The very name Byzantine illustrates the misconceptions to which the empire’s history has often been subject, for its inhabitants would hardly have considered the term appropriate to themselves or to their state.
Theirs was, in their view, none other than the Roman Empire, founded shortly before the beginning of the Christian era by God’s grace to unify his people in preparation for the coming of his Son.
Proud of that Christian and Roman heritage, convinced that their earthly empire so nearly resembled the heavenly pattern that it could never change, they called themselves Romaioi, or Romans. The term East Rome accurately described the political unit embracing the Eastern provinces of the old Roman Empire until 476, while there were yet two emperors.
The same term may even be used until the last half of the 6th century, as long as men continued to act and think according to patterns not unlike those prevailing in an earlier Roman Empire.
During those same centuries, nonetheless, there were changes so profound in their cumulative effect that after the 7th century state and society in the East differed markedly from their earlier forms.
In an effort to recognize that distinction, historians traditionally have described the medieval empire as Byzantine.
The latter term is derived from the name Byzantium, borne by a colony of ancient Greek foundation on the European side of the Bosporus, midway between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
The city was, by virtue of its location, a natural transit point between Europe and Asia Minor (Anatolia).
Refounded as the “new Rome” by the emperor Constantinople, the city of Constantine.
The derivation from Byzantium is suggestive in that it emphasizes a central aspect of Byzantine civilization: the degree to which the empire’s administrative and intellectual life found a focus at Constantinople from 330 to 1453, the year of the city’s last and unsuccessful defense under the 11th (or 12th) Constantine.
The circumstances of the last defense are suggestive too, for in 1453 the ancient, medieval, and modern worlds seemed briefly to meet.
The last Constantine fell in defense of the new Rome built by the first Constantine.