There Never Was a Byzantine Empire - change my mind

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There Never Was a Byzantine Empire - change my mind

Post by Thorfinn Karlsefni on Thu Jan 11, 2018 3:26 pm

Byzantium is the Latinized name of a Greek city-state which was closely allied with Rome for several hundred years, and fully incorporated into the Empire late in the 2nd Century AD. Its commercially important geographical position "on the X" where land and water trade-routes cris-crossed led to its prosperity, and eventually caught the attention of the Roman Emperors who began basing an administrative center there late in the 3rd Century. When civil war broke out between two of the top Roman administrators, a chain of events was set in motion that would lead to the Imperial Capital being permanently shifted to this location in 330 AD. The Emperor Constantine (winner of the Civil War) completely rebuilt the city and christened it, "New Rome."

The name did not quite take hold, however. Although no one still called it Byzantium, "New Rome" also didn't quite fit. What the common folk on the street took to calling it, was Constantinople, which translates, City of Constantine.

Unlike Rome itself, Constantine's greatly expanded city never fell to "barbarians" despite numerous successful invasions of Imperial Territory beginning about 375 AD. Instead, the city walls were first breached 9 centuries later by Crusaders from the Catholic West in 1204 AD. These invaders formed the "Latin Empire", which lasted until another Greek city-state reconquered Constantinople in 1261 and declared the Roman Empire back in business.

Wikipedia's synopsis on the history of the names (sub-heading, Nomenclature) for the Empire that was based on Constantinople from 330 AD until the late Middle Ages is extremely concise, well documented and authoritative. That Empire was called Rome, and it even included the City of Rome for about 200 years beginning several decades after what history refers to as the "Fall of Rome" in 476 AD.

Now, clearly, I'm not attempting to rewrite history here. There is a divide, historically speaking, between the Classical Era and the Dark Ages. The Roman Empire in 600 AD looked nothing like the Roman Empire in 400 AD. Things had changed, and not for the better. Nevertheless, it is incorrect to call the Roman Empire "Byzantine" after 476 AD.

It might be called Greek-Roman, for most of its territory was inhabited by people whose lingua franca was Greek, but this did not represent a change from the days when the same territory was governed from Rome. Latin even remained the official language of the state until 610 AD. Not until 800 AD did the Pope directly challenge the legitimacy of the "Emperor" seated in Constantinople. But the truth is, the Emperors based in Constantinople form a continuous lineage (though not hereditary) from Constantine to Alexios V who lost the city to the Crusaders.

In the West, the super-state based on Constantinople was mostly referred to ambiguously as, "The Empire", and sometimes as, "The Greek Empire". But in the East, on both sides of the Empire's borders, it was never considered anything but Roman. The term "Byzantine Empire" first appears in Hieronymous Wolf's history of the Empire, which was published more than 100 years after Constantinople fell to the Ottomans. Even so, the term "Byzantine Empire" did not come into general use in Europe until the 19th Century!

I suggest we who call ourselves students of history should balk at applying the the term "Byzantine Empire" to the Christianized empire that was based on Constantinople. I submit for your consideration the alternative term, "Greek-Roman Empire", which incorporates both of the names by which the Empire was known during its existence.

Change my mind.
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Re: There Never Was a Byzantine Empire - change my mind

Post by ceaserkhan22 on Thu Jan 11, 2018 4:33 pm

I heard this is the topic for Steven Crowder's next video
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Re: There Never Was a Byzantine Empire - change my mind

Post by Thorfinn Karlsefni on Fri Jan 12, 2018 12:34 am

Laughing
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Re: There Never Was a Byzantine Empire - change my mind

Post by Thorfinn Karlsefni on Fri Jan 12, 2018 12:42 am

But seriously, I see this term Byzantine come up in all sorts of contexts and I think, "Maybe no one realizes there never was an empire named that."

I get it. It's not the "same" as the old Roman Empire. But I challenge anyone to pinpoint the break. 330 is as a good a date as any, I suppose, but remember that the city was already a first-class commercial and political center of the empire. Just because it lost its old capital - temporarily - doesn't mean Rome stopped being Roman. I'd accept 610 AD more readily than 476, but remember that Heraclius sailed from Carthage to take the scepter. A Roman Empire that still includes both Carthage and the city of Rome does not cease being the Roman Empire just because the new emperor feels more comfortable conversing in Greek.

If you call the Empire "Greek-Roman" the actual watershed moment becomes less important to pin down.
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Re: There Never Was a Byzantine Empire - change my mind

Post by ceaserkhan22 on Fri Jan 12, 2018 7:34 pm

Interesting bit about Heraclius, it seems to me that 610 was more dramatically a cultural change while 476 was more dramatically a political change. You make a good point though, the people of Byzantine Empire were never known as "Byzantines," they were "Romans" at least thats what they called themselves.

In regards to the actual fall of Rome, I think its mainly that many historians like conventional dating and bounding eras and ages by specific times. The convention of the dating for the fall of Rome is often tied to the beginning of the dark ages, so 476 serves as a convenient place to pinpoint both dates. Likewise many historians pinpoint the end of the Medieval era to 1453, corresponding with the fall of the "Byzantine Empire." So conveniently the middle ages was roughly a millennium beginning with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and ending with the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire.
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Re: There Never Was a Byzantine Empire - change my mind

Post by Thorfinn Karlsefni on Sat Jan 13, 2018 1:25 am

ceaserkhan22 wrote:In regards to the actual fall of Rome, I think its mainly that many historians like conventional dating and bounding eras and ages by specific times. The convention of the dating for the fall of Rome is often tied to the beginning of the dark ages, so 476 serves as a convenient place to pinpoint both dates. Likewise many historians pinpoint the end of the Medieval era to 1453,  corresponding with the fall of the "Byzantine Empire." So conveniently the middle ages was roughly a millennium beginning with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and ending with the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Huh. I hadn't thought about it like that...
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Re: There Never Was a Byzantine Empire - change my mind

Post by Thorfinn Karlsefni on Tue Jan 16, 2018 11:03 am

Thorfinn Karlsefni wrote:
ceaserkhan22 wrote:In regards to the actual fall of Rome, I think its mainly that many historians like conventional dating and bounding eras and ages by specific times. The convention of the dating for the fall of Rome is often tied to the beginning of the dark ages, so 476 serves as a convenient place to pinpoint both dates. Likewise many historians pinpoint the end of the Medieval era to 1453,  corresponding with the fall of the "Byzantine Empire." So conveniently the middle ages was roughly a millennium beginning with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and ending with the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Huh. I hadn't thought about it like that...

Of course, the thousand year theory still works out if you change the name of "Byzantine" to something more historically accurate...

I still want to call it, "Greek-Roman Empire".
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Re: There Never Was a Byzantine Empire - change my mind

Post by ceaserkhan22 on Wed Apr 11, 2018 8:49 am

I was recently reading about the Varangian Guard, and found that apparently so many Swedish warriors left Sweden to join the Varangian Guard (the Byzantine Emperor's personal body guard) that Sweden had to make a law that declared no one could inherit anything in Sweden while staying in "Greece" so as to slow the emigration of Swedish warriors. Interesting that the medieval Swedes simply referred to the Byzantine Empire as "Greece". Just made me think of this forum post.
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