There, merchants sold silks from China, wheat from Egypt, gems from India, spices from Southeast Asia, and furs from Viking lands in the north.

At the center of the city, Byzantine emperors and empresses lived in glittering splendor. Dressed in luxurious silk, they attended chariot races at the Hippodrome arena. Crowds cheered wildly as rival charioteers careened around and around in their vehicles. The spectacle was another reminder of the city's glorious Roman heritage.

A Blending of Cultures

After rising to spectacular heights, the Byzantine empire eventually declined to a small area around Constantinople itself. Yet it was still in existence nearly 1,000 years after the fall of the western Roman empire. As the heir to Rome, it promoted a brilliant civilization that blended ancient Greek, Roman, and Christian influences with other traditions of the Mediterranean world.

The Age of Justinian

The Byzantine empire reached its greatest size under the emperor Justinian, who ruled from 527 to 565. Justinian was determined to revive ancient Rome by retaking lands that had been overrun by invaders.

Led by the brilliant general Belisarius, Byzantine armies reconquered North Africa, Italy, and the southern Iberian peninsula. However, the fighting exhausted Justinian's treasury and weakened his defenses in the east. Moreover, the victories were only temporary. Justinian's successors would lose the bitterly contested lands, one after the other.

Hagia Sophia

Justinian left a more lasting monument in the structures of his capital. In 532, riots and a devastating fire swept Constantinople. Many buildings were destroyed and many lives were lost.

To restore Roman glory, Justinian launched a program to make Constantinople grander than ever. His great triumph was rebuilding the church of Hagia Sophia (AH yee uh suh FEE uh), which means “Holy Wisdom.”

A map shows Byzantine Constantinople and medieval trade routes.
Image Long Description

Major European and Asian trade routes met at Constantinople.

Analyze Maps

Summarize Constantinople's protective advantages.

Hagia Sophia's immense, arching dome improved on earlier Roman buildings. The interior glowed with colored marble and embroidered silk curtains. Seeing this church, the emperor recalled King Solomon's temple in Jerusalem.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments