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"'Byzantine' Empire?" Topic

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Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2021 4:40 a.m. PST

Victor Davis Hanson wrote an editorial comparing the United States to the Roman Empire recently.

One of the more inaccurate statements in the article was:

…the Roman eastern half survived for nearly 1,000 years. It was soon known as the Byzantine Empire, until overwhelmed by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 A.D.

The article can be found here:


This posting is not concerned with the political content of the article, but the historical references.

The term 'Byzantine Empire' was not used by the Eastern Romans, but was coined in the 16th century by the German historian Hieronymous Wolf.

The Eastern Romans considered themselves Romans, not Byzantines, and their institutions were Roman, and the original language of the Eastern Empire was Latin, which gradually became Greek.

Hieronymous Wolf lived from 1516-1580 and he coined the Byzantine term long after the Eastern Empire had fallen. He wrote a famous work, CORPUS HISTORIAE BYZANTINAE, in 1568.

The book can be found here:


rustymusket Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2021 5:38 a.m. PST

Thank you for the history lesson. One reason I am here.

Perun Gromovnik17 Oct 2021 7:06 a.m. PST

Thanks mate.
They called themself "Imperium Romanum" and later "Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων (Basileía Rhōmaíōn)", Arabs called them "Rum" (Rome) and their peoples Romans

dBerczerk17 Oct 2021 7:10 a.m. PST

I don't see where Mr. Hanson's statement leads the reader to infer the Eastern Romans referred to themselves as part of the "Byzantine Empire."

"It was soon known as the Byzantine Empire, …" Soon known by whom? By 16th Century German historians? Much depends on the meaning of "soon."

For a post stating "This posting is not concerned with the political content of the article," your observation this is "One of the more inaccurate statements in the article" is telling.

I, for one, am grateful authors such as Mr. Hanson have not yet been cancelled.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2021 7:26 a.m. PST

Yeah, that's way too fine a point for an article written for public consumption. What the eastern Roman Empire called itself is irrelevant to the article— that in general history refers to it as the Byzantine Empire as a simple classification distinction is simply an aid to conversation, not really a source for historical debate. (For that matter, neither the rulers nor the people of the Ottoman Empire referred to their nation or themselves as "the Ottoman Empire"— which leaves us asking, "So what's your point?")

You're stretching, especially if that's the major "inaccuracy" you want to hang your hat on.

John the OFM17 Oct 2021 7:31 a.m. PST

I got one certainly do not want VDH "canceled" either, whatever that means. But having his numerous errors exposed is certainly not canceling.
Some of my reasons for not trusting his "analyses" can be found in a recent TMP thread.
TMP link

He is far too eager to make cock-eyed history analogies to the present, much like the silly comparisons to today's political state and "the fall of the Roman Empire".
I noted his "Western Way of War" where states that "only" "Western" type armies based on infantry took war seriously.

His comparing Thebes vs Sparta, Sherman vs Johnston, and Patton vs Germany as comparable "democracy vs tyranny" struggles are laughable.

He is a fine cherry picker of "historical" facts, which he tries to force into arguments against what the Bad Guys, Progressives, are up to.

I don't want him canceled merely because he's a frequent guest on Hannity or was often a fawned over guest on Rush. I just want him exposed for what he is. An agenda driven crank who makes facile analogies with cherry picked examples.

Dan Cyr17 Oct 2021 7:50 a.m. PST

+ 1 John the OFM

Puster Sponsoring Member of TMP17 Oct 2021 8:07 a.m. PST


A fellow who is at the foundation of the western historical work on the Eastern Roman Empire. He probably just needed a descriptive term for his work, and "Roman Empire" was alread the official title of the Empire he lived in, claiming the Roman heritage rather then the Roman continuation, both without Rome.

I agree with Brechtel that the statement in the article is, well, wrong.

rustymusket Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2021 8:19 a.m. PST

Thanks for the information, John. Good to learn.

DrSkull17 Oct 2021 8:27 a.m. PST

He should have said "nowadays" not "soon". Indeed.

GurKhan17 Oct 2021 9:28 a.m. PST

"The term 'Byzantine Empire' was not used by the Eastern Romans"

True, but it's not really as bad as that implies. Though the term "Byzantine Empire" may not have been used, the term "Byzantine" certainly was; sometimes specifically for the inhabitants of the capital, but also in a more general sense:

"In any case, it is clear that the word ‘Byzantine' was used in an abstract sense, which in this context can be understood as ‘Eastern Roman'."

"It shows, against common belief, that the term ‘Byzantine' as a synonym for ‘Eastern Roman' is not a modern invention."

- referring specifically to usage by Emperor Constantine IV in 678. From link

oldnorthstate17 Oct 2021 10:22 a.m. PST

"I just want him exposed for what he is. An agenda driven crank who makes facile analogies with cherry picked examples." OK OFM, you did note some analogies you obviously disagree with, but just saying they are laughable without more detail is intellectually dishonest.

Despite your claim that your disdain is not because Hanson has been on Hannity or Rush or someother media outlet otehr than CNN or MSNBC, I suspect that seems to bother you.

And as far as characterizing him as an "agenda driven crank"…talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

John the OFM17 Oct 2021 11:01 a.m. PST

Read his books. I did, and read and purchased far too many.

And for the record, I had my issues with his "scholarship" long before he started making the rounds on Hannity and Rush.

All Sir Garnett17 Oct 2021 12:09 p.m. PST

I'm an Orthodox Christian on a little Island off the bottom of England and when chatting to the Iman from the mosque opposite my house over a cup of coffee he refers to me as Rhum… Civis Romanus sum

Personal logo Dschebe Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2021 12:22 p.m. PST

Thanks to everybody for this discussion. I'm specially gratefull to GurKhan for his interesting link.

Legionarius17 Oct 2021 3:53 p.m. PST

+1 OFM. From a professional historian.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2021 4:38 p.m. PST

I don't recall VDH ever being a "guest" on Rush. Rush did mention him at times, but Rush didn't do "guests"— aside from calls with Presidents and VPs.

I honestly haven't read VDH's books or articles, so I can't judge his scholarship. But I again state that the "Byzantine Empire" detail is a rather feeble refutation of anything, and certainly is not something on which to reject other works. I've seen and heard plenty of historians say flippant remarks or use convenient shorthand statements with no actual historical accuracy behind them, but haven't considered that a reason to reject everything else they've said. Don't see that I should do that now.

So if you've got a point upon which to refute substantial claims, please, bring that up. If you're just going to say that "they didn't call themselves that," you aren't really refuting anything at all (especially as he didn't say they did). Hinging a refutation on a vague reference and the precision of the word "soon" is weak sauce, especially when it has nothing to do with the main point of the article.

raylev3 Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2021 4:55 p.m. PST

Often time historical labels are applied much, much later because when you're living within the event you don't see the longer pattern. The numbered crusades didn't become numbered until later historians saw a pattern. I wouldn't be surprised if later historians look back at the major wars of the 20the century and call it the Second Hundred Years War. WWI let to WWII which became the Cold War, involving the same participants, but with a smattering of smaller proxy wars around the world until the Soviet Union dissolved.

Yes they called themselves Romans, but in the longer term they evolved into the Byzantines, a term created to differentiate them from others.

Perris070717 Oct 2021 6:01 p.m. PST

You could make a pretty good argument that "scholarship", like that of Michael Psellus for example, hastened the decline of the Eastern Roman Empire. It took less than 50 years for the well-educated bureaucrats of the Eastern Roman Empire to destroy both the military and the economy after the death of Basil II.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2021 6:02 p.m. PST

In reading the article, this whole thing is a big "meh." It's not a work of history, but a thematic comparison of general historical events and cultures to modern events and cultures. I don't really find anything objectionable in it, historical or otherwise. Imprecise, yes— but it's not an article about history, but an opinion piece about cultural developments that finds loose connections to other cultural developments in the past.

Big frickin' whoop.

John the OFM17 Oct 2021 6:37 p.m. PST

But I again state that the "Byzantine Empire" detail is a rather feeble refutation of anything,

It shows he doesn't know what he is talking about, starting in his second paragraph.

Marcus Brutus17 Oct 2021 7:13 p.m. PST

The Eastern Romans considered themselves Romans, not Byzantines, and their institutions were Roman, and the original language of the Eastern Empire was Latin, which gradually became Greek.

It seems unlikely to me that the primary language of government in the Eastern Empire in the 6th century is Latin. I am also suspicious that the language of the Roman/Byzantine army of Justinian is Latin either. If that were true the Strategikon would have been written in Latin, not Greek.

John the OFM17 Oct 2021 7:33 p.m. PST

Easy explanation.

I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.

Charles V

Marcus Brutus17 Oct 2021 7:53 p.m. PST

The difference is that Charles had a multi-lingual empire. The Eastern Empire was primarily Greek speaking with a smattering of Latin.

John the OFM17 Oct 2021 9:19 p.m. PST

Primarily Greek? No Aramean? No Syriac? No Old Chaldean? No Proto-Slavonic? No Thracian? No Lower Slobbovian? No Saxon? No Eastern Frankish? No Goth?

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2021 10:05 p.m. PST

It doesn't show anything of the sort, John. "Soon" could mean anything— in fact, it could simply mean that modern historians consider the Byzantine Empire to have started "soon" after, regardless of what those at the time called it. The name of it is irrelevant. *We* call it the Byzantine Empire as distinct from the Roman Empire, but we're the ones putting the pin in the timeline, not the actual Romans or Byzantines.

Constantine the Great spoke Latin publicly and used Greek translators, though he was also educated in Greek and his mother Helen was Greek, so he clearly knew the language. What did his immediate court and officials speak, as well as his public? Well, many must have spoken Latin if he gave speeches in that language, and many must have spoken Greek if his speeches were translated into Greek. So if Constantine is the standard of when the Byzantine Empire began in our little pinprick, then it did begin as a Latin court, which would indeed have gradually transitioned to Latin. What Justinian spoke isn't relevant to the discussion, as Justinian lived 200 years later— plenty of time for a transition from Latin to Greek to have taken place.

The remark about the Strategikon is therefore also flawed, Marcus Brutus, as it was written almost 300 years after Constantine— again, plenty of time for a "gradual changeover" from Latin to Greek. But then, your statement also ignores that scholarly works at the time were often written in Greek or translated to the same; Greek was the literary "Lingua Franca" of the day. It was "the language of scholars" of the era, just as Latin would become in the West. If one learned literature, one learned both languages. It is also interesting to note that the various epistles of the early Christian church, which later became the New Testament, were all universally written in Greek— even the letters written to believers in Rome during the reign of Nero! Does this mean that people in Rome didn't speak or read Latin? Of course not! Just as the people of the Roman Empire spoke and communicated in a wide variety of languages, so too would the people of the Byzantine Empire. But disparate languages in a stable society soon fade into a single common language, and the local common language will most likely win out (as English did over French in the British Isles).

As Hanson is only making generalized, broad statements, encompassing processes and events over several centuries, again, I don't see any error in his description. The Byzantine Empire did begin as a Roman, Latin one, at least as a political government, and gradually transformed into something else. There is no error there, as much as you might want there to be. Nor was the region not polyglot— Aramaic, Syriac, Armenian, Hebrew, Arabic would all have been spoken and read by various cultural and ethnic groups within the Byzantine Empire. Greek was probably very broadly known as a Lingua Franca (especially for trade), but that doesn't mean it was the only thing spoken or understood.

So again, this argument fails to be valid, and again especially against a broad generalized comparison that is not meant to be a close historical examination of either the Byzantine Empire or the Western Roman Empire.

Druzhina17 Oct 2021 11:31 p.m. PST

"German historian Hieronymous Wolf."

Would he refer to himself as 'German' or 'Deutch'.
"German" is an exonym used in English. When people start referring to Deutch rather than German then they can complain about "Byzantine".

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johannes5518 Oct 2021 3:42 a.m. PST

I think you mean "Deutsch" ?

Puster Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Oct 2021 5:25 a.m. PST

He probably would have used "teutsch", a far more common notation of its time, and as a scholare fluent in latin he would certainly also understand and though of himself as Germanic.
For several reasons most of the Dutch do not see themself as deutsch or german today.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP18 Oct 2021 6:09 a.m. PST

Definition of exonym:

'A name by which one people or social group refers to another and by which the group so named does not refer to itself.'



'German' is the English translation of 'Deutsch.'

FatherOfAllLogic18 Oct 2021 6:57 a.m. PST

I agree with John OFM that much of his writing is a stretch.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP18 Oct 2021 8:36 a.m. PST

Still awaiting actual evidence and/or proof of specific, significant error…

Marcus Brutus18 Oct 2021 9:04 a.m. PST

Primarily Greek? No Aramean? No Syriac? No Old Chaldean? No Proto-Slavonic? No Thracian? No Lower Slobbovian? No Saxon? No Eastern Frankish? No Goth?

Local tribal languages lived beneath the lingua franca of Greek. Certainly none of the languages above were ever used by the governing class in Byzantium to the best of my knowledge.

Marcus Brutus18 Oct 2021 9:13 a.m. PST

Back to the original point raised by Brechtel. I am currently reading Walter Kaeigi's "Byzantium and the early Islamic conquests." Kaeigi has no problem identifying the 6th/7th Eastern Roman Empire as Byzantium or the Byzantium Empire. The term Roman Empire is almost completely absent from this book. That is the framework he uses as does much of current scholarship for this period and I think there is good reason for this. It is not accurate to simply argue that the people of the 7th Byzantium saw themselves as Romans. That is too simplistic a reconstruction of their identity.

John the OFM18 Oct 2021 9:53 a.m. PST

Still awaiting actual evidence and/or proof of specific, significant error…

There are those who still question his "rugby scrum" analysis of hoplite warfare. When I first encountered it, I thought it was cool. Many others disagree.
But that's just "errors" in interpretation, if that.
What I mostly disagree with is his willingness to take a modern political stand that he disagrees with, and then go searching through Thucydides or Plutarch to back him up in finding fault. He has mostly stayed away from "and that's why the Roman Empire collapsed!" analogies.

I used to listen to Rush every day. Yes, he rarely had guests, but he occasionally made exceptions. I heard VDH on his show.
Strangely enough, one of the things that turned me off to Rush was his Betsy Ross obsession. I never bothered to call to correct him, since I knew I would never make it past Mister Snerdley, if that far. But it was a good cause.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP18 Oct 2021 1:51 p.m. PST

From the limited amount that I have read VDH's op Ed's, I agree that VDH does like to look through history to find an example that matches what he thinks is happening today. Sometimes it's a stretch, sometimes it's worth looking at. But that's different from the OP's claim that he was historically wrong, or that being wrong on a minor point of semantics somehow invalidates everything else— even though it hasn't been established that he was wrong, so much as a bit flippant in his wording. I think it's rather obvious VDH meant "soon became [what is now] known as the Byzantine Empire," rather than "soon became known [by its people and contemporaries] as the Byzantine Empire." Both are read-ins, but the former is far more likely and reasonable to assume and requires less reaching and addition to the sentence than the latter. I'm also quite confident that VDH does indeed know that the term "Byzantine Empire" is a name created later and applied to the historical nation and culture, and not a contemporary term. And I would say that of any historian of any political bent, given the exact same sentence.

In any case, let's all sing along:
YouTube link

The Last Conformist19 Oct 2021 2:31 a.m. PST

I guess I owe thanks to both VDH and Brechtel for bringing GurKhan's link to my attention.

Druzhina20 Oct 2021 2:09 a.m. PST

@ Brechtel198

Definition of exonym:

'A name by which one people or social group refers to another and by which the group so named does not refer to itself.'

You are correct, and, if you didn't realize, "Byzantine" is an exonym.

Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers

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