Byzantine Empire or Roman Empire

Essential Question

What are the differences between the Byzantine Empire and the Roman Empire?

The Byzantine Empire vs. The Roman Empire

Constantinople was a major trade route among Europeans, Africans, and Asians. Because of this, the people of Constantinople were exposed to new ideas from other cultures. They blended those ideas with their own Roman, Christian, and Greek roots. Non-Roman influences took hold throughout the empire. People began to speak Greek, the language of the eastern empire, rather than Latin. Scholars studied Greek, not Roman, philosophy. Gradually, the empire lost its ties to the old Roman Empire, and a new society developed the Byzantine Empire.

The Byzantine's still preserved important Roman laws like the Twelve Tables but then Emperor Justinian removed any out-of-date or un-Christian laws to simplify it. He also integrated more Christian elements into the law like fair treatment for all.

Byzantine emperors were the leaders of both the church and the government. In the west,

The Byzantines thought the emperor had been chosen by God to lead both the empire and the church. Eastern emperors also had more power than Roman emperors in the west. The Western emperor was limited to political power. Popes and bishops ruled the church, but only the emperor held political power.

Christianity was central to the Byzantine Empire. It was illegal to practice any other religion. Artwork dealt with religious themes. Byzantine artists of the period are known for making spectacular mosaics, pictures that are made from pieces of colored glass and stone.

For hundreds of years, the church leaders of the east and west worked together. As time passed, people in the east and west began to interpret and practice Christianity differently. For example, eastern priests could get married, while priests in the west could not. Religious services were performed in Greek in the east. In the west, they were held in Latin. The differences between their ideas continued to grow. In time the differences led to a split within the Christian Church. Shortly after 1000, the church split in two. Christians in the east formed what is known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. This religious division opened a huge cultural gap between eastern and western Europe.

Discussion Questions

  • What issues united early Christians? What issues divided them?

  • How did the Pope's authority become a divisive issue between Christians in the East and Christians in the West?

  • What was the iconoclast? What effect did it have on Christians in the East and West?

  • What is the Great Schism?

Roman Catholic vs. Eastern Orthodox

Roman Catholic Church

  • Popular in the West

  • Centered in Rome

  • Pope has authority over the Bishops

  • Further away from the capital (Constantinople)

  • Latin is the official language of the Church

  • Pope has authority over kings and emperors

  • Priests can not marry

  • Divorce is not permitted

  • The use of icons and holy images is allowed

Eastern Orthodox Church

  • Popular in the East

  • Centered in Constantinople

  • Patriarch and other bishops share authority

  • Close to the capital (Constantinople)

  • Greek is the official language of the Church

  • Emperor has authority over the Patriarch & bishops

  • Priest can marry

  • Divorce is allowed

  • The emperor outlawed icons and holy images

Discussion Questions

  • How does the relationship between church and state differ in the West?

  • How does the relationship between church and state differ in the East?

  • What are two differences between the East and West?

  • Why might the Byzantine Emperor wanted the two churches to remain separate?

Activity: How similar and different are the Roman and Byzantine Empires?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities