Byzantium and Its Neighbours

James Howard-Johnston

in The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780199252466
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History

 Byzantium and Its Neighbours

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  • Classical Studies
  • Classical Reception
  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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In the course of its millennial history, much changed in the world around Byzantium. The Roman Empire from which Byzantium emerged as the true successor state was gradually pulled to pieces in late antiquity, a process of disaggregation which was but fleetingly reversed in the reign of Justinian in the sixth century. Byzantium proper — the reduced medieval state — was fashioned in the seventh century, when the explosive force of Islam blasted both established empires in west Eurasia, the Persian as well as the Roman, out of existence. For all the pragmatism shown in two centuries of comfortable existence, Byzantium never relinquished claims which were solidly founded in a well-remembered historical past. The behaviour of its neighbours cannot be understood unless they are placed in Constantinople's force-field. Yet more important, Byzantium itself cannot be understood, if, in retrospect, it is subjected to ideological castration. For the ultimate rationale of its existence was its Christian imperial mission. That conviction, widely shared in a thoroughly Orthodox society, was the shaping influence on its foreign policy.

Keywords: Byzantium; Roman Empire; history; Islam; foreign policy; Constantinople; Justinian; Eurasia

Article.  7330 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Reception ; Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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