Like the Roman Empire before it, the Byzantine Empire experienced a number of challenges to its rule. Efforts to expand Byzantine rule under Emperor Justinian led to conflicts with Persians, North Africans, and the Ostrogoths living in Italy. Over the thousand years of Byzantine rule, battles with these and other surrounding peoples led to the expansion and contraction of the empire. Beginning in the eleventh century C.E. Christian armies from western Europe began to travel through the Byzantine Empire to reclaim "holy lands" from Turks and Arabs in the Middle East. These armies, known as crusaders, sparked a series of wars with Turks and Arabs that brought great conflict to the empire. Byzantines argued with the crusaders, and both sides fought against their non-Christian enemies. These conflicts, extended over a period of hundreds of years, exhausted the size and strength of the empire. In 1453 a Turkish army led by Mehmed II (1432-1481) captured the city of Constantinople and ended the Byzantine Empire.
The great city of Constantinople survived and was renamed Istanbul, part of the Ottoman Empire that ruled in Turkey and the surrounding area until the end of World War I (1914-18). In the West, the same crusades that helped end the Byzantine Empire sparked the end of the Middle Ages and led to a period of cultural and intellectual growth in western Europe that paved the way for modern societies to develop as we know them. The Byzantine Empire, then, served as a bridge between the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome and the modern kingdoms and later nation-states of Europe.
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