The Byzantine Empire, the sparkle of the Middle Age
The Byzantine Empire, also known as Eastern Roman Empire, was the most powerful and the oldest civilization of the Middle Age. It was so important that some consider that with its fall, the Middle Age ended.
However, the best of all is that you probably don´t know how important this civilization is for your own life. Thanks to the Byzantine people you can, for example, eat with a fork, read non-religious books or be treated fairly by a court.
Here you have some of the achievements of this powerful, important but also forgotten empire...
The Byzantine Empire conserved the Roman law and they even improved it. Thanks to the emperor Justinian and his Corpus Iuris Civilis you are not guilty until it´s proven and you have to be treated fairly by a professional court. The Byzantine law is the base of most of the modern laws and without it... you would be probably executed like scum because you have stolen one apple (don´t visit the Arabia of the 6th century please...)
The books existed out of the Byzantine Empire during the Middle Age, of course. But you know, the nobility and the clergy of, for example, France or England preferred the Holy Bible more than the damn pagan Iliad.
So then, the Byzantine Empire became the refuge for the secular works. Novels were written, ancient works such as the mentioned Iliad were filed and enjoyed and the poetry was conserved by the Byzantine nobility (the Emperor Manuel II, for example, wrote some poems).
A Byzantine princess, called Theophanu, introduced the fork in the Holy Roman Empire (today´s Germany) during the 10th century. She also introduced the very healthy habit of have a daily bath. She astonished the German court by using forks and having baths. Slowly the fork became very common and by the 18th century everyone used to eat with a fork... it is better than eat with the hands...
Thanks to the Byzantine Empire we can buy silk everywhere. The “recipe” of this fabric was secret until the Emperor Justinian sent a couple of priests to China... and those priests brought with them the first silkworms of Western history. During centuries, the Byzantine Empire was the unique producer of silk in Europe, but the secret didn´t last forever... and the Byzantine Empire lost the monopoly against the Islamic nations like, for example, Granada.
The Byzantine monuments and artistic works are everywhere around the Mediterranean. From mosaics depicting Byzantine emperors (like the one in the Italian city of Ravena depicting emperor Justinian) to the greatest cathedral of the Middle Age, Hagia Sophia. There are thousands of Byzantine buildings in the eastern Mediterranean (most of them churches). However, if you visit them today, they will be probably converted mosques or have a new use as concert halls.
Byzantine Army, Navy and Tactics
The Byzantine Imperial Army, along with their grand navy, changed the wars forever. Their army was based on the Roman ancient tactics, but they introduced a new (and improved) cavalry called Cataphract which led them to the victory in hundreds of battles. When the Cataphracts weren´t enough to face the enemy, they modified an ancient tactic in order to make it more agile and easier to execute: the retreatment. And sometimes the Byzantines were considered as cowards because of their strategy of “retreat before defeat”.
On the other hand, the Byzantine navy was the strongest of its time, and was even able to attack (and defeat) the powerful Arab navy. The Byzantine ships were very fast and agile, but the key element of the maritime Byzantine warfare was the greekfire, whose “ingredients” were lost during the Battle of Constantinople in 1453.
The Byzantine Empire fell in 1453. However, during the previous decades, the Byzantine scientists and erudite escaped to Italy, where they founded libraries, designed temples, and wrote books about practically everything. Thanks to the Byzantine knowledge, the Renaissance started and, with it, a new golden age for Europe and its countries. Our culture is based on the knowledge of the Byzantine Empire.
These are just a few examples of the grand legacy that the Byzantine Empire gave, unconsciously, to us. The echoes of a forgotten empire are allowing you to do whatever you do usually. So now enjoy your books, your forks, your church, your clothes and your culture... because millions of Byzantines died to let you read all those “boring” books of the library or have a daily bath...