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Friday, 27 January 2012

When is a "Roman" not a "Roman" ?

On seeing a portrait of Emperor Septimius Severus with his wife and two sons, I was struck by what could be called the "Byzantineness" of the style.

This caused me to reflect on the nonsense of the classification of "Byzantine", "Byzantines" and "Byzantine" empire.
Since the 19th century western scholars blithely use the name "Byzantine" in the mindset that the people of the Roman empire, ruled from Constantinople, were not Latin, did not speak Latin and so were no longer Roman. Quite overlooking the fact that in titular addresses the word Roman was used to describe their empire and citizens.

Why the Severan portrait made me realise this nonsense was...
1) Septimius was of Punic (Phoenician) origin.
2) He was born in the town of Leptis in Libya.
3) He spent much of his reign ruling the Roman empire away from the city of Rome.
4) His wife was Aramaic from Syria.

So, Septimius must be a "Byzantine" then, he sounds so "un-Roman" and look at how decadent he dressed.
Well, he ruled from 193 - 211 AD, 119 years before the founding of Constantinople by emperor Constantine in 330 AD, and the supposed creation of the "Byzantine" empire as a result of this.

Lets compare with emperor Justinian I, supposed "Byzantine" and ruler of the "Byzantine" empire.
Justinian ruled the Roman empire from Constantinople from 527 - 565 AD.
He referred to himself as Roman, his empire as Roman and his citizens as Romans.
1) Born in Dalmatia of Latin origin.
2) Never ruled from Rome but from Constantinople, even though by 560 AD Rome was again under imperial rule.
3) His wife, Theodora, was Greek.

At the very least it can be argued that Justinian being of Latin origin would be considered more of a Roman than Septimius.

If you rely on the "History Channel" for your historical education, you will be in dire need of educational therapy in the form of researching such things as the "Byzantine" empire for yourself.

In the reign of emperor Heraclius this is also given by scholars as the time the "eastern" empire became "Byzantine" because for purely administrative purposes during a 26 year war against the Persian kingdom he made all state correspondence in Greek. However on coinage Latin was still used.
On the above coin, we read on the obverse side "DN HERACLI-US PP AUG" whilst on the reverse we read "VICTORIA AUGUS". His style is no more decadent than of Septimius.
1) Born in Cappadocia of Armenian origin. During the reign of emperor Maurice family settled in the Exarchate of Africa .
2) First wife, Eudocia, Greek name, possibly also of Armenian origin. Family settled in the Exarchate of Africa. Second wife, Martina, was his niece (!)
3) Though Rome was under imperial rule, Heraclius never went there.
A gold Solidus from the reign of Heraclius, on the obverse he is shown with his son Constantine beside him, circa 620 AD.
A gold Solidus showing emperor Licinius beside his son, Licinius II, circa 320 AD.


These "un-Roman" characteristics seem similar to emperor Septimius.
But wait, by the time of Heraclius, the empire was known as a "Greek" or "Byzantine" empire!
The Muslim Syrian scholar Ismail ibn Kathir, writting around 1350 AD, still referred to the empire as Roman. In a eulogy to Heraclius he wrote: "He ruled the Romans with great leadership and splendor."


In summary, a serious historian needs to read other sources, especially non 19th & 20th century Frankish sources which had their own imperial agenda, to understand when a "Roman is not a Roman".

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