The Byzantine Empire
was the last remnant
of Roman Imperialism
in Europe until the medieval
ages. It was in these ages that it began to fall
, but it was almost doomed to do so from the beginning. Firstly, the Empire was split into two completely separate entitites
, separate of government
and eventually culture
. This was a fatal mistake
, nevertheless, when the Western Empire did fall, the East still had ancestral
ties to it, and the West was now an invitation
for a large Byzantine Empire to replace the glory
of the Roman Empire.
Not everything was so simple though, and as others, such as Charlemagne, were soon to find out, the Medieval period was ushering in a mild form of nationalism. People were coming together under one regional banner, due to the fact that clusters of people now spoke similar languages and had ancestral ties with one another. Still, they were divided, and as the Byzantines sought to reclaim the Western lands they were at least moderately effective.
Yet here is where the fatality of seperating the Empire into separate identities begins to come into play. The Byzantine religion was that of Catholic Orthodox, and this was not a popular religion. In fact, the only other national identity that followed the religion as a whole was the rising power of Novgorod. The complication here is that the Byzantines controlled mostly Eastern provinces, and while these provinces were being converted with the rise of Islam, the Byzantine Emperors were not, and it sought to clarify the fact that the Byzantines indeed were foreign in these lands.
Thus there was a sense of nationalism in the East, and many sought to free themselves of this western cultured dominance. The Byzantines now were incapable of expansion, and attempted to consolidate their Eastern provinces, but this was further complicated by the arrival of the Turks. These were people from the Russian Steppes, barbaric horse warriors who were searching for a place to live, and they settled to the east of the Holy Lands (including the provinces of Edessa, Tripoli, Palestine and Antioch). The Byzantines were now in decline by the beginning of the Medieval period in 1000, and the stage was set. The Arabs, Egyptians and Turkish had established themselves as independent Eastern identities, and the Western European nations, just after the collapse of Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire, were well established outside of Imperial rule. At the beginning of this period the last vestige of Imperial rule in the West lay in the Byzantine control of Naples, but this entirely lost by 1200 with the expansion of the Sicilians into Italy.
Where Byzantine word had once stretched far and wide, now it was barely even heard beyond the walls of Byzantium (Constantinople). The Slavic provinces were finding more common ground with either the Hungarians or the Polish, or deciding to establish themselves on their own, and the Greek provinces were unwilling to remain a subject people. The East was virtually lost, and all Byzantium had left to rely on were its Western relations. Unfortuneately, the fatality of their Orthodox religion comes into play yet again here, as these Western relations were to crumble.
The Pope had been cordial with the Byzantines, but had tolerated them as Catholic Orthodox was derived from Western Christianity. As time progressed, however, the Orthodox church became more and more separate from Christianity, and the Pope began to take offence. The crusade in 1204, under Pope Innocent III, was now redirected from the Islams against the Byzantines. While the Pope approved thisdue to religious politics, the Westerners' goals were far less "pure". By taking Constantinople, the Westerners plundered its vast riches, and sent them back home to fund yet another crusade. After this the Western crusaders abandoned Constantinople, it fell into chaos, and along with it the Bulgarian, Slavic and Greek provinces openly revolted against the Byzantines.
The Byzantine Empire was at its worst position ever. It controlled no Western provinces what so ever, its Eastern provinces were mostly lost, and those it did control were spiteful and resilient, and now it failed to even control Byzantium, and the riches it once commanded were lost. The Emperor's word was dead, it carried no weight, and the Byzantine Empire was more of a memory than a reality. Byzantine power was now only evident in the Eastern provinces of Nicaea and Anatolia, but even here it was not great. The Byzantines were collapsing, and the expansionist Turks were ready to strike the final blow.
Yet the Byzantines were now to make a miraculous recovery, and were even poised to begin reclaiming their lost power. They drove out all elements of Western crusaders in Byzantium and consolidated their control over it. They opened the coffers of Byzantium and took what was left, sending out their money in every direction and hiring thousands of mercenaries to produce a proud Byzantine army. They equipped these mercenaries with their post-Roman equipment, and launched campaigns into Macedonia, Bulgaria and drove towards Syria. However the Turkish, as mentioned earlier, were poised to strike, and they met the mercenary army in 1390, decimating the army, and conquering all of Anatolia. While the armies in Bulgaria and Macedonia were faring well, they were forced to return, and these provinces once again collapsed. Now Byzantine power truly only existed in Byzantium, and the Turks were all too happy to take the rebellious Nicaea off their hands.
The Byzantines had made a last ditch effort, and it was a gamble, as the money they had expended meant that if the Empire did not reclaim some of its riches, it could not continue paying its vast mercenary armies. The coffers were dry, and thus, as expected, much of the army left. What was left was soon to be defeated when the Turks made their final offensive in 1422. The headlong drive into Constantinople was viscious, and lasted many years. The Byzantines fought battle after battle, losing almost every one, but they held steadfast, and were stubbonly entrenched. They showed little sign of moving, but after many years, much of the army, starving and demoralized, simply defected or packed up and left. In 1453 the Byzantine army was routed, and forced to flee into the Citadel at Constantinople. The Turks surrounded the Citadel, but it was formidable, and its supplies could last for years on end. However the age of Castles was gone, and they were becoming an outdated technology. Gunpowder was now becoming a mainstream technology, and the Turks were especially fond of it, so for 50 days the Turks bombarded the Citadel with cannons until the Byzantines surrendered, marking the fall of the Byzantine Empire.
Yet the Byzantines had vastly superior
numbers in their Mercenary army, and the Mercenaries were hardened professionals
, therefore it would seem that the smallish Turkish army should have been defeated. It must be noted, as this is a major decider in the fall of the Byzantines, that their post-Roman equipment
was severely outdated by this stage. At the beginning of the Medieval period no technology in the world could even hope to match the post-Roman equipment. Byzantine Infantry
, Varangian Elites
were the three most heavily armoured
and disciplined infantry
. Kataphraktoi, particularly, instilled fear
in the hearts
of any who had to cross them, yet by the High Medieval period
, 1200, this technology was simply equaling world wide technology, and was no longer so fearsome
The Byzantines should have realised this, and adapted their technology, as they had adapted Roman technology to post-Roman technology, but they did not, and by the Late Medieval period, 1400, their technology was more quaint than anything else. Their second technological failure was to incorporate the ever more widely used gunpowder, and, therefore, their large mercenary army was nothing more than a large mass of four hundred year old technology.