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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The fall of Byzantium

General situation in the Empire 


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But the rest of the formerly great Empire was menaced on all sides by peoples politically or economically strong: the Turks threatened from Asia Minor, the Serbs and Bulgars from the north; the Venetians occupied some of the islands of the Archipelago, the Genoese, certain points on the Black Sea, and the Latin knights, the Peloponnesus and a portion of Middle Greece. Michael Pataeologus was not able even to unite all the Greek centers. The Empire of Trebizond continued to live a separate and independent life and the Byzantine possessions in the Crimea the theme of Cherson (Korsun) with the adjacent country frequently referred to as the Gothic Klimata were in the power of the emperors of Trebizond and paid them tribute. The Despotat of Epirus was only to a certain extent dependent upon the restored Empire of Michael. Under Michael Palaeologus the Empire reached the widest limits of the last period of its existence, but these limits were preserved only during his reign, so that in this respect Michael Palaeologus was the first and also the last powerful emperor of restored Byzantium. The Empire of the first Palaeologus resembled, to the French scholar, Diehl, a slender, dislocated, miserable body upon which rested an enormous head, Constantinople.

The capital, which had never recovered after the sack of 1204, passed into the hands of Michael in a state of decay and ruin; the best and richest buildings stood as if recently sacked; the churches had been robbed of their precious furnishings; the palace of Blachernae, which, from the time of the Comneni, had been the imperial residence and had dazzled strangers with its rich decorations and mosaics, was completely devastated; inside it was, said a Greek contemporary, full of Italian smoke and fume from the carousals of the Latin emperors, and was therefore uninhabitable.

Though the Byzantine Empire of the Palaeologi continued to be of great importance from a cultural standpoint, Constantinople ceased to be one of the centers of European policy. After the restoration under the Palaeologi the Empire has almost exclusively the local significance of a national Greek medieval kingdom, which, in substance, is the continuation of the Empire of Nicaea, though it established itself in the Blachernae and arrayed itself in the antiquated forms of the old Byzantine Empire. Round this aging organism younger peoples were growing and gathering strength, especially the Serbs of the fourteenth century under Stephen Dusan (Dushan) and the Ottoman Turks. The enterprising commercial Italian republics, Genoa and Venice, especially the former, got control of the whole trade of the Empire, which became wholly dependent on them financially and economically. The only question was which of these peoples would put an end to the Empire of the eastern Christians, seize Constantinople, and become master of the Balkan peninsula. The history of the fourteenth century was to answer this question in favor of the Turks.

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