Why don't Westerners romanticize Byzantium?

Well there’s always the Yeats poem, Sailing To Byzantium.

Other than it being ‘The East’?


Eh, I would’ve gone with “Because you can go back to Rome, but you can’t go back to Constantinople.”

Besides the other answers, Rome lived on in the Catholic Church, which surely had an influence. Many Westerners owe their languages to Rome, and in many parts of Western Europe the remains of the Empire were still clearly visible.

In a watered-down legacy, American buildings from the late 19th C. in the Romanesque Revival style.

Besides the pendentive arch, there wasn’t a lot of innovation in the Byzantine Empire for later emulation. They held down the fort and made a lot of money for an incredible thousand year haul, but they were more reactionary than inventive.

It also doesn’t help that we don’t even call them by their right name. They referred to themselves as the Roman Empire or as Romania. Outside of the empire, they were referred to as “the Empire of the Greeks.” The “Byzantine” designation wasn’t used until 1557–over 100 years after Constantinople fell.

Well, sure, it’s simplistic. What do you expect in a one-line answer? But I do remember Gibbons being somewhat contemptuous of the Byzantines. Not dismissive – he certainly did write enough about them, as you point out. It’s been years since I slogged through Decline and Fall, but I do remember that.

The picture I got of the eastern Empire from Runciman, and from Anna Comnenus, was entirely different from what I’d picked up years before from Gibbons.

Because they’re Westerners. Rome was the Holy City of western Europe. Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul was** eastern.** Heck, one of the Crusades even sacked Constantinople.

FWIW, when he heard that not only had the crusaders laid siege to Constantinople (and captured it, and sacked it in the most brutal fashion), but his own *clergy *had suppressed his repeated injunctions to lift the siege and get back to trying to reach the Levant, the Pope was furious and made numerous proclamations to the amount of “You bunch of fucking asshats !”.

Of course, by then the damage had been done, and the relations between East and West remained decidedly frigid from then on.

Ah-hmm… I believe there was innovation in architecture with the Hagia Sophia, which I believe was emulated elsewhere…

From a letter from the pope to the crusaders after the sacking of Zara (Zadar):

I know everybody hates this sort of thing - but just as a reminder, it is Gibbon and Gibbon’s, not Gibbons and Gibbons’.

I do it too and curse myself for it :).

You’re joking, right? In grade school through high school we spent far more time on American history (as sparse as it was) and covered a lot more of that than we ever did Roman history.

I lived in New York and South Carolina. When I lived in New York, my education dealt alot more with the history of NY than SC; however, when I moved to SC, it focused more on SC than NY. There must be some reason for this mysterious gap in the histories of other places compared to where one lives…

who learned about the history of their state? grades 6-12 were jammed with the world in the 20th century and the other 1800+ years that the U.S. didn’t exist.

I can tell you this, where I went to school, mention the word ‘Byzantium’ and after a resounding silence, someone might have guessed “one of those things on the elements chart”? Whereas everyone knew ‘Rome’ was the capital of It’ly.

Yes, well, that’s Pope-speak for “You bunch of fucking asshats !”, isn’t it ? Or maybe “goddamned asshats”, now that I think about it. :slight_smile:

That was my first thought. Western Europe was Roman Catholic. Byzantium turned into the Eastern Orthodox world.

Westerners have romanticized Byzantium, all right. Just not in a political sense. From The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, by James Howard Kunstler, chapter on Rome: