Chapter 8 - Early Jewish, Christian, and Byzantine Art
During the later Roman Empire, as Christianity began to spread, Christians sought new ways to communicate their faith to their fellow believers. Early Christian art was heavily influenced by early Jewish art. Both adopted conventions of figure style and composition that made it easy for the viewer to comprehend the scene, but both tended to couch their imagery in symbolic terms that had meaning only for the initiated. Constantine's decision to tolerate Christianity and patronize it himself led to great changes, including the development of an architectural idiom for Christian churches based on the Roman basilica.
The western half of the Roman Empire collapsed at the end of the 5th century, but the Eastern Empire would live on for another thousand years. Historians distinguish this phase of the Empire's history by the term "Byzantine", after the ancient name of the capital at Constantinople (Byzantium). From this point, Western and Eastern Europe began to develop their own distinctive cultures. The most important Emperor of the Early Byzantine period was Justinian, whose armies conquered Italy, Africa, and southern Spain for a time. His building projects would influence Eastern and Western architecture for centuries.