The Byzantine Empire or Byzantine Kingdom, initially known as the Eastern Roman Empire or Eastern Roman Kingdom, succeeded the Roman Empire (circa 395) as the dominant empire and kingdom of the Mediterranean Sea.
Under Justinian I, considered the last great Roman emperor, dominated areas in present-day Morocco, Carthage, southern France, and Italy, as well as its islands, the Balkan Peninsula, Anatolia, Egypt, the Near East, and the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea. From a Western perspective, it is not wrong to insert the Byzantine Empire into the study of the Middle Ages, but strictly speaking it lived an extension of the Old Age.
Byzantium historians generally agree that its heyday was with the great emperor of the Macedonian dynasty, Basil II Bulgarochtones (Bulgarian forest) in the early ninth century. Its gradual territorial regression outlined the history of medieval Europe, and its fall in 1453 against the Ottoman Turks marked the end of the Middle Ages.
The Byzantine Empire emerged when Roman Emperor Constantine I decided to build over the ancient Greek city of Byzantium a new capital for the Roman Empire, closer to the trade routes linking the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea, and Europe to Asia.
Moreover, Rome had for some time been neglected by its emperors who opted for other seats of government, especially cities closer to the borders or where political pressure was less. They generally tended to choose Milan, but the borders that were in danger in Constantine's time were those of Persia to the east and those of the Danube to the north, much closer to the straits.
The new capital, named Constantinople in honor of the Emperor, combined Rome's urban organization with Greek architecture and art, with clear oriental influences. It is a strategically very well located city, and its resistance to dozens of sieges proves Constantino's good choice. Before long, the renovated city would become one of the busiest and most cosmopolitan of its time. Their religion, language, and culture were essentially Greek, not Roman, but to the Byzantines the word "Greek" meant, in an injurious manner, "pagan." The Persians and the Arabs also called the Byzantines "Romans." The Byzantine word comes from Byzantium, the ancient name of the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, Constantinople. The term Byzantine began to be used only after the seventeenth century, when historians coined it to make a distinction between the empire of the Middle Ages and that of antiquity. Traditionally, it was known only as the Eastern Roman Empire (due to the division of the Empire by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I in the fourth century of the Christian Era).
Identity, continuity and awareness
The Byzantine Empire can be defined as an empire of several Eurasian nations that emerged as a Christian empire and ended its more than 1000 years of history in 1453 as an Greek Orthodox state: the empire became a nation.
In the centuries following the Arab and Lombard conquests of the seventh century, this cross-cultural nature (we note: non-multinational) still remained in the Balkans and Asia Minor, where a powerful and superior Greek population resided.
The Byzantines identified themselves as Romans, and continued to use the term when it became synonymous with Hellenic. They preferred to call themselves, in Greek, romioi (meaning Christian Greek people with Roman citizenship), while developing a national consciousness as residents of Romania (Romania it is what the Byzantine state and its world were called in its day). Nationalism was reflected in literature, particularly in songs and poems such as the Akritias, in which frontier populations (of combatants called akritas) prided themselves on defending their country against the invaders.
Although the ancient Greeks were not Christians, the Byzantines claimed them as their ancestors. In fact, the Byzantines referred to themselves as romioi as a way of retaining both its Roman citizenship and its ancient Greek heritage. A common substitute for the term "Hellen" (which had pagan connotations) as well as that of romioi, was the term graekos (Greek). This term was often used by the Byzantines (as much as romioi) for their ethnic self-identification.
The dissolution of the Byzantine state in the fifteenth century did not immediately undo Byzantine society. During the Ottoman occupation, the Greeks continued to identify themselves as Romans and Hellenes, an identification that survived until the early twentieth century and still persists in modern Greece.