Decline of Byzantine Empire: 5 Reasons Why The Byzantine Empire Finally Collapsed
5 Reasons Why The Byzantine Empire Finally Collapsed

5 Reasons Why The Byzantine Empire Finally Collapsed

Patrick Lynch - December 18, 2016

5 Reasons Why The Byzantine Empire Finally Collapsed

4 – Weak Military

In the early middle ages, the Byzantine Empire boasted superior military technology to Western Europe and possessed an enormous standing army by the standards of the time. As it was an incredibly wealthy empire, it could afford to hire mercenaries in times of need. In the later stages of the empire, its enemies had caught up regarding technology and the Byzantine army dwindled in size.

The theme system was the empire’s primary method of army recruitment. The empire was divided into several regions, also known as ‘themes.’ Each theme provided the imperial armies with a certain number of soldiers. It was a cheap and efficient method of building an army and allowed the empire to create an enormous force in comparison to its enemies. One example is the theme of Thrakesion which alone provided almost 10,000 men to the army in the early 10th century.

The original system fell apart in the wake of Manzikert; a dramatic collapse since the empire had a force superior to all its enemies in 1025 under Basil II. There was a brief revival under the Komnenian dynasty in the 12th century when Manuel I Komnenos could call upon a standing army of approximately 40,000. This was the last time the Byzantines had an army befitting an empire. When Andronikos I Komnenos was deposed in 1185, it was the end of the empire as a military force.

The new system had required the leadership of a competent emperor; the Angeloi dynasty couldn’t provide it, so the Byzantine army disintegrated. The empire could no longer afford to pay for high-quality mercenaries after being plundered in 1204 after the Fourth Crusade and at this time, it could only produce a pitiful standing army of 4,000. Despite the best efforts of the Palaiologan Dynasty, the Byzantine Empire was doomed; it was just a question of time.

5 Reasons Why The Byzantine Empire Finally Collapsed

5 – The Ottomans

Michael VIII became emperor in 1259 and regained Constantinople within two years. He was not highly regarded in Byzantine history despite being an accomplished ruler; perhaps because he murdered his way to the top although his attempt to unite the Catholic and Orthodox churches also made him an unpopular figure. Michael managed to end the Latin Empire, but his death in 1282 probably extinguished the last fleeting hope of a revival.

The Ottoman Empire rose in 1299 upon the decline of the Seljuk Turks and set its sights on the Byzantine territory. By now, the Byzantine Empire was in complete disarray and a civil war between 1321 and 1328 damaged it severely as the rising Turks were able to make gains in Anatolia. After the Siege of Nicaea (1328-1331), the Byzantines held little of Asia Minor and was an empire in name only. Another civil war (1341-1347) rocked the Byzantines and allowed the Serbs to make gains in Macedonia, Epirus, and Thessaly. The Black Death followed the civil war and devastated Constantinople just as it did many cities in Europe.

By the end of the 14th century, Byzantine was little more than a dependency of the Ottoman Turks who almost surrounded Constantinople. Unsurprisingly, the Turks made the capture of Constantinople its number one priority. The first Siege of Constantinople began in 1397 but was relieved in 1402 after the Turks suffered a heavy defeat to an army of Mongols and Tartars at the Battle of Ankara. Manuel II Palaiologos tried to gain support from nations in Western Europe but received sympathy and little else.

Ottoman Sultan Murad II led a Second Siege of Constantinople in 1442, but it was quickly lifted after fierce resistance by defenders of the city. In 1453, Sultan Mehmet II decided to end the Byzantine ‘Empire’ once and for all. By this stage, the empire consisted of the province of Morea and Constantinople only. Emperor Constantine XI and the 8,000 men defending the city fought bravely against overwhelming odds but on May 29, 1453, Constantinople finally fell.


Sources For Further Reading:

University of Montana – Did Justinian Create the First Pandemic?

History Collection – 10 Byzantine Emperors Who Met a Violent End

History Collection – 6 Key Turning Points in the Ottoman Wars Against Europe

History Collection – 4 Reasons Why The Black Death Was Beneficial To Europe

History Collection – 10 Ways the Black Death turned Medieval Society Upside Down