Decadence, Rome and Romania, the Emperors Who Weren't, and Other Reflections on Roman History

Ἡ Ῥωμανία πῶς σοι φαίνεται;
Στήκει ὡς τὸ ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς ἢ ἠλαττώθη;

What do you think of the state of Romania?
Does it stand as from the beginning,
or has it been diminished?

Doctrina Jacobi nuper baptizati, Διδασκαλία Ἰακώβου νεοβαπτίστου, 634 AD, A.H.M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602 [The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986, p. 316], Greek text, "Doctrina Jacobi Nuper Baptizati," Édition et traduction par Vincent Déroche, Travaux et Mémoires, 11 [Collège de France Centre de Recherche d'Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance, De Boccard, Paris, 1991, p.167] [note]

In a Dark Age,
there was a Great City, known by many names,
protected by indomitable Walls and mysterious Fire,
defended by men from the far reaches of Europe,
a City that held a whole Civilization --
immortal art, architecture, literature, history,
philosophy, and law -- our own Civilization...

Ἐγκλινοβάραγγος (Enklinobarangus), with a nod to John Boorman's Excalibur, 1981 [note]; one of many names was actually Mikligarðr, "Great City," in Old Norse; and of course, by "our own Civilizaton," that of the West is meant; noteworthy that those who despise the West as meaning only "oppression" also tend to be anti-American.

Ὑμεῖς οὐχὶ Ῥωμαῖοι, ἀλλὰ Λαγούβαρδοι ἐστέ.
Vos non Romani, sed Longobardi estis!
You are not Romans, but Lombards!

The Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas to Liutprand of Cremona (c.920-972), who represents the "Roman" Emperor Otto I, 968 AD; "Embassy," XII, The Complete Works of Liudprand of Cremona, translated by Paolo Squatriti [The Catholic Press of America, 2007, p.246]; Latin text, "Liudprandi Legatio," Die Werke Liudprands von Cremona, herausgeben von Joseph Becker [Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum, Hahnsche Buchhandlung, Hannover und Leipzig, 1915, p.182; Reprint, University of Michigan Libraries, 2012]; Liutprand, of course, was himself the Lombard, not the Saxon Otto; the Greek version here is a speculative back-translation from the Latin of Liutprand. [note]

If the United States were to last as long as the Roman Empire, it would have to continue as an independent country, with political and cultural continuity, until the year 2899.

Robert Spencer, The Empire of God, How the Byzantines Saved Civilization [Bombadier Books, 2023, p.xvi]. However, that only dates the Empire from 330 AD, at the founding of Constantinople, for 1123 years. From 27 BC, with the reign of Augustus, the Empire lasted 1479 years until 1453. If we add that to 1776, we get 3255 AD. The original Star Trek is only supposed to take place in 2265.


Everyone knows why the Roman Empire fell. It became "decadent," meaning weak and immoral. The Romans were so busy at their orgies (often with their siblings), throwing Christians to the lions, poisoning their spouses, parents, and children, and eating exotic parts of animals (like hummingbird tongues), in between visits to the vomitorium so they could eat more, that they didn't notice all the Germans gathering on the frontiers.

Then the ruthless pagan Germans rode in, trampled under their horses' hooves the few poor debauched legionnaires who remained, still foolishly fighting on foot, sacked Rome, destroyed civilization, overthrew the last emperor in 476, and ushered in the Dark Ages, from which Europe only emerged with the Renaissance, a thousand years later, when gunpowder finally could defeat mounted warriors. As the late columnist Joseph Sobran once wrote:  Christianity built a new civilization on the "ruins" of the old.

Although accepted by no real historians, this cartoonish image looms large in popular discourse, is lovingly promoted in the movies, like Federico Fellini's Satyricon (1970), is often assumed in political and moral debates -- where some practice (e.g. pornography) or policy (e.g. gay rights) is frequently said to represent the decadence that brought about the Fall of Rome -- and is inadvertently often reinforced by various kinds of serious scholarship.

A fine book by George C. Brauer, Jr., published in 1967, was called The Young Emperors: Rome, A.D. 193-244. It was about a period in which several emperors were in fact young men, usually coming to the throne by heredity or because of some other family connections. Reissued in 1995, the very same book was retitled:  The Decadent Emperors:  Power and Depravity in Third-Century Rome. This is a sexier title; and, since the "young emperors" of the period did include a couple of the more vicious, alarming, and bizarre characters among Roman emperors, Caracalla and Elagabalus, one is not disappointed to read the book for evidence of Roman decadence.

Similarly, another very fine book, by Thomas Sowell, Migrations and Cultures, A World View, published in 1996, states flatly in its section on Jewish history, "the last Roman emperor was overthrown in 476 A.D." [p. 238].

Reinforcing the idea that the German invaders were pagan hordes who only slowly came to Christianity, morality, and civilization, Sowell says:  "After the Visigoths began to abandon paganism for Christianity, beginning with the Visigothic King Reccared in 589, a new era began" [p. 244].

In 2022, we get The Mad Emperor, Heliogabalus and the Decadence of Rome, by Harry Sidebottom [A Oneworld Book]. Sidebottom goes directly for one of the most outrageous "decadent" Emperors," "Elagabalus," using what used to be the more common version of his name "Heliogabalus" -- who was perhaps not as murderous as Caligula, but entertaining enough in his own right -- with the name of the Syrian sun god "El" interchangeable with Greek "Helios."

A little digging, however, and the whole idea of Roman "decadence" begins to look more than a little peculiar. The list of particularly cruel, dissolute, and outrageous emperors -- Caligula, Nero, Domitian, Commodus, Caracalla, and Elagabalus -- although impressive, comes to an end more than two hundred years (222-476) before the "Fall" of the Empire -- and a two hour History Channel special, "Roman Vice," didn't even manage to make it past Nero -- implying that the whole history of the Empire was just more of same. Yet Elagabalus was himself followed by his far more sober brother, Alexander Severus, who was remembered with considerable respect -- with the odd circumstance that both were followed around by their mothers, who were killed with them. Nero, who was also put on the Throne by his mother, famously killed her himself, after several tries.

Perhaps we can pick out some instances of "decadence" in the following years; but the violence, ferocity, and duplicity of some of the later 3rd and 4th century emperors were not, by themselves, the sort of things that Bob Guccione (1930-2010), for example, was looking for [Caligula, 1979]. He needed them in the bedroom (or at least the bath), not just on the battlefield. So if Rome fell because Elagabalus wanted to marry a gladiator, then the effect was delayed, extraordinarily, by longer than it took the United States to get from George Washington to Bill Clinton -- whose transgressions, even the sexual ones, although noteworthy, didn't rise to the level of the adventures of Elagabalus -- until more information, presently concealed, comes out about Clinton's time on the "Lolita Island" of Jeffrey Epstein (1953-2019). Back in Roman history, what happened during that period, from Elagabalus to the "Fall"?

Well, with the Germans, indeed, on the frontiers (along with the Persians, Alans, etc.), the emperors up until 395 were mostly soldiers. They were a pretty grim lot, usually engaged in pretty grim business. Diocletian (284-305) doesn't seem to have spent much time in the vomitorium -- though, as the only emperor ever to actually retire from office, he did build a nice retirement village at Split (Spalatum) in Dalmatia (now Croatia). He said he would rather grow vegetables than try to regain the throne. Not our idea of the typical Roman emperor. More like Candide. Ethnically, Diocletian is supposed, like several of his colleagues, to have been an Illyrian, a people whose modern descedants might be the Albanians. Some scholars have backed off from this; and we now can see these Emperors called "Danubian" rather than "Illyrian." Albanians must be offended.

Be that as it may, he is the first emperor (after, well, Φίλιππος ὁ Ἀράβος, Philip the Arab) with a certifiably (and not all that unusual) Greek name:  Διοκλῆς, Dioclēs.
Diocletian and the Tetrarchs, Corner of St. Mark's Cathedral, Venice, 2019; odd foot remained in Constantinople, found in situ
This is a name similar in form to Ἡρακλῆς, Heracles (Hēras kléos, the "fame/glory of Hera"), with the stem for "Zeus" substituted for the stem for "Hera" (Diós kléos, the "fame/glory of Zeus"). This was Latinized to Diocletianus when Dioclēs became Emperor.

Diocletian managed to go his entire reign with only one brief, ceremonial visit to Rome, in 303 -- on the Vicennalia, the 20th anniversary of his rule. The possession of the City, or residence there, was no longer of much political significance. Nobody had to "march on Rome," as Septimius Severus did, to become Emperor. Indeed, Julian, the last pagan emperor, never visited Rome during his short reign. Born in Constantinople, and drawn to Greece, he seems to have never visited Rome in his whole life, although passing through the north of Italy, and Milan, on his way to Trier.

According to the poet Claudian (Claudius Claudianus, c.370-404), by 404 only three emperors in the previous century had visited Rome -- Constantine I (306-337) in 312, Constantius II in 353, and Theodosius I in 389. Actually, Constantine returned in 326 for his own Vicennalia; but in the 63 years from then until 389, the visit of Constantius II in 353 for one month was the only occasion of an Emperor's presence in the City. These visits were so rare that they got a special name:  An Adventus, "Arrival," was what such a visit came to be called. The last actual Adventus was that of Constans II in 663.

Some 5th century Western emperors, with their horizons reduced to Italy, spent more time there. It is now hard to imagine how Romans would have been uninterested in visiting Rome. Wasn't there stuff to see? Well, by then, there was stuff to see all over the Empire.

Neither of the Vicennalia visits of Diocletian and Constantine went well. In Diocletian's case, seats at the Circus collapsed and 13,000 were killed. The mood of the people was ugly, in part because of their obvious neglect by the emperors. With Constantine, we don't know quite what happened, but shortly after his arrival both his son Crispus and his wife Fausta either died mysteriously or were executed. The population was hostile once again, and Constantine left the City, never to return. He began the construction of Constantinople in 328.

Constantine, of course, had converted to Christianity -- or at least had given it official toleration, protection, and then promotion -- and all the charming archaic features of paganism, naked athletes at the Olympics, priestesses of Apollo in trances, ithyphallic Hermae on street corners, priests of Astarte cutting off their genitals, orgiastic Dionysiacs, etc., began to disappear.

The empire of 476 was therefore, except for philosophers and yokels (paganus, "pagan," means "rural"), in an official Christian hammerlock. Steady political and legal pressure would eventually eradicate the old religions and gods. The Roman army, which had previously been strongly Mithraic, showed its sympathies by electing the Christian Jovian on the death of the pagan Julian in 363, and then the Christian Valentinian I, whose son Gratian would remove the Altar of Victory from the Senate in Rome in 382.

Indeed, at the time, the accusation was that Christianity itself was the cause of the empire's problems. What did they expect when they scorned Victory herself? St. Augustine of Hippo answered this charge in the City of God by denying that it even mattered -- only the City of God was eternal -- even as the Vandals took Hippo in the year of his own death. The charge was later taken up by Edward Gibbon, who saw religious superstition as more enervating than the antics of any Caligula or Elagabalus. Such a charge was still being repeated by James G. Frazer in his classic The Golden Bough [1890, 1900, 1906-15, note].

The picture of ferocious pagan hordes overcoming, not intoxicated catamites (κίναιδοι), but ascetic and otherworldly Christians is a little different from the standard one, but perhaps it would do....if not for another little problem:  The Goths, who defeated and killed the emperor Valens at Adrianople in 378, and who later established kingdoms in Spain (the Visigoths, 416-711) and Italy (the Ostrogoths, 493-553), were themselves literate Christians, converted by St. Wulfila (or Ulfilas, c.311-c.383, "Little Wolf"), who also designed the alphabet to write Gothic (which thus became the first written Germanic language) [note].

When the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410, the Empire was understandably shocked, but these savage hordes....respected the churches! They had entered the Empire by permission as refugees from the Huns and only went to war because of their mistreatment:  They had been reduced by the Romans to selling themselves into slavery for the sake of meals of rat meat -- at a rate of one rat for one slave. This now makes one wonder whom to call the barbarians.

The Visigothic king Reccared in 589 was not converting from paganism to Christianity, but from the heterodox Arian form of Christianity, advocated by Wulfila himself, to orthodox Catholicism. That made the Pope very happy, but it did not exactly effect a sea change in Visigothic religious practice. Similarly, the other German tribes who did the most damage to the Empire, the Vandals and Lombards, had also been Christians for some time. The only major German tribe that wasn't Christian was the Franks, and they never even got near Rome, much less sacked it. The Franks mostly stepped in after Roman authority had already collapsed in Gaul; but the conversion of the Frankish king Clovis (481-511) to Catholicism does make it sound like German tribes catching up with civilization. Not quite.

Mausoleum of Theodoric,
Ravenna, 2019
The Ostrogothic king Theodoric (493-526) oversaw as much civilization in Italy as it had had in a while. Great literature was produced by Cassiodorus (c.490-c.583) and Boethius (476-524). Theodoric's tomb at Ravenna later became the model for a chapel built by Charlemagne at Aachen -- and an equestrian statue of Theodoric was actually removed to Aachen by Charlemagne. Italy certainly suffered more from the Roman reconquest (536-552) than from the Germanic occupation. Like Diocletian, Theodoric only bothered to visit the City of Rome once, on the 30th anniversary of his rule.

Another problem is with the "Fall" itself. No German chieftain sacked Rome or killed an emperor in 476. Instead, an officer in the army, Odoacer, Ὀδόακρος, who did happen to be German, deposed the commander of the army (the Magister Militum, "Master of Soliders"), Orestes, Ὀρέστης. Since the titular emperor was Orestes's young son, known as "Augustulus," the "little Augustus," Odoacer sent him packing to a monastery.

These events, also, took place, not in Rome, but in Ravenna, which had been the capital for most of the century. In the normal course of things, Odoacer would have set up his own titular emperor and then seen about getting recognition from the eastern emperor in Constantinople. That would be difficult, since the eastern emperor already recognized someone else as western emperor:  Julius Nepos, who had been overthrown by Orestes in 475 but who was still holding out in Dalmatia (in Diocletian's own retirement palace, which made a very nice fortified town all through the Middle Ages).

As it happened, Odoacer decided not to bother with a titular western emperor. He sent the imperial regalia back to Constantinople and informed the emperor that he would be content with his Roman military title and recognition as a German king. The emperor agreed, and before long Odoacer took care of Julius Nepos as well (480). Thus Rome (or Ravenna) "fell" in 476 (or 480) less with a bang than with a whimper, and without noticeable institutional change or unaccustomed violence -- the fall of Constantinople in 1453 would be a far different matter, in every respect.

As large as the events of 476 loom in Modern historiography and popular cultural narrative, they were barely noticed at the time. Romulus Augustulus was deposed on September 4, 476. By the reckoning of Byzantine historians, this was in the last days of the year 5968 Annō Mundi, where 5969 would begin around September 14th. In the Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, the entry for 5968 contains nothing about events in Italy [translated by Cyril Mango and Roger Scott, with the assistance of Geoffrey Greatrex, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1997, 2006, p.189-191]. By the time of Theophanes Confessor, Θεοφάνης Ὁμολογητής (758-817), the fate of Augustulus must have seemed of little significance. Indeed, the Venerable Bede (672-735) ignores all the last Western Emperors after Honorius.

Dealing with the Roman reconquest of North Africa and Italy, the earlier historian Procopius of Caesarea, Προκόπιος ὁ Καισαρεύς (500-565), briefly addresses the end of the Western Emperors. The beginning of his account of the Gothic War, i.e. the overthrow of the Ostrogoths, he mentions, "During the reign of Zeno in Byzantium the power in the West was held by Augustus [Αὔγουστος], whom the Romans used to call by the diminutive name Augustulus [Αὐγούστουλος] because he took over the empire while still a lad" [Procopius, History of the Wars III, Books V-VI.15, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, translated by H.B. Dewing, 1919, 2006, pp.2-5].

Earlier, in his history of the war against the Vandals, Procopius sums up the case of the last Emperors of the West:

And another emperor, Nepos, upon taking over the empire, and living to enjoy a few days, died of disease, and Glycerius after him entered into this office and suffered a similar fate. And after him Augustus assumed the imperial power. There were, moreover, still other emperors in the West [ἐν τῇ ἑσπερίᾳ] before this time, but though I know their names well, I shall make no mention of them whatever. For it so fell out that they lived only a short time after attaining office, and as a result of this accomplished nothing worthy [ἄξιον οὐδέν] of mention. Such was the course of events in the West. [Procopius, History of the Wars II, Books III-IV, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, translated by H.B. Dewing, 1919, 2006, pp.68-69]

Procopius is both dismissive and careless here. Nepos overthrew and followed Glycerius, not the other way around; and Nepos did not die of disease but was killed by Odoacer in Dalmatia. "Augustus," i.e. Romulus Augustulus, only "assumed power" in being installed, as a child, by his father. Later, Procopius, in his account of the background of the Gothic war would be rather more careful and detailed, naming and describing Emperors whom he skips here. But the judgment of "accomplished nothing worthy of mention," is quite correct and will endure for centuries, leading to the neglect by Bede and Theophanes [note].

φύσει γὰρ οὖσα δεσπότις τῶν ἄλλων ἐθνῶν ἡ βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων ἐχθρωδῶς διακείμενον ἔχει τὸ δοῦλον.

For the Empire [βασιλεία] of the Romans, being by nature the mistress of all the nations, holds them, hostilely, in a state of slavery.

Anna Comnena, Alexiad 14.7.2; quoted by Anthony Kaldellis, in Greek and translation, "Did the Byzantine Empire Have 'Ecumenical' or 'Universal' Aspirations?" Ancient States and Infrastructural Power, Europe, Asia, and America, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017, pp.283,293; translation modified.

Rome and Romania -- ἡ Ῥώμη τε καὶ ἡ Ῥωμανία

But wait a minute! "Eastern emperor"! "Constantinople"! What was that all about? Indeed, if word that "the last Roman emperor was overthrown in 476 A.D." got back to the people of that year, it would have come as a very great surprise to all, and especially to the emperor Zeno in Constantinople. Not only was he regarded by all as a proper and legitimate Roman emperor, with a Court and an Army that still spoke Latin, but after Odoacer's coup in 476, he was the Roman emperor, with the regalia of the West duly returned to him. And on his throne emperors continued to sit for the next thousand years, reckoning their direct succession from Augustus Caesar.

How this happened of course goes back to Diocletian and Constantine again. Diocletian realized that it was so much trouble for an emperor to rush from the Rhine to the Danube to the Euphrates that he decided to appoint some colleagues to share his authority.

First there was a co-emperor, Maximian, then two junior colleagues, Constantius Chlorus and Galerius. The senior emperors were the Augusti, Αὔγουστοι (singular, Augustus, Αὔγουστος), and the junior emperors and heirs apparent were Caesares, Καῖσαρες (singular, Caesar, Καῖσαρ).

Diocletian then took for himself the business of the eastern half of the empire, with Galerius to help, and left the west to Maximian, with Constantius to help. The system is called the "Tetrarchy," the "Rule of Four." Diocletian also established a precedent by retiring in 305, after twenty years of rule (perhaps with the urging of Galerius). He also prevailed upon Maximian to do the same, with Galerius and Constantius becoming Augusti, appointing two new Caesars, Severus and Maximinus Daia. This was the closest Rome ever got to a constitutional, non-hereditary system of rule. It didn't end up working very well, but it was, with marriage alliances, still close to the system of Imperial adoption used by the Antonines.

Trouble arrived soon enough. Constantius Chlorus died unexpectedly at York (like Septimius Severus) in 306. His troops, enthusiastic about him and his family, immediately elevated his son Constantine to his position. This was irregular, but Galerius consented in ill grace as long as Constantine agreed to the status of Caesar rather than Augustus. Constantine agreed, and the Caesar Severus was recognized as the new western Augustus.

Unfortunately, Severus had a problem. Since Constantius had now been succeeded by his son, Maximian's own son Maxentius didn't want to be left out. He seized Italy and even persuaded his father to come out of retirement. When Severus tried to establish himself in Italy, he was defeated, captured in battle, and then killed. Galerius unsuccessfully invaded Italy and returned to the East. Maxentius generated some enthusiasm at Rome by promising to restore the City to its former prominence -- an enthusiasm that faded when he began requiring the payment of taxes, from which the citizens had previously been exempt.

This left everything pretty much a shambles, but we need not worry too much about that. Constantine eventually defeated and killed Maxentius (in 312), an event around which the fateful story of his vision of the Cross (or something) grew up, and in the end he assumed sole rule of the Empire by defeating Galerius's successor Licinius (who had been appointed in 308) in 324.

The transition from Diocletian to Constantine is illustrated in the following flow chart. There was nothing else quite like the Tetrarchy in the rest of Roman history, or any history. The system of appointed colleagues worked pretty well for a while, but it never quite recovered from the death of Constantius Chlorus. In the end, it really collapsed over Galerius favoring his own cronies and neglecting the principle of the system. At his death, he had two colleagues and Constantine none. And after his death, no one ever attempted to appoint new colleagues.

The drama of all this, which makes Game of Thrones look like Mean Girls, has drawn little attention from historical fiction; and people intimately familiar with the family of Augustus from I, Claudius, may have no idea who Constantius Chlorus was, or how Constantine was the brother-in-law of Maxentius. Nor is Dan Brown a reliable guide to the era. People tend to puzzle over the personality of Constantine because of conflicting feelings about Christianity; but he can be rather well understood from his actions and his own letters, without the bias of later hagiographic treatments or modern hostilities.

I have provided four different diagrams here, with icons for the nine principals, to illustrate the complexity of the Tetrarchy. Of the nine major players, only one, Maxentius, was never recognized as legitimate by the agreement of his colleagues.

Even with the conflicts of the Tetrarchy resolved, this was now a new empire. Not only did Constantine begin to institute Christianity, but the city of Rome itself had along the way assumed a very secondary importance in the life of the state. As we have seen, Diocletian seems to have visited the city only once. Rome had become Romania, Ῥωμανία:  a great Empire with a City, rather than a great City with a Empire. Warren Treadgold says of the 4th century historian Ammianus Marcellinus:

...he held the view, by his time rather old-fashioned, that the Roman Empire belonged to the city of Rome. [The Early Byzantine Historians, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, p.69].

As Peter Heather acutely puts it, Rome was now an "inside-out" Empire [The Fall of the Roman Empire, Oxford, 2006] -- the center and the periphery had exchanged places (as illustrated in the animation at left).

This transformation is scrupulously ignored in popular treatments of the Roman Empire, even in apparently well researched presentations on venues like the History Channel. I have seen a documentary [2011] which defined the "Roman Empire" as a domain "ruled from one city, Rome." All such shows treat the fate of the Empire as tied to the fate of the City, when their stories had long been separated and the City had ceased to be the center of events, politically, culturally, or militarily [note].

All free Roman subjects had been citizens since Caracalla. The emperors who restored the empire in the Third Century, Claudius II, Aurelian, and Diocletian, had all come from Illyricum. There was little time for the emperors to spend at Rome, which was strategically ill placed for frontier defense; and so for military reasons, Milan (Mediolanum) and later Ravenna became the practical western capitals, as Diocletian had taken up residence at Nicomedia (the modern Turkish Izmit, badly damaged by an earthquake in 1999) in Bithynia.

The Roman citizens of the city of Rome were now distinct in no truly important way from the rest of the empire, though they still continued to receive subsidized food shipments and formal respects. "Roman" now meant the Empire, Romania, Ῥωμανία, and the citizens, and only secondarily the City.

That the City had become the World, one Οἰκουμένη, Oecumene (Oikouménē), was even articulated as ideology in the "Roman Oration," Εἰς Ῥώμην ("To Rome"), of Aelius Aristides (117-181), delivered at Rome in 143 AD. This was a work much admired, for centuries, in Mediaeval Romania, although now scarcely noticed by Classicists [note].

Thus, Christianity did not build a new civilization on the ruins of the old, as Joseph Sobran said, it was the old civilization (the ruins came later), transformed by a religion that had grown up out of its own internal elements:  the uncompromising Monotheism, exclusivity, historical drama, and destiny of Judaism, the divine King so dear to the Egyptians, the Hellenistic mystery religion's promise of immortality through initiation, the elaborate doctrine and argumentation of Greek metaphysics, and finally the unity and universality that Aurelian and Diocletian had already tried to institute through a cult of Sōl Invictus, the "Unconquered Sun."

The birthday of Christ was even conveniently moved to the birthday of the solar Mithras:  December 25th (it's still on January 6th in Armenian chuches); and it is noteworthy how the push for the divinity of Christ consistently came from the Egyptians -- Athanasius of Alexandria had to contend with the Arian sympathies of several emperors. Orthodoxy did not firmly settle on Athanasianism until Theodosius I.

But then the Egyptians continued pushing:  The orthdoxy of both divine and human natures for Christ was not good enough; the Egyptians didn't like the idea of two natures. The most extreme version was that the one nature was entirely divine. Condemned at Chalcedon, the Monophysite ("One Nature") doctrine remains the view of Egyptian Christians, the Copts, to this day (though most now regard the one nature as both human and divine).

But we have one last echo of Mithras:  the sacred day of Christians is Sunday, established by Constantine, not because it is the day of the Resurrection, but because it is "the day celebrated by veneration of the sun itself" (diem solis veneratione sui celebrem).

Christianity thus brewed itself up over a couple of centuries as the first multicultural religion, a peculiarly Roman, which is to say a Latinized, Hellenistic, Middle Eastern religion. Indeed, the official name of the "Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church" (Sancta Romana Catholica et Apostolica Ecclesia) doesn't even give much of a hint that it refers to Christianity, though you know for sure it has something to do with Rome. Indeed, Christianity was quite simply the Roman religion. The match of religion with times is evident enough in the circumstance that only one emperor subsequent to Constantine, Julian the Apostate, briefly and tragicomically tried to return to the old gods.

A curious feature of Greek influence on Christianity is the moral condemnation of trade and finance. This does not originate in Judaism, where (as in ʾIslām) money and trade have always been legitimate, nor in primitive Christianity, which grew up as an urban religion among what was actually a prosperous middle class. Instead, the whole moral discourse of suspicion and condemnation of trade and money derives from Greek philosophy.

While it may be assumed that the later Christian attitude went along with its world-denying and monastic tradition, we see a lot less of that in the East, in Constantinople, where a cash economy continued through the Middle Ages and the life of the City was much consumed with trade, while monasticism, of course, was taken no less seriously than in the West. Instead, the Latin West, under the influence of the former Neoplatonist, Augustine, and where the cash economy collapsed into subsistence agriculture, became the venue of suspicion of merchants, money, and cities, especially when these came to be associated with the Jewish merchants who, welcomed or not, nevertheless were able to travel and function in Christian areas where, for instance, Muslims were never allowed.

After a modern economy developed in the West, money, buying, and selling, when these were regarded as bad things, continued to be associated with the Jews, as we see from the Enlightenment (e.g. Voltaire, Kant and Fries) to Marx to the socialist left of the present. The vitriol and violence directed against the Jews, however, finds no counterpart in the regard of defenders of Capitalism for the Greek philosophers, particularly Plato and Aristotle, who did so much to delegitimize merchants and bankers. When even Jefferson still valorized rural life and distrusted bankers and "stock-jobbers," and the modern left constantly seeks to shift the blame for the failures and irrationality of government over to bankers, brokers, and corporations, while American universities have become hotbeds of Marxism and anti-Semitism, the terms of the debate have really changed very little.

Tertullian had asked, "What then has Athens to do with Jerusalem, the Academy with the Church, the heretic with the Christian?" He represented a tension that would exist and continue between Greek culture, with the humanistic values of Greek παιδεία, paideía ("education"), and the often stern requirements of Christian faith, asceticism, and anhedonia. As it happened, despite the tension and occasional harsh words, conflict, and heresy trials, the influence of both continued in a strong and generally productive blend in Romania -- with even condemned heretics usually enduring no harsher punishment than exile to monasteries.

Meanwhile, the culture and the religion had become all but seamless parts of Roman identity, a phenomenon that continues to perplex scholars, not because it is particularly hard to understand, but because it subverts the paradigm of pagan Romans at the baths, games, and orgies. The picture of Christian Romans who mostly speak Greek is both perplexing and (to secular biases) distasteful, and so it is occluded by narratives at once sexier and hostile.

Yet Mediaeval Romania was far more unified a state, a culture, and a people than had been the Empire of Nero or even Trajan. The reproach of jumped-up Franks, both Mediaeval and Modern, that Romania had lost Rome, and so was alienated from its indispensable eponymous foundation, seemed decisive to them; but the Rhōmaîoi knew that Rome had become New Rome, Constantinople, long before the Western Empire collapsed, while both Franks and Romans had lost the metropolis of their common religion, Jerusalem, to ʾIslām. They were not thereby less Christian for it, and the Ῥωμαῖοι, Rhōmaîoi, were no less Roman for being Christian and speaking Greek.

The seat of the Roman Empire is Constantinople... Therefore you are the legitimate Emperor of the Romans... And he who is and remains Emperor of the Romans is also Emperor of the whole earth.

George of Trebizond, Γεώργιος ὁ Τραπεζούντιος (1395-1472/73), to Meḥmed II the Conqueror, 1466; quoted by Philip Mansel [note]


Rome, queen of the world, thy fame shall never perish;
for Victory, being wingless, cannot fly from thee.

Anonymous, "On [New] Rome," [The Greek Anthology, Volume III, Book 9, "The Declamatory Epigrams," Number 647, The Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1917, p.358-359]

Constantine built his New Rome (Νέα Ῥώμη, Roma Nova), better situated militarily than the old, a Christian Rome, decorated with the spoils of the dying paganism (including great bronze horses from Delphi, later relocated to Venice, and the Wonder of the World Statue of Zeus from Olympia, whose face evidently inspired portraits of Christ), but also with its own Senate, its own Consul, its own chariot races (in the hippodrome), its own factional riots (between the Greens and the Blues), and its own grain subsidies, drawn from Egypt and North Africa like those of Rome itself. The site was a natural wonder and a military engineer's dream, perhaps more beautifully situated, on hills flanked by water, than any great modern city save San Francisco, New York, or Hong Kong.

On his way to Jerusalem with the First Crusade (1096-1099), Fulcher of Chartres (1059-c.1128), subsequently chaplain to Baldwin I of Jerusalem, said of Constantinople:

O what a spendid city, how stately, how fair, how many monasteries therein, how many palaces raised by sheer labour in its broadways and streets, how many works of art, marvellous to behold:  it would be wearisome to tell of the abundance of all good things; of gold and silver, garments of manifold fashion and such sacred relics. Ships are at all times putting in at this port, so that there is nothing that men want that is not brought hither. [quoted by Philip Sherrard, Constantinople: The Iconography of a Sacred City, London, 1965, p.12]

Similarly, Odo of Deuil (1110-1162), chaplain of Louis VII of France on the Second Crusade (1147-1149), had these impressions:

Constantinople is the glory of the Greeks. Rich in fame, richer yet in wealth, the city is triangular in shape, like a ship's sail. In its inner angle lies Sancta Sophia and the Palace of Constantine, in which there is a chapel honored for its sacred relics. The city is hemmed in on two sides by the sea: approaching the city, we had on the right the Arm of St. George [the Bosporus] and on the left a certain estuary which branches off from it and flows on for almost four miles [the Golden Horn]. There is set what is called the Palace of Blachernae which, although it is rather low, yet, rises to eminence because of its elegance and its skillful construction. On its three sides the palace offers to its inhabitants the triple pleasure of gazing alternately on the sea, the countryside, and the town. The exterior of the palace is of almost incomparable loveliness and its interior surpasses anything that I can say about it. It is decorated throughout with gold and various colors and the floor is paved with cleverly arranged marble. Indeed, I do not know whether the subtlety of the art or the preciousness of the materials gives it the greater beauty or value. On the third side of the city's triangle there are fields. This side is fortified by towers and a double wall which extends for nearly two miles, from the sea to the palace. This wall is not especially strong [?], and the towers are not very high [?], but the city trusts, I think, in its large population and in its ancient peace. Within the walls there is vacant land [the parateichion and the peribolus] which is cultivated with hoes and plows. Here there are all kinds of gardens which furnish vegetables for the citizens. Subterranean conduits flow into the city under the walls to furnish the citizens with an abundance of fresh water. The city is rather squalid and smelly and many places are afflicted with perpetual darkness [Ipsa quidem sordida est et fedita multisque in locis perpetua nocte dampnata].
Ottoman house with
overhanging construction
The rich build their houses so as to overhang the streets and leave these dark and dirty places for travellers and for the poor. There murder and robberies occur, as well as other sordid crimes which love the dark. Life in this city is lawless [quoniam autem in hac urbe vivitur sine jure], since it has as many lords as it has rich men and almost as many thieves as poor men. Here the criminal feels neither fear nor shame, since crime is not punished by law nor does it ever fully come to light. Constantinople exceeds the average in everything -- it surpasses other cities in wealth and also in vice. It has many churches which are unequal to Sancta Sophia in size, though not in elegance. The churches are admirable for their beauty and equally so for their numerous venerable relics of the saints. Those [of us French] who could enter them did so, some out of curiosity in order to see them, and some out of faithful devotion. [James Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary History, Marquette University Press, 1962, pp. 109-111; "Sancta," as it is in Latin, substituted for "Santa" in the translation]

Odo has underestimated the size, strength, and length of the triple Land Walls of Constantinople. He is certainly intimidated by the size and density of the City, about whose lawlessness we do not otherwise hear. Well might the modern traveller lament the crime in modern cities, where it certainly does not go entirely unpunished, whether the criminals feel fear and shame or not. Sounds like he had a bad experience in one dark street.

Approaching the City with the Fourth Crusade in 1203, Geoffroy de Villehardouin says:

I can assure you that all those who had never seen Constantinople before gazed very intently at the city, having never imagined there could be so fine a place in all the world. They noted the high walls and lofty towers encircling it, and its rich palaces and tall churches, of which there were so many that no one would have believed it to be true if he had not seen it with his own eyes, and viewed the length and breadth of that city which reigns supreme over all others. There was indeed no man so brave and daring that his flesh did not shudder at the sight. [Joinville and Villehardouin, Chronicles of the Crusades, "The Conquest of Constantinople," Penguin, pp.58-59]

Even the Ottoman City was described thus by English traveller George Sandys (1578-1644) in 1610:

There is hardly in nature a more delicate object, if beheld from the sea or adjoyning mountains: the loftie and beautifull cypresse trees so intermixed with the buildings that it seemeth to present a city in a wood to the pleased beholders. Whose seven aspiring heads (for on so many hils and no more, they say it is seated) are most of them crowned with magnificent mosques, all of white marble round in forme... [quoted by Jonathan Harris, Constantinople, Capital of Byzantium, Hambledon Continuum, London, New York, 2007, p.190, original spelling]

This City became Constantinopolis, Κωνσταντινούπολις, the City of Constantine, later shortened in Greek to Stamboul, Σταμβούλ, and now remembered in Turkish as İstanbul [note].

We see Michael Psellus in the 11th Century surprisingly contrasting "the ancient and lesser Rome, and the later, more powerful city" [!, Fourteen Byzantine Rulers, Penguin, 1966, p.177]. It is now hard to grasp Constantinople as a greater city than Rome, but there would have been little in Rome's favor in Psellus' day.

The great triple land wall of Constantinople, with almost two hundred towers, finished under Theodosius II (408-450), was perhaps the most successful fortification in world history, standing unbreached, through countless sieges -- twenty-three between 413 and 1453 -- against Germans, Huns, Avars, Persians, Arabs, Bulgars, Vikings, Cumans, Crusaders, Mongols, and Turks, for 1040 years, protected by Holy Icons like the Ὁδηγήτρια, Hodēgētria (the Virgin who "Shows the Way," kept at the Hodegon Monastery), or the Βλαχερνίτισσα, Blachernitissa (the Virgin of the Chruch of Mary at Blachernae, where the Μαφόριον, Maphorion, the Robe of the Virgin, was kept and where there was a miraculous Spring, quite close to the wall itself), finally to shatter only under the gigantic cannonballs of the Sultān Meḥmed II. Even so, in the midst of İstanbul, it mostly still remains standing, in some places even restored, its breaches merely allowing modern streets to pass [note].

"Oh!" you say, "You mean Byzantium! That's not the Roman Empire! That's some horrible medieval thing!" That certainly would have been news to Constantine, or to Zeno, or to Justinian (527-565), or even to Basil II in the 11th century (963-1025). "Byzantium," although the name of the original Greek city, Βυζάντιον, where Constantinople was founded, and often used for the City (as by Procopius and others), was not a word that was ever used to refer to the Empire, or to anything about it, by its rulers, its inhabitants, or even its enemies.

Indeed, the City could simply be called "Rome," Rhṓmē, Ῥώμη in Greek, which is what we see in the inscriptions recorded in The Greek Anthology [Volume III, Book 9, "The Declamatory Epigrams," Numbers 647, 657, 697, & 799; The Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1917]. The emperor was always of the "Romans," Rhōmaîoi, Ῥωμαῖοι in Greek; and to Arabs and Turks the Empire and land were simply Rūm, رُوم, "Rome" [note].

As Roman identity expanded from Old Rome into all Romania, it focused and contracted from the shrinking Empire onto the New Rome. "Byzantium" is in fact a term of ill will and scorn adopted and substituted by modern historians, who didn't want to admit that Rome did not, after all, "fall," leaving them personally as the eventual and proper heirs. As G.W. Bowersock, Peter Brown, and Oleg Grabar say, the term "Byzantine Empire" is "a modern misnomer redolent of ill-informed contempt" [Late Antiquity, A Guide to the Postclassical World, Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 1999, p.vii].

As Roman historians liked to use archaic place names, and so frequently called Constantinople "Byzantium," their use of "Byzantine," Byzantinus, was simply and logically for residents of the Capital. Thus, Warren Treadgold [The Early Byzantine Historians, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010] says:

The Suda [Σοῦδα, a tenth century encyclopedia] calls [the historian] Malchus [of Philadelphia] a "Byzantine," which usually meant a native of Constantinople but in this case must have meant a longtime resident. [p.103]

When Liutprand of Cremona (c.922-972) and Frankish, i.e. German, envoys, in an embassy from Otto I, with their own pretentions as successors of Rome, arrived at the Court of Nicephorus Phocas in 968, their represenation of Otto as the "Emperor of the Romans" (Imperator Romanorum) was hotly disputed. Otto was not a successor of Constantine.

A letter then arrived from the Pope addressed to the "emperor of the Greeks." For this "sinful audacity," Liutprand, who was ready to go home, was "detained," shall we say, pending an explanation of this insult -- Jonathan Harris says "thrown in prison" [Constantinople, Continuum, 2007, p.62]. Evidently the Pope had not heard of "Byzantium" as the name of the Empire [note].

Later, the Franks or "Latins" tended to call the Ῥωμαῖοι, Rhōmaîoi, "Greeks," Graeci, and even Graeculi, "Little Greeks." The former was not always intended to be insulting, but the latter was.

While "Byzantium" is indeed used merely as a term of convience and custom by most historians, there is the awkward question of when "Rome" ends and "Byzantium" begins. If Rome "fell" in 476, then clearly "Byzantium" should begin there; but this boundary is rarely used. Since Constantinople itself must be explained, Byzantine histories commonly begin with Constantine, often in 324, when Constantine had defeated Lincinius and acquired the East.

This is what one finds in Alexander Alexandrovich Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire [1928, University of Wisconsin Press, 1961], George Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State [Rutgers University Press, 1969], and John Julius Norwich, Byzantium, The Early Centuries [Knopf, 1989]. The flip side of this would be simply to end the "Roman Empire" with Constantine. This is not common, but I have seen Garrett G. Fagan do it, in his lectures for The Teaching Company, "Emperors of Rome" [2007]. With thirty-six lectures on Emperors, Fagan abruptly stops at Constantine, with a handoff to Kenneth W. Harl's lectures, "The World of Byzantium" [2001], to continue the story.

Fagan says that, to him, Constantine was the first Mediaeval, or the first Byzantine, Emperor; and so his job is done. The drawback of this approach is that the last century and a half of the Western Empire falls between the stools, not to mention the extraordinary and tragic Julian, who ruled the whole Empire. A Byzantinist is not going to pay much attention to Ricimer, as Harl, who doesn't even mention his name, indeed does not. And Harl has the annoying habit of saying "Stilichio" for Stilicho and "Visiogoths" for "Visigoths," forms that I do not see attested in any print source. So this approach really will not do.

On the other hand, David R. Sear's Byzantine Coins and Their Values [Seaby, 1987] is the direct continuation of his Roman Coins and Their Values [Seaby, 1988], and he chooses to make the division at the reign of the Emperor Anastasius just because Anastasius carried out a major reform of the copper coinage. Others take Phocas or Heraclius, under whom the Danube Frontier collapsed and the Arab invasion occurred, as the first "Byzantine" emperors:  A.H.M. Jones' monumental and authoritative The Later Roman Empire 284-602 [Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986] and Mark Whittow's complementary (if not as monumental) The Making of Byzantium, 600-1025 [University of California Press, 1996] take that approach.

We also see this division in Andreas Thiele's Erzählende genealogische Stammtafeln zur europäischen Geschichte, where "Rom" covers genealogies from Julius Caesar to Phocas (Volume II, Part 2, Europäiche Kaiser-, Königs- und Fürstenhäuser II Nord-, Ost- und Südeuropa, R. G. Fischer Verlag, Part 2, Second Edition, 1997, pp.262-292), while "Byzanz" goes from Heraclius to the Emperors of Trapezond (Volume III, Europäiche Kaiser-, Königs- und Fürstenhäuser, Ergänzungsband, R. G. Fischer Verlag, Second Edition, 2001, pp.213-236). One nice touch for the division at Phocas could be that he was the last Emperor to place a monument, a column, in the Forum at Rome.

A more recent thorough history, however, Warren Treadgold's A History of the Byzantine State and Society [Stanford University Press, 1997], begins where many of the explanations must begin, with Diocletian himself in 284 -- elsewhere [Byzantium and Its Army, 284-1081, Stanford, 1995, p.viii], Treadgold lists possible dates for the beginning of Byzantium as, besides 284, "324, 395, 476, 565, 610, or 717." Whatever point one picks between Diocletian and Heraclius (or Leo III, Treadgold's "717" date), there is clearly a transition period; but all the later empire could still be distinguished from the earlier simply by calling it what its inhabitants did:  Romania.

"Byzantine," for whatever reason it is used, still carries a connotation of the mediaeval, dark, nasty, labyrinthine, and treacherous -- the disapproval of even modern and secular Western Europeans for what Mediaeval Latins would dismiss as the Greek "Schismatics." Curious how the attitude stays the same despite the changes in culture, faith, politics, etc. [note].

A final date for the transition could be 750, which is used by Peter Brown and others to terminate "Late Antiquity." This could date the fall of the Omayyads, or the final fall of Ravenna to the Lombards (in 751). Both these events are significant, but they seem like variations on developments already far progressed.

Byzantine Matters, Averil Cameron

A curious reflection on the division between Rome and Byzantium is found in Byzantine Matters, Why the marginalized story of Byzantium has much to teach us about Western history, by distinguished Oxford Byzantinist Averil Cameron [Princeton, 2014]:

However much one wishes to avoid the dangers [?] of seeming to argue for continuity [?!], it is impossible to avoid the question of periodization in relation to Byzantium. As I have noted, several recent writers prefer to see "Byzantium" proper as beginning from ca.600 or later, and there are good reasons why. Constantinople was formally inaugurated in AD 330, but there was not yet such an entity as "Byzantium," distinct from the eastern Roman Empire, and it remains the case that the Byzantines thought of themselves as Romans (chapter 3). The shock and loss of territory consequent on the Arab invasion of the seventh century also necessitated a painful adjustment. Nevertheless, adopting a later periodization risks obscuring the fact that what we call Byzantium had a long earlier history; it was not a new state formed only in the medieval period.

In the last generation "late antiquity" has taken over from "the later Roman empire" in much of the secondary literature, even if the continuing number of publications discussing its scope and nature suggests that these questions are not yet settled. The "explosion" of late antiquity and now the turn to the east -- that is, toward the eastern Mediterranian, the rise of Islam, and the early Islamic world -- that is such a feature of current scholarship are both tendencies that threaten to squeeze out Byzantium. [pp.113-114]

Cameron ends here on a note of hand-wringing that seems to be about nothing. It is not just that "there was not yet such an entity as 'Byzantium'." The truth is that there was never such an entity, as it is commonly meant, as "Byzantium." The question of "periodization," where to divide "Rome" from "Byzantium," as we have just seen, has always been about a fiction, which is why the divisions are so varied, and so obviously arbitrary. And if there are "tendencies that threaten to squeeze out Byzantium," then perhaps this should be encouraged, since a more honest and acurate naming eliminates much of the basis of the sort of contempt that Cameron herself laments.

If we want to avoid entirely the impression that Byzantium "was not a new state formed only in the medieval period," then this would be accomplished most effectively by just not using the word "Byzantium." Call it "Romania" -- a name that Cameron, again most typically and tellingly, never mentions. She continues the tradition of ignoring what the Romans called their own Empire. This should tell us something important.

Cameron's admission that "the Byzantines thought of themselves as Romans" is characteristic of this problem. As with other examples I examine on this page, Cameron's locution allows or even implies that "the Byzantines," who merely "thought" themselves Romans, were really not "Romans," which is something that we know that apparently they did not. Cameron certainly never actually calls them Romans.

So, obviously, we know better, regardless of how the Rhōmaîoi thought or spoke of themselves, and in spite of the continuity of their history -- the admission of which for Cameron seems to involve some kind of unspecified "dangers." So despite Cameron's defense and concern for "Byzantium," her attitude and practice are part of the problem, not the solution; and she has insensibly conceded the very basis upon which Mediaeval Romania has traditionally been marginzalized, belittled, and despised. Cameron remains what Anthony Kaldellis has called a "grumpy Byzantinist."

And now we know from Peter Brown's autobiography -- Journeys of the Mind, A Life in History [Princeton, 2023] -- that Cameron's problem with "Late Antiquity" goes all the way back to Brown's publication of The World of Late Antiquity. While Brown appreciates Cameron's review as "perceptive," it is essentially nit-picking, with statements like, "There is even danger in the bountiful illustrations and their interesting captions," which is, really, an extraordinarily absurd thing to say [Brown, p.391]. But we know about Cameron's "dangers," which is the pearl-clutching unease of conventional wisdom being upset, even for someone who would complain about "the marginalized story of Byzantium." In Cameron's "story," Romania remains marginalized. If you can't call something by its proper name, something about it puts you off.

So why should modern historians have ever scorned the successors of Augustus in Constantinople? Well, it isn't just them. The scorn goes back a little earlier. Nothing after Alexander Severus (222-235) is quite Roman enough for many scholars. The Cassell's New Latin Dictionary, of which I have the 1959 edition [Funk & Wagnalls, New York], only gives the vocabulary of classical authors from "about 200 B.C. to A.D. 100." Thus a number of late meanings, for words like comes or dux, or late vocabulary altogether, like diocesis (diocese, Greek dioíkēsis), Diocletian's new administrative groupings of provinces, or Romania (Greek Ῥωμανία, Rhōmanía), the name of the Empire itself, are missing. And lest the reader think Cassell's dictionary too trivial a source to belabor over this, the new Oxford Latin Dictionary, edited by P.G.W. Glare [OUP, 1982, Second Edition, 2012, corrected 2015], itself only uses sources "to the end of the second century AD" [p.vii]. The Oxford dictionary is also missing "Romania," etc. [note].

These trucations leave one without the connections to the mediaeval and modern meanings of "count," "duke," or "diocese." Obviously the Latin literature or history after 100/200 A.D. was not worth considering -- a slight certain to be a disappointment to the great historian of the fourth century, Ammianus Marcellinus, or to Flavius Vegetius Renatus, one of the founders of military science, whose book (De Re Militari) was used straight through the Middle Ages into Modern times, or to Theodosius II and Justinian who took the trouble in the fifth and sixth centuries to gather Roman law together into law codes, or to Justinian's contemporary Boethius (Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, d.524), whose commentaries on Porphyry's Isagoge (Εἰσαγωγή, the "Introduction") and Aristotle's On Interpretation, and his On the Consolation of Philosophy, were among the few clues to Greek philosophy preserved in Western Europe until the return of Greek literature beginning in the 12th century. Although Boethius lived under King Theodoric of the Ostrogoths, he was Roman Consul for the year 510, and his sons Consuls for 522.

The abbreviation of Classical Latin literature is also evident in the classic Latin textbook, which I bought in 1967, Frederic M. Wheelock's Latin [Barnes & Noble, 1956, 1966; revised as Wheelock's Latin by Richard A. LaFleur, HarperResource, 2000]. The periods of Latin literature include divisions of the Golden Age, 80 BC-14 AD (with Ciceronian, to 43 BC, and Augustan, from 43, subdivisions), the Silver Age, 14 AD-138 BC (to the death of Hadrian), with an "Archaising Period" coda (to "fill out the 2nd century"), and then the "Patristic Period" all the way to the "Medieval Period," with a conventional cutoff, apparently, around 476, and a great deal of talk about the "Vulgar Latin" used by the Church Fathers [Wheelock, pp.xxv-xxix, LaFleur, pp.xxxiii-xxxvii].

The "Patristic Period" leaves one with the impression that there was no secular Latin literature of the era -- indeed, Wheelock says that "most of the vital literature was the work of Christian leaders, or fathers (patrēs)" [p.xxviii] -- and in fact none of the Sententiae Antīquae in Wheelock draw on Ammianus or Boethius, though we do get Isidore of Seville (d.636) and the Venerable Bede (d.735) without any cautions that these are Mediaeval and "vulgarized" texts (Boethius and even Bede, but not Isidore, are represented in the Loeb Classical Library). Secular Late Antiquity thus gets ignored and bypassed -- perhaps from a disinclination to admit that it even existed -- ironically and incongruously without this being motivated by any admiration for Chistianity.

What Latinists may not want to admit, and what is certainly missing from the explanations in Wheelock or Cassell's dictionary, is acknowledgement that, even as there is indeed a decline in Latin literature in Late Antiquity, this is probably because there is a revival and fourishing of Greek literature. That began, or at least became obvious, in the phenomenon of the Second Sophistic, in the days of Septemius Severus. But the tendency was already evident. Marcus Aurelius, who was Roman enough for any writer, and for Hollywood, kept his diary in Greek. This all leads seemlessly to the replacement of Latin by Greek in Mediaeval Constantinople. But the whole phenomenon clearly makes Classicists uncomfortable, and its early roots, and the meaning of the Second Sophistic, are generally ignored.

Similar to the issues about language, the Oxford History of the Classical World, Volume II, The Roman World (Oxford University Press, 1988), which is 422 large format pages long, devotes a miserable 22 pages to the last two hundred years before 476. The chapter is called "Envoi: On Taking Leave of Antiquity." Evidently, the editors couldn't take leave fast enough. Such impatience can also be seen in the large format and lavishly illustrated Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames and Hudson, 1995, 1999; 232 pages of text). From Augustus to 235 AD, 52% of the time from Augustus to the "Fall" in 476, is covered by 65% of the text. The crisis of the Third Century, from 235 to 284, and the remaining time, from Diocletian until 476, each receive about 17% of the text, although in time they are (only) 10% and 38%, respectively.

Thus, 192 years of Roman history, including a century (the 4th) with extensive ruins and literature, are given less than half the space that one might expect. Closer inspection reveals something else. Not a single pre-476 monument of Constantinople is shown, not the pillars of Claudius II or Constantine, nor the Walls of Theodosius II (though they are at least mentioned). In fact, after the Arch of Constantine and a part of one of his churches in Rome, there is not a single monument or building illustrated in the text, not even anything from Ravenna, the capital of the last Western Emperors. No wonder things could be wrapped up so quickly.

One is left with the false impression, merely scanning the pages, that nothing was built, an impression as false and misleading (though consistent with expectations for decadence or the Dark Ages) as the title of the last chapter, "The Last Emperors," which disposes of everyone after Constantine (139 years -- George Washington to Herbert Hoover) in just ten pages. In The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome, also by Chris Scarre [1995], 75 pages are devoted to the Roman Empire. Of this, 21 pages, 28% of the total, cover everything from Diocletian on. This is better than the Oxford History or the Chronicle, but it still represents 38% of the time.

Finally, there is The Complete Roman Army, by Adrian Goldsworthy [Thames & Hudson, 2003]. With a text of 214 pages, Part V of the book, "The Army of Late Antiquity," starting with Diocletian, is only 16 pages long, 7% of the total -- again for 38% of the time. For a summary treatment, Goldsworthy does a good job; but for an army that was twice as large as that of the Principate, with a much more complex organization, whose performance involves many very critical historical questions, the lack of proportion is obvious.

Thus, while there is a nice two page feature on Julian's Battle of Strasbourg, it is perplexing not to have such a treatment of one of the most important battles in history, the defeat and death of Valens at Adrianople. Indeed, why Valens lost the battle is one of the most important questions in all of Roman, or even world, history. Now the new The Roman Army, the Greatest War Machine of the Ancient World, edited by Chris McNab [Osprey Publishing, 2010] does have an extensive treatment, with maps of Adrianople [pp.241-253]. At the same time, the "Late Empire" in this book ("AD 200-6th Century") gets 57 pages out of 265, 22% -- although, since the book covers the Republican Army also, the Late Empire (which seems to include the Severans here) actually gets 46% of the space devoted to the Empire, which is finally getting the proportions about right.

What's the problem? The truth is that the problem of Roman history for most historians, or cultural commentators, is not that the Empire fell in 476, which of course it didn't, but that it had changed, already, back in the 3rd and 4th centuries. The Empire of Diocletian or Constantine, let alone of Theodosius or Justinian, is certainly not the Empire of Augustus or Trajan, let alone Nero or Elagabalus. Rather than deal with those changes, which for the secular historian involve disagreeable topics like Christianity, it is much easier to dismiss them, write them off, and bundle the rest of the history of Romania into a different, and contemptible, academic subfield.

This procedure then preserves "Rome" as a glittering, static, Platonic Form of fascination, whether proudly pagan -- and therefore modern, since the old gods need not be taken seriously as religion -- or delightfully hedonistic and decadent -- and therefore modern again, like any good party in Greenwich Village. Diocletian and Constantine themselves become something rather like a footnote to the real story, whose interest is exhausted with Nero, or perhaps with Marcus Aurelius.

Constantine has already sinned against the sensibilities of the Enlightenment (or is it the Renaissance? or is it the modern multicultural, non-judgmental liberal?), so we can't help it if he has bought into the darkness and obscurity of a Mediaeval world for which we have no sympathy, but do have considerable antipathy. He, and his successors, have willfully disqualified themselves from our serious consideration, let alone our respect.

The "Fall of Rome" is thus not an event in history, but a boundary in historiography -- something more dramatic and absolute than anything some marauding Goths could have accomplished -- people whose identity and deeds are irrelevant anyway, besides the absurdity of that new religion, which is the real issue.


Classicists perhaps just should not bother with Roman history after 284. Their hearts just aren't in it, and we get a second rate treatment. They only continue down to 476 because they have taken that as the "Fall" and the end of Roman history, which they have a disagreeable duty to address -- although Mary Beard decides to just forget it -- she doesn't even get as far as 284. Since 476 is actually nothing of the sort, they all should, like Mary, just forget about it.

They certainly have enough to keep them busy before 284. The first two hundred years of Roman history do make a pretty compact cultural and historical unit. The culture and religion are still pagan, the office of emperor maintains some pretense of republican form, Roman power is more or less triumphant and unchallenged, and there are those wonderfully entertaining "decadent" emperors, upon whom every indulgence and sexual excess can be projected (which may actually be what the Roman historians were doing themselves). That takes us from Augustus to Alexander Severus (30 BC to 235 AD). Then we have a world of trouble. Palmyra takes the East. Gaul and Spain break away. The Goths sack Athens. Pirates rake the seas. The Empire seems to be disintegrating. Soon philosophy turns from the grim determination of Stoicism to the otherworldly consolations of mysticism, whether in the pagan Neoplatonism of Plotinus or the new religions like Christianity, Mithraism, or Manicheanism.

The Emperors, who could no longer survive spending their time on debaucheries in Rome, were not, at first, very mystical; but the Zeitgeist caught up with them in Constantine's Christianity. This is all often too much for the Classicists, whose bias then distorts their estimation even of the facts of Late Antiquity. If inattention to the 3rd century onwards was due to a lack of events, a lack of literature, or a lack of ruins and archaeology, it might make some sense. But none of those things are lacking. It is the interest that is lacking:  the 3rd century on is just not the "real" Rome anymore.

Classicists are all versions of Livy, whose historiography was driven by moral judgments that Rome was just not what it used to be (see what he says about Cincinnatus). Fortunately, there has been a reaction against this for a while now. Peter Brown's great The World of Late Antiquity 150-750 [HBJ, 1971] zeros in on many myths and misconceptions about the late empire and has inspired great interest and more critical appraisals of the period. Despite the date in the title, Brown essentially begins with the transformations of the 3rd century. This is, in essence, when Rome became Romania. But to those for whom "Rome" merely means the City, not the Empire, that is the problem. The transformation and universalization of the state means a loss of interest, despite complete continuity, even in language (for a while).

The new era for Romania begins neatly enough. The Era of Diocletian, beginning in 284, continued to be used in Egypt long after his death. Indeed, the Era of Diocletian is still used in Egypt by the Egyptian Christians, the Copts, in conjunction with the months of the ancient Egyptian calendar (Thout, etc.) and the leap day that Augustus Caesar imposed on the city of Alexandria in 26 BC. Thus, September 11, 1996, was the first day of the Year 1713 for the Copts. The Anno Domini Era itself was "inspired," if that is the right word, by the Era of Diocletian.

In the Sixth Century, Dionysius Exiguus, who was making up the Easter tables for the Julian calendar with Alexandrian astronomical data, was offended that Christians should be using the era of a persecutor of Christians. He thought that Christians should be using an era based on the life of Christ. He didn't get it quite right (Jesus cannot have been born after 4 BC), but his system eventually became universal in Christendom and then simply universal -- now often called the "Common Era." The Copts, of course, had no intention of paying tribute to Diocletian. They call theirs the "Era of Martyrs," in homage to the martyrs, not to the person, of Diocletian.

The Era of Diocletian does suggest the unit of a later, or perhaps second, Empire. Its natural end is not 476, but 610, as in Jones and Whittow. The natural period ends, not with the German kingdoms in Italy, Spain, North Africa, and Gaul, two of which were actually restored to Rome by Justinian, but with the collapse of the Danube frontier and the advent of ʾIslām.

The emperor Heraclius (610-641), who had to deal with those appalling events, ushers in profound changes in the Empire. As the armies retreated from the shattered frontiers, they were settled in areas of Anatolia intended to support them in the absence of all the revenues from the lost provinces. This was the beginning of the "theme" military divisions, which eventually replaced the old Roman provinces. Also Greek rather than Latin began to be used for all official purposes. Heraclius himself, very symbolically, adopted the Greek title of "king," basileus, in honor of his crushing defeat of the Persian emperor, who had always been called the "Great King," megas basileus -- though the Greek term autokratōr, "Autocrat" was always regarded and used as the equivalent of imperator (a practice that survived in Russia, where the Emperor was officially "Tsar and Autocrat").

Further divisions are clear enough:  from 610 to the end of the Macedonian Dynasty in 1059 we have a period, almost exactly covered by Whittow, of disaster, survival, recovery, and triumph. This great story gives us "Middle Romania," when a transformed empire found a new identity, achieved remarkable status and, at least against the Bulgars, exacted a terrible revenge.

Finally, from 1059, when the late Macedonian Dynasty had already subverted, through debasement, favoritism, and neglect of the army, the pillars of Mediaeval Roman power, we have the decline, with periodic partial recoveries (the Comneni & early Palaeologi), all the way down to what John Julius Norwich calls the "almost unbearably tragic" end with the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Whether "Late Byzantium" or "Late Romania," we have the story whereby the Cosmopolitan Empire of Nations, founded on conquest and history and refounded on religion, vanishes altogether. It is replaced, however, with an Islāmic Empire, that of the Turks, Rūm and Rumelia, that in some ways, mutatis mutandis, was not unlike Romania. That survived until the last Sulṭān was deposed in 1922, and Constantinople ceased being a capital, and a home for Emperors (Tsargrad), for the first time since Constantine.

Thus, as in the imaginary volumes at left, the appropriate treatment would be a continuous history from Augustus to Meḥmed VI. To be sure, it may be too much to regard the Ottoman Empire as a version of the Roman Empire, but Bāyezīd as the Sulṭān of Rūm was claiming to be a kind of successor, and the Ottoman state did encompass all the lands of Mediaeval Romania, from its own capital at Constantinople. [note]

27 BC-284 AD
310 years
Second EmpireEARLY ROMANIALATE ROMAN EMPIRE284-610Era of Diocletian 1-327326 years
Third EmpireMIDDLE ROMANIAEARLY BYZANTIUM610-1059Era of Diocletian 327-776449 years
Fourth EmpireLATE ROMANIALATE BYZANTIUM1059-1453Era of Diocletian 776-1170394 years
Fifth EmpireTÜRKIYAISLĀMIC BYZANTIUM1453-1922Era of Diocletian 1170-1639469 years
Era of Diocletian 1316-present411+ years

On a timeline, we can see the way this divides up the period (leaving aside the Ottoman sequel). I have extended the "Roman Empire" line up to its traditional termination in 476, which is still significant as the customary boundary between Ancient and Mediaeval Times. In terms of practice, the "Byzantium" line could begin almost anywhere within the "Late Roman Empire" period, or later. The Fall of Constantinople in 1453 itself is one of the traditional termination dates for the Middle Ages, though less popular than Columbus in 1492. [note]

With Heraclius the Roman Empire had returned to what in a sense had always been its true character:  a Hellenistic Kingdom. When Constantine XI was killed by the Turks in 1453, it was, in many real ways, the end of the Hellenistic world. The meaning of this will be considered in turn; but first, it must be asked:  "Well, OK, the Empire of Diocletian and Constantine has a natural transition to the collapse under the miserable emperor Phocas in 602-610, but can the collapse of the western Empire be so easily dismissed? Is 476 really so insigificant? Can the kingdoms of the Germans be so demoted? And why, after all, did the Western Empire collapse?

The Emperors Who Weren't

These are good questions, which brings us back to Odoacer, and his predecessors. The Roman Empire looked fine in 395, the year of the death of Theodosius the Great. The frontiers were secure, orthodoxy was established, the Visigoths were pacified, and Theodosius, doubtlessly with a mind at peace (he had even patched up a nasty excommunication by St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan [not Rome, notice]), left the Empire to his young sons, Honorius and Arcadius, under the protection of his trusted, and in fact trustworthy, commander, Stilicho.

Stilicho was Odoacer's first precedessor:  a German commander of the Roman army. This might sound odd, but it didn't seem so odd at the time. Germans had long been in the Roman army. Marcus Aurelius, who was Roman enough for any scholar, took a whole tribe of barbarians, the Iazygians (who had fought with Germans but were actually Iranian), into the Roman army. This had not created problems. And the army had always filled up with the most warlike inhabitants of the Empire. At the time, German refugees and interlopers were certainly the most warlike.

But with Stilicho, something was different. His young charges were weak and worthless; and worse, they had divided the Empire into east and west again, and the two courts were intriguing against each other, with Stilicho often caught in the middle. The Visigoths started acting up, and for obscure reasons Stilicho may have avoided, or lost, or been prevented from, having the chance to annihilate them. That, in retrospect, is what needed to be done. Germans in the army was one thing, but an independent, belligerent tribe in the midst of the Empire was something else.

Theodosius had allowed, or been compelled to allow (he could not defeat the Goths), this to happen. The Visigoths, after their experience before Adrianople, were not going to be dispersed in settlement or in the army as Roman practice previously would have required. The individual Visigoths who were off in the Roman army at the time of Adrianople had been murdered. So now the tribe stuck together.

Arther Ferrill, in The Fall of the Roman Empire, the Military Explanation [Thames and Hudson, London, 1986], identifies this as the fatal, catastrophic mistake in Roman policy. Germans in the Roman army became Romans. Germans in a German tribe remained German; and as the Roman army assimilated itself to the influence of the German model, it lost its advantage of discipline over its German enemies. It became a kind of German tribe itself.

Still, this need not have been fatal. Stilicho could have swept aside the intrigue, organized his resources, and annihilated the tribal Visigoths through one simple act:  seizing the throne. He didn't, and eventually was executed by Honorius (in 408). What happened next is revealing:  the army seemed to disintegrate.

Indeed, as earlier in the rebellion of the Visigoths, the Romans turned on the Germans in the Army. But the purge of Germans did not strengthen the Army, as later it would in the East under Leo. Instead, the surviving Germans decamped to the Visigoths; and, unlike with the Isaurians under Leo, there was no one to replace them. Honorius never contested any action of the Goths, who only left Italy when they ran out of steam.

So the Visigoths, repeatedly defeated by Stilicho, swept into Italy and took Rome in 410, while Honorius sat safe in Ravenna. A Roman Army of Italy remained, but the Germans brought into the army by Stilicho were gone. This effectively eliminated the Roman Army to the point that the Visigoths could not be met in battle with any chance of success. In seizing the throne, Stilicho would have lost legitimacy with the East, but by not seizing the throne, Stilicho and his successors passed on after them weak civilian governments, often with young, jealous emperors and scheming regents, at a time when the ferocity of third century warrior emperors was badly needed again. In 410, only fifteen years after the death of Theodosius, the western empire had become all but paralyzed, with the Goths in Rome itself, the Vandals, Alans, the Suevi rampaging across Gaul and Spain, and Britain stripped of troups by the usurper Constantine, who moved into Gaul. The western emperors never recovered, as Britain itself was henceforth left to its own devices.

What may have been personal loyalty to the Throne in Stilicho obviously becomes something else later:  the commander Ricimer, who presided over a critical era in the dissolution of the western Empire, 456-472, made two or three emperors himself, briefly accepted a candidate from the east (Anthemius, 467-472), and through the whole business did not do what now seems like the obvious:  He did not get his own army to elevate him to the Purple. Like more than half a dozen commanders from Stilicho to Odoacer, Ricimer did not do what every legionary commander on the frontier back in the third century dreamed of doing:  becoming emperor himself.

These were "the emperors who weren't," the soldiers who passed up the time honored Roman custom of killing an emperor, cleaning out the intrigue, paying off the veterans, and then marching out to massacre the barbarians. Why in the world would they not have done that? It doesn't make any sense. A book about them from 1983 by John Michael O'Flynn, is called Generalissimos of the Western Roman Empire [U of Alberta Press], giving them the title used by Joseph Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek in World War II to show that they outranked everyone. Why would someone who outranked everyone be content to "serve" some weak, pathetic puppet emperor?

The answer is simple enough:  They were Germans. They were not Roman citizens. They were resident aliens. They could have all kinds of Roman titles. They could aspire to be recognized as German kings federated with Rome, but they were simply not qualified to be emperors [note].

Just because Caracalla had made all Roman subjects into citizens did not mean that anyone who wandered in over the Rhine or Danube was automatically a citizen. They weren't. One commander, Gundobad, was already king of the Burgundians and simply returned to his tribe when Julius Nepos and Orestes deposed him (and his puppet emperor Glycerius) in 473. Nothing, indeed, is so revealing about the extraordinary symbiosis of Romania and Germania in the fifth century.

The illiterate (who weren't illiterate) pagan (who weren't pagan) German hordes (who were actually in the Roman army) who trampled down the Roman legionnaires with their invincible cavalry (we'll get to that shortly) played by such Marquess of Queensberry Rules that it never occurred to them to claim a position that their citizenship didn't entitle them to! It was more than three centuries before a German, a Frank finally, dared to claim the imperial status for himself; and Charlemagne had the excuse of a woman, for the first time, on the throne in Constantinople (Irene, 780-802) and a Pope who was perfectly happy to inflate his own authority into that of emperor-maker.

So the western Empire crumbled, not because of decadence, not because of Christianity, not because of pagan hordes, but because of the scrupulous observance of the privileges of citizenship.

That the Germans did not otherwise have any military advantage is also an important point. Cavalry may have decided the battle of Adrianople, but not because the Goths were all mounted, or because the Romans did not have much or much very good cavalry, or because cavalry had some kind of real military advantage over infantry.

In most of military history, cavalry could decide battles only when infantry had become tired or disorganized and the cavalry managed to strike at a decisive moment. This happened at Adrianople. On their left flank, the Roman cavalry had actually defeated the Visigothic cavalry and driven it away. In the time honored manner, it began to sweep around to the rear of the Gothic army, to surround and destroy it. Unfortunately, it ran into the fortified Gothic camp, built with wagons into an effective defense against cavalry. This checked and discomfited the Roman forces, just as German reinforcements arrived on their flank. The Roman cavalry was then defeated in turn, and the Goths were able to sweep around the Roman left.

It was thus not really Gothic cavalry that won the battle, but, ironically, Gothic fortifications. When the Flemings and Swiss discovered in the 14th and 15th centuries that they could stop a charge of mounted and armored knights with nothing more sophisticated than pikes, it became obvious that all infantry had ever needed to win battles was discipline, determination, and some money. Gunpowder had little to do with the end of feudal knighthood. Rich cities and determined citizen soldiers had everything to do with it. Cavalry had dominated in the meantime, to any extent that it ever did, just because the money didn't exist to raise real armies and there was a premium on the mobility of the smaller, feudal forces, where the nobles could also supply their own horses [note].

The traditional story about German cavalry doesn't even make a lot of sense:  As Ferrill points out, an effective cavalry requires not one but many horses per rider. Whittow mentions Marco Polo's observation that each Mongol warrior maintained as many as 18 remounts. And horses need to be fed. This is not easy to do without organized logistics, unless you are nomads living on natural grassland like the steppe. The Mongols could move an entire mounted army from China to Hungary, but beyond that they encountered difficulties. The German tribes were in no position to maintain such a large mounted establishment. The Romans were. The Romans had stud farms and all the grain and logistics to maintain their cavalry. They had been doing it for some time. What the Romans lost then was their discipline and organization, and this occurred through the Germanization of the army, even as the German commanders of the same were no more ready to seize the ultimate Roman honor for themselves than the Romans were to bestow it on them.

This dilemma did not go unobserved or entirely misunderstood at the time; and the emperor Leo I (457-474) had in fact taken steps to remedy it:  He purged the eastern army of Germans and brought in the most warlike Roman citizens he could find, rebellious Isaurians from the mountains of Anatolia, to brace up the ranks. With them came the future emperor Zeno himself, who assumed a properly Greek name (Ζήνων) in place of his clearly un-Greek original one:  Tarasikodissa (or Tarasis Kokisa, where the latter is a patronymic; also Rousombladiotēs, i.e. the native of Rusumblada in Isauria). This was just what the doctor ordered for the eastern Empire. And when Zeno invited the Ostrogothic king Theodoric to get rid of Odoacer and rule Italy, the eastern empire stood free of a German presence for the first time in a century. Soon the tables would be turned.

Recently, Peter Heather, who also rejects arguments about Roman decadence, argues in his The Fall of the Roman Empire [Oxford, 2006] that the Roman system was simply overwhelmed by the numbers of the immigrating tribes, that the Roman Army, although large enough on paper, could only bring to bear forces that were actually outnumbered by the Goths, Vandals, Suevi, etc., and that the occupation of Roman lands in Gaul, Spain, and North Africa damaged the Roman tax base enough that the Army could not recover. In his view Constantius and Aëtius went a long way to restoring the integrity of the Western Empire. Constantius defeated the usurper Constantine, recovered Gaul for the Emperor, and then got the Visigoths to help him destroy most of the Alans and Vandals in Spain -- unfortunately leaving the Suevi and Asding Vandals to do more damage.

Nevertheless, this was progess, and Constantius was even made co-Emperor for it, marrying Honorius's sister and fathering Valentinian III. Unfortunately, Constantius then died, and before a strong hand could be restored, the Vandals crossed over into Africa. This was all some very bad luck, but not all was lost. When Aëtius gained control, it looked again like there was someone to handle things. The Vandals were stopped, and when they did move again and took Carthage, a joint East-West expedition was organized against them in 441.

As Heather asserts, and the Romans agreed, it was essential that North Africa be regained, for its tax base, its food supply, and, I might add, to recover control of the Sea from the Vandals. Unfortunately, the expedition was cancelled because Attila became aggressive and all forces were needed against him. Previously, Aëtius had been able to call on the Huns for support. While the defeat of the Huns was followed by Aëtius's murder and a period of confusion, Ricimer accepted the Eastern candidate, Anthemius, as Western Emperor, as part of a plan for another joint expedition in 468 against the Vandals.

With 1000 ships, this should have worked, but the Romans did not exactly have a lot of experience in amphibious operations, there was incompetence and perhaps treachery involved (both in the person of Basiliscus, who later tried to overthrow Zeno), and the Vandals fleet, under the brilliant Gaiseric, was able to break up the landing. The treasury of Leo I had been exhausted by the effort, and as Heather puts it, this was the fatal moment when Western recovery became impossible. The Western Empire collapsed in a shambles, leaving only Italy to central control.

How far does Peter Heather's perspective go in explaining events? A good way, but there are still anomalies. His book begins with striking examples of Roman Legions fighting effectively against overwhelming barbarian forces. We never learn why purely Roman forces should have been so relatively ineffective in the Fifth Century. Little good was accomplished without barbarian help. Stilicho relied on Gothic recruits, Constantius on the Visigoths themselves, and Aëtius on the Huns. Arther Ferrill's argument provides an explanation. Roman discipline was compromised by too many unassimilated barbarian recruits. Where purely Roman forces were involved, with a good chance of success, in the expedition of 468, a combination of bad luck and bad strategy doomed it. How well it could have succeeded can be seen in Belisarius's landing of 533, with half as many ships, which was dramatically successful. If the expedition of 468 had gone as well, there is no telling what the consequences might have been. But by 533 it was really too late to revive the Western Empire the way it had been. Roman forces in the traditional form, in the West, had ceased to exist.

Which perhaps raises another question. When Hannibal wiped out whole Roman armies, Rome simply raised new ones. There doesn't seem to have been a problem with the tax base. Perhaps the loss of Roman strength in the 5th century was not entirely an artifact of barbarization. The paid, professional Army of the Late Empire was no longer a citizen army, and it could not simply be expanded rapidly with drafts of civilians. So I detect a number of problems in the Fall of the West:

  1. Divided authority, without soldier Emperors, where a successful commander, like Aëtius, could be murdered out of envy, or German commanders were ineligible for the Throne;

  2. Loss of discipline as German recruits overwhelmed the traditional Roman model of discipline and organization (Flavius Vegetius in De Re Militari, c.390, himself liked this explanation); and

  3. The inability of the Roman State to effectively draw on its manpower. The previous impression, that the Late Empire had declined in population and prosperity is something that Peter Heather effectively argues against. That leaves an institutional problem. The citizens of Romania were not expected, one and all, to become soldiers, the way those of Rome were in the 3rd Century BC. This was a problem effected simply by centuries of general peace, in which a merely professional army was sufficient.

The paradigm of the mounted knight, derived from the small forces used by barbarian nobility, would, significantly, be overthrown by citizen armies, those of Flanders, as at the Battle of the Golden Spurs against France in 1302, and those of the Swiss, as at the Battle of Sempach against the Hapsburgs in 1368, or especially at the Battle of Nancy against the Duke of Burgundy in 1477. A similar phenomenon could be seen when the professional armies of the 18th century were swept away by the mass citizen drafts of the French Revolution. The Roman Republic benefited from a comparable mechanism, but the Empire, largely because of its very success, had lost that advantage. [note]


The Roman Empire grew and succeeded because conquered peoples became Romans. Thus, what began as a City State came to encompass Latium, then Italy, and then, eventually, the "world." Citizenship, indeed, was extended gradually; but that is precisely why the process worked. Citizenship had substantial benefits, people came to know about them, and the status was something to aspire to, something valued. In the course of this, people became acculturated to Roman institutions and interests and were subsequently proud to become citizens. We've been conquered, yes; but now we are the conquerors!

An early effect of this was the difficulty that Hannibal had in tempting the cities of southern Italy away from their Roman allegiance. The Italians knew two things:  (1) Roman vengeance was sure and merciless; and (2) Hannibal could hardly offer the benefits that the Roman connection already did. All were then able to see what happened to the cities that did go over to Hannibal. Later, St. Paul, although a Jew, knew the value, and used it, of his own Roman citizenship.

Eventually, the whole process reached a culimination in Caracalla's Constitutio Antoniniana of 212 AD, which gave citizenship to all free subjects of the Empire. Now, one might think that this would devalue the privilege into meaninglessness. However, it signified a very formative step in the evolution of the Roman state. There is now no legal difference between inhabitants of Rome, of Italy, or of anywhere else. This means the end of the Empire as a possession of the inhabitants of the City of Rome. As noted above, Rome becomes Romania, and anyone from anywhere, such as (already) Septemius Severus himself, a North African probably of Phoenician origin, can become Emperor. Soon, Rome will lose almost all of its political importance; and Emperors such as Diocletian will not even visit Rome except as a symbolic afterthought. After a bit of wandering, political power will settled on Constantinople, where Constantine, despite some early attention to Rome, spent his last years.

This epic demographic evolution has had little impact on public awareness or discourse about the Roman Empire. I just saw a documentary with the positive assertion that the Roman Empire was "ruled from one City, Rome" -- a statement true enough in the first or second century AD, but increasingly false thereafter. Yet without an awareness of this evolution, we have no hope of understanding the history of the barbarian invasions, the "fall" of the West, or the continuation of Romania in the East. Thus, the process of Romanization did not end with the Constitutio Antoniniana, for Rome continued to accept non-Romans into the Empire. Barbarians joined the Roman Army. This became the means of their acculturation and naturalization.

The original mechanism was that non-Romans became auxiliaries -- cavalry, skirmishers, etc. -- to the Legions. After their service, they received citizenship. We see a rough and ready version of this quite early, when the Numidian cavalry, which had been one of Hannibal's mainstays, went over the Romans and enabled Scipio Africanus to defeat Hannibal at Zama in 202 BC. Later, we get the full formal mechanism when Marcus Aurelius takes the Sarmatian tribe of the Iazyges, whom he had defeated in 175, into Roman service, settling them with the Legio VI Victrix in the north of Britain (where many of them, probably in retirement, ended up at Bremetenacum Veteranorum, south of Lancaster). This became an effective, venerable, and indispensable system. It brought new, wild blood into the Army, but it also domesticated barbarians into being good Romans.

What eventually went wrong is that the system became overwhelmed. The Huns bumped whole nations across the rivers and into the Empire. Thus, the Goths were accepted across the Danube as refugees. At first, the traditional process seemed to be working, as Goths entered the Army and began their acculturation in Roman ways. However, there were too many Goths, and the surplus remained in what were essentially refugee camps. We are all too familiar now with what life is like in such places. It is also rather like what happened to the Plains Indians when they were restricted to Reservations. Promises of supplies, even when delivered, still leave a people demoralized and with nothing to do. At the same time, if the provision of supplies is subject to corruption, theft, negligence, or even extortion, it becomes enough to, say, start a rebellion. This is exactly what happened with the Goths. The Romans did not have a tradition of caring for large numbers of refugees; and there was very little sense of how to do that, or how to stop the corruption and exploitation that would grow like mold on an apparently helpless people. The Goths were not demoralized enough that they were willing to take that, any more than Sitting Bull, and they had fellows, potential allies, who had not yet entered the Empire.

So we get the fatal moment at Adrianople in 378. Goths already in the Roman Army were murdered, and the victorious tribe would simply never be assimilated or naturalized. This was bad enough, but then at the beginning of 407 the Suevi, Vandals, and Alans crossed the Rhine without so much as a by-your-leave and embarked on a good ravage of Gaul and Spain. But there was a difference between the former and the latter. The Goths still rather aspired to be Romans. When pacified by Theodosius I in 382 the Goths became foederati, or formal Roman allies, as the Franks had been for some time. One difference there was that the Franks straddled the frontier in Gaul, while the Goths were lodged in the middle of the Balkans. But all was not lost. It did not help, however, that Theodosius put them, like Uriah the Hittite, at the forefront of the battle at the Frigidus River in 394. The result was some increasing estrangement and trouble (including a sack of Rome in 410), but then things settled down again. King Athaulf of the Visigoths (410-415) eventually said:

At first I wanted to erase the Roman name and convert all Roman territory into a Gothic Empire:  I longed for Romania to become Gothia, and Athaulf to be what Caesar Augustus had been. But long experience has taught me that the ungoverned wildness of the Goths will never submit to laws, and that without law, a state is not a state. Therefore I have more prudently chosen the different glory of reviving the Roman name with Gothic vigour, and I hope to be acknowledged by posterity as the initiator of a Roman restoration, since it is impossible for me to alter the character of this Empire. [Orosius, Adversum Paganos, translated in Stephen Williams, Diocletian and the Roman Recovery, Routledge, 1985, 2000, p.218, boldface added]

The Visigoths were officially settled in Aquitaine and eliminated the Alans and Vandals (if not the Suevi) from Spain. Thus, as with the Franks and then the Burgundians, the Goths were officially operating as subjects of Romania and might even have been an instrument, as Athaulf says, of restoring Roman power. The historian Orosius (c.418 AD), quoting Athaulf, was optimistic that the help the Goths would indeed enable the restoration of the Empire as it was.

For many years a colleague of mine had a cartoon on his office door showing a Goth, in some kind of barbarian dress (i.e. animal skins, like Neanderthals), amid the ruins of Rome, and some kind of pillaging going on in the background, but with him apologizing:  "We were just looking for some poems. Sorry if we broke some stuff." This bears some curious relation to reality. But it wasn't enough. The Vandals, Suevi, Lombards, and Saxons were never foederati, and the effectiveness, or the commitment, or even the meaningfulness of the Visigoths, Burgundians, Franks as allies faded as metropolitian Roman power, at least in the West, faded steadily. Soon there was no point to it.

The previously effective institutions of Romanization were thus overwhelmed by numbers, and even the adaptation of making tribes into foederati was not enough to handle the influx -- but only contributed to the erosion of discipline and loyalty in the Army. At the same time, the flood that swamped the West bypassed the East. So Romania survived (and the Army was purged of Germans), although, as noted above, this is another circumstance that in popular discourse, or even in academic opinion, is only poorly appreciated. Eventually pared down to the Balkans and Anatolia, the Empire finally consisted mainly of Greeks, or at least Greek speakers, as well as Armenians, Albanians, Vlachs, etc. Conquered and humiliated by Rome, the Greeks inherited Romania and subsequently always called themselves Rhōmaîoi. This, of course, is incomprehensible unless one understands the meaning and consequences of the Constitutio Antoniniana, let alone Christianization. As such, it is well over the horizon of popular culture, much academic culture, or Hollywood -- to whom the history of "Byzantium" is like something from science fiction, if even that. I cannot say that there has ever been a "Byzantine" Emperor represented in a Hollywood movie -- or a Constantinople that was not already İstanbul.

For my purposes here, what must be noted is that this demographic infiltration and undermining of the Roman West had nothing to do with decadence, Christianity, civil wars, monarchy, loss of civic virtue, orientalization, individualism, bureaucratization, demoralization, lead poisoning, slavery, or any of the other theorized or imagined failures or ills of Roman society in Late Antiquity. If those were real explanations, the East would have had as much of a problem as the West, and obviously it did not. At the same time, the collapse of the West was a catastrophe, and the Dark Ages were real enough.

Some defenders of the traditional ideology of the "Fall of Rome" seem to characterize the opposing thesis, that Rome survived at Constantinople, as a view that nothing really bad happened and that the Middle Ages entered with a kind of cultural evolution but no real "Darkness," a view apparently held by some. But if anyone wants to defend the traditional ideology in such a way, I think they have created a straw man. The Dark Ages were real enough, since the failure of the West certainly attended an economic collapse. We know from the absence of contemporary coin hoards and scattered coins (the equivalent of the penny under the sofa cushion) where a cash economy has disappeared, and this telling bit of evidence flows like a blackout across Europe:  Britain in the 5th century (where literacy was even lost), Gaul in the 6th, Italy in the 7th, and the Aegean in the 8th.

Mediaevalist Christopher Wickham says that the low point of trade in the Aegean was around 730. Specific data are given by Bryan Ward-Perkins in The Fall of Rome, and the End of Civilization [Oxford, 2005, 2006, pp.114-115] -- where Ward-Perkins, of course, means "Fall" and "End" in the West, while criticizing the "no real Darkness" thesis; he also adds data about consumer items like pottery, which had previously been mass produced at high quality. Although the Aegean was affected, coin presence and usage continues in Constantinople, the Levant, and Egypt -- although in the latter two the activity was continued by the Arabs, who, unlike the Germans, were familiar and enthusiastic about trade.

The beginning of this collapse in the West is obviously due to Germanic migrations, but the economic devastation of Italy or the Aegean has another cause:  the advent of ʾIslām, which shattered Roman control of the Mediterranean and devastated its trade system. Some historians protest that trade still existed, even conducted by the Muslims or Vikings. Well, yes, to an extent. But we can see what extent from the coinage. While the Lombards had still been minting gold, Charlemagne only issued a silver coinage. Both the high and low end (i.e. copper coinage) of the exchange system were missing. This tells us that daily needs in the West were met by subsistence agriculture or barter, while large scale trade, or capital investment, using gold, were gone. Practical and circulating gold coins would not be minted in the West until the 13th century.

At the same time, the blackout only goes so far. Gold coins were minted abundantly in Constantinople, and, of course, in ʾIslām, all through the Middle Ages; and while the Thematic Army was based on the land (tellingly after the Islamic Conquest), we can follow step by step as a paid professional military, the Tagmata, grows back, initially under the Syrian/Isaurian Dynasty -- in the very century, as it happens, the 8th, when we are aware of the economic damage done to the Empire.

Thus, even Constantine V still had enough money to organize and pay his professional units, and subsequent Emperors only added to this. The money, as it happens, came from Anatolia, which, although raided regularly by the Arabs, was in much better shape than the Balkans or Greece, where Slavic migration had broken all the way into the Peloponnesus -- Greece had to be resettled with colonists from Anatolia. The paid military would eventually draw recruits -- into the legendary Varangian Guard -- from Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and England. Returning home with their pay in gold, these veterans would amaze their countrymen.

Meanwhile, the libraries and the Classical art of Constantinople might leave one wondering if very much had changed at all in the passing centuries, while visitors from the impoverished West or barbarian North were left to gape in awe at the bustle, wealth, architecture, and sophistication of a place unlike any other in Christendom. That is what the "Fall of Rome" usually leaves out. There is a joke in Monty Python and the Holy Grail [1975] that you can recognize the (British) King because he is the only person not covered in shit. But in the same era (Arthur's), the Emperors in Constantinople were the ones, having stepped from their baths, covered in purple and gold, while the Great City (Miklagarð) thrived around them, safe as a little Classical world behind its marvelous and indomitable Walls.


Reflections on Roman History is continued in The Vlach Connection, and Further Reflections on Roman History

Animated History of Romania

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"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 1;
Doctrina Jacobi nuper Baptizati

The Doctrina Jacobi nuper Baptizati, the "Teaching of Jacob, Recently Baptized," is an important text for a number for reasons. A.H.M. Jones introduces it by saying:

We possess a curious contemporary document. Jacob, a Palestinian Jew who arrived at Carthage in 634, was seized and forcibly baptised under a recent law of Heraclius. Pondering the Scripture in prison he came to the same conclusion as the elder of the Jews at Sycaminon, and by his arguments persuaded other Jews of Carthage that Jesus must have been the Messiah. [The Later Roman Empire, 284-602, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986, p. 316]

The discussion, written as a dialogue of Jacob with Justus, another Jew, is mainly about the Apocalyptic prophecies of the Book of Daniel, attempting to match them up with contemporary events to determine what would qualify as the advent of the Messiah. I got no indication from Jones that the Doctrina, cited with a Latin title and written in Latin speaking North Africa, was not itself in Latin. The citation Jones gives is of the primary text in "N. Bonwetsch, Abb. Fes. Gött. Wiss. (Phil. Hist. Kl.), N.F. XII, 3 (1910)." Jones overlooks giving us the full name of his abbreviation of this German source; or at least I could not find it.

Rather than figure that out, I followed the trail to another source. An essay on line by Pieter W. van der Horst, "A Short Note on the Doctrina Jacobi Nuper Baptizati," says [note 4], "The best edition (with a French translation) is," the one by Vincent Déroche in the Travaux et Mémoires as I have cited it in the epigraph. From van der Horst it was evident that the original text was in Greek -- and in fact he suspected that it was written in Palestine, and not by Jacob, but by a Christian seeking to convert Jews. Since van der Horst only cites the Greek title in transcription, without accents, I could not identify the actual Greek title until finding the Travaux et Mémoires text in the Firestore Library at Princeton, where it is given as Διδασκαλία Ἰακώβου νεοβαπτίστου, Didaskalía Iacóbou neobaptístou.

Apart from the place of the Doctrina Jacobi in the history of Judaism and Christianity, which may actually be of the greatest general interest about it, or even in the analysis of the Book of Daniel, there are several other things about it that got my attention. Foremost is the frequent use of the proper name Ῥωμανία, Rhōmanía, for the Roman Empire. Examining the index for the Greek text, Ῥωμανία is used eight times, far more than Ῥώμη, "Rome" itself, which is only used once. "Romania" as the name of the Roman Empire, something unknown to most people and even most scholars in the humanities (and, apparently, some Byzantinists!), comes in for extensive treatment in the essay below. For the moment, my attention was originally caught by a quote in Jones, which is Jacob asking Justus, "What do you think of the state of Romania?" In Vincent Déroche we get the French translation, "Dans quel état te semble être le Rômania?"

These translations are a little more elaborate than what we get in the Greek text. With the first question -- ἡ Ῥωμανία πῶς σοι φαίνεται; -- the simplest rendering is, "How does Romania look to you?" There is actually nothing about the "state" (état) or condition of Romania in Greek, although this is not really a deceptive translation. See Justus' answer to Jacob's questions at the Third Empire epigraphs.

This quote in Jones was one of the first indications I had about the use of "Romania" in Late Roman and Mediaeval literature, although the very first thing I saw was the statement of Peter Brown that will turn up here later. As it happens, we also get the expression "Roman Empire" in the Doctrina, as ἡ Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, which is the conventional expression, "the Empire of the Romans." This is what authors say, like Anna Comnena, who might avoid Ῥωμανία as colloquial and unattested in Classical literature.

Another extremely significant feature of the Doctrina is its reference to the "false prophet," faux prophète, πλάνος προφήτης, who has appeared among the "Saracens." Actually, πλάνος here means more literally "cheating, deceiving; imposter." Be that as it may, this looks like about the earliest reference to the Prophet Muḥammad that survives. G.W. Bowersock, says:

Despite the extreme paucity of contemporary sources, two texts from the years immediately after Muḥammad's death provide confirmation of the invasions carried out by his followers. They both refer to events of 634 and cannot have been written much later. One is in Syriac, with reference to "the Arabs of Muḥammad," and the other is in Greek, with reference to "the prophet coming with the Saracens." [The Crucible of Islam, Harvard University Press, 2017, p.117]

In a footnote, Bowersock gives the Greek text that he has just quoted in translation: ὁ προφήτης ἀνεφάνη ἐρχόμενος μετὰ τῶν Σαρακηνῶν, "the prophet coming with the Saracens" [p.181]. Bowersock is an academic heavyweight from the Institute for Advanced Study, but we see in his book, as we have seen elsewhere, that he can be a little careless. The Crucible of Islam says that the capital of Sassanid Persia was "Baghdad," which didn't exist yet (at least not as anyone's capital), and that the Jews were deported to Babylon and their Temple destroyed by the "Assyrians," who had already been annihilated by the Babylonians the Medes. I think we are safe, perhaps, to accept his citations of contemporary records about the Prophet Muḥammad.

Some recent treatments of ʾIslām, either skeptical or hostile, have asserted that there is no contemporary notice taken of Muḥammad, and that his historicity is in doubt. The Doctrina takes care of that, although the text may come a couple years after his death.

Jacob, of course, is considering whether this Prophet could actually be the Messiah, which had already been a matter of discussion among the Jews of Palestine. According to the Doctrina, the bona fides of the Prophet had already been rejected, because he was involved in αἱματεκχυσία ἀνθρώπων, "shedding the blood of men." Whether this meant the battles in which Muḥammad himself participated, which were mainly defensive against the attacks of Mecca on Medina, or the more general warfare that occurred after the Prophet's death, which gets attributed to him, we don't know. Of course, no one familiar with the Hebrew Bible can be shocked at the idea of warfare, but perhaps none of the Old Testament prophets themselves engaged in battle. However, what the Jews expected of their Messiah, who would have restored the Kingdom of Israel, might have called for something rather different, more like the Annointed Kings of Israel than the Prophets.

The historical significance of this reference to Muḥammad is great; but, on an admittedly less important note, we should also remark on the use of the term "Saracens," Σαρακηνοί. This has been a matter of extensive discussion elsewhere, with a conclusion that it derives, by translation (to , shurakāʾ) and borrowing back, from the Latin term foederati, i.e. barbarian allies of the Roman State. A term for tribal Arab allies, like the Ghassanids, then began to be used for all Arabs; and the significance of the usage here is that it antedates the emergence of ʾIslām from Arabia, meaning, as we might already have inferred, that the word is entirely independent of any association with ʾIslām or Muslims. Later, it will be used and mean "Muslims," in a way often taken to be perjorative, but that has nothing to do with its original meaning and usage.

Finally, another matter of interest in the Doctrina is a list of lands that presently or previously belonged to Rome -- τὰ ὅρια, "the boundaries," τῶν Ῥωμαίων, "of the Romans". Déroche says "le territoire des Romains." As with "Romania," more elevated Greek usage only employed names from Classical literature, which mostly antedated remote parts of the Roman Empire. In this way, the Doctrina demonstrates that many names, even if otherwise avoided, were nevertheless actually familiar.

Thus, we are not surprised by Ἰταλία, Italy, or Ἑλλάς, Greece. But it is nice to see Βρεττανία, Britain, mentioned, especially when it will later be the source of the Ἐγκλινοβάραγγοι, the Englishmen in the Varangian Guard. Now, we don't see Britain mentioned by name in Anna Comnena, and I had thought that this was because it was a name that didn't occur in earlier Classical literature.

The convention in formal Greek in the Middle Ages was only to use names thus attested (see this in Michael Psellus). However, we find the expression οἱ Βρεττανικοί νῆσοι in Polybius, a form conveniently and familiarly to be translated "the British Isles" [The Histories, Book III 57.3]. This is especially noteworthy in Polybius because, as a contemporary of the Third Punic War, his familiarity with Britain antedates any Roman invasion, occupation, or even proximity to the place. He knew about it anyway. On the other hand, there simply must not have been an occasion where Anna Comnena had a need to refer to "Britain" as such.

Anna could have read about Britain in Polybius, but also in a much more recent work, by Procopius, with more recent history. Most interesting are remarks about the last days of Roman rule there. After the rebel Constantine "III" took the British garrison to the continent, and was defeated, Polybius remarked:

Βρεττανίαν μέντοι Ῥωμαῖοι ἀνασώσασθαι οὐκέτι ἔσχον, ἀλλ᾽ οὖσα ὑπὸ τυράννοις ἀπ᾽ αὐτοῦ ἔμεινε.

However the Romans never succeeded in recovering Britain, but it remained from that time on under tyrants. [Procopius, History of the Wars, II, Book III, ii, 38, translated by H.B. Dewing, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1916, 2006, pp.20-21]

Anna does mention Thule, and Procopius makes an interesting comparison:

Ἔστι δὲ ἡ Θούλη μεγίστη ἐς ἄγαν· Βρεττανίας γὰρ αὐτὴν πλέον ἢ δεκαπλασίαν ξυνβαίνει εἶναι.

Now Thule is exceedingly large; for it is more than ten times greater than Britain. [Procopius, History of the Wars, III, Book VI, xv, 4, translated by H.B. Dewing, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1919, 2006, pp.414-415]

Now, candidates for the identity of Thule are Iceland and the mainland of Scandinavia. However, the discovery and settlement of Iceland began about year 874, long after the time of Procopius. It is the mainland of Scandinavia, now covered by Norway and Sweden, that could easily be mistaken for an island and that could strike people as perhaps ten times larger than Britain. Strabo had said that Thule was "six days sail north of Britain." That is probably about what would get you to Norway. It is Edward Gibbon who gets confused, thinking that Thule meant Britain itself.

Procopius also makes some contemporary references to Britain. Belisarius offers "the whole of Britain," facetiously, to the Goths in exchange for Sicily [Book VI, vi, 28]. Afterwards, Procopius wants to damn Justinian for paying subsidies to barbarians:

Τοὺς δὲ βαρβάρους ἅπαντας οὐδένα ἀνιεὶς καιρὸν χρήμασιν ἐδωρεῖτο μεγάλοις... ἄχρι ἐς τοὺς ἐν Βρεττανίαις ᾠκημένους...

And he never ceased pouring out great gifts of money to all the barbarians... as far as the inhabitants of Britain... [Procopius, The Anecdota or Secret History, xix, 13, translated by H.B. Dewing, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1935, pp.232-233]

From this, we may infer that Constantinople was in diplomatic contact with Kings in Britain. It would be nice to know if these were Germans, i.e. Angles, Saxons, or Jutes, or if there was contact with the remaining British kings in Wales or Cornwall. There has been extensive archaeology in Cornwall, in places associated with the Arthurian legends, that has uncovered manifold products of Roman trade from Justinian's day. This adds to the impression of intercourse.

But Procopius may have been unfair about the "barbarians" part. If it is still the British in Cornwall, then they could very well have a claim to still be Roman citizens. With contact back and forth to Constantinople, I wonder if that is how they thought of themselves. King Arthur the civis Romanus.

Of comparable status to Britain for the Doctrina Jacobi would be Σπανία, Spain, which here we see, as in English, without the initial vowel that turns up in Latin, as Hispania, or Spanish, as España. Today, some people become indignant, or even outraged, when all of Iberia is referred to as "Spain," since Portugal is not part of Spain. But that is what the Doctrina Jacobi does. Portugal has only been distinguished from "Spain" since 1640. Otherwise it was originally just one of the several "Kingdoms of Spain."

With Ἀφρική, Africa, things are a little different. Roman Africa meant just the area around Carthage -- Greek Καρχηδών, Latin Carthago -- i.e. Tunisia. This was still the application of , ʾIfrīqiyā, in Arabic. Since all of North Africa was Roman, Jacob adds ἄνωθεν Ἀφρικῆς, "inland from Africa," in addition to Africa as such to cover it. Déroche says "l'intérieur de l'Afrique." It was later, of course, that the name spread to the whole continent.

Previously, from Herodotus to Polybius, the continent had actually been called Λιβύη, i.e. "Libya," specifically meaning everything West of the Nile, although this usage may have lapsed by the 7th century, since the Doctrina doesn't make use of it. But "Libya" is an old word. We see the Egyptians using it, as . The Egyptians also called the area , which may reflect their awareness of the existence of different Libyan tribes, for whom they had several names. Some of these, of course, ruled Egypt, beginning with the XXII Dynasty.

The difference in names between Greek and Latin is something we can see in a passage from the "Lives of the Philosophers" by Eunapius of Sardis (346-414), which covers Neoplatonists in Late Antiquity, about a certain person who was:

τις τῶν ἐν Λιβύης, ἣν Ἀφρικὴν καλοῦσι Ῥωμαῖοι κατὰ τὸ πάτριον τῆς γλώττης

...someone of those from Libya, which the Romans call Africa in their native language. [Philostratus and Eunapius, The Lives of the Sophists, translated by Wilmer Cave Wright, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1921, 1961, pp.440-441; translation modified; note the Atticism of γλῶσσα, "tongue"]

The sense here may be that "Africa" is already used for territory beyond Tunisia, although the later Jacob obviously still thinks there is a difference.

A new, definitely post-Classical entry in the list would be Φραγγία, Francia, which we find in place of "Gaul" as a former Roman possession, with the older name conspicuously absent here. But this does not mean just Gaul or modern France. The contemporary Φραγγία was the Kingdom of the Merovingians, which embraced most of Germany as well as Gaul. While not much of Germany was ever part of the Roman Empire, that probably does not make much difference in the 7th century.

But I think that the most remarkable entry in the list is Σκοτία, Scotia. This certainly means Ireland, not Scotland. Scotland would derive its name from the Scoti, which meant Irishmen, who began to land in the North of Britain at the end of the 5th century. It took centuries for the Irish, the Picts, and the Britons of Strathclyde to all merge into the familiar Kingdom of Scotland. Neither Scotland, as it would become, nor Ireland had ever been part of the Roman Empire.

But how could Ireland possibly be listed by Jacob as among τὰ ὅρια τῶν Ῥωμαίων? I bet that it's just because the Irish had converted to Christianity. St. Patrick is supposed to have arrived in Ireland, with a personal commission from the Pope, in 432 and died by 461. Jacob doesn't mention any pagan lands in Europe. Nothing about Scandinavia or the areas dominated by Slavs or Steppe peoples. It would be centuries before any of them converted to Christianity. So by becoming Christians, the Irish had become honorary Ῥωμαῖοι.

Since we sometimes hear that the Irish were all that was left of Western civilization in the Dark Ages, and that they "saved civilization," it is nice to see something like this, where a 7th century Jew from Palestine is already aware of them and thinks of them as Romans. It was one civilization, which even after the Arab Conquest was a heritage that stretched from Constantinople to Ireland. The monks of Ireland, like the later Venerable Bede, may have been more aware of the unity of this civilization than we are now.

The first question -- ἡ Ῥωμανία πῶς σοι φαίνεται; -- parses in this way:  πῶς, "how" [does], ἡ Ῥωμανία, "[the] Romania," φαίνεται, "appear," σοι, "to you"? The verb here, φαίνεται, is the third person of φαίνομαι, the middle/passive of φαίνω, "to appear." This is actually very familiar as the neuter plural middle/passive participle φαινόμενα, "things appearing," phaenomena, i.e. "phenomena." So in a context this like, Greek likes the passive sense of "appear."

The second question -- στήκει ὡς τὸ ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς ἢ ἠλαττώθη; -- parses as:  [Does it] στήκει, "stand," ὡς, "as," ἀπὸ, "from," τὸ, "the," ἀρχή, "beginning," , "or," [has it] ἠλαττώθη, "diminished"? The initial verb here is the third person of στήκω, which Liddell and Scott glosses as "late pres[ent] formed from ἕστηκα (p[er]f[ect] of ἵστημι), to stand." They also reference this as "N.T." or New Testament, although the Doctrina Jacobi is several centuries later. The verb ἵστημι is what we would have expected from Attic Greek. The stē part of these forms is cognate to the sta in English "stand" itself.

The neuter article τὸ does not agree in either case or gender with the noun ἀρχή, "beginning." This is because the article in Greek is attached to the prepositional phrase, ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς, "from [the] beginning," where the noun is in the genitive case required by the preposition ἀπὸ, "from." Obviously, this is not the way one would phrase it in English, and my rearrangement above is to English usage.

The final verb, ἠλαττώθη, "[is] diminished," is the third person of ἠλαττώθην, the aorist passive of ἐλαττόω, "diminish." Again, Greek goes for a passive form, where in English this might seem ambiguous (the suffix "ed" can be both past tense and passive in meaning). Noteworthy is that this form, despite the earlier use of στήκω, is an Atticism, with its double "t," rather than the standard ἐλασσόω, with double "s." Compare Attic θάλαττα , "sea," with θάλασσα, as in "thalassocracy."

Return to Text

"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 2

John Boorman's Excalibur is in many ways a silly movie, and it manages to leave out the entire Christian significance of the Holy Grail, while reducing anything like Christian religion to something vaguely in the background. Just what we have come to expect from Hollywood movies. If you even wanted to know what the Holy Grail was -- the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper -- you would do better consulting Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]. Nevertheless, Excalibur is a good film, and a lot of fun, with good music. We see familiar faces, like Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson, and Helen Mirren. Nigel Terry, here as Arthur, plays the young Prince John in The Lion in Winter.

A feature of the movie is the "Charm of Making," which is the magical spell that Merlin (Nicol Williamson, d.2011) uses to put a glamour on Uther Pendragon, so that he can lie with the Dutchess of Cornwall, Igraine (Katrine Boorman, John Boorman's daughter), appearing as her husband. This results in the conception of Arthur, who will grow up to the King of the Britons, as we have seen above.

Seeing the movie when it came out and then watching it again over the years, I always assumed that the incantation consisted of nonsense words. When the spell surprisingly and delightfully turned up again in the movie Ready Player One [2018], I looked into the matter a little further and discovered that the words were not nonsense, but actual words in Irish (also called "Irish Gaelic").

The incantation in the movie is given as Old Irish, Anál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, do chél dénmha, meaning, "Serpent's breath, charm of death and life, thy omen of making." Some sites give a Modern Irish version, Anáil nathrach, ortha bháis is beatha, do chéal déanaimh. This is very fascinating, and I would love to know how John Boorman came up with it for his movie.

Return to Text

"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 3;
"The Pale Death of the Saracens"

In his book, Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood, The Rise and Fall of Byzantium, 955 A.D. to the First Crusade [Oxford University Press, 2017], Anthony Kaldellis uses a title, "The White Death of the Saracens," for a chapter about the great conquering Emperor Νικηφόρος Φωκᾶς, Nicephorus II Phocas [Chapter 2, p.43].

I had never heard of this used before, and Kaldellis gives the source as "Liudprand of Cremona, Embassy to Constantinople 10" [p.305], where we learn that Liutprand has seen Nicephorus introduced with this title. In his Bibliography, Kaldellis gives the same source for the English translation as I cite above, Paolo Squatriti [The Catholic Press of America, 2007]. However, Squatriti does not give the translation as "white death," but as "pallid death" [p.244]; and I am not sure what "white death" would even mean. Indeed, since Squatriti (b.1963) is Italian, he might know that morte bianca in Italian newspapers is used to mean when someone disappears suddenly and then turns up dead (cf. Andrea Camilleri, The Potter's Field, Picador, 2012, p.292).

So we need to go back to the Latin, which is in the "Liudprandi Legatio" by Joseph Becker cited above. In Latin, the expression is pallida Saracenorum mors [p.181]. Squatriti keeps the same word, "pallid," from Latin into English, which is what we might expect -- Italian morte pallida.

This made me suspicious. Why would it even be "pallid death"? Death can indeed be pallid, or pale, but exactly what is supposed to be "pallid" here, Nicephorus, or death? But there is a precedent for the association. At Revelation 6:8, we find:

καὶ εἶδον,
καὶ ἰδοὺ ἵππος
καὶ ὁ καθήμενος ἐπάνω αὐτοῦ, ὄνομα αὐτῷ ὁ θάνατος,
καὶ ὁ ᾅδης ἠκολούθει μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ·

Et vidi,
et ecce equus pallidus,
et qui sedebat desuper nomen illi Mors,
et infernus sequebatur eum.

And I saw,
and behold, a pale horse,
and the name of its rider was Death,
and Hell followed after him.
[Hear Johnny Cash read this in The Man Comes Around, 2002]

Liutprand is repeating words from the Vulgate text of Revelation, equus pallidus, "pale horse," and, of course, mors, "death." But we also must reflect that Liutprand is translating. If Nicephorus was called "the pale death of the Saracens" in Constantinople, it was in Greek. And if we want to restore the Greek phrase from Liutprand's Latin, we may have a clue. What is "pale horse" in the original Greek New Testament? It is ἵππος χλωρός. If we follow Liutprand's word order and add the Greek articles, we get the whole expression as, ὁ χλωρὸς τῶν Σαρακηνῶν θάνατος, ho chloròs tôn Sarakēnōn thánatos, "the pale death of the Saracens."

Why did Kaldellis translate pallida as "white"? I don't know. He doesn't explain it. Is it some racial thing, that Nicephorus is the White Man killing dark Arabs? But Kaldellis says, "Nikephoros is described as dark, with thick curly hair, and stocky, with broad shoulders like Herakles." Even better, "The western envoy Luidprand wrote a racist satire of his appearance within those parameters" [p.44] -- in fact, Liutprand says that Nicephorus is "in color like an Ethiopian, 'whom you would not like to run into in the middle of the night'," colore Aethiopem, cui per mediam nolis occurrere noctem [Legatio III:13, quoting Juvenal's Satires]. So I doubt that Kaldellis is thinking of the Saracens as the victims of Nicephorus's "whiteness." But whatever Kaldellis was thinking, I think he missed the parallel between pallida mors and equus pallidus. If Liutprand indeed had the association with Revelation in mind, the translation "white" is precluded because the "pale horse" is contrasted with the "white horse," ἵππος λευκός, at Revelation 6:2.

Of interest here is first of all the interesting word "Saracens," which has been discussed in the previous note and extensively elsewhere. Next is simply the word χλωρὸς, which is the basis of the name of the chemical element Chlorine. The first meaning of χλωρὸς in Liddell and Scott is "greenish-yellow (like young grass or leaves), pale-green, light-green, green, grassy." It can also be "yellow, as of honey." Chlorine gas seems to itself be greenish-yellow, which must be the origin of its name. The Greek association, as with grass, gets us "fresh, living," which of course is the opposite of the association with death in Revelation. But for χλωρὸς we also get the meanings, "pale, pallid, bleached" and "yellow, pallid," which is what Revelation is using.

Finally, we should reflect that there has been a kind of transference here. In Revelation, it is the horse that is pale, not the rider. Yet the sense of the epithet for Nicephorus is that he is Death and he is pale, combining the color of the horse with the actual rider. This association is not unusual, even now. The 1985 Clint Eastwood movie Pale Rider, features a title character, played by Eastwood and only called "The Preacher," who personifies Death itself, and is thought by some in the movie to have actually been killed (with the appropriate wounds still visible). Eastwood's character does not seem particularly pale, but he appears in association with an actual reading of Revelation 6:8, so the connection is pretty explicit. Then he kills all the bad guys, and rides off, still mysterious.

Nothing so anonymous or mysterious about Nicephorus Phocas. The military practice of the age involved a fair number of massacres, something now particulary held against the Crusaders, but not something confined to them, or to Christians. On all sides, cities taken by storm, rather than surrendered on terms, were pretty much subject to whatever the attackers wanted to do. The great betrayal of the age was the massacre of the people of Acre by King Richard of England after they had formally surrendered -- although this was after Saladin had repeatedly failed to fulfill his conditions of the surrender -- not to mention that he had massacred the Templars and Hospitallers he had captured at Hattin in 1287. Richard's reward, whatever his sins, was to be kidnapped on the way home and held for ransom by Leopold V of Austria, whom he had insulted. Meanwhile, England was misgoverned by his brother John.

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Return to Macedonian Dynasty

"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 4;
James Frazer and The Golden Bough

James Frazer's statement reveals several significance prejudices and confusions:

The religion of the Great Mother, with its curious blending of crude savagery with spiritual aspirations, was only one of a multitude of similar Oriental faiths [I suspect we are expected to include Christianity among them, ed.] which in the later days of paganism spread over the Roman Empire, and by saturating the European peoples with alien ideals of life gradually undermined the whole fabric of ancient civilization. Greek and Roman society was built on the conception of the subordination of the individual to the community, of the citizen to the state; it set the safety of the commonwealth, as the surpreme aim of conduct, above the safety of the individual whether in this world or in a world to come. Trained from infancy in this unselfish ideal, the citizens devoted their lives to the public service and were ready to lay them down for the common good; or if they shrank from the supreme sacrifice, it never occurred to them that they acted otherwise than basely in preferring their personal existence to the interests of their country. All this was changed by the spread of Oriental religion [i.e. Christianity] which inculcated the communion of the soul with God and its eternal salvation as the only objects worth living for, objects in comparison with which the prosperity and even the existence of the state sank into insiginificance. The invevitable result of this selfish and immoral doctrine was to withdraw the devotee more and more from the public service, to concentrate his thoughts on his own spiritual emotions, and to breed in him a contempt for the present life which he regarded merely as a probation for a better and an eternal. The saint and the recluse, disdainful of earth and rapt in ecstatic contemplation of heaven, became in popular opinion the highest ideal of humanity, displacing the old ideal of the patriot and hero who, forgetful of self, lives and is ready to die for the good of his country. The earthy city seemed poor and contemptable to men whose eyes beheld the City of God coming in the clouds of heaven. Thus the centre of gravity, so to say, was shifted from the present to a future life, and however much the other world may have gained, there can be little doubt that this one lost heavily by the change. A general disintegration of the body politic set in. The ties of the state and the family were lossened:  the structure of society tended to resolve itself into its individual elements and thereby to relapse into barbarism; for civilization is only possible through the active co-operation of the citizens and their willingness to subordinate their private interests to the common good. Men refused to defend their country and even to continue their kind. In their anxiety to save their own souls and the souls of others, they were content to leave the material world, which they identified with the principle of evil, to perish around them. The obsession lasted for a thousand years. The revival of Roman law, of the Aristotelian philosophy, of ancient art and literature at the close of the Middle Ages, marked the return of Europe to native ideals of life and conduct, to saner, manlier views of the world. The long halt in the march of civilization was over. The tide of Oriental invasion had turned at last. It is ebbing still. [The Golden Bough, A Study in Magic and Religion, A New Abridgement from the Second and Third Editions, edited with an introduciton by Robert Fraser, Oxford University Press, 1994, p. 359-360]

This extraordinary passage tells us rather more about the 20th century than it does about the 4th or 5th. The chilling, "unselfish ideal" of the "subordination of the individual to the community" blossomed in Frazer's own lifetime into the totalitarian principles of Fascism and Communism. Despite the megadeaths and horror effected by such ideals, they still survive in the trendy doctrine of "communitarianism." Frazer has forgotten the philosophical basis of the British Constitution of his own day in John Locke's precept, also enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, that the purpose of government is to secure the rights of the individual. Again, this foundational principle, upon which modern Britain and America built their power and prosperity, is still under attack, for instance in the grotesque biography of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph J. Ellis, oozing with contempt and condescension for individual rights and the principles of the American (or English) Revolution.

Frazer thus starts off on a false and dangerous note. Even accepting this appalling ideology, however, there are already other problems. The Roman state for its last five (or fifteen, as we will see) centuries was ruled by absolute monarchs. Romans were then not sacrificing themselves for the "community" but for the Emperor. Frazer would have known of much the same phenomenon from the French Revolution, when dying for Liberty gave way to dying for Napoleon. In the 20th century it would become dying for Mussolini, Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Peron, Mao, Castro, etc. True "patriotism" for the real "common good" is a matter easily subverted, but it is always pitched as equally "unselfish." The historic barrier to such perversions was the modern ideal of civil rights, which shield the individual from the state. Frazer is unaware of this, probably because it didn't exist in Classical thought. That many other people are unaware of it has led to the erosion of freedom and the rebirth of statism, as the idea of "civil rights" has itself come to be used to attack civil rights.

Frazer thus represents a frightening side of intellectual history. All we need is a strong interpretation of European "native ideals of life" to produce the racism to turn political totalitarianism into real Naziism; but even without that, we have notions that remain alive and threatening in our own day. And most people probably think that Frazer was simply attacking Christianity.

As history, this passage is also confused and hopeless. If the Roman Empire "fell" because unworldliness made people unwilling to fight and die for the "community," Frazer must account for (1) why the Eastern Empire, arguably more effete and religious than the Western, rode out the Germanic invasions and survived another 1000 years, and (2) Islām:  No one, not even Nietzsche, would doubt for a second the "manliness" of the Arab armies that extinguished Sassanid Persia and swept Romania out of Egypt, Syria, and North Africa (classified by Nietzsche among the "noble races" of conquerors). The survival of Constantinople and the conquests and triumph of Islām (ultimately over Constantinople itself) make complete nonsense out of Frazer's thesis. To be sure, monasticism is not characteristic of Islām; but this is not the central issue:  Frazer cannot account for the willingness to die for Heaven as a factor in supporting the secular domain of the Islamic ummah ("community"). It is simply not true, as Frazer says, that "men refused to defend their country." The type of the Emperor Basil II, who remained celibate but crushed the enemies of Romania, would seem to be incomprehensible on Frazer's principles -- not to mention the Crusading monastic orders of knights like the Hospitallers. Ibn Khaldūn (1332-1406) gives us a better understanding of such history than Frazer.

Frazer is also being rather dishonest. The "Oriental faith" he is talking about is obviously Christianity, although he does not say so. Yet with the world-denying element of Christianity, looking to salvation from the world rather than in it, where did that come from? It is not obviously there in Judaism. Instead, it looks more like the theme of Mystery Cults that go all the back, at least, to the Eleusinian Mysteries. This was long before Rome was even a cloud on the horizon. The later "Oriental" Roman Mystery Religions, like those of the Great Mother, Isis and Osiris, or Mithras, look more like assimilations to the Eleusian paradigm than the other way around.

Another problem with Frazer's thesis is how the Middle Ages ended. The "obsession" with saving one's soul certainly did not end with the Middle Ages, otherwise the wars of the 17th century, or the laws of Calvin's Geneva, are very hard to understand. The "revival of Roman law," although a real early modern event in western Europe, has the little difficulty, again, that such law was never lost in Constantinople -- in fact, the corpus of Roman Law as we have it, is largely the product of the Christian Emperors Theodosius II and especially Justinian in Constantinople. Roman Law was given to us by the "wrong" Romans, in Frazer's historiography. "Aristotelian philosophy" returned in the 12th and 13th century, and the ancient art and literature in great measure came with Greek refugees from the fall of Constantinople. Again, the "wrong" Romans.

In fact, the Fourth Crusade took Constantinople, Venice and Genoa dominated Romania, and Europe ultimately defeated Islām all because of commercial culture, the very thing that today is attacked by the intellectual descendants of Frazer as selfish and "immoral." Individual freedom and the rights of property make commercial culture, and modern civilization, possible, but these do not appear on Frazer's ideological radar screen. The dissociation of the individual from the state, condemned by Frazer as part of the "Oriental" corruption of Roman virtue, in fact produces one of the sources for the principles of individual dignity and rights, the glory of a modern civilization, like the British "nation of shopkeepers," still despised by too many today who should certainly know better.

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"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 5

Wulfila did not, to be sure, convert all the Goths en masse and all at once. There was disinterest, resistance, and even hostility at first, especially among the elite. The Gothic King Athanaric expelled Wulfila in 348 and wished to suppress Christianity. This didn't work very well in a tribal group where the very idea of police power didn't exist. When the Goths were allowed across the Danube in 376, much of the leadership still appears to be pagan; but by the time the Goths sacked Rome in 410, they were Christian enough to respect St. Peter's and other churches. The looting, as much as anything of the sort could be said to be, was restrained and limited. If only the same could have been said about the looting of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204.

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"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 6;
Confabulations about the "Fall" of Rome

If Rome "fell" in 476, people naturally suppose that something must have happened at Rome in 476. Since nothing did, we get the phenomenon of people mentally filling in the blank. Thus, Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow say, in The Story of French:

After the sack of Rome in 476, they [the Franks] moved into the province of Gaul, establishing themselves around Lutetia (now Paris). [St. Martin's Press Griffin, St. Martin's Press, 2006, p.23]

Clearly, Nadeau and Barlow do not know that there were no events at Rome in 476 having any relation to the "fall" of Rome. They reasonably suppose that the City must have fallen to some barbarians and consequently would have been sacked. They also seem a bit vague about what happened in Gaul, since the Franks actually didn't do anything that year either. Clovis was not in Paris until he defeated Syagrius in 486.

I don't mean to beat up on Nadeau and Barlow; for the problem is not them but is certainly the false impression that popular culture, and even many presentations of academic history, has given people. I don't want to blame the victims.

Falsehoods in statements about Roman history are a problem with many people who should, unlike Nadeau and Barlow, know better. Visiting the British Museum in March 2010, I noticed that they published a series of small booklets, "Pocket Timelines," apparently for children, covering various areas of world history. I picked up the Pocket Timeline of Ancient Rome, by Katharine Wilshire [The British Museum Press, 2005]. The book ends with a short chapter on "Later Rome," which summarizes everything from the Third Century onward, to Justinian and Heraclius (already betraying a certain kind of bias). We get a statement, "in AD 395 the Roman empire was officially divided into a western and an eastern part and was never again ruled by a single emperor" [p.30]. This is false in two respects:  The Empire was never "officially divided," and in fact its unity was restored when Odoacer returned the Regalia of the West to Constantinople. That is how contemporaries saw it; and the Venerable Bede, writing in the 7th and 8th centuries, simply ignored the very existence of the last (figurehead) Western Emperors.

Then we get the statement, "The last emperor of the western empire, Romulus Augustulus, was overthrown in AD 476. After this, Italy fragmented into many small kingdoms and states" [ibid.]. First of all, this gives no clue about what actually happened to Romulus Augustulus, who was a child and had no role in the political events of time. More importantly, it is simply false that "Italy fragmented into many small kingdoms and states," if, that is, Katharine Wilshire means to leave the impression that this happened any time soon -- despite the existence of the powerful Kingdoms of the Ostrogoths, Lombards, and Carolingians. By the 12th century ("after this" in 476) Italy had fragmented. In the centuries immediately following 476, nothing of the sort happened. If Wilshire does not wish readers to get the wrong idea, she has put this very badly.

A subsequent statement is, "The emperor Heraclius (AD 610-641) changed the way in which the eastern empire was run and it became known as the Byzantine empire" [ibid.]. It is less important that Heraclius "changed the way in which the eastern empire was run" (whatever that was) than that he needed to do so because of the Islamic Conquest, a minor (!) event that goes unremarked. But then, the assertion that the Empire "became known as the Byzantine empire" is simply false. It was not "known as the Byzantine Empire" until modern historians decided to call it that. It was never called that by itself or by any contemporaries. Wilshire needs to say that the subsequent Empire "is now known as the Byzantine empire." But this is a distinction about which even Byzantinists sometimes seem confused.

Finally, and out of chronological sequence, we get, "The emperor Justinian I (reigned AD 527-565) won back control of some of the western empire including Italy, which had been overrun by Germanic tribes [the Ostrogoths?], and North Africa. However, by the AD 560s Justinian had lost control of most of this territory" [p.31]. Wow. There is no more patently false a statement in the whole booklet. Justinian lost control of none of his acquisitions (as we see on the map below), and "most" of them remained under the control of the Empire at least until the Islamic Conquest of North Africa at the end of the 7th century. Rome and Ravenna remained under fairly effective control, preserved from the Lombards, until the 8th century, while Southern Italy was held, to varying degrees, until 1071.

But we know why these falsehoods, distortions, and oversights occur. The author wishes to convey an impression, and the ability of Justinian or Heraclius, let alone subsequent Emperors, to restore or preserve Roman power in the face of the tides of history does not fit the narrative. As I have noted elsewhere on this page, to people who are not themselves Romans in any sense, but some sort of jumped up Franks, those Greeks who inherited the Empire were just not really Romans, regardless of the continuity of the institutions and what, in fact, they kept, without interruption, calling themselves.

In between the perhaps naive views of Nadeau and Barlow and an official publication of the British Museum may fall the statement of Eric H. Cline in 1177 B.C., The Year Civilization Collapsed [Princeton University Press, 2014]. Cline is a professor Classics and Anthropology. His book is about the era of the "Peoples of the Sea" when invaders were defeated by Ramesses III in (on one chronology) 1177 BC but who otherwise swept away the Hittites, Mycenaeans, and others. If Cline specializes in ancient history, perhaps he can be excused, but as a Classicist he should know better than this:

In fact, one might argue that 1177 BC is to the end of the Late Bronze Age as AD 476 is to the end of Rome and the western Roman Empire. That is to say, both are dates to which modern scholars can conveniently point as the end of a major era. Italy was invaded and Rome was sacked several times during the fifth century AD, including in AD 410 by Alaric and the Visigoths and in AD 455 by Geiseric [sic] and the Vandals. There were also many other reasons why Rome fell, in addition to these attacks, and the story is much more complex, as any Roman historian will readily attest. However, it is convenient, and considered acceptable academic shorthand, to link the invasion by Odoacer and the Ostragoths [sic] in AD 476 with the end of Rome's glory days. [p.172, color added]

Wow. The words I have highlighted in red are simply false. If "several times" during the fifth century means that Rome was sacked more than by the Visigoths in 410 and the Vandals in 455, then the statement is untrue. There were no other sacks. Alaric and Gaiseric may have been bad enough; but the statement that Odoacer and the Ostrogoths invaded Italy in 476 is false on its face, and the impression that they also sacked Rome is a deception. Odoacer effected, not an invasion or a sack, but a coup, since he was in the Roman Army. And his actions were in Ravenna, not Rome. Similarly, Theodoric the Ostrogoth invaded Italy in 489, on the invitation of the Roman Emperor Zeno, overthew Odoacer in Ravenna in 493, and eventually got around to visiting Rome. If Rome "fell" during this period, it was largely not because of anything, as we have seen, that happened at Rome.

But that is the sophistry that hangs over this whole passage. The political insigificance of the City of Rome after 284 is completely ignored, and we are left with the impression that Rome "fell" because it kept getting invaded and sacked -- admittedly along with some other things going on. Cline is careful to say the "end" of the "western" Roman Empire, but then he does not explain why this qualification is necessary or that contemporaries, with a new Rome on the Bosporus, did not see the "end" of Rome at all. So the whole passage trades on stereotypes, misconceptions, and ignorance, if not deception. Thus, while Cline may be a Classicist, he may have the distance and distaste of other Classicists for Late Antiquity.

Along the lines of the British Museum Pocket Timeline of Ancient Rome is the All About History Book of the Roman Empire, 753 BCE - 476 CE, The Rise and Fall of an Immortal Empire and Its Lasting Cultural Legacy [All About History bookazine series, Future Publishing Ltd, Bournemouth, Dorset, 2017]. This item is in a magazine format (evidently a "bookazine") and was sold by the checkout counter in my supermarket, along with People magazine, Allure, and other such items. However, if we expect that this is produced by something like People magazine, or even the National Geographic Society, which also has newstand publications on historical topics, we may be surprised at the British source of the whole business -- production, printing, and distribution. However, the magazine has no bibliography, no footnotes, and no information that I can find on its actual authors and their academic or scholarly sources. Only editors are listed, and not even who they or what their qualifications are.

The publication covers many topics in the civilization and daily life of Rome, but only within the period of the dates given, 753 BC to 476 AD, the conventional span of the Roman Republic and Empire. This window is confirmed in a section titled "The dynasties of the Roman Empire" [pp.62-65], which goes with sensible periodization from the Julio-Claudians to "The last Emperors of the Western Roman Empire, 457-518 CE," with the curious incongruity that the year 518 AD postdates the fall of the Western Empire. Instead, 518 is the end of the Leonine Dynasty, about which the publication contains absolutely nothing.

An acknowledgement of the East is the statement that, "As the Eastern Roman Empire (an entity that, in one form or another, endured until the 15th Century under Eastern rulers) fell into Byzantine hands..." There are at least three curious features of this statement. One is that the Eastern Empire "fell into Byzantine hands," which is absolutely meaningless, implying as it does that there were some sort of "Byzantines" out there, into whose hands the remaining Roman Empire fell. Readers could look long and hard and still find no such "Byzantines." Similarly, we are not told what "in one form or another" is supposed to mean, or how being under "Eastern rulers" would differ from the Empire being under its own rulers.

Thus we find something that often occurs in this business, which is a sort of subliminal or unconscious awareness of Roman continuity, matched with a powerful tendency to ignore such continuity, along with the rest of the history of the Empire. However, this is a curious thing about the All About History Book of the Roman Empire. There are exceptions to the blackout. We don't get it in the large sections like "Roman Life and Society" [pp.22-59], or "Roman Icons and Emperors" [pp.62-93], or "Roman Myths and Religion" [pp.96-118]. "Myths and Religion" doesn't include Christian history from Constantine through the rest of the Middle Ages, only more than a 1000 years. There is a specific treatment of Constantine [pp.90-93], but we have nothing about the Church beyond him. For the Late Empire, this is, of course, a grave vacancy, since the Christological controversies played out in their strongest forms before 476, until the Fourth Ecumenical Council, of Chalcedon, in 451. The failure to mention this is certainly consistent with the preference of Classicists for paganism, not Christianity, and for ancient religion, not Mediaeval or Modern religion; but it contradicts even the conventional certainty that the Empire fell in 476. The last century or more there just doesn't count.

Although the section "Roman Life and Society" contains nothing about Roman life in Late Antiquity or the Middle Ages, "Roman Icons and Emperors" does contain a curious exception to what is otherwise the exclusive focus of the treatment. In "10 most despicable Romans" [pp.80-85], we find, last but not least, the Empress Irene, "Irene of Athens, 752-803," whose reign in the Isaurian Dynasty postdates almost everything else in this magazine. Her inclusion here, of course, correctly implies that the Roman Empire continued well beyond 476 (or 518), a circumstance that is otherwise barely acknowledged and treated in detail not at all. Instead, we are introduced with "Although considered a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church for her support of idols..." Thus, not only are we told nothing about the Iconoclast Controversy, but Irene is falsely said to "support...idols," which consequently must still be supported by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Ask your local Greek Orthodox priest to show you where his "idols" are. Then stand back. There are a lot more things that look like "idols" in Catholic churches than in Orthodox ones -- and the Catholic Church accepts the rulings of Irene's Seventh Ecumenical Council, which restored the icons. So does the Catholic Church, through all its history, display a "support of idols"? That may be an accusation made by Protestants, Jews, or Muslims against Catholics, but anything like that usually is not heard these days.

Of course, since all those pagans the treatment had previously been celebrating also supported all sorts of idols, that must mean that Irene was good. No? Well, no. Irene was Regent for her son, Constantine VI, but then she deposed and blinded him. He died. This makes her one of the "10 most despicable Romans," which, by including her here, must mean that there were no more despicable Romans until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Pardon my suspicion that the authors, having found a powerful woman to dislike -- like the Empress Wu in China -- actually didn't pay much attention to anyone else, however despicable, in the rest of the Middle Ages. We might think that Irene went a bit far, but then we could also call in all sorts of feminists to explain what powerful women in the Middle Ages were up against. Irene was the only Roman Empress to really rule in her own right, without a husband to actually do most, or all, of the work. This makes her extraordinary, on top of which is the fact that she was a rather good ruler, for which thanks were delivered as far away as St. Catharine's monastery on Mt. Sinai, which had been under the rule of ʾIslām for a couple of centuries at that point.

The last section of the magazine here, "Rome's Military Prowess" [pp.126-159], simply contains accounts of four military episodes, Caesar's invasion of Britain, Hannibal's attack on Rome, the Crisis of the Third Century, the defeat of Attila the Hun in 451, and, last but not least, the Fall of Constantinople. There is something extraordinary about this treatment. Most importantly, we are suddenly transported to a thousand years beyond 476. The Mediaeval Empire, otherwise almost entirely ignored (except for Irene) now culminates in the Last Stand of the Roman Empire. This is entirely appropriate. But it might come as a surprise to anyone who has previously read the whole treatment. What has been going on, after all, in the meantime? We are not told. Equally interesting is the absence of any account of the Fall of the Western Empire. The question I like to ask people, "What actually happened in 476," is not something anyone could answer from reading this magazine.

Instead, we might also go looking in vain for any account of the Battle of Adrianople in 378, where the Emperor Valens was killed and the Visigoths permanently established themselves within the Empire. In the story of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, this is an event of unequalled drama and importance, perhaps until the Fall of Constantinople itself. The Visigoths ended up doing more damage to the Roman Empire than any other enemy ever had.

So, in the end, the anonymous authors here could not resist Constantinople, despite then neglecting the major events, or any events, of the Fall of the Western Empire. Their inconsistent and incoherent regard for the Roman Empire, Romania, Ῥωμανία, in the Middle Ages, generates these curiosities.

It is so easy for people to completely forget about "Byzantium." David P. Goldman, in How Civilizations Die (and why Islam is dying too) [Regnery, 2011], writes as though nothing of the Roman Empire survived 476:

[from 325 to 800 AD]...the great engineering, manufacturing, and trading network of Rome disappeared; cities were abandoned; and the great culture of the classical world was for the most part lost...

The Christian message... resonated through the rubble of ancient paganism...

After the fall of Rome [476?], the Church stood as the only cohesive entity between the Atlantic Ocean and the Black Sea -- even if it held on in just a few remote islands of faith and learning in a sea of anarchy. [p.162]

No one could possibly make these statements with any awareness of the surviving Roman Empire ruled from Constantinople, or even of the Empire of Late Antiquity. Let me count the ways. While a great deal of Roman engineering, manufacturing, and trade did decline, in some areas catastrophically, as we get into the Middle Ages, and cities were indeed abandoned, it is preposterous to say that "the great culture of the classical world was for the most part lost." No. The great culture of the classical world was alive, well, and resolutely enduring in Constantinople. Next, the "rubble of ancient paganism" had effectively been plowed under by Christianity well before 476. Even most of the Germans running around within the Empire were, as we have seen, already Christians. The story of the Middle Ages was the conversion of areas that had been outside the Empire -- Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Russia, Scandinavia, etc. Finally, the Church was hardly "the only cohesive entity between the Atlantic Ocean and the Black Sea" when the overthrow of the Vandals meant that all the islands of the Mediterranean were back in the hands of Romania, whose dominion then extended from Gibraltar to "the Black Sea" and beyond. This was slowly eroded, but Constantinople did not lose its last toehold in Italy until 1071. Meanwhile, the Arab fleet that Romania destroyed off Provence in 941 may have thought that they were safe in "a sea of anarchy," but then they learned otherwise.

I expect that Mr. Goldman has ignored Constantinople, perhaps because he doesn't know very much about it, but also because neglect serves his argument better. His thesis is that civilizations decline when they become demoralized (through the loss or denuminization of religion) and suffer a demographic collapse from simple lack of reproduction. Anyone familiar with early Roman history knows about the lack of children among the Roman elite and the desperate efforts to require marriage and encourage reproduction. Goldman himself offers the theory that Christianity triumphed in Rome because Christians did reproduce (forbiding abortion and infanticide) and demographically overwhelmed the pagans. Yet Goldman then forgets all this and attributes the fall of Rome to pagan demoralization and population decline -- phenomena that would have ceased, on his own account, well before 476. Nor is his theory likely to hold the slightest water when we consider Constantinople, where disasters of plague and invasion certainly eroded the population, but where the confidence of people in their state, their civilization, and their religion, was at full flood for many centuries. He might, indeed, have tried to work this into his own argument; but perhaps he did not do so from the beguilment of the "fall of Rome" narrative.

What I would like to do with the material on this webpage is present it as the sort of video essay that we see with Kenneth Clark's Civilisation (1969), Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man (1973), or Carl Sagan's Cosmos (1980). Indeed, this now can done on a shoestring and posted on YouTube. Either way, it should begin with a stand-up (with me, Terry Jones, or whoever) before a video scene of a Roman market, or the Forum, in 476, with people quietly going about their business:

Ladies and gentlemen, here we are in the City of Rome in 476 AD. Thanks to the magic of time travel, we are ready to become eye witnesses to the Fall of Rome. Imagine, the barbarians at the gates, the slaughter, the destruction, the looting, the massacre, the rapine, the vandalism. Be prepared for all of it. [time passes; narrator looks at watch, taps ground with foot.] Well, any time now. [pause] Perhaps we are bit early. [animation speeds up] I wonder what the delay is. [looks around]

[looks on camera] The truth is, ladies and gentlemen, nothing out of the ordinary is going to happen here, all year. Life in Rome at the end of 476 was much as it was at the beginning. History has largely passed this City by, and the significant events of 476, such as they may be, occur elsewhere.

But you protest, "No! No!, Rome is the Capital of the Roman Empire! That is where the Empire is governed! That is where things happen!" Not anymore. The City of Rome has not been the administrative Capital of the Roman Empire for almost two hundred years at this point. Some barbarians, the Visigoths and the Vandals, have come and gone. Only the Vandals did a proper looting, and, you know, the Romans are going to get that stuff back. But the City is otherwise much as it has been and will continue this way into the next century. What happens next is another story, one that is not often heard.

Or at least not heard on the History Channel, etc. And so we go on with the rest of the story:  Milan, Constantinople, Ravenna, Odoacer, Theodoric, Belisarius, etc.

Another opening for a documentary would find the host sitting in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Tourists visit Rome looking for the ruins of the Roman Empire. They go to the Colosseum, ruins. They go to the Forum, ruins. They go to the Circus Maximus, ruins. They go to the Baths of Caracalla, ruins. They go to the Baths of Diocletian, ruins -- except that the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri is built in two parts of the Baths, something that was only done in the 16th century. Then they go do the Pantheon. Well, not quite ruins; but it looks old. I just saw it described in a documentary as the "best preserved Roman building." They don't go to Santa Maria Maggiore. It is so well preserved that it doesn't even look ancient (and some parts were indeed remodeled during the Middle Ages); and, after all, we all know that a church can't be a "Roman building" anyway. But this church was built 432-440 AD. It is indeed ancient, and Roman, by date and place. But it doesn't quite look Roman, or really Mediaeval either. The form of a Roman basilica, decorated with mosaics, doesn't fit in the familiar categories and preconceptions. Yet nothing looks more Roman, in terms of the art and architecture of the 4th and 5th centuries. It is just that the style and the era, just by existing, make certain people uncomfortable. They would rather ignore them, mainly to fit the narrative that Rome simply disappears in 476. In the "Dark Ages" there was nothing. Just Germans dressed in animal skins, like Neanderthals, running around, looting and raping.

An interesting comparison to make is between a mosaic of Santa Maria Maggiore (at left), from the 5th century, and one in the Chora Monastery in Constantinople (at right), from the 14th century. The images shown here are too small to see the detail, but clicking on them will produce larger popups, where the detail is evident. The technique, style, and subject matter of the two mosaics are so similar that one might even think them contemporary, instead of separated by 900 years. What this shows us is how the craft and aesthetic of Late Antique art was preserved even to the last couple centuries of Romania. Mosaics, indeed, seem very "Roman," and one can often see a lot of "Byzantine" art without such mosaics being featured. But they are there; and the continuity of the culture is striking, despite the destruction, trauma, and disruption of the Fourth Crusade. Even the slightly awkward perspective, including the representation of the furniture, looks similar.

There is a Modern Marvels show on arches, vaults, and domes in architecture. It jumps directly from the Pantheon to the Gothic cathedrals and then to St. Peter's, not only with the implication but with the explicit statement that nothing was built in the era after 476. This is particularly grotesque when we realize that the architectural precedent for St. Peter's was Sancta Sophia in Constantinople. Like their Turkish contemporaries, the Popes wanted to build something that would surpass Sancta Sophia. Equally grotesque, given the treatment of the St. Louis Gateway Arch in the program, was the neglect of the Arch of Ctesiphon, also built in the 6th century, which until the Gateway Arch was the largest parabolic arch in history. Indeed, if Romania is neglected in popular history, Sassanid Iran might as well be on Mars. Indeed, it might get more attention if it were.

Thus, where Kenneth Clark discusses the "Fall of Rome" by standing before the ruins of a Roman aqueduct, a different location would introduce a different perspective, confusing the tendentious nature of the narrative. Santa Maria Maggiore is a kind of living fossil, as startling a survivor of the ancient Roman Empire as the Coelacanth is of much, much older life. Indeed, later in the series Clark does visit the church, and remarks on its age, without, however, noting that it is a counterexample to the historical picture that he has previously painted.

Speaking of an awkward treatment of history in Kenneth Clark, we get from him a curious response to "Byzantium." Clark begins his great video presentation Civilisation standing in Ireland and talking about the Irish monasteries at the beginning of the Middle Ages. Rome has "Fallen," mainly from some sort of "exhaustion" and demoralization, and from what Clark says, this sounds like an event of absolute reach which left nothing behind -- European civilization (though one notices he does carefully say "Western Europe") has been reduced to a few monasteries (apparently). As with the book How the Irish Saved Civilization [Anchor, 1996, by Thomas Cahill], one might think that nothing was left of either Roman civilization or Christianity except on this remote shore of the Atlantic. However, Clark does eventually get around to the surviving Empire, which he characterizes, without explanation, as the "strange posthumous existence [of antique civilization] in what we call the 'Byzantine Empire'."

Justinian, holding the panier of the Host (of the Eucharist), and Courtiers, with Maximianus, Archbishop of Ravenna (546-556), named
Theodora, holding the Chalice of the Eucharist (otherwise forbidden to women), and Courtiers
547 AD, Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, 2019
This phrase, "strange posthumous existence," sounds not so much hostile to the Mediaeval Roman Empire as puzzled:  he doesn't know quite what to make of it or where to place it in his conceptual universe. He pays considerable tribute to its civilization, crediting to Constantinople "some of the most nearly perfect buildings and works of art ever made." And he is the only historian I have ever seen doing a video documentary who films a personal visit to the church of San Vitale in Ravenna, showing the great mosaics of Justinian and Theodora in the context of the church -- a rare to unheard of favor. He then speaks about the Emperor and Empress as though their story were common knowledge, an assumption that certainly cannot be made now, if it even could in 1969. An untutored viewer could only be puzzled himself. Later, he attributes the veneration of Mary, which was not to be found in Western Europe previous to the 12th century, to Byzantine influence (she was the Patron Saint of Constantinople, as the Virgin Artemis had been of Byzantium). In regard to the Renaissance, however, he ignores the role of Greek scholars and philosophers in bringing manuscripts, Platonism, and the knowledge of Greek to Italy (he dismisses Byzantine civilization as "static").

Since Clark was an art historian more than a general historian, I think that the fragmented, puzzling, and incoherent picture that we get of the story of Constantinople is not something to rank as a fault in his own scholarship but rather as a fault in the picture of Roman history that was generally presented at the time of Clark's own education. The narrative of the "Fall of Rome," as ingrained as it still is now, was all but uncontradicted and undisputed that many years ago. Yet anyone with the slightest knowledge of the Middle Ages, and especially of its art, as we see in Clark himself, would know about Justinian. Yet Justinian's very existence is an anomaly, and the reflective person must feel some conceptual dissonance to be standing in a church in Italy, looking at images of a Roman Emperor and Empress from the 6th century, and yet maintain the view that Rome "fell" in the 5th. Indeed, just as Clark assumes familiarity with Justinian and Theodora, neither do we get much of an explanation why their images should be in, of all places, Ravenna. Mystery upon mystery.

Clark does give us a bit of an explanation of Ravenna in an aside, since he says, "Ravenna, which for a part of the 5th and 6th centuries was the seat of the Byzantine court." Since this is simply false, it doesn't give us a very good explanation. The "Byzantine" court, presumably meaning the government and persons of the Emperors in Constantinople, was never seated at Ravenna. Nor, for that matter, is it common for people to talk much about a "Byzantine" court in the 5th century. Instead, Ravenna had been the capital of the Western Roman Emperors from 402 until the end of their line in 476. It subsequently continued as the capital of Italy under Odoacer and then the Ostrogoths, until the city was taken by Belisarius in 539. Ravenna was then the Roman capital of Italy again until 751, though now under a governor, the Exarch, rather than a resident Emperor. Clark thus overlooks Ravenna's continuation as a "Byzantine" capital in the 7th and 8th centuries. A rather large oversight.

Meanwhile, Clark has unfortunately said something else false. Talking about Charlemagne's visit to Rome (and Ravenna), he said, "No emperor had visited Rome for almost 500 years." Since Charlemagne's visit was in 799/800, this would mean that "no emperor had visited Rome" since back to "almost" 300 AD. It is hard to know what Clark can have had in mind. Perhaps he is thinking of when Constantine (apparently) left Rome for the last time in 326, after which he founded and resided in Constantinople. This would mean, however, overlooking all subsequent Western Emperors, many of whom at least visited Rome and some of whom spent their whole (short) reigns there. Even after they were long gone, there was the remarkable visit of Constans II to Italy and to Rome, in 663. That was the last visit of an Emperor to Rome, which means that 136 years elapsed until Charlemagne, not "almost 500." One is inevitably left with the impression that Clark neither had much of a background in this history nor had thought much about the inconsistencies in his own understanding of it.

As more recent evidence of the blindness of popular culture to Constantinople, we find a brief statement in the popular Killing Jesus, A History by television opinion personality Bill O'Reilly and writer Martin Dugard [Henry Holt and Company, 2013]:

He [i.e. Tiberius] was succeeded, in turn, by the emperors Claudius and Nero, who continued the ruinous policies that eventually led to the downfall of Rome. This occurred four hundred years later, in 476, when the Roman Empire was toppled by Germanic tribes. However, long before the empire's collapse, Rome turned away from its pagan gods and began worshipping Jesus Christ. [p.266]

It is hard to say what is more salient about this passage, its distortions or its incoherence. If the "ruinous policies" of Claudius and Nero led to the downfall of Rome, this must mean that such policies were never changed by later emperors. This is to ignore the entire era of the "Five Good Emperors" and any other subsequent institutional changes, which, of course, were considerable. Yet O'Reilly and Dugard immediately mention one of these changes themselves, namely the conversion of the Empire to Christianity. Don't they think this involved any changes in the "ruinous policies" of Claudius and Nero? And if so, how about Gibbon's accusation that Christianity itself was responsible for the "downfall of Rome"? Offering an easy and shallow cliché about the "Fall," the authors do not consider these problems, nor the strangeness inherent in the very idea that the behavior of Claudius and Nero could cause the Fall four hundred years later. It is bizarre that what we might think of as the outrageousness of Caligula and Nero (I don't know about Claudius) would have an effect so subtle as to be so extraordinarily delayed.

Apart from all this, there is the simple falsehood of the "downfall" of Rome in 476, with the Empire "toppled" by Germanic tribes. This is of course the essence of the popular narrative, whose absurdity popular and superficial writers like O'Reilly and Dugard perhaps cannot be expected to appreciate. That no contemporary would have understood the Empire to have "Fallen" is beyond their ken, as it is beyond that of more sophisticated academic writers. That there was still a Roman Emperor in Constantinople, and a favored Christian one from Bill O'Reilly's perspective, is off the radar; and he and Dugard are insensible to its poor fit with any explanations involving the policies, ruinous or othrwise, of Claudius or Nero.

Peter H. Wilson's Heart of Europe, A History of the Holy Roman Empire [Belknap Press, Harvard, 2016] makes some statements about Late Antiquity whose carelessness will sound a bit like what we find in Judith Herrin below. Thus, with other authors, Wilson says that Constantine I, "revived the ancient Greek town of Byzantium as a new capital, modestly dubbed Constantinople in the 330s" [p.20]. I believe that Constantine called the city Nova Roma, and there are references, including by himself, to the City being named after him; but the form of this is unclear. Wilson doesn't cite his source. Much worse, Wilson says:

The western Gothic tribes, known as the Visigoths, established their own kingdom in the former Roman Spain and Southern Gaul in 395, and sacked the imperial capital only fifteen years later. [ibid.]

However, the Visigoths were in the Balkans in 395, and they only moved to Gaul after the sack of Rome in 410. It was even later that they moved into Spain.

Just as bad, we get this:

Having seen off the Huns, a fresh set of armed migrants arriving in the mid-fifth century, the victorious Goths under Odovacar toppled the last western emperor, fittingly called Augustulus, or 'Little Augustus', in 476. [ibid.]

Unfortunately, Odo(v)acer was not a Goth, and the Goths had absolutely nothing to do with the events of 476, let alone deposing Augustulus. "Augustulus" is a diminutive probably because he was a child, the figurehead for his father Orestes, the Magister Militum who was deposed by Odoacer.

Wilson is aware of how events looked at the time:

For contemporaries, Rome simply contracted to its eastern half based in Constantinople, which still regarded itself as a direct continuation of ancient Rome, despite its much later distinctive label as the Byzantine empire. [pp.20-21]

This starts off well but then spins off into something strange. First we get the kind of distancing language typical of this issue, that Constantinople "regarded itself as a direct continuation of ancient Rome," which implies that we know better that it was not. But, typically again, we get no explanation why it would not be, or an explanation why we should say "regarded itself" rather than "was." Of course, Wilson does say that Constantinople "regarded itself" as Rome "despite" its "much later distinctive label as the Byzantine empire." What does "despite" mean here? "Byzantine empire" was never used by the inhabitants of Romania. It is a modern neologism that postdates the fall of Constantinople. The Ῥωμαῖοι called themselves Romans "despite" our calling them something different? Is that what this is supposed to mean? If they had just known what we were going to call them, they would have spoken differently?

Lawrence W. Reed wrote a pamphlet for the Foundation for Economic Education called "Are We Rome?" [Foundation for Economic Education, 2015, 2017, 2018]. Reed's lament of the collapse of the Roman Republic into the Empire, echoing the sentiments of many Roman historians, and warning that this could happen to the Great Republic of America, is something with which I am sympathetic; but his approach does not address the institutional problems that allowed Julius Caesar to rule Gaul as an autocrat and to command a loyal army that he could order to march on Rome, where his enemies were unprepared and needed to flee.

Instead, Reed's approach is moral and would seem to address a weakness of democracy itself: "When Romans abandoned self-responsibility and self-reliance, and began to vote themselves benefits, to use government to rob Peter to pay Paul, to put their hands into other people's pockets, to envy and covet the productive and their wealth, they turned down a fateful, destructive path" [jump-quote, p.7]. However, it is not clear that even Julius Caesar, who was of the Popular party, demonized the rich and productive the way that "progressives" do now in American politics. The dynamic was a bit different in Rome, and the parallels that Reed wants to present do not work exactly the same way.

Even more so for the outcome. In the last three paragraphs dealing with Rome directly, Reed says:

Late in the third century, Emperor Aurelian declared government relief payments to be a hereditary right. He provided recipients government-baked bread (instead of the old practice of giving them wheat and letting them bake their own bread), and added free salt, pork, and olive oil.

Rome suffered from the bane of all welfare states -- inflation. The massive demands on the government to spend and subsidize created pressures for the multiplication of money. Roman coinage was debased by one emperor after another to pay for expensive programs. Once almost pure silver, the denarius, by the year 300, was little more than a piece of junk containing less than five percent silver.

Prices skyrocketed and savings vanished. Businessmen were vilified even as government continued its spenthrift ways. Price controls further ravaged a battered and shrinking private economy. By 476 A.D., when barbarians wiped the empire from the map, Rome had committed moral and economic suicide. Romans first lost their character. Then, as a consequence, they lost their liberties -- and ultimately their civilization. [pp.9-10]

With a few genuine facts thrown in here, the entire passage is actually a tissue of misrepresentation and falsehood.

First, the rights to "relief" that Aurelian may have made hereditary only applied to the City of Rome, not to any of the rest of the Empire. And it was in Aurelian's own time that the City of Rome ceased to be politically important and that the Emperors ceased to reside there. The capital had not yet been formally moved, as it soon would be, but Aurelian and his contemporary Emperors spent much of their time with their armies on the frontiers, establishing the centrifugal pull that soon left the connection to the City behind.

Thus, Rome was not a welfare state, except for the now small percentage of the population in Rome itself, and some other cities that did provide a public dole. But most of the population of the Empire was rural, and the soldier Emperors of the 3rd Century were from a rugged, rural area. At the same time, the pressure for debasement and inflation was not to pay for something like universal "Social Security" -- there was nothing in the way of "social programs" beyond the food subsidies provided for Rome, a few other cities, and, later, Constantinople -- but simply to pay for the Army, which would double in size, at a time when the barbarians at the gates had become more active.

And although Diocletian indeed tried price controls to stop the inflation, the phenomenon was actually ended by Constantine, whose gold solidus stopped the inflation cold, for the next 1000 years. Reed doesn't mention this, and his failure to do so condemns his treatment as tendentious and dishonest -- unless he is actually ignorant of Constantine's reform, which, if he is, should disqualify him from writing about Roman history in the first place.

Thus, although the stolid virtues of the Republic may have been long gone, the economic and moral decay upon which Reed's narrative and edifying lessons rely largely cease to be the problem. And Reed's final statements, like "barbarians wiped the empire from the map," are absurd. Like others considered here, Reed's ideas about the events of 476 seem to be a confabulation that bears no relation to reality. As we know, the barbarians, although around, and responsible for much damage, did nothing in 476, while no one believed for a second -- and certainly not the entire Eastern half of the Empire -- that the Empire, Romania, had been "wiped... from the map."

So Lawrence Reed is perhaps one of those people who would be embarrassed for an answer if we simply ask, "What actually happened in 476?" And if once he realized that half the Empire survived just fine, thank you, and soon would fight its way back into Africa and Italy and Spain, he would suffer the further embarrassment of being called to explain how, after all the evils of moral and economic collapse he has recounted, the Emperors in Constantinople not only survived, not only recovered Rome itself, but continued to rule for another 1000 years. The Romans, the Ῥωμαῖοι, did not lose "their civilization." They preserved it in fine form, ready to hand off to the West in the face of the Turkish Conquest of 1453.

If America is doomed by the bread and circuses of the Welfare State, with the promise of free everything, it may well collapse. But if it does so, it will not have followed the same "fateful, destructive path" as the Roman Empire. And Reed doesn't even need to cease being a libertarian. There are some of that political persuasion who argue that Monarchy is better for Liberty than Democracy. Historians of Romania in the Middle Ages, in Constantinople, would have agreed, as we see Anthony Kaldellis explain. And that is what Reed fails to consider, and to which he is blinded by fixation on the false idea that Rome fell and disappeared in universal ruin in 476. Nothing of the sort.

φύσει γὰρ οὖσα δεσπότις τῶν ἄλλων ἐθνῶν ἡ βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων ἐχθρωδῶς διακείμενον ἔχει τὸ δοῦλον.

For the Empire [βασιλεία] of the Romans, being by nature the mistress of all the nations [δεσπότις τῶν ἄλλων ἐθνῶν], holds them, hostilely, in a state of slavery [δοῦλον].

Anna Comnena, Alexiad 14.7.2; quoted by Anthony Kaldellis, in Greek and translation, "Did the Byzantine Empire Have 'Ecumenical' or 'Universal' Aspirations?" Ancient States and Infrastructural Power, Europe, Asia, and America, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017, pp.283,293; translation modified.

The Fate of Rome, Climate, Disease, & the End of an Empire, by Kyle Harper [Princeton University Press, 2017], is a source of valuable information about Roman history. Harper's thesis is that climate and disease had a lot more to do with the "Fall" of Rome than anyone has previously thought, although some awareness of this has been creeping in for a while. Unlike other treatments in this footnote, Harper does not exactly suffer from confabulations and fantasies about Rome, and he actually carries his story all the way to the Arab conquests in the 7th century, which violates the traditional narrative of the "Fall" with the deposition of the last Western Emperor in 476. However, his problem is more ideological, that he will not give an inch on the proposition that "Rome" really did end then and that the subsequent "Byzantines" somehow have nothing to do with the Roman Empire. As he says in the subtitle, it was "the end of an Empire." Harper can even wax poetic about it:

Like a towering oak drawing its last nourishment from a decaying root sytem, the empire died from the inside, slowly. Only then was it felled by a swift blow, from without. [p.260]

We get the disparagement of Mediaeval Romania early and often:

By AD 650, the Roman Empire was a shadow of its former self, reduced to a Byzantine rump state in Constantinople, Anatolia, a few straggled possessions across the sea. [p.12]

Sicilians, Neapolitans, or Venetians might not like being included among something like "straggled possessions." Harper likes this phrase, "Byzantine rump state," which we will see more than once, finally at the end, on page 286. Indeed, where the Empire of Diocletian had covered 3.75 million square kilometers, the Empire of the Macedonians, after a long recovery, topped out at about 1.25 million km2. As it happens, this is exactly a third of the previous area. That sounds pretty robust for a "rump," certainly when we reflect that it was larger than the combined area of modern France, Germany, and Italy, and that it encompassed what are now many modern states in the Balkans and Asia Minor.

Are France, Germany and Italy "rumps"? Well, perhaps to Kyle Harper -- they are fragments, after all, of the "Empire" of the Carolingians.

Harper's principal sin, however, is not the land area of Mediaeval Romania, but his confident assertion that it is "Byzantine" and not Roman:

[We see] the final collapse of anything recognizable as the Roman Empire and the lightning conquests of the armies of [the Arab] jihad. [p.22]

So this is the criterion of Roman continuity, whether Kyle Harper finds it "recognizable"? Perhaps he might have similar difficulty recognizing the England of Queen Elizabeth in comparison to that of, say, Alfred the Great. Certainly the area is similar, but few would now even understand Alfred's language. But this is senseless. To many, the Christianity of the Late Antique and Mediaeval Empire disqualifies it from being "Roman," but Harper doesn't go that far. Yet if he allows that Constantine, Justinian, and even Heraclius are "Roman," there is no good reason to disqualify the Isaurians, Amorians, Macedonians, etc. It is just that Harper doesn't want them to be "Roman," in comparison to his ideal of the vast Mediterranean Empire. He might as well say that Austria isn't Austria, because it no longer has the vast domains of the Hapsburgs. There may be something of a tantrum about this.

Let's look at a longer summary of the issues:

In the east, a resurgent Roman Empire enjoyed renewed power, prosperity, and population increase. This renaissance was violently halted by one of the worst environmental catastrophes in recorded history -- the double blow of bubonic plague and a little ice age. Demographic shock played out in a slow motion failure of empire, culminating in the decisive territorial losses to the armies of ʾIslām. Not only was the remnant of the Roman Empire reduced to a Byzantine rump state [sic], but the survivors were left to inhabit a world with fewer people, less wealth, and perpetual strife among competing apocalyptic religions, including Christianity and ʾIslām. [p.21]

So I get the drift here that if your country experiences bad weather, disease, impoverishment, depopulation, and invasion, then we are justified in stripping you of your identity. You are no longer you. You are someone else, with a name we have made up (a name for something nasty, i.e. "Byzantine"), in whom I, and the discerning elite, am no longer interested. And what is this "failure of empire" business? If Harper has a check list of what qualifies your country as an "empire," he has not bothered to detail what that is for us.

Such things exist. In the silly, pointless, and probably insulting (to the Japanese) debate about whether Japan was an "Empire," , with an "Emperor," , the criterion used may be that "empires" are not merely "national states" but that they involve the conquest and rule of alien, subject peoples. As it happens, Romania would continue to meet this criterion, since it was multi-ethnic and always included people whom the Romans had originally conquered, although most were also assimilated as Roman citizens -- like the Greeks, who are now the core of the Empire, to an extent that the Franks kept calling it the "Empire of the Greeks." At its height in the 11th century, Bulgaria was defeated and added to the Empire. Sounds like conquest to me. But, as considered in relation to Japan, the meaning of "Empire," East and West, was always a claim to universal authority, such as we see in the statement by Anna Comnena in the epigraph above. The Empire of the Romans, to Anna in the 12th century, was the "Mistress of the other nations," δεσπότις τῶν ἄλλων ἐθνῶν.

If falling short of some kinds of criteria disqualifies your country as an "empire," perhaps the way the hostile Cyril Mango refers to Romania as a "kingdom," we gain the additional sanction that we get to strip your country even of its name, just so no one will confuse you with the "empire" that you, now reduced to your miserable "rump," used to be. You are then a kind of eunuch and don't deserve that name, according to me. This all begins to look like some kind of civil rights offense. It certainly fits as the sort of contempt or hostility that we have seen all along here for "Byzantium" and the Ῥωμαῖοι.

So Kyle Harper has a valuable contribution to make, detailing the many kinds of disasters suffered by the Roman Empire for several centuries, but he comes close to ruining his work with the hostile ideology in evidence. And, to be sure, the name "Romania" never occurs in the book. We can take this symptom as diagnostic of the disease, as it often is.

William J. Federer is a writer, commentator, and speaker, with an education mainly in business, who has become an independent amateur scholar and historian, although mainly with a project of Christian apologetics. He posts a regular feature, the "American Minute with Bill Federer," which, again, mainly presents aspects of American history or contemporary political issues from a Christian perspective.

What interests me here is his "The Fall of Rome" posting, which exhibits some of the difficulties experienced by more scholarly Roman historians, who may simultaneously want to attribute Rome's problems to features of paganism, but then also to features of Christianity, which actually had mostly replaced pagan practices by the time of the "Fall" in 476 -- with the further difficulty that half the Empire, in the East, didn't Fall, but then actually recovered key territories, North Africa and Italy, in the West. And lasted another thousand years.

One might think that an unprofessional popularizer and apologist like Federer perhaps does not merit the attention I give him here -- which goes on for while. However, he is well read, quotes some serious historians and sources, is representative, not only of the picture of Rome we get in public discourse, but even of some of the much more serious scholars I have been examining on this page. Thus, misconceptions and confabulations about the "Fall of Rome" are characteristic, not just of Federer's treatment, but of much of the literature in general. The level of seriousness in Federer's arguments, consequently, fades in and out, but it is always instructive to see what is going on. Also, while his attempts to draw parallels between Rome and modern America are frequently forced, uninformed, or inappropriate, they usually reflect the views either of some venerable historians, like Will and Ariel Durant, or of generally perceptive political commentators, like John Stossel. This sort of thing should always be addressed.

  1. The first "cause" of the "Fall of Rome" that Federer presents is the "Plague of Cyprian." This is only one of many such insults to Rome, which began with the Antonine Plague and that are well examined by Kyle Harper. Why this particular plague would be a cause of the Fall of Rome is really not explained, and it is hard not to gather that Federer only considers it in order to praise Christian care of the sick and to condemn pagans for, apparently, their callousness, and to make the accusation that "pagan behavior spread the disease," by leaving the sick by the roadside and failing to bury the dead. This would have nothing to do with a "Fall" in 476, two hundred years later, when, by that time, Christian attitudes and institutions existed to care for the sick. So Federer's "cause" in this case cannot be taken seriously, whatever damage periodic plagues did to Rome, which was considerable.

  2. The second "cause" cited by Federer is "open borders." This has relatively little to do with Rome and much to do with contemporary American political issues. It is a rather absurd accusation to make against the Romans, who had no immigration system and no immigration program. People would come across the border to trade, but there was no sense that numbers of them would be coming to "find a better life," as in America. What Federer cites are influxes of barbarians, for whom, as invaders, the borders were not "open," and who, when possible, were fiercely resisted. Rome tolerated no "illegal immigrants" because there was no such category of person, or of "immigrants" as such at all.

    What we might see as an exception was when the Goths were admitted across the Danube as refugees from the Huns. They were thus not "immigrants" or even "illegal immigrants," but legal refugees. Trouble arose when the Romans, although admitting many Goths to the Army, when that had long been done with individual barbarians, did not know how to handle an actual refugee population, who were then mistreated to the point where they rebelled. After rising in revolt, the Goths were joined by other Germans taking advantage of this to cross the Danube. Even more Germans, like the Franks, who straddled the lower Rhine, or the Arab Ghassanids, on the desert frontier, had long been legalized as foederati, i.e. barbarian allies. These always existed on the frontiers. They were not "immigrants" and were not, formally, part of any Roman system of naturalization.

    Federer thus confuses the Roman situation with incommensurable issues of contemporary politics. However, Federer reinforces his misunderstanding by quoting Will and Ariel Durant from their The Story of Civilization, which we should consider:

    If Rome had not engulfed so many men of alien blood in so brief a time, if she had passed all these newcomers through her schools instead of her slums, if she had treated them as men with a hundred potential excellences, if she had occasionally closed her gates to let assimilation catch up with infiltration, she might have gained new racial and literary vitality from the infusion, and might have remained a Roman Rome, the voice and citdel of the West.

    I'm not sure what the Durants think they are talking about. If the Romans were ever overwhelmed by any numbers, it was first of all with the Gothic refugees, in a phenomenon previously unknown in Roman history. These people would never have been found in either "schools" or "slums." Only the Army existed as a means of naturalization, and this was accommodating enough that Marcus Aurelius could accept the entire tribe of the Iazyges, who, as veterans, were eventually settled in Britain. The number of Goths was evidently too great and unwieldly to be so easily handled, and the "refugee camp" became a new, unfamiliar, and, as it happened, temporary expedient, before their revolt. Subsequent barbarians crossing the frontier were invaders, not just "infiltrators," and were not going to be "engulfed" in any Roman means of naturalization.

    Yet, oddly enough, even invading tribes, including the Goths, aspired to Romanity. The discontent of Alaric the Visigoth was in part that he had not been granted the titles and status he thought owing to him -- an ironic request from a tribal leader threatening the Empire from within its borders. Alaric thought that he should succeed the executed Stilicho as Magister Militum, the Commander of the Western Army, and he even coerced the Roman Senate to elect a rival Emperor, Piscus Attalus, under whom he had that title. This was an ominous precedent, which became officially institutionalized by the German Magister Militus Ricimer (456-472), who installed a succession of puppet Emperors, with the brief tenure of one, Anthemius, legitimately appointed from the East -- before his murder. Ultimately, we might say that this German yearning for Romanity culminated in the Frank Charlemagne being crowned "Roman Emperor" by the Pope. That had nothing to do with any actual civil Roman institution, but obviously this barbarian, like subsequent German Emperors, wanted to be a Roman. The phenomenon of later Germans deciding they would rather be Germans than Romans we don't see until the 19th century, when it developed into ugly, racist forms. Only the Vandals did not seem eager for Roman titles and status.

    Why German tribes were being displaced onto Roman borders is addressed by Federer with one reference to the "Great Wall of China," which he thinks deflected Hunic energies to the West. However, it is not clear that anything of the Great Wall, as we know it from the Ch'in or the Ming, even existed in this period, that of the disordered Northern and Southern Empires (266-589). Federer says that the Later Han "by 220 AD" had extended the Wall, but, if anything, the policy of the Han had been punitive expeditions against the Hsiung-nu, who we identify as the Huns. However, the movement of peoples on the Steppe is more likely the result, as Kyle Harper considers, of climate change and disease. The Huns, like the rats and their fleas, were refugees themselves.

  3. Federer's next "cause" for the Fall of Rome is "loss of a common language." This is pretty senseless, and, of course, it reflects contemporary American political issues, not Roman history. Federer says, "At first immigrants who came into the Roman Empire assimilated and learned the Latin language." Such "immigrants" didn't exist to learn anything; but barbarians recruited into the Roman Army learned Latin because it was the military language of command. The confabulation continues with, "But as immigrants came faster and faster, they did not learn Latin," when, as we have seen, the "immigrants" here mean Germanic invaders who neither joined the Roman Army or lived under Roman administration.

    Meanwhile, in the East, people had been learning Greek since the Hellenistic Age. It was the "common language" there, which is why the New Testament is in Greek. Latin and Greek were, to the Emperor Claudius, utrique sermones nostri, "both our languages." Greek became the principal literary language of the Roman Empire during the Second Sophistic, and it was the successor to Latin for the Court, Law, and Army in Romania in the 7th century.

    Federer says of the Germans, "They instead kept their own language, or mixed it with Roman Latin to create one of the new 'Romance Languages,' namely, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, and to a lesser degree, Germanic and Anglo tribal tongues." One might say, however, that "Germanic and Anglo tribal tongues" would have already existed, without any need to be "mixed" with Latin. At the same time, the languages of German tribes would have had little influence on the regional Latin dialects that were already emerging. None of the Romance languages resulted from a "mixture" with a Germanic language. One wonders, indeed, how much French owes to the Celtic language of the Gauls who, over the centuries, adopted Latin. French seems to have a character quite unlike either the Germanic languages to its North and East, or the Romance languages to its South. But it contains almost no Gaulish vocabulary. So little remained of the language of the Franks in Gaul or Visigoths in Spain that we cannot even say quite what they were like. We know about the Gothic language at all from an earlier translation of the Bible. When we finally get a written Lex Visigothorum, it is a code in Latin by King Chindasuinth (Chindaswind, Chindasuinto, 642–653) in Spain.

    So, when Latin was retained in all these places as the written language, and was even adopted as such in Mediaeval Germany, Federer cannot get much of anywhere with an argument that a "common language" was lost. Latin remained the common language in the West until the Renaissance began to legitimize vernacular languages, such as what we see Dante did for Italian. Yet Dante still wrote his scholarly works in Latin, as Isaac Newton did the Principia Mathematica centuries later. So Federer's argument is simply absurd.

    The American political issue is much different, where bilingualism or multilingualism are promoted and school children are diverted into bilingual programs that effectively become monolingual in a foreign language. At the same time, little effort is made in foreign language education for native English speaking students. The suspicion, therefore, is that bilingualism reflects an anti-American attitude, with a hope to isolate ethnic political constituences in linguistic ghettoes.

  4. Next, Federer says a "cause" of the Fall to be the "welfare state," by which he means the "bread and circuses" subsidies afforded to the people of Rome. He goes on about this at some length, even referencing John Stossel, who relies on the treatment by Lawrence Reed that I have just considered above. The fallacy of the issue I have considered there. What I might address here is another quote by Federer of Will and Ariel Durant:

    The concentration of population and poverty in great cities may compel a government to choose beween enfeebling the economy with a dole (government handout of bread) or running the risk of riot and revolution.

    As we have seen, the robust life of Roman cities did not mean that the population of the Empire was not mostly rural; and the Crisis of the Third Century meant that political power shifted from the cities to the provinces of the frontiers, where soldier Emperors began to ignore Rome, and the dole to urban Romans became increasingly irrelevant to the dynamic of Roman politics. The pay of Roman soldiers was not a dole, although they received "donatives" on special occasions. Bonuses.

    Federer finishes his treatment by saying "one Roman is recorded as stating; 'Those who live at the expense of the public funds are more numerous than those who provide them'." However, this is certainly a quote from Lactantius about the bureaucrats of Diocletian. Bureaucrats may have been overpaid and overpowerful, but they were not on the dole. Thus, Federer, if he is aware of the source, actually deceives us. This from an era when the population of Rome, however subsidized, was no longer politically significant.

  5. Federer's next "cause" is "violent entertrainment, slavery, & child sex-trafficking." This is a case where Federer wants pagan practices to be causes of the "Fall," when Chistian influence had already ended them. Indeed, Federer himself mentions that gladiator combat had been ended in the year 404 -- by the intervention, as it happened, of a Christian. At the same time, slavery, which had always existed, and would continue to exist until well into Modern times, was not due to the Romans, was not unusual to them, and would remain practiced by Christians until Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox -- or the Emperor Pedro II abolished it in Brazil in 1888. And Saudi Arabia didn't abolish slavery until 1963. Federer's "sex-trafficking" seems to refer to the fact that slaves who were children were not protected from any sexual use, and never would be. If Christians condemned anything of the sort, it does not help Federer's argument about the "Fall of Rome," which occurred after Christianization. So Federer again has a "cause" and an argument that is either irrelevant or simply doesn't make any sense.

  6. The next "cause" is "immorality, infidelity, & loss of virtue." This is something else that apparently would mainly apply to paganism. Howver, Federer quotes a 5th century source, Salvian, who seems to think that many barbarians are more virtuous than some Christians. However, this puts Federer on the perilous ground of pagans arguing that Christians were responsible for the misfortunes of the Empire, not a promising place for a Christian apologist. But Salvian's problem may only have been heretics, although at the same time he seems unconcerned about Arian heretics among the Germans. So he may have been an Arian himself. Otherwise, the tradition of Roman historians complaining about "loss of virtue" among the Romans is generally about things that Christians themselves condemned. But Federer wants to take Salvian seriously enough that he says, "What hope can there be for the Romans when the barbarians are more pure than they?" This seems to mean that 5th century Christians are generaly impure. So Federer is saying that the conversion of the Romans to Christianity did not improve their morals? Well then, why bother? But Federer cannot complain about conspicuously chaste and pious Christian Empresses, like St. Pulcheria Augusta (d.453). If Federer wants to argue that "sexual promiscuity" characterized Christians of the 5th Empire, this looks like a mistake, and an own goal for a Christian apologist.

  7. Federer's next "cause" is "church withdrawl from invovement." Federer actually has little to say about this, except to quote a Richard A. Todd saying, "The church, while preaching against abuses, contributed to the decline by discouraging good Christians from holding public office." This is odd, since there certainly seemed to be no problem filling "public offices," with plenty of Christians involved. Diocletian's bureaucracy did not shrink. But there may be an evasion here.

    A complaint of pagans and modern secularists has been that Christian priests and monks were uselessly removed from other occupations in society, including the military. What we might imagine behind such a complaint for Federer is his Protestantism. If he voiced this, however, it would add to the anti-Christian tone of his account. Priesthood and monasticism characterized Christianity through the entire Middle Ages, right down to Martin Luther. Federer could let loose on that, but then his complaint would be that about the first millennium of Christianity was all wrong. So this may explain the brevity of the treatment of this issue.

  8. Next, the "cause" we get is "birth control, planned parenthood, & fewer children." Here again Federer seems to deliberately confuse pagan practices with what replaced them in Christianity. And he also gives away the problem, when he says that "until 374" Roman fathers could reject newborns, who would be exposed. Exposure and infanticide were stopped by Christianity, but apparently for Federer not soon enough to prevent the "Fall." He then confuses complaints about childlessness in the eras of Julius Caesar and Augustus with the situation under Christianity later. But, apart from losses to plagues, the Roman population, certainly in the East, does not seem to have declined, until much later, after invasions by the Arabs, Avars, Bulgars, etc. But Federer's use of terms like "birth control" and "planned parenthood" tips us off that his complaint is really about modern political issues, not about anything that can be pinned on the Romans.

  9. The next "cause" is "class warfare," for which there is little evidence in Late Antiquity. Federer quotes the Durants again:

    The Roman landowner disappeared now that ownership was concentrated in a few families, and a protelariat (working class) without stake in the country filled the slums of Rome.

    Again, something like the "slums" of Rome were politically irrelevant in the 5th century. Perhaps we see some "class warfare" between the Blue and Green factions in Constantinople, but then the factions united in the Nika Revolt against Justinian, and there is no evidence of the rich exiting the city. The matter of vast estates owned by the wealthy, the latifundia, is often cited as a phenomenon of the West, and a precursor to feudalism. It is not clear how relevant this really is to 5th century Roman problems. Federer doesn't make any of this specific enough to make any sense of it.

  10. The next "cause" is "high taxes." According to Lactantius, taxation even drove people off the land. However, it is not clear that this was generally a problem, despite some other quotes. Federer wants to say, "emperors wanting to honor themselves by leaving legacies of massive public building projects, such as bath houses, colleseums, parade grounds, etc." -- i.e. he wants to say that Emperors wasted money on vanity projects. Since there was exactly one Colliseum, I'm not sure what Federer is thinking. We have the Baths of Dioceletian in Rome, which was the last such building there. "Parade grounds"? This costs a lot of money? Actually, the high taxes of the Late Empire paid for a large, and needed, Army. Federer says "wealth began to flee the Empire, and with it, the spirit of liberty and patriotism." So, now, exactly where is wealth going to "flee" to? The Bahamas? Monaco? There was no such refuge. Similarly, where are "liberty" and "patriotism" going to flee to? As it happens, the frequency with which Emperors were deposed in Constantinople sounds a lot like the "spirit of liberty," while from all the evidence available, for many centuries, Roman patriotism was alive and well -- perhaps more than American patriotism is in 2020, when "educated" American opinion seems to have become viciously anti-American. Then Federer offers a quote that Octavius and Antony had their parties, but "the Commonwealth had none." Really? And the factions of 30 BC are relevant to the 5th century, how? No at all.

  11. The next "cause" is "outsourcing," which is a senseless attempt, again, to fit modern political issues onto the Roman procrustean bed. Federer says "grain production was outsourced to North Africa." Since the modern meaning of "outsourcing" is to move industry to foreign producers, this hardly applies to the Roman Empire. And Federer has missed that Augustus originally provided abundant food to Rome from Egypt, not North Africa. This undercuts the quote Federer has, that "the Vandals cut off the Empire's grain supply at will. This created critical food shortages, which in turn curtailed Roman counterattacks." You forgot Egypt there, Mr. Federer. No problem with that food supply until the Arab Conquest. Meanwhile, the failure of three out of four attempts to recover North Africa from the Vandals owed nothing to any food supply. So this "cause" seems uninformed, forced, and silly.

  12. Next, we get "exploding debt & coinage debasement." Since the Roman Empire had no public debt, Federer seems to mean private debt, where people, "unable to pay their mortgages, abandoned their properties, renounce their Roman citizenship, and went off to live with the barbarians." So, unlike Federer's earlier "cause," the problem is not "open borders" and "illegal immigration," but massive emigration to escape debt. Certainly some people went off to join the barbarians, but few thought that such a life was an improvement, and we don't hear of German tribes benefiting from massive numbers of "emigrant" Romans.

    On the other hand, Federer revels in the debasement of Roman coinage, without acknowledging that Constantine stopped this, after which Roman coinage held steady in weight and value until the 11th century. We have seen Lawrence Reed above make the same mistake. But Federer goes on about this at length, without realizing the falsification inflicted by the simple solidus coin. We would never know about about from Federer's treatment, which means it is either uninformed or dishonest.

    An interesting quote in this respect is from Gerald Simons:

    The Western Roman economy, already undermined by falling production of the great Roman estates and an unfavorable balance of trade that siphoned off gold to the East, had now run out of money. [1968]

    Federer does not clue us in on what period Simons is talking about. Did the "East" mean the Eastern Empire, or the "East" as in China, where Roman gold flowed to buy silk? We are not told. The flow of gold for silk, of course, could end when a Roman silk industry was created under Justinian, with smuggled silk worms. But this was already well after Constantine had created a stable currency. Federer goes on and on about the evils of debasement and inflation, and even mentions Constantine, without noticing that this becomes all irrelevant. And the quote from John Stossel, that this led to "the ultimate bankruptcy of the Roman state," makes one wonder when that was. Justinian had enough money, after the tax revolt, to send armies to Italy and even subsidies, according to Procopius, to the British. Camelot may have have paid for with Roman gold. Doesn't sound like "bankruptcy" to me.

  13. Federer's next "cause" is "deep-state establishment politicians," where again the terminology betrays an attempt to fit in modern political issues. Federer's complaint seems to be that Rome had become a monarchy. But if the issue is the "Fall of the Roman Empire," it is odd that the Empire would "Fall" from something that characterized it from the beginning. We need to worry about how the Roman Republic failed, but it failed 400 years before 476, and a good 1500 years before the last Emperor was killed in 1453. None of that does much good for the picture that Federer wants to present.

  14. The next "cause" that Federer offers for the "Fall of Rome" is "defense cuts & over-extended military." This is so much a matter of modern political issues that we might even wonder what Federer is talking about.

    Emperors realized that if they kept citizens preoccupied with endless external war, the citizens would be distracted from complaining about internal problems and political strife.

    Yes, those Roman armies in Vietnam and Iraq really kept them distracted. But after Claudius added Britain and Trajan Dacia, there were no more permanent additions to the Roman Empire. There were often wars, with Parthians, Germans, and Persians, but these were either defensive, or a "forward" defense intended to discourage aggression. Trajan took Ctesiphon and marched down to the Persian Gulf, but nothing permanent was accomplished there. Federer's statement, "Roman borders were over-extended and border patrol troop strength was cut back to dangerously low ranks," seems to be about nothing I can identify. Roman borders stayed the same for several centuries, and "troop strength" was not "cut back," except that the limitanei border forces tended to wither in preference to mobile forces. This was a problem, but it reflected a dynamic that would occur again in Mediaeval Romania. The Army of Diocletian or Constantine was about twice the size of that of Augustus.

    Federer quotes John Stossel saying, "generals in outlying regions began declaring independence from Rome." Like who? I know of no case of that. A fragment of 5th century Gaul ended up independent, but not through any of its own efforts. It was stranded behind the Visigoths and Burgundians, who blocked off the South of Gaul. Otherwise, generals in revolt wanted to become Emperors, as when the usurper Constantine abandoned Britain in 407.

  15. Federer's next "cause" is "loss of courage & patriotism." This is basically nonsense. The Durants and others seems to think that Romans were becoming passive and cowardly. They evidently didn't notice the activities of the "mob" in Constantinople. Federer quotes the Durants about "ethnic change reduced the ability or willingness of the inhabitants to resist governmental incompetence and external attack." What the hell is that supposed to mean? Sounds like some of Nietzsche's racism. After Leo, Anastasius, and Justinian fended off riots and revolts in the City, they might have had a different opinion. And when the Persians appeared on the Bosporus, and the Avars at the walls of Constantinople, in 626, the citizens seem to have had plenty of courage and patriotism to effectively defend the City -- while Heraclius was off invading Persia.

    However, we do get to a point here, since the Army was undermined by filling up with Germans, especially in the West. Federer says, "Non-Roman citizens were enlisted into the Roman military, being offered citizenship in exchange for their military service." Of course, "non-Roman citizens" is a self-contradiction, and such persons would not need to be "offered citizenship" when they already had it. Be that as it may, the Empire had long offered citizenship to foreigners and barbarians recuited into the Roman Army. Initially, this was just for the "auxiliary" forces that supplemented the Legions of citizens. This meant cavalry, lightly armed skirmishers, and others, forces that might well equal in numbers the Legionary formations. Thus, Hannibal was defeated at Zama in 202 BC mainly because the Numidian cavalry, which had always fought with the Carthaginians, went over to the Romans. This was not a good trade for them, as they soon discovered.

    After barbarians could be recuited for the Legions themselves, there is no doubt that this got out of control in the 4th and 5th centuries. Part of it was the failure of Theodosius to break up the Visigothic tribe. He pacified them as Roman foederati, and he used them with the Roman Army; but this seems to have affected the discipline of the rest of the Army, it encouraged even more recuitment of Germans, and it left the Visigoths ready to break loose and go on the attack again, as they did. It is not clear how much of this was a failure of command or military competence on the part of Theodosius, how much may have been due to the loss of manpower from the Battle of Adrianiople in 378, which hollowed out the Eastern Army, and how much may even have been due to the damage of the earthquake and tsunami in 365.

    However it was, the barbarization of the Roman Army was a consequence. The danger of this was not immediately obvious, as the Magister Militum Stilicho, left in charge by Theodosius, kept defeating the Goths. But when Stilicho was executed by the jealous, feckless Emperor Honorius in 408, his troops proved loyal to him rather than to the Emperor. Much of the Western Army seemed to evaporate. This was never made good. At the same time, the Eastern Army, similarly infected with Germans, was purged in a coup by the Emperor Leo, who brought in Isaurians, led by Zeno, to replace them. Thus, in the East, the Germans were not, generally, any more of a problem.

    In all that, Bill Federer could make some good points. Instead, we actually get some falsehoods:

    With the increase of invading hordes, Roman legions had to be recalled from the frontiers to protect the city of Rome itself.

    Nothing like this happened. Honorius sat in Ravenna and did nothing while Alaric and the Visigoths invested Rome. Whatever happened to the frontier forces, nobody moved them to Rome. The forces that Aëtius reassembled, which he wanted to use against the Vandals, ended up being used against the Huns, with the help of the Visigoths, who had settled in Aquitaine. And then, like Stilicho, Aëtius was killed by his own jealous and incompetent Emperor, Valentinian III, who himself was then assassinated -- as the Vandals soon arrived at Rome.

    These episodes are revealing about an institutional weakness in the West. The Emperors were no longer military men, but incompetent civilians. There were no Aurelians or Diocletians to restore the Empire. However, civilian Emperors in the East did better, after Zeno restored the Army. Justinian was no general, but he used his generals well.

    We get another deceptive passage from Federer:

    It was at this time that the Roman military withdrew from Britain...

    Nope. The commander in Britain, Constantine, took his troops to Gaul, in part of meet the threat of the invasion by the Alans, Vandals, and Suevi on January 1, 407, and in part to seek the Throne, as generals often had. Defeated by another general, who briefly became, by marriage, the Emperor Constantius III, the forces did not exist to re-garrison Britain. Honorius is supposed to have written a letter in 410 informing the British of that. Thus, it is not quite right to say that Rome "withdrew" from Britain, as though this was done intentionally. And, unlike Federer's previous statement, no troops were withdrawn "to protect the city of Rome itself." The Alans, Vandals, and Suevi were enough to deal with; and, in fact, little could be done about them without the help of the Visigoths.

  16. Federer's final "cause" of the "Fall of Rome" is "weakness invites terrorist attacks," which again sounds like modern events rather than 5th century Romania. But Federer's entire treatment of this "terrorism" concerns the invasion of Attila the Hun. But the Huns hardly needed "weakness" to continue the rampage that they had already pursued across Asia and Europe, even down into India. They had to be either defeated or bought off. The Romans did both, but Attila was only finally stopped when he died of a stroke in his marriage bed.

    Federer mentions the famous story that Pope Leo I rode out and dissuaded Attila, somehow, from continuing his invasion of Italy. He says, "it only delayed the fall of Rome by a few decades," when, of course, the Emperor, Valentinian III, probably wasn't even in Rome.

    A little over 20 years later, barbarian Chieftain Odoacer attacked. This is considered the date of the all of Rome, September 4, 476.

    Of course, Federer doesn't tell us what actually happened. Odoacer, in the Roman Army, as he had been, apparently, much of his life, deposed the Magister Militum Orestes on August 28, 476. Odoacer thus became, like many Germans before him, the Magister Militum of the Western Roman Army. Odoacer then captured and deposed the Emperor in Ravenna, the young son of Orestes, Romulus, called "Augustulus," the "little Augustus," on the date in September. So the "Fall of Rome" was nowhere near Rome, which Federer must find a little awkward, if he is aware of it.

So at last, we come to the end of Bill Federer's account of the "Fall of Rome," without him mentioning that no one at the time would have thought anything of the sort and that half of the Roman Empire was entirely unaffected by these events. Federer avoids mentioning the Emperor in Constantinople and the Roman Throne that continued there for another thousand years. Such survival, of course, took a lot of virtue, courage, strength, patriotism, and many other things that Federer and his sources apparently think that the Romans lost. Historians generaly shuffle all of that onto the history of "Byzantium," which Federer, I don't think, even mentions.

While Bill Federer ignored the Eastern Empire and the problem of its survival in his treatment of the "Fall of Rome," he did follow up that posting with a continuation billed as the "Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire, & the Republic of Turkey: 'Kamalists' versus 'Islamists'." For a state that lasted almost 1000 years beyond 476, Federer devotes a minimal amount of space to it, often with recycled "issues" from the previous treatment. His interest is obviously more with the Ottomans and the subsequent history of Turkey. This provides more opportunties for a Christian apologetic and a critique of ʾIslām.

We are told that the "Eastern Roman Empire was also called the Byzantine Empire," without telling us that this is a modern usage and was never what the Ῥωμαῖοι, or anyone in the Middle Ages, called it. What it was called, "Romania," is, of course not mentioned. Federer deserves no particular blame for that, since it is consistent with the typical neglect of Classicists and even of Byzantinists.

Federer begins with a brief introduction to the "Eastern Roman Empire" and its capital at Constantinople. He says that Constantinople was "regarded for centuries as the largest and greatest city on earth." "Regarded" by whom? That Constantinople was the largest city in Europe, and the only one with a commercial culture, and a cash economy, let alone one with great libraries and schools, for several centuries (until some Italian cities in the 11th century), is something mentioned by few historians, even Byzantinists.

Mediaevalists might sober us with the information that London and Paris for much of the Middle Ages might only have had 30,000 or so inhabitants. But this does not get contrasted with Constantinople, which probably did not fall below 200,000 until the final days of the 14th and 15th centuries -- to rebound to 100,000 by 1500 and to 500,000 by 1600 under the Ottomans -- again probably the largest city in Europe -- London was about 200,000 in 1600, and Paris 300,000. But Constantinople was certainly never "the largest and greatest city on earth." The greatest cities of India and China, let alone Baghdad, were going to be comparable, if not clearly larger. T'ang Dynasty China was a place on a very much different scale than Mediaeval Romania ever would be; and its capital, Ch'ang-an, was probably the largest city in the world, with something like 3 million people. But then Constantinople would have its best days after the T'ang fell in 907.

Federer lists a few of the most significant "Byzantine" Emperors, mostly with nothing about what they did. He then continues to the problems of the Empire that contributed to its Fall. This does little more than recycle complaints against the earlier Empire, without the perspective that a thousand years is a long time to survive with whatever problems it had. We still have Justinian dealing with German tribes and then enduring the advent of the bubonic plague. From that we jump to the Empire being so weakened "it was not able to win against the Persian Sassanid Empire." But, of course, it did win, in the spectacular campaign of Heraclius. Federer has displayed some ignorance of the period.

The Arab conquest then gets Federer's attention, without much detail. And so back to the internal problems:

The Byzantine Empire suffered internal religious disputes, loss of virtue, court intrigues, assassinations, coups, civil wars, and revolts.

True enough, but pretty typical for what the Roman Empire had always been like, with "loss of virtue" recycled without explanation from Federer's previous critique. The "religious disputes" must mean things like the Iconoclasm controversy, which was resolved by 843 and contributed nothing to the ultimate decline of the Empire or the Fall of Constantinople. Instead, the pretensions of the Papacy created a great Schism in the Church, which alienated the Ῥωμαῖοι from the West and compromised and weakened the Western response to the Ottomans.

Federer does not mention, let alone consider, the claims and hostility of the Papacy or the German Emperors to Romania, or the experience of the Crusades, which led to the seizure and sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204. This ideological hostility haunts all of "Byzantine" studies and has been perpetuated by historians with their own axes to grind, like Edward Gibbon, or who insensibly perpetuate the Papal Cause without even believed in it themselves, as we see on the present page. Federer discusses none of this, nor the very different attitude we find among the Russians, who converted to Orthodox Christianity, or with the Norse and English recruits to the Varangian Guard, who faithfully served the Emperors down to their last days.

Instead, Bill Federer perpetuates Frankish bile with a statement like this:

In fact, the word "Byzantine" came to have the definition of "clandestine, stealthy, secretive, surreptitious, labyrinthine power struggle."

And whose "definition" is that going to be? Perhaps from the Crusaders who ended up doing their part to wound and damage this civilization that had preserved the great heritage of Augustus, Constantine, Justinian, etc.? Having ignored the ideological war of the West, Federer is content to join in it, in order to disparage Romania.

And of course, it is the fault of the Ῥωμαῖοι not to be able to resist the rise of the Ottomans. Constantine XI was challenged by his brother, Demetrius, who used Turkish mercenaries, as though the Ottomans did not already straddle Europe and Asia, having defeated most of their enemies. Federer makes it sound like Demetrius was responsible for bringing the Ottomans into Europe in the first place. Well, John Cantacuzenus may have done that, but the Ottomans ended up not needing much help. Demetrius would endure the humiliation of a daughter taken into the harem of Meḥmed II. As in the 5th century, Romania was overwhelmed by demography, as waves of Turkish migrants were driven before the Mongols into Anatolia, as the Huns had previously driven the Germans across the Danube and Rhine. The status quo of the 12th century, after the Seljuk invasion, already compromising the survivablity of the Empire, was shattered beyond repair, while Roman resources withered.

So Bill Federer moves on to the Ottomans, which is beyond my concerns here. Having skimmed barely the surface of "Byzantium," Federer gives us much more detail about subsequent history under the Turks. It was thus short shrift for the greatest center of Christian civilization in the Middle Ages, but evidently Romania was not quite the right Christians, or the right civilization, for Mr. Federer. Turkey leads more directly to recent issues with ʾIslām.

On Sep 21, 2022, at MarketWatch's "Best New Ideas in Money" Festival, 86-year-old financier Carl Icahn said, "Inflation is a terrible thing," saying it led to the downfall of the Roman Empire, and "You can't cure it."

We have seen this before, that the debasement of Roman coinage during the 3rd Century is taken by many, in popular discourse, as characteristic of the entire rest of the history of the Empire -- down to its "Fall" in 476 -- contributing to its destruction. Even people who probably should know better miss that the debasement, and the resulting inflation, were ended abruptly by Constantine, long before the "Fall" of the Empire in the West, with the continuation of a stable, indeed "solid," currency (the gold solidus), until the 11th Century, in the East.

An interesting echo of Icahn's reference occurred on the episode of the television show "Gutfeld!" on September 27th, where one of the guests was Larry Kudlow, someone who began as a financial analyst at the New York Federal Reserve Bank, moved on to Paine Webber and Bear Stearns on Wall Street, became Director of the National Economic Council during the Trump Administration, and then hosted financial programs on CNBC and then Fox News. With this background, we can't expect Kudlow to have any particular knowledge of Roman history; so we can take his preconceptions as evidence of a certain level of public discourse.

One of the stories on "Gutfeld!" was about the Carl Icahn statements, with which Kudlow agreed, adding that Roman inflation was the result of the "clipping" of coins. This means that Kudlow has heard something about the history of coinage; but it reveals that he is unaware that "clipping," which means cutting precious metal off the edges of coins, really has nothing to do with the actions of governments that ever led to inflation.

"Debasement" is what Roman, and other governments, have done, which means subsituting base metals for some of the precious metals that are minted into coins. "Clipping" is a criminal act by private individuals. "Debasement" is a dishonest act by governments, leading to inflation. The 3rd Century Emperors were not clipping coins. They were debasing them. Now the Federal Reserve doesn't need to do anything so messy. It just adds numbers to an account that will lend money to banks.

So Kudlow doesn't really seem to know that much about the history of money. But there's more. We get to hear some common confabulations about the Fall of Rome. Kudlow says the "Goths came in" and "took Rome" in "400 AD," or thereabouts. This was a "decadent, inflationary" Rome. As we've seen, all the stuff about "decadent" Rome seems to be about pagan Rome, which Constantine left behind, even as he left behind the debasement and inflation of the currency. At the same time, Kudlow must have heard about the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410, giving us the impression that they "took" Rome and occupied it, meaning that this was the "Fall" of Rome -- not a transient event, after which the Visigoths ended up in Gaul and Spain. In other remarks, he seems to think that the "Goths" and the "Visigoths" were different peoples, which they would have found very puzzling.

This is a good example of what we get about Roman history in public discourse. So Carl Icahn and Larry Kudlow are not the issue. The issue is that even college education fills graduates with ignorance, usually about things much more important than misconceptions about Roman history. Icahn and Kudlow, after all, would give anyone the right idea about the destructive and irresponsible inflationary policies of governments. College graduates are unlikely to end up with the right ideas about that. Somehow, as polls show, they've ended up thinking that socialism is a good thing.


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"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 7;
Cities of Rome v. Constantinople

A good example of a preoccupation with the City of Rome, rather than the Empire, was a (3 December 2005) History Channel treatment of Roman history in relation to Roman architecture ("Rome:  Engineering an Empire"). The last example of Roman architecture discussed were the Baths of Caracalla, who was also the last Emperor even mentioned. Giving a typical cursory and distorted summary of the "Fall," the show says that an "invading tribe" cut the aqueducts into Rome in 537. This might strike one as a little odd, since the City is supposed to have already Fallen in 476. Why would someone be cutting the aqueducts after the Empire was already gone? What is left out is that the tribe was not "invading." They were the Ostrogoths, already the rulers of Italy since 493, trying to retake Rome after a Roman army, led by the great general Belisarius, had begun the reconquest of Italy. The invaders were Romans, not Germans.

The Ostrogoths besieged Rome for over a year until Roman reinforcements arrived from the East. Cutting the aqueducts would have been a reasonable siege strategy. It was not mere Vandalism. Saying that Rome was "repeatedly" sacked by barbarians, no mention was made that this meant just twice. Twice was bad enough -- the Visigoths in 410 and the Vandals in 455 -- but it doesn't quite amount to "repeatedly." Well, when the Ostrogoths retook Rome in 546, after Belisarius had left, King Totila, perhaps annoyed that the Romans had welcomed Belisarius, did sack the city. However, unlike the Visigoths and Vandals, the Ostrogoths, reclaiming Rome, didn't take away their loot. They were going to stay. And when Totila had to retake the city again, in 549, he made it his capital -- having never been able to recover Ravenna, which had administered Italy since 402. We might also count the sack by the Arabs in 846, but that is getting into a different time frame, and they were really only able to get into Ostia and the Vatican.

The Vandal loot, of course, Belisarius recovered when he destroyed their kingdom in North Africa. Meanwhile, the bulk of the TV show, which was about Roman architecture, completely ignored Roman works in Constantinople, like the aqueduct of Valens (the longest Roman aqueduct), the great Land Walls, or the monumental Church of Sancta Sophia -- or the tombs and churches of Ravenna, where the mosaics of Justinian and Theodora are some of the most often reproduced images in history. Indeed, if the Romans kept building impressive structures, even in the 6th century, this spoils the impression of the "Fall" and the tendentious moral of the story.

To be sure, there was a separate treatment of things like the aqueduct of Valens and Sancta Sophia in a later show, bundled with the dissociation of Rome from Constantinople, in "Byzantium:  Engineering an Empire." One problem with that show was that the only engineering that they came up with for the height of Byzantine power in the 11th century was the counterweight trébuchet catapult, which was first mentioned by the historian Niketas Choniates in relation to the reign of Alexius Comnenus (1081-1118). What they missed was that one of the great works of the era was St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice, which was certainly built under the influence and likely with workers from Constantinople, in the last period of friendly relations between the former outpost of Romania and its cultural metropolis. St. Mark's is still said to be "one of the best known examples of Byzantine architecture."

More recently, we get a curious statement by G.W. Bowersock:

...Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople after himself. The city was, however, soon to be generally known as the New, or Second, Rome, or simply Rome, and consequently the governors and soldiers that ruled its empire were widely referred to in the eastern Mediterranean as Romans. [Empires in Collision in Late Antiquity, Brandeis University Press, Historical Society of Israel, 2012, p.4]

What does the word "consequently" mean here? I think we must understand that in Bowerstock's mind there is a hidden premise that the inhabitants of the Roman Empire are called after the name of their capital city, so that the functionaries of the Eastern Empire are called "Romans" by anyone only because their capital was, in general usage, called "Rome" just as much as the original Rome in Italy was. But this is a false premise when we realize that by the 4th century the Roman identity of the citizens of Romania existed quite independently of whatever city, including Rome or not, was the capital of the Empire. We might suppose Bowersock to be thinking that the functionaries of the Eastern Empire, because their capital was at Byzantium, quite properly would be called "Byzantines," as is the usage of the modern historians. But, of course, this is anachronistic and ahistorical.

Other strange points about this statement are:  (1) Why does Bowerstock say just that "governors and soldiers" of the Empire were referred to as "Romans," when in fact all citizens of the Empire were called that? (2) Why does he say that these functionaries were "widely referred to" as Romans when the usage was instead universal? And (3) Why does he say that this wide usage was in the "eastern Mediterranean," when it was, of course, the language of the whole Empire?

First of all, these qualifications certainly reflect the traditional uneasiness of Bowerstock with the Roman identity of those "Byzantines." How it works in each of these specific cases must involve a little speculation. In the first point, he may say "governors and soliders" because these might be more directly associated with the capital city, in line with the hidden premise that they are named after the City rather than the Empire. We don't learn what citizens would be called outside the metropolis, but then Bowerstock isn't very forthcoming about the name or names that would have been the contemporary alternatives to "Roman."

The next point, which uses "widely," still doesn't explain what else they would have been called, and I can only conclude that it reflects a disinclination if not an antipathy to acknowledging the universal self-referential name of "Roman" for what it was. Finally, the use of "eastern Mediterranean" gives us the sense that the Romans of the East may have been called something else in the West. Since we are not told what that was, we are left to guess again. Later, what the Rhōmaîoi were called by the Φράγγοι, the Franks, was "Greeks." Since "Byzantines" was not used by anyone in the Middle Ages for the citizens of the Empire, Bowerstock is really avoiding the candid admission of all the background information, and biases, that this passage densely presupposes and exhibits. If Bowerstock admits that he is thinking of the West calling the East "Greeks," he would be marked with the blatant anachronism of this for the period (Late Antiquity) about which he is speaking. But if he simply doesn't explain what he is talking about, then he can leave his readers thinking that the "Byzantines" weren't really Romans (or had a "pretence of Romanity," in the expression of Cyril Mango) in the judgment and usage of many contemporaries. It is a curious and revealing performance; and it is hard not to conclude that it is not just his readers, but himself, that Bowerstock leaves thinking that the Byzantines weren't really Romans.

Bowerstock footnotes the passage I have been examining with a reference to his own essay, "Old and New Rome in the Late Antique Near East," in a Festschrift for Peter Brown, Transformations of Late Antiquity, Essays for Peter Brown [edited by Philip Rousseau and Manolis Papoutsakis, Ashgate, 2009]. That book also contains another essay, "Old and New Rome; Roman Studies in Sixth-Century Constantinople," by Averil Cameron. In the two essays by Bowerstock and Cameron, we are strongly given to understand that the adjective "Roman" refers to the original City of Rome, so that an expression like "Roman Studies" only means those matters that, in the Latin language, pertain to the time when the original City of Rome was the active capital of the Empire. Both essays thus scrupulously ignore the circumstance that by the 4th century the term "Roman" pertains to the Empire and its inhabitants as a whole and is not in the least confined to the original City of Rome and its inhabitants, language, or representatives. Between the City of Rome and that of Constantinople there is no middle term that unites their identity, leaving us with an uneasy sense that Constantinople represents some kind of alien presence, or insurrection, against a proper Roman identity. Since this is a false and ahistorical impression of the continuous identity and self-description of the citizens of the Empire at the time, it is effectively a falsification of the history that the essays are describing.

Indeed, as is characteristic in these cases, the name "Romania" does not occur in the essays at all. Indeed, "Romania" does not occur anywhere in the whole book, which means that none of the contributed essays discuss one of the key insights of Peter Brown's own work, about the "transformation" of Roman identity from the City to the Empire. Brown's epic announcement that "the empire itself was now called Romania" (see the next note) is ignored and, indeed, after a fashion, contradicted, in his very own Festschrift. Despite their contributions to the discipline, neither Bowerstock nor Cameron have been awakened from their "Byzantine" dogmatic slumber by this point in Brown's The World of Late Antiquity. They are actually counter-revolutionaries to Brown's own revolution. A poor tribute to the scholar they are supposedly celebrating. I would be offended.

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"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 8,
On "Romania"

ἀγάλλεται ἡ πόλις καὶ ὅλη ἡ Ῥωμανία, χαίρεται ὁ κόσμος.
The City and the whole of Romania is delighted, the world rejoices.

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (d.959 AD), acclamation for Imperial banquet, De Ceremoniis, Book I, Chapter 65, "What it is necessary to observe at the dance, that is, at the banquet" [Constantine Porphyrogennetos, The Book of Ceremonies, translated by Ann Moffatt and Maxeme Tall, with the Greek edition of the Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae (Bonn, 1829), Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, Byzantina Australiensia 18, Canberra, 2012, Volume I, p.295]

Peter Brown mentions, in The World of Late Antiquity, AD 150-750, that "the empire itself was now called Romania" [Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1971, p. 41]. Professor Brown informed me personally, when I happened to meet him on the campus of Princeton University (5 October 1999), that there are two extant 4th century texts that use the term "Romania," one of them in Greek. I thought the latter especially striking, when at the time I thought that the Mediaeval usage in Greek usually was just "the Empire of the Romans" (ἡ [τῶν] Ῥωμαίων Βασιλεία, hē [tôn] Rhōmaiōn Basileía -- Latin Imperium Romanorum) rather than "the Empire of [the] Romania" (ἡ [τῆς] Ῥωμανίας Βασιλεία, hē [tês] Rhōmanías Basileía -- Latin Imperium Romaniae). Now I know better.

I had already noticed that the -an- stem can be seen in the four Emperors named Romanus. In Latin Romanus simply means "Roman," and so one might suspect that in Greek the Emperors would have been named Rhōmaîos. Not so. Their name was written Ῥωμανός, Rhōmanos. Conveniently, Ῥωμανός, borrowed from Romanus, could be used in Greek to mean "pertaining to the City of Rome," while Ῥωμαῖος, Rhōmaîos, part of Greek since the Hellenistic Age, could be used to mean "pertaining to the Roman Empire," even when the City of Rome was no longer in the Empire

Romanus, RomanRoma, Rome, Rom, Rím, Рим, Ῥώμη
the City, Urbs

Romanus, Romaeus, Romeus, Romeo,
Romée, Romanius, Rímsky,
Римский, Roman
Romania, Ῥωμανία, Romanie, Romagna
the Empire, Orbis
-- see the table at right -- although, of course, this distinction did not apply with the name of the Emperors in question.

We do not get a similar distinction in English, where "Roman" is used for both the City and the Empire. This creates confusion in the Mediaeval period, when the City and the Empire follow different historical paths. "Romanian" (Romanianus) is available for the Empire, but it is not used -- lest we get confusion with modern România. The awkwardness of this is avoided by historians using "Byzantine," but this, of course, involves its own problems.

A curious case is the Mediaeval Latin word Romaeus, which looks like nothing less than a Latin transcription of Ῥωμαῖος. So Romaeus could have been a Mediaeval Latin word for a "Byzantine" -- rather than the ambiguous Romanus or the insulting Graecus or Graeculus ("little Greek"). However, this does not seem to be the meaning it had. Romaeus (and Romeus) were used to mean "pilgrim to Rome." This turns up in French as Romée and Italian as Romeo. Yes, Romeo, as in Romeo and Juliet, the tragic lovers of Verona. A term of more obvious meaning in Latin for such a pilgrim was Romipeta, rather like the German Rompilger.

We are left with the question how Romaeus could have posssibly ended up meaning "pilgrim to Rome." If this is indeed a transcription of Ῥωμαῖος, we have to imagine Greek speakers at Rome. This is not a problem. There were a lot of Greek speakers at Rome in the period after Justinian's reconquest, including Greek and Greek speaking (from Sicily, Syria, and Calabria) Popes. The locals, who mostly would have not spoken Greek, might have occasionally asked such a person who they were and gotten the answer "Rhōmaîos."

If the visitors were interpreted as pilgrims, or may often actually have been, Romaeus could have stuck as a word for "pilgrim." This is speculation, but there otherwise seems to be precious little information about Romaeus. The best I have been able to do is the trilingual Mediae Latinitatis Lexicon Minus [Medieval Latin Dictionary, Volume II, Brill, Leiden, 2002, "romeus" and "romipeta," p.1204] and the Oxford A Dictionary of First Names [Oxford, 1990, "Romeo," p.285]. Information on the internet does not seem to go beyond what these sources have, but nowhere is the probable connection to Ῥωμαῖος noted. It was brought to my attention by a correspondent.

In answer to my inquries, Anthony Kaldellis has reported to me:

Kelley, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, western rulers who wanted to play nice with the Byzantine emperor sometimes addressed him as imperator Romeorum, making his subjects the Romei (a phonetic transliteration of Romaioi). This was sometimes even used by the western, German emperors, e.g., in addressing Manuel I Komnenos. The western sources in this case are diplomatic documents. [5/10/2017]

So Romaeus/Romeus did not mean just "pilgrim to Rome," and it was used as a Latin equivalent of Ῥωμαῖος in addressing actual Emperors. And all that remains, apparently, since I never saw this in standard Byzantine histories, is the sad name of our tragic Romeo Montague.

Where the Oxford A Dictionary of First Names, etc. gave me some clues about Romaeus, the Oxford A Dictionary of Surnames [by Patrick Hanks, Flavia Hodges, and David L. Gold, Oxford, 1988] has a bit more. This is curiously under the entry for the surname "Romero," which is Italian and Spanish "from L[atin] Rōmaeus, G[ree]k Rōmaios, with the ending influenced by the common L[atin] agent suffix -ārius" [p.456]. "Romero" is said to be a "1. regional or ethnic name for a Roman or more generally for an Italian"; but we also get the more interesting gloss:

2. a nickname for a pilgrim. The vocab[ulary]. word came to have this sense because it was originally applied to travellers from the Western (Roman) Empire who had to pass through the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire on their way to the Holy Land. Later it was used of pilgrims to Rome and to Santiago de Compostella. [ibid.]

This turns around the speculation above, with the pilgrims originally being from Rome rather than to Rome. If that were the case, we must ask how the pilgrims would end up with the Latin version, Rōmaeus, of a Greek name, Rhōmaîos. Rather than Romaeus being the transcription of what Greeks called themselves at Rome, it would have to be a transcription of what the pilgrims were called in Greek in the East, when they probably would not have been called that in the East, since the "Byzantines" would have been calling themselves Ῥωμαῖοι and the pilgrims Λατῖνοι, "Latins," or Φράγγοι, "Franks." So I am not sure the Dictionary explanation here makes sense, although it is in the ballpark of reasonable considerations.

In the Mediaeval period, the term Romania was used in Latin, of course, to refer to the contemporary lands of the Empire -- rather than the full Empire of Trajan -- especially by the Venetians and the Crusaders who took Constantinople and then ruled, for a while, most of those lands. A 7th century Latin text casually using "Romania" is given at the top of this page. The earliest use I find in Latin is in the Historiarum Adversum Paganos Libri VII, "Seven Books of Histories Against the Pagans" (or the Hormesta), by Orosius, who wrote about 418 AD. There is an interesting gloss on this, as "to put it in everyday speech" [Seven Books of History against the Pagans, Liverpool University Press, 2010, p.412], which implies that "Romania" was a term more common in speech than in literature.

As noted, I was long under the impression that the Greek form of Romania, Ῥωμανία [Rhōmanía], was just not used in Mediaeval Greek. I did not see it in Procopius or Anna Comnena, for instance. But it was used; and its absence in Procopius, Comnena, and other historians was only because of their practice of only using place names attested in the earliest Greek historians, like Herodotus and Thucydides. I initially found Rhōmanía in the significant book De Administrando Imperio by the Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus [cf. pp.62, 94, 204, 214, 220, 222, & 224 in Greek -- Greek text edited by Gy. Moravcsik and translated by R.J.H. Jenkins, Dumbarton Oaks, Center for Byzantine Studies, 1967]. It is also to be found all through The Chronicle of Theophanes

Most terrible evils has Romania suffered from the Arabs even until now.

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (d.959) quoting The Chronicle of Theophanes (c.815) [De Administrando Imperio, op.cit., p.94; see discussion of this translation]

[edited by Harry Turtledove, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982, pp.34, 45, 47-48, 61-62, etc. -- but in the edition of Theophanes by Cyril Mango and Roger Scott, discussed below, the translation suspiciously conceals this usage]. Indeed, Constantine sometimes quotes passages from Theophanes that use the term (as quoted at right).

I did not know how common this usage was, but I expected to find out as I examine other primary sources. Indeed, I subsequently found the Perì Paradromēs, "Skirmishing," attributed to the Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas [Three Byzantine Military Treatises, text, translation, and notes by George T. Dennis, Dumbardon Oaks Texts IX, Dumbarton Oaks, 1985, 2008]. Phocas (or perhaps his brother Leo, according to Dennis) uses Rhōmanía three times [pp.156, 162, & 220]. I was curious if the usage of the Porphyogenitus, drawing on Theophanes, was anachronistic; but Phocas (d.969) is from a subsequent generation and is not quoting Theophanes. As it happens, "Roman Empire" was expressed as hē Rhōmaiōn Basileía, but then hē Rhōmanía was equivalent to that whole expression.

In 2014, I have been fortunate to acquire a new edition of De Ceremoniis by Constantine Porphyrogenitus. This is a text previously not easily available to casual English readers. Now we have The Book of Ceremonies, by "Constantine Porphyrogennetos" (with a transcription from Greek of his epithet, rather than the Latinate form I am using), translated by Ann Moffatt and Maxeme Tall [Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, Byzantina Australiensia 18, Canberra, 2012]. With a new translation, this two volume work also has the Greek text in images reproduced from the Greek edition of the Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, which has published at Bonn in 1829. This is still the most recent critical edition of the Greek text, which seems like a rather remarkable lapse in the progress of scholarship.

In the main text of the work, there is only one use of "Romania," but it is a significant one. Book I, Chapter 65, has a section titled, "What it is necessary to observe at the dance, that is, at the banquet." This includes acclamations that are used in the ceremonies attending Imperial banquets for the political factions, the Blues and the Greens, in Constantinople. Among them is a formula given as an epigraph to this note, ἀγάλλεται ἡ πόλις καὶ ὅλη ἡ Ῥωμανία, χαίρεται ὁ κόσμος, "The City and the whole of Romania [literally, 'the whole Romania'] is delighted, the world rejoices" [Volume I, p.295]. What is striking about this occurrence is that it is in a formula that will be used regularly on very public occasions. Since the name is not used in acclamation on occasions such as the Coronation of the Emperor [Chapter 38], we are left to wonder if its presence does not reflect the custom "to put it in everyday speech," as I have noted centuries before in Orosius. This is also consistent with the absence of "Romania" from Procopius and Anna Comnena, since, as noted, they used an elevated Greek which avoided place names not found in the Classical sources.

The use of "Romania" in Chapter 65 of De Ceremoniis is not its only occurrence in this edition. According to Moffatt and Tall, the "only surviving clearly legible manuscript" of De Ceremoniis is the one kept at the University of Leipzig library. In this manuscript, the main text of the book is preceded by "three short texts," which "are concerned with the organizing of military expeditions involving the emperor" [p.xxiv]. This is related to the topic of the whole in that it concerns the Emperor's train, accommodations, and logistics while he is on campaign. At the same time, the largest context overlaps the Three Byzantine Military Treatises, which are from the same era. There are five uses of "Romania" in these "three short texts" [pp.465, 487, 489, 491, & 493], which occur in much the same way as in the Military Treatises and even, in general, in Theophanes, i.e. in relation to the movement or presence of the Emperor, or enemies, within or outside Romania. This means that the name is not used in the nominative case at all, but with prepositions in the accusative or genitive. The most striking occurrence is in a passage about the use of warning beacons, which says, "When the army of the Saracens [nominative Σαρακηνοί] was seen by anyone approaching the state of Romania [πρὸς τὰ τῆς Ῥωμανίας συστάμενα, i.e. towards the 'system' of Romania], the emperor [Βασιλεύς] was immediately ready to meet it" [p.493]. Here we get the curious usage of the "system" (with an accusative neuter plural participle ending), rather than the "Empire" [Βασιλεία] of Romania. Thus, all the texts of De Ceremoniis gives examples of its usage and clues to where it will be used and where it may not be.

The Byzantine Republic of Anthony Kaldellis [Harvard, 2015] contains several citations featuring "Romania," often from popular usage and letters that were free of the literary contraints of the historians. Thus, we learn that crowds protesting the Emperor Anastasius in 512 called for ἄλλον βασιλέα τῇ Ῥωμανίᾳ, állon basiléa têi Rhōmaníai, "another emperor for Romania!" [p.121]. In 532, a similar cry was heard during the Nika riots under Justinian [ibid.]. Centuries later, Michael VII Ducas, writing after 1071 to Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia and Calabria, said he "hoped that the Norman's disposition 'toward my basileia and Romanía' would be passed on to his heirs" [p.41]. In 1102, Alexius Comnenus "refers to imperial officials who might draft sailors into service 'because of the pressing needs of Romanía (κατά τινα ἀναγκαιοτάτην χρείαν τῆς Ῥωμανίας)'" [p.51]. The interesting phrase here is, in the nominative, τις ἀναγκαιοτάτη χρεία, more literally "a [tis] most necessary [anankaiotátē] need [chreía]." All these instances are closer to ordinary language than the redacted treatments of the historians, were Rhōmanía may be absent.

I must say that when I first opened De Administrando Imperio and began finding the Porphyrogenitus using Ῥωμανία, my feeling was amazement and then something like betrayal. All these Byzantinists I had read for years had not bothered to even mention the proper name of the Empire that was used by its own inhabitants, including, in this case, its own Emperor. How could this happen? What is going on when a historian does not mention the name of the country he is studying? Does this ever happen, do you think, with other countries? A history of Germany that does not mention that "Germany" in German is Deutschland may overlook this circumstance because of an assumption that everyone with any knowledge of Germany would know this already. The same certainly cannot be said about "Romania," in either Latin or Greek. Neither Classicists nor Byzantinists have a proper name that they use for either the Roman or "Byzantine" Empires, unless it is simply "Rome" or "Byzantium" -- the names of the Cities.

As it happens, we see in the successor of Romania an interesting disjunct between what it was as an "empire" and a simple proper name. This was the Ottoman Empire. I have never heard that it was ever called "Ottomania." Instead, the country, from an early date and even before the Ottomans, was some version of "Turkey." We even see that the Romans had a more expansive idea of "Turkey" than later, since the King of Hungary is said to be the King of Τουρκία in a Greek inscription on Hungary's Sacred Crown of St. Stephen (which dates from the time of the Comneni). Since Hungarian is a Uralic language, related to Turkish, the identification may be more understandable than it seems now. The word was Turchia in Latin (Turkia, Turquia), as it is now Türkiye in Turkish. Of course, while the terms in "Ottoman Empire" and "Turkey" are unrelated, most people would be aware that both expressions can be about the same thing. The same, again, cannot be said about the terms "Roman Empire" and "Romania," where the origin and Mediaeval meaning of the latter word, despite its obvious etymology, is effectively buried and forgotten in both public and academic discourse, and very, very few would think "Roman Empire" (let alone "Byzantine Empire") when hearing it. But even the name "Turkey" had a rival. As the Seljuks had been Sulṭāns of Rūm, the Ottoman Bāyezīd himself received a diploma from the Abbasid Caliph in Egypt as the Sulṭān of Rūm also.

An example of how I could go years and read extensively and yet not be aware of the use of Rhōmanía in Greek may be seen with Warren Treadgold's A History of the Byzantine State and Society [Stanford University Press, 1997]. This is a comprehensive and impressive book. Treadgold tells us quickly [p.3] that "something calling itself the Roman Empire remained in the East" after the "Fall" of Rome in 476 and that "the name 'Byzantine Empire' was never used at the time." A good start. However, we can read the entire book and never learn that the Empire was called Romania in Latin and Greek from Late Antiquity through the rest of its history. "Romania" is in the index, but it is only used in reference to the modern Kingdom and Republic of Romance speaking people in the Balkans, which was united as "România" (or "Roumania," "Rumania," etc.) in 1859. Another example like this would be the more venerable History of the Byzantine State, by George Ostrogorsky [1940, 1952, 1963, Rutgers University Press, 1969]. The word "Romania" is not in the text at all. We have "Rumania" used in reference to the modern state (once), but that's it.

After the restoration of the Western Empire by Charlemagne and the Othos [sic], the names of Franks and Latins acquired an equal signification and extent, and these haughty barbarians asserted, with some justice, their superior claim to the language and dominion of Rome. They insulted the aliens of the East who had renounced the dress and idiom of Romans, and their reasonable practice will justify the frequent appellation of Greeks.

Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III, Modern Library, p.298-299, color added]

Ce corps qui s'appelait et qui s'appelle encore le saint empire romain n'était en aucune manière ni saint, ni romain, ni empire.

This body which called itself and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was in no way holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.

Voltarie, Essai sur l'histoire générale et sur les mœurs et l'esprit des nations, Chapter 70, 1756

The pretence [sic] of Romanity began to wear thin only in the age of the Crusades when the eastern empire and the West were increasingly forced into a loveless embrace. From a western perspective the kingdom of Constantinople looked decidedly Greek in addition to being schismatic... The big issue, on which oceans of ink were split, was that of religion -- of obedience to the Pope, the procession of the Holy Ghost, purgatory, clerical celibacy, leavened or unleavened bread in the eucharist. Those were the questions that separated the Greeks from the Latins. If only they could be resolved, Christendom would be reunited in a new Romanity under the Pope.

Cyril Mango, The Oxford History of Byzantium [Oxford University Press, 2002, p.2; "pretence" British spelling; color added]

Even more recent than Warren Treadgold is The Oxford History of Byzantium [op.cit.], edited by Cyril Alexander Mango (1928-2021). Here "Romania" not in the text at all, in Greek or Latin. We learn from the editor that "Byzantines" regarded themselves as Romans, but we are favored with a characterization of this as "The pretence of Romanity."

Now who is Cyril Mango, the editor here, to imply that the identity of the successors of Augustus and Constantine in Constantinople was a pretence? Presumably an affectation? Did they get the purple robe and red shoes from a theatrical costumer, like King Ferdinand of Bulgaria? No. As David Carradine (1936-2009) says in Kill Bill, Part II [2004, speaking of Superman], with an Emperor in Constantinople, "Those are his clothes." Emperors wore them because Romania was their country.

In the epigraph above, where we see "pretence," we can see the layers of bias and prejudice in Mango, and the shadow cast by the pretense of Edward Gibbon. Thus, Gibbon's assertion that Charlemagne effected the "restoration of the Western Empire" is nonsense, since the "Western Empire" never called itself "Western," as the corresponding "Eastern Empire" never called itself "Eastern." Each said it was the one and only Imperium Romanum without qualification. But the Germans did know that they were not Romania.

In turn, the "haughty barbarians" had no "justice" in their claims, since they had neither the language nor the dominion of Rome -- the City itself was alienated to the Popes -- and the dress and idiom of Constantinople were far more "Roman" than the trousers and Deutsche Sprache of the Franks -- indeed, Greek and Latin had been called "both our languages" by the Emperor Claudius. Meanwhile, the Popes and Germans had called the Ῥωμαῖοι "Greeks" long before the Crusades, or Gibbon. -- while the ramshackle German Empire became increasing a joke over time, especially at the hands of Voltaire

Thus, Mango's statement, "From a western perspective the kingdom of Constantinople looked decidedly Greek," is anachronistic and irrelevant, as though Mango doesn't know that Marcus Aurelius and Julian wrote in Greek, besides insulting Romania as a "kingdom." The most revealing statement, however, may be Mango's sense that, if all the religious issues could be reconciled, then "Christendom would be reunited in a new Romanity under the Pope," as though the leadership of the Pope would be the natural result of the unification of Christendom and Romanitas.

Talk about "pretence"! Since when did Cyril Mango swallow every jot and tittle of the pretentions and propaganda of the Papacy? What did the Bishop of Rome have to do with the dominion and inheritance of Augustus and Trajan, or Constantine and Justinian? This is absurd. Edward Gibbon would never have accepted that, especially considering that he despised, not just Constantinople, but Christianity itself. The real weakness of the Popes, in turn, was exposed by the brutality of Philip IV of France, and by the Spanish Sack of Rome in 1527. The Popes never got the supremacy they wanted -- Philip had taken out a military force loyal and answerable only to the Popes, the Knights Templar -- and then half of Europe fell away altogether in the Reformation.

So Cyril Mango manifests a bias for Francia and the Papacy that is essentialy hostile and insulting to the land and people of Romania, which as a "Byzantinist" he is supposedly studying out of some sympathy and attraction for the people, the land, and the history. He seems to have no more of those sentiments than Gibbon himself, or the Papacy.

Yet even Mango then features a sensible discussion of the "elusive birthday" that separates Rome from Byzantium [p.2, from AD 284 to 716] -- a boundary whose arbitrariness bespeaks the artificially of the division. But we also have his implication that the only alternative to "Byzantine" for the Empire would be Constantinopolitanus:

The kingdom [?] of Constantinople, which had become extinct in 1453, needed a distinctive name, and that is how the adjective byzantinus came into being. It was less cumbersome than Constantinopolitanus and had a pleasantly 'classical' ring. [ibid.]

This quote makes it look like Mango thinks that the Empire (or "kingdom"?) must be named after its capital City, i.e. either Rome or Constantinople. And it also, and more alarmingly, makes it look like he is simply unaware (!) of the existence and use of the name Romania -- or Ῥωμανία!

But we know that Mango was aware of "Romania," since he edited its use entirely out of his translation of the Chronicle of Theophanes. Thus, he is not unaware of the word, he is actively and dishonestly suppressing it. He knows there was already a "distinctive name" for the "kingdom of Constantinople" and is now lying to us about it.

And wouldn't "Romania" have a sufficiently and "pleasantly 'classical'" ring to it? Mango thus manages both to belittle the Empire, as a "kingdom," and to instinctively continue the project, common to all Franks, with their own jumped-up pretentions, of denying the "Romanity" of Romania. This has aptly been described as characteristic of the "grumpy" school of Byzantinists. And, really, if Mango is so disrespectful and contemptuous of the Ῥωμαῖοι, why does he bother with them? Wouldn't he be happier studying something more worthy? Like snails? Or wouldn't he prefer, as George Burns (1896-1996) says to a corrupt evangelist in Oh, God! [1977], selling shoes? That would be more honest than "the pretence of Romanity."

In the confusion of these representations, there is something to keep in mind. Under the continuous tradition of Roman law, since the Republic, and the durable and present existence of Roman Courts in the Eastern Empire, the subjects of Romania were Roman citizens -- cives Romani -- in a way that Charlemagne, Otto the Great, Edward Gibbon, or Cyril Mango could never claim. As a Frank, Charlemagne might say he was a Roman foederatus, but such a German tribe was not given Roman citizenship. The Lombards may also have been foederati, but certainly the Saxons never were. Thus, the "grumpy" Byzantinists expressing the kind of sketpicism they do over the Roman identity of "Byzantines" must carefully ignore their legal status under Roman law and its judicial institutions.

Thus, we can imagine Cyril Mango in a court in Constantinople, trying to explain to the Judge how, under Roman law, the cives Romani of Romania only have a "pretence of Romanity." He would not get very far -- and might be held in contempt of court. But we should reflect that Mango and the other "grumpy" Byzantinists have a bias and agenda where they look at Roman identity only in terms of the subjective self-regard of the "Byzantines." It is like they are asking, "What kind of identity do you feel you have?" Then, since the answer is about something subjective, it can be disdained, dismissed, or ridiculed.

Yet Roman citizenship was a thing of law, and its determination can be just as objective as anything else in Roman law. And, without ahistorical violence to obvious facts, the Byzantinists cannot deny that Roman law, in Latin, was codified by Theodosius II and Justinian in Constantinople, with courts to administer it that were inherited from Late Antiquity and that continued to sit right through the history of Romania, although perhaps interrupted by the Crusaders in 1204. Of course, a lot of these scholars may have no respect even for modern citizenship and immigration law.

But with Cyril Mango there is worse. Mango is responsible for a translation of The Chronicle of Theophanes -- i.e. The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, Byzantine and Near Eastern History AD 284-813, Translated with Introduction and Commentary by Cyril Mango and Roger Scott with the assistance of Geoffrey Greatrex [Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997, 2006].

Theophanes, who uses the name "Romania" extensively, is translated by Mango et al. so as to conceal this usage. For every "Romania" in Greek, I find "the Roman territory" or "the Roman country" in the translation, without gloss, comment, or explanation. The name "Romania" is in the index only for where the word is used in geographical reference to the modern state.

If it made any sense, one might almost think this looked like a conspiracy to suppress any use or awareness of Ῥωμανία. Perhaps it was. Perhaps it was setup for Mango's later explanation of "Byzantium" as "less cumbersome than Constantinopolitanus" and having "a pleasantly 'classical' ring" -- as though "Romania" wasn't available with its own "pleasantly 'classical' ring."

In any case, the suppression of "Romania," without gloss or explanation, strikes me as shocking and improper, a misrepresentation of the text that verges on scholarly misconduct -- not unlike something we find with the treatment of Πορφυρογέννητος by Leonore Neville. But why would a major contemporary Byzantine scholar like Cyril Mango display this bias, and then write elsewhere as though the word "Romania" didn't exist? It is hard not to infer that Mango, like Gibbon, does not like the people he studies and does not respect their country.

Mango is particularly to be faulted when his translation could have occasioned an examination and clarification of earlier confusions. Thus, James Bryce, in his The Holy Roman Empire [1904, Schocken Books, 1961, 1964], says:

Isaac Angelus, more insolently, styled Frederick the First 'chief prince of Alemannia.' The great Hohenstaufen, half resentful, half contemptuous, told the Eastern envoys that he was Romanorum Imperator, and bade their master call himself 'Romaniorum,' from the Thracian province of Romania. [p.343]

Of course, there was no "Thracian province" of "Romania." We might wonder if this was Frederick's confusion, or Byrce's. More likely to be Bryce's, who has lost touch with the actual usage of "Romania" in either Greek or Latin. This is the only occurrence of "Romania" in Byrce's entire book. Frederick, however, whose authority was already compromised from his defeat by the Italians, familiar with "Romania," suggests that Romanius could be used for Ῥωμαῖος. This isn't nearly as insulting as much of Western usage.

Some authors ignore the word "Romania" but then use quotations where it does occur. This then requires some kind of parenthetical explanation (unless it is to be translated, as John Julius Norwich does, as the "Roman Empire"). That is what we see with Judith Herrin (below), where "Romania" occurs in a Latin quote, and is then incorrectly glossed as "a western name for the empire." That mistake is not going to be made by Walter E. Kaegi in Byzantium and the early Islamic conquests [Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992], who features three different quotes containing "Romania," two of them from Greek sources -- St. Anastasius the Sinaite [p.208], the Doctrina Jacobi nuper baptizati [p.211], and The Chronicle of Theophanes [p.228]. Kaegi glosses the uses as "i.e. the Byzantine Empire," with no further discussion.

Even more venerable than Ostrogorsky is A.A. Vasiliev's History of the Byzantine Empire [University of Wisconsin Press, Volume I, 1961, Volume II, 1964], the first volume of whose original Russian edition came out in 1917, followed by the second volume [1923-1925] and then various translations in many years between 1928 and the Wisconsin editions. Vasiliev uses "Romania" a couple of times. On page 15 of Volume I, we get it in reference to the Latin Empire. Then in Volume II [pp.462 & 463], we get it the same way, translating the Partitio Romaniae, the treaty that partitioned Romania between Venice and the Crusaders in 1204 (where Vasiliev consistently and unaccountably renders the Latin Partitio Romanie [sic]). So far, this looks like the way Herrin treats the matter. However, Vasiliev apparently knows better, for he glosses "Romania" with "as the Latins and Greeks often called the Eastern Empire" [p.462]. This is a strange way to put it, since "Latins and Greeks" practically means everybody, while no contemporaries called Romania "the Eastern Empire." If "the Greeks" are calling the Empire "Romania," then clearly this is the name of the Empire to its own subjects, yet Vasiliev manages to admit this only in the most obscure and roundabout way.

Perhaps the most recent treatments of Byzantium would be The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire, c.500-1492, edited by Jonathan Shepard [Cambridge University Press, 2008] and The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies, edited by Elizabeth Jeffreys with John Haldon and Robin Cormack [Oxford University Press, 2008]. Both of these massive books involve formats where different scholars write different chapters. The results can be uneven in histories of this form, with choppy treatment, discontinuities, and oversights. The Oxford Handbook, divided by topic, verges on encyclopedic form and so avoids the expectation of narrative continuity.

No sooner does one open the Cambridge History than this sentence is encountered:  "Byzantium lasted a thousand years, ruled to the end by self-styled 'emperors of the Romans'" [p.i]. "Self-styled" often means that someone has just up and decided, out of nowhere, to call themselves something. One would never guess from such a characterization that we are dealing rulers in unbroken institutional, religious, and cultural succession from the Roman Empire of Late Antiquity. They were "styled" Emperors of the Romans because they had always been, back to Augustus. "Self-styled" can also mean, of course, just that this is what they called themselves, which is quite true. But there is an ambiguity there, with an edge, like Mango's "pretence of Romanity." It's like:  Weren't these people smart enough to know that they weren't Romans anymore? Evidently not. "Romania" is given in the index only in relation to an entry in the Glossary:

Romania 'land of the Romans' (i.e. Byzantines); by the seventh century a term for the Christian empire of the east; from the thirteenth century, used of the former lands of the Byzantine empire which had been partitioned and were being governed by the Venetians, Franks and other westerners. [pp.900-901]

Unfortunately, although Peter Brown is listed in the Bibliography [p.984], the editor seems to have missed Brown's information that the use of "Romania" dates from the 4th century, not the 7th. It therefore was originally more than "the Christian empire of the east." Nor are we told about relative uses of the name in Latin and Greek.

The index of the Oxford Handbook lists only one use of "Romania," and this is in reference to the modern state, not the Roman Empire [p.200]. On the first page of text we learn of the Empire that, "Its emperors and citizens thought of themselves as Roman (romaioi)..." [p.3]. We thus have the same indirect acknowledgement and distancing, "thought of themselves," as we have seen elsewhere in this literature. On the second page, however, we have the interesting statement, "...although classicists (albeit often grudgingly) would admit that without the intervention of Byzantine scribes no texts in ancient Greek would have survived to the present day" [p.4]. One then wonders, Why "grudgingly"? Why would a Classicist not be happy to acknowledge that all of Greek literature is owed to Romania? Indeed, thanks to the Bibiotheca of the Patriarch Photius, we have an idea how much was lost thanks to the rough handling of the Crusaders and the Ottomans.

In contrast to these modern Byzantine histories we find The Life of Belisarius, by Philip Henry Stanhope, Lord Mahon, from 1829. On page two of his book [Westholme Publishing, Yardley, Pennsylavnia, 2006], Stanhope, after a Gibbonesque dismissal of "the rabble of Greek armies," simply says, "the name of Romania was applied to the varying limits of the Byzantine territory, until it has settled on Thrace [Rumelia, i.e. Turkish Rumeli, ], to which they were latterly confined" [p.2, boldface added]. Writing before the 1859/1881 creation of the Kingdom of Roumania, Sanhope did not need to explain the difference between Mediaeval Romania and the modern state. Now, was that so hard? So why couldn't Treadgold and the others have favored us with such a concise and informative statement at a similar point in their books?

It has long been a habit to deprecate the achievement of Byzantium. "Byzantine," after all, became an English adjective meaning "overly complex to the point of being unworkable." Yet the classical roots of Western civilization survived in the eastern empire, while they were almost lost in the western. By the time of Constantinople's collapse in the fifteenth century; the west was resurgent and had been enriched by a continuous rediscovery of its classical heritage, often only through the agency of the stewards of Byzantium.

Victor David Hanson, The Savior Generals, How Five Great Commanders Saved Wars That Were Lost -- form Ancient Greece to Iraq, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013, p.195

The "Byzantium" Derangement Syndrome

All the examples that I have been examining here display oversights, slights, and even hostilities that strike me as professionally, morally, and even psychologically peculiar. There seems a positive resistance, with a selective memory (or sheer, unbelievable ignorance), to acknowledge the historical reality of the usage of "Romania," and this is a grave lapse of responsibility, or competence, for a historian. Even the way Treadgold refers to "something calling itself the Roman Empire," like Shepard's "self-styled" Emperors and Mango's "pretence of Romanity," sounds like we don't necessarily approve of this. "Well, we don't call it that!" No, we have this "Byzantium" name to use, so that we won't confuse virtuous pagan Romans like Trajan with miserable Byzantine Christians like Basil II -- or so we won't confuse virtuous Greek Christians like Basil II with miserable pagan tyrants like Caligula. Either way (as with Cyril Mango and others), there seems to be a tinge of hostility or arrogance or contempt. That certainly originated with the introduction of "Byzantium" for the Empire in the 16th century. By then the Empire was gone, and Renaissance scholars were thinking of themselves as the true successors of Rome -- and more of Trajan than of Constantine -- rather than the Emperors in Constantinople. While the Empire had always been "Romania" in Latin, well, that sounds just too Roman when we're really talking about a bunch of superstitious, treacherous, decadent Greek Christians from the Dark Ages.

We can see just how bad Western European attitudes have been about Mediaeval Romania with William Smith (1813-1893), the editor of A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography [1872, I.B. Tauris & Co., 2006]. Smith, of course, has no entry for "Romania," which one might think would be a very important term indeed in Roman geography and was certainly used in the period the dictionary covers. But we don't get how he really feels until we find the entry for "Constantinopolis" [pp.657-665]. There is what can only be called a most remarkable venting of high Victorian spleen against all of "Byzantine" history:

The city of Constantine, the birth of an elder and effete age, has throughout its long history borne the stamp of its parentage, and displayed the vices of its original conformation. The position of the Byzantine empire is unique; geographically it was European, but nationally it reflected the Oriental type of character. It had indeed Roman blood, but the people who had sprung from the loins of Mars, and were suckled by the she-wolf, gave it little but their name. It did not speak their tongue, and was completely severed from the old republican associations and free spirit which still survived the fall of Roman liberty. The despotism of the court of Contantinople could not endure even the forms of free institutions, and the relics of municipal privileges which inherited from Rome have had so much influence in moulding the law and constitution of modern Europe. The Caesar of the East was the counterpart of his Moslem conqueror, and the change from the Proto Sebast to the Sultan would have been one simply of name, had it not been for the superior energy and virtues of the first Osmanli princes. The one like the other had his viziers, his janissaries, his slaves, and his eunuchs alternately cajoling and tyrannizing over prince and people. Through the dreary monotony of the history of the Eastern empire, so deficient in moral and political interest, there are always coming into view the characteristic features of Asiatic tyranny: -- the domestic treason, -- the prince born in the purple, -- the unnatural queen-mother, -- the son or the brothers murdered or blinded, -- the sudden revolutions of the throne, -- the deposition of the sovereign, but the government remaining the same, -- and the people careless as to who or what their tyrant might be. Every thing by which a people can outwardly show what is within -- literature, art, and architecture, displays the influence of the East. The literature learned, artificial, florid, but deficient in elegance and grace, and without a spark of genius to illumine it. The art but the figure of their ceremonial life, deficient in all deep and sincere feeling, and showing, under the hardness of the shape, and the sameness of the expression, the dull and slavish constraint to which it was subject. A purer faith had indeed freed the later Greeks from the degradation of the seraglio, had given an impulse to intellectual development, and infused a sense of the responsibilities of power to which their Ottoman conquerors were strangers. But even Christianity failed to reconcile the conflicting elements and hostile influences of the East and West, and was itself penetrated by an admixture of Oriental thought and sentiment. And in later times, after the severance of Constantinople from the Latin Communion, the rest of Europe had no sympathy for what was considered an alien creed. Standing in this isolated position on the very outposts of Western civilization, and cut off from that by differences of language, manner, and religion, Constantinople, unable to comprehend but rather despising that vigorous Teuton stock upon which the elder races were engrafted, did not incorporate any of those elements which have gone to make up the aggregate of modern Europe; while, on the other hand, it is difficult to trace the slight reaction that the Greek empire has had upon the West, till its fall, when it contributed so mainly to the revival of letters and the modern spirit, by the dispersion of ancient literature and culture. [Volume I, p.660, boldface added]

So this is the thanks that Romania gets as the main bulwark of Europe against ʾIslām for eight hundred years, all the while perserving and nurturing the Classical heritage that Smith himself must admit "contributed so mainly to the revival of letters and the modern spirit" -- an extraordinary achievement for some "race" so deficient in virtue, spirit, feeling, taste, morality, liberty, etc. I must conclude that Professor Smith would not have been among the English who fled the Norman Conquest to find refuge and employment with the Roman Emperor after 1066. He sees "Byzantium" as inferior to (1) "true" Romans, (2) the Ottoman Turks, (3) Modern Greeks, (4) Latin Catholicism, and (5) the "vigorous Teuton stock" that brought down the Western Empire. In short, the history and civilization of Constantinople, for a thousand years, was apparently worse than anything that has ever existed, except that, by the way, we owe her our entire knowledge of Greek literature and culture and our preservation from Conquering ʾIslām. How such a debased people would have had the interest or dedication to preserve things like Greek literature or Roman law, or the courage and manliness to withstand the Arabs, is a little confusing.

But then Smith (like Frazer above) seems rather confused (if not psychotic) himself. He has missed how "the people who had sprung from the loins of Mars" had become all the free inhabitants of the Empire in the Third Century. The Court language of Constantinople was indeed no longer "the tongue" of Cicero, but then it was the tongue in which Marcus Aurelius wrote his diary, and in which, according to Suetonius, Julius Caesar spoke his last words -- let alone the tongue of Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Thucydides, etc. Why Smith would despise this tongue, i.e. Greek (a language whose name, note, he does not mention here), is surprising. As for the features of "Oriental tyranny," there are few that do not seem characteristic of the antics of Caligula or Nero, if not often already the court of Augustus. The original king-making Jannisaries were, after all, the Praetorian Guard -- a corps, like the Varangian Guard, happily free of the child-stealing and forced conversion that fed the Jannisaries. And after many "sudden revolutions," with the "deposition of the sovereign, but the government remaining the same," we might have thought this to be a characteristic of the Roman Empire in general, not some "Oriental" feature of the government in Constantinople. But the statement about a "people careless as to who or what their tyrant might be," is false on its face. The populace that deposed Michael V in order to restore Zoë, or Alexius IV for an anti-Crusader Alexius V, or who lynched the vicious Andronicus I, obviously had strong feelings about who the legitimate Sovereign should be. On the other hand, we see little of that in Mediaeval Western Europe, where for centuries urban populations scarcely existed to dispute the long succession of many dynastic governments.

To be sure, Diocletian introduced forms of the Persian Court into Roman ceremony. Smith could damn this as "Asiatic tyranny," but then it is a transformation that antedates Constantine, Christianity, and Constantinople, let alone Justinian, Heraclius, or Basil II (note Frazer's discussion tracing the "Oriental" influence to Christianity itself, something Smith does not seem to do). Yet these forms did not prevent the populace of Constantinople from often expressing its preferences and abruptly ending many reigns and dynasties. Somehow, I don't think that Smith would recognize these expressions as revealing a consciousness of "liberty." I bet the populace of Constantinople was just a mob. Smith, however, ignores rather than comments on this circumstance.

Most extraordinary is his dismissal of Orthodox religion, an "alien creed," for which "the rest of Europe had no sympathy." From this statement one would not know that the Russian and other Orthodox churches, covering a considerable part of the area of Europe, would not join in his lack of "sympathy." Quite the opposite. Nor would one know that Smith himself, and his fellow countrymen, no longer retained any sympathy for the "Latin Communion" that split itself from the Orthodox churches. As we often see in history, and even scholarship, the hostilities of earlier sectarian divisions survive even when the earlier loyalties themselves have been renounced. Smith despises the Greeks with all the feeling of a Papist, yet, not only was he no Papist, he was a "dissenter" who, rejecting the Church of England, could not attend Oxford or Cambridge. How can Smith, such a dedicated Protestant, not notice the echo of, let alone the "sympathy" for, the Iconoclasts in Martin Luther? More consistent would be the sentiment of Francis Ford Coppola, who thinks that, "The Orthodox religions, Greek Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, is [sic] in fact the original Christianity and, for my part, I think the most beautiful expression of Christianity..."

When one sees so much antipathy with so little self-consciousness or reflection, there is no doubt some deeply irrational commitment is involved. We also see this in another brief comment by Smith:

...the Byzantine builders founded an architecture peculiarly their own. Of this the cupola was the great characteristic, to which every other feature was subordinate. In consequence of this principle, that which at Athens was straight, angular, and square, became in Constantinople curved and rounded, concave within, and convex without. Thus the old architecture of Greece owed its destruction to the same nation from which it had taken its first birth. [ibid. p.661]

Of all the bile we find in Smith, this passage may be the most extraordinary. What "Oriental" influence corrupted the angular simplicity of Greek architecture? Oh, there wasn't any. The source of the domes and arches used in Constantinople was from Roman architecture and engineering. We see nothing of the sort in Egypt, Babylon, or Jerusalem, and domes in Islamic architecture are all due to the influence of Romania. Smith must resolutely forget his own knowledge of buildings like the Pantheon or the arches of Roman aqueducts marching across the countryside. Does Smith despise St. Paul's as much as Sancta Sophia, which first put a dome high atop a square structure? (Well, as a Nonconformist, perhaps he did.) In other words, Mediaeval Romania wasn't Roman enough for Smith, except for its architecture, which is now not Greek enough. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

The shocking bias and self-deception of someone like William Smith may not be surprising in the footsteps of Edward Gibbon, who blazed a long trail of vitriol against Romania. Thus in 1734 Montesquieu said, "the Greek Empire is nothing more than a tissue of revolts, seditions, and perfidies... Revolutions created more revolutions, so that the effect became the cause." Actually, it is hard to know what he was talking about, since Roman government was no less stable during the Middle Ages than it had been under the Julio-Claudians, if not more so. No less puzzling is what Voltaire said in 1751, that the Empire was "a story of obscure brigands," which was "a disgrace to the human mind." Again, it is hard to know what he was talking about, since the dignity of the Constantinopolitan Throne and Court, whether under the Heraclians, Macedonians, Comneni, or Palaeologi, usually far surpassed that of contemporary European rulers, who very often do seem to have lived the lives of brigands. Indeed, Richard the Justicer, Duke of Burgundy, is supposed to have said on his deathbed, "I die a brigand, but have saved the lives of honest men." As we might expect, the hostile sentiments against Romania were reflected and repeated with a similar lack of specificity by Hegel in his oxymoronically named Philosophy of History:

Byzantium exhibits a millennial series of uninterrupted crimes, weakness, baseness, and want of principle: a repulsive and hence an uninteresting picture.

One wonders what kind of history, and not just of Romania, these people have actually been reading.

Although with nothing like the intense hostility and distortion perpetuated by such a tradition, I suspect that the oversights or dismissive comments of the likes of Warren Treadgold or Cyril Mango inevitably are its faint echo in recent historiography, even as they are scholars who might consciously and sincerely disclaim any bias or animus against Constantinople. As with the Dissenting Smith following Papal condemnation of the Greeks, it is an inertia hard to shake, just as modern liberal American historians insensibly join in the derision of Ulysses S. Grant, or in the praise of the racist Woodrow Wilson, following the precedent of Southern and Confederate-sympathizing historians from the era of Segregation. They should be ashamed to do that, but they often seem as lacking in reflection and self-awareness as William Smith.

In the end, I would say that Mediaeval Christian Greeks, far from having "failed to reconcile" the different elements of their heritage, seem more comfortable with the mixture of their own Roman and Classical past and their Christian present, which made them at once both Romans and Christians (indeed, to be Roman meant being a Christian), than modern historians who are neither Greek nor Roman and may or may not be Christians (and in fact may despise Christianity). Indeed, modern "education" now junks the whole business, and the modern student knows no Classical languages and possesses only the haziest ideas about the history involved. The modern West, at least in elite culure, no longer is conscious of its heritage or conscientious for its preservation. What we are lacking, indeed, is another Constantinople and its own honorable and heroic spirit.

Far more sober and respectable than William Smith, but with its own peculiarities and curiosities, is the recent treatment we see in The Classical Tradition, edited by Anthony Grafton, Glenn W. Most, and Salvatore Settis [The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010]. This dictionary-like work has relevant articles on "Byzantium" and "Constantinople." The "Byzantium" article begins thus:

Successor state to the Roman Empire in the eastern Mediterranean. As with Rome, the name Byzantium (Greek Byzantion) originated with a founding city. Unlike Rome, the city of Byzantium was rechristened at a crucial point in its history, and only the state with its spreading dominions retained the name of its origin. [p.152]

First of all, a "successor state" is ambiguous enough that it could mean Visigothic Spain or the Vandal Kingdom in North Africa, not a state that is actually the continuous institutional, linguistic, and cultural descendant of the Roman Empire itself. But I will not quibble. More importantly, the founding of the city of Byzantium had nothing to do with the empire that will later be called "Byzantium." Byzantium was a Greek colony and then a Roman possession, and it gained Imperial significance only in being refounded by Constantine as the new capital of the Empire. Also, its being "rechristened" did not prevent that name from being remembered and continuing in use for the City for centuries. So, not only is it false that "only the state...retained the name," since the City retained the name (among several), but "the state" did not "retain" the name at all. The name was never used for the state while it existed. So this article begins with a statement that is gravely confused and misrepresents the case.

Another quibble might be that the Mediaeval Greek, like the Modern, pronunciation of "Byzantium" was Visantion. If you are going to make a point of giving a Greek rendering as well as a Latin, you might as well do it with right phonetic values.

After such an inauspicious beginning, the article somewhat improves. We quickly get a discussion about the "Byzantine Empire" that "Its beginning, however, might be fixed at several moments" [ibid.], with a sensible consideration of various possible benchmarks from the Edict of Milan (313 AD) to the Islamic Conquest.

This was truly a Dark Age, but to set the beginning of Byzantine history in the later 7th century is to ignore crucial earlier changes in the classical tradition: hence the utility of the traditional date of origin in the reign of Constantine. [ibid.]

This definitely gives one the understanding, without quite saying so, that there is an institutional continuity that renders any division between "Rome" and "Byzantium" something that is somewhat arbitrary and conventional, which is not at all what one would deal with in Visigothic Spain or Vandal North Africa.

Perusing the rest of the article, which in general is good, there are some locutions that have become familiar from Byzantine histories in general. Thus, "Although Byzantine historians aspired to write in the language of Herodotus..." [p.153]. "Aspired"? Does anyone say that Thomas Aquinas "aspired" to write in the language of Cicero? No. He was writing in the literary Latin that had come down to him. Renaissance scholars were more like the ones to "aspire" to write in the language of Cicero, since they tried to eliminate changes in the language that had developed through the Middle Ages. There had been "Atticizing" of Hellenistic Greek, as the article itself notes, in the 3rd century, but "Byzantine" historians were just writing what in Greek had become the literary language, just as St. Thomas was doing. The overtone of "aspired" is that we've got something like chimpanzees at typewriters. We find Edward Gibbon saying:

The vulgar dialect of the city [i.e. the spoken Mediaeval Greek of Constantinople] was gross and barbarous: a more correct and elaborate style distinguished the discourse, or at least the compositions, of the church and palace, which sometimes affected to copy the purity of the Attic models. [The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III, Modern Library, p.298-299, boldface added]

Thus, while we get a characterization of Mediaeval literary Greek as an affectation, and a harsh denigration of the spoken language, Gibbon does see the literary language in its Classicism as "more correct," which more recent writers are unlikely to do.

A few lines further down in The Classical Tradition we get the statement, "the Byzantines regarded themselves as Romans (Rōmanoi)" [ibid.], where, as in various examples I have cited, "regarded themselves" embodies our background judgment that, of course, they weren't. Perhaps some of these writers, in this case Robert S. Nelson of Yale, don't quite realize that this is what they are doing.

Nevertheless, Nelson's article finishes with a sharp paragraph that puts things in much better perspective than the first:

In 1557 the German scholar Hieronymus Wolf published the history of Nicetas Choniates. In his preface he distinguished antiquity from the 12th century by using the name Byzantium, the Latin form of Byzantion, to denote the ancient Greek colony that later became Constantinople. Only slightly more logical than the label America on a map of the New World, this ancient Greek city name came to be accepted for the medieval empire. With none of the Rōmanoi left to protest, Byzantium thus separated from antiquity and entered the realm of scholarship, where it continues to be remade according to the needs and desires of scholarship, nationalism, and the classical tradition. [p.158]

Of course, what was significant about what Wolf did was not that he applied a Latin transcription of its name to the city of Byzantium, but that he applied the name "Byzantium" to Romania. Yet it certainly is only "slightly more logical" that "this ancient Greek city name came to be accepted for the medieval empire." Nelson should properly have begun the article with such a reflection and not allowed the confused impression that his first paragraph must make. Indeed, the Rhōmanoi were not around to protest when their name was stripped from them by unsympathetic Franks -- just like the ones Choniates himself saw despoiling Constantinople after the Fourth Crusade.

The subsequent article on "Constantinople" starts with an edifying bang:

Capital of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, 330-1453 CE, Constantinople was important to the classical tradition in several ways: as the last great urban creation of antiquity, which survived as the greatest Christian city of the Middle Ages; as the main, and for long the sole, center of education in the Greek classics during the Middle Ages, where nearly all the ancient Greek texts read today were preserved; and as the home of early classicizing tendencies in ideology, art, and literature. [p.237]

This is very well said -- by Paul Magdalino of Koç University, İstanbul. Yet even with Magdalino we can't completely avoid one of those snippy moments. Thus, the extensive architecture of Constantinople, "enhanced the increasingly strident claim that Constantinople was a New (and better) Rome" [ibid.]. "Increasingly strident"? What the hell does that mean? When, beginning in the 6th century, the City of Rome was at times depopulated, one hardly need be "strident" for Rome to suffer in comparison with the undamaged and prosperous civilization of Constantinople. Considerable pride in the majesty and significance of the Νέα Ῥώμη came naturally to anyone who enjoyed the advantages that Magdalino himself details for the life of the City.

The Classical Tradition contains no article or entry in the index for "Romania." Yet isn't the name of modern România part of the "Classical Tradition"? Its name has even been Latinized from "Rumania" to "Romania," doubtless because Romanians "aspire" to greater Latinate purity, as they have also shifted from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet and purged the language of Slavic, Turkish, etc. words. As the land that has indeed inherited the proper name of the Roman Empire, one might think some notice could be taken of this; but The Classical Tradition continues the scholarly blackout in this respect.

An interesting response to this history of "Byzantine" scholarship is expressed by Timothy Dawson in Byzantine Cavalryman, c. 900-1204 [illustrated by Giuseppe Rava, Warrior, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, & Long Island City, NY, 2009]:

Consult a dictionary and under 'Byzantine' you will find it described as an adjective meaning something like 'complex, inflexible or underhand'. What should we make, therefore, of the suggestion that there was such a thing as the 'Byzantine Empire'[?]. The answer to that lies in where and by whom the term originated. It first appears in print in 1557 from the pen of a German, Hieronymus Wolf. In the tenth century Germany had looked to Byzantium (medieval Greek Vyzantion) as a paradigm of power and opulence seeking patronage and royal marriages from the City of Vyzantion. In the twelfth century their ambitions became much more grandiose, and led to formation of what they called the 'Holy Roman Empire' claiming the inheritance of the glory days of Old Rome. To take an inheritance, however, the ancestor must be dead, and the survival of the Roman Empire in the East was somewhat problematic. At first, the ideological expedient was to claim that with the schism between the Roman and Orthodox churches and supposed decadence, the Roman Empire was morally dead, despite its semblance of sometimes robust life. Wolf's expedient went further, by attempting to deny the empire's existence stripping it of its very name. He could only do that from his place after the final fall, for during its life, its people held to their true Roman heritage with all due tenacity, as some Greek speakers have done into modern times. From as early as the first century AD the empire's residents called it 'Rōmania'. The adjectives for that were Rōmaikos and Rōmios, and to this day, descendants of the Greek-speaking population which had continued in Ionia, the portion of Anatolia bordering the Aegean Sea, who were expelled by the Turks in the early twentieth century, still call themselves 'Romiosi.' So what is 'Byzantine'? Properly used, it should refer to anything pertaining to the City of Vyzantion, and that is the manner in which it will be used in this volume. [pp.4-5]

Despite Dr. Dawson's commendable resolution, this principle of usage is violated by the title of his own book, which is not just about the cavalryman of the City of Byzantium. Also, by using Greek in transcription rather than in Latinized forms, he joins the ranks of scholars who, in the view of Warren Treadgold (see below), are "trying to use Classical Greek forms to force acceptance of a sharp break between Rome and Byzantium on those who disagree with them." This is probably not what Dawson actually wants to do.

I would like to know his citation for "Romania" used in "the first century AD," which is something I have not previously seen. He does not footnote his reference here. Also, it is not quite right to say that Germans formed something "they called the 'Holy Roman Empire'." The "Roman Empire" in Mediaeval ideology, as it had in Old Rome and in Constantinople, encompassed the whole world, so that the Emperor was "Keyser over alle dy Werlt," as the Sachsenspiegel (Saxon Mirror) of 1230 put it. And the ideology and institutions of the Germanic "Roman Empire" went back to Otto I, if not Charlemagne, long before the "twelfth century." The three word proper name for the Germanic domain is probably a modern development. I am not sure exactly what Dawson has in mind with this, but he is right if it involves a challenge to the historic heritage of Constantinople, which began to be belittled as the capital of the "Greeks" rather than the "Romans."

Likewise, philosophy professor Kelley Ross has created a sprawling but lively website dedicated to the many ways in which historians have distorted the Roman nature of Byzantium, where he seeks to uncover what lay behind the smoke screen of modern labels.

Anthony Kaldellis, Romanland, Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium [Balknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2019, p.36].

Hellenism in Byzantium,
The Transformations of Greek Identity and the Reception of the Classical Tradition
, by Anthony Kaldellis [Cambridge, 2007, 2011]

The attitudes of Byzantinists that I have been considering, with their curious but characteristic avoidance of the name "Romania," have now been addressed, exposed, and contravened by a new scholar in the field, Anthony Kaldellis, Professor of Greek and Latin at Ohio State University.

Kaldellis, once described as the "bad boy" of Byzantine Studies, now may well have blown the lid off the biased and tendentious tradition of Byzantine History, by which "Byzantine" scholarship was clouded with a sort of miasma of dislike, disapproval, and dismissal. There is no better way to say this than to let Kaldellis speak for himself, as he does forthrightly in Hellenism in Byzantium:

It is well known that the people we call Byzantines today called themselves Romans (Romaioi). In the middle period of Byzantium's history...this "national" label appears or is pervasive in virtually all texts and documents (excluding the strictly theological) regardless of the geographical or social origins of their authors, which, in Byzantium, were diverse. ("Byzantines" were for them only the residents of Constantinople, archaically styled after the City's classical name.) These Romans called their state Romania (Ῥωμανία) or Romaïs, its capital New Rome (among other names, titles, and epithets), and its rulers the basileis of the Romans, whom we call "emperors"...

And yet this most indisputable and central fact, that the Byzantines firmly believed themselves to be Romans, has not received in scholarship the attention and emphasis that it deserves. That is because both Greek and western European scholars have had an interest in downplaying it, the former...because they desire to find a core of national "Greekness" behind what they take to be only a Roman facade, while the latter hold that the Roman legacy is fundamentally western and Latin and cannot bring themselves to accept that Byzantium "really was" Roman. In doing so both sides have perpetuated the western medieval bias against the eastern empire, according to which the Byzantines were only Greeklings, not true Romans. Rome belongs to the West, it is instinctively assumed, and to the Latin-speaking world, and so other "essences" have had to be imagined for Byzantium, for example Greek Orthodoxy or Ecumenical Orthodoxy or oriental despotism or even medieval Hellenism. For many western historians Rome also belongs to antiquity and so anything later than it can at best constitute a "reception," despite the fact that in the case of Byzantium alone are we dealing with direct political, social, and cultural continuity from Julius Caesar to Konstantinos XI Palaiologos. But the existence of a single state and political community with a continuous history lasting over two thousand years defeats scholarly specialization. Periodization, in this case arbitrary, requires new names such as "Byzantium" and new names suggest a different "essence." [pp.42-43, boldface added]....


During the course of late antiquity the Greeks ceased to think of themselves as Greeks in any national sense and became Romans. The empire "constituted a new world-view, a Roman 'state of things' which replaced the Greek state of things." But how did this happen? Unfortunately, few modern discussions of Romanization are helpful since most deal with the empire's western provinces, reflecting the bias which claims the Roman tradition for the West. Romanization, according to this view, was the process by which the West learned Latin and became urbanized. As the Greeks did not learn Latin and did not need to be urbanized, they were not Romanized. This is one distortion of the history of the early empire that a modicum of knowledge about Byzantium would set straight. Why did the Greek-speaking subjects of the empire exit antiquity not only calling but deeply believing themselves to be Romans? A common answer is that the Greek label was barred by Christianity, which identified it with paganism. The Greeks were thus "forced to yield any sense of an internal identity based on their heritage." But this will not do. The conversion to Romania occurred before the one to Christianity, and, more importantly, it was an independent process with different causes; the pagan Hellenes of late antiquity were as Roman as their Christian fellow citizens; finally this explanation cannot account for the sincerity and earnestness of the Roman identity. The Roman name was not a label slapped onto a deeper Greek identity. [p.45, boldface added]

It is noteworthy in these passages that while Kaldellis often refers to mediaeval Romans as "Byzantines" and to Romania as "Byzantium," once even as the "eastern empire," we never get the expression "Byzantine Empire." We are told about the name "Romania," and we henceforth get "Romania" used in the appropriate way. But this is only the beginning:


Romania was neither a name artificially superimposed by the Byzantines on their state in a purely formal recognition of their political origins and legal system nor a default label used by medieval Greeks blocked by Christianity from using their "true" name. It represented a primary identification with a social and political community that was both directly continuous with that of ancient Rome and required the abandonment or subordination of any ethnic or local identities that diminished or fractured the unity of the Roman polity. This conception was not changed by the transfer of empire from Old to New Rome during late antiquity... Only the location of the capital had changed, but the "capital" in the third and fourth centuries AD had effectively accompanied the emperors on their campaigns and tours and had ceased to be at Rome before Constantinople was even founded. "Rome" was not a mere city, but an ecumenical community. The foundation of New Rome, then, represented a return to imperial stability; it was a deliberate transplantation of the former seat of empire to eastern Romania, a branch-office of Rome that contained all of its defining institutions, whose parity with the original fell short only in honor, not in rank or identity. [p.61]

Of course, although the capital did often seem to travel with the Emperors in the third century, by the fourth, as we have seen above, relatively permanent centers of government, like Nicomedia and Milan, or York and Trier, are found, until the seats of government settled on Constantinople and Ravenna. Later in the book, Kaldellis returns to questions of the usage of "Romania" and "Romans":

What is most important for our theme is that the Latins, now masters of Romania [i.e. after the Fourth Crusade, in 1204], refused to call the Byzantines Romans, preferring the ethnonym Graeci, which the Byzantines rendered as Γραικοί rather than translating it as Hellenes (they had no reason to believe that they were being called pagans). A variety of motives promoted this western usage. Sometimes the ethnonym was used to avoid confusing the Byzantines with the ancient Romans, with the contemporary Romans of Rome, or with anyone in the West who may have been claiming the name at any time. For example, the Carolingians had at first called their own realm Romania, then only the Italian provinces, and finally only the region of Ravenna (which still bears that name [i.e. "Romagna"]...

All this, however, glosses over the effective truth of the matter, which is that by the twelfth century western usage was politically motivated. Graecus was meant as a rejection of the Byzantine's claim to the imperial Roman legacy and thereby undercut their authority to rule first in the West and, after 1204, in their own lands as well. In short, to a great extent westerns called Byzantines Greeks because they did not want to call them Romans... [p.337, boldface added]

Modern historians have preferred to follow the western sources and simply call the Byzantines "Greeks" after 1204. Ideologically, however, this is not a neutral choice. It reflects the western bias that the Roman legacy is "essentially" western. It also conforms to the belief of many modern Greeks since the nineteenth century that Byzantium was "essentially" Greek and that medieval observers, otherwise reviled as colonial occupiers, saw more clearly what the Byzantines had denied to themselves for centuries... Here we will follow neither of these traditions uncritically. The Byzantines had every right to the Roman name and legacy, more so in some ways than any of their neighbors and rivals. [p.338, boldface added]

The general subject of Hellenism in Byzantium is the use by Romania in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages of pagan Greek learning, which at times was condemned by Christian authorities. Nevertheless, such condemnations were contradicted or evaded by authorities of equal weight, and education in Greek speaking regions, which soon became all of Romania, remained based on Hellenistic paideia, using all the Greek authors whose hertiage had previously been organized during the Second Sophistic. At times, this also became the foundation for a revival of pagan Greek attitudes, i.e. Humanism, and eventually, especially after 1204, to such revivals of Greek identity that might be seen as precursors to modern Greek nationalism.

This is all of great interest and importance in its own right, but my concern here, of course, are the issues of Roman identity that I have been discussing. Kaldellis apparently is already writing a book specifically about this; but his remarks in this book already cover the essential points I have been making, especially the bias of modern Byzantinists who continue the project of the jumped up Franks to claim Roman heritage and identity for themselves and to deny it to the actual inheritors and perpetuators of the Roman State. There is some irony in that, since the historians who seem to be sneering at Romania (without calling it that), certainly do not take the "Romanity" of Charlemagne very seriously, while the later Holy Roman Empire becomes little better than a joke in retrospect -- neither Holy nor Roman nor an Empire in the memorable put-down of Voltaire.

Thus, Kaldellis notes:

In 871, [the Frankish Emperor, 863-875] Louis II wrote to Basileios I [i.e. Basil I] that "the Greeks" had ceased to be emperors of the Romans because of their heresies and because they had abandoned Rome, its people, and its language. [p.337]

While the Emperors of Romania were often offended at the effrontery of the Franks, Louis II was himself a curious figure to be making these reproaches. He himself ruled no more than Lombardy. While according to Suetonius (and Kaldellis, p.66) the Emperor Claudius had praised a barbarian for learning "our two languages," i.e. Greek and Latin (Cum utroque sermone nostro sis paratus, "Since you are ready with both our languages"), and both were taught in Constantinople, with the former as the language of the place, it is more likely that Louis spoke a Teudisca lingua, a form of German, rather than any form or dialect of Latin, much less Greek. Louis, to be sure had not "abandoned" Latin or Greek. They were just not his native languages. Since the Rhōmaîoi were the people of Romania, Constantinople had hardly abandoned them, while the City of Rome, still claimed by Constantinople, had been ceded by Louis's great-great-grandfather to the Popes. So hadn't the Carolingians "abandoned" Rome to the Church? It is doubtful that any modern (secular) historians think of that as a good idea. And what "heresies" is Louis talking about? Perhaps Iconoclasm; but that had long been settled in the days of Basil I and the Greek and Latin Churches were unified.

So Louis's charges must appear about as silly now as they would have sounded absurd to Basil. Meanwhile, even under the Ottomans, Roman identity survived into the 20th century. Kaldellis recounts an anecdote told by the late Peter Charanis, who, born on the island of Lemnos in 1908, under Ottoman rule, eventually taught Byzantine history at Rutgers. During the First Balkan War in 1912,

When the island was occupied by the Greek navy, Greek soldiers were sent to the villages and stationed themselves in the public squares. Some of the children ran to see what these Greek soldiers, these Hellenes, looked like. "What are you looking at?" one of them asked. "At Hellenes," we replied. "Are you not Hellenes yourselves," he retorted. "No, we are Romans." [p.42]

It is extraordinary to think that, 459 years after the Fall of Constantinople, Roman identity still persisted in the minds of Greek speaking children.

The Myth of Spelling "Correctly"

Despite all the excellent and salutary features of Kaldellis's book, there are a couple of curious features. His practice, with some thoroughness, is to transcribe names from Greek rather than giving English or Latinized equivalents. Thus, we get "Ioannes" for "John," "Konstantinos" for "Constantine" or "Constantinus" (a Latin name in origin -- but Kaldellis uses "Constantine" for Constantine I, as he does "Trajan" for Traianus, but "Innocentius" for Popes named "Innocent"), and, more confusingly, "Porphyrios" and "Aischylos" for the philosopher and tragedian otherwise known to all as "Porphyry" and "Aeschylus," respectively. Even a very literate reader could be excused for wondering for a moment who this "Aischylos" fellow is. Thus, Richard Burton says, "When a term is incorporated in our tongue, I refuse to follow the purist and mortify the reader by startling innovation" [The Book of The Thousand Nights and a Night, Volumes I & II, The Heritage Press, 1934, 1962, p.xiii].

As I discuss below, Warren Treadgold uses English and Latinized forms in contrast to those who themselves transliterate Greek in order "to force acceptance of a sharp break between Rome and Byzantium on those who disagree with them." Now, Anthony Kaldellis is quite the opposite of anyone who wants to promote "a sharp break between Rome and Byzantium," so he must have his own reasons for this practice. Since Kaldellis and Treadgold apparently know each other -- Kaldellis thanks Treadgold in his Preface [p.xi]; and Treadgold thanks Kaldellis, for reading his manuscript, in his own most recent book, The Early Byzantine Historians [Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, 2010, p.xiv] -- they should get together about this. It is indeed Treadgold's approach that bespeaks the connection and the continuity between the Latinophone and Graecophone parts of the Roman Empire, as well as the historical practice in English usage of adapting Greek words by way of their Latin transcription. Kaldellis should take that to heart.

We get some notion of Kaldellis's thinking about transliteration in his book The Christian Parthenon, Classicism and Pilgrimage in Byzantine Athens [Cambridge, 2009]. Kaldellis says:  "Byzantine names are not Latinized or Anglicized but spelled correctly, except where they would not be easily recognized" [p.xiii, bolface added]. "Correctly"? Is there a "correct" way, or a single "correct" way, to transcribe Greek? Certainly not.

An excellent example of the deficiency of Kaldellis's "correctness" is the surname of the princess historian Anna Comnena, which in Greek is Κομνηνή and is written "correctly," by people like Anthony Kaldellis, as "Komnene." In Latin and English, of course, we see "Comnena" -- in French, "Comnène." However, what makes "Komnene" into something "correct"? Does it enable us to reconstruct the Greek spelling? No. It does not do that because we have no clue whether the "o's" and "e's" are long or short, which are different letters in Greek. Does it show us where the accent goes, and which accent that would be? No. So in the form of "Komnene," what language does this fit with, in its spelling and phonology? Unfortunately, that is the German language -- what Mark Twain called "The Awful German Language" [1880]. Not Greek. Not Latin. Not French. Not English. German.

I discuss this issue at length elsewhere, with special attention to the German origins of such practice as we see in Kaldellis. There is inevitably some duplication with the treatment on this page. However, the more limited discussion here includes the extraordinary, and indeed absurd, claim of Kaldellis that in his practice the words are "spelled correctly." Just how this is absurd merits some study, beyond even the critical ambiguities I have noted in names like "Komnene."

Warren Treadgold himself lists four different ways of transliterating Greek [A History of the Byzantine State and Society, Stanford, 1997, p.xxii]. The basic challenge is that the Greek alphabet contains more letters than the Latin alphabet. One must therefore have recourse to digraphs and diacritics to preserve the distinctions in Greek orthography. Traditional renderings of Greek words into Latin have the virtue that there is indeed a "correct" way to do it. But information is lost, as it also is in most possible systems of general transliteration. I have seen authors use circumflexes to indicate the letters eta and omega, as I do. Neither Kaldellis nor Treadgold do this in any systematic way -- for instance in Hellenism in Byzantium, Kaldellis writes romiosyne instead of rōmiosynē [p.42], but then in The Christian Parthenon we get kainē didachē (the "New Teaching") [p.55]. And I have seen no system in academic use that indicates accents, which are an essential part of Greek orthography. If I want to show the presence of eta, omega, and accents, as on the pages at this site dealing with Greek, I must choose between using a circumflex to mark an eta or omega or using the acute or grave where those are the accents that go on the eta or omega -- or using Unicode forms, which I have begun to do. Without Unicode, this is frustrating enough that it is relief to just use the Latinized or Anglicized form.

Nor does Kaldellis always observe his own proviso, "except where they would not be easily recognized." Apart from the cases I have already noted above, "St. Georgios" for "St. George" or "Gregorius" for "Gregory" introduce the potential for lack of recognition and moments of confusion. It is certainly not a transparent usage. Yet is the insistance on Latin forms for names that are familiar in English (e.g. "Innocentius" & "Gregorius") also a function of "spelling correctly"? Kaldellis himself spells "Athens" and "Constantinople" quite correctly, given that these are the forms of the names in English. The issue is a very different one from dilemmas about transcribing Greek. It begins to look like we have a scholar with a penchant for the esoteric, which is very unfortunate given the valuable and revolutionary nature of Kaldellis's work.

Note on Transliteration

The Pronunciation of Greek

Κομνηνή, Komnene, and Comnena

Kaldellis makes use of analysis devices from deconstruction and post-modern literary criticism. He does this sparingly and sensibly and does not inflict on us references from Michel Foucault or other deconstructionist luminaries. We do get some quotes from Nietzsche, without much indication whether Kaldellis really agrees with the "slave morality" condemnation of Christian ethics -- although he does say of one of Nietzsche's characterizations of Roman success and durability, "He meant this as an attack on Christianity, which shows that he knew nothing of Byzantium" [p.394]. Indeed, Christian Romania endured more than twice as long as the pagan Roman Empire, and Nietzsche seems to be no more sensible of than are the majority of general historians.

Where Kaldellis does offend good judgment is with recourse to trendy political ideology when he addresses the Fourth Crusade:  "In April 1204 the fourth wave of European colonialism in the Levant seized the capital of Romania" [p.334]. "European colonialism"? This an absurdly anachronistic and tendentious expression. Perhaps the Crusaders oppressed the workers also -- well, yes, since the peasants "were enslaved by a racist feudal order" [p.346]. John C. Calhoun must have had something to do with it. The Crusaders, indeed, would have liked in general a bit more colonization, since they were constantly desperate for manpower. People on Crusade tended to go home after a while. To be sure, there are innocent senses in which we could call Outremer a "colony" of Francia; but an expression like "European colonialism" reminds us of Lenin, not of Richard the Lionheart. And, when Nicephorus I began to repopulate Greece, after it was overwhelmed with Slavs, with colonies from Anatolia, does Kaldellis call this "colonialism"? Similarly, when Nicephorus II Phocas colonized Armenians and other Christians into the newly liberated Cilicia (Lesser Armenia), was this "colonialism"? Certainly there is going to be no love lost over the Crusades on the part of anyone sympathetic with the history and civilization of Romania; but doesn't it, perhaps, complicate things a little when the Crusades were in part inspired by the plea for help of Alexius Comnenus against the Turks? Wasn't Alexius asking for a bit of "imperialism" or "colonialism" on his own behalf? And didn't Venice, Romania's own prodigal daughter, have something to do with the Fourth Crusade? All of these questions cloud the Leftist dogmatism and self-righteousness that are implied by the expression "European colonialism." Kaldellis should know better.

The Empire That Would Not Die,
The Paradox of Eastern Roman Survival, 640-740
by John Haldon [Harvard, 2016]

I had not yet finished reading this book when I posted several first impressions here. After finishing the book, these will do for a final judgment. The first of the first impressions is the quote that begins the Introduction of the book:

In this year [740], in the month of May, indiction 8, Souleiman invaded the Roman country with 90,000 men under four commanders... [p.1]

This is from the unaltered Mango-Scott translation of the Chronicle of Theophanes [Haldon's note 1, Introduction, p.301; Mango-Scott, p.571, Theophanes for year AM 6231, AD 738/9, noted as AD 740]. I have already discussed Cyril Mango, his attitude, and his translation above in this note. What is striking about this quote, for my purposes here, is that it is an example of Mango and Scott taking Ῥωμανία from the Greek of Theophanes and translating it "the Roman country," which they do throughout their translation. For all the reasons that John Haldon (an editor of The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies) would have for using this quote, could one of them possibly be to advertise that the name "Romania" is not going to occur anywhere in his book? Since Haldon's book has been written since the discussion of "Romania" by Kaldellis, and it cites even the recent Byzantine Republic by Kaldellis, it is not like Haldon is going to be unaware that "Romania" can be used and cited in a natural way by Byzantinists. But he says, and does, nothing about it. Nevertheless, as in some other cases we've seen, "Romania" sneaks in by way of another translation (p.121; from the Pseudo-Methodius Apocalypse).

As it happens, Haldon does seem a little uncomfortable with "Byzantium." Thus, on page 4, we get the first use of the term "Byzantine Empire," which Haldon glosses by saying, "better described, in fact, as the medieval Eastern Roman Empire." He doesn't say why it is "better described," but we do get a footnote:

There is a debate around the use of this term [i.e. "Eastern Roman Empire"], too, of course. See the discussion and survey of the debate in Stouraitis 2014. [note 4, Introduction, p.301]

"Stouraitis 2014" means:

Stouraitis, I. 2014. "Roman identity in Byzantium: A critical approach." BZ 107: 175-220 [p.404]

And "BZ" means the Byzantinische Zeitschrift [p.297]. So that clears that up. Except, of course, that it doesn't, since Haldon himself has not actually offered any discussion either of "Byzantine Empire" or "Eastern Roman Empire." He has sent us to go hunting through Byzantinist journals in German (although this article itself looks to be in English). So if Haldon is at all uncomfortable with "Byzantine Empire" and is determined never to let the name "Romania" issue from his pen, he tells us absolutely nothing about why this would be, or why he prefers "Eastern Roman Empire." Obviously, he would rather not get into it.

Nevertheless, this looks like some kind of progress, as does the title of his book, the evocative The Empire That Would Not Die, about the all but miracuous survival of Romania in the 7th and early 8th centuries. Haldon seems to be an Old School Byzantinist, in the History Department at Princeton University. His Introduction is dense with methodological discussion that sometimes leaves me wondering what the historical subject of the book may be; and he assures us of his progressive bona fides by using the term "praxis" and quoting Karl Marx [p.20]. We are perhaps going to hear about the class struggle of the oppressed masses in Mediaeval Romania -- which is something we don't quite get even from Anthony Kaldellis in his more radical moments.

These are shibboleths of the modern Academy, but the irony is that Haldon's quote from Marx, that "Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please," is something that, as a practical matter ("praxis" there), most Marxists actually don't believe. Communists and Democrats both tend to think that, since history and human nature can be anything, they can make it be whatever they want right now. But Marx saw history as a long process of Dialectic, in which "they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves," where given circumstances are conditiones sine qua non for the particular kinds of changes that are possible at that stage. So, when Stalin wanted socialism without the required experience of the capitalist mode of production, he figured that it could be done simply by killing enough people. No Communist ever thought better of that, while Democrats think that the laws, regulations, and legal sanctions that they pass will accomplish just whatever they want, even when they obviously don't. Since Haldon will be explaining why Romania survived the Arab Conquest, there will necessarily be some story to tell about the resilence and strength of Roman peasants, production, resources, and institutions, without which resistance would have been futile, despite the oppression -- the classism and sexism -- imposed on the masses.

With "Eastern Roman Empire" we are just one word away from what the Ῥωμαῖοι called themselves and their nation. And we might charitably concede that "Eastern," which was used by no contemporaries, is simply a way of avoiding confusion between the City of Rome and the Empire of Romania, which is the on-going problem of all this terminology in English. What we get in the rest of the book, I will see; but we already know that Haldon will not take advantage of the availability of "Romania."

Another curious case in Haldon's book is a usage he employs rather than avoids. Thus, when Haldon turns to consider the Christological controveries of the time, he consistently speaks of the "Miaphysite" rather than "Monophysite" theology [starting at p.35]. Now, I have discussed elsewhere in these pages how "Miaphysite" is a neologism coined in Coptic and Syrian Orthodox apologetics to replace the traditional term "Monophysite." Haldon has no discussion about this and gives us no hint that anything but "Miaphysite" has ever been used. "Monophysitism" occurs in the Index, but with no more than a reference to "miaphysitism." When we realize that standard Byzantine histories, as late as Treadgold's A History of the Byzantine State and Society [1997], have never used the term "Miaphysite," and that in fact John Haldon's own even more recent edited Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies [2008] is in this category, with no mention of "Miaphysite," Haldon's avoidance of explanation for his usage is peculiar and, really, improper. He springs on the reader an innovation without an account of its origin or the reason for its usage.

I have previously encountered "Miaphysite" in recent scholarship. In the Theodora, Actress, Empress, Saint, by David Potter [Oxford, 2015], Potter says: the decades after Chalcedon, an increasingly bitter divide split the Church between, on one hand, the mostly Syrian and Egyptian theologians who maintained the single divine nature of Christ -- hence their identification as "Miaphysites" or "Monophysites," in much modern scholarship -- and supporters of the Council's decision, who were largely found in Anatolia, Palestine, and the empire's western provinces. [pp.19-20]

Here Potter implies that all dissenters to Chalcedon believed in "the single divine nature of Christ" and that terms like "Miaphysite" and "Monophysite" are modern and interchangeable. This is wrong in several ways, since the "Hesitant" Monophysites thought that the one nature was both divine and human, while "Miaphysite" has been introduced precisely to affirm this and to deny the "Eutychian" form of monism, that the one nature was entirely divine, which the Copts and Syrian Orthodox think "Monophysite" only meant.

While David Potter himself seems confused about the history and meaning of "Miaphysite" and "Monophysite," John Haldon leaves us entirely unable to estimate his understanding of the matter. The closest we get is the statement in a footnote about "...those who thought that he [Christ] was of one nature with the divinity ("miaphysitism"), the creed that came to dominate in much of Syria, Egypt, and Armenia" [p.308]. This clarifies nothing about the varieties of Monophysite belief and, with the use of "miaphysitism" in this way, implies that all Monophysite doctrine was of the "Miaphysite" form, i.e. Hestitant Monophysitism. This is incorrect, as well as, with the use of the neologism, anachronistic.

Why would John Haldon obscure and even misrepresent both the substrance and the terminology used in this matter? In the modern Academy, I fear, we can suspect the worst. Haldon may use "Miaphysite" because it is politically correct, and it is politically correct because it is the term used by modern Monophysites themselves, the Copts, Syrian Orthodox, and Armenians, which means that they have a proprietary claim to the usage, to which others must conform without objection or criticism, lest they be accused of cultural "insensitivity" or even racism, which is the Academic kiss of death.

I kid you not. Haldon may well judge that the grip of the sensitivity enforcers is such that he needs to buckle under, without objection or even explanation. As under Stalin, "Monophysite" has become a kind of "un-person," which disappears from the academic lexicon in place of "Miaphysite," which itself everyone then pretends has always been there. Haldon's treatment gives us no reason to think otherwise. The day may come when eager functionaries of the thought police go over every copy of Byzantine histories and run a black marker through every occurrence of the words "Monophysite" or "Monophysitism" in the old texts. This was literally a full time job for many in the Soviet Union. At least it only kills words and knowledge, rather than people -- it is not yet "The Commissar Vanishes" at American universities -- although we must remember the maxim of Heinrich Heine, that "Where one burns books, in the end one will burn people" (Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen, 1820).

You may laugh, but it is getting to the point where no folly in Academic culture should surprise anyone. At a time when the infamous professor at the University of Missouri, Melissa Click, could call for "some muscle" to eject student reporters from a public space of their own university, to conceal whatever it was that she and her thugs were doing, the idea that John Haldon would delete essential historical discussion for the sake of politically correct "cultural sensitivity" is not extraordinary at all.

Another odd thing in Haldon's book is his treatment of the themes, θέματα, themata. These were the administrative and military districts that resulted when elements of the Roman Army were settled on the land, initially and principally in Anatolia. It was originally thought that this was accomplished by Heraclius, since it was during his time that Roman Armies were thrown back from their original stations in Syria and Mespotamia. However, there was no direct, documentary evident of this, and opinion began to shift that the full structure of the themes was not instituted until the time of Constans II.

Now Haldon says about Constans II:

He has been attributed with the foundation of the so-called theme system, but there is no more evidence to support that than there is to support the older contention that the emperor Heraclius was responsible. [p.43]

OK (Haldon had said much the same thing on p.35), perhaps that happened later. But between the use of the expression "so-called theme system" and the actual absence of "themes" in the Index, one wonders if Haldon has developed some kind of animus against the themes, whose existence and importance cannot otherwise be doubted, since they replace the older Roman provinces for both civilian and military administrative purposes for the rest of the history of Romania, or at least down to the Fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade.

What is then odd about his practice and historical claim is that Haldon uses names of the themes subsequently in the text, but avoids calling them "themes." Thus, we get a reference to troops "from the Anatolikon division" [p.45], to "the commander of the Anatolikon forces, Leo, together with the commander of the Armeniakon division" [p.52], to "the Opsikion and Armeniakon regions" [p.51], to "the soldiers of the Opsikion division" [p.52], and to "the officers and soldiers of the Helladic military division" [p.55].

Now, neither "division" nor "region" are words (both Latinate) from the history of Romania; and the natural thing to call the Anatolikon, Armeniankon, Opsikion, and Helladic "divisions" is what they will indeed be called, at some point, namely "themes." If Haldon is going to refer to the military "divisions" of this era, but denies that they are yet themes, he is under some obligation to tell us what they were then called in contemporary accounts. But he does not do that; and it leaves whatever is going on here mysterious. Since "themes" is not in the Index, we may never get an explanation from him.

Indeed, we start to get the impression that Haldon is drifting towards an assertion that there were never any "themes," and that somehow this terminology has all been made up by modern historians (like "Byzantine Empire"?). There seems to me no other explanation for his using terms like "division" and "region" for political units for which there is no more appropriate term than "themes."

But Haldon plays this game without making the ultimate logical assertion, possibly because it would be absurd. We know that there were θέματα because that is the word that the Romans used, not the least in the treatise by Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus called Περὶ Θεμάτων Ἀνατολῆς καὶ Δύσεως, the De Thematibus, i.e. On the Themes of East [Anatolia] and West [nominative Δύση].

It is the Porphyrogenitus, the "older contention" in Haldon's words, who said that the themes began with Heraclius. Now, since Heraclius lived three hundred years earlier, there is room to doubt this claim. However, the Porphyrogenitus was also in a position to have a lot more information about this than survives for us. We know that the state documents of Romania were almost entirely lost in the disasters of 1204 or 1453, at least. Arguing passionately about when the themes started being called "themes" thus seems more than a little silly. And avoiding the common sense of the topic and in practice avoiding the use of the term "theme," while failing to mention the use of the term by the Romans themselves, as does Haldon, is ridiculous. We might well wonder what his problem is.

As it happens, the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium says that the Opsician Theme, Θέμα Ὀψικίου, is "perhaps attested in 626" and "certainly existed by 680" [Volume III, OUP, 1991, p.1528]. The former actually is in the reign of Heraclius, the latter that of Constantine IV. Haldon may not like the evidence cited by the Oxford Dictionary, but he could say so.

Thus, between "Romania," "Miaphysite," and the themes, Haldon adds one unexplained usage to another, which does not seem like the right idea in such a book. In philosophy as well in history, scholars may enjoy the avoidance of ad rem argumention by citing some other scholar who has settled everything, but Haldon can hardly think that in these matters anything has really been settled by anyone. He avoids giving us enough information to know what is going on in any of these cases. This is not a "best practice" for a historian.

"Rhomaios," The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Volume III, edited by Alexander P. Kazhdan & Alice-Mary Talbot [Oxford, 1991, p.1793]

The majesterial, three volume Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium has no entry for "Romania" where we might expect it, namely as "RHOMANIA," with a convention of Greek transcription. It does have an entry for "Romania" [Volume III, p.1805]. It fails to give the Greek version of the name, Ῥωμανία, which is anomalous, given its practice to give words in Greek, including the Greek name of Ravenna, Ῥάβεννα; and we might come away from the entry with the impression that the name was mainly used in Latin. Thus, the endonymic use of Ῥωμανία is suppressed, as we see elsewhere, and I am reminded of Judith Herrin explicitly stating that "Romania" was "a western name for the empire."

The Dictionary does have an entry for "Rhomaios" (or "RHOMAIOS"), helpfully giving the Greek original, Ῥωμαῖος. What it says in this entry is curious:

When -- from Themistios [a rhetorician, c.317-c.388] onward -- Constantinople came to be called Second, Eastern, or New Rome... the population of the Eastern Empire became "Romans."

The idea here seems to be that the people of the East, who had been Roman Citizens since the Constitutio Antoniniana of 212, and who were not politically separated from the West until Diocletian's division of the Empire in 286, nevertheless were not called "Romans" in Greek until the founding of Constantinople and the rhetoric of Themistios. This is absurd.

The editors have failed to notice that such an assertion is already falsified by the New Testament, where St. Paul, both a Jew and a Roman Citizen himself, is simply called a Ῥωμαῖος [Acts 22:25-28], well before 212, 286, or Themistios -- and, while we say "Roman Citizen" and the Vulgate civis romanus at Acts 22:26, the Greek text has no word there for "citizen" (civis). So he is just, as might be translated, a "Roman." The editors scruple to distinguish Greek usage from eras when the Empire and the City of Rome were separate, but they fail to note that as long as Law, Government, and the Army used Latin in Constantinople, the records will perforce show Romani instead of Ῥωμαῖοι. But reading the texts in Latin, and turning to speak in Greek, anyone for many decades before "Byzantium" would naturally say Ῥωμαῖος.

So what is up with the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium? Well, it is the project with which we are now well familiar of denying the Roman identity of those Greek "Byzantines." Here the remarkable principle is that Roman Citizens in the East were not Ῥωμαῖοι until Constantine. This is the folly in which the historian is led by the insensible, or explicit, adoption of false or dishonest principles. The tribune should have told St. Paul, "You can't be a Roman! You are in the Greek speaking part of the Empire, without a Greek Capital to call your own!" So you're really, well, something. A Greek? A Jew? I don't know. But the sign and stigma of this sin is the degraded entries and discussions of Ῥωμαῖος and Ῥωμανία, while the suppression of the latter after Peter Brown is historiographic misconduct.

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Philosophy of History


"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 9

The seat of the Roman Empire is Constantinople... Therefore you are the legitimate Emperor of the Romans... And he who is and remains Emperor of the Romans is also Emperor of the whole earth.

George of Trebizond, Γεώργιος ὁ Τραπεζούντιος (1395-1472/73), to Meḥmed II the Conqueror, 1466

This striking quote originates with Philip Mansel, Constantinople, City of the World's Desire, 1453-1924 [John Murray, London, 1995, p.1]. Mansel, however, does not give a reference for it, only giving us the clue of "to Mehmed the Conqueror, 1466." Now, George of Trebizond did write a number of things, including letters, addressed to Meḥmed II. John Monfasani says that one of them is "entitled On the Eternal Glory of the Autocrat and his World Empire and was written in 1467 as George sailed home from Constantinople after having failed to see Mehmed II" [George of Trebizond, A Biography and a Study of His Rhetoric and Logic, E.J. Brill, 1976, p.132]. However, in his subsequent Collectanea Trapezuntiana, Texts, Documents, and Bibliographies of George of Trebizond [Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, State University of New York at Binghamton, 1984], Manfasani says, "George wrote this treatise to Meḥmed II in April 1466, aboard ship, sailing back to Italy from Constantinople" [p.492].

Thus, by the date, it looks like Mansel can only have meant On the Eternal Glory of the Autocrat and his World Empire, Περὶ τῆς ἀϊδίας τοῦ αὐτοκράτορος δόξης καὶ τῆς κοσμοκρατορίας αὐτοῦ. While the ideology of On the Eternal Glory is certainly consistent with the Mansel quote, I am finding it very hard to identify the specific statements that constitute the three parts of the quote. These may be paraphrases.

Also, there are other texts where George expresses similar sentiments, first On the Truth of the Faith of Christians to the Emir when he stormed Constantinople, Περὶ τῆς ἀληθείας τῆς τῶν χριστιανῶν πίστεως πρὸς τὸν ἀμιρᾶν, κατὰ τὸν χρόνον ἐν ᾧ ἕαλω παρ᾽ αὐτοῦ ἡ Κωνσταντίνου (also called Epistula ad Mehmed II de fide christianorum in Latin, 1453), and second On the Divinity of Manuel (1467), which is appended to On the Eternal Glory by George himself in 1469 [cf. Monfasani, Collectanea Trapezuntiana, p.564]. Mansel may have looked at these other works and confused them with the treatise of 1466. In any case, it would have been nice if he had been more explicit and specific with his citation.

When it comes to George himself, he is clearly writing with the hope that Meḥmed II will convert to Christianity, particularly to the Catholicism that, despite his Greek origin, he professes. Since he rather expects that the Turks will go on to conquer Italy and Rome, he has great hopes that Meḥmed, fulfilling various prophecies, will restore universal Roman rule in a Christian Empire. Of course, Meḥmed didn't convert to Christianity. Nor did he make any effort to conquer Italy or Rome. Ultimately, in 1565, Süleymān I went after Malta, but his spectacular siege failed.

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"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 10;
Stamboul and İstanbul

I hear from Phoevos Panagiotidis, in the Department of Language and Linguistics at the University of Essex (Aug 29, 1998), that the Modern Greek "Stamboul," Σταμβούλ, is derived from the Turkish "İstanbul," not the other way around. Panagiotidis says that:

In detail: Greeks shortened Constantinoupolis to "Polis" (plainly "City") as early as the 11th century (we have that satirical poem about the multitude of ethnicities in the streets of "Polis"). The mainstream theory has it that Turks mistook "Is tin Polin" [εἰς τὴν πόλιν] ("to the City", pronounced /Istimbolin/) to be the actual name of the city.

This derivation of the Turkish name Panagiotidis regards as no more than a folk etymology (although it is already found in William Smith, p.659). Panagiotidis says:

Now, as a linguist, I see two arguments against that:
  1. How come we got this /i/ ---> /a/ ("Istimbol" ---> İstanbul). This should trouble anyone who knows the odd thing about the phenomenon of "vowel harmony" in Turkish (it should sound something like "Istönbul" or "Istenbul").
  2. Why mistake the expression "to the city" as a name? This fits in perfectly with the Ottoman (yes!) and Greek stereotype that Turks are stupid, but this is nowhere close to science...

Since I am not a real Byzantinist, I am not familiar with the primary sources for what I have cited in the text. However, the thesis that "Stamboul" comes from Turkish "İstanbul" is possible, but there are reasons why it seems unlikely, and not just because the "mainstream" explanation for "İstanbul" looks far too much like a folk etymology, relying in part, as Panagiotidis says, on the confusion or stupidity of the Turks in hearing the Greek language.

In the first place, "İstanbul" (with the dotted "i") bears the unmistable mark of being a borrowed name, since it violates Turkish vowel harmony. Panagiotidis is aware of a vowel harmony problem but has not got the vowel harmony rules quite right, since to truly follow them "İstanbul" would have to be "İstenbil." "İstanbul" breaks two rules, since it has back vowels (a & u) following a front vowel (i) -- front vowels must follow front vowels -- and it has a rounded vowel (u) following an unrounded vowel (a) -- only unrounded vowels followed unrounded vowels. These violations are characteristic of borrowings into Turkish, not of native Turkish coinages. Also, prefixing an "i" to avoid an initial consonant cluster of "st" is characteristic of Arabic (and Spanish), not any of the other languages involved here. Greek obviously doesn't do it.

Thus, the choices are that "İstanbul" is borrowed from either Greek or from the standard classical sources of Turkish borrowing, Persian and Arabic -- it is in Arabic, with the emphatic "t," a consonant that does not exist in Persian or Turkish, or , without -- although "" does get used in native Turkish words, perhaps unsystematically. Also, we might think that only Arabic would convert the omicron in πόλιν into a "u." Turkish doesn't need to do that, since it has the "o" that Arabic doesn't. But if the Turkish name is borrowed from Arabic, then it obviously is not borrowed from Greek, however incompetent Turks may be in understanding that language. The folk etymology is inconsistent with the nature of the word.

Another sign that the εἰς τὴν πόλιν explanation is a folk etymology is the function apparently attributed to the Greek preposition εἰς, "to." Why would this be regarded as a reasonable source for "is" in "İstanbul"? Anyone unaware of the prohibition in Arabic of initial consonant clusters like "st" would think that the presence of the "i" needs some kind of explanation in Greek. Since it doesn't, and such an initial "i" is common in Arabic, we have a clue that the origin of the folk etymology is with people unfamiliar with Arabic phonology and with the large vocabulary that Turkish had borrowed from Arabic and Persian -- not to mention that "İstanbul," by violating vowel harmony cannot be an originally Turkish word.

To address Panagiotidis's other points, it is not surprising that the major city of Romania should be called "the City," ἡ Πόλις (hē Polis). This is not an abbreviation of the city's name -- indeed, Anna Comnena abbreviates the name by calling the city ἡ Κωνσταντίνου, "the Constantine's [using the genitive]." People around San Francisco Bay refer to San Francisco itself as "the City." On the other hand, "Constantinopolis" is a name that is so long as to beg for abbreviation. In the past, "San Francisco" was reduced to "Frisco" (though these days that name is out of favor in the city itself, and not even much elsewhere). Similarly, "Philadelphia" is still commonly called, by one and all, "Philly" -- and no one seems to think that this is beneath the dignity of Philadelphia, which has considerably more grounds to claims of dignity, if not beauty, than San Francisco.

"Stamboul" is an obvious parallel to "Frisco," preserving a large fragment of "Con-stan-tino-pol-is." The assimilation of the "n" to the "p," as "m" (labialized), and of the "p" to the "n" as "b" (voiced), is not surprising for Greek. "Frisco" is similarly produced by dropping segments:  "San Fr-ans-isco." A parallel to the modern local disdain for "Frisco" might be the view reflected by the folk etymology that Σταμβούλ is not really Greek.

A linguistic objection might be made that the ου, "ou" (Greek ū) in "Stamboul" shows that it is not originally Greek. A real Greek abbreviation should be "Stambol." The "ou" might suggest instead that the Greek name indeed derived from Turkish or Arabic, since Arabic, which did not originally have an "o," renders Greek "o's" as "u's" (Turkish itself has an "o" but often ends up, as we have seen, with a "u" borrowed from Arabic)-- and Arabic, as we have seen, is where the device of adding "i" to an initial "st" cluster comes from.

There could also be an objection that Σταμβούλ ends in a consonant, λ, "l," that one does not otherwise find at the end of Greek words, unless they are borrowed, without any of the endings that one expects to find in nouns declined according to the rules of Greek grammar. However, we also see the name of the Emperor Manuel, Μανουήλ, about which the same objections could be made, without any possibility of being borrowed from Turkish.

This all, however, would simply move the abbreviation question back a step. It would mean that there was an Arabic abbreviation. Was the Arabic name based on a Greek abbreviation? Etc. But the answer to the "ou" may have been suggested by Panagiotidis himself, who uses, in passing, the Mediaeval and Modern Greek version of Constantinople, Konstantinoupolis. This is based, not the Classical Greek combining form, -o-, but on the uncombined hē Konstantinou Polis, ἡ Κωνσταντίνου Πόλις, "the City of Constantine." This gets us an "ou" immediately adjacent to "po," and it could well transpose into the place of the "o." Since it is reasonable to expect that, over the course of a thousand years, there was some Greek abbreviation of Constantinople, "Stamboul" could well be it. Other candidates? No.

Since the name "Manuel" is borrowed from the Bible, we might by the same token say that Σταμβούλ must have been borrowed too, either from Arabic or Turkish. However, our only worry about "Stamboul" may be that its form doesn't look Greek. Names like "Manuel," on the other hand, may have just created familiarity with such a form, through which "Stamboul" is accepted in colloquial language.

An interesting light on all this may come from an engraving of 1635, which is a view of the İstanbul skyline from up behind Galata. A Turkish colleague of mine had this displayed in his home; and after I expressed such admiration for it, he actually made a copy for me. The text is in Latin and German. The title in Latin is Constantinopolitanae Urbis Effigies, ad vivum expressa, quam Turcae Stampoldam vocant. Here we do actually have the vowel "o," which, with the absence of the prefixed "i," and a Latin inflection, makes the name look more like what the city would be called in Greek, rather than in Turkish -- although the title says that it is called this by the Turks. And the "d" pops out of nowhere. Somebody was confused.

"Constantinople" in Greek and Latin

How Constantinople got its names, Κωνσταντινούπολις in Greek and Constantinopolis in Latin, and "New Rome" in both -- ἡ νέα Ῥώμη, Nova Roma -- is a good question. The curious thing about Constantinopolis is that it uses a Greek grammatical device, an "-o-" infix "composition vowel" (making an "o-stem"), to make a combined word that the Greek form actually does not use [cf. on compounds, Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Grammar, Harvard University Press, 1966, §872, p.247]. In Greek, the genitive of "Constantine," Κωνσταντινού, is used to make the combined word. Putting an inflected word into a compound is something I have not seen in Classical Greek, although my familiarity with the language is, admittedly, limited.

Actually, the genitive there is anomalous. "Constantine" in the nominative is Κωνσταντῖνος, with a circumflex accent on the penultimate (second from the last) syllable. The genitive of that is Κωνσταντίνου, where the circumflex has been reduced to an acute accent because the final syllable is now long (a diphthong), and a circumflex cannot occur before a long vowel. Thus, even when written Greek was not leaving spaces between words (before the 9th century), we know that Κωνσταντινού was part of a compound, since, with two syllables in πόλις, an accent cannot occur before the last syllable in Konstantinou (and polis is missing an accent). Nevertheless, the occurrence of "Constantine" in the genitive makes me wonder about its relationship to the word in Latin. It looks like we never see forms like Constantinupolis (transcribing the Greek word -- note that Greek ου becomes "u" in Latin) or Constantinipolis (using the genitive in Latin). So someone was consciously using a Greek grammatical construction in Latin that was not being used for the word in Greek.

Much discussion of these names seems to go back to one 1947 article, "The Names of Constantinople," by Demetrius John Georgacas [Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 78, pp. 347-367]. Among other things, Georgacas repeats the folk etymology of "İstanbul" that Professor Panagiotidis wrote about above. Also, Georgacas says that "Βυζάντιον was used in the middle ages to designate the Byzantine Empire, κατὰ συνεκδοχήν [i.e. 'by synecdoche,' in which a part is used to mean the whole]" [p.348], which seems to be false in the analysis in all subsequent historians, and in all primary texts of which I am aware. Georgacas creates an explanation for a usage that didn't exist, mistaking a 16th century Western coinage for evidence of such use among Mediaeval Greek speakers -- although it is certainly in Modern Greek usage now. Neither of these inspires confidence in the value of the article.

However, Georgacas does cite early evidence of the proper (in both senses) names. Latin Constantinopolis occurs in the Theodosian Code of 438 AD and a little later in Cassiodorus. A valuable early reference to the names is in the Ecclesiastical History of Socrates of Constantinople (d.c.439), who was himself born in the City:

῾Κωνσταντινούπολιν᾽ μετονομάσας, "[The emperor] renamed [the city] 'Constantinople'," χρηματίζειν ῾δευτέραν Ῥώμην᾽ νόμῳ ἐκύρωσεν, "while decreeing by law [νόμῳ ἐκύρωσεν] that it be styled a 'second Rome' [δευτέρα Ῥώμη]." [Historia Eccesiastica, 1:16]

Here we have the Greek form of the name of the City with the inflected genitive. So it was used quite early. Roman law at the time, of course, was stated in Latin, as were the legends on the coins, so if a Latin form of Constantinople were in use, we should see it. From Constantine's own time, we don't -- although, as noted, Constantinopolis does occur in the Theodosian Code, from the last years of Socrates of Constantinople; and it may have been citing a law of Constantine himself. Also, "Constantinople" is abbreviated in the mint marks of Constantine's coins, but this does not then show us the whole form of the word.

There are contemporary references to Constantine naming the city after himself, a practice that was not unheard of in Roman history, as we see in Hadrianopolis, Ἁδριανούπολις, Adrianople, the City of Hadrian, quite close to Constantinople itself in Thrace (abbreviated to Edirne in Turkish). Since the law continued to be in Latin down to Justinian, who, after compiling his own epic Code of Roman law, which included edicts in Greeks, had some of the Latin translated into Greek (an innovation that drew criticism), we would not expect to see Κωνσταντινούπολις in such a context before then. Constantinopolis with the -o- stem was standard in Latin, as we see in Liutprand of Cremona, who writes about the Constantinopolitana urbs, the "Constantinopolitan city," in 949 AD.

According to Socrates of Constantinople, the "second" or "New Rome" was established by law. What I would like to know then is whether Constantinopolis originated in Latin, perhaps at the time of Constantine's legislation, or if someone decided to translate the name from (contemporaneous) Greek using the grammatical form that Greek itself had not used -- or if there was an early Greek version, perhaps unattested, as Κωνσταντινόπολις. Georgacas gives us some sources that use Κωνσταντινόπολις, but the earliest seems to be in the Chronicle of the Morea, from the 14th century (with information about Crusader States like the Princes of Achaea). This is rather late to bear on my question, and Georgacas even says that the -o- stem "gradually comes to the fore," so that Κωσταντινόπολι (losing a couple of consonants in Modern Greek) is "usual today" [p.356]. But if the -o- stem is so late, then Constantinopolis looks like an independent coinage.

We have a discussion in Two Romes, Rome and Constantinople in Late Antiquity by Lucy Grig and Gavin Kelly [Oxford, 2012] of "Whether Constantinople was called New or Second Rome" initially ["From Rome to Constantinople," p.11]. They cite Socrates of Constantinople himself for the expression "second Rome," δευτέρα Ῥώμη (altera Roma in Latin), but then they really don't see a significant difference between this and νέα Ῥώμη, "New Rome." As I have considered elsewhere, later we also see the original Rome called the "elder Rome," πρεσβυτέρα Ῥώμη, the "prior and lesser Rome," πρώτη καὶ ἥττων Ῥώμη, and even "great Rome," μεγάλη Ῥώμη -- despite Constantinople being the "later and stronger Rome," μετ’ ἐκείνην καὶ κρείττων Ῥώμη, according to Michael Psellus.

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"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 11;
Features of Constantinople

Some idea of the relative area of Constantinople can be taken from the following maps, which overlay Constantinople onto modern San Francisco and Manhattan. The overlay map is at left, where the walls (of Theodosius, Constantine, and Byzantium) and major roads and monuments shown, but not labelled. The waters of the Golden Horn and a rim of the Sea of Marmara are left opaque below, obscuring the modern cities underneath, which introduces a confusing element. However, the other open ground in Constantinople is left transparent. Directions are kept rectilinear, with North at top.

In San Francisco, the Great Walls of Theodosius can be seen running south from the West Yacht Harbor, through the Palace of Fine Arts, south-west across the Presidio, and south across Golden Gate Park, near the De Young Museum, down along approximately 9th or 10th Avenues, down well south of the University of California Medical Center. The Hippodrome and Acropolis area of Constantinople falls in the area of San Francisco south of Market Street and not far from the base of the Bay Bridge. The southern shore of Constantinople runs roughly from the south-east corner of Golden Gate Park east to the point where Interstate 80 breaks off from US 101. Then it sweeps off north-east past where I-280 now ends (its northern extension was demolished after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake). Chinatown falls in Galata.

In Manhattan, the Great Walls of Theodosius are shown beginning up around West 86th Street right at Riverside Drive. The Golden Horn goes south-east across Central Park along the 86th Street Traverse, hitting the East River and Roosevelt Island at about 74th Steet. The Hippodrome and Acropolis areas lie across the River in Brooklyn. The Great Walls would run south-west slightly into the Hudson River, then inland through the Chelsea District. The Golden Gate, near the southern end of the Walls, would lie right in the middle of Greenwich Village, very near the corner of West 4th and West 11th Streets (a little confusing -- West 4th curves up from Washington Square, while West 11th turns down at Greenwich Avenue). The Fifth Military Gate, where the Turks broke through in 1453, would be on the Hudson docks about even with 62nd Street.

To the Russians, Constantinople was Царьградь, Tsargrad, the "City of the Emperor" (the final "soft" sign, ь, was in Old Church Slavonic but is lost in modern Russian). Since the Ottomans replaced one emperor with another, the city actually endured as Tsargrad from 330, when it was dedicated by Constantine, to 1922, when the last Ottoman Sultān abdicated:  no less than 1592 years. Indeed, as late as World War I the Russians were still referring to the city as Tsargrad. Without the Ottomans, it endured 1123 years, until 1453.

This might be compared with the duration of the Papal States, which lasted from the Donation of Pepin in 754 until Rome was occupied by the Kingdom of Italy in 1870:  1116 years. If we count from the death of Constantine in 337 to 1453, the City lasted exactly 1116 years also.

Now İstanbul is just another large European city. The Pope, however, has had the Vatican, at least, back as a sovereign Papal State since 1929.

"Large European city" may now have a particular meaning of its own.
In the early 1990's, İstanbul was the fourth largest city in Europe, after Moscow, London, and Paris. Now, depending on how its population is counted, its has risen substantially in its ranking. Counting only the population of the city proper, it is the largest city in Europe (as it would have been as late as the 13th Century, and in 1600 and 1700) and the third largest city in the world.

However, because of the arbitrary nature of municipal boundaries, it is more common to count the population of the associated "urban area" of a city. The largest city in the world by urban area population is Tokyo (36,690,000, beyond 8,887,608); otherwise, for the city proper, it is Shanghai (17,836,133).
İstanbul Pogrom, anti-Greek riots, 6–7 September 1955

As of 2012, İstanbul proper has a population of 12,946,730, while together with its urban area this only rises to 13,275,000. In terms of the city proper, İstanbul beats Moscow (11,551,930), but in terms of urban area population, it falls somewhat behind Moscow (13,680,000) in Europe and is only 19th in the world. However, it still has grown well beyond the urban areas of Paris (10,485,000) and London (8,585,000). By comparison, Los Angeles proper has a population of 3,792,621 (51st in the world), while its whole "urban area" (packed between mountains, desert, and ocean) has one of 14,940,000 (15th in the world). New York City proper has a population of 8,175,133 (19th in the world), while its whole "urban area" has one of 20,710,000 (7th in the world). Thus, in urban area, New York and Los Angeles beat Moscow and İstanbul.

We see from the table that the Muslim population of Constantinople in 1914 was not even a majority. The rest of the population was Greek, Armenian, and even Jewish. And from the 1861 map at right, we see that most of the population of Thrace and of the litoral of the Sea of Marmara was Greek. This changed radically after World War I, when most of the Greek and Armenian population of Turkey was expelled or killed. The non-Turkish population of Constantinople, which became İstanbul in 1930, has fallen steadily over the years. The İstanbul Pogrom of 1955, which no longer had anything to do with World War I, heated things up, with attacks on the remaining Greeks, Armenians, and even Jews. More Greeks were expelled in 1958. By 1980, few were left; and the Patriarch would have begun to feel rather lonely. While Turkey was friendly with Israel, Turkish Jews were in fairly good shape --- I knew a Jew from Turkey in Beirut in 1969 -- but this has now changed, as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has turned away from Israel and towards Islamism, not to mention dictatorship.

Most of the population information here in the tables is from Constantinople, City of the World's Desire, 1453-1924, by Philip Mansel [John Murry, Hachette UK, 1995, 2006, pp.437-438]. Other numbers are from Wikipedia as of 2012.

Apart from its walls, another essential feature of the defense of Constantinople was probably its position at the southern mouth of the Bosporus (Βόσπορος). This is because of the strength of the current coming down the Strait. The Black Sea receives the outfall of many rivers, including the Danube, the Dnieper, and the Don, which are among the longest rivers of Europe -- the Danube is 1771 miles long, the Dnieper 1420 miles, and the Don 1200 miles. In comparison, the Rhine, the longest river within Francia, is 820 miles long (the Danube flows 705 miles through Francia before reaching Serbia). Indeed, the Dniester, which also flows into the Black Sea, and which we could take to form the boundary between Romania and Russia, is itself longer than the Rhine, at 850 miles. All of the drainage from these rivers that flow into the Black Sea, and is not lost through evaporation, then empties out through the Bosporus.

It is no wonder then that the average strength of the current in the Bosporus is 3 to 5 knots, up to 7 to 8 knots at its narrowest point -- only 700 meters wide. Given Mediaeval technology, these speeds are equal or greater than what ships could ordinarily do at top speed under sail. Coming down the Bosporus, and unfamiliar with the geography and the currents, ships could easily be carried beyond the entrance to the Golden Horn before realizing what they needed to do to enter the harbor.

The Golden Horn, Χρυσόκερας (genitive, Χρυσοκέρατος) -- adjective, χρυσόκερως (genitive, χρυσοκέρωτος), "having golden horns," is a splendid natural harbor; but the difficulties imposed by the currents, even for ships familiar with the waters, especially with contrary winds, may explain the presence of the small harbors on the south side of Constantinople, along the Sea of Marmara (Μαρμαρά, or Προποντίς, Propontis, in Antiquity and through the Middle Ages).

In 2005, excavating for a subway station, the Harbor of Theodosius (or of Eleutherios), the largest of the southern harbors, was uncovered. It turned out to be a treasure trove of sunken ships, whose fate may testify to the vulnerability of the southern harbors (including the Harbor of Julian of the Boukoleon Palace) to storms or tsunamis. These disasters, however, would have been rare in comparison to the daily challenges of sailing the Bosporus.

The speed of the Bosporus current would be a major help against attacks from the north, as with the earliest Varangians in 860. They were most likely to be swept past the harbor into the Sea of Marmara. Later Varangians, of course, would be familiar with the waters. But then even with them, as in the Russian attack of 1043, the Roman fleet had no difficulty emerging from the Golden Horn ready to fight and to defeat the enemy, probably warned by watchtowers and beacons along the Black Sea.

The whole Roman naval defense response must have been especially disconcerting to the Norsemen, who elsewhere dominated the seas and had little need to deal with enemy warships. There were otherwise no real navies organized against them -- naval establishments, which are capital intensive, could not be supported by cashless feudalism. And the Roman warships burned the Varangians and Russians with Greek Fire, as much a terror as flamethrowers in any war. Indeed, it does not look like such a weapon was ever used at sea again; but we can understand the necessity of its placement in ships that could be rowed, since flames in the air would pose great peril of self-inflicted fire to any ship under sail. Also, rowed ships were more maneuverable, especially in confined waters subject to contrary winds.

Perhaps more significantly, the currents of the Bosporus would raise hell with ships attempting to blockade Constantinople during a siege, from the Arab sieges of 674-677 and 717-718 to the final Ottoman siege of 1453. Sailing ships would find it all but impossible to keep station, while the crews of galleys, which could maneuver more easily, would quickly become exhausted. Thus we see the added importance for the Ottomans of dragging their ships overland into the Golden Horn. This allowed, not only for the investement of the City on three sides, but for a close blockade in the harbor. Nevertheless, we know that friendly ships came and went from Constantinople almost at will, probably docking in the harbors on the Marmara side.

While we have no details about the naval battles that were fought with the Arabs or the Varangians, we have information on a comparable engagement a world away. The Battle of Dan-no-Ura in 1185, was fought in the Kanmon Strait at Shimonoseki, between the major Japanese Islands of Honshu and Kyushu. Although no rivers were involved there, the tides funnel through the Strait, which is only 600 meters wide at its narrowest. When the tide changes, the waters become turbulent, and this played a role in the decisive outcome of the battle. We have no difficulty imagining equally embarrassing misadventures besetting enemies unfamiliar with the currents of the Bosporus.

Other noteworthy sieges, with winds and currents a factor, were against Gibraltar. Especially dramatic was the Great Siege of 1779 to 1783, during the American Revolutionary War, one of the longest such investments, if not the longest, in history (comparable to the 674-677 Arab siege against Constantinople). Although the Strait of Gibraltar is much wider than the Bosporus or the Kanmon, significant difficulties were involved:

Because of the westerly wind and the skill of Captain Fagg [of the privateer cutter Buck], the Spanish squadron had been forced beyond Gibraltar into the Mediterranean. They had been blackstrapped, a word derived from the rough local Spanish wine known as blackstrap (there is also a Blackstrap Cove on the eastern side of Gibraltar). For ships sailing westwards from the Mediterranean towards the Atlantic, conditions were especially difficult, and they could find themselves going backwards, which was why the Spanish squadron now had to wait for an easterly wind, as [Ensign John] Drinkwater explained: 'The rapidity of the superior current renders the passage from the Mediterranean to the westward very precarious and uncertain, as ships never can stem the stream without a brisk Levanter, or easterly wind. Vessels, therefore, are often detained weeks, and sometimes months, waiting for a favourable breeze.' [Gibraltar, The Greatest Siege in British History, by Roy and Lesley Adkins, Viking, 2017, p.79]

It was later discovered that a counter-current, passing westwards through the Strait of Gibraltar, flowed at depth under the surface current. This aided German submarines in World War II, which could pass out of the Medterranean with greater concealment, although still in danger from British anti-submarine forces at Gibraltar. Eastward bound submarines, however, necessarily closer to the surface, were in greater danger, as we see well illustrated in the fine German movie Das Boot [1981], where such damage is sustained, nearly fatal, that the submarine was required to turn back to port in France.

These details of navigation that we see in one paragraph in the book about Gibraltar is something whose kind I do not believe I have ever seen in histories by Byzantinists. Of course, if there is nothing about it in the works of the Mediaeval historians, the Modern writers are at a disadvantage. Investigation on the spot would be required, not only of sailors familiar with the waters now but even of those who still ply the area under sail for pleasure. Indeed, the experience of the latter, passing to and fro in relation to local destinations, would be of the greatest general value. To Byzantinists who are recreational sailors, I recommend that this skill and enthusiasm be exploited in the waters around İstanbul.

The Strait of Messina between Sicily and the mainland also has strong currents, ranging from 2.5 knots up to 4.5 knots. There is even a whirlpool on the Sicily side. The dangers of this passage led to its being remembered as between the monsters Scylla and Charybdis in the Odyssey. The main current is north to south, but a smaller current runs south to north about every six hours. These are called "tidal" currents. I find that puzzling. I understand that there are no tides in the Mediterranean. I lived for year in Beirut and certainly didn't notice or hear about any tides. I gather there are differences between the Tyrrenian Sea in the north and the Ionian Sea in the south, and tides within them are said to alternate. There are also differences in salinity due to differences in evaporation rates. I would like to see more explanation of this. Nevertheless, passage through the Strait was always difficult enough, under oar or sail, even though, at 1.6 nautical miles wide, the passage is much wider that the Bosporus or the Kanmon Strait.

The position of Constantinople in terms of travel and commerce changes over time. It was never as central or as important as it was in its heyday in the Middle Ages. In terms of the Ancient World of the Mediterranean, the position of the City looks a bit like a backwater. Most trade and travel is back and forth in the Mediterranean, with some daring forays out into the Atlantic and down the Red Sea (all the way to India, actually), while the Straits -- the Hellespont/Dardanelles and the Bosporus -- only take one up into the Black Sea. Beyond Georgia and the (Crimean) Bosporan Kingdom, that is pretty much the end of the line. The Scythian nomads are out on the Steppe, and even knowledge about them is limited. In Roman times, the land route across the Bosporus becomes essential as the military highway along the Northern and Eastern frontiers of the Empire, but this is still at the periphery of things.

In the Middle Ages, the picture changes dramatically. Civilization moves North in Europe, and the Vikings move South. As the rivers of Russia open up to raiding and commerce, people begin to move between Scandinavia and the Black Sea. It actually becomes possible to sail from Sweden to Constantinople through Russia, and then back to Sweden through the Mediterranean and up the Atlantic Coast. This puts Constantinople, the largest and richest city in Europe for centuries, at the most important point on a Great Circle Route indicated on the map by the red ellipse. The Black Sea was not a backwater but part of a major through highway. Also, trade was beginning to filter out of Central Asia (as a branch of the Silk Road), along with nomads, across the Steppe to the Black Sea.

This is the situation represented in a reported dream of the Ottoman Emir Osman, that Constantinople was "situated at the junction of two seas and two continents" (as in the schematic at right), and it "seemed like a diamond mounted between two sapphires and two emeralds, and appeared thus to form the precious stone of the ring of a vast dominion which embraced the entire world" [quoted by Lord Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries, 1977, p.24]. Note the symmetry of the names used in Turkish, where the Aegean is the "White Sea" ( , Aq Deŋiz) in contrast to the Black ( , Qara Deŋiz).

Eventually an organized Mongol army would come off the Steppe. This was bad enough, but in 1348 the Bubonic Plague came down to Constantinople and began to spread through Europe -- precisely by following a clockwise route along the ellipse on the map. Curiously, despite the way being open from the South, the Plague only reached Northern Russia, almost two years later, by coming around from the Atlantic and through the Baltic Sea. This may indicate that the nomadic invasions had distrupted the earlier trade across southern Russia, even as we see Kiev decline in importance in comparison to the northern Russian cities.

In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, and then in 1492 Columbus sailed to the New World. This now removed Constantinople from the new major through trade routes of world culture, rather spoiling the purport of Osman's dream. Indeed, the Portuguese sailed around Africa precisely to avoid the bottleneck and tariffs that were imposed by the Mamlūks in Egypt and would be continued by the Ottomans, whose conquests extended all the way down to Yemen. There they would actually meet the Portuguese coming from the Indian Ocean -- who then helped check Ottoman expansion by supplying arms and other support to the Christian Emperors of Ethiopia. Not just the Black Sea, but the whole Mediterranean became a backwater -- until the Suez Canal returned some advantages to it. But Constantinople, and then İstanbul, never regained the central position it had had in the Middle Ages. It became another kind of bottleneck for the Russian Navy, whose Black Sea Fleet was prevented by the Turks from reaching the open ocean.

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"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 12;
"Romania" in Arabic

Ghulibati-r-Rūm, fī ʾadnā-l-ʾarḍi,
wahum min baʿdi ghalabihim, sayaghlibūna.

The Romans have been defeated, in a nearby land;
but they, after their defeat, will be victorious.

ʾal-Qurʾān, Sūrah 30, , Verses 2-3

The practice in Arabic is to use a mass or collective noun for a whole people and an adjective (called a "relative" adjective formed with final ī, ي) for individuals [cf. J.A. Haywood & H.M. Nahmad, A New Arabic Grammar of the Written Language, Harvard University Press, 1965, pp.348, 373].

Thus, , ʾar-Rūm (أَلرُّوم), "the Rome," means "the Romans." This is simply from Rūm, رُوم, "Rome," whose origin is obvious. Romania as such, in turn, can be , the Balād-ar-Rūm (بَلَادُ ٱلرُّوم), the "Country of the Romans."

Similarly, , ʾal-ʿArab (أَلْعَرَب), "the Arab," means "the Arabs"; , ʾal-Yūnān (أَلْيُونَان -- obviously from "Ionia"), "the Greek," means "the Greeks"; , ʾan-Nabaṭ (أَلنَّبَط), "the Nabaṭ," means "the Nabataeans"; and , ʾal-ʾIfranj (أَلْإِفْرَنْج), "the Frank," means "the Franks," i.e. (Western) Europeans.

A Roman is then , Rūmī (رُومِي), an Arab , ʿArabī (عَرَبِي), a Greek , Yūnānī (يُونَانِي), a Nabataean , Nabaṭī (نَبَطِي), and a Frank , ʾIfranjī (إِفْرَنْجِي).

Arabic usage for the mass of genies, , ʾal-Jinn (أَلْجِنّ), "the Jinn," tends to carry over into English, though the adjective, , Jinnī (جِنِّي -- feminine , Jinnīyah, جِنِّيَّة), is much more familiar in its Anglicized form ("genie," if not "Jeannie" -- coincidentally rather like the Latin genius, "the guardian spirit of a man or place").

Actual plurals ("broken" or irregular plurals) often exist for these mass nouns, e.g. , ʾal-ʾAnbāṭ (أَلْأَنْبَاط), "the Nabataeans." So we also find , ʾal-ʾArwām (أَلأَْرْوَام), "the Romans," which is specifically used to mean "(the adherents of) the Greek Orthodox Church" [Hans Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, Cornell University Press, 1966, p.369].

No less than four plurals are cited by Wehr for "Arab" (including , ʿurūb, عُرُوب; , ʾaʿrub, أَعْرُب; , ʾaʿrāb, أَعْرَاب; and the Persian looking , ʿurbān, عُرْبَان), even though , ʿarab (عَرَبٌ), itself is glossed as "coll[ective]" and the singular "Arab" is not given among the definitions [p.601]. Examples are not given for the use of such plurals.

The Qurʾān itself uses ʾal-ʾaʿrāb, , evidently to mean the bedouin, who are said to be "the worst in unbelief [, kufrā, كُفْرَا]" [Sura 9:97]. Curiously, this word gets turned into a surname, as ʾal-ʾAʿrābī, , perhaps deliberately intending to mean "One of the Bedouin" (viz. "Ibn al-Aʿrabi," Arabs, A 3,000-Year History of Peoples, Tribes and Empires, by Tim Mackintosh-Smith [Yale University Press, 2019, p.13]). Note that all these syllable final ʿayns are really rather hard to say.

Today, terms like Rūm (for Asian Romania) and the related Rumelia (Turkish Rumeli, , (Modern) Greek Ρούμελη or Ρωμυλία, or Bulgarian Румелия, for European Romania) have disappeared in their original usage as place names, but the former is contained in an important place name in Turkey, the city of Erzurum, the Roman Theodosiopolis. This looks like a Turkish version of a phrase in Persian, Arz-i-Rūm, (pronounced Ærz-e-Rum in Modern Persian), the "Land" (ʾarḍ, , in Arabic, ʾeretz, in Hebrew) "of Rome." This is in eastern Anatolia (Turkish Anadolu, ), what the Romans would already have considered part of Armenia, far from the heartland of the Sultanate of Rūm, and so the name may well date from the earliest phase of the Turkish conquest. Indeed, we find Marco Polo mentioning it already in the 13th century (as part of Armenia).

Sūrah 30 of the Qurʾān is actually called ʾar-Rūm, , "The Romans," because it begins with a reference to the defeat of Romania by the Sassanid Persians, and a prophecy that the Persians will soon, however, be defeated in turn. It is especially noteworthy for our purposes that ʾar-Rūm is frequently translated "The Greeks," rather than "The Romans," for just the reasons that I am examining in this essay.

Arabic Transcription Issues


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"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 13;
Liutprand of Cremona (c.922-972 AD)

Romulum fratricidam, ex quo et Romani dicti sunt, porniogenitum [nominative, πορνογέννητος], hoc est ex adulterio natum, chronographia [χρονογραφία] innotuit, asylumque sibi fecisse, in quo alieni aeris debitores, fugitivos servos, homicidas ac pro reatibus suis morte dignos suscepit multitudinemque quandam talium sibi ascivit, quos Romanos appellavit; ex qua nobilitate propagati sunt ipsi, quos vos kosmocratores [κοσμοκράτορες], id est imperatores, appellatis; quos nos, Langobardi scilicet, Saxones, Franci, Lotharingi, Bagoarii, Suevi, Burgundiones, tanto dedignamur, ut inimicos nostros commoti nil aliud contumeliarum nisi: Romane! dicamus, hoc solo, id est Romanorum nomine, quicquid ignobilitatis, quicquid timiditatis, quicquid avaritiae, quicquid luxuriae, quicquid mendacii, immo quicquid vitiorum est, comprehendentes.

The annals recognize the fratricidal Romulus, from whose name they are called Romans, was born to a whore, that is, he was generated in defilement [adulterium]; and he made a refuge for himself where he welcomed debtors from foreign climes, runaway slaves, murderers, and people who deserved death for their crimes, and he attracted such a throng of such people that he called them Romans; from this nobility there arose those whom you call cosmocrators ["world rulers"], or emperors. We, that means the Lombards, Saxons, Franks, Lotharingians, Bavarians, Swabians, Burgundians, so disdain them that we utter no other insult than 'Roman!' to our enemies when aroused, and we understand that single term, the name of the Romans, to include every baseness [ignobilitas], every cowardice, every kind of avarice, every kind of dissipation, every mendacity, indeed every vice.

Liutprand of Cremona, "The Embassy of Liudprand," 12, The Complete Works of Liudprand of Cremona, translated by Paolo Squatriti, The Catholic Press of America, 2007, pp.246-247, translation modified; Latin text, "Liudprandi Legatio," xii, Die Werke Liudprands von Cremona, herausgeben von Joseph Becker, Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum, Hahnsche Buchhandlung, Hannover und Leipzig, 1915, pp.182-183; Reprint, University of Michigan Libraries, 2012.

This misadventure of Liutprand with Nicephorus Phocas is reminiscent of an episode in Chinese and Japanese history. In 607, Prince Shōtoku supposedly wrote a letter for his aunt, the Empress Suiko, to the Chinese Emperor Yang Ti of the Sui Dynasty. He referred to Japan as the land where the "Sun Rises," (Nippon, Nihon), and to China as the land where the "Sun Sets," (Nichibotsu). To the Chinese, however, there could be only one Emperor, , and Son of Heaven, . The ruler of Japan was simply the "King of Wa," , i.e. of the "land of dwarves." Yang Ti was furious at the pretention of there being another Emperor, and of China, the "Middle Kingdom," , being reduced to the place where the "sun sets" (which can also mean "dies" or "drowns"). Perhaps worse, China had itself previously been called , which is reasonable when its view to the Ocean in the East is as extensive as that of Japan. Yang Ti informed his officials that he was not again to be shown a letter from barbarians who did not know how to address the Emperor of China. The Emperors of Romania, aware that they had once had Western colleagues, were more tolerant of recognizing an Imperial title among the Franks.

Liutprand (or Liudprand) had been on an earlier embassy to Constantinople, in 949. This was to the court of Constantine VII on behalf of Berengar II of Italy (at the time still just Regent for King Lothair II). Liutprand accomplished his mission, which was to arrange a marriage between Lothair's sister, Bertha (renamed Eudocia in Greek), and Constantine's son, who would be Romanus II. Unfortunately, although the marriage seems to have been effected, Bertha died the same year. Romanus found a new wife. Liutprand apparently was happy on the 949 embassy but had a bad experience on the one in 968. He did not get along with the Nicephorus Phocas and vented his dislike of Romania, as recounted in his work "Embassy" (cf. "The Embassy of Liudprand," The Complete Works of Liudprand of Cremona, translated by Paolo Squatriti, The Catholic Press of America, 2007, pp.238-282).

The curious thing about Liutprand's dislike of the contemporary Greek Romania is that he traces its evils back to Rome itself, all the way to Romulus -- whom he calls a "fratricide," "from whom also the Romans are named, was born in adultery; and that he made an asylum for himself in which he received insolvent debtors, fugitive slaves, homicides, and those who were worthy of death for their deeds." Thus, in his very hatred of Constantinople, he agrees that this is indeed the Roman Empire, with its sins traced back to the founding of the City of Rome. What he celebrates are the Germans, whom he lists comprehensively as "Lombards [himself], Saxons, Franks, Lotharingians [i.e. from Lorraine], Bavarians, Swabians [i.e. the Alemanni], Burgundians." It did not matter that Liutprand was at the time representing Otto I as the "Emperor of the Romans." Nicephorus was pushing his buttons, and Liutprand's true sympathies emerge. The ideology of Otto wanting to be the true Roman, according to which Nicephorus would be addressed as "Emperor of the Greeks," was a recent notion that Liutprand evidently did not always keep in mind. Disputing the Roman identity of Romania, of course, eventually culminates in calling it "Byzantium."

Note that the Venerable Bede (673-735) also considered Romania the "true" Roman Empire from the reign of Honorius, completely ignoring the last Western Emperors and what now we consider the "Fall" in 476. Thus, from Bede in the 8th century to Liutprand in the 10th, the judgment of the learned in Francia, taking Constantinople to be the capital of the continuing Roman Empire, was unchanged. Only with Liutprand do we see the beginning of serious ideas to dispute that, motivated by Papal and German pretentions.

Liutprand's embassy in 968 was also to arrange a marriage. Because of the poor relationship with Nicephorus, the embassy failed, and Liutprand returned home. However, after Nicephorus was killed by John Tzimisces in 969, Liutprand returned (971) and arranged a marriage between a niece of John, Theophano Scleraena, Θεοφανὼ Σκλήραινα, and the son of Otto I. The German Emperor Otto III would then be the son of Theophano and Otto II. Liutprand himself, returning home with Theophano in 972, died on the way. However, it is not entirely clear that Liutprand was with this embassy, or that, at least, he was in charge. We also find Gero, Archbishop of Cologne (969-976), on the embassy; and even if Liutprand was along Gero may have been in charge because of Liutprand's history of undiplomatic behavior or outbursts.

Since Otto III died without issue, the succession jumped to his cousin Henry, the Duke of Bavaria, and then to the Salians. The princess of Constantinople thus had no other descendants on the German throne. Even apart from the essential failure to produce an heir, Otto III was altogether too distracted by his Greco-Roman heritage and wasted his reign with too much time in Italy, which was unhealthy for Germans, especially in the South, and too little in Germany. Some want to blame this on the influence of his mother. It is a dynamic, however, that often helped distrupt the power of the German Throne, as the failure of an heir was also all too typical and repeatedly harmful to the stability of Germany. The Capetians committed no such oversights -- there would always be a male heir for France (even until today, as a matter of fact).

In the account of the Embassy in 949, we get a striking description by Liutprand of the technology employed in the Court of Constantine VII to overawe those in the Emperor's Presence:

Est Constantinopolim domus palatio contigua mirae mangitudinis seu pulchritudinis, quae a Grecis per V loco digammae positam Magnaura, quasi magna aura dicitur. Hanc itaque Constantinus cum ob Hispanorum nuntios, qui tunc eō noviter venerant, tum ob me et Liutefredum hoc modo praeparari iussit. Aerea, sed deaurata quaedam abor ante imperatoris sedile stabat, cuius ramos itidem aereae diversi generis deaurataeque aves replebant, quae secundum species suas diversarum avium voces emittebant. Imperatoris vero solium huiusmodi erat arte compositum, ut in momento humile, exelsius modo, quam mox videretur sublime, quod inmensae magnitutdinis, incertum utrum aerei an lignei, verum auro tecti leones quasi custodiebant, qui cauda terram percutientes aperto ore linguisque mobilibus rugitum emittebant.

For at Constantinople there is a palace next to the Great Palace, of wondrous beauty and size, that is called Magnaura [Μαγναύρα] by the Greeks, having inserted a "u" in the place of the digamma, as if it were magna aura [actually magna aula, "great court"; Liutprand must mean the ypsilon, Υυ, not the archaic digamma, Ϝ, which survived as Latin "F"]. And so Constantine ordered this mansion to be prepared in due fashion both because of the messengers of the Spaniards, who then were coming there for the first time, and because of Liutefred and me. In front of the emperor's throne there stood a certain tree of gilt bronze, whose branches, similarly gilt bronze, were filled with birds of different sizes, which emitted the songs of the different birds corresponding to their species. The throne of the emperor was built with skill in such a way that at one instant it was low, then higher, and quickly it appeared most lofty; and lions of immense size (though it was unclear if they were of wood or brass, they certainly were coated with gold) seemed to guard him, and, striking the ground with their tails, they emitted a roar with mouths open and tongues flickering. ["Retribution," Book VI:5, op.cit., pp.197-198; Latin text, "Liudprandi Antapodosis," VI:v, op.cit., p.154]

We do not hear about automata such as these birds and lions again until the 17th century, when similar creations led Descartes to conclude that physical life, both human and animal, was mechanical in nature, just like the robots. One wonders what devices were actually used in the 10th century to reproduce the bird calls and lions' roars. William Butler Yeats invokes the mechanical birds in his poem, "Sailing to Byzantium." As it happens, a manuscript has surfaced from the era and land of the Seljuks of Rūm in the 12th century with descriptions of mechanical automata, although no birds or lions. People discussing this manuscript are often unaware of Liutprand's earlier account and seem to think that the technology derives from Islām rather than Romania -- though we musn't forget the much later mechanical tiger of Tīpū Sultān of Mysore (1782-1799), which snarled and gnawed at the throat of a (model) Englishman. The automata seen by Liutprand had reportedly been created by Leo the Mathematician (c.790->869), Λέων ὁ Μαθηματικός, under the Emperor Theophilus I (829-842).

In the footsteps of Liutprand we find Edward Gibbon, who says:

After the restoration of the Western Empire by Charlemagne and the Othos [sic], the names of Franks and Latins acquired an equal signification and extent, and these haughty barbarians asserted, with some justice, their superior claim to the language and dominion of Rome. They insulted the aliens of the East who had renounced the dress and idiom of Romans, and their reasonable practice will justify the frequent appellation of Greeks. But this contemptuous appellation was indignantly rejected by the prince and people to whom it is applied. Whatsoever changes had been introduced by the lapse of ages, they alleged a lineal and unbroken succession from Augustus and Constantine; and, in the lowest period of degeneracy and decay, the name of ROMANS adhered to the last fragments of the empire of Constantinople. [The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III, Modern Library, p.298-299, boldface added]

One wonders how the Franks could have asserted "with some justice" a "superior claim" to a language, Latin, that few of them used (only the rare literate population) and a dominion only a small fragment of which they controlled, not even including the City of Rome itself, which was in their own concession the de jure and de facto dominion of the Pope, not of either Charlemagne or the Ottos. Similarly, while togas were perhaps no longer worn in Constantinople, the robes of Justinian and later Emperors bear little resemblance to the outlandish trousers of the Franks, even as the eastern Emperors' own Hellenic "idiom" could have been understood by Marcus Aurelius -- unlike the Germanic language of "these haughty barbarians." The greatest irony of this passage, however, is Gibbon's snipe at the "alleged" lineal and unbroken succession of Constantinople back to Augustus and Constantine -- a succession upon which Gibbon's own Decline and Fall is founded, recounting, as it does, all but uniquely in modern historical literature, the history of the Empire from the Antonines to the death of Constantine XI in 1453.

As it happens, we have claims as bizarre as those of Gibbon from a contemporary of Romania, not just from an 18th century Englishman. In the 9th century there was some danger of the Arabs occupying the South of Italy as they had Sicily (Syracuse would fall to the Aghlabids in 878). The Franks and Romania cooperated in eliminating this threat -- Sicily would have to wait. A specific case involved the Emperor Basil I (867-886) and his Frankish counterpart, Louis II (855-875). In 871, Louis took the city of Bari, which had been held as an Arab base, with the help of a Roman fleet. There was then a falling out, since Basil saw Bari as properly the possession of Romania, to which Louis ought to deliver it. Louis replied to Basil's protest with a letter disputing the status of Basil as Roman Emperor. We get an account of this by Anthony Kaldellis:

Witness a letter sent by Louis II, great-grandson of Charlemagne and German emperor in Italy, to the Byzantine emperor Basileios [i.e. Basil] I in 871. In order to argue that Basileios I, his subjects, and empire were not genuinely Roman, which is the point of the letter, Louis cites as evidence the fact that the eastern empire existed among people who spoke Greek, not Latin; that their ethnic and cultural makeup was Greek, not Roman; and that they did not hold the city of Rome. [Byzantium Unbound, Art Humanities Press, 2019, p.7]

Among the many ironies here is that Louis II was a German who certainly did not speak Latin himself. And if he knew his Bible, which he probably didn't (it being, not just in Latin, but not generally available to the laity anyway), he would need to recollect that Saul of Tarsus, who became St. Paul, himself was a Greek speaking, and Greek writing, Roman citizen. So Louis would need to say that St. Paul wasn't "really" a Roman. But, of course, the absurdity of this goes way beyond confusions about Roman citizenship -- which by no construction would Louis have possessed himself, except by some fiat of the Pope. So the "ethnic and cultural makeup" of the "Greeks" would be irrelevant to their being Roman or not, while that of Louis, being German, would itself be germane, as it were. Nor did Louis "hold the city of Rome," which was the de jure possession of the Pope. What Louis did possess was a mere fragment even of Charlemagne's empire. He began with Northern Italy, i.e. Lombardy, as a division of the possessions of the Emperor Lothar I. The deaths of his brothers, Charles of Burgundy (855-863) and Lothar II or Lorraine (855-869), left Louis as the proper heir to all their lands, but he was cheated out of all of it, except part of Burgundy. This despite his being the reigning Emperor and formally the suzerain of his uncles, Louis II the German (843-876) and Charles II the Bald (843-877). No matter. One advantage of his uncles was that Louis was away in the South of Italy at the seige of Bari. This would be a problem for several later German Emperors, that adventures in Italy drew them away from the centers of power in the North. There was also the problem that Louis, like other Emperors, would die in Italy, not long after the dispute with Basil. Romania would then occupy Bari. Without heirs, the lands of Louis would fall to the scrimmage of his cousins and in-laws.

The result seems sad and even pathetic. Basil, with lands approaching in area the size of modern France, Germany, and Italy combined, was being snapped at by a poor fellow mainly ruling Northern Italy, a "Roman" Emperor who neither lived nor ruled in Rome (after implying that he did), victimized by his relatives, voicing absurd and contradictory claims and pretentions, and then dying a failure, near Brescia in the Alpine foothills. This was someone whom it would be impossible for a sovereign in Constantinople, the New Rome, to take seriously. Yet Edward Gibbon would repeat the substance of just this sort of farce.

See further discussion of Gibbon's statements, and comparable descriptions of the Franks from Romania, here.

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"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 14;
Judith Herrin's Byzantium, The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

Judith Herrin's recent Byzantium, The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire [Princeton & Oxford, 2007] introduces the word "Romania" in a curious way. It is not in the index, but we first encounter it in the text in Latin, in the title of the Partitio terrarum Imperii Romaniae, the "Partition of the lands of the Empire of Romania" [pp.263-264], i.e. the document that split up the Empire after the taking of Constantinople by Venice and the Fourth Crusade. The word "Romania" is then glossed as "a western name for the empire" [p.264]. Since this was the late Roman name for the Empire, whose use had simply continued in the West, and, as noted above, I have also seen it used in Greek by Theophanes, Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, and others, Herrin's statement is starkly and seriously false. One will not encounter "Romania" much in secondary sources, and so the casual dilettante such as myself could be excused for not being familiar with it, but Herrin, as a Byzantinist, has no such excuse.

But what is more intriguing is that she applies no such gloss ("a western name for the empire") to the word "Byzantium," although early on she does mention of "Byzantium" that the "name was not given to it until the sixteenth century, when humanist scholars tried to find a way of identifying what remained after the collapse of Old Rome in the West" [p.25]. By her own admission, they already had a name for it, unless, of course, they simply didn't want to use a name with "Rome" in it. Herrin displays a similar reluctance; and she uses "Byzantium" constantly and unproblematically, despite the fact that it is, by her own admission, supremely "a western name for the empire" -- although one now used by Greeks also. In relation to the quote above, that "Byzantine Empire" is "a modern misnomer redolent of ill-informed contempt," Herrin is at pains to address the "ill-informed contempt" part but gives us nothing, and expresses no appreciation, that the word might be "a modern misnomer."

Indeed, Herrin's book would seem to represent the flip side of the "Rome is the City of Rome" school of historiography, with an equal and opposite proposition that "Byzantium is the Empire of Byzantium." For instance, Herrin says of the Emperor Constantine XI, as the City was about to fall to the Turks:

...the most Christian emperor called out in Greek to his people to prove themselves to be true Romans. In so doing, he summoned a history that stretched back from 1453 to the dedication of the city in 330, one thousand, one hundred and twenty-three years earlier, and identified the Byzantines with their glorious forebears, the pagan Greeks and Romans. [p.329]

Now, there was nothing unusual about an Emperor addressing his people either in Greek, which is what he spoke, or as "Romans," which is what they were. In so doing however, one might wonder why Herrin thinks this particularly refers to the dedication of Constantinople in 330. If you are a Roman, this already bespeaks historical continuity back to Augustus if not to Romulus and Remus. Herrin makes it sound like Constantine's subjects are ordinarily addressed as "Byzantines" and that he has used some novel expression to remind them of the "pagan Greeks and Romans." No. It is Herrin, not Constantine, who thinks of there as being some discontinuity between "Byzantium" and Rome. But this is the modern idea, "redolent of ill-informed contempt," not the Mediaeval idea. The contempt here in Herrin, or at least the dissociation, is for the Roman identity of "Byzantium," as the opposite of Western contempt or neglect for Constantinople.

Herrin returns the neglect, if not the contempt, with a certain shocking carelessness for Roman history of Late Antiquity (despite her being a professor of "Late Antique" as well as Byzantine Studies). Thus, she says:

...and the last Roman Emperor in the West was deposed in 476, leaving a half-Vandal, half-Roman general, Stilicho, in control of Italy. [p.13]

Unfortunately, Stilicho had been assassinated in 408. Herrin is thinking of Odoacer. Similarly, she says of the original Constantine, who was proclaimed Emperor by his father's troops in 306, that "he was not recognized by Licinius, the senior emperor in the East" [p.4]. Again, unfortunately, Licinius was not made an Emperor until 308, and he was at that point junior to Galerius (d.311) and Maximinus II Daia (d.313). Indeed, in 308 he was junior to Constantine, who nevertheless was demoted to Caesar (until 309) -- Constantine rather resented this.

Outside of Roman history, Herrin is also a bit careless. Thus, when she mentions the overthrow of the Omayyads by the Abbasids, she says this "split the Islamic world into rival caliphates, leaving the Umayyads based in Spain" [p.324]. However, this event was in 750 AD, and the Omayyads in Spain did not claim a Caliphate until 912 -- which then only lasted until 1031. This short-lived regime did not exactly split the Islamic world -- that would be done by the Shiʿite Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt (969-1171).

We also get the statement that "The Seljuk Turks were a Mongol people speaking an ancient Uighur language" [p.325].

Perhaps I have missed something, but my understanding is that the several Turkish and Mongolian languages are in separate branches of the Altaic family of languages, while Uighur and the Oghuz language of the Ottomans, Azeris, and Turkmen, which is probably where Seljuk would have fallen, have been separate members of the Turkish group.

As with the confusions over Roman history, I think what this reveals are the pitfalls of overspecialization in history. Perhaps a Byzantinist can't really be expected to know when there was a Caliphate in Spain or if Turkish isn't a kind of Mongolian, but it is shocking that a Byzantinist could not get straight some simple facts of Roman history in Late Antiquity. But Herrin, like the Classicists with nothing but contempt for "Byzantium," shares their perspective on the fictitious rupture and chasm that separates "Rome" from "Byzantium." "Romania" bridges the gap but is ignored.

Warren Treadgold, although not using, or even mentioning, the term "Romania," does express an awareness of the kind of reciprocal hositility that we see between Classicists and Byzantinists, as he addresses the issue of the form in which Greek "names and terms" will be cited:

To avoid making an arbitrary distinction between Byzantium and Rome, the forms I use here for Greek names and terms are Latinized (or sometimes Anglicized) ones, not the forms based on Classical Greek that many Byzantinists now favor. [Byzantium and its Army, 284-1081, Stanford, 1995, p.viii]

And why would Byzantinists favor "forms based on Classical Greek" instead of the Latinized ones? Treadgold explains in a footnote to the cited passage:

None of the established systems of transliterating Greek is perfect, and each has its advantages. But some scholars can be disturbingly passionate about the matter of transliteration, as if they were trying to use Classical Greek forms to force acceptance of a sharp break between Rome and Byzantium on those who disagree with them. [ibid., note. p.viii, boldface added]

This little aside speaks volumes about the peculiar relationship and attitudes I have been considering. There is another dimension to this particular problem of transliteration, however. A century ago, books citing Greek names and terms simply would have given them in the Greek alphabet. This is now rare, probably because of the expectation that students, and perhaps even some scholars (thanks to the achievements of modern education), will be entirely unfamiliar with the Greek language and its alphabet. A proper history of Romania should use Latin words as these would have been used, and Greek words as these would actually appear in Greek. Where a Latin word was a borrowed Greek word, or the Greek word a borrowed Latin word (both are quite common), the historian should give us both; but we are not always given such information. It is a tribute to Treadgold, however, to notice how even something as trivial as transliteration is used to drive a wedge between "Rome" and "Byzantium" -- breaking the unity of what here is recognized as Romania.

After writing to Judith Herrin about some of these issues, I actually did receive a very nice reply in the matter of the usage of "Romania":

You're quite right that Rhomania, in Greek, was always used for the empire by its inhabitants and the Latin equivalent goes back to late antiquity. During the Middle Ages, however, I've found less use of Romania in the West and, especially after 800, more references to the 'empire of the Greeks'. After their conquest of Constantinople in 1204, westerners use the term Romania in Latin much more frequently, at the very point where it increasingly drops out of use by the Greeks.

So Romania is the ancient western name, which had a revival from the thirteenth century on, as witnessed by the Assizes de Romanie etc. And yes, Byzantium is an entirely western creation based on the name of Byzantion, which remained in Greek medieval usage to designate the capital.

I shall try to clarify this in a reprint, if that's possible.

With renewed thanks and all best wishes,

Judith Herrin [15 May 2009]

What goes unexplained here is how, if Herrin is so familiar with the ebb and flow of this usage, something that is so much a misdirection or misrepresentation as "a western name for the empire" could make its way into her book. What I would hope is, not just that the erroneous gloss should be corrected, but that a brief discussion, even no more than is included in her e-mail, should be introduced early in the book to properly inform the reader about what the "Byzantine Empire" was actually called by its contemporaries.

A reference she makes here incidentally answers a question I had above, about A.A. Vasiliev citing the Partitio terrarum Imperii Romaniae as the Partitio Romanie. We see the point of confusion revealed in the name of the Les Assises de Romanie, a law code, the "Assizes of Romania," in French, from the Latin Empire. "Romanie" is thus simply the French form of "Romania." Vasiliev substituted the French word for the Latin genitive Romaniae -- as Herrin herself here casually mixes the English "Assizes" with the French "de Romanie." Of course, when we realize that "Romania" was used in French as well as in Latin and Greek, this makes it all the more peculiar that the principal "Byzantine" histories should not explain, discuss, or sometimes even mention the word.

Herrin begins her book by saying:

One afternoon in 2002, two workmen knocked on my office door in King's College, London [at right we see the door]. They were doing repairs to the old buildings and had often passed my door with its notice; 'Professor of Byzantine History'. Together they decided to stop by and ask me, 'What is Byzantine history?' They thought that it had something to do with Turkey.

And so I found myself trying to explain briefly what Byzantine history is to two serious builders in hard hats and heavy boots. Many years of teaching had not prepared me for this. I tried to sum up a lifetime of study in a ten-minute visit. [Princeton U. Press, 2008, p.xiii]

I have discussed the response I would give to the workmen it more detail elsewhere. Here I am reminded of a story told by the late astronomer Carl Sagan. When he was a child, he wondered what the stars were. He went to his local library and asked for a book about the stars. The librarian gave him a book about the famous Hollywood actors, the "stars," of his day. Once corrected on the error, the librarian gave him a proper astronomical book. It began with the answer to Sagan's question:  The stars are other suns.

I think that the simplest answer to anyone asking, "What is Byzantium?" is just, "Byzantium was the Roman Empire." This is the best answer because it may elicit the obvious response, "I thought that the Roman Empire Fell in 476," to which, of course, the rejoinder is, "No, it didn't." The follow-up is easily explained. What is less easily explained is why even the educated should be unaware or deceived about the whole business. A historian like Herrin gives us good information about Byzantium, in its own terms, but leaves the basic question still sufficiently confused that she is awkwardly left uncertain how to answer it herself.

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"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 15

While Cassell's Latin dictionary and the new Oxford Latin dictionary are innocent of "Romania," so is the majestic, magisterial, tri-(or quadri-)lingual (in English, French, & German) Mediae Latinitatis Lexicon Minus -- Lexique latin médiéval -- Medieval Latin Dictionary -- Mittelateinisches Wörterbuch, Volumes I-II, by J.F. Niermeyer & C. Van de Kieft, revised by J.W.J. Burgers [Brill, Leiden, 2002]. This is a grave oversight in such a work, since "Romania" was certainly part of Mediaeval Latin. However, since Niermeyer does not include the vocabulary of Ancient Latin -- it does not have Roma or Romanus in the dictionary -- it is possible that he assumed that Romania would be in a dictionary of the earlier language. But Cassell's, as I have noted, or the Oxford dictionary, do not have vocabulary after 100 AD, or 200 AD, and so actually does not cover uses of "Romania." So Romania falls decisively between the stools and is ignored from both ends of the historical spectrum of the Latin language. I would not be so suspicious of this situation were use or mention of "Romania" not also avoided by those we would most expect to discuss it, i.e. the standard Byzantine historians.

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"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 16;
Ottoman Byzantium

In one essential respect it is very difficult, indeed shocking or even offensive, to think of the Ottoman Empire as a continuation of Mediaeval Romania. The Turks bring a different religion and indeed a different civilization, Islām, that violently and catastrophically replaces the religion, the tradition, the history, and the values of Romania. To Christians of the Empire, Greeks, Armenians, and Albanians, and to Christians who had become independent of the Empire, Bulgarians, Serbs, and Vlachs, especially the victims of massacre and genocide, this was an unparalleled and appalling revolution and catastrophe.

On the other hand, the culture and traditions of the Ottomans were already being skewed by the traditions of their own history over a couple of centuries of the Turkish occupation of Anatolia, including periods when Turks were allies, mercenaries, or even Christian converts to Roman Emperors. By the time Meḥmet II took Constantinople in 1453, redeeming the defeats of Islām in 677 and 718, his government and culture were already taking on some of the coloration of Romania.

Nothing illustrates this more graphically and dramatically than the adoption of the architecture of Sancta Sophia for the new mosques, not just of the Ottomans, but soon for all of Islām. At the same time, "Ottoman Byzantium" is no more or less appropriate for a Turkish Empire centered on Constantinople than "Byzantium" ever has been as the name of Mediaeval Romania -- neither are names used by contemporaries for either Empire. "Byzantium" used for any Empire, Christian or Muslim, is a neologism. If the rationale of Byzantinists is that "Byzantium" was the capital of Romania, well "Byzantium" was still the capital of Turkey until 1922. Indeed, even the Turkish City was still being called "Constantinople" until well after the name was officially made "İstanbul" in 1930.

Although the kidnapping and forced conversion of Christian boys for the Janissaries (following the most recent precedent of the Mamlūks in Egypt) was a uniquely vicious and characteristically Islāmic institution, the most notorious features of Ottoman rule, the massacre of Armenians and other Christians, was due more to the Modern ideology of nationalism than to the principles of Mediaeval Islām. Soon Modern ideology led Turkey in another radically different direction from the rest of Islām. Atatürk had no sympathy for Greeks, Armenians, or Kurds, but he also had little sympathy for most of the culture or traditions of Islām. He wanted Turkey to be a modern, European country, and to look like it.

His success over the years, and his extraordinary veneration in Turkish political culture, has only now been threatened by the revival of Islāmic fundamentalism elsewhere and its relative popularity in the most rural and conservative parts of Turkey. This, of course, is only part of the story of Modern Romania, as the Christian states of the Balkans and Caucasus all became independent in the 19th and 20th centuries. Their own nationalism has produced some of the ugliest and most dangerous events in modern history, not the least of which, to be sure, was the spark that set off World War I. Their story perhaps more directly continues the history of Romania than does Turkey, yet they emerge into Modern independence from the Ottomans much as they had earlier emerged from under the rule of the Roman Emperors in the 12th century.

Modern Romania, Ottoman Successor States in the Balkans

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"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 17;
Roman Periodization

Warren Treadgold, in the previously cited A History of the Byzantine State and Society, provides a dramatic graphic (p.8) for the history of the Empire beginning with Diocletian. Adapted and colorized from Treadgold's graph, here we see the full extent of Diocletian's Empire, about three and three quarter million square kilometers, the rapid collapse of the Western Empire, the substantial but ephemeral restoration under Justinian, and then the cyclical expansion and retreat over the centuries of the surviving Empire.

Diocletian's Empire was around 3.75 million square kilometers. A good comparison would be modern India, at 3,287,590 km2. To make up the difference, about 462,000 km2, we could add Papua New Guinea, at 462,840 km2. But British Imperial India, with Pakistan and Bangladesh, was substantially larger, at 4,235,201 km2. The full Roman Empire looks larger than it was because it was wrapped around so much water. The largest modern states are much larger in area than Rome:  Australia is 7.68 (more than twice the size of Rome), the United States 9.37, China 9.56, Canada 9.97, and Russia 17.08 million km2.

Some accounts of the Roman Empire make it seem larger by adding in the area of the Mediterranean Sea (the Mare Nostrum, entirely enclosed by Roman territory), which from Gibraltar to the Bosporus is 2.51 million km2, giving a grand total of 6.26 million km2. Still not quite as large as Australia. Above, we see the Mediterranean laid out over the United States, stretching from Gibraltar in California to the Black Sea touching Vermont. This puts Rome in the middle of Nebraska and Constantinople quite close to Chicago. The path of Route 66 could be done, if skirting North Africa, entirely on water.

Justinian's Empire peaked at just over 2 million square kilometers, while the area of modern Mexico is 1,958,200, Indonesia 1,904,570, or Saudi Arabia 2,149,690 km2. The Empire of the Macedonians, after a long recovery, topped out at about 1.25 million km2, while the combined area of modern France, Germany, and Italy is 1,209,730 km2 -- or of South Africa 1,219,916 km2. The Empire of the Comneni was about 750,000 km2, which is rather close to modern Chile at 756,950 or Zambia at 752,614 km2.

The modern Chinese expression for "Roman Empire" is , where Roma has been rendered phonetically (Luoma). Phonetic writings are the modern practice. There may actually be a Classical Chinese name for Rome, however -- , "Great Ch'in." But this identification is tentative, depending on whether the embassy that arrived at the court of the Later Han Dynasty in 166 AD actually was from Rome. It seems likely. But at this point it is easier to use the phonetic writing. In differentiating the different periods of Roman history, we can follow the precedents in Chinese history, where dynasties are distinguished by compass directions and "early" or "late." Thus, we have the "Former" or "Western" Han and then, when the dynasty changes and the capital moves, the "Later" or "Eastern" Han. Well, the Roman Capital definitely moved, and we can use "West" and "East" in the broader Chinese senses, rather than in the way "Western" and "Eastern" are used for Roman history only when the Empire was actually divided in half. The Roman or Western Roman Empire is thus , while the Eastern Empire, or Romania, is . "Early," (e.g. "former"), "middle," , and "late," , can be used for the different periods of "Eastern" Rome.

First EmpireROME
27 BC-284 AD
310 years

284-610Era of Diocletian 1-327326 years
Third EmpireMIDDLE ROMANIA610-1059Era of Diocletian 327-776449 years
Fourth EmpireLATE ROMANIA1059-1453Era of Diocletian 776-1170394 years

The habit of historians to use "Eastern Roman Empire" and "Byzantine Empire" interchangeably, of course, involves using terms that contemporaries never heard of. To its inhabitants, as we have seen, the Roman Empire, was just the "Roman Empire" or "Romania," whether the capitol was Rome, Milan, Ravenna, Nicomedia, or Constantinople. "Eastern Roman Empire" is used by Classicists, but also even by Byzantinists, to remind everyone that the Empire that survived after 476 was not the real Roman Empire -- the way after 1994 Dan Rather always referred to the "Republican Controlled Congress," although in all his years of broadcasting he had never said "Democrat Controlled Congress" when that was the case. He obviously believed that Republican control was improper and illegitimate [see the discussion of this sort of thing elsewhere]. Using "West" or "East" in the Chinese fashion is unrelated to those tendentious practices.

For Chinese titles of monarchy and nobility, see Chinese Feudal Hierarchy.

Historians divide Roman and "Byzantine" history in different ways. While A.H.M. Jones and Warren Treadgold begin the "Later Roman Empire" with Diocletian, Byzantinists traditionally begin with Constantine. Thus, in A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities [Oxford, 2017], Anthony Kaldellis has the "Early Byzantine Period" running from Constantine in 306 AD to the end of the reign of Heraclius in 641. The "Middle Byzantine Period" then runs from 641 all the way to Fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders in 1204. And finally the "Late Byzantine Period" is the Empire at Nicaea and the dynasty of the Palaeologi, from 1205 to 1453. In this the "Early" period is 335 years long, the "Middle" 563, and the "Late" 248. We see roughly the same division in the books by Treadgold, The Early Byzantine Historians [Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, 2010] and The Middle Byzantine Historians [Palgrave Macmillan, 2013]. The first book runs from Eusebius of Caesarea, the biographer and contemporary of Constantine I, to Theophylact Simocatta, a contemporary of Heraclius, who may have died in the same year. The second book runs from Trajan the Patrician, who follows upon Theophylact, to Nicetas Choniates, who died in 1217, after writing a history of the Fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders.

Thus, in his treatment, Treadgold observes pretty much the same divisions as Kaldellis. My quibble would be that Heraclius, experiencing the initial Islamic Conquest, marks the beginning of the Mediaeval form of Romania, rather than the end of the Later Roman Empire -- a judgment reflected in the treatment by A.H.M. Jones, and by Mark Whittow in The Making of Byzantium, 600-1025 [University of California Press, 1996].

A larger question may be whether the significant event marking the "Late Byzantine Period" should be the Advent of the Turks or the Fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders. Since the Fourth Crusade is part of the dynamic of the Crusades as a whole, and since the Crusades were occasioned by the Advent of the Turks in the first place, my judgment is that the source of these events, with the Turks, is more significant, especially when this portends the ultimate Fall of Romania to the Ottoman Turks. At each division I see, there is a dramatic change in the territorial extent of Romania, with Syria, Egypt, and North Africa disappearing to the Arabs, and then Asia Minor breached and hollowed out, followed by the Balkans, by the Turks. I think this all makes the periodization I observe more revealing. It also evens out the size of the periods.

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"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 18;
The Disqualification of Germans

I wish I can say that this was my own idea. Actually, I can say that, but I can't say that it was an idea that I had first. It was a thesis already in scholarly discussion. For instance, we find Michael Grant, in his From Rome to Byzantium, The fifth century AD [Routledge, 1998], saying:

With his fleet, Gaiseric controlled the western Mediterranean throughout his reign, and he died undefeated in 477:  he never became western emperor, because it was understood that no German could do so; but he put Rome in the shade. [p.21, boldface added]

Here Grant is talking about a King of the Vandals who was never a servant of Rome, or even an ally -- the Vandals were the only major German tribe who were consistently hostile and belligerent towards Rome. But the principle was the same for Roman commanders like Stilicho or Ricimer. With Gaiseric, it is not hard to imagine someone sacking Rome in 455 and then thinking, "Why not stay?" He had a better claim and grasp on power than most of the subsequent ephemeral emperors. But Germans were simply not Romans.

A curious feature of this is that it had long been possible for barbarians to become Roman citizens, as the reward of service in the Roman Army. Why we do not see this device in play in the Late Empire is a good question. To be sure, citizenship was awarded after military service, which means that Germans in a position to seize the Throne, i.e. the ones on active service, are precisely the ones who will not yet be citizens. Also, tribal Germans, like the Visigoths, even as allies of the Romans, are not actually in the Roman Army at all and would never qualify for citizenship.

The device of the king-making German commander may have begun with Arbogast, who was a Frankish Magister Militum under Gratian, Valentinian II, and Theodosius I. When Valentinian died, Arbogast raised the non-entity Eugenius to the Throne (392-394). Since Eugenius was not of the Valentian or Theodosian Houses, we cannot say that Arbogast was denying himself the Throne on a principle of dynastic legitimacy. No, he was denying himself the Throne because no one, including himself, believed that a German non-citizen was qualified to become Emperor. This may be the first time that such a thing happened in Roman history. Previous and subsequent usurpers like Magnus Maximus (383-388) or Constantine "III" (407-411) had no difficulty promoting themselves because there was no difficulty over their citizenship. By the same token, the Master of Soldiers Constantius (410-421) married Galla Placidia, fathered Valentinian III, and then was made co-Emperor before he died (as Constantius III, 421).

As it happens, we have a reference to this from shortly afterwards, c.425. In the Church history of Philostorgius, of which we have an epitome by the Patriarch Photius, we are told:

After the murder of Valentinian, Arbogastes found himself excluded from the imperial purple by reason of his birth; so he proclaimed as emperor a certain man named Eugenius, who in rank was a magister... [Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius, translated by Edward Walford, 1855, Aeterna Press, 2015, p.62]

His birth, of course, was German. Arbogast committed suicide after his defeat by Theodosius at the bloody battle of the Frigidus River in 394. Stilicho himself was then the successor of Arbogast as Magister Militum.

Not everyone agrees with the thesis about citizenship. John Michael O'Flynn says of Orestes making his young son, Romulus Augustulus, Emperor instead of himself:

...the fact that he, though a Roman, declined to ascend the imperial throne himself casts doubt on the theory that his barbarian counterparts refrained from a similar move merely because they were barbarian. [Generalissimos of the Western Roman Empire, U of Alberta Press, 1983, p.134]

O'Flynn seems to think that since "real power" lay with the barbarian army, Orestes was better off as Commander rather than Emperor. Such altenatives, however, only exist because people like Arbogast and Ricimer had already held military power without the formal political power. This division was a novelty that had not recommended itself to Magnus Maximus, Constantine "III," or Constantius III. I don't think O'Flynn gives us the reason why, if it isn't just because the Germans are Germans. Orestes in his day certainly can have had the thought that he should seem German in order to help hold the loyalty of his troops (which he lost anyway). Avoiding the Throne would have been consistent with that.

A more serious counterexample might be that of Aspar, the Alan Master of Soldiers in the East under Theodosius II and Marcian. Aspar was a king-maker who put forward both Marcian and then Leo I for the Eastern Throne. Indeed, Warren Treadgold says, "So great was Aspar's power that the intimidated senate apparently offered to elect him emperor, his Arianism and barbarian birth notwithstanding" [A History of the Byzantine State and Society, Stanford University Press, 1997, p.149, boldface added]. He then says, "Aspar would not risk accepting the title." Risk? Why not? "Since most Romans considered an Aspar or Ricimer ineligible to become emperor" [p.101]. Thus, if Aspar was offered the Throne, it was not politic even in his own judgment to take it. Since Leo then regarded this situation as perilous, as was becoming all too obvious in the West, he brought in the wild Isaurians who soon replaced German influence in Constantinople. Wild or not, the Isaurian Zeno, a Roman citizen, was soon on the Throne (474-491). Aspar was assassinated in 470 (or 471).

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"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 19;
The Myth of German Cavalry

Representative of how people used to think about this might be a 1940 statement by Lieutenant John Clarke (U.S. Army) in the preface to his translation of De Re Militari by Flavius Vegetius Renatus (c.390 AD):

Cavalry had adopted the armor of the foot solider and was just commencing to become the principal arm of the military forces. The heavy armed foot-soldier, formerly the backbone of the legion, was falling a victim of his own weight and immobility, and the light-armed infantry, unable to resist the shock of cavalry, was turning more and more to missile weapons. By one of the strange mutations of history, when later the cross-bow and gun-powder deprived cavalry of its shock-power, the tactics of Vegetius again became ideal for armies, as they had been in the times from which he drew his inspiration. [edited by Brig. Gen. Thomas R. Phililps, U.S. Army, Roots of Strategy, Military Service Pub. Co., 1940, Stackpole Books, 1985, p.69]

Thus, we get the picture that cavalry achieved a technological advantage over infantry that only the introduction of cross-bows and gunpowder could overcome. Unfortunately, the Romans had been dealing with armored cavalry for a long time. This had been introduced by the Parthians:  the "cataphracts" (Latin cataphractus, Greek κατάφρακτος, katáphraktos, "mail-clad," or Latin clibanarius, from Greek κλίβανος, klíbanos or kríbanos, an earthen or iron pot or pan). It is unlikely that any German cavalry was as well armored as the Parthians had been. And even if it was, this was nothing new. And although Vegetius complains about undisciplined soldiers in his day throwing away their armor, the gear of Roman soldiers was never heavier that what the modern soldier still carries. Looking at the soldiers who now guard Pennsylvania Station in New York, it looks a bit awkward -- but they've fought recent wars with it. There was no problem of a Roman infantryman "falling a victim of his own weight and immobility." Infantry armies shrank in Western Europe, not from technological disadvantage, but from lack of money. They continued in Romania right through the Middle Ages. Then, as noted above, it was the pike, not cross-bows or gunpowder, that greeted cavalry when infantry revived in the West.

The romance of Germanic cavalry survived well beyond the day of Lieutenant Clarke. Thus, we find George T. Dennis saying, in his 1984 edition of Maurice's Strategikon [University of Pennsylvania Press]:

Although other factors were involved, the Gothic cavalry played a significant role in the battle of Andrianople on 9 August 378. The huge Roman army, mostly infantry, under the personal command of the emperor Valens was assaulting the barricaded camp of the Goths when suddenly the Gothic horsemen came up and charged into the left flank of the Romans. [p.viii]

I may be confused, but my understanding of the battle is that, having defeated the right wing of the Gothic cavalry, the Roman cavalry was discomfited by the barricaded camp, just when Gothic cavalry reinforcements and allies fortuitously arrived to fall on them from their rear. Even if Dennis is right, any implication that the Romans were generally deficient in cavalry, while the Goths possessed some advantage for their emphasis on it, is mistaken.

We might compare the statements of Clarke and Dennis with an extraordinary passage in Procopius:

...practically all the Romans and their allies, the Huns, are good mounted bowmen, but not a man among the Goths has had practice in this branch, for their horsemen are accustomed to use only spears and swords, while their bowmen enter battle on foot and under cover of the heavy-armed men. So the horsemen, unless the engagement is at close quarters, have no means of defending themselves against opponents who use the bow, and therefore can easily be reached by the arrows and destroyed; and as for the foot-soldiers, they can never be strong enough to make sallies against men on horseback. [Procopius, History of the Wars, III, Book V, xxvii 27-29, translated by H.B. Dewing, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1919-2006, p.261]

We might think that Procopius has gotten this backwards. The Romans have better cavalry! Who would have dreamed of that! But of course Procopius is writing about the 6th century, not the 5th, and the Goths now are the Ostrogothic occupiers of Italy, about to be defeated by Besilarius. So perhaps this Roman cavalry has been reformed and improved over the earlier, miserably deficient, versions.

But we might, as well as Lieutenant Clarke, pay some attention to what Vegetius says about cavalry in his own translation:

Many instructions might be given with regard to the cavalry. But as this branch of the service has been brought to perfection since the ancient writers and considerable improvements have been made in their drills and maneuvers, their arms, and the quality and management of their horses, nothing can be collected from their works. Our present mode of discipline is sufficient. [p.174]

Vegetius, who is so sensible of the problems with his contemporary Roman Army, seems quite satisified with the Army's cavalry. This is not consistent with the picture we might get, as from Lieutenant Clarke, of Roman cavalry operating at some kind of disadvantage vis à vis the Germans. That was simply not the case.

An interesting perspective on all this now comes from Edward N. Luttwak in his The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire [Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 2009], which quite deliberately continues his The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire [Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976]. Luttwak believes that the Huns possessed a technological advantage in their composite reflex bows, which had much greater range and penetrating power than the bows previously seen in Europe. This gave "Parthian" tactics an advantage they had not otherwise possessed. The problem with the bows, however, was that the glue to hold them together came apart in damp weather, limiting the reliability of their advantage in European conditions. Either way, the Goths did not have such technology at Adrianople, or in general; and, as Luttwak sees it, the adoption by the Roman cavalry of the technology and tactics of the Huns deflates the mythology of a durable barbarian advantage in comparison to the Romans. And we know, to be sure, how the great longbows of England annihilated the French armored knights at Crécy (1346) and Agincourt (1415). This then deflates the myth, again, of a Mediaeval technological superiority for cavalry.

We can find a recent statement of the thesis of the triumph of German cavalry in Byzantium Triumphant, The Military History of the Byzantines 959-1025, by military historian Julian Romane [Pen & Sword, South Yorkshire, 2015]. The main text of Romane's book is about the conquests of the Macedonian Emperors Nicephorus II Phocas, John I Tzimisces, and Basil II Bulgaroctonus in the 10th and 11th centuries. However, in Romane's extended "Appendix II, Empire and Horse Soldiers, The Origins and Development of the Byzantine Army" [pp.143-177], he explains the failures of the model of the Roman Principate Army in terms of the rise of the "heavy, lance-bearing horsemen," the "horse lords" [p.148], who were able to overwhelm traditional infantry.

However, Romane begins his argument with a glaring anarchronism, identifying the introduction of these horsemen with a 232 AD defeat of Alexander Severus by the newly installed Sassanid Shah Artashir I. Although he later mentions that the horse tactics go back earlier than this [p.149], he leaves the impression that somehow this was all new to the Romans, when in fact armored cavalry and "Parthian arrows" of mounted archers were already familiar from the armies of the, indeed, Parthians.

Thus, why hadn't the Parthians already totally destroyed the model of the Roman Army? And, why were the Parthians, with some impressive victories, not otherwise generally successful against the Romans? Trajan took Ctesiphon and stood at the Persian Gulf. And, in this case, why wasn't Artashir more successful in this war with Alexander Severus? The battle about which Romane quotes the historian Heriodian doesn't seem to even have a name, did not involve Alexander's main force, and did not determine the course of the war, which resulted in a stalemate, with Artashir quiet for the rest of his reign. This is a pretty poor showing for something as formative and epic as Romane makes it out to be.

Indeed, Romane distorts the account of the battle that he quotes from Heriodian, who positively affirms twice that the detached force destroyed by Artashir lost simply because it was outnumbered [Herodian, History of the Empire, Books 5-8, translated by C.R. Whittaker, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard, 1970, pp.115,121]. Alexander had sent two forces to raid Media and Parthia, which did so successfully [pp.111-113]; but then Alexander did not move to support them with his column, "the strongest and biggest group" [p.113], and Artashir withdrew most of his army to deal with the raiders, which he did [p.117]. Most telling is Herodian's summary of the war:

Even though the barbarians seemed to have emerged the victors by some superior force, yet they had been damaged by the frequent skirmishes in Media and the battle in Parthia, because of the heavy list of losses and even greater number of wounded. The Romans, far from having retreated ignominiously, had in some cases actually inflicted serious damage too on the enemy, and had only been destroyed in so far a they were fewer in number. [pp.119-121].

Romane completely ignores this part of the account, which is incredible if an obsolete Roman Army had been completely outclassed and annihilated by new Persian weapons and tactics. Instead, as Alexander retreated to Antioch, "the Persian king too had demobilized his troops, dispersing them all to their respective homes" [p.119]. The War was over; and we see nothing like the revolution in Roman technology and fortunes that Romane tries to present.

But what's worse is Romane's presumption that the triumphant German tribes at Adrianople and later were somehow armies of cataphracti like the Parthians or Sassanids. They weren't. And while he likes the idea that the Goths came off the steppe before the attacks of the Huns, implying that they had a steppe horse culture, there is not only little evidence of that but not even the possibility of it for other German tribes that had never lived on the steppe. Also, Romane misrepresents the history of the advent of the Goths into the Empire, leaving out the Goths accepted into the Roman Army and the mistreatment of Gothic refugees in the camps where they were settled. Romane doesn't even mention that the Goths were allowed into the Empire in the first place, leaving the impression that the Goths forced their way in and "seized weapons from the Romans" in a hostile encounter from the first [op.cit., p.155]. For all the sources that Romane cites, he falsely asserts that, after the death of Valens, "the imperial administration in the east chose a new emperor" [ibid.], when, of course, it was the job of the Western Emperor Gratian, to choose a colleague, as he did -- picking a Spaniard, Theodosius, who probably would not have been a candidate to the Eastern Court.

But, of course, the ultimate weakness of Romane's argument involves the issues already considered here. The Swiss pikemen who killed Charles the Bold of Burgundy at the Battle of Nancy in 1477 demonstrated that Mediaeval infantry could stop mounted and armored knights if properly prepared and trained. This had already happened several times. He might also have noted that Hannibal finally lost a battle when his Numidian cavalry went over to the Romans at Zama in 202 BC. He didn't need Valens to tell him what went wrong there, and the Numidians certainly were no cataphracti. But they were an arm of the military whose use in battle was already understood by Philip of Macedon. Conventional cavalry, such as the Goths had, was deciding battles on the flanks and in the rear long before Adrianople.

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"Decadence, Rome and Romania,
the Emperors Who Weren't, etc.," Note 20;
Adrian Goldsworthy's How Rome Fell, Death of a Superpower

A new book weighs in on the "Fall" of Rome:  How Rome Fell, Death of a Superpower by Adrian Goldsworthy [Yale University Press, 2009]. So far, I have only seen reviews of the book, but they do not make it look promising. Goldsworthy's thesis is said to be that the Empire was weakened by civil wars and by the abandonment of the Republican system of consultation with the Senate. Unfortunately, any explanation of the Fall of Rome must simultaneously account for the collapse in the West and the lack of collapse in the East. That is to say, part of the Empire fell but not all of it. Both parts of Goldsworthy's argument would fail in this respect, since the East continued just fine despite this history of civil wars and despite the purely monarchical form of government. Indeed, the Roman Empire was created out of civil wars, and then recovered under Diocletian, and at other times, after nasty bouts of them. I am reminded of the Introduction by E.R.A. Sewter to his translation of Michael Psellus [Fourteen Byzantine Emperors, Penguin, 1966], where he says, "if they were so inferior, how did these wretched Byzantines manage to survive so long after the collapse of the West? and what about Santa Sophia? and wasn't a millennium rather a long time for a sustained decline?" [p.10]. To be sure.

As I have examined above, I think much of the problem is the disinclination of Classicists, by a kind of self-deception, to credit the starkly obvious record of the survival of the Empire. Those Greeks simply were not, well Romans, according to us. But if the "Roman Empire" is to mean a State ruled from the city of Rome by native speakers of Latin who are indigenes of Italy, Latium, and the City of Rome (true "Romans"), then the Roman Empire indeed already had "fallen" in the Third Century. Philip the Arab, Diocletian, and others were no longer Italian. Trajan already was no longer Italian, though he was born from a Latin colonial family, in Spain. Septimius Severus, born in Leptis (Lepcis) Magna, today in Libya, spoke Punic (i.e. Phoenician) as his first language and always retained an "African" accent in his Latin [A Phoenician-Punic Grammar, by Charles R. Krahmalkov, Brill, Leiden, 2001, p.14] -- Scipio Africanus must have been rolling over in his grave. And then Septimius married into some goofy Syrian family, which produced the bizarre Emperor Elagabalus (Heliogabalus). Once Caracalla, the son of Septimius, made all free Roman subjects Citizens, that was the end of any legal ethnic distinctions in the Empire. Diocletian's Empire had Latin as its court language (as he had Latinized his Greek name), but it was no longer based in Rome or governed or defended by natives of Latium. The Empire as such, not the City, was the nature of the State. It does not sound like Goldsworthy does a better job than many others in coming to grips with this circumstance. He likes the First Empire and thinks of the "Fall" as its end, the end of paganism and the dominance of the City. The transformation of the State and the Civilization, and its survival for twelve hundred years after Diocletian, is a disappointment to be ignored, distorted, or misrepresented to any extent possible.

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