Warfare, State, and Society in the Byzantine World, 565-1204

By John Haldon | Go to book overview

Introduction

The term “Byzantine empire” refers to the eastern Roman empire from the end of the “late Roman” period in the eastern and central Mediterranean/ Balkan region (from the sixth century, therefore) to the fifteenth century, that is to say, from the time when a distinctively East Roman political formation began to evolve with the recognition of the cultural divisions between “Greek East” and “Latin West” in the empire’s political structure, to the fall of Constantinople on 29 May 1453 at the hands of the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II “Fatih”, “the Conqueror”. And although within this long period there were many substantial transformations, the elements of structural continuity are marked enough to permit such a broad chronological definition. “Byzantine” should be understood as the convenient label which it is—a shorthand for “medieval East Roman”, for the Byzantines referred to themselves as Romaioi or Romans, a term which subsumed at once their identity as Orthodox Christians, the Chosen People who, in the eyes of God, had succeeded to the place of the Jews from the time of Christ; and as Romans, the inheritors of a world empire protected and guided by God. From the point of view of the medieval observer, the artificial chronological divisions imposed by modern historians, sometimes for perfectly valid reasons, upon Byzantine history are quite meaningless; and even from the perspective of the modern specialist historian, the divide between late Roman (i.e. up to the later sixth century) and Byzantine (from the early seventh century) serves, as often as not, to obscure the fact that continuity in every respect—socio-economic, political, institutional and ideological—was the norm. 1

Interest in the history and culture of Byzantium can be traced back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as the expanding power of the Ottoman empire encouraged closer familiarity with the history of the regions which it had swallowed up, the better to understand how to oppose what appeared to central and western European political and religious leaders to be an apparently irresistible advance. “Modern” Byzantine studies, informed by new and

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