Byzantium and Rome: why does it matter?

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,816
Blachernai
#1
As illustrated in the other thread (http://historum.com/medieval-byzantine-history/110759-when-de-facto-end-roman-empire.html) as well as countless ones before it, whether Byzantium is Rome or not is a frequent topic of discussion on this forum. I'd like to ask an historical question related to this: why do we care? Why does it matter if Byzantium was Rome? Cui bono from such a reading of history? Do national narratives or academic trends have a role here? Is it a crime to Byzantium that all we talk about is their Romanness? Is there even a fixed and unchanging Romanitas that we can speak of?
 
#2
As illustrated in the other thread (http://historum.com/medieval-byzantine-history/110759-when-de-facto-end-roman-empire.html) as well as countless ones before it, whether Byzantium is Rome or not is a frequent topic of discussion on this forum. I'd like to ask an historical question related to this: why do we care? Why does it matter if Byzantium was Rome? Cui bono from such a reading of history? Do national narratives or academic trends have a role here? Is it a crime to Byzantium that all we talk about is their Romanness? Is there even a fixed and unchanging Romanitas that we can speak of?
It would be interesting to see how things would have turned out differently if the Greek war of independence had been more successful, and they had actually managed to get control of Ionia and Constantinople. People don't tend to see Byzantium as 'Greece', they see it as a totally different civilisation, a continuation of the Roman period, because modern Greece is so restricted and undiverse compared to the historical 'Greater Greece'.

I think partly people are so interested in it because people view the end of Rome as the end of ancient history and the beginning of medieval history, but some people tend to discount medieval history and view everything up to the renaissance as just swords and sandals, reaching a high point in Rome then declining and stagnating until the Italians saved the day and restored European greatness. So it's really a battle between medievalists and classicists.
 
Jan 2016
1,138
Victoria, Canada
#3
As illustrated in the other thread (http://historum.com/medieval-byzantine-history/110759-when-de-facto-end-roman-empire.html) as well as countless ones before it, whether Byzantium is Rome or not is a frequent topic of discussion on this forum. I'd like to ask an historical question related to this: why do we care? Why does it matter if Byzantium was Rome? Cui bono from such a reading of history? Do national narratives or academic trends have a role here? Is it a crime to Byzantium that all we talk about is their Romanness? Is there even a fixed and unchanging Romanitas that we can speak of?
Because Renaissance thinkers romanticized the idea of the roman empire so much. People want the roman empire to be long lost, perfect, and tragic, but the byzantine empire ruins this for them. They can't accept that the roman empire could ever change, so they have to make up a new identity for it. People call the byzantine empire greek while still calling modern day hungary "hungary" and modern day china "china" when these states are far less similar to their older equivalents than the byzantine empire was the roman empire. The same can be said of almost any modern state really.

There really isn't an unchanging "roman-ness", but people really want there to be.
 

Lucius

Forum Staff
Jan 2007
16,363
Nebraska
#4
Rome was something like the capital of Western Europe.

Western Europe went out in ships and made maps of the whole planet. It's how Latin America got it's name. It's why Mozambique is 28% Roman Catholic; as for the Orthodox areas, not so much in regard to the subject of taking over the world.

See also, Byzantine Religion and Influence
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,643
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#5
Modern historiography tends to use the term "Byzantine", while Byzantines themselves called themselves "Romans".

This is the main point: the Eastern part of the Roman Empire considered to be the keeper of the Roman Civitas [Roman civilization] and it identified itself with it.

It wasn't Rome, it was Roman. In fact what we call [well, we ... I prefer not to use this definition] "Byzantine Empire" was the "Imperium Romanum". Its inhabitants called themselves "Romei" [Ῥωμιός / Rōmiós] and to be accurate it was in the XVIII that historians begun to use the term "Byzantine" to differentiate the Eastern Roman Empire.

Is it correct? Why not ...

The Romanum Imperium we call "Byzantine" was something different, still "Roman", but different [at least from VII century CE when Eastern Emperors forgot about the intention to rebuild the original Roman Empire in its whole extension, reconquering all the Western territories]. Like the Frank / Germanic Holy Roman Empire [Sacrum Romanum Imperium]. But sure the "Byzantine" one had the continuity with the original Roman one.
 
Jan 2016
1,138
Victoria, Canada
#7
The Romanum Imperium we call "Byzantine" was something different, still "Roman", but different [at least from VII century CE when Eastern Emperors forgot about the intention to rebuild the original Roman Empire in its whole extension, reconquering all the Western territories]. Like the Frank / Germanic Holy Roman Empire [Sacrum Romanum Imperium]. But sure the "Byzantine" one had the continuity with the original Roman one
.

It's a popular myth that justinian was "the last roman" in that he was the only one to try to reconquer the western empire, but that's not really true. In his "chronicles" Micheal Psellus describes Romanos III's dream of reconquering the lost territory "in the east and west", and his subsequent massing of troops and horrible defeat. This makes me think that many emperors had a desire to reclaim the empire, but were lacking in certain areas and couldn't fulfill their plans.
 
Jan 2013
1,207
Anywhere
#8
As illustrated in the other thread (http://historum.com/medieval-byzantine-history/110759-when-de-facto-end-roman-empire.html) as well as countless ones before it, whether Byzantium is Rome or not is a frequent topic of discussion on this forum. I'd like to ask an historical question related to this: why do we care? Why does it matter if Byzantium was Rome? Cui bono from such a reading of history? Do national narratives or academic trends have a role here? Is it a crime to Byzantium that all we talk about is their Romanness? Is there even a fixed and unchanging Romanitas that we can speak of?
It is also prejudice among westerners during the renaissance and a few today who still believed that Roman empire only fell in 476 A.D. and only focused on that instead. But of course everyone are starting to realize that Roman Byzantium of the ERE is a direct continuation of Rome. And what many have failed to realized that Rome itself during from the rule of Diocletian to Julias Nepos was no longer capital of the WRE, but shifted to new capitals like Mediolanum (Milan) and Ravenna. So the ancient city was no longer important.

But Rome was still under the wings of the ERE from dynasties if Justinian to the Isaurians.
 

Comet

Forum Staff
Aug 2006
8,688
IA
#9
It is also prejudice among westerners during the renaissance and a few today who still believed that Roman empire only fell in 476 A.D. and only focused on that instead. But of course everyone are starting to realize that Roman Byzantium of the ERE is a direct continuation of Rome. And what many have failed to realized that Rome itself during from the rule of Diocletian to Julias Nepos was no longer capital of the WRE, but shifted to new capitals like Mediolanum (Milan) and Ravenna. So the ancient city was no longer important.

But Rome was still under the wings of the ERE from dynasties if Justinian to the Isaurians.
This resonates to me. The more I think about the underlined statement, the more I come to terms with it. I would agree.

I also want to comment on the concept of people wanting to find dates on where things start and begin. First, history is not linear. You can't label dates nice and neat on a timeline and expect the evidence to fit along with it. History rarely works that way. Our obsession with labeling dates obscures the events studied. That's not looking at history objectively.

Good post Azarius.
 
Jan 2013
1,207
Anywhere
#10
This resonates to me. The more I think about the underlined statement, the more I come to terms with it. I would agree.

I also want to comment on the concept of people wanting to find dates on where things start and begin. First, history is not linear. You can't label dates nice and neat on a timeline and expect the evidence to fit along with it. History rarely works that way. Our obsession with labeling dates obscures the events studied. That's not looking at history objectively.

Good post Azarius.
Thank you. :)
 

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