How and where did the negative notions of “decadence” and “intrigues” Byzantium start

Mar 2013
Escandinavia y Mesopotamia
How and where did the negative notions of “decadence” and “intrigues” Byzantium start

Before 1960 or so the Byzantine Empire was seeing as a sort of a decadent Empire which was “horrible” or something like that, and full of intrigues or something other inconsistence assumptions which of course is rejected by the scholars today. Today it has altered completely and it has a positive reputation among the scholars who reject above statements as Byzantium is seeing as a continuation of the Greco-Roman world with outstanding achievements and with a lifetime over 1100 years.

When the Migration Period started the western Europe was devastating into a primitive hemisphere but the eastern part under Byzantium continued an advanced culture where the Greco-Roman stuff were preserved like for instance ancients texts were studied and as well the roman laws due to the codifying into “Corpus Juris Civilis” which basically is the foundation of European jurisprudence today.

Also Byzantium worked as a shield of Europe against Muslim aggressions where they defeated first the Arabs and then the Turks under Macedonian and Comnenian dynasties. After the Latin Sack of Constantinople in 1204 where it was obvious they were weakened heavily they managed to stance further over 200 years which actually give times enough to the Austrians Habsburgs Empire and Tsar Russia Empire to emerge perfectly in time and thus these two empires slowly defeated and took lands onwards against the Turks when the Turks only managed to conquer weak Balkan or slavic areas.

Byzantine coinage collection as a hobby did almost not exist before 1960 as people collected ancient Greek and Roman coins. Byzantium was a sort of decadent they thought. After 1960 when the academic circle began to argue that Byzantium was not a backward intrigues empire an upsurge interests in Byzantine coinage grew rapidly. A fine grade Justinian gold solidus coin would be sold for around 100-150 Euro around year 2000 according to some auction achieves I sought. Today the same fine grade solidus of Justinian is sold for around 500 Euro.

When I go to the library and ask after academic books on Byzantium I can see on the database that a lot books have been published after the year of 2000 like for instance. Byzantium today has finally shaken off the notion of decadence and intrigues it was connected with prior to WW2.

So I want to ask whether there are any here who are academic well-informed who may give an explanation where its negative reputation prior to 1960 derives from?

I know that the Middle Ages’ negative reputation from prior WW2 derived from 1700’s intellectuals who misunderstood some works of Francisco Petrarca. These eighteenth century’s characters' rendition of the Middle Ages, like Edward Gibbon’s one, is rejected today. Of course.

But how about the negative reputation of Byzatium from prior WW2? Where and how did it start?
Mar 2013
Escandinavia y Mesopotamia
The title should have be: "How and where did the negative notions of “decadence” and “intrigues” Byzantium start"

I cannot edit the topic name so perhaps a mods could do it.

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
I tnink that some of the negative ideas may go all tne way back tomthe Crusades. The European Crusaders and the Byzantines did not get along, and that hostility may have influenced the view of western scholars.
Jul 2015
The notion comes after the rule of Manuel I Komnenos and his son and the rise of the Angelos dynasty.

Nearly every single Emperor of the Angelos dynasty after the Komnenos was a deranged moron or a glutenous worm of a human being.

Rather sad to read about them really.

What put the nail in the Roman coffin was the overthrow of Isaac II Angelos(the only half decent Angelos in the entiry dynasty tree) and the successor rule of the pathetic worms led by Alexios III Angelos and his corrupt cronies, including the later Alexios V Doukas.

They brought such intrigue and corruption to the Empire that their reputation spread across the world and remained embedded in peoples minds for centuries.

Unfortunately, their absolute incompetence and stupidity managed to completely overshadow the competent and proper Palaiologos dynasty that liberated Constantinople from the Latins and tried to restore the Empire as best as they could.


Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
There's a feeling of generalities in the OP. For example it's just as if the Constantinople of, for example, 500 AD is the same as that of 1400, which it aint!

Also it had muslim enemies and it had christian enemies. Another point is that it rose and fell in periods - bit of a mess after the death of Justinian and all downhill for a while but then all-powerful again at round the Milennium - roughly speaking and as an example.

One familiar phrase today is 'Bizantine bureaucracy' - what bit did this come from?


Ad Honorem
Apr 2015
The historians and intellectuals of the 18th century generally started this trend (look what people like Voltaire wrote).
Dec 2015
Newburg, Missouri
Procopius's "Secret History", which vilified Emperor Justinian, his wife, and others, unduly colored the views of later historians, I think. And there were other, less well-known, contemporary and penecontemporary writings that augmented this dim view, which became a long-lived academic orthodoxy, despite its rather apparent gossipy roots.
Aug 2015
Korean in Canada
Religion also might have to do with this issue as well. As Byzantine Empire and eastern European nations were Orthodox Christians while the Western were Catholic. That caused a lot of tension, especially with the obedience under the pope, I think.
Especially when western crusaders were passing by Byzantine Empire to attack the muslims, many times the empire didn't like having the crusaders resting in their empire, since they would cause some discomfort for the people there. Or vice versa discomfort for the crusaders.

This specific crusade comes to mind as an example of the tension between the crusaders an the byzantine empire.


Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
I like the points of religion and the contention between the Carolingian/Holy Roman Empires and the Byzantine State, but I wonder if ancient preconceptions had a role. Western Europe always had a tendency on viewing the Hellenic world has being soft and effeminate compared to the more virile and spartan Latin customs of Rome. Perhaps this attitude still persisted hundreds of years later and into the works of the first Byzantine historians. Their fondness of mosaics, swinging silks, gemstones, and a higher state of living compared to the most of Europe probably didn't help matters either.
Mar 2013
Literary tradition allowed for people in the West to create an ethnic consciousness in the late Middle Ages. And during that time there were many contradictions between the West and the Byzantines. Religion being the main reason for this split between them.

I would say that this dichotomy can be detected even today to some extent between Orthodox nations and the Western world. Not so much due to religion though. Most people in Europe are secular nowadays. But some bias may still persist.