Advancements of the Byzantine Empire

Like the Romans and Greeks before them, Byzantine society was very sophisticated. There were theaters, competitions, large feasts and a high level of social interaction. Many new styles of architecture and warfare also emerged from the Byzantine’s. There were also amenities in personal life such as baths, drinking fountains and toilets that did not require dumping. Furthermore, Constantinople’s location had a favorable climate and it had grown to become a major stop on the Mediterranean trade route. Citizens could browse the world’s wealth of riches right from their own port. These sophistications show the golden age the Byzantine Empire was in, starting in the early sixth century with Justinian the Great under control.

The sanitation system they had in place is fundamentally the same as in any city today. Aqueducts also ran city wide carrying clean water alongside sewers that waste water away. While most civilizations of the time were journeying to a water source every day, residents of Constantinople didn’t even have to leave their houses. Specifically in contrast to most of Europe, where a chamber pot would be used then dumped into the street, Constantinople was a paradise. Cholera and dysentery were common in Europe because of the unsanitary conditions. The sanitation system played an important role in the especially built up parts of the city of Constantinople. Especially the latrines around the Hippodrome. Constantinople was able to remain the beautiful, Christian city it was because of effects of the sanitation system.

Aqueducts

There is an increase in lifespan that came at the same time as the completion of the city-wide sanitation system. People started to live until 50 or 60 whereas 100 years prior, 40 was considered old and wise. This is partly due to the sanitation system and partly because doctors were learning so much from previous generations. The Imperial Library of Constantinople held a wealth of information from both the Greeks & Romans. This helped doctors and workers of all different trades. As the Romans did before them, the Byzantines simply tried to make their lives as blissful as possible through reading and learning. The newly renovated sanitation system is just obvious one example of the steps taken to reach the empire’s vision of the perfect Constantinople.

The magnificent church Hagia Sophia and the Hippodrome were completed and renovated respectively in the early sixth century. These structures were both bigger than any structure of the time save the pyramids. An architect from Italy had to be brought in to construct a church that was simply unimaginable to most. Using a unique building style, the architect was able to place a circular dome on top of a square base as the emperor wished. In broader sense, the architecture and engineering skills used to build the Hagia Sophia represent the Byzantine Empire’s mindset of continuously trying to improve their daily lives. To put the magnificence of the Hagia Sophia in perspective, it took until 1520 until a larger church was built, with the construction of the Seville Cathedral. Even so, the Seville Cathedral has nowhere near the level of precise architecture as Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia has remained a structurally sound marvel for about 1500 years, despite being on a fault line creating dozens of earthquakes a year.

hagia_sophia_interior

Engineers of the time were very important members of society.Any problem that needed to be tackled would be assigned engineers to handle it. They were also very motivated to accomplish their task. If they managed to solve a particularly hard problem they were rewarded with gold and a lavish feast in the emperor’s palace. Constantinople’s citizens benefited greatly from the technological, structural and sometimes even artistic advancements that were made by these intelligent engineers.

Like all great cities, there was a great social scene in Constantinople. The Hippodrome could hold over 100,000 spectators and was filled on many occasions. Chariot racing became popular and betting was commonplace. Blues, greens, whites and reds were the team colors of the athletes of the day. There were also numerous theatres in the empire for entertainment. Theatre acts could range from plays to jesters to personal accounts of adventure. These events were made more enjoyable from the numerous types of wine and ale available from local sources or from faraway lands by means of trade. To go with the drink there was also an incredible variety of cuisines. Fish, cheese and bread were the staples, similar to other Mediterranean cultures. However more exotic spices were available because of the bustling trade, as well as honey, fruit and cake.

Fish Byzantine Hippodrome

So, as you can see, Constantinople’s golden age was truly magnificent. The many advances that were made during this time were truly celebrated. Never before in history had people lived such an easy life. Clean water was always steps away and entertainment was enjoyed thoroughly by all. The Byzantine’s certainly knew how to live comfortably, many of the things enjoyed in their culture are equally as enjoyed in today’s world. From a society that is noted for inventing Greek fire and incendiary grenades, they knew how to also relax. Constantinople, for many hundreds of years after Justinian, was near the top of the list of the wealthiest, most populous and most technologically advanced cities. The sewer system and aqueducts that were used by the Byzantines and then the Ottoman are for the most part still usable today. A miraculous feat of engineering and proper planning. Every great society needs a goal to work towards, in the Byzantine Empire’s case there was not much that they didn’t accomplish over their millennium of existence. The strict but fair leadership of Justinian the Great paved the way for the golden age of the Byzantine’s. The quality of life in Constantinople was unmatched for the time. Highly skilled engineers and craftsman were pivotal in building the structures that gave the city life. The central location also gave Constantinople access to a vast selection of goods from across the globe which were enjoyed daily. The standard of living was so much higher than other parts of the world that after the siege of Constantinople nobody could fathom the stories of the magnificent riches told by soldiers.

2 thoughts on “Advancements of the Byzantine Empire

  1. Shawn Tkach

    The Byzantine Empire, as demonstrated by your paper and great photos, was truly amazing. The innovations and luxuries are almost enough to be jealous of by 21st century standards. In the Arab Spring we have seen a number of ancient ruins around the Middle East that also were advanced for their time. Regrettably, some of them are in better shape than others. It is especially sad for me to see cities like Damascus, which was a cultural hot spot for years, and is now being torn apart. Perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to believe that times were better in many of these areas during the era of the Byzantine Empire.

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  2. Pingback: Initial Thoughts – Remains of the Empire

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