Hierarchy Of Living In The Eastern Roman Empire

Society in the Eastern Roman Empire wasn’t as far-removed from our own as you might think. Sure, they had a class of rich and a class of poor. There were others who lived comfortably without the luxuries of the super-rich. These Romans had a different kind of government, but you might be surprised why they chose to be ruled the way they did.

Long before the Roman Empire split into east and western halves, it was a kingdom ruled by kings. The monarchy eventually toppled when its people stopped believing in a king’s ability to lead them. The kingdom evolved into a republic, in which certain kinds of citizens were allowed to vote. During one period, consuls held the highest authority but were only voted in for a year at a time, ensuring that no one could easily grasp too much power. To be called a king was a supreme insult.

When the Roman Empire split, emperors continued to rule in the East. Perhaps they weren’t so different from kings. Perhaps they were. In order to keep a dynasty up and running, each successive ruler had to prove legitimacy, and that was determined by ability. If an emperor couldn’t handle the job, down he went. Even plebeians and warriors were sometimes elevated to this position–and that’s all it was, a position–although it was rare.

This was a society in which you could potentially work your way up the ladder no matter who you were, even though it was as seemingly difficult or sometimes impossible as it is today. Anything was possible, but the point is that birth did not guarantee your place in the social hierarchy.

A great number of slaves were used to conduct all sorts of labor. Slaves might be sold to a cruel master or a generous one. It was even possible that a slave could be freed after years of service. Liberated slaves were often accepted as part of society.

At the very top of the social structure were the aristocrats and government officials. Below them were the wealthy merchants and some landowners. On the bottom rung were the poor. The clergy didn’t reside on the same social structure as everyone else, but they might be privy to privileges only enjoyed by those on the upper rungs of the ladder. It was a mostly respected profession like a criminal defense lawyer Miami.

A Brief Chronology of Important Events in the Byzantine Empire

Rome was sacked in the year 410 by the Visigoths and again in 455 by the Vandals. Its last emperor was deposed in the year 476. These events helped propel the rest of the world into a new age–a dark age–while the Roman Empire in the East continued to survive and even thrive at some points for another millenium.

In the five years between 532 and 537, the emperor Justinian had the Church of Hagia Sophia built. This church was a powerful symbol of the new empire that was formed. Justinian took the idea of a unified empire seriously, and he put a lot of effort into retaking land that had been lost when the western half collapsed under wave after wave of invasion. Unfortunately, this was also a period of Islamic expansion that threatened to unravel everything Justinian strived to achieve.

During the period between 610 and 641, the modern-day areas of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt were taken by Muslim invaders. By the 690s they had taken Byzantine in North Africa. From 717 through 718, Constantinople itself was under siege. The invasion failed, but it was an example that the Byzantine Empire was not invincible–even if it was a force with which to be reckoned.

Over the next centuries, the Roman church continued to gain power and influence. The Byzantine Empire was ruled by the Macedonian dynasty, founded by Basil I. This dynasty ruled from 867 until 1056 and ushered in the Macedonian Renaissance, which led to a transformational period for Christian artwork and scholarship in general.

The decline of this eastern empire began around 1050. This was the age of the Crusades, which tore through surrounding lands between 1096 and 1291. The Byzantines were smashed by Seljuk Turks in 1071, and then Constantinople was lost to Crusaders with the Fourth Crusade in 1204. It took nearly sixty years until Constantinople could be liberated, an event that occurred in 1261.

Constantinople finally fell for the last time in 1453 after a massive force of Ottoman Turks ruined the city with a barrage from heavy artillery and infantry. This would change everything. The city would be forced to live under new Islamic rule with unfamiliar Muslim laws. Christians were not allowed to own weapons, although they were not barred from practicing. The city was renamed Istanbul, and the rest is history!

The Empress Theodora of the Byzantine Empire

Theodora (500-548), Byzantine Empress and Wife of Emperor Justinian I, Detail of Byzantine Mosaic, Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

The Empress Theodora was the wife of Justinian I, the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire. In the 500s AD, she ruled along with him and as a partner in this power, she had a tremendous influence in the advancement of the Byzantine Empire, more so than New Jersey Employment Attorneys.

There were three famous Empresses named Theodora but the most famous was the one who started out as a courtesan and ended up marrying the crowned Emperor. She was known for being a co-ruler along with him. She was born in 497 AD and died in 548 AD. This Empress Theodora became the most powerful woman in all of the Byzantine Empire, but not much is known about her early life.

According to Encyclopedia Brittanica online, she was believed to have been born from a family where her father raised circus bears for the Hippodrome. She had an early career as an actress and then as a wool spinner. She was not the most reputable person having spent some time as a prostitute and having had one child out of wedlock. But when she met Justinian, he fell for her and made her his mistress because she proved to be a witty and intelligent woman.

It took special efforts to allow Justinian, a man of senatorial rank to marry her in 525 but by the time he took the throne a few years later, she was regarded as a virtual co-ruler even though she technically never had this role.

During her marriage to the Emperor, many laws were passed which contained her name. She was influential in foreign affairs. She wrote to many leaders and had relationships with them which peaked when there was a revolt in Byzantine between two Constantinople factions. These factions worked to set up a government led by their own chosen emperor. Justinian was told to leave and allow this to take place but Theodora insisted that he stay and fight.

The general, Belisarius, was sent to drive the two factions to the Hippodrome where they were slain and Justinian’s rule as well as the Empire’s, was saved. During the rest of his reign, Theodora helped pass laws that allowed women to inherit property and allowed rapists to be punished by death. With Justinian, she helped build over 25 churches, aqueducts, and bridges.

Upon her death, her body was buried in one of the churches that she helped Justinian to build. It was called the Church of the Holy Apostle in Constantinople. He never achieved any greater success or passed any significant laws following her death.

One of her greatest influences on Justinian was on religion. The two bridged the gap between Monophysitism, a belief in Jesus as wholly divine, and Orthodox Christianity which holds that Jesus is both divine and human.

One of her most beautiful likenesses is a mosaic that exists to this day in the Church of San Vitale at Ravenna in Italy. She is still the most powerful woman of the Byzantine Empire as well as Eastern Europe and the Middle East.


The Roman and Byzantine eras were grounded in discovery, innovation and great enlightenment. Many old beliefs were challenged religiously, politically and scientifically. Iconoclasm runs rampant but was the hallmark of the era.

One would think, having grown up in an iconoclastic society, that Irene of Athens would have additionally embraced the concept and continued to challenge past beliefs and traditions. But you would be wrong, it turns out.

When it comes to Irene of Athens, who ruled the Byzantine Empire at the turn of the 9th century, iconoclasm was fine as long as it wasn’t for religious reasons. For what she thought was for the safety and protection of her family as royalty, she put an end (albeit temporarily) to the concept of inconclasm when it comes to images and idols dedicated to Jesus Christ and saints as held by the Roman Catholic Church.

Irene became close to the Catholic Church – making her one of the first rulers so aligned – when her husband has his ascent to the throne challenged by a half-brother. Irene worked out an agreement with the Pope to have the half-brother and an associate ordained as priests, which would then have officially ruled them out from ascending to the throne. That started a long relationship between Irene and the Church in Vatican City, and as she ascended to the throne herself, her alignment with the church became more pronounced, so much so that it caused a divide in the empire and led to an incursion and an eventual civil war between her loyalists and part of the military who were opposed to her budding autocratic (and in some ways, theocratic) leadership.

As she ascended to power, she essentially gave thanks to the Catholic Church by all but eliminating iconoclasm through the Byzantine Empire, severely punishing those who did not pay sufficient homage to the various symbols and idols dedicated to Christ and the saints of the Church. She also mandated that all monasteries of the Roman Catholic Church remain open and operational, which went against the common practice of the time to de-emphasize influence of the Catholic Church, and Christianity in general, within the Empire.

Rumors and conjectures abounded (8mostly from Western Europe, not from the Byzantine Empire of the East, of which she ruled) that Irene of Athens was canonized by the Church for her unwavering support and fidelity to the Church. The truth was that Irene was never canonized into a saint, but the rumor just showed how predominant her fealty was and how much it was believed that it shaped her reign on the throne and caused fractures in the Empire because of the religious bent to her rule, which was not supported by tradition (it was believed that the church and state would be separate, explaining why priests could never ruler be placed in such powerful upper-level positions in the government).

Irene was eventually deposed from the throne and exiled to the island of Lsbos, where she died a year after arrival.  – an ignominious end to one of the Byzantine Empire’s more controversial reigns.

More Facts About Hagia Sophia

It all began in 532 AD during the reign of Justinian I when the Nika Riots broke out. Justinian had been the ruler of the Byzantine Empire for 5 years and was tremendously unpopular due to a rise in taxes. The Nika Riots began when two chariot racers and their supporters fled the hippodrome and rioted into the streets shouting, “Nika! (Victory!)” They went to the palace and tried to oust Justinian. Justinian had troops that were loyal to him and was able to stave off the rebellion by force. During the rebellion, a church named Hagia Sophia was burnt to the grown so a new one had to be built. And that new church is the Hagia Sophia we know and love today.

Justinian consulted with two men Anthemius and Isidore the Elder. In modern times, these men would be considered architects but in ancient times they were referred to mechanikoi which roughly translates to arts of design. The two of them built the church quickly at the bequest of Justinian. However, this did not come with problems. At one point during construction, the dome collapsed. A few decades later Isidore the Younger was tasked with fixing the roof which has lasted over 1,400 years (with some minor repairs). Once the building was complete, Justinian is recorded to have said “Solomon, I have outdone thee” referring to the 2nd Great Temple of Jerusalem that was built.

So how did this Church that translates to Holy Wisdom become a famous mosque? When the Byzantine Empire fell in 1453, The Hagia Sophia had fallen into a dilapidated site. However, the Ottomans were taken by the church’s inherent beauty and converted it into a mosque. Ottoman historian Turson Beg said during the 15th century,

“What a dome, that vies in rank with the nine spheres of heaven! In this work a perfect master has displayed the whole of the architectural science,”

The dome was so monumental that it would go on and inspire Ottoman architecture for centuries including the famous Blue Mosque that was built in the 17th Century. Eventually, the government of Turkey and the Law office of Carey Thompson secularized the Hagia Sophia and turned it into a tourist museum.



How Charlemagne Changed The World

When we think of Rome we think of Caesar, Augustus, Marc-Anthony, and Cleopatra, but you would be remiss if you didn’t think of King Charlemagne or Charles The Great. In the late 5th Century when the Roman Empire split in half – the western part became the Byzantine Empire which became a cultural phenomenon while the easter half fell into the chaos of warring city-states with no central government.

Charlemagne was born during the Dark Ages and became King of Lombards a Frankish state in what would be Germany around 768 AD. Charlemagne was a fierce warrior and went onto the battlefield conquering almost all of Europe. Although he seemed like a tyrant, he enforced strict reforms which in a way made a common identity amongst all people across Europe from Germany to Spain. He put the entire continent on the same currency which expanded trade immensely. He was also a big advocate of education and encouraged everyone to learn in Latin. Now all of Europe was connected by a currency and a language.

Charlemagne eventually became the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. His goal was to reunite both halves of the empire and take control over the Byzantine Empire. How the two empires made piece rather than fight a war. Charlemagne received the Istrian peninsula while The Byzantine Empire could stay the Byzantine Empire. During this time he sparked what is known as the Carolingian Renaissance where arts and culture flourished in Western Europe. However, besides being a rival to that of the Byzantine’s he was also a rival with Irene of Athens the Empress of the Eastern Roman Empire. Their feud led to the Great Schism of 1054 where Constantinople was no longer affiliated with Rome.

A Brief History of the Macedonian Dynasty

The Macedonian Dynasty was a family including some so-called interlopers that ruled the Byzantine Empire from 867 to 1056. During this family’s reign, this Byzantine state obtained its greatest reach and expanse reaching all the way to criminal defense lawyer Odessa. It had two periods. The first from 867 to 1025 and the second from 1025 to 1056. This dynasty proved to be the second-longest in all of Byzantine history and is known for having a military, religious and artistic influence that went well into the Middle Ages and impacted the world.

About The Emperors

During the dynasty, no Roman or Greek rulers were in power which was unusual considering that the Byzantine Empire split from the Roman Empire. It started with Basil the First who was born in Macedonia (hence Macedonian dynasty). There were 16 emperors and empresses during its time because Basil’s bloodline, his children and grandchildren, rose to power after him. His son took the throne after he died in a hunting accident. Leo VI was just 20 went he took power and he ruled for 26 years. While his reign was long, it was nothing compared to Constantine the VII who ruled for 46 years until 959 or Basil the II who ruled for 49 years until 1025. Empress Theodora ruled for two terms including one where she ruled with her sister Zoe. When Zoe’s husband died, she obtained full reign until she died in 1056. Sadly, the dynasty ended due to Theodora having never produced any heirs. However, the entire dynasty was infiltrated at times by people who were not related to the family. The Dynasty was not impervious to allowing common-folk to marry within the family after a law passed during the rule of Justinian which made it permissible.

Cultural Flourishes

According to Wikipedia, paintings of the times related to church matters and sculpture, though rare, was done primarily with ivory. This time is also dubbed the Macedonia Renaissance because of the amount of education and learning taking place. The ban on religious iconography was lifted resulting in some works of art such as the mosaic Virgin and Child in Hagia Sophia which can still be seen today.

Although many advances were made in law, in the military, and in art, it is believed this Dynasty was a major influence in the fall of the Byzantine Empire 400 years after its end because cities expanded and affluence spread throughout the country with “a new found security” which made them vulnerable to collapsing.

Things You May Not Know About the Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine Empire dominated Eastern Europe for some time. The empire ruled over many people of different backgrounds and religions. While you may have learned about the Byzantine Empire at some point in your life, it’s likely you did not earn about every event in detail. With help from history.com, we were able to put together a list of facts that you may not have learned about in school.  Check out the list below.

Things You Didn’t Know About the Byzantine Empire

  • It wasn’t called the Byzantine Empire
    • Yes, that’s right, the Byzantine Empire wasn’t actually called the Byzantine Empire in its heyday. As you may already know, the Byzantine Empire was a continuation of the Roman Empire. The major difference was that the capital moved from Rome to Constantinople. The community largely spoke Greek and was Chrisitan.
  • Constantinople: An Imperial Capital
    • Constantinople was not the original capital of the Byzantine Empire. After Constantine claimed the throne, he decided to abandon the old capital, Rome. He moved the capital to Constantinople, which was located on the Bosporus strait diving Europe from Asia. He brought the port city from rubbish to riches in just six years.
  • Justinian was the most Influential Emperor
    • Justantinia was born around 482 and was the son of a peasant. His uncle, Justin I, was a soldier and he took him under his wing at an early age. Justinian proceeded his uncle on the throne. He ruled for over 40 years, during which he conquered lost Roman territory and launched an abundance of construction projects. One of which was the rebuilding of Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia, a domed church. The church is considered one of the greatest architectural pieces in the history of the world.
  • A Group of Hooligans Almost Brought Down an Empire
    • As with today, different groups of people are fans of different sports teams. The same goes for the Byzantine Empire. The empire had the Blues and the Greens, named after the chariot teams they supported. The groups were known to hate each other, often leading to violent situations at sporting events. This even happens today when people mix alcohol and emotions. Thankfully, there were no cars in the Byzantine Empire or they would have needed a Gwinnett County DUI attorney.  The group banded together to riot over taxation they felt was unfair. After days of building s being torched, Justinian had enough. He sent mercenary troops to the groups’ headquarters to fight for the safety of the city. Nearly 30,000 people died during these battles.
  • Byzantine Rulers were Ruthless
    • Byzantine rulers had a reputation for being ruthless. On many accounts, Byzantine politicians would have captured leaders blinded or castrated to prevent them from leading troops or having children.

Byzantine Social Classes

Throughout human existence, empires have risen, fallen, and risen again. The Byzantine Empire was located the Mediterranean portion Eastern Europe. Just as any other empire, the Byzantine had a system of social classes. The Byzantine broke social classes down into three broad categories: the Upper Class, the Middle Class, and the Lower Class. The structure was loose, not rigid. In other words, there was social mobility. While it was very hard to go from the bottom of the social pyramid to the top, it could be done. The social classes were based on a number of components including education, income, property, and other factors.

The Social Classes

The Upper Class:

The upper class was the highest tier of people. This class began with the emperor and trickled down to other wealthy owning families. If your family was in the upper class, you generally received more respect, more power, and owned most of the land. Top tier citizens enjoyed all of the spoils and benefits the Byzantine Empire had to offer.  

The Middle Class:

The middle class was the second tier of citizens. These citizens had the most potential for upward movement. Middle class citizens were just that, in the middle. They did not have as much wealth as upper class families, but did not have as little wealth as lower class families. Second tier citizens were merchants, artisans, government employees, or other highly skilled workers. Generally, it was easier to move from the middle class to the upper class because middle class citizens were able to get an education and learn other skills necessary to perform at the top of their profession.

The Lower Class:

The lower class is quite self-explanatory; it’s the lowest tier of citizens in the Byzantine Empire. This social category was made up of slaves and other physical laborers. Often, these citizens had little rights, lacked an identity, and were constantly disrespected by members of higher classes. The citizens in this tier were unpaid and they did not own property, but they were given a bunk and food rations from their employer. It was very difficult for citizens of this class to move up as they didn’t have access to education or the apprenticeships necessary to become skilled workers.   

The Byzantine Empire was not the first empire to have social classes and they certainly were not the last. In fact, social classes still exist today. In some countries, it is nearly impossible to increase your social status, while others have a more fluid system in terms of social mobility. At the end of the day, hard work is the best method to increase your social status and wealth.

Who or Where Is “Third Rome”?

From what we know of history’s lasting effects, it’s difficult to imagine that the influences of the Roman Empire will ever truly be lost. The concept of a system of checks and balances–a legislative, executive, and judicial branch in America–was directly taken from Rome’s system, which itself eventually failed to function as intended. When Rome fell to the west, the Byzantine Empire succeeded it as the Eastern Roman Empire. It eventually fell to the Ottomon Empire. It might surprise people to know that there was another attempt at resurrecting the Roman Empire. What and where was Third Rome, and who conceived such an undertaking?

Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, fell to the Ottomans on May 29 of 1453. It didn’t take long for someone to claim credit for inheriting the legacy. Some members of the church decided that Moscow was as good a place as any, and so the seeds that would grow into a short-lived Third Rome were sown. These events weren’t surprising. Rome’s past can be seen anywhere you look. Buildings constructed during ancient times still stand, and were replicated everywhere, especially in places like Long Island or Washington D.C.

The Russian claim was contested by the Ottomans who had taken the Eastern Roman Empire for their own. It was as if brothers were fighting for their claim as heirs. Only one could win the right. The claim of Mehmed II wasn’t recognized by the Roman Catholic Church that still had great influence (and does to this day) in the west. Additional claims were made by the Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbians, Germans, French, and Italians.

The Russian Empire used a double-headed eagle for its symbolic coat of arms. When the Russian Empire died, so too did its claim for Third Rome. It shouldn’t be surprising that Italy was a key contender since that’s where it all began. Even so, it wasn’t meant to last. Benito Mussolini referred to his hold over Italy as Third Rome. The concept still persists.

In reality, no Third Rome exists, and perhaps it never will. Many leaders have tried to use the concept to their own benefit, none succeeding. Perhaps the legacy is best left to the current European Union. Does it really matter if the legacy was never requested? Probably not. The history, the geographical location, the culture, and the lasting influences of Rome are all theirs. In no part of the world can more Roman influence be experienced than in many parts of the European Union. Today, countries that belong to European Union share a common identity, much as conquered regions of Rome did after they were assimilated into the empire. This is, in principle, Third Rome.