Third Grade - World History - Lesson 31 - The Eastern Roman Empire

Review the accomplishments of Emperor Constantine.
Identify Emperor Justinian's major accomplishment as the creation of Justinian's Code.

Classroom-size world map
Map of the Roman Empire (attached and also used in Lesson 29) for transparency

 Suggested Books
Teacher Reference
Burrell, Roy. The Romans. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. (0-19-917162-9)
Hirsch, E. D. What Your Fourth Grader Needs to Know. New York: Dell, 1992. (0-385-31260-1)


Remind the students that although the Roman Empire began in the city of Rome, it gradually expanded over hundreds of years to include what are today known as southern England, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Germany and France. On a world map, show how large an area this is.

Display the transparency of the Roman Empire. Direct the students' attention to the dark line at the center of the map. Ask: Why did Emperor Constantine divide the Roman Empire into two parts. (Because the empire was large, it was difficult for one person to rule.) Ask: What is the part of the empire to the left of the line called? (the Western Roman Empire) To the right? (the Eastern Roman Empire)

Ask: In addition to dividing the Roman Empire into two parts, what other changes did Constantine make within the empire? (Emperor Constantine became the first Christian emperor of Rome and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. He moved the capital of the empire from Rome to the city of Byzantium.) Tell the students that Constantine built a new city on the site of the city of Byzantium and named it Constantinople after himself (write the names of the cities on the board). Explain that today the city is called Istanbul (write the name on the board) and is located in the country of Turkey. Ask a student to locate Istanbul on the world map.

Tell the students that as the western part of the Roman Empire, including the city of Rome, began to be taken over by invading tribes, the eastern part of the Roman Empire continued to be successful and the city of Constantinople grew. Direct the students' attention to the world map. Tell the students that Constantinople was more easily defended from intruders than the city of Rome and was therefore able to avoid being taken over. Ask: Looking at where the city of Constantinople is located, why would the city have been hard to attack? (Approaching enemies attacking from the land or sea would be easily seen.)

Explain that the city of Constantinople became the center of the Byzantine Empire. Tell the students that the people of Constantinople carried on the traditions and culture of the Roman Empire, but since the city is located where Europe and Asia meet, the Byzantine Empire slowly became a mixture of Asian, Roman, and Greek cultures and people.

Tell the students that after Constantine, the most famous Byzantine leader was the emperor Justinian who together with his wife, Theodora, ruled from 527 A.D. to 565 A.D. Explain that Emperor Justinian is most famous for organizing Roman laws. Read the following from What Your Fourth Grader Needs to Know by E. D. Hirsch:

As the Western Roman Empire was breaking down, Roman laws were in danger of being lost. But Justinian saved these laws by ordering scholars to gather and organize them, to improve some of them, and to write them all down in books. These laws, known as Justinian's Code, affected the way laws were made for many centuries afterward. Write the words Justinian's Code on the board. Tell the students that just as the Bill of Rights of the United States was written down to be saved and is still the basis for our fundamental rights in the United States, Justinian's Code saved in writing the laws which began in Ancient Rome.

Explain that Roman law was used as a reference by later governments to write the laws for their countries. Tell the students that two examples of characteristics of Roman law were that the law considered above all the rights of individuals and it said that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Ask the students to discuss the similarities of those characteristics to the laws we have today in the United States. Ask students why these are important laws. Ask: What would happen if these laws did not exist?