Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The upheaval that accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome, the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time, great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th—14th century in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.

The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio



The Byzantine Empire



The Latin Empire and Other Successor States

Under the Emperor Michael Palaeologus of Nicaea, the Byzantines reconquered Constantinople.


After the 3 fall of Constantinople, sacked by the Crusaders on 13 April in 1204, various crusader kingdoms and Byzantine successor states emerged on Byzantine soil.

3 The conquest of Constantinople in 1204, painting by Tintoretto, 16th century

Among these was the empire of 1 Trebizond founded in the northeast of Asia Minor, where a branch of the Comnenus family reigned until 1461.

1 Hagia Sophia church in Trebizond, built in 1461 and later annexed by the Ottoman Empire

In Byzantium itself the crusaders chose a Latin, Baldwin Count of Flanders, and crowned him as 2 Emperor Baldwin I in Santa Sophia.

2 Venetian Doge Enrico Dandolo crowns Baldwin I
of Flanders emperor of Byzantium,
painting, 16-17th century

The Patriarch was also a Latin: the Venetian Tomasso Morosini.
Venice also secured numerous strategically located islands and ports, including Crete, most of the Aegean islands, Rhodes, and trading posts in the Pelopponesc and Thrace.

Crusader leaders built up feudal states after the European model in the kingdom of 7 Thessaloniki, the duchies of Athens and Naxos, and the principality of Achaea.

7 The "White Tower" in Thessaloniki,
built during the 15th century

In theory, suzerainty was held by the Latin emperor of Constantinople, but he was dependent on the support of the feudal lords and Venice, keen to protect its trading privileges, in order to rule.
Greek Orthodox Christians were placed under Catholic clergy, which provoked violent resistance. They received support from the Bulgarian tsar, Kaloyan Asen, and at the Battle of Adrianople in 1205, Baldwin was seized and killed by the Bulgars. The Latin emperors in Constantinople thereafter followed one another in quick succession.

By the time Baldwin's nephew, 4 Baldwin II, came to power in 1240, his empire consisted of little more than the city of Constantinople itself.

4 Venetian merchants meet Emperor
Baldwin II, book illustration, ca, 1410

His financial problems were so acute that he even married off his own son in return for a loan from Venice.
In Nicaea, the Byzantine state tradition was preserved by Emperor Theodore I Lascaris after the fall of Constantinople. From there, he and his successors sought to restore the empire. Although John III Ducas Vatatzes failed in the first attempt to retake Constantinople in 1235, he won territory in Thrace and Macedonia in victories over the Bulgars, and in 1246 he was able to reconquer Thessaloniki.

In 1259, Michael VIII Palaeologus usurped the throne from the young John IV Lascaris and founded the 5, 6 Palaeologan dynasty.

He allied himself with Genoa, Venice's powerful rival in the Mediterranean, and the emerging Muslim power of Asia Minor, and succeeded in recapturing Constantinople in 1261. The surprise attack was assisted by the absence of the Latin emperor, Baldwin II, who was on a mendicant visit to Western Europe.
Michael Palaeologus thus restored the Byzantine empire, though in a much weakened form. The northern part of the Balkans remained under the control of the Bulgarians and the Serbs, while Thessaly and the Epirus were governed by the Greeks.

5 Manuel II Palaeologus, silver coin, minted ca. 1400

6 "Tekfur Saray," the imperial palace, in Constantinople,
built between the twelfth and 13th century


The Fall of the Byzantine Empire

Although Michael VIII restored the Byzantine Empire, it was never again able to regain its former strength. The maritime republic of Venice maintained its stranglehold on commerce, while Genoa was rewarded for its help in restoring Michael to the throne with trade privileges and the colony Pera, further undermining Byzantine power. The Latin feudal states held out in Greece, while the Serbs and Bulgars in the north and the successors of the Seljuks to the east all threatened Byzantine borders.

Despite this precarity, Byzantium enjoyed something of a 11 cultural resurgence in this period.

11 Chora monastery in Constantinople (Istanbul),
built in the early 14th century, later transformed into a mosque

Michael's son, Andronicus II Palacologus, came to power in 1282, but a period of dispute over the throne began in 1321 that brought the state close to complete collapse. After being coerced into recognizing his grandson, Andronicus III, as co-emperor, he was forced to abdicate in 1328.

After Andronicus Ill's death in 1341, 9 John VI Cantacuzenus, supported by followers of hesychasm, usurped the throne in place of Andronicus's son John V.

9 John VI, surrounded by the clergy
at a synod, book illustration, 14th century

Although John VI was deposed, he regained the throne in 1347 with the help of the Ottomans. In 1354 he was deposed again and sent to a monastery. His son
Matthaios, however, ruled until 1382 as despot of Morca, a center of late Byzantine culture.

The Palaeologans, restored in Constantinople, became increasingly dependent on the Ottomans. The fall of Adrianople in 1362 completed the encirclement of the Byzantine Empire, which soon consisted of just Constantinople and its outlying districts. Calls for aid to the West went unanswered, and the fall of Byzantium was delayed only by the Ottomans' defeat by Tamerlane in 1402.

In 1439 Emperor 10 John VIII Palaeologus offered to recognize the supremacy of the pope in exchange for military aid against the Ottomans, but the deal failed and provoked violent resistance from the Greek Orthodox population.

10 John VIII Palaeologus, painting by Gozzoli Benozzo,
15th century

see also:

Gozzoli Benozzo

Procession of the Magi in the Palazzo
Medici-Riccardi in Florence

He was succeeded in 1449 by his brother, Constantine XI, the last Byzantine emperor.

When the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II began a siege of Constantinople in 1453, the 8 encircled populace offered determined resistance with assistance from Venetians and others in the city.

However, the Ottoman forces, using the heaviest artillery yet seen, were overwhelming.

On the night of May 29,1453, the 13 Ottomans broke through the 12 walls of the city.

The last Byzantine emperor died in battle.

8 "Greek fire," an incendiary liquid
contained in a grenade, used by the Byzantines to set enemy ships ablaze, striking fear into enemy ranks

13 The Ottomans conquer Constantinople, 1453,
copper engraving, 17th century

12 Map of Constantinople in the 16th century,
with the Genoese trading colony of Pera in green


Gozzoli Benozzo

Procession of the Magi in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi in Florence



Procession of the Magi










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