The Byzantine Greeks or Byzantines were the medieval Greek or Hellenised citizens of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire), centered mainly in Constantinople, the southern Balkans, the Greek islands, Asia Minor (modern Turkey), Cyprus and the large urban centres of the Levant and northern Egypt. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Byzantine Greeks self-identified as ''Rhōmaîoi'' (Greek: , "Romans") and ''Graikoí'' (Γραικοί, "Greeks"), but are referred to as "Byzantines" and "Byzantine Greeks" in modern historiography. The terms "Byzantine Empire" and "Byzantine Greeks" were first coined in the English language by British historian George Finlay.〔: "George Finlay's ''History of the Byzantine Empire from 716 to 1057'', published in 1857, was the first occasion of "Byzantine Empire" being used in a modern historical narrative in English."〕
The social structure of the Byzantine Greeks was primarily supported by a rural, agrarian base that consisted of the peasantry, and a small fraction of the poor. These peasants lived within three kinds of settlements: the ''chorion'' or village, the ''agridion'' or hamlet, and the ''proasteion'' or estate. Many civil disturbances that occurred during the time of the Byzantine Empire were attributed to political factions within the Empire rather than to this large popular base. Soldiers among the Byzantine Greeks were at first conscripted amongst the rural peasants and trained on an annual basis. As the Byzantine Empire entered the 11th century, more of the soldiers within the army were either professional men-at-arms or mercenaries.
Until the twelfth century, education within the Byzantine Greek population was more advanced than in the West, particularly at primary school level, resulting in high literacy rates. Success came easily to Byzantine Greek merchants, who enjoyed a very strong position in international trade. Despite the challenges posed by rival Italian merchants, they held their own throughout the latter half of the Byzantine Empire's existence. The clergy also held a special place, not only having more freedom than their Western counterparts, but also maintaining a patriarch in Constantinople who was considered the equal of the pope. This position of strength had built up over time, for at the beginning of the Byzantine Empire, under Emperor Constantine the Great (reigned 306–337), only a small part, about 10%, of the population was Christian.
The language of the Byzantine Greeks since the age of Constantine had been Greek, although Latin was the language of the administration. From the reign of Emperor Heraclius (reigned 610–641), Greek was the predominant language amongst the populace and also replaced Latin in administration. At first the Byzantine Empire had a multi-ethnic character, but following the loss of the non-Greek speaking provinces it came to be dominated by the Byzantine Greeks. Over time, the relationship between them and the West, particularly with Latin Europe, deteriorated.
Relations were further damaged by a schism between the Catholic West and Orthodox East that led to the Byzantine Greeks being labeled as heretics in the West. Throughout the later centuries of the Byzantine Empire and particularly following the coronation of Charlemagne (reigned as king of the Franks 768–814) in Rome in 800, the Byzantine Greeks were not considered by Western Europeans as heirs of the Roman Empire, but rather as part of an Eastern kingdom made up of Greek peoples. However the Byzantine Empire could claim to be the Roman Empire, continuing the unbroken line of succession of the Roman emperors.
During most of the Middle Ages, the Byzantine Greeks identified themselves as ''Rhōmaîoi'' (, "Romans", meaning citizens of the Roman Empire), a term which in the Greek language had become synonymous with Christian Greeks.〔: "Roman, Greek (if not used in its sense of 'pagan') and Christian became synonymous terms, counterposed to 'foreigner', 'barbarian', 'infidel'. The citizens of the Empire, now predominantly of Greek ethnicity and language, were often called simply ό χριστώνυμος λαός (people who bear Christ's name' )."〕〔.〕 They also identified themselves as ''Graikoí'' (Γραικοί, "Greeks");〔; Paul the Silentiary. ''Descriptio S. Sophiae et Ambonis'', 425, Line 12 ("χῶρος ὅδε Γραικοῖσι"); Theodore the Studite. ''Epistulae'', 419, Line 30 ("ἐν Γραικοῖς").〕 the ethnonym was used habitually for self-referential purposes except in official Byzantine political correspondence prior to the Fourth Crusade of 1204.〔; ; .〕 The ancient name ''Hellene'' was in popular use synonymous to "pagan" and was revived as an ethnonym in the Middle Byzantine period (11th century).〔.〕
While in the West the term "Roman" acquired a new meaning in connection with the Catholic Church and the Bishop of Rome, the Greek form "Romaioi" remained attached to the Greeks of the Eastern Roman Empire.〔Encyclopædia Britannica (2009), "History of Europe: The Romans".〕 These people called themselves ''Romaioi'' (Romans) in their language, and the term "Byzantines" or "Byzantine Greeks" is an exonym applied by later historians like Hieronymus Wolf.〔.〕 However, the use of the term "Byzantine Greeks" for the ''Romaioi'' is not entirely uncontroversial.〔.〕
Most historians agree that the defining features of their civilization were: 1) Greek language, culture, literature, and science, 2) Roman law and tradition, 3) Christian faith.〔; ; ; .〕 The term "Byzantine" has been adopted by Western scholarship on the assumption that anything Roman is essentially "Western", and also by modern Greek scholarship for nationalistic reasons of identification with ancient Greece.〔 In modern times, the Greek people still use the ethnonyms "Romaioi" (or rather "Romioi") and "Graikoi" to refer to themselves.〔; ; .〕 In addition, the Eastern Roman Empire was in language and civilization a Greek society.〔.〕
Byzantinist August Heisenberg (1869–1930) defined the Byzantine Empire as "the Christianised Roman empire of the Greek nation".〔; : "Byzanz ist das christlich gewordene Römerreich griechischer Nation."〕 Byzantium was primarily known as the ''Empire of the Greeks'' by foreigners due to the predominance of Greek linguistic, cultural, and demographic elements.〔; ; ; ; ; .〕
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