How did the Byzantine Empire lose Cyprus

Brief outline of Byzantine history


I. Period of establishment and emergence (330 - 476) - From part of the empire to the partial empire

The Byzantine Empire was the direct continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces. It always saw itself as the only Roman Empire; Byzantium has only been called since modern times to distinguish it from the former. This meant that there is no exact date of foundation, since the transition from the ancient Roman to the Byzantine Roman Empire was a long-lasting transformation of an empire, not a new foundation.

The different historians give different ages of origin to Eastern Europe, but there is agreement that it emerged in the fourth century after Christ. The Roman emperor Diocletian (284 - 305) divided his empire into two halves, each ruled by an emperor and a sub-emperor, who was to become his successor at the same time. But this system soon collapsed and Emperor Constantine I (the Great) (306 - 337) rose to become the sole ruler again. In the period that followed, the empire was divided again, but the fortunes of the two halves remained closely linked, and there were also emperors who united them under their rule. The last to succeed was Emperor Theodosius I (the Great) (379 - 395), who in his will decreed a division of the empire between his sons Arcadius (eastern part, 395 - 408) and Honorius (western part, 395 - 423).

This division should be final. While Westrom slid towards doom and was conquered and plundered several times, Ostrom managed to hold on and fend off the invading tribes. The western Roman imperial throne became more and more insignificant in the power struggle between the Romans, settled Germans and the East. Finally, the Germanic military leader Odoacer was able to banish the last (nominal) "Emperor" Romolus Augustulus (475 - 476) to a country estate. The imperial insignia was sent to the Eastern Roman Emperor Zenon (474 ​​- 475 and 476 - 491), but the Western Roman Empire no longer existed. Germanic empires formed in Italy, of which the Ostrogoth Empire initially prevailed.

In the fourth century AD, the Eastern Roman emperor had always ruled where it was needed, but since the final division, the city of Constantinople became the official capital of the empire, the second Rome. It was founded by Emperor Constantine I in 330 AD on the site of an older Greek city called Byzantium. The place was strategically very favorable, as it was directly on the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

II. Early Byzantine Era (476 - 641) - In the tradition of ancient Rome

The emperors of the following epoch, Zeno and his successor Anastasios I (491-518) managed to maintain Ostrom's existence despite popular uprisings and revolts and to consolidate his power. After the comparatively short reign of Justin I (518 - 527), his nephew Justinian I (527 - 565) came to the throne, whose reign was very much determined by his wife Theodora. His great goal was the restoration of the entire Roman Empire and the conquest of the western provinces. The first step was the destruction of the Vandal Empire in North Africa by the capable general Belisarius. He then turned to the Italian peninsula and conquered it in just five years, including the Ostrogothic capital Ravenna. A province could also be recaptured in the south of Spain. But Justinian feared competition in Belisarius and recalled the front without further ado. But jealousy was not the only reason: The Persians were very successful on the Eastern Front, they also managed to take Antioch. Now the Ostrogoths reared up again in Italy. It took a long time before the Eastern Roman power could finally defeat this (562). We should also mention many of the reforms carried out under Justinian. But when the emperor died, he left behind a bankrupt empire and provinces that simply could no longer be held militarily.

In the following years Byzantium reached a critical position. The Avars sacked Greece, the Persians (Sassanids) conquered the oriental provinces and Egypt, the breadbasket of the empire. Emperor Herakleios (610 - 641) sat personally at the head of an army and conquered Jerusalem, where he brought back the "Holy Cross", one of the most valuable relics of Christianity. This made him a model for non-Byzantine rulers for a long time to come. His reign marks the end of the early Byzantine era. He allegedly made Greek the official language (that had previously been Latin) and replaced the imperial title "Augustus", which Octavian had assumed in 27 BC, with the ancient Greek word for "king", "basileus". Herakleios also managed to build a dynasty, so that his successors ruled in the seventh century.

III. Early Middle Byzantine Era (641-867) - Critical Years and Consolidation

In the following centuries the empire went downhill again. The whole people were in a bitter argument about whether one should depict saints in pictures. Even the pretenders to the throne are fighting and taking sides. In addition, foreign peoples were pushing against the borders. Even under Herakleios, Islam had conquered huge areas, including the entire Christian Orient and North Africa, and thus took the place of the Persians. The Byzantines lost several (sea) battles, and in 674 the four-year siege of Constantinople began, which could only survive with the help of "Greek fire". This wonder weapon was a particularly powerful defense method because it continued to burn on the water.

678 you could breathe deeply for the time being. The empire had not succumbed to the foreign peoples, but the extreme emergency had shown the ineffectiveness and great clumsiness of the administrative structures. The strict separation of military and civil administration proved to be a hindrance. New administrative districts emerged, the "themata", each of which was administered by a "strategos". The old division into prefectures and provinces, which still came from Emperor Diocletian, became meaningless.

The Eastern Roman Empire had just weathered the Arab storm with great difficulty, when a new, dangerous enemy appeared: the Bulgarians. This people had been driven from their original homeland and now settled on Byzantine territory. After some fighting, Constantine IV (668 - 685) made a peace with the Bulgarians and they founded their own state. But no sooner was the danger averted in the north than the Muslims in the south began their conquests again. There was a second siege of Byzantium (717-718). The crisis was also evident at the head of the empire. The Heraklian dynasty lost the throne to rapidly changing usurpers. After his victory over the Arabs, the successful general ascended as Leon III. (717 - 741) took the imperial throne and managed to give the empire a certain stability. Fortunately, the Arabs were involved in controversies for the throne, so that Byzantium had its backs free in the actions that followed in Bulgaria. The realm there had once again become a rival to Eastern Europe. Leon's son and successor Constantine V (741 - 775) was quite successful in the fight against the Bulgarians in the long run, just like his successor Leon IV (775 - 780).

After his death, his son Constantine VI. (780 - 797) was still young, so that his wife Irene (780 - 802) took over the reign. Eventually she eliminated her son and became the first sole ruler of Byzantium. You managed to conquer large parts of Greece. But their successor Nikephorus I (802 - 811) was defeated by the Bulgarians and fell in battle. The Arabs also conquered other areas such as Crete and Sicily. The coronation of Frankish King Charles I the Great in 800 actually created a provocative rival, but the Byzantine emperors had more important problems. The iconoclasm also continued and was only ended in 843 when Emperor Michael III. (842 - 867) allowed and introduced the worship of images.

IV. Late Middle Byzantine Era (867-1204) - Offensive and decline

The era of defense and iconoclasm was over, the era of the Macedonian dynasty began. The founder of the dynasty, Basil I (867 - 886), who had turned from groom to emperor in a dream career, was followed by Leon VI. (886-912). Unlike his predecessor, he was not particularly successful in foreign policy. When he died, his son Constantine was also a minor. The government finally took over Romanos I. Lakapenos (920-944). Although the Bulgarians had taken advantage of the crisis at the top of the state to expand their power, the regent managed to make peace. Constantine officially continued to hold the government, but was pushed more and more into the background. Only after the deposition of Romanos and his sons was he able to take over power as Constantine VII (945 - 959). The empire was actually doing pretty well. Under the successors Nikephorus II (963 - 969) and John I (969 - 976) the empire even expanded again; Crete, Cyprus and Antioch were conquered.

The next emperor Basil II (976-1025) began his reign with severe setbacks, but in 1014 he achieved the decisive victory over the Bulgarian empire, which had again become a powerful enemy. In 1018 the whole Bulgarian area - from the Black Sea to the Adriatic Sea - was incorporated into the Byzantine Empire, which thus extended to the Danube. Basileios went down in history as "Bulgaroktonos" (Bulgar slaughterer), under him the Central Byzantine Empire reached its greatest extent and importance. But new opponents soon appeared in the light of history, such as the Turkish Seljuks, who had ousted the Arabs. Romanos IV (1068-1071), an emperor from the short-lived Dukai dynasty, suffered the heavy defeat of Mantzikert (1071) in eastern Anatolia. The empire was badly hit, and almost all of Asia Minor was lost to the enemy. From then on, the empire quickly went downhill. The nomadic people of the Petschenegen devastated the Balkan provinces, the last southern Italian possessions were lost to the Italians.

Alexios I (1081 - 1118), the founder of the Comnen dynasty, was faced with all these problems. In his emergency situation he turned to Venice, an old Eastern Roman possession that had long been de facto independent. This actually helped, but could not avert the dangers. Nonetheless, it was expensive to pay for with trade privileges that were extended to other northern Italian cities, undermining the entire Byzantine economy. After all, the Norman danger was averted for the time being when the Norman leader Robert Guiskard died in 1085 and Alexios was able to drive the Pechenegs from the Balkans six years later with the help of the Cumans. But the Seljuks were still not defeated. To change this, the emperor called on the European states to help. The resulting first crusade was successful, but the Europeans wanted to bring the Holy Land into their hands and establish their own states. They were suspected of trying to conquer Constantinople. This created strong differences between the Greek and Latin world.

Alexios' successor also continued to struggle with many enemies. Neither the Arabs nor the Normans and the Pechenegs were defeated, and the Hungarians too were dangerous rivals. After all, Emperor Manuel I (1143 - 1180) was able to wrest Dalmatia, Croatia and Bosnia from the latter. However, this increase in power on the Adriatic resulted in a rivalry between Byzantium and the Venetians. One problem that was eliminated created another. What did not succeed was the attempt to recapture Asia Minor, which failed at Myriokephalon in 1176. Under the other emperors, Dalmatia, Serbia, briefly parts of Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus were lost one after the other. Meanwhile, crusades by the Central Europeans continued, which of course did not aim to support Byzantium, but only to satisfy their own thirst for power.

V. The late Byzantine era (1204 - 1453)

In the fourth crusade, Constantinople was finally conquered by the money-hungry Europeans. There was no emperor there who spurred the people on, only an unpopular usurper. After the conquest on 12./13. April 1204, as much was looted as one could carry, and slaughtered and raped. Art treasures of immeasurable value were adapted to practical use in the West, that is, destroyed. The biggest beneficiary was Venice, which had financed everything and was now awarded large areas and important cities. In the capital, a committee of twelve crusaders elected a new emperor, who also saw himself as the successor of Rome. Baldwin of Flanders became the first ruler of the "Latin Empire". But the actual Eastern Roman Empire went into exile and became the Empire of Nikaia. There were other successor states to Byzantium, such as the Empire of Trebizond, whose rulers came from the Comnenen dynasty (ruled in from 1081 to 1185), or that of Thessaloniki. The common people also orientated themselves in this “exile empire” and felt the foreign rule as oppressive.

In 1261 the Emperor of Nikaia Michael VIII. Palaiologos succeeded almost without a fight in bringing Byzantium back under Byzantine rule. The city was in poor condition and severely depopulated. But Michael had to limit himself to the most necessary construction measures. The nobility returned and rebuilt everything. Political power was still very limited, but art and culture flourished amazingly as in the old days. The fleet also grew stronger. Only with his policy of rapprochement with the West did he make himself unpopular. Under his successors Andronikos II. (1282 - 1328) and Andronikos III. (1328 - 1341) from the dynasty of palaeologists he founded, conditions resembled civil wars, foreign powers such as Bulgaria, Serbia and the Turks conquered more and more new provinces.

The Ottoman Empire, founded by Osman I., expelled East Current from Asia Minor and, with the conquest of Edirne in 1361, came dangerously close to Constantinople. At some point the Eastern Roman Empire consisted only of the capital, a few Greek islands and small exclaves. In 1403 there was even a siege of Constantinople, but a weakening of the Ottoman Empire by its neighbors and internal turmoil resulted in a breather for the empire. Emperor Manuel II (1391-1425) unsuccessfully sought military aid from the European states. The attempts of his successors to achieve this by uniting the Orthodox and Catholic Churches failed. Meanwhile, Ottoman and Byzantine cultures mixed more and more.

In 1448 the last Byzantine emperor ascended the throne, Constantine XI. Dragases Palaiologos. He bravely tried to defend the empire and raised an army of 10,000 men. But when the Ottomans began the siege, they had 80,000 men and gigantic cannons against Constantinople. They were able to break the chain of locks and defeat the once masterful Byzantine fleet themselves. The desperate worship of icons did not help either. According to legend, the decisive factor was that people forgot to close a city gate. The Ottomans immediately stormed Constantinople, they plundered, pillaged and murdered. Emperor Constantine fell in battle. The Roman Empire had perished again, the Ottoman Empire was on its way to becoming a great power. The Byzantine Empire, however, had preserved the culture of antiquity until it was rediscovered in Western Europe during the Renaissance.