In recent years there has been growing scholarly interest in Eastern Roman identity. Scholars have offered new approaches to this subject suggesting new, but conflicting, ways of understanding the way in which the inhabitants of what we call the ‘Byzantine’ or ‘Eastern Roman’ Empire viewed themselves. Despite the variety of interpretations regarding the collective identity of these people, there is a consensus that the state and its social elites identified as Roman throughout the centuries. In fact, it is believed that the term ‘Byzantine’, which many modern historians use instead of ‘Roman’, was coined by Hieronymus Wolf in the sixteenth century in order to distinguish the classical Roman Empire from its medieval Greek-speaking continuation. It is therefore not surprising that Anthony Kaldellis has questioned how far we can lean on the term ‘Byzantine’, given that ‘Roman’ was the main self-descriptive term used by the inhabitants of the empire.Footnote 1
It is true that the term ‘Byzantine’ (Byzantios) in Greek sources almost always indicates a direct relation with the city of Constantinople, the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium. There are so many examples of this usage that citing them all would be an almost impossible and pointless task. Indicatively, I will cite a novel of Justinian both because of its gravity as an official imperial text and because I will later use it to help construct my argument. The novel in question, Novel 89, unmistakably employs the term ‘Byzantine’ (Byzantios) to designate the citizens of Constantinople by way of distinction from the citizens of Rome, who are described as Romans (Romaios).Footnote 2 This acknowledged fact is attested in modern dictionaries according to which the term Byzantine applied only to the inhabitants of Constantinople and not to the entire population of the empire.Footnote 3
My study will not attempt to change this view. I will not argue that ‘Byzantine’ had been used as an adjectival descriptor for the entire empire functioning as a synonym for ‘Roman’. Instead I will suggest that ‘Byzantine’ could be used, in the context of a distinction between Eastern and Western Romans, as a synonym for ‘Eastern Roman’. This distinction required a world-view of a united Roman ecumene divided into two halves.Footnote 4 In this context, Eastern Romanness was simply seen as one form of Roman tradition, but not the only one. A rare, if not unique, example of such usage occurs in the seventh century, where the term ‘Byzantine’ was used officially by the imperial chancery in order to describe individuals who were culturally ‘Eastern Romans’; that is, who represented the culture of the Eastern half of the Roman Empire.
In 678 the Emperor Constantine IV (668–85) dispatched an imperial command (Sacra) to Pope Donus (676–78) in Rome asking him to make preparations for an ecumenical synod that would put an end to the theological dispute concerning whether Christ possessed both a human and a divine will.Footnote 5 He asked the Pope to send representatives to the imperial city and described in detail how the papal delegation should be constituted: ‘from your most Holy Church, if your Beatitude wishes, it will suffice to send three persons, or more, as many as your Beatitude wishes, from the council up to twelve metropolitans and bishops, while from the four Byzantine monasteries from each monastery four monks.’Footnote 6 One would assume that the term ‘Byzantine’ in this case indicated monastic communities originating in Constantinople. However, the monasteries Constantine was referring to had nothing to do with the city of Byzantium.
Before turning to these monastic communities, we should look into the transmission of the text of the Acts of the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680/1) in which the term appears. The Greek text of the Acts survives only in relatively late manuscripts (15th c.) based on the text that the deacon AgathoFootnote 7 re-edited in 713 after the Monothelete Emperor Philippikos Bardanes (711–13) had the copies of the Acts that were kept in the palace destroyed.Footnote 8 The Latin text of the Acts, which was produced in Rome between 682 and 701 by Greek-speakers proficient in Latin, survives in much earlier manuscripts (the earliest dating to the eighth or ninth century) which spread throughout western Europe.Footnote 9 Despite the very complex transmission of the text, the term ‘Byzantine’ in the Sacra of Constantine appears in all manuscripts of both the Greek and the Latin text.Footnote 10 Therefore, it is quite safe to assume that we are dealing here with the original term used by the imperial chancery and not with a later interpolation.
Turning to the monasteries mentioned by the Emperor, Rome was home to a number of Oriental monastic communities which were leading proponents in Dyothelete theology; that is, the theology that prevailed in the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680/1) and became the official doctrine of the empire. Roughly thirty years before this letter was drafted, these monastic communities had played a crucial role at the Lateran Council of 649, which condemned Monotheletism and rejected the imperial policy of banning any discussion on the topic. These communities had produced extensive compilations of patristic texts (florilegia) that supported the Dyothelete position.Footnote 11 Maximos the Confessor, arguably the most prominent member of the Oriental monastic community of Rome, was instrumental in the struggle over the wills of Christ.Footnote 12 He led the Dyothelete opposition to imperial religious policies from the 630s until his death in exile in 662. A fact that demonstrates the extent of the influence of Maximos and the rest of the Oriental monks on Rome is that the Acts of the Lateran Council seem to have been drafted originally in Greek and afterwards translated into Latin.Footnote 13 The Lateran Council may have been a mere approval of the translated text produced by the Oriental monks.Footnote 14
In this light, it becomes evident that it was representatives of these monastic communities that Constantine IV requested in his Sacra, for it was precisely these groups that had, since the middle of the seventh century, enjoyed a reputation as strong advocates of Dyothelete orthodoxy and deep theological expertise. Nonetheless, his use of the term ‘Byzantine’ in relation to these monasteries requires a close examination of their composition. The best source of information regarding this matter is the Acts of the Lateran Council. In the second session of the council, on October 5, 36 monks received permission to present a petition. In the text they are described as Greeks (Γραικοί/Greci) who either had just arrived in Rome or who had already dwelled there for a long time.Footnote 15 Those who appear as the heads of these communities were: John, abbot of the monastery of Mar Saba in Palestine; Theodore, abbot of the African monastery of St Saba; Thalassios, abbot of the Armenian monastery of Renati in Rome; and George, abbot of the Cilician monastery of St Anastasios in Aquas Salvias in Rome.Footnote 16
The Palestinian monks established in Rome a monastic community dedicated to St Saba which was destined to become the most important Roman monastery in the following centuries.Footnote 17 Jean-Marie Sansterre believes that the monks who settled in Rome were Palestinians who had previously been in Africa, and he associates their move with the great Arab raid in North Africa in 647/8 which had rendered the province unsafe. Maximos the Confessor, a Palestinian monk belonging to this community, came to Rome from North Africa in 645/6 in order to prepare the ground for the anti-Monothelete council. This date can be seen as the foundation of the monastery of St Saba in Rome, also called Cella Nova.Footnote 18
The Armenian monastery of Renati was founded before the Sabaite community, and its occupants were likely among those referred to when the Acts of the Lateran Council mentioned Greeks who had already been long resident in Rome. Sansterre argues that the founders of this monastery were perhaps Armenian monks who had lived in various monastic communities in Palestine and were forced to flee during either the Sassanian (613–14) or the Arab (634–38) conquest of the Levant.Footnote 19 The monastery of St Anastasios was founded by monks from Cilicia under similar circumstances. Sansterre maintains that this community moved to Rome in the 640s after the Arab conquest of Syria (634–38) and the evacuation of Cilicia by Herakleios (610–41). According to him, the monks brought with them the relic of St Anastasios the Persian and established a monastery in his honour.Footnote 20 Phil Booth, however, has suggested that the community existed long before it received the relics of the Saint and that it was already established by the time John Moschos and Sophronios visited the city in the late 610s.Footnote 21
In any case, it is evident that these three monastic communities were founded by and manned with refugees from the Levant and that they had no direct connection to Constantinople. The fourth of the monasteries mentioned in the imperial Sacra was probably the Domus Arsicia, a community that provided half of the monks who participated in the papal delegation to the Sixth Ecumenical Council.Footnote 22 This fact implies that the monastery was highly esteemed in contemporary Rome and that some of its monks were competent theologians. Despite its apparent influence on the theological stage in the second half of the seventh century, unfortunately no further information about it survives. The Domus Arsicia does not appear on the list of privileges of Leo III (807). This absence suggests that it ceased to exist at some point between the 680s and the beginning of the ninth century.Footnote 23 Similarly, there is no information regarding its composition and the origin of its monks. One cannot therefore exclude a connection between this particular monastery and Constantinople; even if this were the case, the majority of the monastic communities referred to by Constantine would have nevertheless originated in the Levant.
It should also be mentioned that there were two additional Oriental monastic communities in Rome in the 670s: the Syrian monastery of Boetiana, which was founded after 649 and dissolved by Pope Donus (676–78) on the grounds of heresy;Footnote 24 and the abandoned monastery of St Erasmus that Pope Adeodatus (672–76) re-founded, populating it with Greek-speaking monks.Footnote 25 Nevertheless, it seems that either the news of the foundation of St Erasmus had not reached Constantinople by 678, when the emperor issued the Sacra, or simply that the basileus was interested only in the well-established and reputable Oriental monastic communities of Rome. These were in all probability the three communities that took part in the Lateran Synod of 649, along with the mysterious community of Domus Arsicia, which played an important role in the Third Council of Constantinople.
Given these considerations, one has to accept that on this occasion the term ‘Byzantine’ did not indicate Constantinopolitan origin, so alternatives need to be considered. One could, for example, argue that the emperor employed this term to refer to monastic communities affiliated with the Church of Constantinople. Nonetheless, the term ‘Byzantine’ even in this sense can prove problematic. First of all, these monasteries were under the jurisdiction of the pope, and not of the patriarch of Constantinople. And before moving to Rome, these communities belonged ecclesiastically to the patriarchate of Jerusalem and perhaps Antioch as well. They were never linked administratively to the patriarchate of Constantinople.
It is even doubtful whether the liturgical tradition of the communities in question was identical to that of the capital. Worldly churches and monasteries in Constantinople, before the Studite reform of the ninth century, followed the Typikon of the Great Church, which was distinct from the Sabaitic Typikon that reflects the liturgical tradition of the monasteries in Palestine.Footnote 26 The latter was in all likelihood followed by at least the Roman monastery of St Saba and, perhaps with variations, by the other Oriental monasteries in Rome. Additionally, Constantinople in the seventh century mostly followed the liturgies of St John Chrysostom and of St Basil of Caesarea, whereas some of the Oriental monasteries in Rome seem to have followed the liturgy of St James, which was preferred in Jerusalem.Footnote 27 Even in regard to the liturgies of John Chrysostom and Basil, liturgical manuscripts from southern Italy containing these liturgies preserve numerous formulas which derive from the Palestinian liturgy of James. This indicates that Greek-speaking communities in these provinces followed the ecclesiastical tradition of Syria and Palestine and not that of Constantinople.Footnote 28 Palestinian influence is also evident in the Italo-Greek hymnographic tradition.Footnote 29 These phenomena have been attributed by scholars to the influence of the Syrian and Palestinian communities that arrived in the West during the seventh century, the most distinguished of which were the monastic communities that settled in Rome.Footnote 30 The aforementioned examples suggest that the term ‘Byzantine’ could not have been used to denote an ecclesiastical bond between the Roman Oriental monasteries and Constantinople.
Nonetheless, one could reasonably suggest that their relation to Constantinople was of a linguistic nature. Given that the capital of the empire had become overwhelmingly Greek-speaking by the end of the seventh century, one might assume that the Emperor employed this term in order to distinguish between the Latin-speaking and the Greek-speaking monasteries of Rome. In this sense, the term ‘Byzantine’ would simply mean ‘Greek-speaking’. This argument is not without merit. Evidently, these communities are described as ‘Greek’ in Western sources, both in Latin texts, which use the term Grecus, and Greek ones, which use the form Γραικός. As already mentioned, these communities produced compilations of Greek patristic texts in support of Dyotheletism, both for the Lateran Synod of 649 and the Third Council of Constantinople in 680/1. Some of their members were versed in Greek patrology and participated in both councils speaking Greek. These monasteries were also centres of Greek culture. They have been associated with the production of hagiographical works in Greek, the copying of Greek manuscripts, and the translation of texts from Greek to Latin and vice versa. They also probably held a great number of Greek manuscripts in their libraries.Footnote 31
It is doubtful, however, whether all members of these Oriental communities had the same proficiency in Greek, and that Greek was the only language they used. In their day-to-day interaction many of these monks might have used Syriac or, especially in the case of Renati, Armenian. Among the monks who followed Maximos to Rome it seems that there was a great number of Syriac speakers.Footnote 32 It should be highlighted that Chalcedonian monastic communities in Palestine, including Mar Saba, were multilingual. Some of their monks copied Syriac texts and translated Greek works from and into Syriac.Footnote 33 The pluralistic composition of Mar Saba, in particular, is depicted in the earliest surviving manuscript of its Typikon, the twelfth-century Codex Sinaiticus Grecus 1096, which also survives in Syriac.Footnote 34 Even if this late source does not necessarily reflect seventh-century realities, it implies a tradition of institutional bilingualism. In this light, it would not be surprising if languages other than Greek were used in the liturgy too: it is not unlikely, for example, that the Armenian monastery of Renati celebrated the mysteries in Armenian.Footnote 35 Likewise, the Cilician and Palestinian monasteries of Rome might have used Greek and Syriac together in the liturgy: such bilingual services were common both in Syria and Palestine.Footnote 36 In fact, the only explicit information about Oriental monasteries in Rome using Greek as a liturgical language comes from the eighth and the ninth centuries, when Popes Paul I (757–61) and Paschal (817–24) founded monasteries under the instruction to offer their prayers in Greek.Footnote 37
This is not to argue that the Oriental monasteries were not predominantly Greek-speaking, or that the linguistic element is not important in our discussion. If one accepts that Emperor Constantine used the term in question in order to distinguish Oriental monks from their Latin-speaking Benedictine brethren, language becomes inevitably an important differentiating factor. It is no accident that the papal chancery seems to have made this distinction by using the terms Grecus and Latinus respectively.Footnote 38 However, the differences between the two communities went beyond language.
Clemens Gantner has shown that the papal chancery used the term Grecus as equivalent to ‘Eastern Roman’.Footnote 39 They used it to describe a person who was culturally an Easterner, and not simply Greek-speaking. The Greek language, nonetheless, was an important component of Eastern Roman identity. Gantner argues that the papal chancery used the term with increasing frequency during the eighth century, when there was an urgent need for distinction between Rome's own Romanitas and the Roman tradition represented by Constantinople. In this sense, the term emphasized the use of the Greek language by the Eastern Roman state as ‘the most distinguishing feature of difference’.Footnote 40 Interestingly, he also notes that up to the mid-eighth century, the Lateran used the term Grecus only for individuals or groups of people from the Eastern parts of the empire, but never for the empire as a whole or for the emperor. This changed only after the mid-eighth century, along with the political orientation of the city of Rome.Footnote 41
It should be noted, however, that this use of the term ‘Greek’ was not necessarily a Roman novelty. Despite the fact that most texts that appear to refer to Eastern Romans as Greeks originate in Rome, for example the Liber Pontificalis and the Acts of the Lateran Council in 649, they might also reflect Eastern perceptions and usages of the term. The Acts of the Lateran Synod were written originally in Greek and only later translated into Latin. This means that the author who described the Oriental monks in Rome as Greeks (Greci/Γραικοί) was in all likelihood one of them. Similarly, the biographers of the popes described as ‘Greeks’ in the Liber Pontificalis wrote in a period in which the Lateran was home to a great number of Oriental clergy.Footnote 42 It would be surprising if such individuals chose a term that was not used at all by their Eastern Roman colleagues or one which they found offensive.Footnote 43 In fact, some of these authors may have been Easterners themselves.Footnote 44
Constantine IV, nonetheless, did not choose a term that emphasized the linguistic difference between East and West: he did not call these monasteries ‘Greek’. Instead he used the term ‘Byzantine’ which, as mentioned, was usually reserved for the inhabitants of the capital. Constantinople, though, had been the administrative centre of the East since the fourth century. She was the seat of the Eastern Roman emperor, and from the late fifth century on of the sole Roman emperor. Additionally, she housed some of the most important civil institutions of the Eastern half of the empire, such as the prefecture of the East and the Constantinopolitan senate.Footnote 45 Most importantly, however, Constantinople was the symbolic and ideological centre of the Roman world in the East. Since her foundation, she was styled the ‘New Rome’ and perceived as the Eastern centre of Romanness, and by the seventh century of Christianity.Footnote 46
One should bear in mind that the role of Constantinople as the political and cultural centre of the East was further enhanced during the seventh century because of the loss of other major urban centres, first to the Persians and then to the Arabs. Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria, all patriarchal sees and metropolitan cultural centres, had by the 640s fallen to the Arabs.Footnote 47 In other words, during the reign of Constantine IV, Constantinople was the only Eastern metropolis and patriarchal see within the borders of the empire. The territorial shrinkage of the empire also resulted in significant administrative changes. The role of the emperor and his ministers in Constantinople became increasingly important. The state became much more centralized and the capital came to exercise a much closer and direct control over the remaining Eastern provinces.Footnote 48
In this light, it seems that Constantine IV used Byzantios to denote communities that belonged culturally to the former Eastern half of the empire, whose administrative and ideological centre had for centuries been Constantinople. In this way, the Emperor, who was probably aware of the composition of these monasteries, employed the term ‘Byzantine’ for Palestinian, Cilician and Armenian monks who resided in Rome.Footnote 49 It is striking that these men not only likely did not originate in Constantinople, but also came from provinces which, by the 670s, were no longer part of Roman domains. Thus, the term ‘Byzantine’ might have even been used in a way that transcended the borders of the empire and encompassed Christian populations from regions under Arab control. In any case, it is clear that the word ‘Byzantine’ was used in an abstract sense, which in this context can be understood as ‘Eastern Roman’.
It is possible that the Emperor did not invent this broad meaning of the term. Kaldellis has suggested that two fifth-century historians, Priskos and Malchos, might have already used the word ‘Byzantine’ in such way. According to the Souda, Priskos’ work was entitled Byzantine History (Ἱστορία Βυζαντιακή), whereas the title of Malchos’ work was the Byzantiaka (Βυζαντιακά). Given that these historians lived in a period in which the empire was effectively divided into two halves, Kaldellis argues that this was perhaps an experimental use of the term in order to indicate that their work had an East Roman standpoint. However, as the same scholar acknowledges, the nature of this evidence does not allow us to interpret these terms with any degree of certainty.Footnote 50
A more secure basis for this hypothesis is provided by the nature of the passage in which our ‘Byzantine’ monks appear. More specifically, Constantine IV used the term in his instructions regarding the composition of the papal delegation for the ecumenical council. One would assume that his main aim was to be understood by the pope so that he could receive the monks he was asking for. The fact that the Emperor did not feel the need to clarify what he meant by ‘Byzantine,’ implies that he was confident that he would be understood and that an explanation would be unnecessary. By its turn, his confidence implies that the word ‘Byzantine’ in this period had the capacity to convey a much broader meaning than Constantinopolitan.
Further support for this view can be found in the way Pope Agatho understood the phrase. Agatho responded to the imperial request for Byzantine monks by sending three monks from two different Oriental monasteries of the old capital, Renati and Domus Arsicia, and the abbot of a Sicilian monastery, a certain Theophanes, who later became Patriarch of Antioch.Footnote 51 After Theophanes’ election, his place in the papal delegation was covered by a monk from the Roman St. Saba.Footnote 52 This implies that Theophanes and the other monks were seen as Byzantines by Agatho, and it was expected that they would be received as such in Constantinople. This reveals that Byzantine monks were not only to be found in Rome, but in Sicily. Whether he was a native Sicilian or an immigrant from the East,Footnote 53 the case of Theophanes indicates that the term ‘Byzantine’ in this context meant ‘Eastern Roman’, someone culturally affiliated with the Eastern part of the empire, either in terms of language, customs, fashion or religious practices. It seems that the Emperor and the Pope understood the term in the same way. Even the translators of the Sacra did not consider the term problematic or worthy of an interpretation and left it as such in the Latin text.
This interpretation of the term is further supported, when it is read in its historical context and in conjunction with similar terms in contemporary texts. As mentioned, the Sacra of Constantine was an expression of the Emperor's desire to put an end to the Christological debates that had been dividing the empire since the 630s. This division was not simply a theological one: it also had significant political ramifications, becoming, for instance, the ideological vehicle for two rebellions against Constans II. In 646 Gregory,Footnote 54 exarch of Carthage, proclaimed himself emperor in Africa, while three years later Olympios,Footnote 55 exarch of Ravenna, did so in Italy. The Lateran Council of 649 was thus convened in the context of rebellion and defiance of imperial authority. This was the reason that the clergymen who played a key role in the council, namely Pope Martin (649–55),Footnote 56 Maximos the Confessor, his disciple AnastasiosFootnote 57 and Anastasios the Apokrisiarios,Footnote 58 were put on trial for treason rather than their theological views.Footnote 59
The information that we possess about the trials and the fate of these clergymen derives from their own letters and Dyothelete texts from the 650s and 660s, probably written by clergymen from their circle.Footnote 60 In these texts the Dyothelete dispute is often portrayed as a debate between East and West. It is important to remember that ecclesiastically it was the Church of Rome that led the opposition to imperial religious policy, and politically the two rebellions occurred in Western provinces. While it came in for a hostile reception in the West, Monotheletism appears to have been quite popular in the East, something which accentuates the division mentioned.Footnote 61 What is interesting for the purposes of our discussion, are the terms used to express this distinction between East and West, and the possibilities of meaning that they contain.
The best-known example of such language comes from an account of the trial of Maximos in 655, the Relatio Motionis. The imperial authorities accused Maximos of having had a dream in which two choirs of angels, one from the West and one from the East, cried acclamations for Gregory and Constans respectively, with the western one overpowering the eastern.Footnote 62 This was seen as a portent of a final victory of Gregory, whose power base was in the West.Footnote 63 The same motif can be seen in a text that describes Maximos’ discussions with the bishop Theodosios of Caesarea and certain high court officials, while he was imprisoned in Bizya in 656. In one of them, the patrician Epiphanios laid against Maximos the allegation that the entire West and those in the East that looked to him were in revolt and were unwilling to be reconciled with Constantinople.Footnote 64 In both cases, the terms ‘East’ and ‘West’ are used in a geographical sense indicating the two halves of the empire.
Another example, however, shows that such distinctions were not always expressed in purely geographical terms. In perhaps the most frequently quoted passage from the Relatio Motionis the Sakellarios, who played a key role in Maximos’ trial, asked him ‘Why do you love the Romans and hate the Greeks?’ and Maximos replied ‘We have a commandment not to hate anybody. I love the Romans as sharers of the same faith, whereas I love the Greeks as sharers of the same language.’Footnote 65 It is important to note, as Wolfram Brandes has observed, that it is not likely that the text is a faithful account of the trial. Brandes argues that the author, perhaps Anastasios the Apokrisiarios, was not an eye-witness to the trial, and that he composed the text based on notes sent to him by either Anastasios the disciple or Maximos himself.Footnote 66 Apart from Brandes’ general reservations about the text's trustworthiness as a historical source, one should note that the term ‘Greek’ (Grecus/Γραικός) might sometimes have pejorative connotations, which make it less likely that one of the most senior imperial officials might have used it to describe the emperor and his government. Additionally, the fact that until the middle of the eighth century the papal chancery did not use the word ‘Greek’ to describe imperial officials, let alone the emperor, implies that the term was not used in an official context. Therefore, it is very likely that the phrase in question was put in the mouth of the Sakellarios by the author of the Relatio Motionis. For this reason, I will analyse the terms ‘Roman’ and ‘Greek’ not as uttered by an imperial official, but as written by an Eastern clergyman of the seventh century.
In the case in question, the author makes a distinction between ‘Romans’ and ‘Greeks’. In my understanding, the word ‘Roman’ here refers to the Church of Rome and perhaps by extension to those Christians belonging to the Western patriarchate, which encompassed the whole Western half of the empire.Footnote 67 The term ‘Greek’ appears to have an equally broad meaning. The Sakellarios called ‘Greeks’ those to whom he thought Maximos was hostile. He definitely included the Church of Constantinople, the imperial government, and the emperor himself in this usage. Throughout his trial, Maximos was accused of splitting the Church, of committing treason against the empire, and of not respecting the emperor.Footnote 68 Thus, by using this term the author was identifying the Sakellarios, the emperor, all the officials of the government and the clergy belonging to the Patriarchate of Constantinople as ‘Greeks’. In this way, the East-West division was expressed with two different descriptors, geographic linguistic. Rome, the ecclesiastical centre of the West and the old capital of the empire, was made to represent the West in a kind of synecdoche, whereas the extensive use of the Greek language in the East became the main representative trait of the other half of the Roman Empire.
If one brings to mind the passage from Justinian's novel discussed at the beginning of the article, one notes that in this context the most symmetrical descriptor to correspond to ‘Roman’ would be ‘Byzantine’, as in the Sacra of Constantine. For Justinian, the two Romes were the two centres of the empire and had a special place in the rhetoric of his legislation. New Rome was the most fortunate reigning city, whereas Old Rome was the see of the pontiff, the first prelate of Christendom, and the historical heartland of the Romans.Footnote 69 The ideological importance of the two Romes for the sixth-century Roman ruling class can also be seen in the consular diptychs, especially those from the East, which often depict the consul flanked by the personifications of Rome and Constantinople.Footnote 70 It should be mentioned that throughout the Relatio Motionis and other texts of the period the term ‘Roman,’ when not used to describe the empire in its totality, is used with a strict geographical meaning to denote the inhabitants of the city and the Church of Rome. As we have seen, this is also the case with the word ‘Byzantine’. This shows that Rhomaios and Byzantios could be used in a broader sense, as a metonym, which included the inhabitants and represented the culture of the Western and Eastern halves of the empire respectively.
In fact, one finds in the same text, Relatio Motionis, the same binary also expressed with the terms ‘Roman’ and ‘Byzantine.’ When the patrician Troilos and the epi tes basilikes trapezes Sergios Eukratas visited Maximos in this cell, they asked him ‘And what will you be in a position to do, should the Romans be united with the Byzantines?’Footnote 71 In this case, the terms used are symmetrical, referring to the Churches of Rome and Constantinople respectively, and by extension to those under their jurisdiction. In this context most of the population of Anatolia and of the eastern Balkans could fall under the category ‘Byzantine,’ for they belonged to the patriarchate of Constantinople. This is an additional example of how Byzantios can acquire a broader meaning when implicitly linked with institutions which are based in Constantinople, but whose authority transcends the city's geographical limits.
This trend can be found in other contemporary texts originating in the same circle. In other Dyothelete writings about Maximos the Confessor, Constantinople (Byzantium) appears in a rather negative tone. In the prologue of the letter sent by Anastasios the disciple to Theodosios of Gangra,Footnote 72 written either by Theodosios himself or by Theodore Spoudaios,Footnote 73 Constantinople is referred to as ‘wretched Byzantium’ (misero Byzantio).Footnote 74 In another work probably of the same author the city is called ‘deplorable’ (ἀθλία).Footnote 75 The author's negative attitude towards the imperial government and the Church of Constantinople are expressed against the city that housed both institutions. ‘Byzantium’ in this instance transcends the strict notion of a city and becomes a symbol of imperial oppression and heresy. This is yet another testimony that geographical terms could acquire a broader meaning in the seventh century.
If one accepts my interpretation of the term ‘Byzantine’ in the Sacra of Constantine IV, then one needs to consider a series of implications. As far as the imperial discourse of the seventh century is concerned, my interpretation of the word ‘Byzantine’ indicates that the imperial chancery in 678 still understood the late Roman distinction between Western and Eastern Roman Empire, despite the fact that the last institutional remnant of this division, the Roman senate, had disappeared by the end of the sixth century.Footnote 76 At the same time it implies that the cultural difference between East and West was clear and pronounced. This fact allowed groups of individuals residing in the West to be described as Easterners and vice versa. Most importantly, it shows that in the context of distinction between East and West, the East was denoted by a term deriving from its political and ideological centre, namely Constantinople.
It is important to remember that this choice of words by the imperial chancery was careful, since in other texts from the seventh century this distinction was made by the use of linguistic terms. Evidence indicates that the term Grecus/Γραικός could be used in order to indicate an Eastern Roman and that it was not restricted to the West. However, the use of the term seems to have been casual and never part of the official imperial rhetoric. The term ‘Byzantine’ appears to have been the politically correct equivalent, which could be used by the emperor himself. If one accepts that the dialogue between the Sakellarios and Maximos the Confessor in the Relatio Motionis does not represent the language used by court officials and the state, then the Sacra of Constantine becomes the only secure example (to my knowledge) of the way the government and the emperor perceived and described Eastern Romanness in the seventh century.
What is more, the interpretation advanced here has certain implications for contemporary Byzantine studies. It shows, against common belief, that the term ‘Byzantine’ as a synonym for ‘Eastern Roman’ is not a modern invention. It had already been used by the emperor himself in relation to monastic communities from the Eastern half of the Roman Empire. Remarkably, the word ‘Byzantine’ was understood in the seventh century as having a meaning similar to the one that contemporary historians ascribe to it, namely a designation for Eastern Romans. Nevertheless, contemporary historians use the term for the empire and its culture writ large, whereas the emperor used it as a descriptor of individuals who were culturally Easterners. For Constantine IV all his subjects were Romans, but in the context of distinction between Eastern and Western Romans, the Easterners were described as Byzantines.
To be sure, our contemporary use of the term stems from a completely unrelated tradition. Hieronymus Wolf, who is thought to have coined the modern meaning of the term, did not use the term ‘Byzantine’ having in mind the distinction between Eastern and Western Romans. Instead he built on a Western medieval tradition of treating the empire as ‘the empire of Constantinople’, which in a more antiquarian idiom becomes ‘the empire of Byzantium’.Footnote 77 In fact, this empire was for Wolf (and for most Western scholars up to the nineteenth century) ‘the empire of the Greeks’.Footnote 78 Since the second half of the eighth century, Western sources referred to the Eastern Roman Empire as the empire of the Greeks, questioning in this way the Romanness of the empire.Footnote 79 Therefore, contemporary scholarship inherited the term ‘Byzantine’ as a descriptor of the Eastern Roman Empire from a tradition that did not treat the empire as Roman.
This fact makes this seventh-century usage of the term a useful tool for the discussion about terminology, for it allows scholars to connect the established usage of the term to a tradition that acknowledges the Romanness of the empire. Nonetheless, one should bear in mind that Constantine IV used the term ‘Byzantine’ in a cultural sense and not of the state as a political entity. Moreover, this usage of the term appeared in a specific ideological context that later disappeared. To be more precise, this distinction between Eastern and Western Romans requires that Western provinces and most importantly Rome remain part of the empire. This ceased to be the case during the second half of the eighth century, when Rome changed her political orientation and the Byzantine state stopped being the empire of two Romes.
Another point that arises from this discussion is what (and whom) modern scholars choose to describe as ‘Byzantine’ and consequently what (and who) is to be covered by the field of Byzantine studies. As argued above, the use of the term by Constantine IV included individuals who resided in the Western part of the empire and whose homeland was then under Arab control. Understanding Byzantinity/Eastern Romanness in cultural terms, therefore, creates the potential to include populations that lived outside the borders of the empire. Such a realization reinforces the notion that there can be Byzantines without or outside the Byzantine state. Jack Tannous’ research on Syriac and Arab-speaking Chalcedonians under Islamic rule has highlighted that these communities were seen as Roman/Byzantine for centuries after their homeland ceased to be part of the empire, and that they are equally heirs of Eastern Romanness. Nevertheless, they often lie outside the research-focus of modern Byzantinists.Footnote 80 In this regard, this reading of the Sacra of Constantine IV calls for a more inclusive field of Byzantine studies which will include Christian populations from the former Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire.
Finally, my reading of the term ‘Byzantine’ emphasizes the ideological importance of Constantinople for the development of Eastern Romanness. The city was far more than the administrative centre of the Eastern Roman Empire. It was the symbolic centre of Romanness and Christianity in the East. Following a similar cognitive process with the one that allowed all citizens of the empire to be called ‘Romans’, Constantine IV extended the demonym of New Rome to all Eastern Romans. In this way, a ‘Byzantine’ could be a Palestinian monk who prayed in Syriac in Rome. Three and a half centuries after her foundation, Constantinople had become the embodiment of a distinctive Roman tradition, which in the following centuries would be called into question by the heirs of Western Romanness. Paradoxically, it was this last period of ideological unity of the Roman world that created the circumstances for the Byzantines to call themselves Byzantines.
Panagiotis Theodoropoulos received his PhD in Byzantine Studies at King's College London and is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies at Princeton University. His research is focused on the seventh and eighth centuries, concentrating mainly on the Papacy and the Eastern communities in Italy. His academic interests include population movements in the Mediterranean, administrative and social changes as well as the formation of communal identities in the same period.