Byzantine Empire, the great empire that had its origin in the founding of Constantinople by the Roman emperor Constantine in 330 A.D. and ended with the fall of the city to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The core of the empire was Asia Minor and the Balkan peninsula south of the Danube River. At times the boundaries extended as far as Italy, Mesopotamia, and North Africa. The empire was strategically located for control of trade between Europe, Asia, and Africa and was vastly wealthy during most of its history.

Heir to both Greece and Rome, Byzantium preserved ancient culture; it also served as an exchange point between West and East. The Byzantine Empire shone with intellectual and artistic brilliance during the so-called Dark Ages in western Europe. Gradually its heritage was shared with the West and became one of the wellsprings of the European Renaissance.

“Byzantine Empire” and “Byzantium” are modern names for the empire, taken from the ancient community, Byzantium, that had occupied the site of Constantinople. The Byzantines themselves called their empire the Roman Empire, or Romania. The empire is also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, to distinguish it from the Western Roman Empire (centered on Rome and later Ravenna), which came to an end in 476, and from the Holy Roman Empire, which was established in 962.

Since the empire was originally the eastern part of the Roman Empire, Latin was the language used at first in government, for church rites, and at the royal court. Greek, however, was the language most widely spoken in the domain; by the mid-seventh century it was the official language, and western Europeans came to call Byzantium the Greek Empire.