Petar V. Šerović

“The Byzantine Empire” or the Empire of the Romioi?

pages: 15-28


Owing to the popularization of the traditional artificial means of expression and the “suitability” of the artificial label “Byzantine” the term “Byzantium” still dominates as a generally accepted designation for the Empire of the Romioi despite of all its negative and pejorative connotations. Historiographically speaking this term was first used in mid-sixteenth century by the German humanist Hieronymus Wolf, but it was gradually standardized and popularized during the eighteenth century by the French “enlighteners”. Keeping to the spirit of their times they presented the “Byzantine Empire” as a polity which was the incarnation of all that was contrary to the principles of the “Age of Reason and Enlightenment”. Owing to this stance of the “enlighteners”, eighteenth and nineteenth century historical science itself became a slave to the medieval stereotypes of Occidental provenance which saw the “Byzantines” as a perfidious, devious, servile, superstitious, effeminized, and an unwarlike sort of a people. The Roman Church, the western humanists, the encyclopedists, and the enlighteners could not cope with the notion that the precious world of antiquity might have had its authentic expression in the “superstitious, decadent and autocratic” East and that this state of affairs could have lasted a whole millennium after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. In order to accomplish a total deconstruction and delegitimization of New Rome and all that it stood for, it became necessary for them to draw a sharp demarcation line between the Late Roman Empire and, conditionally speaking, the medieval version of the Roman Empire as personified by the Empire of the Romioi (Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων) with its distinctly Hellenic uniqueness in the ethno- cultural and linguistic sense of the word. Thus, the Empire of the Romioi was renamed “Byzantium” with the general intention of invoking a “general state of amnesia” regarding the existence of an authentic Empire of the Romioi, i.e. a medieval Roman Empire and its organic connection with its own ancient past. Many contemporary western politicians and publicists still nurture a simplistic and a negative perception regarding the “Byzantine civilization” and the “Byzantine heritage” in East and South- East Europe. It is of great importance to draw public attention to the fact that the Empire of the Romioi, as the Christianized Roman Empire civilizationally orientated towards the Hellenistic East, played a crucial and an irreplaceable role in the transmission of the “Christianized East Mediterranean Synthesis” the essence of which is still being manifested by the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church.





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