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MAKING WAY for ISLAM (1 of 5)


Byzantium and the Sassanids make way for Islam

Constantinople | Justinian's War for Trinity Worship in Italy and North Africa | More War in Italy, and Intrusions | Mob slaughters Emperor Maurice and Family and Gregory applauds | Byzantine Empire and Persia face Islam, 603-35

Map of Europe and the Byzantine Empire

Europe circa 500 CE


By 500 CE, power was distributed in North Africa and Western Europe among the Franks, Visigoths, Ostrogoths and Vandals. In Constantinople an emperor ruled what had been the eastern half of Roman Empire – which historians would eventually call the Byzantine Empire. This included Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine and Egypt, which were tied together by trade. The city of Constantinople traded also to the coasts of Gaul, Spain, Africa, India and China. It was a prosperous city which drew diplomats, merchants, sailors and other travelers from many parts of the globe. It was populated by Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, a few Arabs and others. Constantinople's soldiers were largely German and some were Huns. By the 500s most of Constantinople spoke Greek, with Latin being used only for religious, formal and official occasions. People of the city were united by their common Roman citizenship and their Christian faith.

Emperor Justinian

Emperor Justinian. He sent his armies out to unify the Roman Empire – God's Empire – in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. There would be a lot of killing but no Second Coming and only a short and incomplete unification.

The emperor Justinian, who ruled from the year 527, saw himself as the rightful heir of a rule handed down from as far back as Augustus Caesar, a rule he claimed was created by God. God, he said, had displayed his love by bestowing two gifts: the priesthood and the imperial dignity. Faithful subjects viewed the emperor at Constantinople as God's vicar on earth and ruler by divine right. The emperor's Germanic subjects seem to have been most impressed, viewing the emperor as almost a god in his own right.

As a Christian city, Constantinople had many churches, monasteries and convents. It had free hospitals for the sick staffed by monks and nuns. There were alms houses for the needy and the old, and free accommodation for the homeless. The city subsidized orphanages. And in times of increased need rationing was often introduced to help the poor.

Many of Constantinople's Christians saw the world as a vale of tears in which one should not place trust or hope. But many were enthusiastic about chariot racing. From early in the morning, young and old people and priests from all over Constantinople would converge on the city's circus to view and gamble on the chariot races.

It was crowd emotions concerning chariot racing that created Constantinople's most deadly riots, the Nika riots, during Justinian's rule, in January 532. There was volatility among the people of Constantinople. Small scale riots occurred similar to football (soccer) rioting in modern times. Some team members were hanged for murder, but two escaped, and fans wanted them pardoned. Normally divided among themselves, they united against Justinian, who had annoyed them also by his taxation. Toughened by his wife Theodora, Justinian ordered a crackdown, led by his generals. According to the scribe then living, Procopius of Caesarea, 30,000 died. note1



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