BLTC Press Titles

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The Secret Doctrine, Volume II Anthropogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman

The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

A history of the later Roman empire

by John Bagnell Bury



There is no period of history which has/been so much obscured by incorrect and misleading titles as" the period of the later Roman Empire. It is, I believe^more. due^ to improper names than one might at first be disposed to,• admit, that the import of that period is so constantly misunderstood and its character so often misrepresented. For the first step towards grasping the history of those centuries through which the ancient evolved into the modern world is the comprehension of the fact that the old Roman Empire did not cease to exist until the year 1453. The line of Roman Emperors continued in unbroken succession from Octavius Augustus to Constantine Palaeologus.

Now this essential fact is obscured as far as language is able to obscure it by applying the name " Byzantine'" or the name " Greek " to the Empire in its later stages. Historians who use the phrase " Byzantine Empire" are not very consistent or very precise as to the date at which the " Roman Empire " ends and the " Byzantine Empire " begins. Sometimes the line is drawn at the foundation of Constantinople by Constantine the Great, sometimes at the death of Theodosius the Great, sometimes at the reign of Justinian, sometimes (as by Finlay) at the accession of Leo the Isaurian; and the historian who adopts one line of division cannot assert that the historian who adopts a different line is wrong. For all such lines are purely arbitrary. No " Byzantine Empire " ever began to exist; the Roman Empire did not come to an end until 1453.

But, it may be objected, is it not true that the Roman Empire in the days of Constantine VII, who reigned in the tenth century, was completely different from what it was in the days of Constantine I., who reigned in the fourth century ? and having in view this great difference in character, is it not permissible for historians, as a mere matter of convenience, to distinguish the later period by some confessedly appropriate word like " Byzantine " or " Graeco-Roman " ? Such a use may be of course convenient and harmless in conversation among those who are fully aware that it is only a phrase of convenience; and there is no objection to " Byzantine art" or " Graeco-Roman law." But in writing or lecturing, such expressions as Byzantine, Greek, or Romaic Empire are highly objectionable, because they tend to obscure an important fact and perpetuate a serious error.

It seems especially unfortunate to adopt one of these names as the title of a book, and thus help to stereotype as a separate unity what is really a part of a continuous series. Every century of the Roman Empire differed from the preceding and from the succeeding, but the development was continuous; the Empire was still the Roman Empire, and I am not aware that it is usual to give a man a new name when he enters upon a new decade of life. We designate a man as young and old; and so we may speak of the earlier and later ages of a kingdom or an empire. But Byzantine is a proper adjective, and is too apparently precise not to be misleading. Gibbon perhaps is almost the only modern historian who, in treating this subject, has not done injustice to the continuity of history by the title of his work; but unfortunately in reading the later chapters one is apt to forget what that title is.

Moved by these considerations, I have avoided speaking of a Byzantine, a Greek, or a Graeco-Roman Empire, and have carefully restricted myself to the only correct appellation. For the sake of distinction the word "later" has been added on the title-page; and no further distinction is required, at least till the year 800, which marks the termination of my work.

This brings us to another unfortunate use of words, which similarly tends to perpetuate an erroneous impression. A rival Roman Empire was founded in the West by the coronation of Charles the Great in 800 ; and it is evidently very convenient to distinguish the rival Empires by prefixing the adjectives Western and Eastern. And this nomenclature is not only convenient, but quite justifiable; for it suggests no historical error, while it expresses succinctly the European situation.

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