First, we must know some basics.
Everybody has heard about the Roman Empire or about the Byzantine Empire. Everybody thinks that the names of Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire) are the proper ones. Also, everyone knows that the Roman Empire has perished somewhere at the end of Antiquity, whereas the Byzantine Empire came to an end during the Middle Ages (1453).
But are these statements true?
There are few people who know that Rome was not an empire throughout its existence as a state. In its first stage, it was a confederation of the Latin – or Roman – tribes, after that a kingdom, after that a confederative republic, and just in 27 B.C. it became an empire of sorts (the ruler was called Augustus, not emperor).
Also, even fewer people know that the Roman Empire did not generally use the name of „Roman Empire” for itself. Of course, in its first centuries of existence, Rome was not an empire, but a confederation of tribes, a kingdom and, after that, a confederative republic. So, there were three names people used for the country: Terra Romanorum („The Land of Romans”), Senatus Populusque Romanus („The Roman Senate and People”) or Romania.
The name Romania was a name people used when referring to the country, and from the 2nd century A.D. it was used officially, becoming the official name of the country in the 4th century A.D.
Phrases like Imperium Romanum („Roman Empire”) or Imperium Romanorum („The Empire of Romans”) were used more as literary terms and less as official terms. Or, alternately, these terms were used to underscore the organization or the power of the country in some documents.
Names like The Byzantine or the Eastern Roman Empire were never used!
Actually, the name of the country governed from Constantinople was always Romania or the Roman Empire. Because, of course, it was Romania! When Constantin the Great moved the capital from Rome to Constantinople, the state, the country, the empire remained the same: Romania or the Roman Empire.
Terms like Western and Eastern were used just when Romania was administratively organized in two parts – the West and the East. But when the Western part of the country fell, the Eastern part was no longer the Eastern part, but the only part of the Romania that still existed. So, the name in use was just Romania or the Roman Empire.
The Byzantine Empire is a pejorative term, given to Romania by some Western scholars, beginning with the 16th century A.D., in order to negate the continuity between the Ancient Roman Empire and the Roman Empire of the Middle Ages. Very much used in the past, now it is seen, rightly so, as inappropriate. And it is replaced, more and more, by the more adequate term Eastern Roman Empire or by the right terms, Romania or the Roman Empire.
The End of the Roman Empire in Western Europe
In 476 the Western part of Romania (or the Roman Empire) fell. But the Eastern part continued to exist. And during the reign of Emperor Justinian the Great (527-565), Romania took back Italy with Rome, Northern Africa and the South of Spain. The Latin population from all these parts of the world received the Roman armies as liberators. Rome would be free, within the Roman Empire with the capital at Constantinople, for two more centuries.
So, if 476 is the end of the Western part of the Roman Empire for a while, it is far from being the end of the Roman Empire itself. Even for Western Europe and Rome, as we showed, the Roman reign does not end in 476 A.D. Why are the two centuries of Roman liberty brought by Justinian the Great to Rome and to other Western provinces usually ignored? Because this would end Vatican’s claims of being the rightful heir to the Roman Empire, because this proves the “Holy Roman German Empire” (a.k.a “The Holy Roman Empire”) to be, as Runciman said, not holy, not Roman, and not an empire, at all. What denied Western Europe a chance to continue to be a part of Romania was exactly the choice of some of Rome’s bishops to use the Germans against Constantinople and the Greeks (who had come to power in the Roman Empire). But this is another part of history, beyond the scope of our essay.
The End of the Roman Empire in Eastern Europe
As we remember from the beginning of this text, the end of the Romania in Eastern Europe is considered to be either the fall of Constantinople (1453), or the fall of Trebizond (1461).
But in 1452 Romania or Roman Empire was a confederation of principalities and other countries, most of which fell under Ottoman rule. In 1470 three of them were still standing: the Principality of Doros (or Theodoro-Mangup), the Principality of Muntenia (or Wallachia) and the Principality of Moldavia. The former was located in the Crimean Peninsula, the other two between the Carpathians and the Danube and Dniester Rivers, respectively. The rulers of these three Roman countries, all Roman (or “Byzantine”) princes, were all related.
As of 1475 the Principality of Doros (Theodoro-Mangup) was no more. But the Principalities of Muntenia and Moldavia continued to exist. Called “The Danubian Romanian Principalities” in the past, now that these were the only Romanian countries in existence, the name became shorter: “The Romanian Principalities” or “The Romanian Countries”.
In 1859 these two countries formed a union under the name “The United Romanian Principalities” or “Romania”. Under the latter name, the country still exists, between the Tisa River and the Black Sea, on a territory that largely corresponds to the ancient kingdom of Dacia, by the Carpathian Mountains and the Romanian Plain, etc. It has 19 million people, far less than the population of 90 million people reached at the greatest extent of Romania (at the end of Antiquity).
Nevertheless, the most amazing thing is that the Roman Empire, which was supposed to be just history, lives on.
Mihai-Andrei Aldea, Ph.D.
P.S. Some surces, just in Romanian for now, here.