Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The upheaval that accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome, the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time, great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th14th century in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.

The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio



The Byzantine Empire



In the ninth through eleventh centuries, the Byzantine Empire once again rose to become a major power, but there were signs of internal discord. Attacks from outside weakened the state, and it did not fully recover from its conquest by the armies of the Fourth Crusade at the beginning of the 13th century. In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, an event that sent shock waves through Christian Europe, 1, 2 Byzantine scholars who fled to the West brought with them the knowledge of the culture of classical antiquity preserved in the Byzantine Empire, which was central to the Renaissance and the rise of humanism in Italy.

1 John Bessarion, patriarch of Constantinople
and scholar, painting, 16th
2 Cross of John Bessarion,
14th-15th century

The Byzantine Resurrection under the Macedonian Dynasty

The Macedonian dynasty was able to reestablish the Byzantine Empire's old supremacy in the East.


Byzantine Emperor Basil I (the Macedonian 867-886) rose from modest circumstances.

In 867, he 3 murdered his patron, Emperor Michael III, and assumed the throne.

Basil was soon able to 6 reconquer territories in southern Italy and sought to win over the pope by temporarily relieving the anti-Roman patriarch, Photius I, of his office.

Domestically, he had the Imperial Code retailored to allow a more centralized, strongly bureaucratic power for a government in which the emperor was considered the absolute ruler by divine right.

3 Basil I murders Michael III in his bedchamber,
copper engraving, 17th century

6 Basil I in battle against Arab invaders,
book illustration, 13th century

Basil's son, 7 Leo VI, together with Romanus I Lecapenos, who led the government from 920 to 944, repulsed invasions by the Bulgars, the Russians, and the Arabs.

7 Leo VI at Christ's feet, mosaic, ca. 900

In 922, the emperor sought to reform the system of land ownership, limiting the amount of land that large estate owners could acquire from small proprietors.

Leo's son, 4 Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, wrote a number of works about the ceremonial customs and administration of the court.

In 963 Constantine's son and successor, Romanus II, was probably poisoned by his wife, Theophano, who then married his successor Nicephorus II Phocas, a successful general who had recaptured parts of Asia Minor and Syria, as well as the islands of Crete and Cyprus.

Theophano then turned to a younger relative of Nicephorus, 5 John I Tzimisces, and together they plotted the assassination of the new emperor in 969.

After this usurpation John married Theophano and quickly embarked on further military campaigns.

4 Christ Crowning Constantine VII, 945

5 Aided by Theophano, John I Tzimisces scales
the palace walls in order to kill Nicephorus II Phocas,
copper engraving, 17th century



Patriarch Photius I

Basil I initially attempted to cultivate a cordial relationship with the Roman papacy and removed Photius I, the patriarch of Constantinople, from office because of his emphasis on the independence of the Byzantine Church from Rome.

Pope Nicholas I had also been angered by the success of the Slavic mission of St. Cyril and St. Methodius, initiated by Photius. After the death of his successor in 877, Photius was reinstated, which led to an open breach with Rome.

Saints Cyril and Methodius,
mural painting of Bulgarian icon-painter Zahari Zograf



The Byzantine Empire and the Crusades

The attacks of the Normans, the Seljuks, and ultimately the crusaders brought the last golden age of the Byzantine Empire to an end.


The new emperor, John I Tzimisces, conquered eastern Bulgaria in 971 and advanced further into Syria and Palestine. He arranged the marriage of Theophano, the daughter of Romanus II, to Otto II, the future Holy Roman emperor.

John was succeeded in 976 by 11 Basil II, another member of the Macedonian dynasty.

11 Emperor Basil II stands over the defeated Bulgars,
book illustration, early eleventh century

Basil conquered western Bulgaria after more than a decade of fighting. After the final victory in 1014, he had 14,000 enemy prisoners blinded, which earned him the title of the "Bulgaroctonus" ("Slayer of the Bulgars"). Basil's regency also marked the last great cultural flowering of the Byzantine Empire, which from then on was increasingly forced onto the defensive by the encroachments of its powerful enemies.

The advance of the Muslim Seljuks was particularly threatening. A crushing defeat of the Byzantines at Manzikert in Armenia in 1071 cleared the way for the Seljuks to occupy Asia Minor, where they established the sultanate of Iconium.

At the same time, struggles over the throne grew in intensity.

The female members of the court, notably 12 Zoe and 9 Eudocia, played an important role in the dynastic intrigues of the period.

8 Alexius I Comnenus, who became emperor in 1081, granted Venice, Genoa, and other leading Italian powers broad trading privileges to gain their support against the Normans, who had seized Byzantine possessions in southern Italy.

12 Empress Zoe, wife of three Byzantine
emperors, golden diadem, eleventh

9 Christ crowning Empress Eudocia
and her second husband
Romanus IV Diogenes,
ivory carving, eleventh century

8 Alexius I Comnenus,
mosaic, 12th


10 Murder of Alexios IV Angelos
by Alexius V Dukas Murtzuphlos

In the long run, however, this undermined the Byzantine economy as the state lost control of its revenues. Despite the break with the Roman Catholic Church in the Great Schism in 1054, Alexius also sought help from the pope in 1095 in his fight against the Seljuks. Although parts of Asia Minor were regained by Byzantium in the wake of the First Crusade in 1096, the new Crusader states in Syria and Palestine soon ceased to recognize the sovereignty of the Byzantine emperor.

Alexius' grandson, Manuel I, spent much of his reign fighting to regain lost provinces. Meanwhile, in 1175 the Venetians began to support the Normans, and the Byzantine Empire suffered a defeat in 1176 at the hands of the Seljuks at Myriocephalon. In 1185, the Bulgars also made themselves independent of the Byzantine Empire.

Under the influence of Venice, the Fourth Crusade used the 10 struggle over the throne to sack Constantinople in 1203 and occupy it in 1204. The Byzantine Empire was reduced to a shell of small provinces.




From the tenth century, the Byzantine emperors increasingly turned toward granting estates as payment for services rendered.

It was also possible for large property owners to be granted immunity from taxes.

When the estates and privileges became hereditary, the state also lost its control over the peasants, who had been pressed into serfdom.

The authority of the central government in the provinces deteriorated in favor of the newly established domains of a developing nobility.




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