A History of the Middle Ages 284–1500 by Sidney Painter

By Sidney Painter

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In Asia, the imperial armies waged almost continuous war against the Arabs. After the failure of the great siege of Constantinople in 717-18, the Arabs were pushed slowly but steadily back. In 745 the Emperor Constantine V (741-75), who had succeeded Leo, invaded Syria. The following year the Byzantine navy won an overwhelming victory over a Moslem fleet and recaptured Cyprus. The year 750 saw the end of the Omayyad caliphate, and the establishment of the Abbasid. As the Omayyad caliphs (661-750) had their capital in Damascus, they were well situated for attacks on the imperial frontiers.

The accession of Leo marks the end of the first great period of Byzantine history. Under the emperors of the dynasties of Justinian and Heraclius the institutions of the Byzantine Empire had developed rapidly. The rulers were fully aware that the empire's survival depended to a large extent on its economic resources. Most important of all was agriculture, for it not only supplied the food needed by the people, but manpower for the army as well. The emperors were extremely active in colonizing waste and uncultivated lands.

The two most profitable trades, those in grain and silk, were government monopolies, but all merchants were rigidly regulated. This tended to discourage initiative on the part of the Byzantine merchants. While they conducted the wholesale and retail trade within the empire, they were inclined to leave the importing and exporting of goods to foreigners. Constantinople was the greatest market of the world. To it came the products of the East: silks, cotton, sugar, and spices. To it also came many products of the West, carried in the ships of its Italian subject cities such as Venice, Ravenna, and Amalfi.

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