Roman Influence on Byzantine Empire and Islamic Societies

1 January 2017

The mother of the world has been killed,” stated a 5th century historian, bereft and appalled when the news of Rome’s fall had reached ear. Certainly his words hold truth, for Rome – the dauntingly colossal Empire engulfing the Mediterranean and all territories around it; the source of artistic, intellectual, and cultural ascendancy; the influential factor of brilliance in so many of the coexisting societies of the western world – was truly the predecessor and creator of all Western Civilization to come.

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However, what no one knew, was that the lasting impression this powerful and astonishing civilization would make upon the world, even if only through the works of fleeting memory or written text. As always, with loss comes a chance for gain – an opportunity for rebirth and renewal that could previously have only been a dream. And so, with the collapse of one great empire, opportunities arose for the numbers of new kingdoms and societies to follow. The Byzantine Empire and Islamic societies were two especially prominent societies that gained primacy, arising from the fourth to sixth century.

Although both Byzantine and Islamic societies created their own empires, with separate rulers and individuals, the Roman Empire heavily influenced their cultural aspects, as demonstrated in their religion, art, and law. The Byzantine Empire was a highly prosperous society centered around the city of Constantinople. This society, dating back to around 330 AD, consecutively arising after the fall of the Roman Empire, and managed to remain in power for more than 1000 years. It was the most powerful economic and military force in all of Europe at the height of it’s power.

Constantinople, located at present day Istanbul, was the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, and played a key role in the hegemony of the empire. By cause of the city’s prime positioning with access to east-west and north-south trade routes, trade became an important institution and base of economy in the Byzantine Empire. Silk was originally bought from China for the grand empire, until silk-worms were illegally obtained by Byzantine monks, and factories were established in the Empireto create this rare product.

Silk soon became an imperial monopoly, and through this way, the trade of luxury items became the Byzantine’s main source of income. The location of Constantinople also aided in military conquest and defence, for the empire’s naval headquarters were located along the shores, and had access to the Black Sea and Mediterranean. Because of the Empire’s location, all but overlapping the fallen Roman’s territory, the Byzantine Empire was greatly affected by these Roman’s past traditions and ways of life. The Roman Empire influenced the Byzantine Empire’s culture, mainly through the religion of Christianity.

Christianity first appeared in the Roman Empire, with the birth, teachings, and supposed resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the beginning years of it’s arrival, Christianity was not tolerated and Christians were mainly, and most often brutally prosecuted. However, with Constantine’s Edict of Milan, Christianity was officially tolerated, and under Theodosius, it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Byzantine Empire inherited this relatively new religion, continuing to follow the beliefs and traditions of the church, as well as spreading the word of Jesus Christ and the message of god.

Churches sprung up in the empire, such as the mighty Hagia Sophia. Located in Constantinople and built by Justinian, this church especially exemplified Roman influence through its divine architecture. “Above the arches is raised a circular building of a curved form through which the light of day first shines,” (document 2) boasts Procopius, a Byzantine scholar from Palestine. He became the principal historian of the 6th century, documenting the works and wars of Justinian I.

Procopius describes the church’s magnificent domed ceiling, which, along with columns and a concrete skeleton, can hardly be castigated, nor denied of it’s uncanny resemblance to Rome’s Pantheon. Justinian was the Christian Emperor of the Byzantine Empire who is famous for his building projects, battle tactics, and his codification of Roman law. “We have attempted the most thorough amendment of the entire law, to collect and revise the whole body of Roman jurisprudence, and to assemble in one book the scattered treatises of so many authors,” Justinian writes, reflecting upon his work.

The Justinian code was essentially a collection of scattered Roman documents on law, treaties, and other diverse legal matters. This codification was used as the basic system of law in the Byzantine Empire, and successfully governed an Empire of citizens for roughly 1000 years. In conclusion, if not for the influence and impact of lingering hints of Roman Christianity, architecture , and law, the Byzantine Empire would have evolved into a profoundly variant society than the one established so many years ago.

Islamic Societies were very militaristic, religious, and politically based on the teaching of Muhammad. Although small when first founded in the sixth century, at it’s height of power, regions conquered and maintained by the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties included Egypt, Arabia, lands of the Persian Empire and Asia Minor, regions of North Africa snaking along the Mediterranean, and territories of present day Spain in the west.

Comprised of brilliant generals and thousands of well-motivated men striving for eternal paradise in the after-life, the army was immensely dynamic, efficacious, and cardinal to the prodigious power of the Islamic Kingdom. Religion influenced much of the population’s way of life, dictating family practices, working hours, diet, public ceremonies, and many other aspects of everyday life. To maintain the promise of eternal paradise after death, a Muslim was expected to follow the ruler and faith with honor and loyalty, as well as the Five Pillars of Islam.

Stated in the Qur’an, these pillars are thought of as the hindmost commitment to Islam, and obedience to the laws is key. One must accept monotheism and Muhammad as God’s holy messenger (Shahada), pray five times a day and attend communal prayer on friday (Salat), give alms to the poor and less fortunate (Zakat), fast during the holy month of Ramadan (Sawm), and make a pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) at least once in a life-time. The rulers of Islamic Society, entitled as caliphs, were expected to follow these pillars, as well as the practice of Jihad – striving in the way of the Lord.

However, although the Islamic culture and government had many newly created aspects, the motif of previous Roman society was still predominantly clear. Roman influence on Islamic Societies was mainly displayed in its art, specifically architecture and language. The multitude of Roman architects, hired by kings to institute the design and production of churches, were frequently extremely bright, talented, and passionate. The innovative building models established were graced with stability, natural impregnability, and beauty.

Islamic societies gained much of their knowledge on contemporary architecture from the Romans, and in effect, produced constructions very similar to those erected in the bygone days of the Roman Empire. For example, the Islamic Dome of the Rock, constructed in Jerusalem 690 AC, possesses aspects similar to those of the Roman Pantheon. The Dome of the Rock’s ceiling, to no extent of surprise, is in fact in the shape of a dome, such as the ceiling of the Pantheon. Furthermore, the Islamic structure contains many columns that are conjointly displayed in the Roman temple.

The Mosque at Cordoba contains arches and columns resembling those built by Romans in water canals and at the gates of cities. The Islamic religions also continued to carry on the most spoken language of Rome – Latin. Caliphs and libraries collected texts from all around the world, while scholars translated the sterling works into Arabic and Latin. Although Islamic some celebrations show congruency with celebrations of Christians,Roman influence on the Muslim people was mainly cultural. News of Rome’s fall spread quickly throughout lands of the Mediterranean, Africa, Persia, and Arabia.

All were astonished at the supposed failure of the once mighty empire, considering it’s previous success and military conquest. Acting as predecessor and nurturer, Rome had affected countless bordering societies, all across the western world. However, the historian pronouncing Rome’s title as “mother of the world” had been ludicrously incorrect in concern to one aspect of the Empire’s demise. Rome went on influence future cultures in the Mediterranean regain for centuries, especially those of the Byzantine Empire and ancient Islamic Societies.

By means of the Empire’s culture, religion, and law, Rome continues to influence American society today, even hundreds of year’s after the empire’s fall. In Washington D. C. , the use of columns, arches, and domes is a common motif in most political buildings, as well as domestic dwellings. Christianity is now a widely adopted religion, practiced by approximately thirty-three percent of the entire world’s population. Justinian’s codification of Roman law can still be compared with legal and justice systems from around the world, especially in western civilization.

The 6th century historian was terribly mistaken in the fact that Rome had been killed, for today – as vividly as yesterday; as true as the promise of tomorrow’s rising sun – Rome lives on. In the subtle curve of an elegant column, in the chromatic dazzle of a church’s stained glass window, and in the crack of a judge’s mallet, bringing justice to all those our mighty nation gives promise to protect and serve, Rome survives. Chin to the sky, arms open, Rome stands tall and illustrious, ready to embrace all those who walk the earth – all whom she deems children.

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