These images give a brief overview of the classical period in Europe, including the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, and the Byzantine Empire. Each of these empires had their own respective strengths, which allowed them to dominate the Mediterranean region for centuries.
The Greek Empire would not have been possible without the development of shipbuilding. Ships allowed the Greeks to trade, travel, build colonies, go to war, etc. Warships, like the trireme and the Hepteres/septireme shown, were crucial to Greek dominance of the Mediterranean. Ancient Greek civilization depended on water for transportation because they did not yet have the technology to build inland transportation networks. This also helps explain why ancient Greek civilization for the most part did not spread very far into the interior of the continent, as Rome did. The colonies established by the Greeks served to export surpluses of goods like olive oil, metals, and luxury items to the main Greek cities. Greek elites had leisure time, which allowed the civilization to develop the rich culture that it is known for today.
Like the Greeks, the Roman Empire began its history with sea trade across the Mediterranean in the 1st-2nd centuries BCE. The Romans gradually took over the Greek colonies and expanded their territory. Rome, however, had key advantages over the Greeks that allowed it to spread quickly and across vast distances. Roman Emperors focused on military technology/organization and civil engineering, which allowed Rome to gain huge amounts of power and land. Roman engineering is still famous to this day; many Roman ruins, roads, and infrastructure stand to this day. The high quality Roman roads allowed Rome to spread inland (unlike the Greeks), and high quality construction allowed them to build sturdy buildings, like amphitheaters, with ease. The map of Roman amphitheaters, however, shows that there was an extremely high concentration of amphitheaters in the center of the Empire, with very few on the outskirts. Amphitheaters undoubtedly served as reminders of Rome’s power, but they were few and far between on the outskirts of the Empire, where such reminders were needed most. Rome faced many challenges due to its rapid expansion, which caused organizational and bureaucratic headaches for the Empire. Furthermore, the Empire became politically unstable with a rapid succession of Emperors, especially after the split of the Empire and the introduction of the Tetrarchy. The rise of Christianity as shown in the map further weakened the Empire by introducing a new religion that went against traditional Roman religion.
The Byzantine Empire tried to reclaim the glory of Rome, but ultimately failed. Under Justinian, the Byzantines tried to reclaim the Western Roman Empire, but were unsuccessful. The Byzantines became entangled in the Crusades, which did not work out very well for them. They faced constant pressure from the increasingly powerful Ottomans in Anatolia and were constantly pushed back until the Ottomans finally captured Constantinople in 1453. Although many overlook the Byzantine Empire, it did manage to hang around on its own for about 1000 years, which is quite an impressive feat in history.
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