> To begin at the beginning is tricky. Did the empire begin when the emperor
> Constantine moved his capital from Rome to Constantinople in 324? When the
> city was consecrated by both pagan and Christian priests in May 330? Or did
> it begin in 395 when the two halves of the vast Roman empire were officially
> divided into East and West, or even later in the late 5th century when Rome
> was sacked, conquered and governed by the Goths, leaving Constantinople and
> the East as the sole heir of the empire?
The Byzantine Empire is just the Roman Empire.
A good comparison is to Chinese history. The Chinese tend to argue that they have a continuous empire stretching back to the Xia dynasty (or the Qin dynasty, depending on how much credence you give to the historicity of Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties), albeit broken up into distinct dynasties. Yet this is similarly not quite so truthful--China was often fragmented into warring polities with no clear hegemon, and there are times when even the Chinese historians couldn't maintain the pretense that there was on (say, the Three Kingdoms period).
Western historiography does emphasize the discontinuity rather than the continuity, and it is wrong, but so is emphasizing the continuity and ignoring the discontinuity.
Between 330-1453 AD, it was called the Roman Empire. To this day, the Greek ethnic minority living in Istanbul call themselves Rum, meaning Roman.
After the Ottomans invaded Istanbul, they claimed themselves as the legitimate successors to the Roman Empire. Those in Western Europe weren't too happy. So they coined the term Byzantine to discredit the Roman Empire's legitimacy. Byzantine was the name given to Istanbul prior to the Roman Empire, in 657 BC.
If you ask some Rums living in Istanbul today, it was a big PR campaign to discredit the Roman Empire's legacy post 330 AD. It worked nicely.
That's all Greeks. We all call ourselves "Romioi", i.e. "Romans". We also call ourselves Hellenes, like in ancient times and "Graikoi", which is also an ancient word for "Greek".
We call ourselves lots of things. It proves nothing.
Is the US the same polity that was founded by the American revolutionaries? The geography is more different than similar. The social order (eg slavery, voting rights) changed. The political system (from pre/post civil war) changed. Is it still the same ship?
How about "England" or "Britain." Is the UK a successor to Alfred's kingdom? Successor to the Norman empire (Cyprus, Lebanon, Sicily, Jerusalem, Normandy...)?
Lines of continuity and discontinuity are usually narrative and subjective.
Ultimately, the reason western historians considered the Byzantines separate is because (a) they spoke Greek and (b) they didn't have Italy and (c) there were/are western claimants to the "successor of Rome" seat.
Not at all, it is simply an objectively correct statement. What we call the "Byzantine Empire" is the eastern portion of the Roman Empire that persisted after Rome and the Western portion fell. This isn't a matter of opinion. It was a continuous political entity.
The Chinese example is not comparable and, as you note, simply dishonest. While you could try to argue about cultural continuity, politically China experienced a series of polities rising, collapsing, and being conquered by foreign invaders.
>Western historiography does emphasize the discontinuity rather than the continuity, and it is wrong, but so is emphasizing the continuity and ignoring the discontinuity.
There is no discontinuity. Changes in language, culture, etc. don't change the fact that it was the continuing portion of the Roman Empire. If the United States exists in 500 years, whatever its makeup or territory, it will still be the United States if the political entity did not end.
Would you insist that it Taiwan should really be considered the same thing as China? Both Taiwan and the Byzantines are rump portions of their larger entities, and both of them also faced other polities that also claimed be to legitimate heirs to the original mother entity. (The Carolingian Empire claimed to be a legitimate heir of the Roman Empire).
Before about the 19th century, the notion of countries and the state existing as separate from the writs of its rulers doesn't really exist, which makes trying to draw political maps in the Middle Ages and Antiquity rather difficult. I wouldn't call the Frankish kingdoms under the Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties France--definitely no earlier than the development of West Francia, and it's not hard to argue that France doesn't start until the Capetian dynasty in 987. Note that the Capetian dynasty ruled in nearly-unbroken passing from father to son (or grandson or great-grandson) until 1789. I'd also agree with those historians who consider the Byzantine Empire to end in the Fourth Crusade, as opposed to the Ottoman Empire's conquest of Constantinople or the subsequent conquest of Trebizond.
The "Byzantine Empire" wasn't a rump portion at the time of the fall of the Western Empire. It was the other way around: the Eastern Empire was the wealthy and powerful section while the Western Empire had been slowly weakening and collapsing for centuries. It was a rump portion of the East, if anything, when it fell, reduced to just the Italian peninsula and a few other minor holdings while being propped up by Germanic forces.
It's not really comparable to Taiwan because, when the Western Empire fell, the Empire had two legal capitals and two legal co-Emperors. The Eastern Empire simply persisted when the Western Empire finally gave its last gasp and was snuffed out by Odoacer, so it makes no sense to call it a different polity. Odoacer and his successors also made no claim to being the new Emperors of Rome to contest the rule of the Eastern Empire; in fact, it was exactly this rejection of the Imperial title that marked the end of the Western Empire, whereas in earlier days Odoacer or someone else would have claimed the mantle. That's how worthless it had become by then.
The Eastern Empire would certainly go on to evolve and change over the next 1000 years, but that doesn't make it a different entity.
>I wouldn't call the Frankish kingdoms under the Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties France
Neither would they, since that concept didn't exist at the time. But do you know what the "Byzantines" called themselves?
And yes, I'm well aware that the Byzantines only ever referred to themselves as Romans. But so did the Sultanate of Rum, and no one argues that the Sultanate of Rum should be considered the Roman Empire.
a discontinuity that is gradual and not sudden is a continuity, and i think you are overemphasizing the ethnicity of emperors. Justinian was just as ambitious (and murderous) as any imperial era emperor.
And to this day the Turks call the Greeks in Turkey Romans.
We distinguish between the Roman Republic vs Roman Empire and in lots of ways they had much more in common than the Byzantine.
Because it was a single, continuous political entity. Why would any of those aspects have any relevance as to whether the political entity of Rome persisted?
>We distinguish between the Roman Republic vs Roman Empire and in lots of ways they had much more in common than the Byzantine.
Because there was a break in the political entity, though even this is a anachronistic division since Augustus and the emperors of the "Principate" took pains to maintain the appearance of the continuation of the Republic. But the reality was, at least, that the nature of the Roman state had changed into a new and different one.
It really wasn't. There were various major changes in the constitution of the Roman Empire between the reign of Augustus and the time of the Byzantines, especially during the reign of Diocletian.
The US Constitution has also undergone a number of changes since the founding, and society is very different than it was 300 years ago, yet it would be absurd to say it's not the same entity.
Internal changes are just that: internal changes. The Empire itself never fell until 1453.
We of course can’t know but it shows that what the last of the Byzantine’s called themselves is not necessarily the end of the discussion.
Agreed. Always an interesting discussion.
Not to a great extent. People doing detailed historical work on the relevant era would, sure, but general popular history probably wouldn't.
Religion? I'm not sure I get the point, they were Christian, some would say, they were the actual "real" Christians :)
Sphere of influence? Can you even quantify that?
Culture, see language above.
Laws? They had Roman laws + laws added during the normal evolution of a state. More than that, the Justinian code was also adopted by Western countries...
The only alternative theory of proper linguistic meaning is that it is based on perfect, permanent, non-material essences, as in Platonism.
The History of Byzantium was initially intended to be a continuation of that podcast.
I also recommend the Fall of Rome podcast:
All of the above have utterly changed my perspective on world history.
It's quite similar to how the Vikings inverted the strategic safety of the sea and rivers in the north.
What an odd aside. I would hardly call her 'infamous' -- she was influential and charitable!
Articles like this are good because most people mistakenly believe that the Roman Empire ended with the fall of Rome, and don't realize the Eastern branch lived on for another thousand years, and with enormous impact.