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Our chapters touch on many matters and subject-areas handled at greater length elsewhere and, without aiming to be comprehensive, some of the more important alternative approaches to Byzantium are outlined below. For the most part, only fairly recent publications will be mentioned, as their bibliographies usually cite earlier studies.
Byzantium at first sight looks inaccessible to those approaching for the first time, especially without Greek or Latin, or one of the modern languages spoken in regions closely associated with the empire. Native English-speakers may feel like ‘barbarians’ before the walls of Constantinople, excluded and daunted. Yet as with the great City, so with the subject, portals and gateways are available and the newcomer can reach some of the landmarks surprisingly fast, arriving at positions not all that much inferior to those of life-long devotees. The reasons are at once straightforward and specific to some of the main types of the surviving literary and other source-materials. Nothing like a full guided tour of sources available in English translation is attempted here, but the curious should be able to follow the directions towards more detail about them. Some of the more general introductions to the subject are noted below (pp. 90, 94).
Many roads lead to Byzantium, ‘the New Rome’, and guidance comes from dozens of disciplines, including art history and archaeology, theology and expertise in stone inscriptions, coins or handwriting. Indeed, those general historians who act as guides have themselves often majored in other fields, such as ancient Greece and Rome, the medieval west, the Slav or Mediterranean worlds, and even the Italian renaissance. The surest fact about the elusive ‘New Rome’ is that it lasted over a thousand years, albeit with a fifty-seven-year dislocation from 1204. Across this millennium, the questions of how, why and where the empire survived, receded and (most importantly) revived as a more or less functioning organism – and as an idea – underlie this book.
Byzantium’s relations with the Latin west in this period have a ‘Cheshire cat’ character in comparison with ninth-century exchanges. Very little attention is paid to the Christian west by Byzantine writers even when Saxon potentates begin to intervene in Italy and bedeck themselves with imperial trimmings. A memorandum of diplomatic procedures, compiled partly from older materials in the mid-tenth century, lists the standard form of address for letters to various reges, of ‘Gaul’ as well as Bavaria and Saxony: each is to be addressed as ‘spiritual brother’, unlike the numerous other addressees. But the protocols for receptions of ambassadors make no special provision for western ones: formulaic greetings for envoys from the Bulgarians and eastern Muslims are rehearsed, presumably because their visits were more important or frequent.