There Was No Such Thing As The Byzantine Empire
We should call it what it was — the Roman Empire
“Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out”
In 395 CE, the Roman empire split into eastern and western halves. This split in the empire happened due to Theodosius the Great separating the empire. The western half would fall after the split, but the eastern half persisted until 1453 CE. This eastern half of the Roman empire is often called the Byzantine empire because its capital city of Constantinople was near the ancient city Byzantium before Roman control.
Coined in the 1550s, the word Byzantine described the late Rome Empire around one hundred years after it fell. Calling the Romans Byzantine is a spit in the face of the Roman people. Most nations, at the time of the fabrication of the word, called the empire Byzantine because many countries at the time believed they were the inheritors of Rome. The Roman Empire had just fallen; it wasn’t there to defend themselves.
Referring to the area near Constantinople as Byzantine is thought to be old, but in reality, it did not gain widespread use until the 1800s. Before that, historians just referred to the Byzantine empire as the Eastern Roman Empire, or merely the Roman empire. Even Gibbon, with all of his cringe-worthy racism, did not refer to the Roman empire this way. Mommsen, a historian in the 1800s, used the name, but he was a fraud who stole his work from his students. Modern scholars use the word but often interchangeably with Roman, so they give half respect to the empire.
Consider this — what did the citizens of the Byzantine empire call themselves? They called themselves Romans. A Roman founded Constantinople. The original name of the city, during the founding under Constantine, was Nova Roma, New Rome.
When the western empire fell around 476 CE, a Roman Emperor wanted the vast western lands back under Roman control. These Romans viewed themselves as Roman. The Romans that are called Byzantines claimed the Senātus Populusque Rōmānus, SPQR, as their official state well into the Medieval era. The same one that the ancient republicans used. They did this not because they inherited Rome but because they were Roman by lineage.
To say that the Eastern Roman Empire wasn’t Roman is equivalent to removing a section of history from our history. Imagine if the United States was told that everything after the First World War was a different nation. This would be unacceptable.
As someone that respects Roman history, I think it is a travesty to rename the Romans simplify to one’s understanding of the time. This is equivalent to calling Egypt something like Alexandria because Alexandria became more important than the cities of its past. That is lackluster, in my opinion. But this is just the thoughts of a ranting historian’s distaste for an uninspiring and dull word.
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