Medieval Europe & the Byzantine Empire: c. 400 – 1300

The Middle Ages lasted nearly 1000 years. The era began when persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire ended with the Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century. Early Christian churches, tombs and catacombs from this period can still be visited in Rome. Constantine also established a new capital for the Empire far from Rome in the city of Constantinople (now Istanbul). The Empire after this time is known as the Byzantine Empire and is the last phase of the Roman Empire. The Byzantine Empire was Christian and lasted for a thousand years. Byzantine art is known for its ethereal mosaics, ivories, and metalwork. In Western Europe, extraordinary art was made by the Anglo-Saxons, under Charlemagne, and during the periods known as Romanesque and Gothic.

St. Mark from the Godescalc Gospel Lectionary, folio 1v., c. 781-83
Thanks to Charlemagne, religious reform and cultural revival swept 9th-century Europe. We call this period “Carolingian.”

Carolingian art, an introduction

Durham Cathedral
Spiral columns, carved zig-zags, round arches—at Durham, the rhythmic Anglo-Norman Romanesque pulses with life.

Durham Cathedral

The Vienna Genesis
Silver ink on purple parchment—what luxury! This is the oldest surviving illustrated biblical text.

The Vienna Genesis

Altneushul synagogue, Prague
In the “Old New Synagogue,” desks surround a Torah plaform. Text outweighs image—only plants ornament the space.

Altneushul, Prague