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Why the Byzantine Empire was not a “Greek Empire”? August 4, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Byzantine, Yunanistan.
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Within the last two centuries, we have seen the western literature label the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) as “Greek Empire”.

Once again this is largely to the inventions and distortions of the western historians of the 19th century, who also falsely ascribed “Greek” ethnicity to the ancient Macedonians.

These people took the fact that Greek was used as the language of the Empire and declared that the Empire was ruled by “Greeks”, had “Greek” armies, “Greek” churches, and “Greek” art.

In other words they spoke of the Byzantine Empire as a “Greek Empire”, a view which had been completely supported and propagated by the modern Greeks as well.

Along with distorting the ethnicity of the ancient Macedonians, the labeling of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire into “Greek” is one of the greatest fabrications of the western and modern Greek writers.

Although it is true that Greek was used as the language of the Empire, that can not be taken as proof that the empire was “Greek”.

Latin was the original official language, imposed by the Romans who established and ruled the Roman Empire.

In 395 AD when the Roman Empire split into western and eastern (Byzantine), Latin continued to be used as the official language but in time it was replaced by Greek as that language was already widely spoken among the Eastern Mediterranean nations as the main trade language.

Yet the Emperors, the Church clergy, the army, and the artists, although they spoke Latin and Greek, where not exclusively of Greek ethnicity.

The Empire was made up of many nationalities – Thracians, Macedonians, Illyrians, Bythinians, Carians, Phrygians, Armenians, Lydians, Galatians, Paphlagonians, Lycians, Syrians, Cilicians, Misians, Cappadocians, etc.

The Greeks composed only a small portion of this multi-ethnic Empire and evidence shows that they did not posses much of the power either, for we know exactly who were the Byzantine Emperors, and we know they were not ethnic Greeks.

The earlier Byzantine Emperors were Romans but in time people of different ethnic backgrounds ruled this multi-ethnic empire.

It is known that the empire reached its zenith while it was ruled by the Macedonians while the Macedonian Dynasty was on power for almost two centuries.

Other dynasties that ruled were the Syrian, Armenian, Phrygian (Amorian), and other emperors were of various nationalities.

Having in mind the ethnic diversity of the empire, the Church clergy, the army, and the artists, also came from the many different nationalities, and were not exclusively ethnic Greeks.

The Byzantine historians often speak of “Macedonian army”, “Thracian army”, “Roman army”.

The Thracians, Macedonians, Illyrians, Bythinians, Carians, Phrygians, Armenians, Lydians, Galatians, Paphlagonians, Lycians, Syrians, Cilicians, Misians, Cappadocians, had to speak Latin and Greek in order to communicate among themselves, but they must have used their original languages to communicate within their own ethnic boundaries, which of course does not make them “Greeks”.

Thus it is inaccurate to call the Byzantine Empire a “Greek Empire” and falsely ascribe its greatness to the Greeks, when in fact it is the non-Greeks who gave the greatest contribution in its progress.

The inaccurate 19th century western historiography needs another major revision, just like the one it already went through regarding the ethnicity of the ancient Macedonians. Otherwise it will continue to be unreliable and biased.

Comments»

1. Dr. Ashok Vikash - October 13, 2010

You are correct about this infomation and this fact is also known in the West for sure. I was never taught that the Byzantine Empire was a Greek one and I studied in the West, also my collagues, teachers and class mates never said that the Byzantine Empire was of Greek ethnicity. The whole Roman empire was diverse and the later Byzantine empire was as well, they never called themselves Byzantine and considered themselves Roman. But the Greek language with its letters and their view on the Church did dominate in the Byzantium. I work with lots of Greek historians and students, no one ever said that Macedonia was Greek for in The Byzantium and during Alexander the Great. But it is known that the Hellenistic teachings, culture and religions influenced and even dominated during these Empires. And therefore is called Greek, knowing this mind that the Greeks don’t call themselves Greek but Hellas and names like Constantinopel is the slavic version of Konstantinopoulis which the West used. The West has ancient Greek in importance, but the Greek from now not… also the slavic launguages which are of importance are often not mentioned. The Greek of now speak Greek which is a varient of Ancient Greek influenced by Latin, Turkish and Slavic languages and they have their own identity a Greek one, not a Byzantine one. Like the Bosnians, Albanians and Turks share majority influences of the Ottoman culture… the Greek, Bulgarians, Macedonians and Serbs share a majority of Byzantine influences. I visited Turkey, Greece and Macadonia and I can say that the Macedonians are Macedonians, The people living in Macedon in Greece consider themselves Greek not one of them said they were Macedonian. The same goed fot Thrace in Greece were they call themselves Greek and in Thrace in Turkey they call themselves Turks. The Greek were always a small group with lots of city states before Alexander the Great united them and off course he got a Greek name Alexandros mixed with Iskander his Macedon name forms Alexander his Western name, but anyway this Hellenstic or Greek culture with no ethnic bounderies influence the whole ancient world and modern world. From the U.S.A politics till Islamic Turkish Architecture till European theatre. My God recognise that and respect the few who live on that heritage! Don’t mind my English, take care! Unity in diversity!

2. Dr. Ashok Vikash - October 13, 2010

Good luck further on!

3. Hari Wibowo - October 13, 2010

Dear Sir, Mrs,

I’m Hari W, Indonesia.

Sorry, i do speaking to you with the Hindia Brittaine (please reads the prace sadeta, with the Abjads sade).

Cavesety. Sade tade tade, sade tade tade jas tane tade, cavesete.
Nade, sadeta jabe nadeta sade tade, tane.

Nadeta, best regards,
Hari W_

Hari Wibowo - October 13, 2010

Sadeta jabe tane sadeta, nade ya Council.
Sadeta to you.

4. Makedhonia Panta Elliniki - March 4, 2011

BULL FUCKING SHIT! “Scholarship” like this is why the rest of the world laughs at the banana republic of Titostan.

“Once again this is largely to the inventions and distortions of the western historians of the 19th century, who also falsely ascribed “Greek” ethnicity to the ancient Macedonians.”

Yeah, those “western historians of the 19th century” and nationalistic Greeks of the 20th century who “falsely ascribed ‘Greek’ ethnicity to the ancient Macedonians.

What about contemporary Persians who called the Macedonians “Yauna Takabara” (Greeks with the Shield-hat, look it up you stupid Monkeydonian). Were they “falsely ascribing” a Hellenic identity to Macedonia?

“The Empire was made up of many nationalities – Thracians, Macedonians, Illyrians, Bythinians, Carians, Phrygians, Armenians, Lydians, Galatians, Paphlagonians, Lycians, Syrians, Cilicians, Misians, Cappadocians, etc.”

Most of those groups were not “ethnicities.” Bythinia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Misia, and Paphlagonia were all historical regions or provinces of Anatolia (under the Persians, Alexander the GREEK and his successors, the Romans). Most of the other Anatolian groups: Carians, Lycians, Lydians, and Phrygians were gone by the time of the Byzantine Empire. And of course the only real Macedonians are Greeks! (Sorry there were no Slavs/Bulgarians in ancient Macedonia!)

Byzantium was composed of the following ethnic groups: Hellenes, Semitic Syrians and Assyrians, Armenians, and Illyrians. There were probably remnants of the Celtic Galatians and the pre-Hellenic, pre-Persian populations of Anatolia in the interior of the peninsula, but these people would have been heavily Hellenized. Also, Slavs and Bulgars invaded the Balkans, adding to the ethnic composition of the Empire.

So take your Nazi history and shove it, Skopie!

5. Makedhonia Panta Elliniki - March 4, 2011

P.S. I see that your blog promotes friendship between the Former Yugoslav Republic of “Macedonia” and the Turkish Republic. FYROM turns to our historical rivals, presumably on “realist” grounds, but I think it is apt. Seeing as your shithole “country” is going to be majority-Muslim very soon (if not already), perhaps you can join some neo-Ottoman union. Your descendants (if you have any) will be Muslims or Slavic dhimmis at best!

6. kostas - April 21, 2011

Oh, fuck up! I used to try to communcate in forums like that with writing logical facts, but that’s UNBELIEVABLE!!! 1) You Turks should better not talk about in ancient and medieval history, because when all these things happened, you were some filthy barbaian nomads in the East(you haven’t changed very much) 2) AND YOU SKOPIANS YOU ARE NOTHING MORE THAN BULGARIAN SLAVS! AND TAKE OFF THAT PICTURE-MAP IN THE TOP OF THE WEBPAGE! IF WHAT YOU HOPE IS TO ENVADE GREECE AND CAPTURE MACEDONIA I’M NOT SO SURPRISED THAT YOU AND THE TURKS GOT FRIENDS! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH MAKEDONIA, OR THE GLORIOUS ANCIENT GREEK AND BYZANTINE CIVILIZATION! AND DON’T TRY TO STEAL OUR HISTORY BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE ANY! BECAUSE YOU ARE SOME BASTARDS! oh and… FUCK UP!!

7. brennus dux gallorum - August 12, 2011

intresting post however there are some problems.Roman was not the official language of the empire after 7th century.The official language was GREEK.secondly many of the non greeks you describe were actually greeks like macedonians (strabo described them as Greeks), or not part of the empire, for example Syrians and other middle easterns were not part of the empire after 8th century.Greeks were the majority of the population after 10th century, the official language was greek and the majority of the emperors were Greek.

In other words byzanitne empire didn’t start as a greek empire but became completely Greek after 9th century.

Bill - December 10, 2011

Being of Greek heritage, and along with many other Greeks, I believe that he is right in saying that the Byzantine Empire was not Greek. You’re right when you say it predominantly took on the Greek language. As an analogy I live in Australia, we were colonised by the English, we speak English, but the people here do not consider themselves English. I have no pride in the Byzantine Empire.

Yiannis Malegkanos - March 17, 2014

What Greek heritage could you have, to feel no pride for the Empire? Our ancestors held the torch of Rome for 1000 years after the German invasion. It represents the natural progression of Ancient Greece in all its glory. Constantinople was a bastion of Christendom, the final beacon of Europe in the East. I know so many “Greeks,” makes me sick! Sorry for necro post.

Charles Roos - July 23, 2013

Why you said Roman was a language. The name of the Language was Latin. That was the language of the Roman Empire, the language Latin was the language of Cicero, Cato, etc.

8. Nick - October 29, 2011

This is a load of bullshit

9. Κωνσταντινος - December 7, 2011

This article is largely false, I could say a lot of things about the dubious inaccuracies in the article which is meant to serve certain propaganda , for very dark interests.

I will mention only one lie mentioned in the article , and it should be enough to prove to the readers not to accept this article as historical truth , but anti-Hellenic propaganda

the Macedonians was a Hellenic (Greek) tribe that of doric descent, when we talk about the Macedonians it is just like when we talk of the Spartans or some other Hellenic tribe or city state. (although, some shadowy interests claim that also the Spartans are not Greek) the Macedonians partook at the ancient olympic games, where only greek tribes or city states were allowed to participate. and the competitors had to give proof of their geneology and greekness, that is why there were historical records kept at Olympia of the history of the greek tribes and geneology, the Macedonians are considered descedents of Hercules. BARBARIANS (non Greeks) didinot participate at the Olympic games. This information by itself shows the disgusting propaganda and mis-information going around by certain lowlifes. Also the residents of modern greek macedonia do call themselves macedonian because they are and do call themselves greek because they are. MACEDONIANS WERE AND ARE GREEK and this is the undeniable TRUTH. now, the state called FYROM up until the end of ww2 was called VARDASKA , and are mostly slavic-bylgarian descent although there is an albanian minority and although there is a Greek-macedonian minority.

Also in the records of the OTTOMAN empire where many nations were subjected to, there is no mention of a Macedonian ethnicity, nor a thracian ethnicity , all greeks were mentioned as greek the bulgarians as bulgarians the serbs as serbs , the albanians as albanians I could write pages prooving the obsurdity of the article above. on all levels but what I wrote should be enough for any skeptical or misinformed reader to question the reasons for the writing of this dirty propaganda article, enough said

10. Bill - December 10, 2011

The “Macedonians” in question are not Greek, I believe that this is a slavic fabrication to suit a cause that has fallen on deaf ears. You’re not Greek, Alexander the Great and myself are Greek. You people (along with the Turks) simply did not exist back then. You moved into the area as descendants from sorrounding Slavic tribes after the time of Christ. It is a free world and you are free to be delusion if you wish. However don’t expect the world to recognise a state built on a false and distorted history.

11. Bill - December 10, 2011

I do agree with you 100% that the Byzantine Empire was not Greek. Christianity was thrust upon us by the Romans, we did not choose to enslave ourselves and destroy our culture of free thinking.

12. viron1997 - June 21, 2012

I’m greek but i dont say that the Byzantine empire was called Greek Empire…..but is true that from the 7th century greek was the main language of the byzantine empire….and the most of the people was greeks, why say that the empire had greeks characteristics!!!! You can see that coz all names of the emparors had greek names lake costantine..basilios…ioustinianos etc!!! And for the skopians… you arent macedonians!!! macedonians called them self greeks… they spoke ancienr greeks and they had greek culture!!!! you say that alexander was your ancestor but you dont even know what alexanders means!!!! alexander means the man who deflect the other from the words: alex and andros (άλεξ + ανδρός) wich alex means deflect and andros means man!!! As for you turks….you rename constantinople to istabul…. you know what istabul realy means? means in the city from the ancient greeks word is-tin-polin (εισ-την-πόλιν) and you captured the byzantine empire when it was divided coz of the crusade!!!! About the roman empire, its self when conquered the greek city-states recognized the greek language as one of the empires langauge an the greek culture one of the empires culture, you know why? coz when alexander the great did that he done the greek culture and language was the known-worlds characteristics ( which and this word is greek like many other from the english language) and that you can see it coz many of the students of christ had greek names like petros, ioannes etc…. if you have heard about the helinic period? Also in one city of macedonia near thessalonica we have found the tomb of phillip alexanders father and do you know whose languages word are up there? ancient greek!!!! And final after the greek revolution for independence do you know hom many greek come from the ottoman empire in greece… the 1/6 of your population!!! you know why? coz after almost 400 of slavery many of the greeks of the byzantine empire remaind greeks after all this years!!! Coz of these and many mores noone cant say that the macedons arent greeks and byzantine empire hadn’t the greek language and culture as its primary!!! and if you dont like this!!! You can see in many games like civilization V that the alexanders was Greek and in games like medieval 2 total war and europa universallis 3 that the byzantine has the greek culture and language as its primary!!!! And there are so many proves from archaeologists and book (the most of them arent greeks and you cant say that they say that coz they are greeks) that all that i told you now and many more proves that they are true!!!

Here is a page that it proves that everything i say about ancient greece is true….
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greece
And here is a page that is proves that everything i say about byzantine empire is true….
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byzantine_Empire
(and of corse you can’t say that wikipedia is a greek page :P)

Buy, nice to meet you, and sorry about my english!!!

13. Klaus Mannschler - November 10, 2012

Why people say that byzantines were not greeks? That’s because that empire was the greatest of them all in medieval ages and was an ispirational icon to the west, so calling greeks as byzanines in 1800s sounded redicolous. No-one didn’t think that the greatest superpower of europe could become a weak country. Byzantines were telling their sons and grandsons stories of the past that match the stories our ancestors were telling to our grandfathers. The fact that you adore turkey and fyrom i respect, but didn’t you think that you got carried away insulting the greek culture and herritage by denying their identity? Proof that byzantines were greek, despite the fact that the nation was multicultural:
1) After they lost connections with rome, they turned to greek customs and traditions.
2) When the empire shrunk, greeks were the majority amongst others.
3) All cities had greek names.
4) Agion Oros (athos) remains byzantine and it’s residents were living there since 600 AC and they call themselves greek.
5) Roman is a term to the empire’s identity, but the empire was not roman for too long.
6) All people who lived in Minor Asia until 1923 were greeks, armenians, etc.
7) The greek population was increasing slowly, so many doubt the hellenism of byzantium.
8) Slavs were many, so did armenians, but if you consider that they were uneven to the greek/roman populations you can see the classes of the empire.
9) Western historiographers named the empire byzantine, but it’d name was romania or empire of the romans. This name was adopted to the neogreeks (romios).
10) Greece was the only counrty to claim that constantinople (capital of byzantium) belongs to their ancestors. Not only today, but since 430 BC.
11) The west roman empire was latin and catholic, they had lots of battles with the east roman empire (byzantine greek and orthodox).
12) Greeks never reffered to their ethnicity as greek until 1832. Ancient greeks call homeland the city or area they were born, as the cities, areas and leagues were considered as countries in ancient greece.
13) If you want I can get you other 672 reasons better than the previous ones with clues and people biographies whose ancestors were byzantines.

P.S.: I don’t mock the fact that the turkish flag is a greek symbol of goddess artemis and virgin mary. Or that slavs lived in forests bulgarians were in asia, both before 600 AC, macedonia existed since 2800 BC.

14. AbeedTiger - June 16, 2013

Woww this is really intresting facts, I enjoyed reading this. But I only have one question, were the byzatines also have turkish people? Please reply by emailing me. Thanks

15. Savvas - September 8, 2013

This fabricated article should be deleted. As should FYROM and its lies. So obvious that the author is from FYROM and is bias. Must be difficult living a huge lie in falsely claiming Greece’s achievements.

16. whyyoumust havemyname - November 12, 2014

I’m not greek nationalist, and i do believe that anyone has the right to consider himself whatever he want … but you slavo makedonias you will never get what you want…
byzantines and the entire eastern mediterra spoke greek because… of Alexander the great… this is your problem… you want to prove that none of those how spoke greek in mediterra was ethnically greek… and this is the most obvious of all, almost none of the nowadays greeks had anything common with the ancients except the language which the alexander the great has spread … as for you… you have nothing comon with the ancient people of the balkans as well… but not even the language…. thats why you will never get what you want, the more educated you get the more you will understand.

17. Demosthenes - November 16, 2014

Just check what language they spoke in Byzantium. (Greek)


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