Byzantine Empire [Palaiologos dynasty] (1259-1453)

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Christ Pantocrator
Hyperpyron of Michael VIII
Andronikos II’s debasement of the currency
Byzantine Crucifix
Mosaics and murals, Chora Church

Pala D’Oro
Medal of the Emperor John VIII Palaiologos
Constantine XI depicted in semi-classical armour

The Byzantine Empire, aka the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces. These names were bestowed by historians after the era, those living it called themselves the Roman Empire and themselves as Romans. Its capital city was Constantinople and it survived beyond the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th c CE and continued for an additional thousand years until falling to the Ottoman Empire in 1453.

During most of its existence, the Byzantine empire was the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe. The Palaeologus was a Byzantine Greek family that rose to nobility and produced the last and longest-ruling dynasty of the Byzantine Empire that lasted almost two hundred years, from 1259-1453.

In the 12th c, the Palaiologoi were members of the military aristocracy, but did not hold any administrative or political offices, They frequently intermarried with the ruling Komnenos family increasing their prestige.

In 1259, Michael VIII Palaiologos became co-emperor to the young John IV Laskaris through a coup and in 1261, following the recapture of Constantinople from the Latin Empire, John IV was deposed and blinded. Much of the Palaiologan period was a time of decline, due to internal strife in the family and due to a host of enemies – Bulgarians, Ottomans and Serbs.

In 1453 the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and killed the last Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos, in the process.


The top image is the detail from the 1261 deesis mosaic, in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, of Christ Pantocrator. Pantocrator means ‘ruler of all’ or almighty and is a feature ot the Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Catholic churches, it does not feature in Western Catholicism or Protestantism.
The bottom image is the oldest known Christ Pantocrator from the 6th c and Saint Catherine;s Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula. Note that the two sides of Christ’s face are different, it is suggested that this was to show he was both a man and God.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Michael VIII Palaiologos was co-emperor of the Empire of Nicaea (1259-1261) and then
Byzantine Emperor from 1261 until his death. He was the founder of the Palaiologan dynasty, taking Constantinople back from the Latin Empire. His descendants would rule the Byzantine Empire until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

The top image is a 15th c portrait of the Byzantyne Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. The artist is not known, it is on show at the National Library of Russia.

The lower image is a gold hyperpyron coin showing Michael kneeling before Christ, watched by the Archangel Michael.
The top image is a 14th c painting of the Byzantine emperor Andronikos II (1282-1328). Andronikos’ reign was marked by the beginning of the decline of the Byzantine Empire. During his reign the Turks took most of the western Anatolian parts of his empire. During the last years of his reign, he faced a civil war mounted by his grandson Andronikos. This led to Andronikos II’s forced abdication in 1328, he retired to a monastery, where he spent the last four years of his life.

As a result Andronikos presided over a debasement of the Byzantine currency to fund his defence. The bottom image shows the resultant ‘clipped’ coins.

Image source:

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Byzantine Cross had outwardly widening ends. It was adopted by other Christian cultures of the time, such as the Franks and Goths. This image is the Crucifix of Pisa.

The other striking element of the Byzantine Crucifix is the figure of Christ. He is not hanging from the cross, not a corpse. Instead he is shown as God radiating the hope of the Resurrection. It does not show death by crucifixion, it instead depicts the nobility of eternal life.

The Byzantine cross often has the Holy Virgin and Saint John and other scenes that detract from the crucifixion itself.
The Chora Church in Istanbul had been ransacked when the Crusaders invaded Constantinople. In 1315, Andronikos II appointed a wealthy Orthodox Byzantine aristocrat, Metochites, to restore the church.

Metochites commissioned mosaics and murals as part of his restoration, Sadly these were later covered up by the Ottomans when it became a mosque in 1500. But the church became the Karyiye museum in 1945 and they were again revealed. In 2020 it was converted back to a mosque.

The middle image is of a mosaic showing the journey into Bethlehem.

The bottom image is a mural showing Virgin and Child.

Image source: lonelyplanet.com

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: hum54-15.omeka.fas.harvard.edu

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Pala d’Oro (Golden Cloth) is the high altar retable of the Basilica di San Marco in Venice, and is universally recognized as one of the most refined and accomplished works of Byzantine enamel.

It is thought to have been started in 976 by Doge Pietro Orseolo, and was expanded in 1105 by Doge Ordelaffo Falier. In 1345 the goldsmith Giovanni Paolo Bonesegna was commissioned to complete the altarpiece.

The development was continued by other artists so that the whole is 3m wide and 2m tall. It is fabricated in gold and silver, has 187 enamel plaques and 1,927 gemstones. 526 pearls, 330 garnets, 320 emeralds, 255 sapphires, 183 amethysts, 175 agates, 75 rubies, 34 topazes, 16 carnelians, and 13 jaspers. The lower image is a close-up view.
Medal of the Emperor John VIII Palaiologos during his visit to Florence (1438). The artwork was by Pisanello an early Renaissance painter.

He was the penultimate Byzantine emperor from 1425-1448. He was also the last reigning Byzantine emperor to die of natural causes.

The legend reads, in Greek, ‘John the Palaiologos, basileus and autokrator of the Romans’.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Constantine XI, the last Byzantine emperor, depicted in semi-classical armour. He was aggressive towards the Ottomans and they responded.

Memhed II, aka Memhed the Conqueror, was the Ottoman Sultan who succeeded in invading Constantinople in 1453. His army was variously estimated at 80,000 to 200,000 men and many canon. The Ottoman canon breached the walls and Constantine XII tried to defend it. The last Roman emperor died fighting, his body was not discovered and so he was believed to have been cosigned to a mass grave.

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