Romanian History and Culture

A Library of Knowledge from the Web. An Educational Website

Rome, Byzantium, Romania

Vlahs never called themselves Vlahs. They called themselves Romans as did citizens of the Roman Empire and of Byzantium. The Roman Empire called itself Romania  as well as Byzantium which was The Roman Empire of the East. The City of Byzantium was called New Rome-Roma Nova.



Emperors of the Roman and the  Byzantine Empires; Princes, Kings, and Tsars of Numidia, Judaea, Bulgaria, Serbia, Wallachia, & Moldavia; and the Sultâns of Rûm


Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

William Butler Yeats (1865–1939), "Sailing to Byzantium"


Rome casts a long shadow. I am writing in the Latin alphabet. I am using the Roman calendar, with its names of the months. I use Roman names for the planets in the sky, which also get applied to the days of the week. Sentences I write contain borrowed Latin words with some frequency [e.g. sententia, continêre, Latinus, frequentia, for example -- exempli gratia], even though the English language and its antecedents never existed within the Roman Empire (unlike the many modern languages directly descended from Latin). Nietzsche said, "The Romans were indeed the strong and noble, just as those stronger and nobler hitherto on earth never existed, never even would have been dreamt" [Zur Genealogie der Moral, Reclam, 1988, p.42; see discussion of this translation]. But this is just the problem. What Nietzsche admired was unapologetic power, conquest, and domination. This no longer seems so admirable, and the Empire founded by Julius Caesar and Augustus, as a form of government, does not look like an advance in the course of human progress. Even to Machiavelli, the despotism of Caesar was a grave retrogression in comparison to the Roman Republic. While a thoughtful Emperor, like Marcus Aurelius, expressed ideals adopted from Stoic cosmopolitanism, the unity and universality of Rome soon expressed itself as the unity and universality of a state religion, Christianity, whose intrinsic exclusivism and intolerance became characteristic of the Middle Ages. This is also no longer to be regarded as admirable. Nevertheless, the very success of Rome makes us, like it or not, her heirs, in countless matters great and small -- like monogamy, which has no Biblical basis; or shaving, which only seems to have been previously popular among the Egyptians. In some Greek cities (including Byzantium), it was illegal for men not to wear beards.

Indeed, the Romans were rather more successful than is usually thought. The corpus of Roman law, let alone Greek literature, was not preserved at Rome, but at Constantinople, Roma Nova -- as we see Michael Psellus in the 11th Century contrasting "the ancient and lesser Rome, and the later, more powerful city" [Fourteen Byzantine Rulers, Penguin, 1966, p.177]. What most people would probably regard as an obscure and possibly unpleasant footnote to Mediaeval history, the Byzantine Empire, was in fact still the Roman Empire, known to Western Europeans, "Latins" or "Franks" at the time, as Romania, already the name of the Empire in Late Antiquity. In the Middle Ages, the Greeks used their own word for "Greeks," Hellênes, to mean the ancient pagan Greeks, as the word is used in the New Testament -- sometimes the Latin word for Greeks would be borrowed, as Graikoi, if this was needed for contemporary reference, as for the language. In 1354 Demetrius Cydones even translated the Summa Contra Gentiles of St. Thomas Aquinas into Greek as the Book against the Hellenes. Mediaeval Greeks, and the other citizens of the Empire, Armenians, Albanians, Vlachs, etc., were themselves always Romans, Rhômaîoi, and the Empire was always hê Rhômaiôn Arkhê, hê Rhômaiôn Basileía, "the Empire of the Romans," or even Rhômania, as in Latin.

It is then natural that Classicists, to whom the Romans were the last people who proudly weren't Christians, would prefer the hostile modern neologism "Byzantine" for the continuing Empire, rather than pollute the memory of Augustus and Trajan with that of Justinian, Heraclius, or Basil II. Yet even Justinian was still speaking Latin -- and what Classicist will dare, and I dare them, to fault the others for speaking Greek? The very people, indeed, thanks to whom we possess Classical Greek and its literature. Historians sometimes note the humiliation of the Greeks in being conquered by Rome, and sometimes the irony of the Romans admiring and adopting Greek thought, architecture, literature, etc.; but I have never seen the stark truth put this way:  The Greeks inherited the Roman Empire. Why does no one say that? They must be thinking that those Christian Greeks are no longer really Greeks, who by definition were pagans. Of course, Basil II and Alexius Comnenus would agree. They are no longer Hellênes; they are Rhômaîoi. But if, to historians, they are neither Greeks nor Romans, what can they be? Oh, let's make up a word. They are "Byzantines" -- and we all know how nasty that is.

A Western outpost of Constantinople like Venice long provided a pipeline of influence from Romania, even in little things, like the fork (the one for eating -- forgotten after the "Fall of Rome" and unknown among the Franks), which arrived there in 1004 or 1005. The Latin conquest of Constantinople in 1204 (at the connivance, sadly, of Venice), and then refugees from the fall of the City to the Ottomans in 1453, rather crudely, but effectively, brought much of the heritage of the Roman East back into the hitherto poorer Mediaeval civilization of the West. Much remaining from the Classical world was lost, nevertheless, not with the Germanic invasions, the "Fall," and the Dark Ages, but in these later disasters. Sometimes only pitiful fragments were salvaged from them -- even as we see the Parthenon surviving intact until 1687, when it was blown apart by Turkish gunpowder. Thus, half of the literature described by the Patriarch Photius in his 9th century Bibiotheca is now lost.

When we realize how much was preserved, in literature, art, and institutions, at Constantinople from the soi disant "Fall of Rome," it helps us realize how much Mediaeval Romania was, indeed, still the Roman Empire, just as they tell us. In an age when the politically correct fall all over themselves to say "Beijing" rather than "Peking" or "Mumbai" rather than "Bombay," it is extraordinary to find historians who not only do not call the Mediaeval Roman Empire what it was, but who seem to have even forgotten that "Romania" was actually its name in both Latin and Greek.

This is getting to be a large text file (382.7K), and with older internet connections it may take a long time to load, especially because of all the maps and genealogical charts, which are large graphic files. There is also an audio file (827.1K), if anyone wants music:  This is the "Dance of the Knights" from the ballet Romeo and Juliet by Sergei Prokofiev -- I think it evokes the ponderous, ominous, and majestic character of the Empire. Despite the overall size, Romania.htm has not been broken up, so as to preserve and emphasize the continuity of the history of Rome and Romania from Augustus all the way to Constantine XI. It is a long story -- Gibbon's version is now published in three large volumes [The Modern Library], and he only began with the Antonines.

Google describes this file as, "A thorough investigation into the Eastern Roman Empire." Somebody has not looked at it very carefully. We begin here with Augustus. But I have in fact never seen a book or treatment of the Roman Empire that addresses it as an institution with a continuous history from Augustus to Constantine XI. Classicist "Roman" historians lose interest in the 4th century and throw in the towel in the 5th, while "Byzantinists" generally begin with Constantine. This is a distortion due to modern prejudices, written by historians whom the Romans would have dismissed as "Franks." Some historians, e.g. Peter Brown or A.H.M. Jones, tie together "Roman" and "Byzantine" time, as something like a new discipline emerges around "Late Antiquity"; but a general sense of the continuity of the history has not caught on. The treatment that is appropriate would be the four imaginary volumes shown above left, where Roman history continues down through the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Classicists need only buy the first volume. [note]