Beyond the Grand Narrative

An almost cathartic comment could be found on the third page of Times Literary Supplement (link for subscribers/institutions only) a few weeks ago:

“Byzantium never existed. It is a modern fiction … To label the Roman Empire in the eastern Mediterranean “Byzantine” after the foundation of Constantinople is to suggest that the East is somehow much less Roman than the West. Or – conversely – that it is the West which should properly be considered to be the heir of Rome’s greatness … No place in this grand narrative for the eastern half of the Mediterranean world once comfortably part of the Roman Empire. Byzantium – Greek-speaking and resolutely autocratic – is to be severed from its Roman past and denied Rome’s political and intellectual legacy.”

It is Christopher Kelly who in this way initiates a review of two recent publications by Judith Herrin: Unrivalled Influence: Women and Empire in Byzantium, and Margins and Metropolis: Authority across the Byzantine Empire together with one publication by Averil Cameron, Byzantine Matters. Perhaps less surprising to the reader who is acquainted with the two authors, we have to do with three works in which Byzantium – or however we prefer to call it – has long ceased to be an Oriental appendix in the Western grand narrative. That much still remains to be done in order to restore it to its rightful place in the wider history of the Medieval Mediterranean becomes clear from the work of Cameron; but it is at least gladdening that the long and fascinating history of the empire we call Byzantine has become increasingly visible to the general public, both in publications of the kind that the two authors mentioned have made themselves prolific, and in reviews of the kind that is quoted above.


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