This is the second of three articles drawing attention to major structural problems in our history of Europe in the first millennium AD. In the first article (“How fake is Roman Antiquity?”), we have argued that the forgery of ancient books during the Renaissance was more widespread than usually acknowledged, so that what we think we know about the Roman Empire — including events and individuals of central importance — rests on questionable sources. (We have not claimed that all written sources on the Roman Empire are fake.)
We have also argued that the traditional perspective of the first millennium is distorted by a strong bias in favor of Rome, at the expense of Constantinople. The common representation of the Byzantine Empire as the final phase of the Roman Empire, whose capital had been transferred from the Latium to the Bosphorus, is today recognized as a falsification. Politically, culturally, linguistically, and religiously, Byzantium owes nothing to Rome. “Believing that their own culture was vastly superior to Rome’s, the Greeks were hardly receptive to the influence of Roman civilization,” states a recent Atlas de l’Empire Romain, mentioning only gladiator combats as a possible, yet marginal, debt.
The assumption that Western civilization originated in Rome, Italy relies partly on a misunderstanding of the word “Roman”. What we now call “the Byzantine Empire” (a term that only became customary in the sixteenth century) was then called Basileía tôn Rhômaíôn (the kingdom of the Romans), and for most of the first millennium, “Roman” simply meant what we understand today as “Byzantine”.
Our perception of Rome as the origin and center of Western civilization is also linked to our assurance that Latin is the mother of all Romance languages. But that filiation, which became a dogma in the mid-nineteenth century, is under severe attack (we thank the commenters who directed us to this documentary and that one, to Yves Cortez’s book Le Français ne vient pas du latin, and to Mario Alinei’s work). It seems that Dante was correct when he assumed in De vulgari eloquentia (c. 1303), the first treatise on the subject, that Latin was an artificial, synthetic language created “by the common consent of many peoples” for written purposes.
The distortions that produced our textbook history of the first millennium have both a geographical and a chronological dimension. The geographical distortion is part of that Eurocentrism that is now being challenged by scholars like James Morris Blaut (The Colonizer’s Model of the World, Guilford Press, 1993), John M. Hobson (The Eastern Origins of Western Civilization, Cambridge UP, 2004), or Jack Goody (The Theft of History, Cambridge UP, 2012). The chronological distortion, on the other hand, is not yet an issue in mainstream academia: historians simply do not question the chronological backbone of the first millennium. They don’t even ask themselves when, how and by whom it was created….Read More