While the Western Roman Empire decayed and collapsed, its eastern half in Byzantium remained an imperial titan for centuries to come. Repulse countless invasions with imposing fortifications, command vast and versatile armies amassed from within and outside your borders, and immolate enemy fleets with siphons of Greek Fire. Your heavily-armored Cataphracts inspire fear from the Danube to the Euphrates while your scholars propel you into a new age of technology and learning!
The Byzantines are a Southern European civilization in Age of Empires II (Middle Eastern before the Definitive Edition). Although classified as a defensive civilization in-game, they are a versatile civilization in practice, relying on a wide variety of units of all categories for both offense and defense strategies.
The capital Constantinople was the center of a trading network extending across nearly all of Eurasia and North Africa, in particular as the primary western terminus of the Silk Road; the rest of Europe would not match the Byzantines' economic strength until late in the Middle Ages. This is reflected by the Byzantines having access to all economic (Lumber Camp, Mill, and Mining Camp) upgrades.
The Byzantines inherited advanced construction techniques from the Greeks and Romans. To reflect this, all their buildings become tougher with every Age for free, and don't need to research Masonry and Architecture. They also deflected near constant invasions from more numerous but less advanced armies from Europe and Asia, and the double walls of Constantinople had a reputation for impenetrability for a millennium before they were overran by the Turks. This is shown in their access to all fortifications, their cheaper counter units (Camel Riders, Spearmen, and Skirmishers), and their access to Town Watch for free. Their defensive theme is further supported by their Monkshealing faster, which is also a reference to the Byzantines retaining and building upon the Greek medical knowledge that was lost and had to be rediscovered elsewhere.
Finally, the Byzantines' defensive prowress extended to the waters with their continuation of Roman naval techniques and new inventions of their own like Greek fire, a type of napalm that could ignite even on water. This is referenced by the Byzantines being the only civilization with access to all naval upgrades and technologies (along with the Spanish), their Fire Ships attacking faster, and their Castle Age unique technology Greek Fire, which grants Fire Ships +1 range.
The Byzantine units in-game speak Latin, which they share with the Italians and the Briton Monks and Kings. Historically, the Byzantine Empire ditched Latin as an administrative language in the 7th century (for Medieval Greek, which was the most commonly spoken language), and the Latin language itself evolved into the slightly different Medieval Latin. There are also some obvious mistakes in-game, such as asking "I command?" when other civilizations use "Your command?", or using "Hunted" instead of "Hunter" or "To hunt". Byzantine units also differ in that they talk in the first person, while most civilizations use the third person or the infinitive.
When playing a random map game against the computer, the player may encounter any of the following Byzantine AI characters:
Anastasios I Dikoros (Ἀναστάσιος I Δίκορος; 431-518): Byzantine emperor from 491-518. Reformer of administration and internal affairs, gained popularity by lowering taxes. Built the Anastasian Wall to protect Constantinople from Huns, Slavs and Bulgars; reinforced the Persian border.
Basil the Macedonian (Βασίλειος ὁ Μακεδών; 811-886): Byzantine emperor from 867-886. Born a peasant, he rose in the Imperial court and assassinated the emperor to become emperor himself. Turned out to be one of the greatest Byzantine emperors.
Basil Boioannes (Βασίλειος Βοϊωάννης; 1017-1027): was the Byzantine catapan of Italy and one of the greatest Byzantine generals of his time. His accomplishments enabled the Empire to reestablish itself as a major force in southern Italy after centuries of decline.
Belisarius (Βελισάριος; 505-565): Flavius Belisarius, legendary general of Justinian I. Conquered territories in Italy, Dalmatia, Africa and southern Hispania from the Vandals and Goths.
Emp. Alexius IV (Αυτοκράτορας Αλέξιος Δ'; 1182-1204): Byzantine emperor from 1203-1204. Managed to escape to the Holy Roman Empire after his father was overthrown in a coup. He redirected the Fourth Crusade to Constantinople to claim his throne, but failed to meet his promises to the crusader nations and was deeply unpopular with the citizenry. Eventually imprisoned and strangled.
Emp. Anastasius (Αυτοκράτορας Ἀναστάσιος): The only Byzantine Emperor named Anastasius was Anastasios I Dikoros above.
Emp. Constantine (Αυτοκράτορας Κωνσταντῖνος): Eleven emperors were named Constantine, including the first Christian Roman Emperor (306-337), founder of Constantinople, and the last, who disappeared when the Ottomans took the city in 1453.
Emp. Justinian (Αυτοκράτορας Ἰουστίνος; 482-565) : Byzantine emperor from 527-565. Sought to revive the Roman Empire’s greatness by conquering former territories in the western Mediterranean, while Byzantine culture and law flourished.
Emp. Leo VI (Αυτοκράτορας Λέων ΣΤ΄; 866-912): “The Wise”, Byzantine emperor from 886-912. A prolific writer, wrote about law, politics, theology and poetry, while his fortune in wars was mixed.
Emp. Mauricius (Αυτοκράτορας Μαυρίκιος; 539-602): Byzantine emperor from 582-602. Victorious in the war against Persia gaining much of Armenia and Georgia, and solidified territory in the Balkans and the western Mediterranean. Executed by the usurper Phocas.
Emp. Michael V (Αυτοκράτορας Μιχαήλ Ε΄; 1015-1041): Byzantine emperor for four months. Adoptive son of Empress Zoe, she helped him to become heir to the throne. Determined to rule on his own, he banished Zoe, after which the population revolted and Zoe (with her sister) was reinstalled as empress, while Michael died shortly after.
Emp. Romanus II (Αυτοκράτορας Ρωμανός Β΄; 938-963): Byzantine emperor from 959-963. Recaptured Crete from the Muslims, captured Arab territory in the east and defended the Balkans from the Magyars. Suddenly became ill on a hunting expedition and died.
Emp. Tiberius III (Αυτοκράτορας Τιβέριος Γʹ): Byzantine emperor from 698-705. Former Germanic naval officer, decided to ignore Africa and Carthage and focus his efforts on containing the Arab threat in the east.
General Manuel Comnenus (Μανουήλ Κομνηνός; 1118-1180): Byzantine emperor from 1143-1180. Sought the return of the glory of the Byzantine Empire: Made alliances with the pope, held campaigns in Hungary and Sicily and also took part in the Second Crusade.
Heraclius the Elder (Ηράκλειος ο Πρεσβύτερος; ?-610): Byzantine general. Fought battles against the Persians and quelled an Armenian revolt. Appointed Exarch of Africa, he then helped his son to overthrow the usurper Phocas, but died soon after.
Michael the Stammerer (Μιχαήλ ὁ Τραυλός; 770-829): Michael II the Amorian, Byzantine emperor from 820-829. Rose from soldier up to high rank and conspired to assassinate the emperor to become emperor himself. Lost Crete to the Saracens and could not prevent the Muslim conquest of Sicily.
The Byzantines took their name from Byzantium, an ancient city on the Bosphorus, the strategic waterway linking the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea. The Roman Emperor Constantine had renamed this city Constantinople in the fourth century and made it a sister capital of his empire. This eastern partition of the Roman Empire outlived its western counterpart by a thousand years, defending Europe against invasions from the east by Persians, Arabs, and Turks. The Byzantines persevered because Constantinople was well defended by walls and the city could be supplied by sea. At their zenith in the sixth century, the Byzantines covered much of the territories of the original Roman Empire, lacking only the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal), Gaul (modern France), and Britain. The Byzantines also held Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, but by the middle of the seventh century they had lost them to the Arabs. From then on their empire consisted mainly of the Balkans and modern Turkey.
The first great Byzantine emperor was Justinian I (482 to 565). His ambition was to restore the old Roman Empire and he nearly succeeded. His instrument was the greatest general of the age, Belisarius, who crisscrossed the empire defeating Persians to the East, Vandals in North Africa, Ostrogoths in Italy, and Bulgars and Slavs in the Balkans. In addition to military campaigns, Justinian laid the foundation for the future by establishing a strong legal and administrative system and by defending the Christian Church.
The Byzantine economy was the richest in Europe for many centuries because Constantinople was ideally sited on trade routes between Asia, Europe, the Black Sea, and the Aegean Sea. It was an important destination point for the Silk Road from China. The nomisma, the principal Byzantine gold coin, was the standard for money throughout the Mediterranean for 800 years. Constantinople’s strategic position eventually attracted the envy and animosity of the Italian city-states.
A key strength of the Byzantine Empire was its generally superior army that drew on the best elements of the Roman, Greek, Gothic, and Middle Eastern experience in war. The core of the army was a shock force of heavy cavalry supported by both light infantry (archers) and heavy infantry (armored swordsmen). The army was organized into units and drilled in tactics and maneuvers. Officers received an education in military history and theory. Although outnumbered usually by masses of untrained warriors, it prevailed thanks to intelligent tactics and good discipline. The army was backed by a network of spies and secret agents that provided information about enemy plans and could be used to bribe or otherwise deflect aggressors.
The Byzantine navy kept the sea-lanes open for trade and kept supply lines free so the city could not be starved into submission when besieged. In the eighth century, a land and sea attack by Arabs was defeated largely by a secret weapon, Greek fire. This chemical weapon, its composition now unknown, was a sort of liquid napalm that could be sprayed from a hose. The Arab navy was devastated at sea by Greek fire.
In the seventh and eighth centuries, the Arabs overran Egypt, the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain, removing these areas permanently from Byzantine control. A Turkish victory at Manzikert in 1071 led to the devastation of Asia Minor, the empire’s most important source of grain, cattle, horses, and soldiers. In 1204 Crusaders led by the Doge of Venice used treachery to sack and occupy Constantinople.
In the fourteenth century, the Turks invaded Europe, capturing Adrianople and bypassing Constantinople. They settled the Balkans in large numbers and defeated a large crusader army at Nicopolis in 1396. In May 1453, Turkish sultan Mehmet II captured a weakly defended Constantinople with the aid of heavy cannon. The fall of the city brought the Byzantine Empire to an end.
The Byzantine civilization icon in the Definitive Edition is a kite shield like the one used by the Cataphract. It bears the tetragrammic cross, which was used as emblem by the Palaiologos dynasty from the mid-13th century.
After changing to the Mediterranean architecture set in the Definitive Edition, the Byzantines are the only civilization with European architecture that can train Camel Riders.
The Byzantines and the Teutons are the only "defensive" civilizations in The Age Of Kings. Their "defensive" point aren't changed in the later expansions.
The Byzantines are one of the three civilizations that have access to Paladins, but not Bloodlines (the other being Celts and Franks, although the later have a civilization bonus that gives their cavalry units +20% HP), and one of the two civilizations that have access to Camel Riders without Bloodlines (the other being the Ethiopians).