There Was No Such Thing As The Byzantine Empire

We should call it what it was — the Roman Empire

Cody Trusler
Feb 27 · 3 min read

“Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out”

— Anonymous

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.

Like What You Just Read?

For more history articles like this one, sign up for my newsletter.

Click here to sign up for Cody Trusler’s newsletter.

Exploring History

Delving into the past to understand the world we live in today

Sign up for Historical Insights

By Exploring History

A newsletter highlighting our new articles, historical findings, and stories from the past.  Take a look

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Thanks to Megan Holstein

Cody Trusler

Written by

Articles about why history matters. Sign up at codytrusler.substack.com.

Exploring History

Exploring History is a publication about history. Instead of focusing on any particular time period of history, we explore anything about the past that helps our readers understand the world they live in today. We pay special attention to historiographical rigor and balance.

Cody Trusler

Written by

Articles about why history matters. Sign up at codytrusler.substack.com.

Exploring History

Exploring History is a publication about history. Instead of focusing on any particular time period of history, we explore anything about the past that helps our readers understand the world they live in today. We pay special attention to historiographical rigor and balance.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store