This article is brought to you by
the years 330 - 476 C.E.!
Where were you when Rome broke? When
tribes broke the empire, which was too big for its own good, into two
pieces? Maybe you were in the west which continued to break into
many smaller kingdoms that were ruled by the tribes who moved in from
the North. Or maybe you were in the east, closer to the edges of the
old empire where other peoples would be trying to attack. Where were
you when Rome broke in two? East or west?
You might think heading east would be a
bad move, but this is just what one ruler did. He knew that Rome had
been close to falling for a very long time, and he got his people out
of the west before things got bad . . . Constantine was a Roman
emperor who moved the capital of Rome to the East in 330 C.E. The
East was close to many rich empires and he could make fast and strong
military choices there. You would think that being closer to your
enemies would be a bad thing, but as a leader, he wanted to be where
the fighting was so he could help his city grow and his people find
new, more promising lives . . .
If you could name a city, what would
you name it? For Constantine, the choice was easy. He moved the
capital of Rome and named it after himself. Constantinople was the
second capital of Rome and it became the center of the Byzantine
Empire, on a small strip of land between two seas. This city was so
well protected that it would keep standing for the next thousand
years! Constantine's new city placed him right between fights with
Germanic people in the north and Sassanids in the East. This was
kind of like having two jobs and finding a place to live right
between the two. The people started to become richer and happier.
Many changes were on the way.
Fun Fact! Can't find Constantinople
on a new map? That's because it was later renamed Istanbul.
As we move east with Constantine, some
things will change and others will stay the same. The farther east
we go, the land and the buildings will start to look a lot different
. . . The people in the East still called themselves Roman, but when
we look back in time they are different enough that we think of them
as being a new place. Byzantium is the name for the new empire
that used to be the east half of the Roman Empire. After the big
break, this half did much better than the west. How? First of all,
they were so far away when the west was attacked, that it did not
hurt the east very much at all. They took on only the best Roman
laws, mixing them with new lessons from the East. They were known
for big sports, speaking Greek, and buildings that looked a little
more like they were from India than Italy. Since there life was so
good in the east, there was no reason for them to go back west or
think of Romans as their people. Rome was over now. Constantine not
only helped his people grow greater in money and power but also in
what they believed.
Fun Fact! Had a hard time following
that? That's okay! The empire was so hard to understand that we
now call complicated things "Byzantine."
Up to this point, people thought that
the Roman emperors were gods. Not just that they had more power than
anyone, but that they really were gods. This let the emperors hold a
lot of power over their people. A new belief changed that.
Christianity is a religion which believes that there is only one God
and He came to Earth in the form of a man to forgive all of the
people's sins. Constantine was the first leader to say that people
could be Christian without fear of being killed. This was good for
the people, but it took some power away from their leader. Now that
the people believed in only one god, it meant they believed the
emperor could not be a god too. You can almost hear Rome start to
crack . . .
If the empire you are living in ever
has a fall and breaks in two, watch what's happening on both sides.
You may think staying away from wars is a good idea, but not if you
want to take over a lot of land. The side that uses the old laws
that worked while making new ones that work even better while letting
the people believe in whatever they want, like the Byzantine Empire,
is your best bet. Constantine made this choice and built a city
named after himself. If you made the right choice after the fall,
what would your city be called?
History For Kids. "Constantine"
Ducksters. "Ancient Rome: Biography
of Constantine the Great" Ducksters, 2011.
History for Kids. "Arch of Constantine" historyforkids.org, 2011.