Jump to content

What is in a Name? The question of the Eastern Roman Empire (aka Byzantine.)


Simon
 Share

Recommended Posts

The Byzantines spoke Greek, did not rule in Rome nor were they Roman Catholic, thus they were not Roman.

That is the basis for all arguments that dismiss the title of the Eastern Roman Empire. In a complex world, its history becomes complex as well.

Constantine the Great created a second capital for the Romans in the 4th century, it was called New Rome and then Constantinople after its creator Constantine. Its creation was because the Empire was too large and to spread out. The location he chooses was excellent for defense and for trade and taxation. At the time of its creation, it had no enemies close by, just conquered lands of the Romans. Originally the population spoke Latin, that changed after the revolt of Heraclius in the early 7th century.

As time Changed, the city of Rome fell. The Empire changed and new ones appeared in it place but the Empire of the Romans still stood in Constantinople. In the west it was referred to Res Publica Romana, In the mid-8th century the popes of Rome made a change, in the west, the empire became known as Graeci. That is the earliest test to the empires name and Emperor’s title.

In the 9th century the real push to remove the title from the Eastern Roman Empire, they began to question if the Eastern Emperor had the right to call himself Emperor of the Romans. This came about as the Germans powers were drawing heavily on Roman prestige. They saw the Eastern claim to the title as a major obstacle.

As the title Graeci was used with more frequency, it became known as a name with many negative connotations, treachery, excessive sophistication, love of luxury, verbal trickery and cowardice.

During the time of the Empire, they themselves called it the “Roman Empire” and their enemies called it “bilad al-Rum ( Lands of Rome)

In the West It again changed, Western literature began calling the Emperor, Emperor of the Greeks and Emperor of Constantinople, also less frequently used, The Low Empire, The Late Empire, The Roman Empire. These remained in usage until long after the fall of Constantinople. The 19th Century was the first regular usage of the word Byzantine.

Now the first usage of the word Byzantium came from the title of a commissioned book of translations, the author was a translator Hieronymus Wolf the work was” Corpus Historiae Byzantinae” ( 1557-62) In it he makes his contempt for the Empire known.

“I am surprised, not sorry, that such dregs and bilge water of a iniquitous people so long remained unmolested and were not conquered earlier.”

So the word Byzantine was born after the empire and not as a compliment, just another way to disassociate it from Rome.

At this point the word Byzantine was not in regular usage to describe the Empire, the real time when this word becomes common is in the mid-19th century. No one knows for certain what created the movement of referring to the Romans as Byzantines, it seems to be a buildup of modern politics, racism and theological conflict. Some have surmised it was brought into use after the Modern Greek state in 1820 to deny the Greeks their history and claim to their old territories. In other theories it was to prevent Russia from creating a new Puppet state in the Ottoman territory. This story is more complex, but it again had to do with the Modern Greek state.

 Regardless the results are the same, with the name Byzantine in leaves an empire without a known heritage, it was based on the original long forgotten town the city of Constantinople was built on.

It is interesting that this question is being asked in multiple books, now Byzantium is a name of convenience to represent the time. For Numismatics Byzantine begins at the coin reform of Anastasias, for some it is the change of language after the revolt of Heraclius and for some The Roman Empire ended during the fall of Constantinople in 1453 so Byzantium never existed.

The flip side to this is the question was Byzantium an Imperial Roman state or is it just a continuance of the history of Greece?

 

My primary sources for this write up were two newly published books, both are filled with abundant info, far more detailed than my brief write up. 

Romanland Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium by Anthony Kaldellis

The Invention of Byzantium in Early Modern Europe  Edited by Nathanael Aschenbrenner and Jake Ransohoff

 

I have always been curious on the renaming, I thought I would share the story, if others have opinions, please feel free to share. 

Edited by Simon
  • Like 11
  • Thanks 1
  • Cool Think 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is interesting that Gibbon in his all encompassing history of Rome's demise has the ROMAN empire going right up to 1453 and he was writing this in the mid 1770's.. I have read somewhere I cannot recall that as the occupants of Constantinople were lurching to oblivion in the mid 15th Century, that they themselves began to emphasize their "Greekness". If this is true, perhaps even they came to recognize that calling themselves Romans no longer made much sense. In my own teaching of history I used the term Eastern Roman Empire up to Justinian and sometimes to Heraclius, but after the Aranbconquests I introduced my students to the term Byzantine but always stressing that this term, Byzantine, has been a relatively late and artificial convention. Perhaps, oddly enough, I also use this distinction in the arrangement of my numismatic material.

Edited by kevikens
spelling error
  • Like 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think it's certainly both and more. This reminded me of how the locals in the islands that were liberated by the Greek army in the 1920s regarded their own identity as Romaioi -- a designation that they had clung to since the Ottoman invasions -- vs the Greeks who were seen as Hellenes. At this scale of history all identities are extremely fluid and at the same time remarkably strong and knowing and using this understanding makes our study of history more comprehensible and relatable.

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

5 minutes ago, kevikens said:

It is interesting that Gibbon in his all encompassing history of Rome's demise has the ROMAN empire going right up to 1453 and he was writing this in the mid 1770's.. I have read somewhere I cannot recall that as the occupants of Constantinople were lurching to oblivion in the mid 15th Century,that they themselves began to emphasize their "Greekness". If this is true, perhaps even they came to recognize that calling themselves Romans no longer made much sense. In my own teaching of history I used the term Eastern Roman Empire up to Justinian and sometimes to Heraclius, but after the Aran conquests I introduced my students to the term Byzantine but always stressing that this term, Byzantine, has been a relatively late and artificial convention. Perhaps, oddly enough, I also use this distinction in the arrangement of my numismatic material.

In one of the two books they mention Gibbon using the word Byzantine BUT when they did something right, like won a battle or such he called them Roman.  I have not read his work as an adult so I do not recall this to be true. 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Excellent write up! I wish we could do away with the term Byzantine altogether. It makes the Eastern Romans feel “lesser than“, seemingly unworthy of the legacy of Rome, even though it was the West that fell nearly a millennia earlier than the East 🤨

Although, I feel complicit as even on this site the term is used for categories... 😶

  • Like 3
  • Yes 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The word Byzantine persists because it is useful.  Just as Republican, Imperatorial, and Imperial are descriptive terms which broadly indicate temporal slices of Roman civilization, and useful terms they are.  Byzantine means Roman civilization from Anastasius till 1453 AD.  There has to be some term to differentiate that period from the Classic Imperial times.  If there are people who don’t understand the continuity of Eastern Roman Empire —->Byzantium it just means they are poorly educated.  The Byzantine emperors certainly considered themselves Roman emperors.  The Turks who set up the sultanate of Rum didn’t call it the Sultanate of the Hellenes.   

All my humble opinion, of course. 

  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

When I had the epiphany of knowing that the Romans were a lot closer to us, in time, than I previously thought, and that the Byzantines never existed but they were actually from the same Roman state of antiquity, I was astonished. 

I never refer to the Roman Empire as Byzantine. I always refer to it as the people referred to it. Even the Turks and Arabs refer to the Romans as Romans and not Byzantine or Greeks even into the modern day. 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

American Buffalo are actually bison, but the inaccurate name is the popular name, with a long legacy of use.  Misnomers are not necessarily evil in intent.  Sometimes an inaccurate term wins the popularity contest of common speech over time.  I have yet to meet a Bison nickel collector, but plenty of people collect Buffalo nickels.  
 

If you say you collect only Byzantine coins, I would not expect to find Hadrian and Galba and Vespasian in your cabinet.  The word Byzantine is valuable because it conveys information with some specificity.   Discussions always benefit from a definition of terms, but in the absence of that, again IMHO, Byzantine is less ambiguous than Late Roman or Eastern Roman, or Medieval Roman.   
 

Putting my thoughts in writing has clarified my thinking on this.  Previously I also had some qualms about calling the Later Romans the Byzantines, because I knew it was a recently invented name.  But it works, it is less ambiguous, and it is commonly accepted.  And to be honest, most names for groups of people are not what those people would call themselves.  Unless they are speaking English, Germans do not call themselves Germans, nor Frenchmen call themselves French.  I suspect Finns are not Finns, and I think Hungarians are Magyars.  I see no reason why post-Anastasius Romans should not be Byzantines.  
 

 

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Time for some coins in this interesting thread no? 🙂 

Byzantion siglos c. 340-320 BCE:

image.jpeg.bee36020cf4c13eef0793a7d497be8ce.jpeg

From the very first issue out of the Constantinople mint (quite hard to find; the more exciting types came later):

image.jpeg.8f2a1973248e6e84f37291806e3e0539.jpeg

 

Is this next coin late Roman or Byzantine? It's Anastasius, but also a classic late Roman nummus:

image.jpeg.9b444d199881f823ab26c165fed2efde.jpeg

 

Basil II (976-1025), reverse legend + ЬASIL / C CωҺSTAҺ / ΠORFVROS / ΠISTV ЬAS / RωMAIω:

image.jpeg.a477851e1ceff4a74334c8052da36b6b.jpeg

Danishmendid: Malik Muhammad (1134-1142), Siwas mint (Album 1238). Obverse legend: +OME/ΛΗKIC/ PACHC Pω/MANI[AC <--very clear on this example:

image.jpeg.42c2b1d06f1f7772e20583af837a1154.jpeg

Near the end: John VIII Palaeologus (1423-1448) AR stavraton:

image.jpeg.dfdbd844ede9539b37962eea3a641f1f.jpeg

 

And after the end, Mehmet the Conqueror's first issue of akce from the Constantinople/Kostantiniye mint in 1460:

image.jpeg.bb7775cf5212740031bf06da96d67e60.jpeg

^ Were there "Romans" still living in the city?

Edited by Severus Alexander
  • Like 11
  • Thanks 1
  • Heart Eyes 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's interesting. I collect Byzantine coins. I usually use the word "Byzantine" for the Empire from 498 AD, when Anastasius I created the first large 40 nummi bronze coins, to 1453 AD. However, sometimes I use the phrase "Eastern Roman Empire" instead of "Byzantine". To me, the Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire. But, I still like the word "Byzantine". Why? I'm not sure. Maybe it's because, the word "Byzantine" implies to me, that the Eastern Roman Empire changed, over the centuries.

Edited by sand
  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interesting thread..Thanks. 

20220813_5iRJ7Sr2n8D3KdW4sn7Z6WJoqP9T3j.jpg.c7c550c6180053bd979c5712bf8af910.jpg

City Commemorative. 330-354 AD. AE Follis (2.40 gm, 17mm). Antioch mint. Struck 330-335 AD.
Obv.: VRBS ROMA, helmeted head of Roma left, wearing imperial mantle and ornamental necklace.
Rev.: she-wolf standing left, suckling Romulus and Remus, two stars above; SMANZ in exergue. RIC#91.
 

1530096553_20220812_Bnk9D2Qn3CoMeJE8PJ4pNaQ65EMfps-2(1).jpg.58238bbb0b2c51384384d9979f60d45b.jpg

Commemorative Series. 330-354 AD. AE Follis (2.03 gm, 16mm). Trier mint. Struck 330/1 AD.
Obv.: CONSTAN-TINOPOLIS, mantled bust of Constantinopolis left wearing laureate crested helmet and holding sceptre shoulder.
Rev.: Victory standing facing, head left, in prow of galley holding sceptre resting on shield; TRP dot ;. RIC 530 P; LRBC 59.

  • Like 9
Link to comment
Share on other sites

13 hours ago, Simon said:

The Byzantines spoke Greek, did not rule in Rome nor were they Roman Catholic, thus they were not Roman.

That is the basis for all arguments that dismiss the title of the Eastern Roman Empire. In a complex world, its history becomes complex as well.

Constantine the Great created a second capital for the Romans in the 4th century, it was called New Rome and then Constantinople after its creator Constantine. Its creation was because the Empire was too large and to spread out. The location he chooses was excellent for defense and for trade and taxation. At the time of its creation, it had no enemies close by, just conquered lands of the Romans. Originally the population spoke Latin, that changed after the revolt of Heraclius in the early 7th century.

As time Changed, the city of Rome fell. The Empire changed and new ones appeared in it place but the Empire of the Romans still stood in Constantinople. In the west it was referred to Res Publica Romana, In the mid-8th century the popes of Rome made a change, in the west, the empire became known as Graeci. That is the earliest test to the empires name and Emperor’s title.

In the 9th century the real push to remove the title from the Eastern Roman Empire, they began to question if the Eastern Emperor had the right to call himself Emperor of the Romans. This came about as the Germans powers were drawing heavily on Roman prestige. They saw the Eastern claim to the title as a major obstacle.

As the title Graeci was used with more frequency, it became known as a name with many negative connotations, treachery, excessive sophistication, love of luxury, verbal trickery and cowardice.

During the time of the Empire, they themselves called it the “Roman Empire” and their enemies called it “bilad al-Rum ( Lands of Rome)

In the West It again changed, Western literature began calling the Emperor, Emperor of the Greeks and Emperor of Constantinople, also less frequently used, The Low Empire, The Late Empire, The Roman Empire. These remained in usage until long after the fall of Constantinople. The 19th Century was the first regular usage of the word Byzantine.

Now the first usage of the word Byzantium came from the title of a commissioned book of translations, the author was a translator Hieronymus Wolf the work was” Corpus Historiae Byzantinae” ( 1557-62) In it he makes his contempt for the Empire known.

“I am surprised, not sorry, that such dregs and bilge water of a iniquitous people so long remained unmolested and were not conquered earlier.”

So the word Byzantine was born after the empire and not as a compliment, just another way to disassociate it from Rome.

At this point the word Byzantine was not in regular usage to describe the Empire, the real time when this word becomes common is in the mid-19th century. No one knows for certain what created the movement of referring to the Romans as Byzantines, it seems to be a buildup of modern politics, racism and theological conflict. Some have surmised it was brought into use after the Modern Greek state in 1820 to deny the Greeks their history and claim to their old territories. In other theories it was to prevent Russia from creating a new Puppet state in the Ottoman territory. This story is more complex, but it again had to do with the Modern Greek state.

 Regardless the results are the same, with the name Byzantine in leaves an empire without a known heritage, it was based on the original long forgotten town the city of Constantinople was built on.

It is interesting that this question is being asked in multiple books, now Byzantium is a name of convenience to represent the time. For Numismatics Byzantine begins at the coin reform of Anastasias, for some it is the change of language after the revolt of Heraclius and for some The Roman Empire ended during the fall of Constantinople in 1453 so Byzantium never existed.

The flip side to this is the question was Byzantium an Imperial Roman state or is it just a continuance of the history of Greece?

 

My primary sources for this write up were two newly published books, both are filled with abundant info, far more detailed than my brief write up. 

Romanland Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium by Anthony Kaldellis

The Invention of Byzantium in Early Modern Europe  Edited by Nathanael Aschenbrenner and Jake Ransohoff

 

I have always been curious on the renaming, I thought I would share the story, if others have opinions, please feel free to share. 

Simon, I enjoyed your excellent essay ☺️. The word Byzantine is so firmly entrenched in our usage I don't ever see it going away. I use the word without regret to make a clear distinction between the differences in the Eastern & Western Roman Empires. Pictured below is an early solidus of Heraclius & his son with a clear & legible obverse inscription in Latin.

               1569030494_HeracliusSonSolidusobv.(2).jpg.3199764deceeeff5fd2271ddd78d77b1.jpg

 

  • Like 9
  • Heart Eyes 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

..in my book...Byzantium WAS a part of Rome...then when they MOVED our of Rome to Byzantium and named it Constantinople , they were APART from Rome....they took some stuff and habits wid'em...but with the seat of power being moved, it was a separate entity.....

IMG_1208 (2).JPG

  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nice write up! I'm new to this topic and have not read as much as I would like to yet, so take these questions with a grain of salt... or maybe with an entire salt lick. 😁

I agree that the term "Byzantium," after the empire's fall, became a way to disassociate it from Rome, but did the books talk about the Greek town "Byzantion" that the city of Constantinople was founded on? Or that gold coinage was sometimes referred to as "Byzantius" and "Byzantinus" in the 9th century?  Though I know that the Byzantines didn't refer to themselves as "Byzantines," there seems to be some precedent for others possibly referring to the empire, or at least the area, in that manner prior to its fall. And perhaps it was also sometimes meant derogatorily? I'm just wondering if it's entirely accurate that the word came along only after the empire's collapse? Or did it come along only in a certain sense after that time? I'm not sure myself, I'm just trying to clarify. The books quoted definitely sound interesting and this is an endlessly fascinating topic. I need to read more. Thanks for sharing!

I'll add some coins (you're probably all sick of seeing them by now 😁) for good measure:

820_to_829_MichaelII_AE_Follis_01.png.7fbab609f9ffbfc130a799a9ad6885a5.png820_to_829_MichaelII_AE_Follis_02.png.7e064820d95c8bfae14ae4965388ae46.png
Michael II the Amorian (AD 820 - 829) with Theophilus Æ Follis; Constantinople mint; Obv: MIXAHL S ΘЄOFILOS, crowned facing busts of Michael (on left) and Theophilus (on right); cross above; Rev: Large M, X/X/X to left, cross above, N/N/N to right, Θ below; 29.12mm; 6.21 grams; Sear 1642

813_to_820_LeoV_AE_Follis_01.png.c2423b4d2130119dec3115137bf7ddc8.png813_to_820_LeoV_AE_Follis_02.png.04355d7123bbc7ed970e1edf188d03ed.png
Leo V AD 813-820, AE Follis (23mm, 4.43 grams) Constantinopolis; LEON S CONST; facing busts of Leo (l.) and Constantine (r.);
Large M between XXX and NNN; cross above and A below; Sear 1630

  • Like 10
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...