How Did the Byzantine & Islamic Empires Influence the World Today?

The Hagia Sophia is a marvel of Byzantine architecture.
... Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Though the Byzantine Empire and the great Islamic empires have long since disappeared, the influence they had on modern society can still be felt today. We owe many medical advances, mathematical concepts and consumer products to the Byzantine and Islamic empires. They ruled large parts of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia for much of history, and contributed a great deal to the world during that period. From coffee to the Taj Mahal to hospitals, their influence is still present in everyday life.

1 The Historical Impact of the Byzantine and Islamic Empires

The civilizations of the East had a profound impact on the development of the modern world -- when the Roman Empire collapsed, the Byzantine and Islamic empires preserved knowledge in the form of books, and kept artistic and scientific innovations alive. The Silk Road, a trade network that stretched from China to Turkey, was maintained by Islamic rulers and ended in Constantinople. Though made famous by the trade in silk, this essential trade route also transmitted technologies and ideas like gunpowder, paper and the waterwheel. The contributions traveled to European economic centers from Byzantine and Islamic cities like Constantinople and Alexandria.

2 Science and Medicine

After Rome fell, the Byzantine East kept using and advancing the knowledge of Greco-Roman medicine, creating textbooks to preserve the learning of Hippocrates, Galens, Pythagoras and Archimedes. During the Islamic Golden Age, beginning in the eighth century, Islamic medicine advanced our understanding of circulation and the human eye, discovered many medical uses for plants, and popularized anesthesia. These advances allowed Muslim doctors to perform surgeries that were impossible before, including treatment of cataracts. Additionally, the Byzantines created the world's first centers for healing and treatment in the form of hospitals, an idea that spread to Islamic cities and eventually Europe.

3 Architecture and Art

Some of the worlds most iconic and beautiful buildings and works of art are a product of the Byzantine and Islamic empires. The beautiful Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I and transformed into a mosque after the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453. The unforgettable Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his wife. Many images of saints and beautiful mosaics survived the fall of the Byzantine empire in places like Cappadocia, and the Islamic empires left behind beautiful works from Spain to Indonesia, like the Mezquita de las Tornerías in Toledo and the Grand Mosque of Yogyakarta in Java.

4 The Influence of Byzantine and Islamic Empires

The influence of the Byzantine and Islamic empires continues in many parts of modern life. Coffee was introduced to the world from Yemen and Ethiopia by Islamic traders; code-breaking and many mathematical techniques are attributed to Arabic philosopher Al-Kindi; many important chemical compounds, like citric acid, were first isolated by Muslim chemists. The influence of Byzantine scholars on the European Renaissance is significant, as they brought to Italy knowledge and techniques that would influence the rebirth of classical art and learning.

Robert Guthrie is stationed in Portland, Ore., and has been writing professionally since 2008 on topics ranging from game reviews to political essays. He has a Bachelor of Arts in history from Colorado College and has been published on websites and local publications.