Scientists Assert That This Was The Cause Of The Byzantine Empire’s Demise – And That People Today Should Be Alarmed

Published on 08/29/2021
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Even though the Roman Empire was one of the greatest civilizations of the ancient world, it was not immune to collapse. Despite the fact that Roman civilization survived in the Byzantine Empire, this magnificent country would inevitably fall apart. So, what’s keeping our civilizations from following in their footsteps? Scientists claim that there isn’t much. The same threat that is said to have wiped out the Byzantines may still exist today.

Scientists Assert That This Was The Cause Of The Byzantine Empire's Demise – And That People Today Should Be Alarmed

Scientists Assert That This Was The Cause Of The Byzantine Empire’s Demise – And That People Today Should Be Alarmed

Before the worst comes, maybe we should learn some lessons from the past. Consider the collapse of Rome, which was partially caused by its own success. Because the empire had become too enormous to administer effectively, it was eventually split in two. The western half of the empire was centered in Italy, while the eastern half – also known as the Byzantine Empire – covered parts of Africa, the Balkans, and Asia. But, more importantly, this split sparked a new rivalry.

The separation was the fault of Emperor Diocletian, who controlled the east while choosing Maximian to lead the west. That was a wise approach because the Western Roman Empire was doomed in the end. It was destroyed by groups such as the Visigoths until its last emperor was toppled in 476 A.D.

This makes the Byzantine Empire’s achievements all the more amazing, as it would survive its counterpart’s fall and persist into the modern era. In fact, no other country west of China could pull it off. The empire’s wealth and relative political cohesiveness allowed it not only to endure but also to grow.

In case you were thinking, the Byzantine Empire was called after Byzas, the founder of the Greek city of Byzantium. Built on the brink of the Bosphorus strait, this colony served as a vital link between Europe and Asia. While the city was renamed Constantinople when it became the center of Emperor Constantine’s “New Rome,” it is now known as Istanbul.

How did life in the Byzantine Empire go? Despite the fact that Latin was the official language of Rome, Greek was extensively spoken. Surprisingly, citizens continued to identify as both Roman and Christian, despite Constantine’s declaration of Christianity as Rome’s official religion. Given their Greek cultural influences, the Byzantines believed themselves Rome’s heirs.

The people of Byzantium were also dominated by an all-powerful emperor who oversaw the army, church, and government. Then there was the Senate, which was dominated by prominent military figures. Because there were no politics, being a wealthy landowner or a monarch’s favorite was the greatest way to gain power.

Many areas of Byzantine culture would be influenced by Christianity. The Patriarch of Constantinople, who was considered as a rival to the Pope in the east, was the religion’s symbol. Squabbles over who was the most significant man resulted in the 1054 Schism, which eternally separated the eastern and western churches.

And the Byzantine Empire flourished, spreading across what was formerly Western Rome. From Europe to the Middle East to North Africa, the Byzantine Empire spanned the Mediterranean. However, as the empire evolved to become Europe’s most powerful, some of the seeds of its demise were already being sown.

As you can see, the development was not without its challenges. For one thing, Emperor Justinian ran up massive debts, which he forced his subjects to pay through onerous taxes. The Byzantine army was also finding it increasingly difficult to protect all of the empire’s expanded territory from other ambitious civilizations. And this was all before the spread of a new religion known as Islam.

During the 7th century A.D., the Islamic army surged over the Middle East and North Africa, drastically shrinking Byzantine control. That wasn’t even the end of it. Emperor Alexius I was forced to call to Western Europe for assistance in protecting his now-smaller kingdom against an attack of Islamic Turks in the 11th century. The Crusades and centuries of conflict between Islam and Christianity began with this step.

The Byzantine Empire would thereafter deteriorate through the years until it was finally defeated by Ottoman Turks in 1453 when Constantinople fell to them. How did a once-powerful empire come to be so vulnerable? Well, it’s not entirely due to the invasions. Scientists now believe that several very genuine hazards – some of which we still face today – are to blame.

There’s always the desire to compare today’s living to bygone civilizations. And in some ways, this might be a good thing. After all, knowing how great civilizations fell means we can resist making the same mistakes – even if it requires digging through garbage dump debris.

Yes, you read that correctly, as experts dug through trash in the Byzantine settlement of Elusa and came to some startling discoveries. Elusa was a city in what is now Israel that had a well-organized rubbish disposal system in ancient times. This waste-removal procedure, however, seems to come to a halt about the 6th century. And the reason for this could reveal a lot about Elusa, as well as the Eastern Roman Empire itself.

Elusa was the capital of the Palestina Salutaris province. As a result, it generated its fair share of rubbish. That’s before you consider the numerous farms in the area, as well as the adjacent settlements. Elusa and its residents were also responsible for an estimated 212,000 cubic feet of rubbish every year, according to modern archaeologists. That is comparable to the amount generated by cities in the twenty-first century.

Elusa, on the other hand, wasn’t always a sprawling garbage-collecting metropolis. It grew out of a village that existed over 2,000 years ago, and its water supply, which is essential in the otherwise barren Negev desert, is likely to be the reason for its growth. Elusa’s location at the crossroads of two significant commercial routes, the Incense Road and the Way of Shur, also benefited. It was essentially a crossroads where East and West collided.

Settlements were developed in the desert thanks to ingenious farming techniques, yet Elusa stands out even when compared to its neighbors. Some of the busiest roadways were as broad as 26 feet. People came from far away to learn at Elusa’s school of rhetoric, which had nine churches, a theater, and extremely big baths.

How did we come to know all of this? After all, ancient ruins don’t generally come with labels, forcing archaeologists to make educated guesses based on maps and descriptions from the historical period. Elusa, on the other hand, has no such issue, as a sign bearing the city’s name was unearthed in a 2019 dig. The location of the ancient metropolis is now a national park, despite the fact that the Israeli army controls the surrounding area.

Despite this, archaeologists continue to visit the old city in order to learn more. Researchers from Israel’s University of Haifa led one such analysis in 2019, focusing on possibly one of Elusa’s most revealing aspects: its rubbish dumps. That way, they’d be able to go into layers upon layers of previously unexplored history.

Why not look at something more, hmm, appealing instead of the dumps? Invaders or natural catastrophes, for example, might destroy structures, making it difficult to study the origin of a city’s architecture. Landfills, on the other hand, simply pile up more and more junk, with new waste piled on top of old. As a result, archaeologists may learn a lot about Elusa and how its people lived by excavating through these sheets of rubbish.

In total, four trash heaps were investigated, each containing interesting waste. There was pottery, coins, and glassware discovered, among other things. Seeds surfaced, as well, including the charred remains of grapes cultivated in the area. This fruit could have been used to make wine that was sold as far as France and the United Kingdom.

When it comes to transportation, some of the foods found in the trash mounds appeared to have been transported from the Nile and the Red Sea. That suggests they were most likely pricey and in high demand among locals. Overall, radiocarbon dating suggests that the rubbish was created rather early in Elusa’s history.

As previously stated, rubbish removal appears to have ceased about the 6th century A.D. This indicates that Elusa’s foundation was collapsing. But, on the surface, that shouldn’t be the case. We’re talking about a period during the Byzantine Empire’s heyday when life in the region was reasonably calm and free of strife. Before the Muslim conquest, there were still 100 years to go. So, what exactly was the issue?

Experts, on the other hand, believe there were two issues. Sadly, a sickness known as the Justinian Plague was inflicting millions of fatalities across the empire at the time. The Northern Hemisphere was also undergoing a series of dramatic climate fluctuations known as the Late Antique Little Ice Age. This pair of linked disasters may have related to the Byzantine Empire’s ultimate demise.

In 536 A.D., the Late Antique Little Ice Age began, and its beginnings were dramatic. Three volcanoes erupted with such force that their ash obliterated the sun’s rays. Even if one of the eruptions happened further north — probably in Alaska or Iceland — the Byzantine Empire was nonetheless affected. In fact, the weather in the Northern Hemisphere was noticeably cooler over 150 years.

Although historians have generally concentrated on the Byzantine Empire’s geography and politics as factors in its demise, the natural world may also have had a role. While we commonly link climate change with the Industrial Revolution’s advancements, it has existed in many ways on a smaller scale across history.

 

Weather conditions may have even been exploited by some civilizations. Crops thrived in the warm but not hot European environment at the start of the Roman Empire, for example. This resulted in an economic boom in the region, and the resulting affluence was extremely useful when it came to establishing and maintaining territorial control.

Climate change, on the other hand, is not a common topic of discussion in ancient civilizations studies, in part because its effect is difficult to quantify. Renovations were popular in historical towns, and archaeologists aren’t always sure if these changes were caused by climate change or something else. Overall, this makes the Elusan rubbish heaps an incredibly useful source of knowledge.

The effect of the bubonic plague outbreak during the Late Antique Little Ice Age should therefore not be overlooked. Viral infections were already a primary cause of death in a population that seldom lived into their twenties, and a close-knit empire made it easy for microorganisms to spread through crowded cities.

Diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis took full advantage of Rome’s urban areas and extensive highways. When water and food were infected, gastrointestinal illnesses including shigellosis and paratyphoid developed. Then the climate began to shift, and things appeared to get even worse. The Antonine Plague, for example, may have been the first time smallpox decimated a population.

Once the epidemic struck, there was no turning back, and Byzantine culture began to lose some of its dominance. Other deadly pandemics soon followed. The Plague of Cyprian’s beginnings are unknown, but it ravaged the Roman Empire in the third century.

Then there was the bubonic plague, which was a predecessor of the Black Death in Europe. While Justinian was expanding his domain in the hopes of making it greater and more strong than ever, roughly half of his citizens died of Yersinia pestis, a little bacteria. The outbreak most likely entered the empire via one of the empire’s primary trade routes.

Yersina pestis has been seen in rat populations since it originally appeared roughly 4,000 years ago. The bacterium can be carried by gerbils and marmots, but it is most commonly connected with the black rats that infest human homes. And, just as fleas on rats disperse, illness disperses as well.

It’s incredible how one bacteria made its way from China to the Mediterranean through a sequence of mishaps and coincidences. Even if we now have a better understanding of germ theory, we can still learn from this conflict of man and nature.

How did the Byzantine Empire come to an end as a result of all of this? It’s no surprise that the region’s hold on power began to wane as people died and the economy deteriorated. Yes, even before the disastrous Islamic invasion, it appears that the Byzantines were losing authority. Even the most powerful could not protect themselves from disease and climate change.

However, be aware that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the Byzantine Empire’s decline. The results of the Elusa archaeologists only reveal proof of civilizations’ “limit to resilience,” according to one academic at the University of Jerusalem who was not part of the rubbish heap investigation.

In other words, climate change may have damaged Elusa to the point where it was unable to protect itself against other dangers. That meant the Muslim troops were attacking a fading outpost of a waning empire, not a strong city with a robust infrastructure. The city’s eventual fate serves as a stark reminder that even the most powerful civilizations are not without flaws.

This notion is fascinating because it demonstrates the ancient world’s intricacy. Elusa was far further south than the areas that experienced the Late Antique Little Ice Age’s truly frigid winters, although it did trade with those northern European kingdoms. It merely demonstrates how the Byzantine Empire followed in the footsteps of Rome in linking diverse parts of the world.

Now, experts want to emphasize how our current society might benefit from the Byzantines’ hardships. Climate change is one of the most divisive and contentious issues of our day, and countries are more intertwined than ever before. As a result, something that happens in another part of the world could have an impact here, just as it did in Elusa.

And for our next amazing archaeological find, let’s keep to the present day. In the year 2017, a group of underwater explorers is exploring the depths of Lake Van in Turkey’s Anatolia area. Locals have also regaled the team with magical tales of precious gems hidden far beneath the earth’s surface. But what they’re about to learn is a long-kept truth that has been buried for thousands of years.

Before this point, Lake Van had a polarized opinion. Divers had been advised by archaeologists familiar with the area that there was little to be found in the lake’s waters. Even though it wasn’t clear what the reality was at this point, the crew opted to look into it nevertheless.

But, you might wonder, why would the divers have put so much effort into researching Lake Van based just on rumor? The reality is that the body of water is situated in a historically significant Turkish region. Given this, tales of hidden delights beneath the lake’s surface were worth investigating.

Around 3,000 years ago, the eastern bank of Lake Van was home to the capital of an ancient civilization. This was the Urartu kingdom, which included parts of what is now Turkey, Iran, and Armenia. Many characteristics of this civilization are still unknown today due to a lack of reliable sources. Nonetheless, historians have created a wide image of the region and its people.

Urartu was once divided into multiple kingdoms that later amalgamated to become a single entity. Urartu had formed itself as a distinct province by the 9th century B.C. And, while the reason for this is unknown, it could have been in response to the Assyrian kingdom’s threat.

Unfortunately, there is little evidence of the Urartu kingdom today in Iran, Armenia, and Turkey. However, there are few ruins strewn over the area that supply us with some information. The ruins of an Urartian stronghold, for example, can be found not far from Yerevan, Armenia’s current capital. We might deduce from this that the civilization’s forts were surrounded by massive stone walls with solid foundations.

Historians have also learned more about Urartu thanks to a small number of surviving texts. At first glance, it appears that the culture used primitive pictograms to communicate. However, the culture adopted the cuneiform writing system from neighboring Mesopotamia over time. This evolved into its own distinct form.

The lush territory on which the Urartu kingdom was founded allowed it to flourish. And the people of this society had a lot of options. Important staples like barley, wheat, cherries, pomegranates, and apples may be grown. Farmers could also make wine, putting them in the position of being the first to do so.

They didn’t simply grow fruits and vegetables, though. Urartu’s residents also looked after their livestock. Animals such as cows, sheep, horses, and goats could be kept on the fertile fields of the region. Minerals such as copper, gold, silver, iron, tin, and lead were also discovered in the vicinity.

In addition, the Urartu kingdom was strategically located to do business with other rich neighbors in the region. It was situated along a trading route that connected Mediterranean and Asian civilizations. Mountains loomed on both the northern and southern borders of the territory, providing natural fortification. However, the eastern and western ends of the fort remained exposed to attack.

Who was in command of Urartu, though? In the end, the society was ruled by a monarchy, which delegated power to a tiny group of advisers. Officials who cared about places of worship and handled construction projects like roadbuilding sat beneath these top experts.

Religion appears to have been an essential component of life for the Urartians, as it was for most civilizations. The religious belief appears to have evolved from a mix of original and borrowed ideas from various cultures. There’s also proof that the Urartu people presented their gods’ presents and animal sacrifices.

Tushpa was Urartu’s capital, and it sprang up on a limestone platform near the eastern shore of Lake Van. Tushpa was then dubbed “Van” instead of Tushpa. And this was no tiny town; according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, the settlement’s population peaked at 50,000 people.

The Urartu kingdom’s urban planners were also excellent for their period. They demonstrated their architectural brilliance by building a spectacular 50-mile-long canal that enabled water from a nearby mountain to flow directly into the capital. This, in turn, allowed for the development of outstanding fruit-growing gardens.

When it comes to interacting with its neighbors, the Urartu Kingdom was strategic. On the one hand, it might try to form alliances with neighboring countries. However, it would sometimes take a more aggressive position, demanding gifts and even slaves in exchange for peace. Nonetheless, there are examples of the kingdom completely conquering surrounding kingdoms.

The kingdom was likewise not reluctant to put its most powerful figures in harm’s way. According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, rulers would personally lead troops into combat. Soldiers were armed with swords, spears, and powerful shields, the latter of which would have been ornamented with images of mythological beasts.

The Medes, the Scythians, and the Cimmerians were all competitors of Urartu at the time. However, the Neo-Assyrian Empire appears to have been the kingdom’s main adversary. Having said that, things weren’t quite so straightforward. There’s proof that the two domains did trade with one another as well.

However, all good things must come to an end, and the Urartu nation was regretfully wiped off the map about the 7th century B.C. We don’t know how it came to this horrific end, but the civilization’s cities were annihilated between 640 and 590 B.C. It’s unknown who was behind the raids, but researchers assume it was either the Cimmerians or the Scythians. It’s also possible that it was done by forces apparently under Urartian command.

Regardless of who was to blame, the Medes were the ones who benefited the most from the Urartu kingdom’s demise. They conquered the Urartians’ territories and later established part of the Achaemenian Empire in Cyprus. According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, the Urartu language managed to live for a while longer.

Nonetheless, the Urartians constructed a handful of villages that outlasted the monarchy. Even now, several of these locations are known by their Urartian names. Though it took a long time for the civilization to be acknowledged as a major Bronze Age force. In fact, archeological study on the old kingdom did not begin until the nineteenth century.

Historians today believe that the Urartu kingdom was a major ancient world center. However, finding evidence that could portray a true picture of life there has proven challenging. With that in mind, every new information that can help us learn more about the area is critical.

Perhaps this is why Van Yüzüncü Yil University academics were so eager to investigate Lake Van’s waters. The tales that there were some incredible mysteries hidden beneath the waves were certainly worth investigating. As a result, a crew of divers was gathered and put to work right away.

Tahsin Ceylan, a photojournalist and film producer, was in charge of this group of aquatic explorers. Divers Cumali Birol and Murat Kulakaç, as well as Mustafa Akkuş, an academic from Van Yüzüncü Yl University’s fishery faculty, accompanied him. And they were set to find something incredible as a team.

In November 2017, Ceylan spoke with Hürriyet Daily News about the expedition’s motivations. “Many civilizations and people had settled around Lake Van. They named the lake the ‘upper sea’ and believed it had many mysterious things. With this belief in mind, we are working to reveal the lake’s secrets.” He explained.

So, what did the underwater explorers discover when they went to the bottom of Lake Van to complete their mission? It looked as if they’d entered a long-forgotten stronghold. The group had discovered an ancient wonderland with walls as high as 13 feet.

Ceylan told the Hürriyet Daily News that he and his colleagues had spent a decade researching Lake Van. But this find may have surpassed all else they’d discovered. “We have shared all these findings with the world. Today, we are here to announce the discovery of a castle that has remained underwater in Lake Van.” He stated.

Ceylan continued. “I believe that in addition to this castle, microbialites [carbonate mud deposits] will make contributions to the region’s economy and tourism. It is a miracle to find this castle underwater. Archeologists will come here to examine the castle’s history and provide information on it.”

Ceylan and his fellow divers must have had quite the adventure exploring this long-forgotten fort. After all, they’d unearthed possible evidence of a civilization that had vanished into the abyss of time and nature. Deep beneath the surface of Lake Van, stone walls, carelessly stacked on top of one another, remained intact.

Ceylan told Hürriyet Daily News more about the incredible discovery. “The walls of this castle cover a wide section. The excavations need to be done underwater but we don’t know how deep the walls are. A three-to-four-meter wall section can be seen and the castle ruins cover an area of one kilometer.” He explained.

For many in the archaeological world, this astonishing discovery is a very exciting potential. After all, the lake’s water is alkaline. As a result, the castle has been beautifully preserved during its time underwater.

Ceylan said, “Since the water of Lake Van is alkaline, the castle has not been damaged and has kept its characteristics underwater. We have detected the castle’s exact location and photographed it and have made progress in our research. We now believe we have discovered a new area for archeologists and historians to study.”

The divers estimated that the undersea fortification could be 3,000 years old based on their initial observations. As a result, it would have been a part of the Iron Age Urartian period at one point. And given how many holes there are in our existing knowledge of the territory, this is a wonderful revelation.

But how did this castle end up being abandoned in the first place? Experts think that Lake Van’s limits have shifted over time. While this fortification was previously clearly located at the lake’s shore, it was gradually drowned by the rising waves.

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