The Byzantine and Islamic Empires are closely linked together, sharing similar influences in terms of technological advancements, their political systems, and their culture.
The Byzantine and Islamic Empires
Byzantium’s capital, Constantinople, was the empire’s core. It is where the trading takes place and it played a vital role during the Golden Ages of the empire during the 9th , 10th, and 11th centuries before the capital fell from the hands of Mohammed II, the Ottoman Turkish Sultan. During its Golden Ages under the rule of Justinian, Baths, churches and water supplies were built and city planning and social services were also established. Until now, some of the early buildings built during Justinian’s time still stand in Istanbul and Ravenna, Turkey. The Hagia Sophia was the empire’s orthodox patriarchal basilica where people go to worship. It is now a museum and one of the most beautiful structures in the world well known for its circular dome. Constantinople is now known as Istanbul.
The government of the Byzantine Empire focused on civil service, secular education and the scholarly elite. It is composed of 8 head eunuchs, a postmaster general, a treasurer, and a chancellor, all granted power and additional rights by the emperor. The Byzantine bureaucracy constantly reinvented itself based on the situation of the empire. Military force ran the provinces of the empire, as it was prone to invasion and attacks from the Arabs. The Emperor was the head of the state and the Church, a type of ruling called Caesaropapism. The senate, which was originally developed in Rome, was also created in Constantinople. However, the senate’s power was reduced to a municipal body before it eventually vanished.
The spread of the Islamic empire was rapid and successful. Within two centuries from the death of their Prophet, Muhammad in 632, they were able to reach the borders of India and China to spread Islam and to influence people to convert to the religion. Their successive waves of invasion also allowed them to rapidly expand and spread their influence by 1400, which enabled them to secure the Indo Gangetic Plain. The Islamic Empire is headed by a Caliph, which is the head of state, similar to an emperor. The caliphates were the successor of Muhammad, to be able to continue the religious and political system developed by the Prophet. Caliphs are expected to rule according to their constitutional law and their Sharia or religious law.
Byzantine and Islamic Empire: Similarities and Differences
Art and Architecture
The Byzantine and Islamic Empire possess the same qualities in terms of their art forms and architecture. However, it was the Byzantines that were mainly influenced both by Greek and Roman traditions and architecture and it was only when the Muslims invaded the Byzantine where they decided to adapt the influence.
The Hagia Irene, built during the 6th century in Constantinople is a great example of early Byzantine architecture. Just like the Hagia Sophia, the Hagia Irene’s follows the structure of a longitudinal basilica and a circular dome. Domes are also a prominent element in Islamic architecture, which is seen in the Selimye Mosque in Edirne, Turkey. The Muslims adapted the architectural style of the Byzantine as well as the Sassanid during Mohammed’s rule. They have also preserved and improved the old models of buildings built under the Byzantine Empire and converted them into Mosques, tombs, or libraries. When Constantinople fell into the hands of the Muslim, they converted the Hagia Sophia, which was a church, into a mosque.
Byzantine Architecture not only influenced Islamic Architecture during the Umayyad Caliphate, but it has also given way to Romanesque and Gothic Architecture. The Dome of The Rock found in Jerusalem and the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus are two well-known examples of domed structures built during the Islamic empire under the architectural influence of the Byzantine.
Education and Knowledge
Both scholars of the two empires held great importance to knowledge especially during their golden ages. Scholars from the Byzantine Empire focused more on history and developing records while the Islamic empire were able to contribute a wide range of knowledge from math, medicine, philosophy, and astronomy. This is the reason why the Islamic empire built a lot of universities, which are still standing and used until now such as the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, which is the chief center of Islamic learning and Arabic Literature. The Muslims were also knowledgeable about medicine, setting up hospitals that are very similar to the setting of hospitals today. The Muslims were the ones who wrote medical books used in Europe while the Byzantine Empire relied more on the study of history and the development of the European Renaissance. During the Islamic Golden Age, massive developments were made in terms of education as Arabic scholars wrote books on astronomy, medicine, math, and philosophy, among others. These scholars also translated Greek mathematics, which was eased its transmission to Europe.
Women in Byzantine and Islamic Society
Women in Byzantine society spend a major part of their life inside their homes. They were allowed to learn reading and writing but only a very few were able to acquire a wider form of learning. At 12 – 13 years old, girls can be arranged for marriage by their parents or with the aid of a matchmaker and they are expected to bear a lot of children. Women increase their social standing as they get married and bear lots of children. Women belonging to the poor social class often worked in farms and labored in fields. A very few become doctors who specialize in female health, while others become koines or prostitutes.
According to Gavin Hambly in his book entitled “Women in the Medieval Islamic World,” women in the Islamic empire were seen as property. When still unmarried, the woman is the property of her father and she becomes the property of her husband, which her father or guardian chose for her. Although the Quran has entitled them with fairer treatment, it has been recorded that women were not given the power to manage or control inheritance or their own properties (3).
The practice of hijab or veiling is also prevalent in women in the Islamic Empire wherein only the husband is allowed to see the face of his wife. Nevertheless, the importance of women was still seen in records and in historical evidences such as the female prophet Khadija, which is highly revered by the Muslims. The love and respect for women was also seen in the building of the Taj Mahal, which was built in patronage for a woman and a wife.
The belief in a supreme being is a trait shared both by the Byzantine and Islamic empires. However, the Islamic empire, composed of Muslims, believed in Allah while the Byzantine Empire, composed of Orthodox Christians, believed in God. The Muslims followed the Five Pillars of Islam, read and followed the Quran, and prayed in mosques. The Christians read and followed the Bible, follow the 10 Commandments and prayed in the Hagia Sophia, which is their church.
The structure of Byzantine Churches was the main influence of Islamic mosques. During their invasion, Muslims usually converted the Byzantine churches into mosques, just like what happened with the Hagia Sophia.
Garland, Lynda. Byzantine Women: Varieties of Experience AD 800-1200. Great Britain:
Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006. Print
Hambly, Gavin. Women in the Medieval Islamic World. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.
Kennedy, Hugh. The Byzantine and early Islamic Near East. Great Britain: Ashgate
Publishing Limited, 2006. Print