Greece Revival and Collapse, 867-1453
Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies
When a new dynasty, which came to be called Macedonian, took the throne of the Byzantine Empire in 867, its forces began to roll back the tide of Islamic expansion. Antioch, Syria, Georgia, and Armenia were reconquered. The Byzantine fleet regained Crete and drove Muslim pirates from the Aegean Sea, reopening it to commercial traffic. Consolidation of the Balkans was completed with the defeat of the Bulgarian Empire by Basil II in 1018.
Orthodox missionaries, including Cyril and Methodius, led the proselytization of Bulgaria, Serbia, and eventually Russia. The military conquests of the Macedonian Dynasty initiated a period of economic growth and prosperity and a cultural renaissance. Agriculture flourished as conditions stabilized and, as emperors increasingly used land grants to reward military service, the area under cultivation expanded. The prosperity of improved agricultural conditions and the export of woven silk and other craft articles allowed the population to grow. Expanding commercial opportunities increased the influence of the nearby Italian maritime republics of Venice, Genoa, and Amalfi, which eventually gained control of the Mediterranean trade routes into Greece.
The prosperity of the Macedonian Dynasty was followed by a period of decline. In the late eleventh century, a Norman army, allied with the pope and commanded by Robert Guiscard, ravaged parts of Greece, including Thebes and Corinth. Civil war among rival military factions impaired the empire's ability to respond to such incursions. In a disastrous loss at Manzikert (in present-day eastern Turkey) in 1071, Seljuk Turks from Central Asia captured Romanus IV, one of the first rulers after the end of the Macedonian Dynasty. Through the next century, the empire became more and more a European domain. The worst humiliation came in 1204, when marauders of the Fourth Crusade plundered Constantinople, carrying off many of its greatest treasures.
Greece was carved up into tiny kingdoms and principalities ruled by Western princes. Venice gained control of substantial parts of Greece, some of which were not relinquished until 1797. Architectural remains from the Venetian period are still visible in the Greek countryside and seaside ports.
Only the actions of the Palaeologus Dynasty (1261-1453) prevented the empire from falling. The Palaeologi recaptured Constantinople and most of the southern Balkans, but the end of the empire was not long delayed. A new force, the Ottoman Turks, arose from the east in the wake of the Mongol invasion led by Genghis Khan in 1221. Late in the fourteenth century, Asia Minor and the Balkans fell to the Ottoman Turks, but Constantinople still held out. Finally the forces of Mehmed the Conqueror took the capital city after a lengthy siege. Constantinople would again be the center of a Mediterranean empire stretching from Vienna to the Caspian Sea and from the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Gibraltar-- but now it would be as a Muslim city in the empire of the Ottomans. The great Greek Byzantine Empire had come to an end.
Data as of December 1994
NOTE: The information regarding Greece on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Greece Revival and Collapse, 867-1453 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Greece Revival and Collapse, 867-1453 should be addressed to the Library of Congress.