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 Being Byzantine: Greek identity before the Ottomans
When Choniates relates his own ¬‚ight from Constantinople in ±°,
he naturally identi¬es the group he is with as ˜we™. More interestingly,
he goes on to make a contrast between the ˜we™ who were escaping from
Constantinople and the other Romans living in the country, who took
vicarious pleasure in the downfall of their erstwhile lords and masters:
˜the rustic commoners mocked us who came from Byzantium exceedingly™
(µ.·°“±). It is clear from what follows that ˜the rustic commoners™ were
nevertheless to be viewed as Rhomaioi, as Choniates goes on to lay the
blame for their bad behaviour down to their ignorance of the Latins,
who treated Romans with contempt. Again, in his summing up Choniates
reproaches his compatriots (¾mof…loi) for their pusillanimity in the face
of the Latins, as traitors who ˜betrayed both the City and us™ (.µ“°).
He de¬nes ˜we™ here as the members of the Senate, men of great wealth
and in¬‚uence (cf. also µ.µ). It is clear from this, ¬rstly, that he held
himself and those whom he criticised to be alike Rhomaioi and, secondly,
that he nevertheless personally identi¬ed most with the privileged circles
of Constantinople and very little with the poorer provincial Romans. This
is in line with the elite contempt for provincials familiar in the twelfth
century and con¬rms that variations in status thus contributed to different
kinds of self-identi¬cation within the wider Roman identity. However, if
˜we™ could denote a subgroup within the Rhomaioi, it could also signify a
larger group, and Choniates additionally uses ˜we™ to mean humanity in
general (e.g. .±°).

Christian
Christianity is another arena for self-identi¬cation, not least as an essential
element in Roman-ness. For Choniates, this Christian aspect extends into
the fundamental political aspect of being Roman “ thus the emperor is
lord ˜of all Christians™ (.µµ). At times, being Christian seems directly
equivalent with being a Rhomaios, and this is most apparent in Choniates™
account of the attack by Leon Sgouros on Athens in ±°±, where the
historian™s brother Michael was archbishop and led the defence of the city
against Sgouros. Sgouros was an example of the independently minded
local dynasts who formed their own local dominions, rejecting rule from
Constantinople and so, in this account, Choniates is dealing with another
Roman (in some sense) who had explicitly rejected the political identity.
Choniates has his brother say that Leo was
called a Christian and reckoned among the Romans . . . but a Christian with his
lips only; though in dress and in speech he was a Roman, in his heart he was far
removed from those who called themselves Christians. (°.·“°)
·
Niketas Choniates
There is a contrast drawn here between the external appearance and internal
reality of what it was to be a Roman. Both uses of Rhomaios are ethnic here.
In remarking on Sgouros™ appearance and his Greek speech, Choniates is
denoting the ethnic aspects which inevitably identi¬ed him as a Roman;
however, his rejection of the political identity means that for Choniates “
absolutely fundamentally “ Sgouros cannot be a Roman. Once again, the
political identity is given greatest weight. It had been the same with the
Christian island-dwellers of Lake Pousgousae, whom Choniates refused
to call Romans despite the ethnically Roman markers of their race and
their religion. Again, this refusal to contemplate Roman-ness without the
political identity is Choniates™ response to provincial separatism in the
years before ±°.
The examples of Sgouros and the islanders show that Choniates accepts
that Christians need not be Romans, and the westerners of the crusader
realms of Outremer in the middle east (.µ), the Russians (µ.), the
Normans of Sicily (.) and the Germans (°.“µ) all similarly come
under this heading. Interestingly, of these four only the Russians are explic-
itly friendly to the Romans; with all the others the concept of common
Christianity is evoked to plead or to rail against inter-Christian con¬‚ict.

Greek
As outlined above, Graikos was familiar to the Byzantine Romans as a
western term for themselves, and in earlier centuries had been used as an
alternative to Hellen, given the latter™s unfortunate overtones of pagan-
ism. By the twelfth century, however, the term had come to be hated as
a derogatory term which was employed by uninformed westerners for the
subjects of the empire, compared to their own proud name of Romans. This
received point of view is exempli¬ed by Choniates, who uses Graikos, often
with satirical sarcasm, to provide a Latin viewpoint. Thus, the Germans
of the Third Crusade and Frederick Barbarossa in particular are described
as covetous of Roman wealth and longing to conquer ˜the Greeks™, whom
they see as cowardly and effeminate (··.··“). Again, in a passage imme-
diately following the account of the desecration of the Church of the
Holy Wisdom, the leaders of the Fourth Crusade are lauded as paragons
of virtue compared to ˜we Greeks™ (µ·µ.“). Similarly, Boniface of
Montferrat and Thessaloniki castigated his rival Baldwin, the Latin
emperor, as ˜more deceitful than the Greeks™ (µ.±“µ). In each of these
cases, Choniates evokes not only the westerners™ name for the Romans, but
also the stereotypical prejudices against them: Graikos is clearly as wrong a
name as the westerners™ prejudices are mistaken views.
 Being Byzantine: Greek identity before the Ottomans
Hellene
For Choniates, the Hellenes were writers, of misleading fables and of the
noble art of history, and this mixture of the deprecatory and the eulo-
gistic is, as discussed above, typical of the Byzantine Romans™ complex
attitude to the ancient Greeks. Historically, Hellen had signi¬ed pagan, as
in Choniates™ reference to the time of Constantine, while on the other hand
there was much to admire in the literary heritage of the ancient Greeks
(see ±“). However, a strong element of self-identi¬cation in the use of
Hellen emerges in Choniates™ account of the fall of Constantinople and
of the empire. Choniates directly and repeatedly identi¬es Romans and
Hellenes:
Nor should I be singing out the accomplishments of the barbarians, nor passing
on to posterity military actions in which Hellenes were not victorious. (µ°.·“)
How can I devote the very best thing and the most beautiful invention of the
Hellenes “ history “ to the recounting of barbarian deeds against the Hellenes?
(µ°.“µ)

O Alpheios, Hellenic river . . . herald not the misfortunes of the Hellenes to the
barbarians in Sicily. (±°.±“±±.±)
Choniates displays his learning with such classical references that have
caught the modern eye for their identi¬cation of his contemporary Romans
with ancient Hellenes: in the second example, he explicitly brackets
together the ancient Greeks (as the inventors of historical writing) and
the contemporary Romans assaulted by the barbarian westerners, naming
them both Hellenes.
To the Byzantine Roman mind, the ancient Greek struggle against the
invading Persians, the barbarians of the ancient writers, was an obvious
model for a literary response to the contemporary invasion and conquest:
thus Franks were naturally cast as barbarians and the defending Romans
were Hellenes. This erudite conceit need not represent a whole-hearted
ethnic identi¬cation, a claiming of identity between ancient and modern
peoples. Choniates may well have personally identi¬ed with the ancient
Hellenes, but this does not mean that he necessarily felt he was ethnically
the same as them. The identi¬cation with the Jews, as the chosen people
of God exiled from Jerusalem, is at least as strong in Choniates, and had
a longer history in Byzantine Roman writing “ however, the Byzantine
Romans typically despised the Jews and certainly felt no individual or
ethnic link with them.±

± Angold ±µ: µ°“.

Niketas Choniates
Nevertheless, it is fair to say that Choniates expressed this metaphor
with real feeling; the appeal to the Hellenic was more than mere symbol-
ism to him in articulating his anguish at the fall of the City and the
empire which had inherited the wisdom of the ancient Hellenes and
had furthermore, to his mind, kept it alive through the education he
and other educated Byzantine Romans had received. Choniates™ Hellenic
identi¬cation arguably illustrates the emotional weight attached to edu-
cated Hellenism by at least some of the educated Byzantine Roman elite,
such that this was an important and meaningful part of their Roman
identity.
Choniates also makes frequent use of the terminology of Hellenism
in the linguistic context, describing language as ˜Hellenic™ or ˜accord-
ing to the Hellenes™ and making a contrast with other languages. Once
again, the non-Hellenic language is often characterised as barbarian (for
example, ±°.·±, µ°.µ). However, this is not merely classical allusion:
the more simply informative contrasts with western language, for exam-
ple when dealing with the names of of¬ce-holders (°°.“, °°.·“
), suggest that Choniates thought of his own language as «Ellhnikž
(Hellenike). Yet he also makes reference to demotic forms, or ˜the com-
mon language™, suggesting a more complex language situation (for example,
±.µ“). This question of language in Choniates will become clearer once
set alongside a consideration of Akropolites and Pachymeres (see below,
pp. ±·“). We can say here that Choniates seems explicitly conscious of
the cultural link with the Hellenic past, as a historian both writing in the
language, and seeking to emulate the literary achievements, of the ancient
Greeks. He is also aware of the diglossic situation within the empire,
and steps outside the demands of educated style when clarity demands
it.±µ

the vocabulary of otherness
For Choniates barbaros is the term of choice for any non-Roman, and
he uses this item often with over ±µ° occurrences (see Appendix ±:
pp. “°). Practically all the other ethnic groups in his History are at
some time called barbarian by Choniates “ Turks (called either Tourkoi
or Perses, Persians, in the classicising manner), Pechenegs, Armenians,
Germans, Russians, Serbs, Venetians, Cumans, Hungarians, Saracens, Sicil-
ians, Varangians, Vlachs and Bulgarians, the participants in the Fourth
Crusade . . . It is clear that for Choniates the world is divided into
±µ Harris °°°: “·.
° Being Byzantine: Greek identity before the Ottomans
Romans on the one hand and barbarians on the other and, as discussed
above, this is an essentially traditional outlook for a writer at the end of
the Komnenian period “ towards the end of his reign, Alexios I Kom-
nenos made reference to the barbarians who threatened the Romans on all
sides.±
This formulation can appear rather circular and empty “ you are a bar-
barian if you are not a Roman, and a Roman is one who is not a barbarian;
furthermore, it is hard to establish any purely Roman or purely barbarian
features in Choniates™ presentation. Romans were Christian, but so were
many barbarians, some of whom were even Orthodox Christians “ the
Bulgarians, for example. Barbarians behaved badly, but so did many emi-
nent Romans, not least several emperors . . . Romans were loyal to the
emperor and the empire, but then so were the quintessentially barbar-
ian Varangian guard, at least as often as the most blue-blooded Romans.
Romans dressed in a particular way and had traditionally Roman ways of
living, but some barbarians shared even these; for example, the Venetian
community in Constantinople and elsewhere in the empire, who were
˜looked upon as natives and altogether Roman™ (±·±.µ±).
Interestingly, though, Choniates does allow for degrees of barbarism or,
in other words, of non-Roman-ness. Analysis of the space devoted to the
different ethnic groups compared to the frequency with which they are
called barbarians “ what may be called the relative density of reference “
reveals that Choniates is most likely to call the Varangians barbarian,
followed by other northern peoples like the Cumans and Vlachs (or
Bulgarians: Choniates makes no clear distinction between these two).
Other northern groups, like Serbs or Russians, follow in roughly sim-
ilar proportion to the Muslim easterners. The crusaders of ±° follow
some way behind Turks in terms of relative density, and speci¬c western
groups like Germans, Venetians, Sicilians and the established crusaders in
Outremer are relatively highly unlikely to be called barbarian. Similarly,
when Choniates has westerners ¬ghting northerners or easterners, it is the
latter “ i.e. the Bulgarians or Turks “ that are called barbarians, and it is
noteworthy that not even their Orthodox Christianity under the patriarch
of Constantinople can rescue such northern peoples from the category of
barbarians in contrast to Latin westerners.
Choniates is surely relying here on the time-honoured prejudices
against the northern incomers, perceived as non-urbanised and uncivilised.
This matter of degrees of barbarism offers a window on the criteria of
± Maas ±±: µ; cf. Magdalino ±b: ·“, also ·“.
±
Niketas Choniates
Byzantine Roman identity for Choniates, since the less barbarian a group
was, perhaps it was more like the Romans. Being Christian was more
Roman than barbarian, so Muslims were necessarily barbarian in con-
trast to other Christians. However, being Christian was not enough: the
Bulgarians and Serbs, although Orthodox Christians, were still very much
barbarians; the Latins were Christian, but could still be called barbarians.
Operating here is a basic and binary sense of the Roman and non-Roman:
given that the Latin crusaders were very clearly enemies of the Romans,
such outright hostility demanded they be identi¬ed as the ˜other™ in the
conventional Roman“barbarian opposition.
Behaviour, though, was also important, and certain characteristics are
highlighted as typical of barbarians “ arrogance (±.±±), changeability
(±.·±“), greed (e.g. ±°.“µ, ±.µ) and insincerity (±.).±· Barbarism
is also strongly associated with inhuman behaviour such that, even though
Choniates gives plenty of insights into Roman brutality as well, he clearly
considered inhumanity more typical of barbarians. Andronikos I Kom-
nenos learnt brutality from foreigners (µ.“·), and in the account of
the taking of the City uses of barbaros in application to the westerners
are often associated with evil actions like pillaging (µ°.µ“, .°“±),
violence (µ·.·“) and attempted rape (µ°.±“).
It is fair to say also that the demands of rhetoric have conditioned Cho-
niates™ presentation of the barbarian vis-`-vis the Roman, most noticeably
a
with regard to the account of the disasters of ±°. It is in his exquisite
and heart-felt laments on the fate of the City and the empire that the
usage of the terminology of barbarism in relation to westerners multiplies
where, as discussed above, the Romans are identi¬ed with ancient Hellenes
and the westerners take up the role of the barbarians who had attacked
the city-states of Greece. This ancient model feeds Choniates™ presenta-
tion of the barbarian as the opposite of the Roman, as an encircling mass
of largely undifferentiated foes. Thus, the typical sins of barbarians are
presented as shared by the various groups, Christian and non-Christian,
western, northern and eastern but, nevertheless, some peoples were more
barbarian than others. Choniates™ conception of ˜the barbarian™ devolved
on geographical“political origin and elements of custom and behaviour,
but was conventionally all-encompassing in a way that owed much to
his intelligent readings of ancient authors and was well established in the
Komnenian period.


±· Cf. Kazhdan °°±: ·“.
 Being Byzantine: Greek identity before the Ottomans
The vocabulary of ethnicity
Choniates™ use of genos and ethnos, while not so clear-cut, is suggestive of
a broad distinction between ethnos “ foreign, inferior and barbaric, and
genos “ non-alien, familial and often noble. It is not a straightforward
division, as Choniates is happy to use genos or ethnos for the Romans, albeit
with a slight leaning towards the former. He employs ethnos in the plural for
all non-Romans; it is a general term for non-Roman states and peoples that
often had Biblical overtones which contrasted the gentile nations with the
Christian Romans (e.g. ±.µ, °.±“). When Choniates uses ethnos for
the Romans, it often has religious overtones “ the Romans were ˜the holy
nation™ (±±·.·) and the Russians gave them help as to ˜a people of the same
faith™ (µ.). As these examples show, Choniates does not conclusively
align ethnos with barbaros; however, ethnos is comparatively rare in the
Byzantine Roman context. Rather, ethnos is typically employed in the
plural and non-speci¬cally, and often in explicit contrast to the Roman,
whether in speaking of the enemies of the Roman or in deprecating the
phillatinist policies of Manuel I Komnenos (°.“·, ). Saracens, Serbs,
Hungarians and Armenians were all speci¬c ethne, while westerners could
de¬nitely belong to ethne, but only in a generalised and plural sense (e.g.
±·°., °.); the term is never used for speci¬c western subgroups. In
contrast, genos is applied to such groups, as well as for, again, Romans,

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( 54 .)



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