[St. Pachomius Library]



"Byzantium" was the ancient Greek colony located near the site of Constantine's New Rome. Although the term (and the name of the colony's eponymous founder Byzas) may be occasionally found in liturgical texts devoted to the Patriarchs of Constantinople, its sense was entirely local; inhabitants of the imperial provinces did not think of themselves as "Byzantines", but as "Romans". The term "Byzantine Empire" originated in the West after the fall of Constantinople, and was used by Renaissance admirers of pagan antiquity to distinguish the Roman Empire of classical times from its supposedly inferior mediæval extension. (Previously, Western writers had favoured "Greek" as a pejorative, but for scholars intoxicated with Plato this was no longer an option.)

Although in a way useful as a designation for the culture of the Greek East, "Byzantine" has acquired so many racist overtones that it is probably a term best avoided. Moreover, its use reinforces the common tendency to exaggerate differences between the "Greek-speaking" and "Latin-speaking" spheres.

The references on this page refer to the concept of "Byzantium" in the West, not to the city of Constantinople as such, nor to the actual civilisation and empire centred upon her.

Norman Hugh Redington


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