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Compare and Contrast the Eastern and Western Halves of the Roman Empire

The ways of the historical development of Eastern and Western empires, after they finally split in 395, were significantly different. While both were ruled by brothers and sons of Theodosius, and in legal theory the idea of a unified empire only controlled by two emperors was preserved, in fact, and politically they were two independent states with their capitals (Ravenna and Constantinople), their imperial courts, with different challenges faced by the governments and, finally, with different socio-economic bases.

In the Eastern Roman Empire, the processes of feudalization retained the features of greater continuity of old social structures, were slower, and maintained a strong central authority of the emperor in Constantinople. Different was the way to the feudal socio-economic system in the West. Its main feature was the weakening of central authority of the Roman Emperor and its destruction as a political superstructure of the slave society, preserving slave orders. Another feature is the gradual formation of independent political entities on the territory of the Empire – the barbarian kingdoms (Cameron, 2011).

The main difference of the Byzantine Empire from the Western Roman Empire was the dominance of Greek culture on its territory. Even its official language was Greek, not Latin. In a sense, it can be viewed almost as a continuation of the Greek empire of Alexander the Macedonian. Also a profound ideological revolution was made in the Eastern Empire: Christianity, which was subjected to persecution in Rome, was declared the state religion during the reign of Constantine. Thus, Constantinople became the capital of the Christian empire. Eastern Roman Empire had few ties with Western Europe, although for a long time it did not recognize the right of Western countries to independence (Cameron, 2011).

Eastern Empire, which later became known as the Byzantine Empire, turned in a feudal state, which could last for a thousand years more until the middle of the 15th century (1453). Quite different was the historical destiny of the Western Roman Empire. The collapse of the slave system within its boundaries proceeded especially stormy, was accompanied by bloody wars, coups, popular uprisings, completely undermining the former might of one of the largest states in the ancient world. It could not defend itself against “barbarians”. Goths, one of the Germanic tribes, came and plundered Rome, and then came the Vandals and Huns.

One of the reasons for their easy success was probably the fact that the Roman peasantry was suffering badly under the authority of the empire, it was levied with taxes so seriously, and the debts were so great that the peasants were ready to welcome any change. The Eastern Empire not only survived these attacks, but persisted for centuries, despite the constant struggle that it had to wage against the Arabs, and later against the Turks (Cameron, 2011).

 

References:

Cameron, A. (2011). The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity: AD 395-700. Routledge.