The End of the Byzantine Empire

After Justinian, contraction largely defines Byzantine history. The first onset of the Bubonic plague in Europe was one factor that contributed to a weakening of the Byzantine Empire in political and economic ways. As the disease spread throughout the Mediterranean world, the empire’s ability to resist its enemies weakened. By 568 CE, the Lombards successfully invaded northern Italy and defeated the small Byzantine garrison, leading to the fracturing of the Italian peninsula, which remained divided and split until re-unification in the 19th century CE. In the Roman provinces of North Africa and the Near East, the empire was unable to stem the encroachment of Arabs. The decreased size, and the inability of the Byzantine army to resist outside forces, was largely due to its inability to recruit and train new volunteers due to the spread of illness and death. The decrease in the population not only impacted the military and the empire’s defenses, but the economic and administrative structures of the empire began to collapse or disappear.[1]

Decay became inevitable after the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 CE after the Byzantine army was bested by the Seljuk Turks in combat. After the battle, the Byzantine Empire lost Antioch, Aleppo, and Manzikert, and within years, the whole of Asia Minor was overrun by the Seljuk Kingdom. The loss of territory and personnel left a power vacuum that western Europeans proved more than willing to fill. The Byzantine Emperor sent a request for help to pope Urban II, who responded by summoning the western world for the Crusades. The western warriors swore loyalty to the emperor, reconquered parts of Anatolia, but kept Antioch, Edessa, and the Holy Land for themselves. For more than half a century, the empire was ruled by monarchs from the West. The Byzantine Empire continued to lose territory, however, until finally the Ottoman Empire under Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453 CE and took over government.[2]


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Humanities: Prehistory to the 15th Century Copyright © by Florida State College at Jacksonville is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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