It’s a testament to Roman ingenuity that the eastern half of its empire persisted for about a thousand years after the western half crumbled. The Roman Empire as we know it fell for a number of reasons: most prominent among them was change from within. Many people believe that it fell into decline because of “barbarian” incursions from the north, but this is only a fragment of the truth.
Christianity breathed new life into the empire for a while, but it also destroyed the core values that had held the empire strong for so long. Eventually the first great melting pot experiment became a den of debauchery filled with ever-increasing racism, wealth inequality, greed, and religious persecution. (Sound familiar?) There were other factors, of course, but these were the primary contributions.
Even when the Western Roman Empire fell into decline and eventually disappeared, the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire) continued to survive — with Christianity as its faith. Why?
Part of the power was derived from location. It was quite literally situated in the center of the known world, which left it as a crossroads for some of the greatest and most famous trade routes ever known. It’s economy and military stood above all others, and it was able to adapt to outside forces faster than the western half of the empire once did.
But all things come to an end. Change is the great constant, and times changed.
The Ottoman Turks finally destroyed the last remaining crumbs of the Byzantine Empire in 1453. How? Constantinople was sacked in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, which led to a division of its assets. This was the beginning of the end, and it made the task of destroying what remained much easier for Byzantine’s enemies — and it had many of those.
During the 14th and 15th centuries, the remaining territories (which were separated into mere city-states) were slowly assimilated into the Ottoman Empire during a series of bloody wars. Even before the Ottoman invasions, the struggling Byzantine leftovers were subject to Serbian incursions after a civil war that left the empire’s people decimated.
Constantine XI was emperor during the 1453 Ottoman siege of Constantinople, which pitted 80,000 Ottomans against a mere 7,000 Byzantine soldiers, many of whom were foreign. Constantine XI didn’t take the defeat lightly — he was last seen engaging in hand-to-hand combat after the city had already fallen. Believe it or not, Rome arguably survived as the “Third Rome” until it finally fell during the Russian Revolution in the early 1900s.