Home / Early Christianity and Byzantium 6 B. C. – 1453 A. D.

Early Christianity and Byzantium 6 B. C. – 1453 A. D.

Important events of early Christianity 6 B. C.- 400

6 B.C.  Probable date of birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, Judea.

A.D. 24 Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist and begins his ministry.

A.D. 29 The Crucifixion of Jesus.

A.D. 30? Paul, while on the Way to Damascus to persecute the Christians, has a vision and is converted; he begins preaching.

A.D.45-47 Paul’s 1st mission takes him to several towns in Asia Minor where he founds churches.

A.D. 48 or 49 The first church council meets in Jerusalem and decides that non-Jewish Christians are not bound by the laws of Moses, opening the way for Gentile converts.

A.D. 50-53 Paul’s 2nd mission to Asia Minor and Greece.

A.D. 53-57 Paul’s 3rd mission.

A.D. 57 Paul is arrested in Jerusalem and taken to Rome to await trial before Caesar.

A.D. 64 Nero blames the fire of Rome on Christians and has many of them killed, including, according to tradition, Peter and Paul.

A.D. 133 Jerusalem is destroyed by Roman troops, making Rome one of the chief centers of the church.

A.D. 153 Justin writes his Apology defending the Christian faith.

A.D. 261 Emperor Gallienus issues the first edict of toleration for Christians, ending persecution for a time.

303 A new wave of persecution begins under Emperor Diocletian, continuing until his death in A.D. 312.

A.D. 324 Constantine, the first Christian emperor, begins to build a new capital at Byzantium.

A.D. 325 Constantine calls a church council at Nicea to discuss and settle the disputes about doctrine.

A.D. 379-395 Reign of Theodosius, who limits citizenship to Christians and outlaws other religions.

A.D. 382 Jerome begins his translation of the Old and New Testaments into Latin.

A.D. 386 Augustine is converted to Christianity and becomes a priest at Hippo in North Africa.

A.D. 390 Ambrose, bishop of Rome, forces Emperor Theodosius to do public penance for a massacre.

A.D. 400 The final arrangement of the New Testament is decided.

Important events in Byzantium and the Church A. D. 430 – 1453

A.D. 430 Augustine, now bishop of Hippo, dies.

A.D. 431 The Council of Ephesus marks the beginning of the split between the eastern and western churches.

A.D. 445 The western Emperor Valentinian III endorses the authority of the bishop of Rome, or pope; over the rest of the church.

A.D. 455 Vandals capture and sack the city of Rome.

A.D. 476 Romulus, the last western emperor, is deposed.

A. D. 527-565 Reign of Justinian the Great, who puts down a revolt and becomes an absolute monarch.

A.D. 532 Construction begins on the great cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

A.D. 638 Moslem Arabs capture the city of Jerusalem.

A.D. 726 Emperor Leo III bans religious pictures, or icons, leading to strained relations with the pope.

A.D.800 The pope crowns Charlemagne king over territory belonging to the empire, increasing the bitterness between East and West.

A.D. 867 Pope Nicholas and Photius‚  the patriarch of Constantinople excommunicate each other, splitting the church.

A. D. 878 Oleg, regent for the young Prince Igor of the Russians, captures the town of Kiev.

A. D. 907 Prince Igor assumes the throne and forces the Byzantine Empire to sign a trade treaty.

A.D. 944 A great fleet under Igor attacks Byzantium and is defeated.

A.D.990 Prince Vladimir converts to Christianity and makes it the state religion of Kievan Russia.

A.D. 1204 Crusaders, tempted by the promises of Venetian merchants, capture and loot the city of Constantinople.

A.D. 1240 The Mongol hordes capture and burn Kiev, slaughtering the inhabitants.

A.D. 1261 The Byzantines recapture Constantinople, but hold little of their former empire.

A.D. 1326 The Ottoman Turks conquer parts of the Byzantine Empire.

A.D. 1453 The Turks besiege and take Constantinople, bringing the Byzantine Empire to an end.

Byzantium and Russia 400 B. C. – 1240 A. D.


THE BEGINNINGS of Russian history date back to the centuries when Byzantium was at the height of its glory. A thousand years before that Herodotus, the Greek explorer, found Greek settlements on the northern shore of the Black Sea. They traded with the Scythians, a tribe of nomads living on the open plains that stretched eastward for thousands of miles to the mountains of Asia. Bordering these plains on the north were the forest lands and above them, in the far north, stretched the frozen wastes of the arctic tundra. In all that vast land there were no barriers, no high mountains to serve as national boundaries. Even the rivers gave little protection against invasion, for they could be crossed when they froze in the winter. As a result, there was a constant shitting of tribes, the strong pushing back the weak. The Scythians who once held the grassy plains above the Black Sea were pushed away by the Sarmatians and they in turn gave way to the Goths in the third century. An invasion of Huns from the Mongolian desert in the fourth century overran everything in its path. It pressed far into Europe, threatening both Constantinople and Rome. All the conquered peoples, including the Slavic tribes of the forest, were forced to pay taxes to Attila, king of the Huns, for many years. Upon his death in the fifth century, the power of the Huns was broken and the tribes won their freedom again. Then followed a series of tribal wars and a general shifting of populations. Where the Slavs came from originally is not known, but they first appear in history on the Vistula River in the fifth century, as subjects of the Huns. It is possible that the name Slavs really meant slaves, since the Huns …

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The Fall of Byzantium A. D. 992-1453


THE LONG struggle between the churches of the East and the West was only one of the many serious problems that weakened the empire and led to its downfall. Trade was another of its problems. Much of goods imported from the eastern world was sold to the west through Byzantine markets. A ten percent tax was collected on an imports and exports as well as on all goods passing through the Bosporus. This was one of the empire’s most important ways of collecting taxes. However, this rich flow of tax money began to get smaller and smaller in the tenth century after Basil II gave Venice, the chief port of the west, a reduced tax rate. He did it with the understanding that the large fleet of Venetian merchant ships would police the Adriatic Sea and carry troops for the empire whenever necessary. Then, in the eleventh century, the empire lost Asia Minor to Turks of the Seljuk tribe. Asia Minor was the backbone of the empire. It had served as a buffer state against invaders from the east and had provided food and materials for the empire, as well as manpower for the army. It was a serious loss from which the empire never recovered. In the twelfth century, Thebes and Corinth fell to Norman invaders. They carried off the silkworms and weavers to Italy, thus breaking the empire’s monopoly on Silk. Byzantium also suffered at the hands of the crusaders, who conquered a part of Asia Minor from the Turks as they passed through on their way to Palestine. Instead of returning this territory to the empire, they divided it and made independent kingdoms out of Antioch and Edessa. From then on, much of the eastern trade passed through these cities and was carried to the West on …

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The Church and the Empire A.D. 527-1261


CHRISTIANITY, as the official religion of Byzantium‚ was under the control of the government. The emperor was the head of both church and state and high church officials in the East recognized him as the religious leader of the land. One of them wrote, “Nothing should happen in the Church against the command or will of the Emperor.” The church organization was similar to that of the state. As its head, but under the emperor, was the patriarch of Constantinople, who was appointed by the emperor. The appointment had to be approved by high church officials, but actually they never went against the emperor’s wishes. The emperor also had power to remove the patriarch from office. Under the patriarch were the metropolitans and archbishops, who had charge of large cities and important centers in the provinces. Then came the bishops and their staffs, which included the local priests. Unlike the priests of the West, those of the East were usually married. All the high-ranking officials of the church were unmarried and came from monasteries — places where monks and other religious men lived by themselves and spent their lives in prayer and service to God. MONASTERIES AND CONVENTS There were a great many monasteries in the East and many similar places for women, called convents. Many of these institutions helped the poor. Some provided hospitals, while others ran schools where the children of the poor could be educated. In time there came to be so many monasteries that they created problems for the empire. Many people went to live in them to escape from the army, or from the burden of public office. Monasteries became very wealthy, holding great tracts of land. Since they were usually not subject to taxes, the empire lost a large portion of its land-tax money …

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Byzantine Glory A.D. 610-1057


The period from 610 to 717 was one of the darkest in Byzantine history. During that time, the edges of the empire crumbled under the pressure of powerful enemies. A people from northern Italy, the Lombards, conquered more than half of Italy. In central Arabia, the Arab tribes had joined together under the religion of Mohammed and marched against their neighbors. They took the kingdom of Persia, invaded Palestine and in 658 captured Jerusalem. The conquering Moslems, as the followers of Mohammed were called, swept on and soon took over Syria and Egypt. They marched along the northern shore of Africa and took Carthage in 697, then sailed across the Mediterranean and captured Spain. By this time the empire seemed all but doomed. It had been reduced to Asia Minor, the Balkan Peninsula and southern Italy. Shortly after Leo III had been crowned emperor he was forced to defend Constantinople during the Arab siege of 717-718. Later he drove them back on the Taurus front. After saving the empire from the Arabs, he organized the country into military districts and placed a military government over each of them. This system, together with Justinian’s fortresses, made the empire’s defenses stronger than ever before. The empire reached the height of its glory under Basil I and his descendants, a period lasting from 867 to 1057. Most of the emperors of this period were brilliant military leaders and good administrators. Under them the empire regained its strength, beat back the Arabs in South Italy and in the East forced the Arabs back to the Euphrates, overran Cilicia and Syria, and pushed down into Palestine to the gates of Jerusalem. On the European side, Basil II crushed the mighty empire of the Bulgars. DIPLOMACY AND TREACHERY Byzantine emperors often used treachery to weaken their …

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The Great Justinian A.D. 532-565


THE STREETS of Constantinople were thronged that Tuesday morning in January of 532. Public buildings were closed. Shops on the Street of the Silversmiths were barred and shuttered. The barracks at Strategium were occupied by regiments of soldiers which had recently arrived from the frontiers. The soldiers had orders to stay in their quarters, for this was a day of the people. It was the opening day of the great chariot races at the Hippodrome. Most of the people in the crowded streets wore winter cloaks and carried their lunches. Ordinary citizens did not wear Roman togas, for that was the dress of high officials. There were beggars in rags, shaven Bulgars wearing iron-chain belts, oriental merchants in turbans and flowing robes, black-haired Asians with pointed beards, Russians in furs and seamen from Genoa and Venice. At the Hippodrome, groups of local farmers led by priests were among the first to take their seats in the marble tiers above the vast arena. Banners whipped in the wind as the tiers filled up. Latecomers jammed the promenade that ran along above the highest of the tiers. The usual first-day excitement gripped the huge crowd, about forty thousand in all, but something was missing. People looked more serious than usual and spoke to each other in low voices. It was plain that they were uneasy. Their uneasiness had to do with the peasant from Macedonia who had been ruling over them for several years as Emperor Justinian. This first day of the races was the time when people could meet their emperor face to face and express their feelings toward him. They had some strong feelings about Justinian. They feared him, too, and that was the reason for their uneasiness. RIOT AT THE HIPPODROME Justinian knew that the people were complaining, but they were …

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The New Capital: Constantinople A. D. 306-532


EMPEROR Constantine’s decision to build a new capital for the Roman Empire in the East did not come as a surprise to the people of the empire. Rome had lost much of its influence as the seat of government and emperors avoided the city. They preferred to build castles for themselves in distant provincial cities. Emperor Maximian, for example, had ruled from Milan. Emperor Diocletian had moved to Nicomedia, far to the east in Asia Minor and ruled from there. Constantine had many good reasons for turning eastward in searching for a site for his new capital. Most of the important activities and interests of the empire lay far to the east of Rome. The great trade centers at Ephesus, Antioch and Alexandria were all in the East. For centuries, the kingdoms beyond the eastern frontiers had been weak and peaceful. Now the Sassanids, a new royal family of Persia, had risen to power and become a serious threat. The East German tribes, particularly the Goths, had also become a threat, building up their strength on the Danube. As a man of the sword, Constantine knew well that the empire was in danger of being invaded. A capital city in the East, within striking distance of the Danube and the eastern front, would help the empire standoff attacks from either direction. There was also an advantage in having the capital city close to the Balkans, for there the empire recruited its finest soldiers. Constantine himself had come from there. His personal pride may have been still another reason. Many Roman emperors were great builders. They were proud men and they liked to build roads and great buildings which would stand for centuries as memorials to their greatness. A new capital city would bring him fame and glorify his memory for …

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Great Church Fathers A.D. 340-430


IT WAS about the middle of Lent in Antioch, reported Jerome, when “a deep-seated fever fell upon my weakened body, and . . . it so wasted my unhappy frame that scarcely anything was left of me but skin and bone. Meanwhile, preparations for my funeral went on; my body grew gradually colder and the warmth of life lingered only in my throbbing breast. Suddenly I was caught up in the spirit and dragged before the judgment-seat . . .” Then follows a long account of his dream in which Christ scolded him for his devotion to the works of the Roman writer Cicero. In his dream Jerome took an oath that he would never again read a worldly book. “Thenceforth I read the books of God with a zeal greater than I had previously given to the books of men . . .” That was the turning point in the life of Jerome, who went on to become the most outstanding scholar of the ancient western church. JEROME THE SCHOLAR Jerome was born of well-to-do Christian parents about 340. He studied in Rome, where he was baptized at the age of twenty. His brilliant mind and restless energy drove him to explore religion and the classics. From 366 to 370 he traveled about in Gaul from city to city. Later he traveled through the eastern part of the empire. In Antioch he became seriously ill and had the famous dream in which Christ lectured to him. The dream must have been very real to him. As soon as he was well enough, he went into the Syrian desert and lived there as a hermit for six years. Then he returned to Antioch to become a priest. He continued his studies in Constantinople. In 382 he went to Rome and …

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The Growing Church A. D. 100-500


AT THE beginning of the second century, the Christian Church was a loosely organized group of independent local churches. There had been no strong leadership since the days of the apostles, no recognized authority to whom they could turn to settle their differences concerning the faith. Paul’s epistles had cleared up many points for them, but new questions were constantly arising. The Roman church had been taking a leading role for some time. There were a number of reasons for this. According to tradition, both Paul and Peter had died in Rome. It was the only church in the western half of the empire associated with any of the apostles. The fact that it was located in the capital city of Rome naturally added to its standing. The churches of Asia Minor had lost strength as a result of false teachings and disagreements within the churches themselves. Jerusalem, having been destroyed in the Second Jewish War in the year 133, had practically ceased to exist. Furthermore, it was in Rome that the Apostles’ Creed was written and the New Testament authorized. Antioch was still an important centre, but no outstanding leaders came from it during the second century. By the end of that century, therefore, Rome was recognized as the church with the greatest influence in the Christian world. The church continued to grow in spite of the great general persecutions that began in the middle of the third century. These persecutions came in waves for a period of over fifty years. During the worst of them, Christians of Rome held their meetings in the catacombs, or underground cemeteries, where hundreds of tunnel and chambers offered them safety. DISPUTES IN THE CHURCH New questions of interpretation were constantly coming up to threaten the traditional faith. These questions usually had to …

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Rome and the Christian Church A.D. 64 -180


TRUMPETS sounded the fire alarm in Rome on the night of July 18, in the year 64. It seemed that the flames first broke out in the crowded section near the Great Circus and spread rapidly, driven by a strong wind to row after row of wooden houses. Sparks carried by the wind started other fires. People fled in panic. The fire roared on unchecked, continuing for six days and six nights. When it was finally brought under control, most of the city lay in ruins. People could not believe that one small accidental fire somewhere could have caused all that damage. Some thought several fires had started at the same time. They looked about for someone to blame. Soon they began saying that Nero, the emperor, had set the fire himself. Others said that he had murdered members of his own family and the angry gods were striking back with thunderbolts from the sky. Frightened by such talk, Nero turned suspicion away from himself by blaming the Christians. Not much was known about them, but since they were members of the poorer classes they were looked upon with suspicion. The bread and wine of their suppers, which represented the body and blood of Jesus, led many Romans to believe that the Christians were actually cannibals. There were rumors that Christians killed and ate small children at their secret meetings. Nero’s persecution of the Christians, therefore, proved to be highly popular. The prisons were soon filled with a “great multitude” of Christians and executions and brutal tortures went on day after day in Nero’s Circus, which was located where St. Peter’s Cathedral stands today. Peter and Paul may have been executed during or shortly after this wave of persecution. The “great multitude” that filled the prisons suggests that the Christian …

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Paul of Tarsus A. D. 35 – 64


THERE was one man who had more to do with the future of the Christian church than even the apostles themselves, and his name was Paul, or Saul in Hebrew. He was the greatest of all Christian missionaries. Much more is known about Paul than about other leaders of the early church, for he wrote or dictated long letters of instruction and encouragement to various missions he had established. These letters were called epistles. A number of them were preserved and published. In addition, most of the Acts of the Apostles, the fifth book of the New Testament, deals with Paul and his teachings. Taken together, his epistles and the chapters of the Acts devoted to him make up almost one half of the New Testament. One of the most amazing things about Paul was that he first came to the attention of the brethren in Jerusalem as a dangerous enemy of the church. He was first mentioned in the Acts as one of those present during the stoning of Stephen: “And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” He was one of the angry mob crying for the blood of Stephen, and he guarded the cloaks of the executioners while they were casting their stones. Paul was the kind of man who had to live by his faith. He was a Pharisee, well-educated in the Law, proud of his rich Jewish heritage and deeply loved the God of Israel. Anyone who mocked or offended God was guilty of blasphemy and deserved to be punished. There was no doubt in Paul’s mind that Stephen was guilty. Paul hated him for it and eagerly joined with those whom he believed to be carrying out the Lord’s punishment. According to tradition, Paul was short, …

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