The Rebranded Half of Roman History

The story of a people, why we’ve denied their identity, and why it matters for today.

San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy, by Petar Milošević — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Romulus and Constantine

In order to examine the evolution of Roman identity, let’s quickly recap the story of Rome.

By Andrei Nacu — Public domain
The city of Constantinople, by C. Plakidas — Own Work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Theodosian Walls of Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey), by Carole Raddato — Own Work, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Birth of “Byzantium”

The crux of the argument for rebranding medieval Rome is: because the city of Rome was no longer the capital of the state, and because the language and religion of the Roman people changed (from Latin and Hellenism to Greek and Christianity, respectively), they were categorically no longer Romans and their claims of being Romans were artiface. Nevermind that those changes occurred gradually over centuries and that the state was a continuum of ancient Rome.

Statue of Hermann, by Daniel Schwen, Public Domain

The real identity of the “Byzantines”

Emperor Konstantinos VII dining with Tsar Symeon of Bulgaria, by Ioannes Skylitzes (11th C) — Public Domain
Church of the Holy Apostles in Athens, c. 1000, typical Roman architecture, by Jebulon — Own Work, CCO
Mosaic from Ravenna, Italy — Stock Photo from Inguaribile VIaggiatore/Shutterstock

Conclusion

With no Romans left to defend themselves, it falls on outsiders to rectify their erasure and demonstrate that our narratives and pop-cultural understandings of medieval Rome do not reflect reality. As a student of history, I’ve been amazed at how a field could deny such a basic fact as an ethnicity for centuries when the evidence for its existence remains in abundance. Is a group of people able to identify themselves indefinitely, or does their identity ultimately rely on how others perceive them?

San Diego-based writer. Interested in urban planning, languages, cultures, travel, history, and fiction.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store