The Byzantine Empire was one of the longest reigning empires that lasted for 12 centuries from 332 to 1453 AD. In their prime, Byzantine Empire was the envy of the western world and Eastern kingdoms due to their strong economy, architecture, politics and military.
But over time, problems started to creep into the Byzantine Empire most of which was based on their weakening economy and military. The contraction of the Byzantine Empire was due to the continuous array of religious enemies and internal decay that destroyed the empire. Between the Fourth Crusade of 1204 and the last Ottoman Turkish Siege of 1453, Byzantine Empire slowly disintegrated and at last remained only up to the small outskirts of the city of Constantinople (Keko, 2012).
Although the Byzantine Empire was already facing significant economic troubles and military weaknesses. The Fourth Crusade of 1204 brought to the fore the weaknesses of the Byzantine Empire. The growing religious and cultural differences increased tensions between the Catholic West and Orthodox East. The tensions and the increasing involvement of the West in the Byzantine kingdom lead to the 1204 Crusade. Even though the trade with the West continuoulsy grew, it was increased tension due to their religious differences. The Fourth Crusade was directed by Venice and they asked their soldiers to sack the city of Constantinople. Even though the Byzantines reconquered the city of Constantinople in 1261, the Crusader state did its damage by weakening the Byzantine Empire. The Crusade also left the strategic Aegean island, and several parts of Greece within the control of Venice. Additionally, much of the splendor and wealth of the Byzantine Empire were hauled off to the Western Europe and Venice (Nicolle, 2012 p.42-88).
In the first half of the 14th century, the highly depleted Byzantine Empire faced a significant challenge in the form of Civil Wars. The Byzantine Empire dramatically declined and eventually decayed due to the internal struggle between the Byzantine Regency and the masses. The Byzantine Civil war was combined with invasions from neighbouring kingdoms. The Civil war left the Byzantine Empire impoverished and weaker as misery among the cities and masses became unbearable. The source of the Civil wars was the concentration of income in the hands of aristocratic class and the destitute masses directed their bitterness towards the Regency. Byzantines became more interested in murdering each other rather than facing the increasing power of the Ottoman Turks (Nicol, 1993 p. 149-249).
The Black Death
The Black Death came to the Byzantine shores in 1347 and wiped out significant population. The black death came at a time when the Byzantine Empire was already in a decline and were vulnerable to foreign invasions. The Empire witnessed one of the darkest periods in terms of population loss and the plague managed to leave them militarily and economically weak. The impact of Black death was witnessed in coming years as the geographical area of the Byzantine Empire decreased continuously as they were unable to defend themselves from foreign invasion and civil war breakouts, leaving the Empire vulnerable to collapse and decay over a period of time (Nicol, 1993 p. 216-219).
The growing religious tensions between the Latin West and Orthodox Byzantines was another factor as they became foes over a period of time. During the Fourth Crusade, the Latin west attacked Constantinople and sacked the city. Even though the city was recaptured later, but the Crusade left them economically and geographically weak. During the Ottoman Turkish sieges of the Byzantine Empire, the Western powers decided not to intervene unless the Byzantines converted to Catholicism. Their decision over religious causes helped the Turkish Muslims to conquer the Empire and end the Byzantine rule (Nicol, 1993 p. 369-393).
Political and Military Collpase
The Byzantine Empire used to be the envy of the Western Europe and Islamic East as they were stronger militarily and economically. But over time certain incidents made the Byzantines vulnerable to foreign invasions. The Fourth Crusade depleted the military of Byzantine and cause significant economic losses to the Eastern Orthodox Christian kingdom. The outbreak of the Civil war and the Black Death further decreased the population of the Byzantine Empire and weakened their military. With such major events it was only a small amount of time before a foreign invader ended the reign of Byzantine kingdom and they came in the form of Ottoman Turkish Seiges (Keko, 2012).
Ottoman Turkish Sieges
The first siege of Constantinople was laid between 1397-1402, but it was lifted after the defeat of the Ottoman forces. The Second Siege of Constantinople was led in 1442, by the Sultan Murad II as the Byzantines were able to put up to the onslaught and the Byzantines were able to end the siege with interferences from the Ottoman political leaders. The Third and final siege were laid in 1453 and led to the fall of Constantinople and the end of the Byzantine Empire. The Siege was led by Sultan Mehmet II and ended the Byzantine Empire of only the City of Constantinople and Morea of Peloponnese. The Third Siege saw the Byzantine army outnumbered by the Turkish onslaught and the Western Catholic rulers failed to support the Byzantine regency (Nicol, 1993 p. 369-393).
This was the first time the Glorious and the historic Roman Empire was ended after ruling the European and Asia minor lands in their rule that started more than 1,500 years ago with Augustus. It was the first time the city of Constantinople fell to the Islamic rulers of the Ottoman Empire and the rule of Christian rulers in Constantinople ended. With an army of of only 8,000 to defend the Byzantine Empire and contingents of Mehmet II numbers almost 10 times in size, it was only a matter of time before the numerically superior Ottoman forces entered the city of Constantinople and the Byzantine resistance ended. Many Byzantine soldiers died along the once proud walls of the city, along with their ruler Constantine XI (Nicol, 1993 p. 369-393).
The Byzantine Empire was one of the longest lasting religious empires of all time as their rule lasted for 12 centuries. The contraction of the Byzantine Empire has already started in the 12th century, but the first and most important dent was made in 1204 with the Fourth Crusade that sacked the city of Constantinople and left their economically and politically weak to decay in the coming centuries. In the coming centuries, the outbreak of civil war and black death left the empire economically, politically and militarily weak. Religion also played an important role in the eradication of the Byzantine Empire as the Western Catholic rule sacked the empire in 1204 and later decided to stay out of the Ottoman sieges. Finally, the Ottoman Turkish sieges ended the centuries old rule of the Byzantine Empire and ended the rule of Christian regency over Constantinople.
Keko., D. (10 December 2012). The collapse and fall of the Byzantine Empire (1071-1453). Available: http://www.examiner.com/article/the-collapse-and-fall-of-the-byzantine-empire-1071-1453. Last accessed 7 January 2016.
Nicol, D. M (1993). The last centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453 . 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nicolle, D. (2012). The Fourth Crusade 1202-04: The betrayal of Byzantium (2nd ed.). Botley, Oxford: Osprey Pub.