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Byzantine Empire (5th – 9th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The establishment of the Byzantine Empire is commonly dated to year 324 when Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great (306-337) moved the imperial capital to Byzantium which came to be known as Constantinople. The Western and Eastern (Byzantine) parts of the Roman Empire were finally divided on the death of Emperor Theodosius I in 395.

Emperor Justinian I

Emperor Justinian I

In contrary to the Western Roman Empire which was destroyed by the barbarian invasions, the Byzantine Empire managed to repulse the invasions of the Visigoths, Huns, Avars, Slavs, Bulgarians and the Persians which marked the reigns of Arcadius (395-408), Theodosius II (408-450), Marcian (450-457), Leo I (457-474), Leo II (474), Zeno (474-745 and 476-491), Anastasius I (491-518) and Justin I (518-527). Justin’s successor Justinian I (527-565) restored the former power of the Byzantine Empire. Ambitions of Justinian I to restore the territory of the former Roman Empire resulted in successful military campaign against the Vandals in Northern Africa in 533-534, recapture of Italy from the Ostrogoths in so-called Gothic War (535-540 and 542-552) and of southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula from the Visigoths in 552.

Justinian I was triumphal in Western Europe but the Byzantine Empire was greatly weakened by the attacks of the Persians on the east and threatened by the invasions of the Slavs, Bulgarians, Huns and Avars on the north at the beginning of the 6th century. Thus the reigns of Justinian’s successors Justin II (565-574) and Tiberius II Constantine (574-582) were marked by the Persian-Byzantine Wars and Slavic invasions in the north, while much of Italy has been captured by the Lombards. Maurice (582-602) transformed the shattered Byzantine Empire into a well-organized medieval state. He restored the Byzantine authority in Western Europe and North Africa by reorganizing the Byzantine dominions into exarchates ruled by the military governors or exarchs.

Maurice was killed in an army rebellion in 602 and the Byzantine throne was assumed by Phocas (602-610) who served as an officer during Maurice’s Balkan campaigns. The Byzantine Empire reached its lowest point during Phocas’ reign and was greatly weakened by the invasions of the Slavs on the north and of the Persians on the east. The Byzantine throne was in very serious situation assumed by Heraclius (610-641) who deposed Phocas and had him killed. Heraclius decisively defeated the Persians in 629 but he neglected the northern frontiers. Slavic peoples settled in the Balkan by year 615, while Heraclius barely managed to defend Constantinople from the Avars. Heraclius’ reign was also marked by increased Hellenization of Byzantine social, political and cultural life as well as by military reorganization of provinces into Themes.

Heraclius was succeeded by his son Constantine III (641) who died only after four months and was succeeded by his younger half-brother Heraclonas (614). However, rumors that he murdered Constantine III resulted in revolt and his deposition. The new Byzantine Emperor became the son of Constantine III, Constans II (641-668) under the regency of the senators. His early reign was characterized by the invasions of the Arabs who captured Egypt, extended their influence in North Africa and seized the islands of Cyprus, Rhodes, Kos and Crete. The Arabs defeated the Byzantine fleet in the naval Battle at Phoinike (off Lycia) in 655 but they were unable to take advantage of the victory because of the inner conflicts. When the Arab threat on the east ceased Constans II launched a campaign against the Slavs in Macedonia and forced them to recognize the Byzantine rule. Afterwards Constans II concentrated on Italy but the Papacy felt strong enough and refused Monothelitism as a compromise between the Eastern and Western Churches. Meanwhile Constans II became very unpopular and he was assassinated in Syracuse in 668.

Constantine IV and his retinue

Constantine IV and his retinue

The army in Sicily proclaimed Mezezius (668-669) the new Byzantine Emperor but the Exarch of Ravenna assassinated the usurper. The Byzantine throne was assumed by Constans’ son Constantine IV (668-685). The reign of Constantine IV was marked by increased Arab pressure and annual Arab attacks on Constantinople but the Byzantines managed to withstand the Arab attacks. The Arabs withdrew and agreed to pay tribute to the Byzantine Empire after decisive defeat in the Battle of Syllaeum in Pamphylia in 678 when the Byzantines used the Greek fire for the first time. Constantine IV launched a military campaign against the Bulgarians immediately after the Battle of Syllaeum but he failed to stop the Bulgarian expansion. Constantine IV was succeeded by his son Justinian II (685-695 and 705-711) who continued military campaigns in the Balkans and renewed the war against the Arabs. His administrative reforms were opposed by the aristocracy and resulted in his deposition in 695. The Byzantine throne was assumed by Leontios (695-698) who was deposed and imprisoned after three years of reign by Tiberios III (698-705). The latter acted as the Byzantine Emperor until 705 when Justinian II returned and restored his power. Justinian’s second reign was characterized by brutal suppression of his opponents which provoked an uprising. Justinian II was captured and executed together with his son from his second marriage with Theodora of Khazaria in 711. Thus the rule of the Heraclian dynasty founded by Emperor Heraclius (610-641) came to an end.

The period following the execution of Justinian II in 711 and the accession of Leo III in 717 was marked by a civil war and rapid switches on the Byzantine throne. The period of instability as well as of the Arab threat ended with the accession of Leo III the Isaurian (711-741) whose reign was also notable for a series of edicts against the worship of images (726-729). Leo’s prohibition of veneration of the icons provoked a long struggle over iconoclasm which reached its height under his son and successor Constantine V (741-775). However, many of his rigid decrees against the use of images in worship were abolished by his son and successor Leo IV (775-780), while his wife Irene that acted as regent to Leo’s 10-year-old son and successor Constantine VI (780-797) restored the veneration of icons. Irene summoned the Council of Nicaea in 787 which formally revived the adoration of images. The circles that strongly opposed to the adoration of images supported Constantine VI who wanted to rule as sole emperor. Irene was banished in 790 but she was recalled two years later and granted the title of empress. Shortly after her return Irene organized a conspiracy, overthrown her son and ruled as sole empress from 797 to 802. Irene’s revival of adoration of images improved the relations with the Papacy but the Byzantine influence in Western Europe began to decline.

Frankish Kingdom (5th – 9th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012
Clovis I

Clovis I

The Frankish Kingdom was the strongest and the most powerful of all medieval Germanic kingdoms established on ruins of the Western Roman Empire. The Frankish Kingdom started to rise during the reign of Clovis I (482-511) who conquered the neighboring Frankish tribes, defeated Visigoths with center in Toulouse and Alamanni in 496, and established himself as sole king of all Franks. Clovis’ conversion into Catholicism in 498 by which he gained the support of the Roman population and of the Catholic Church played an important role in the future development of the Frankish Kingdom as well. The territorial expansion in the 5th and first half of the 6th centuries under the Merovingian Dynasty was followed by an inner crisis that was caused by the division of the kingdom into Austrasia, Neustria and Burgundy. Clotaire II (613-629) reunited the Frankish Kingdom and was proclaimed the King of all the Franks but further divisions took place after the death of Dagobert I in 639 and resulted in decline of Merovingian power and rise of the mayors of the palace.

Pepin of Herstal, the Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia defeated allied forces of Theuderic III, King of the Franks and Berthar, the Mayor of the Palace of Neustria and Burgundy in the Battle of Tertry in 687 becoming de facto ruler of the Frankish Kingdom. Pepin also subdued the Alemanni, Frisians, Bavarians and Bretons, and captured Aquitaine, while Thuringia managed to renew its independence for a short period. On Pepin’s death his illegitimate son Charles Martel (714-741) seized power in Austrasia. Charles Martel is best known for defeating the Muslim invaders in the Battle of Tours in 732 and stopping the Muslim advance in Western Europe. On the death of Charles Martel his two sons Carloman and Pepin the Short became the Mayors of the Palaces of Neustria and of Austrasia. However, Carloman went into monastery Monte Cassino in 747 leaving Pepin the Short as the sole mayor of the palace.

Pepin the Short deposed the last Merovingian king Childeric III and confined him to a monastery with support of Pope Zachary in 751. Afterwards he had himself elected as King of the Franks by an assembly of Frankish leading-men and was anointed at Soissons. Pepin’s coronation finally ended the Merovingian rule in the Frankish Kingdom and established the Carolingian Dynasty as the new ruling dynasty. The reign of Pepin the Short was also notable for the incorporation of Aquitaine into the Frankish Kingdom, installation of Tassilo III in Bavaria as duke under Frankish overlordship and Frankish victory over the Lombards. Like the Merovingian kings, Pepin the Short divided the Frankish Kingdom among his sons on his death: Carloman and Charlemagne (768-814) but Charlemagne became sole ruler of the Franks after Carloman’s sudden death in 771.

Suebic (Suevic) Kingdom

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Suebic Kingdom was established during the reign of Hermeric after the invasion in today’s Galicia and northern Portugal in 410. Hermeric abdicated in 438 in favor of his son Rechila who conquered Merida in 439 and Seville in 441. Afterwards Suebi turned northwards and captured Ebro valley and Lerida.

Location of the Suebic Kingdom

Location of the Suebic Kingdom

Suebic territorial expansion disturbed the Roman Emperor Avitus who persuaded the Visigoths to attack the Suebic Kingdom. In alliance with the Burgundians and the Franks, the Visigoths defeated the Suebi near Astroga in 456. The Suebic Kingdom was severely weakened by the defeat at Astroga but it retained itself until 585 when it was finally conquered by the Visigoths.

Kingdom of Alamanni (Alemanni)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Alamanni (Alemanni) settled in northern Italy in the 3rd century and occupied today’s eastern France, southwestern Germany and northeastern Switzerland by the 5th century. The Alamanni were ruled by kings throughout the 4th and 5th centuries and reached their height in the second half of the 5th century when they began to expand eastwards as well as westwards. However, their expansion resulted in the conflict with the Franks under Clovis I who decisively defeated the Alamanni forces in the Battle of Tolbiac in 496. Alamanni were subjugated by the Franks and lost their political independence.

Kingdom of the Gepids

27 Jul
July 27, 2012
Kingdom of the  Gepids

Kingdom of the
Gepids

The Kingdom of the Gepids was situated along the Tisza River on the territory of the former Roman province of Dacia. The Gepids established a kingdom after the Battle at the Nedao River which took place after unexpected death of Attila the Hun in 454. Attila’s successors were decisively defeated by the Gepids led by Ardaric who was one of the closest companions of Attila. The Hunnic power in Eastern Europe collapsed, while the Gepids conquered the center of the former Hunnic state and the entire Dacian territory. The Gepids also concluded a foedus treaty with the Byzantine Empire and were granted an annuity. However, a rivalry between the Gepids and the Ostrogoths under Theodoric the Great broke out shortly afterwards and resulted in the defeat of the Gepids in 488 and in 505.

The Kingdom of the Gepids reached its height after 539 when the Gepids extended their territory to Lower Pannonia with center in Sirmium (today’s Sremska Mitrovica). Their rivalry with the Lombards was taken advantage by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I who concluded an alliance with the Lombards in the middle of the 6th century and severely defeated the Gepids in the Battle of Asfeld in 551. The Kingdom of the Gepids was finally destroyed by the allied Lombard and Avar forces in 567.

Thuringian Kingdom

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Thuringian Kingdom situated in today’s central Germany between the Elbe and the Danube was established in the late 5th century. It reached its height and territorial peak during the reign of Hermanfrid, son of King Bessinus and the last independent king of the Thuringii. The Thuringian Kingdom was conquered by the Franks in 531-532 and afterwards governed by the Frankish dukes. Charlemagne transformed the former Thuringian Kingdom into a frontier march for his campaigns against the Slavs.

Burgundian Kingdom

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Burgundians first settled in the Rhine Valley as Roman foederati at the beginning of the 5th century and established a kingdom. Incessant struggles with the Roman Empire forced the Romans to turn to the Huns to intervene against the Burgundian Kingdom. In 437, the Huns decisively defeated the Burgundians who left the Rhine Valley and settled in today’s borderlands between Switzerland, France and Italy in 442. The Burgundian Kingdom reached its height during reign of Gundobad (480-516) but came to an end shortly after his death. The Burgundians were decisively defeated by the Franks in the Battle at Autun in 534. Burgundian territory was incorporated into the Frankish Kingdom and the Burgundian Kingdom ceased to exist as an independent kingdom.

Visigothic Kingdom

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Visigoths under leadership of King Alaric moved to Aquitaine after the sack of Rome in 410 and established a kingdom with center at Toulouse. They settled in Aquitaine as Roman foederati and joined the Roman army against the Huns, helped suppress the peasant’s revolts and joined the war against the Vandals and Alans in the Iberian Peninsula. The Visigoths expanded their influence in southern Gaul and Iberian Peninsula during the reign of Euric (466-484) but the Visigothic Kingdom reached its height during the reign of King Alaric II (485-507) and became an important European power.

Migration of the Visigoths

Migration of the Visigoths

Alaric was defeated and killed by the Franks in the Battle at Vouille in 507. The Visigoths afterwards left Aquitaine and moved south of the Pyrenees where they established a kingdom with the capital in Toledo. The Visigothic Kingdom with center in Toledo managed to survive the period of turmoils, to consolidate and repulse the Byzantine attempts to conquer the Iberian Peninsula. The Byzantine Empire captured the very southern part of the Visigothic Kingdom in 551 but the Hispano-Roman population preferred Visigothic over Byzantine rule. Thus King Liuvigild (568-586) managed to repel the Byzantines from Cordoba as well as to conquer the Suebi Kingdom in 575. The Visigothic Kingdom survived until 711 when the last Visigothic King Roderic was killed in the Battle of Guadalete by the Moorish invaders who conquered the Iberian Peninsula by 718.

Vandal Kingdom

27 Jul
July 27, 2012
Geiseric sacking Rome by Karl Briullov

Geiseric sacking Rome by Karl Briullov

The Suebi captured and settled in Gaul in 414 and Visigoths expanded their rule from Aquitaine southern from Pyrenees about the same time. Thus the Vandals were pushed on the very southern part of the Iberian Peninsula. The Vandals under leadership of their king Geiseric (428-477) crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and settled in today’s Tunis in 429. The Roman Empire granted conquered lands to the Vandals three years after the conquest of Carthage in 422 and thus emerged the first independent Germanic kingdom (all other Germanic kingdoms had a status of a Roman foederati). The Vandals were also the only Germanic peoples who settled in the Mediterranean, built a fleet and plundered the region. They controlled the larger islands in western Mediterranean sea such as Baleare, Corsica, Sicily and Sardinia for decades and presented a major threat to Rome which greatly depended from grain supply from Africa and Sicily. In 455, Geiseric captured and sacked Rome itself.

The Vandal rule in Northern Africa survived for about a century. Inner instability, tensions with the native population, rebellions of the Moors and religious struggles greatly weakened the Vandal Kingdom. The Vandal Kingdom was destroyed and incorporated into the Byzantine Empire after military campaign led by General Belisarius in 534.

Lombard Kingdom

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Italy was invaded by the Lombards under leadership of their king Alboin less than two decades after the war between the Byzantine Empire and the Ostrogothic Kingdom known as the Gothic Wars (535-554). The Lombards initially settled in Pannonia and helped the Avars destroy the Kingdom of Gepids in 567 but feeling threatened by their former allies Avars they invaded northern Italy one year later.

Lombard Kingdom under Alboin

Lombard Kingdom under Alboin

The Lombards conquered Pavia after a three year siege in 572 and made it capital of their kingdom. From the northern Italy they penetrated deep into central and southern Italy where they established two independent duchies: the Duchy of Spoleto and the Duchy of Benevento. The Adriatic coast from Istria to Numana, the territory from Ravenna to eastern Emilia known as the Exarchate as well as the territory from Rimini to Ancona known as the Pentapolis, the duchy of Rome, the duchy of Naples, Apulia, Calabria, and the islands and coast of Luguria and Tuscia remained in Byzantine hands. The Lombards did not succeed to conquer whole Italian peninsula which was divided on two parts: the Lombard Kingdom and Romagnia. In addition, the Lombard Kingdom itself was divided on several duchies with wide autonomy which weakened the kingdom’s unity and the central power.

Alboin who was murdered in 572 was succeeded by Cleph who was murdered as well only after 18 months of rule. Cleph’s death was followed by a decade of anarchy, plundering and persecution of the Roman population until the accession of Authari (584-590) who defeated the Frankish forces of Childebert II and strengthened the monarchy. He was succeeded by Agilulf (590-616) whose reign was marked by a pro-Byzantine politics and beginning of the Lombard conversion into Catholicism. The conversion into Catholicism was greatly encouraged by queen Theodelinda who was personally very devoted to the Pope Gregory the Great.

Integration of the Roman population and the Lombards began after the death of Rothari (636-652) who was the last Lombard King loyal to Arianism and to the Germanic tradition. The Lombard Kingdom reached its height under the reign of Liutprand (712-744) who took advantage of weakened Byzantine authority in Italy and conquered the Exarchate and Pentapolis and invaded the northern Latium in 728. Liutprand’s conquests disturbed Pope Gregory II, and the Dukes of Spoleto and Benevento. Both dukes decided to submit to Liutprand who also reached a peaceful agreement with Papacy with the so-called Donation of Sutri. Latter granted the city and some hill towns in Latium to the Papacy as a gift to the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul. The conflicts were renewed during the pontificate of Pope Gregory III who concluded an alliance with dukes of Spoleto and Benevento, while Liutprand continued territorial expansion on expense of the duchy of Rome and directly threatened the Papacy. Gregory III turned for help to Charles Martel who needed the Lombard aid for his campaign against the Muslims. For that reason Martel promised the Pope only general support and forced Gregory’s successor Zachary to meet with Liutprand. He returned the conquered territories to the Holy See in 742.

Liutprand’s successor Ratchis (744-749) yielded to the Papacy but his successor Aistulf (749-756) was determined to conquer whole Italy and attacked Exarchate, captured Comacchio, Ferrara, Ravenna and the Duchy of Spoleto. Aat the same time Pope Zachary gave his support to Pepin the Short at his accession to the Frankish throne. Pepin who was grateful for papal support promised Pope Stephen II military assistance against the Lombards and return of all lost territories (Promissio Carisiaca). He kept his promise, invaded Italy and defeated Aistulf and gave the former Byzantine territories to the Papal States with the so-called Donation of Pepin.

Aistulf’s successor Desiderius (756-774) initially led a friendly politics towards Papal States and Frankish Kingdom but eventually he renewed the politics of his predecessor and turned against Rome. Pope Handrian I appealed to Pepin’s son Charlemagne who decisively defeated the Lombards and proclaimed himself the King of Franks and Lombards in 774.

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