Byzantine Empire - Nomenclature


See also: Names of the Greeks

The first use of the term "Byzantine" to label the later years of the Roman Empire was in 1557, when German historian Hieronymus Wolf published his work Corpus Historiæ Byzantinæ, a collection of historical sources. The term comes from "Byzantium", the name of the city of Constantinople before it became the capital of Constantine. This older name of the city would rarely be used from this point onward except in historical or poetic contexts. The publication in 1648 of the Byzantine du Louvre (Corpus Scriptorum Historiæ Byzantinæ), and in 1680 of Du Cange's Historia Byzantina further popularised the use of "Byzantine" among French authors, such as Montesquieu. However, it was not until the mid-19th century that the term came into general use in the Western world. As regards the English historiography in particular, the first occasion of the "Byzantine Empire" appears in a 1857 work of George Finlay (History of the Byzantine Empire from 716 to 1057).

The Byzantine Empire was known to its inhabitants as the "Roman Empire", the "Empire of the Romans" (Latin: Imperium Romanum, Imperium Romanorum; Greek: Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων Basileia tōn Rhōmaiōn, Ἀρχὴ τῶν Ῥωμαίων Archē tōn Rhōmaiōn), "Romania" (Latin: Romania; Greek: Ῥωμανία Rhōmania), the "Roman Republic" (Latin: Res Publica Romana; Greek: Πολιτεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων Politeia tōn Rhōmaiōn), Graikia (Greek: Γραικία), and also as Rhōmais (Greek: Ῥωμαΐς).

Although the Byzantine Empire had a multi-ethnic character during most of its history and preserved Romano-Hellenistic traditions, it became identified by its western and northern contemporaries with its increasingly predominant Greek element. The occasional use of the term "Empire of the Greeks" (Latin: Imperium Graecorum) in the West to refer to the Eastern Roman Empire and of the Byzantine Emperor as Imperator Graecorum (Emperor of the Greeks) were also used to separate it from the prestige of the Roman Empire within the new kingdoms of the West. The authority of the Byzantine emperor as the legitimate Roman emperor, was challenged by the coronation of Charlemagne as Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III in the year 800. Needing Charlemagne's support in his struggle against his enemies in Rome, Leo used the lack of a male occupant of the throne of the Roman Empire at the time to claim that it was vacant and that he could therefore crown a new Emperor himself. Whenever the Popes or the rulers of the West made use of the name Roman to refer to the Eastern Roman Emperors, they usually preferred the term Imperator Romaniae instead of Imperator Romanorum, a title that they applied only to Charlemagne and his successors.

No such distinction existed in the Persian, Islamic, and Slavic worlds, where the Empire was more straightforwardly seen as the continuation of the Roman Empire. In the Islamic world it was known primarily as روم (Rûm "Rome").

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