History of the Byzantine Empire | Episode 0 | Dividing An Empire

Do you like Game of Thrones? The story of a mythical world with immortal
fire, scheming eunuchs, and barbarians mercenaries serving powerful Monarchs. Then you’ll love the story of the Byzantine
Empire. The eastern part of the Roman Empire that
stood for another 1000 years after the Western half ceased to exist. A place where ambitious Queen’s blinded
their sons, were viking mercenaries fought off a laundry list of enemies using flaming
hand grenades, and where the Church was so intertwined with the state that the smallest
theological issues could cause riots. Ruled from one of the greatest cities in history. Constantinople, whose fine architecture still
impresses today, whose impenetrable walls defended it for centuries, and was so magnificent
that in Old Norse and modern Icelandic the city is known as Miklagard or The Great City. The city even had it’s own beacon warning
system, like a real life Gondor. This is the story of a Roman Empire that survived
through the “Dark Ages” and kept the Greco-Roman culture alive. Over this video series I will try and cover
the entirety of Byzantine history, it’s politics, it’s culture, and it’s warfare
and I hope that it will be a fascinating and fun journey for all of us. So let’s begin. INTRO This episode will act as like an Episode 0
of what will become a long multi episode series that will cover the entire history from the
beginning to the end of the Byzantine Empire in 1543. Which is when the messy history of the middle
east begins. There will be links in the description to
the video and to Knowing Betters channel. First of all who were the Byzantines and what
was the Byzantine empire? You see no one is history would ever have
referred to themselves as Byzantine, especially not the people that lived in what we call
the Byzantine empire. They called themselves Romans, and considered
themselves just as Roman as Julius Caesar or Augustus would have, and their neighbours
would have seen them as Romans too. When the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II conquered
Constantinople, he took the title Caesar of Rome, seeing himself as another successor
in a long line of Roman Emperors. It wasn’t until 1557, a century after the
fall of the empire that the label Byzantine appears and it wasn’t until the 19th century
that it came into common use. It is really just the Eastern Roman Empire. But for simplicity’s sake I will refer to
it as the Byzantine empire throughout this series. Now Byzantium was the name for the Greek city
that existed in the location that would become Constantinople, which will be founded in the
next episode. The Byzantine Empire begins to emerge in the
Crisis of the Third Century AD. Which was a time in Roman history filled with
just…just chaos. In the centuries before the Crisis Rome had
been expanding it’s territory. Trading, growing rich and building beautiful
monuments while paving it’s empire with more than 80,000 KM of perfectly engineered
roads. This wealth however made them a target and
those roads made it easier for invading armies to criss-cross the empire. In the west tribes such as the Alamanni, Vandals,
and Goths were raiding and encroaching on Roman territory. The Parthian Empire had been reformed under
their new leader Ardashir into the Sassanid Empire and were striking from the East and
Dragons such as Smaug came in from the North attracted by Rome’s giant piles of gold….wait
that last part might not be 100% correct.. Throughout the period Generals constantly
used their legions to wage civil wars on Rome itself. Having their soldiers proclaiming them as
Emperor. From 235–284 AD there were at least 26 people
claiming to be Roman Emperor. The legions that forged Rome were now it’s
greatest threat and this constant state of crisis led to economic depression as short
lived Emperors tried to extract as much wealth as possible from the people in order to pay
their armies, lest someone else use them to make themselves Emperor. Too far from the empire’s borders to effectively
deal with problems as they arose, Rome had ceased being a useful imperial city, and the
Empire’s focus had been shifting East for a while now. The East is where most of the wealth and urban
centres were anyway. This all came to an end in 283AD when the
Emperor Carus was “apparently” dot dot dot, killed after being struck by lighting
and a low born man from Dalmatia named Diocletian was proclaimed Emperor by the troops. He would become the only proclaimed emperor
in that century that would die a natural death. Diocletian realised that he needed to put
an end to people rising to power like he did. If any general could become Emperor then there
would never be peace and civil wars would continue to rage. As whenever an Emperor would move to go deal
with a problem, say a war in the West another would-be Emperor would proclaim himself in
the East and vice-versa. This weakened Rome’s ability to deal with
any problems. The empire was too big for one man to rule. In the age of horse and foot messengers there
was no way Diocletian could deal with problems arising across the empire fast enough. He had to do the opposite of what most Roman
Emperors would have wanted. He had to shrink the Empire. So Diocletian promoted his buddy Maximian
to co-emperor and both ruled as Augusti, which was the honorific title given to Roman Emperor’s. Diocletian ruled the far richer East while
Maximian was given the West. The divide was easy because the Empire was
already split by language. The West spoke Latin while the East spoke
Greek. Now the empire wasn’t officially split in
any way, it was still a single Roman Empire. But both co-emperors had their own respective
spheres. No one knew it yet, but the Byzantine Empire
had just begun. Diocletian soon realised that Rome lacked
a clear line of succession. Whenever an Emperor died there was a scramble
for power which threw the Empire into chaos. So in order to plan for that Diocletian split
the power again. Both Augusti would have Caesars, which was
another honorific title. Usually given to the heir-apparent of the
reigning Emperor. These Junior Emperors would have their own
spheres of influence and could lead armies and issue laws by themselves which reduced
the workload of the senior Emperors. Now the empire had a clear ruler in each quarter
that could quickly and effectively deal with problems. This rule of four is known as the Tetrarchy
and began when Diocletian and Maximian formally adopted Galerius and Constantius as sons in
293. The best thing about this system was that
the Junior Emperor’s learned how to rule before they became actual emperors and they
would have the respect of their subjects already. Diocletian reformed many aspects of the empire. He doubled the number of provinces from fifty
to almost one hundred and grouped the provinces together into twelve dioceses, each governed
by a vicar who reported directly to his emperor. You can see how the Catholic Church borrowed
vocabulary from the Empire that surrounded it. Under this system it became easier to collect
taxes and so wealth poured into the Empire. Meaning that Diocletian could pay soldiers
to guard the frontiers from invaders and markets reopened and roads remained safe. Most importantly Diocletian changed what the
Emperor was. For most of Rome’s history they despised
Kings. So even when the Republic ended and Emperors
ruled with absolute power they still pretended that they were one of the people, the “first
among equals”. But Diocletian thought that this led to rebellion
because if the Emperor is just a normal man then anyone can be emperor. So he had to make people think that he was
on a much higher level than them. He established impressive courtly rituals
that had to be performed before him, he stopped dining with troops, and started wearing some
pretty fancy gold robes. He became the representative of Jupiter himself
on Earth. Now a rebellion or assassination would be
sacrilegious. Who would dare undermine the will of the Gods. Unknowingly Diocletian had established how
the monarchs of the Byzantine Empire would rule for the next 1000 years. To fully cement this position though he had
to stamp out those cultists that believed in only one-God, those bizarre Christians
that had been growing more and more popular lately. Which makes sense. When you’re a peasant that’s being repeatedly
pillaged by germanic tribesmen and then taxed into oblivion the mean gods of the Roman pantheon
and their dark afterlife no longer seem appealing compared to a religion with one God that promises
fun rewards after you’re dead. The idea of a single God above everything
else kind of undermines the concept of a god-emperor. So Diocletian issued an edict that persecuted
the Christians. Churches were burned and property and wealth
were confiscated and this didn’t make Diocletian very popular with later Christians. Finally after Diocletian had stabilized the
empire. Increased wealth and prosperity and firmly
placed all barbarians behind the gates and set up a succession that wouldn’t throw
the empire into chaos he did something unprecedented in the Empire’s history. He and his co-emperor Maximian stepped down
and allowed their Caesars to take over their roles as Augusti. Diocletian retired to become a cabbage farmer
and the modern city of Split in Croatia grew out of his palace. He retired after his long 20 year reign, after
dedicating his entire youth to stabilising the Empire, knowing that it was now secure
in it’s position and could grow under the leadership of men he trusted. Stay tuned for the next episode to see how
it all falls apart, leading to the founding of Constantinople, and those pesky Christians
taking over the empire. I can’t claim that this video series will
be an exhaustive or definitive history of the Byzantine Empire. Trying to tell the story of an empire that
lasted 11 centuries will unfortunately require leaving things out and glossing over others. My goal here is to give you an overview of
the Byzantine Empire. A base from which you can go forth and explore
on your own. I hope you enjoyed this video and I hope you
stick around for the rest of the series as things begin to heat up. Please subscribe so that you are notified
when new episodes are released and let me know your opinion in the comments below. I pay close attention to them and really appreciate
the feedback. Knowing Better

Comments 60

  • first!!!!!!!!

  • History of United Kingdom

  • I'm really excited for this series.

  • yo heads up maybe in future episodes eastern orthodox christian priests don't really look like catholic priests. They have beards and cooler looking hats.

  • Very well done !

  • I will be following this series but:

    If anyone here is interested in getting a very in dept history of Rome/Byzantium, I highly recommend the podcast, A History of Rome by Mike Duncan, as well as the podcast A History of Byzantium. They are both very long, hundreds of episodes, but so detailed and interesting if you want to know all their is to know about Rome.

  • Nice accent

  • What's your favourite period or event in Byzantine history if you have one?
    Check out Knowing Better's video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8FSTN1aY3w&t=0s

  • Amazing video, I can tell you put a lot of work into it! You deserve the quick growth you're having!

  • "I would have gotten away with it, if it wasn't for those pesky christians".

  • 1453 never forget

  • It's worth pointing out that, while an image of the emperor as divinely appointed was propagated by the imperial court, this never translated into any real security for any given emperor. Roman citizens didn't tend to care about whether an emperor was god's right hand man or not, if he was perceived as incompetently governing the republic he was deposed.

  • "Yo what are we binge watching on Netflix tonight?" Nah man we out here binging that free Cogito

  • Cool video but pls make Dacia pls nobody made it

  • Looks interesting (and I am now going to have to definitely put the topics of 'how did the Roman empire split' and 'what was a Roman emperor' on the backburner for a while)! Looking forward to the next one.

  • Shows Constantinople's fine architecture, points at the Fatih Mosque built to celebrate Mehmed II……

  • Why is Mindanao near Iberia?!?

  • That was a really interesting video. History is always there to teach us how to face the future. The story of Christianity's ascendency should be fascinating.

  • Great summary, loved the video!

  • This makes me want to play Age of Empires! Looking forward to the rest of the series

  • Awesome video!
    Cool Idea, always wanted to learn more about this strange empire and the seperation of the Roman Empire.
    Looking forward for the next episode!

  • Ahh an X220? I see you are a man of culture aswell

  • Hello!

  • Aside from turning himself into a pharaoh, sounds like he had some good ideas. I mean, it was never going to work in the long run because just one selfish and petty heir can destroy a dynasty. But it was better than the stuff that came before.

  • The more you people call it Byzantine the more history is raped of truth. There is no such thing as Byzantine empire except in the mind and books of ideological , lazy and ignorant historians . It was the Roman Empire they called themselves Romans and us entitled punks that were not even a fart in the time of these people have no business naming them something else. Stop being lazy you know it is the Roman Empire so call it that. You perpetuate a false narrative calling it Byzantine.

  • Amazing video. I had no idea I loved the Byzantine empire so much until now. I especially like the bit about the city split growing out of the Emperors palace since I’ve visited it!

    This video deserves way more views. Gonna share it for ya!

  • Great work! Hope you get more subs quickly

  • Currently listening to History of Byzantium podcast and found this which I really love all the cute humor added to the videos. Great format and story telling as I look forward to more videos!

  • Did the Byzantine empire have a Senate like the western empire?

  • 1:05
    HuMoR VauLT?

  • Wow. This video is incredibly well made with great visuals and equally as great commentary. Very informative while keeping the information itself easily digestible and entertaining. I've been wondering how the Byzantines came to be, so this series is a great starting point. Keep up the good work!

  • As a Byzantinophile, Have you read
    History of the Byzantine State by George Ostrogorsky
    The Byzantines by Averil Cameron
    The War of the Three Gods by Peter Crawford
    Justinian's Flea by William Rosen
    The Byzantine Wars by John Haldon
    The Byzantine Art of War
    A Social History…
    This series is a dream come true


  • Crisis of the turd century xD

  • Came here from Knowing Better. You've got my subscribe!

  • yo wtf is thet huge island next to iberia wtf

  • 2:50 "turd sandwich AD"
    lmao im just pulling your leg, good video

  • You broke my heart when you capitulated and refered to the Eastern Roman Empire as Byzantine.

  • Diocletian also created paper fiat currencies, didn't he?

  • Byzantinology is my favorite subject. I've studied it for nearly a decade and I can never get enough of it…I'm so excited to have found your channel! I can't wait to learn more!

  • Now in the West we name our dogs Diocletian and our children with Christian names

  • My mind is just getting fucked at how often science and myth converge, lately.

  • Why don't you hire someone who can pronounce "TH" to narrate the video? Do you love the Game of Trones. An empire that lasted a tousand years

  • I’m interested in knowing about Byzantine economy can you cover that?

  • you are amazing

  • When Constantine became emperor.

  • I'd watch a Game of Thrones esque story about the Byzantines

  • I came into this vid part way, just listening. Is this about the US?

  • 0:51 Actually Gondor was inspired by the Late Roman Empire so it makes sense.

  • Was watching knowing better and grabbed the link. Great video! I really enjoyed the detail. As many videos as needed please 😊. So tired of the glossed over and rushed info from schools…

  • turd century

  • Pretty solid start to the video, but your listed sources are outdated, and that begins to show near the end. Diocletian's attempts to make the emperor's more than just a princeps starting what is called the Dominate is an outdated idea. Though emperors tried furiously to change their personas into something more than just another Roman, they never quite succeeded. Throughout the history of the Eastern Roman Empire making very, very rude songs about the emperor was something of a common hobby. Also, legally speaking emperors could only rule with the express consent of the people and had to make sure they had their support. The whole divine ruler thing was a veneer plastered over the political reality that the people could, and did at any time decide an emperor's time was up. Not god, not the emperor himself, the people decided who ruled.

  • I just noticed something. The Islandic name Miklagardh for Byzantine is equivalent to Michel-Garten in German which can be translated into English as Mighty-Guarded. The same idea is behind words like gardh, burgh, citadel from which we have garden, bourgeoise, burgher, Bürger, burgesses, and citizen, city. All these words are based on the notion of protection (behind walls, fences). The Islandic name therefore could also be translated as mightily defended or mighty walls, or as the narrator said mighty city(a defended place).

  • Hey, in the Captions, @01:24, it says the end of the empire in "1543" (the audio clearly says 1453). nice video!

  • "…and Dragons, such as Smaug, came in from the north," UP VOTE

  • Latin and Greek speaking halves? YES! FINALLY! Somebody with an actual following says it! You get a gold star, sir! (From the office of the Geographer in Chief, of course – don't ask silly questions.)

  • This is awesome

  • 3:38 lol.

  • Large sections of Diocletian's palace still exist, in the middle of Split – it was nice to see that depiction of it as it was.

  • I love your videos man! I learn here more than my school! I just subscribed!

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