I am a Roman Citizen: The Shrinking of Roman Identity during the Macedonian Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, c. 867 - 1025

Open Access
Author:
Brandt, Trevor Carl
Area of Honors:
History
Degree:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Anthony Roeber, Thesis Supervisor
  • Michael James Milligan, Honors Advisor
Keywords:
  • Byzantine
  • Empire
  • Language
  • History
  • Religion
  • Orthodoxy
  • Christianity
  • Greek
  • Greece
  • Identity
  • Medieval
  • Middle Ages
Abstract:
This thesis is an examination of change and continuity in imperial conceptions of the Roman-Byzantine identity between the years 867 – 1025 CE. This period of the Byzantine Empire, a Roman relict state far outlasting the collapse of the Western Empire in 476, encompasses most of the Macedonian dynasty (867 – 1056) and its associated renaissance. Under this dynasty, the Empire regained territories lost to the Muslim powers and successfully navigated religious and cultural recovery from Iconoclasm, a crippling theological dispute of the previous century. Despite the considerable geopolitical and cultural successes of the long-lasting Macedonian dynasty, extremely subtle but profoundly unsettling changes were occurring within the European heartlands of the Empire in Thrace, Macedonia, the Balkans, and Hellas. This thesis will address these changes. I argue that the conventional wisdom about the successes of the Macedonian dynasty has overlooked a gradual shift in the idea of what it meant to be a ‘true’ Roman in this period. Before the Macedonian dynasty, identification as ‘Roman’ had been restricted to those who were loyal to the imperial government in Constantinople, expressed adherence to imperial Chalcedonian Christianity, and fluently spoke koine, or common, Greek. Changes emerging in the 9th century, though, weakened the distinctiveness of the latter two of these markers, which became less effective at ascribing what imperial elites in Constantinople would consider the ‘true Roman’ identity, instead limiting this progressively more ethnic identification to the inhabitants of the capital. As a result, the question of “what is a Roman?” had begun to raise unsettling issues that the Macedonians could not satisfactorily address. This thesis concludes by providing an interpretation of the consequences that this ethnic sharpening had on later imperial history, thus relocating a generally recognized ethnic crisis associated with Comnenian and Palaeologan-era events to the earlier Macedonian renaissance.