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The Unbroken Continuity of the Roman Empire: Gregory Heers

Livy, the Roman historian that lived around the time of Christ, wrote, ‘I do honestly believe that no country has ever been greater or purer than ours, or richer in good citizens and noble deeds’ (Early History 30). It is therefore lamentable that in the common mind this most glorious empire should be endowed with an end so ignoble and unworthy of mention. According to any typical history-book, the Roman Empire ended by being divided into two halves: the Western Roman Empire was weakened internally and overrun by barbarian tribes, while the Eastern Empire was somehow transfigured into the ‘Byzantine Empire’ through a gradual process and, although it ‘survived for another thousand years’, apparently deserves no further attention. Thus anyone with an elementary historical education will believe that the Roman Empire, that mighty force that subdued the entire Mediterranean world, silently evaporated, vanished into thin air, at some point in the fifth or sixth century. This, however, is a lie. There never was a Byzantine Empire. What many now call the ‘Byzantine Empire’ is nothing other than the Roman Empire continuing through the ages. The Roman Empire did not fall in the fifth century. The Roman Empire fell in the fifteenth century AD. Everyone knew this at the time, but the rewriting of history for political purposes has obscured it for the eyes of the contemporary world.

There is, however, yet another threat lying in wait for the Roman Empire. Although acknowledging that historically the Roman Empire was never called ‘Byzantine’, many claim that such an appellation is fitting for its latter phase because in that phase the Empire was substantially different: although it was called the Roman Empire, it was not really Roman but had a different character. It is this slyer attack that the present dissertation wishes to ward off, namely by demonstrating that the continuity of the Roman Empire was never broken. In so doing it will examine various aspects of Roman society through the ages and ask two questions: “Did this aspect change?” and “If it changed, did this change negate the Roman identity?”

Of all the institutions of Roman government, continuity is most obvious in the emperors. Like the rolling years, emperors succeeded one another without interruption from Augustus to Constantine XI.1 In stark contrast with the custom in other contemporary kingdoms, the imperial office in the Roman Empire was never officially hereditary, since the Roman Empire always retained its republican character. Anthony Kaldellis, Professor of Classics at the Ohio State University, writes in his book The Byzantine Republic, “Byzantium must first be understood as a republic in the Roman tradition…The Roman people remained the true sovereign of the political sphere, and they both authorized and de-authorized the holding of power by their ru