Roman And Byzantine Empire - What's the difference or similarities between them?

The Roman and Byzantine Empires were the two crucial superstates that played a key role in shaping word history. Known alternatively as the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine empire survived the fall of its Western counterpart by almost 800 years. 

Although both the empires had similarities between themselves, in terms of administration, culture and military they had differences. What those similarities and differences are will be discussed within the context of the UPSC Exam.

The candidates can read more related information from the links provided below:

NCERT Medieval Indian History Notes for UPSC The Renaissance
World History for UPSC Civil Services Mains Age of Enlightenment
NCERT Ancient Indian History Notes for UPSC NCERT Modern Indian History Notes for UPSC

Brief History about Roman and Byzantine Empire

The Roman Empire initially began as the Roman Republic governed by a ruling body of senators who would appoint a ‘Dictator’ whenever Rome would be at war or under dire straits. However following a series of events that weakened the power of the senate, Julius Caesar, a military commander, declared himself dictator for life

His enemies, many of whom were against the very idea of one man holding onto power in this manner, assassinated him in 44 BC. However, Julius Caesar’s adopted son and nephew, Octavian would gather supporters and declare war on Caesar’s assassins. The resulting civil war tore the Roman republic apart. Octavian would emerge victorious in this war and would declare himself emperor, taking the title of Augustus in 27 BC.

The Roman Empire would continue to rule most of the known world unchallenged until a series of military defeats, internal disputes, and weak administration would plunge Rome into a crisis in the 3rd Century AD. At the end of the crisis, it was realised that the empire was too large to be administered by one man alone. 

Hence it was decided to split the empire in two. The Western Roman Empire would be based around Rome itself, while the Eastern half would be based around a new city, located on the trade route between Europe and Asia – Byzantium 

This was where the Byzantine Empire would get its name. Renamed to Constantinople, the eastern empire survived the fall of its western counterpart in 476 AD. From then on the empire would become the cultural hub of both the western and eastern worlds. It would fall to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, with Constantinople becoming the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

Roman and Byzantine Empire – Similarities

The similarities between the Roman and Byzantine Empires are as follows:

  • Both were authoritarian empires ruled by hereditary emperors.
  • The Byzantine and Roman empires went through internal rifts caused by court intrigues and corrupt administration.
  • Both the Byzantine and the Roman empires were centers of trade, and much of the wealth in the empires was generated through their extensive trade routes.
  • Additionally, both empires established large-scale building projects. The Roman Empire established aqueduct systems throughout their empire to distribute fresh water into cities and towns while the Byzantine empire built the Hagia Sophia, now a UNESCO world Heritage site.

Differences between Roman and Byzantine Empire

  • While the Roman Empire was pagan in nature, worshipping a wide pantheon of gods, the Eastern Roman Empire had adopted Christianity in its early days, much before its western counterpart did the same.
  • The Western Roman Empire spoke Latin while the Byzantine Empire was Greek both culturally and linguistically.
  • The Roman Empire covered more land than its eastern counterpart. 
  • At its peak, the Roman Empire reached into regions of the British islands, Germania, Spain, parts of North Africa, and much of Asia Minor. In contrast, at the height of Byzantine militaristic power under Justinian throughout 527-565 CE, only some of the wealthy areas in Italy and parts of North Africa and Spain were reconquered.
  • Roman art, especially sculpture, focused much more on imitating the true form of people and objects.
  • Unlike Roman art, Byzantine art appears to the modern viewer to have made few attempts to mimic reality. Images are often two-dimensional and flat, and are anti-naturalistic in its most basic form.
  •  Art in the Byzantine Empire was largely dedicated to religious and imperial purposes, and decorated the interior of churches most prominently

Candidates can find Important Events from 3000 BC to 1950 AD in the given link

Frequently Asked Question about Roman and Byzantine Empire


What was the relationship between the Roman and Byzantine Empire?

The Byzantine Empire was the eastern continuation of the Roman Empire after the Western Roman Empire’s fall in the fifth century CE. It lasted from the fall of the Roman Empire until the Ottoman conquest in 1453.

Why did the Roman Empire split into two empires?

The Roman Empire had become too large to be ruled by one emperor by the third century (this was one of the causes of the Crisis of the Third Century). It was divided, by Emperor Diocletian, into a tetrarchy. This tetrarchy was then dissolved in favor of an Eastern and Western Roman Empire.

To know more about other Government Exams, visit the linked article. For more preparation materials they can refer to the links given in the table below:

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