Friday, June 1, 2012

Eastern Roman? Or the Byzantine?

Today Turkish people call the Greek as Rum, and the language of the Greek as Romaic. The Turks ran into Greeks, let’s better say the people of Eastern Roman Empire for the first time when they entered Anatolia. At those times, the land was called as the Roman country (“Country of the Rums”). The people living on that land called themselves as Romans, i.e., “Romaioi”, and the land they lived on (today’s Anatolia) as the Roman country, “Romania”.
However, it is interesting that; we call these people who called themselves as Romans, Byzantine and their country which they called as the (Eastern) Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire. These people had never called themselves or their countries as Byzantine, indeed. I don’t even believe that they had ever heard a word like that. Until the invasion of their country in 1453, they had been Romans living in the Roman Empire. I guess they would be so surprised if they knew they would be referred to as Byzantine in the future.
Hieronymus Wolf 1516-1580
Eponym of Byzantine
The Eastern Roman Empire must be the only country in the world whose name was changed after it had been destroyed. At least to my knowledge… The story began with the German historian and researcher Hieronymus Wolf’s being assigned as the manager of the new Augsburg library founded in 1537. His main area of interest was the ancient and middle-age Greek works. He translated around 100 Greek handwriting works that had come from Venice, into German, and thus, made them accessible for contemporary Europeans.  In 1557, he published the great work he had written on Greek history, under the name of “Corpus Historiae Byzantinae”. He was the first to define the Eastern Roman Empire as Byzantine. There, he intended to refer to the Eastern Roman Empire whose capital was Constantinople. He chose an interesting way to tell this. Instead of using Eastern Roman Empire, he made up a new word from the historical name of the city Byzantium, and called it Byzantinae.
In early 17th century, French King Louis the 14th ordered that all known works of the Eastern Roman Empire were collected. He had experts on Roman history from all over the world come together to do this. The study yielded a great piece consisting of 34 volumes and it was given the same name. Thus; the name Byzantinae became official.
Montesquieu 1689-1755
He identified Western Roman Empire with virtue
And Eastern Roman Empire with conspiration
 Montesquieu was among the leaders of the enlightenment era. ‘The Spirit of the Laws’ he wrote in 1548 greatly inspired the American Constitution, and ‘Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline’ inspired Napoleon’s utopic objective like combining the whole world under a single empire like Rome. In all his works, Montesquieu linked the concepts about rise with the west, and the concepts about fall with the east. Just like him, the enlightened author Edward Gibbon concluded in his work named ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ mostly due to Christianity that; all the wise and greatness gathered together in the West, and conspiration and fall in the East.

Both enlightened authors and the others they stood as a leader made pioneering studies about political philosophy in a time when monarchy gave way to democratic parliamentary system in Europe. They attributed the renaissance of state management to the virtues of the Western Roman Empire, whereas they attributed its fall to the increasingly Christianizing Eastern Roman Empire. Just like the Historian Prof. Clifton R. Fox stated in “What if anything is a Byzantine?”… As they thought that the word stemming from Greek, Latin or Roman did not fit the empire whose capital city was Constantinople, the first name of the city, Byzantium came up. Thus; the virtue and success of the Roman Empire which the western thought was based on started to be referred as Rome in the west, and its fall and corruption were referred as Byzantine in the east in order to whitewash the name of the Greeco-Roman culture. It is somewhat possible to understand the enlightened. It is quite natural that they took the Pagan side of Rome instead of the Christian side in their rightful struggle against the arm-in-arm monarchy and Catholic Church. Yet, it would have been better if they hadn’t done that in such an unfair way against the East that they even changed its name.

Edward Gibbon 1737-1794
Regarding that the Roman Empire was founded in 44 B.C., capital city was moved to Constantinople from Rome in 322, it was separated as Eastern and Western in 395, the Western Roman Empire fell and the Eastern Roman Empire remained as a single empire in 475 (Rome’s invasion by the Visigoth) and it fell in 1453 A.C.; I believe it lived its most powerful albeit fluctuating military, commercial and cultural years in its 1500 years of history, between 332-1453, in times when its capital was Constantinople. It cannot be ignored that the empire was quite downsized in its last years, it became weak and collapsed at the end. However; these do not justify the fact that all these negativities were attributed to the Eastern Roman Empire. While the contemporary Europe remained in the dark, Constantinople was the capital of Science, Culture and Art around the Mediterranean, with a population around 500.000. Unfortunately, the Byzantine name is remembered with the words conspiration and corruption almost in all languages.

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