Rise & Fall of the Roman, Ottoman & Byzantine Empires

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  • 0:03 The Mediterranean Empires
  • 0:51 The Roman Empire
  • 2:50 The Byzantine Empire
  • 4:42 The Ottoman Empire
  • 6:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Mediterranean region was home to several of the most powerful empires in history. In this lesson, we'll look at three of them and see where they came from - and why they fell.

The Mediterranean Empires

Maybe it's the easy access to trade routes, maybe it's the abundance of natural resources, or maybe it's just the abundance of wine, but for whatever reason the Mediterranean region has continuously been the focal point of many different imperial pursuits. Across time, at least three of the world's greatest empires built their power around the Mediterranean Sea. The Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, and Ottoman Empire each dominated what they called the 'known world,' indicating that to them the Mediterranean region was basically all that mattered. Maybe they just appreciated the climate. Whatever it was, they loved the Mediterranean.

We'll take a look at each of these empires, their rises and then their falls. Let's get started.

The Roman Empire

The first of the great Mediterranean Empires is that of ancient Rome. The Roman Empire ran from roughly 27 BCE - 476 CE, and in that time expanded to over a million square miles. They were one of the first truly great military machines.


For nearly 500 years, the city of Rome was a republic, governed by its Senate. However, over time they started expanding their power beyond Rome and eventually fell into a series of civil wars. In the first century BCE, the Senate appointed Julius Caesar dictator of Rome, which Caesar managed to get reworked to be dictator for life. Unfortunately that wasn't very long, and Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE. In the resulting wars that ensued, Caesar's adopted heir, Octavian, defeated the other political factions and re-stabilized Rome. In 27 BCE the Senate voted to give Octavian virtually unlimited power under the imperial title Augustus. This was the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire.


For roughly 400 years, the Roman Empire grew and stretched across Europe, although it steadily became more unstable. In 293 CE, Rome created a tetrarchy, a government ruled by four leaders, not just one. This stabilized Rome for a bit, but it also fell apart, resulting in a splitting of the Empire between East and West. Ultimately, the ruler of eastern Rome, Constantine, reunified Rome under his control, but that wouldn't last either. Rome was stretched too thin to maintain control over its vast empire, and politics kept turning into coups as various people vied for power. In the early 5th century, Rome was attacked first by the Germanic Visigoths and then later by Germanic Vandals. In 476 CE, Emperor Romulus Augustulus was overthrown by the military, which is traditionally seen as the end of the true Roman Empire.

The Byzantine Empire

The true Roman Empire fell in 476 BCE. But what happened to the eastern Roman Empire? It lived on and became a new power, called the Byzantine Empire.


As Rome was dividing in the 3rd and 4th centuries, the man who briefly united them was the emperor Constantine. Not only did Constantine convert the empire to Christianity, he also formally moved the capital from Rome to the Greek city Byzantium in modern-day Turkey. It was renamed Constantinople in his honor. In 395 CE, the Roman Empire divided into East and West factions again. They ruled the Mediterranean together, until Rome fell in 476 CE, leaving Constantinople as the last imperial city. In this time, they were renamed the Byzantine Empire. The first real rise in Byzantine power, however, was in 526 CE, when the emperor Justinian rose to power in Constantinople and started a conquest that would stretch across the Mediterranean, recapturing most of the formal Roman Empire.


The Byzantine Empire lasted for almost a millennium as the dominant Christian power in the world. However, it was actually their role in preserving Christian power that eventually led to their decline. In 1054 CE, in what is remembered as the Great Schism, the Roman Catholic Church of Italy and Greek Orthodox Church of Constantinople formally split, pitting many European kingdoms against the Byzantines. Throughout the 13th century, Constantinople found itself in the middle of the Crusades and was invaded by both European Catholic armies and Middle Eastern Islamic ones. Finally, Constantinople was attacked in the 15th century by a new power, a powerful Islamic state called the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453 CE, renaming it Istanbul and putting an end to the Byzantine Empire.

The Ottoman Empire

Reaching over 2 million square miles, the Ottoman Empire grew from a series of Turkish tribes into one of the dominant powers in the world and a leading Islamic empire for centuries.

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