On the Romans & Byzantines. Is Western Rome and the Byzantine Empire different thing or continuation?

Yes, Age of Empires 2 is a video game not a history encyclopedia and the Romans were added and are here to stay but the addition of the Romans has raised some interesting perspectives.

This is a discussion about those different perspectives, and why the devs (probably having the anglo-saxon point of view) didn’t see the sea of negative feedback before it happened.

During the “I like Rome/I don’t like Rome” period right before the release of Return of Rome DLC there was a lot of talk on the forum that the Romans already exist in the game under the form of the Byzantine Empire.

Basically, having the Byzantine Empire fighting the Romans is like having the Roman Empire fighting the Roman Republic.

Some people argued that we already had the Byzantines, the medieval Romans, to represent the Romans. Cataphracts didn’t exist at the time of Attila, but we already had the Romans in the game who existed at the time of Attila under the name Byzantines. The only difference between Romans and Byzantines is time, otherwise they are the same civ. Which is why I think adding them is like adding Napoleonic France and the Republic of France as 2 separate civs in the same game.

And some people genuinely were like “no, it wasn’t Rome, the Byzantine Empire was a different thing”. “They split into West and East Rome”. “The Romans spoke Latin, while the Byzantines spoke Greek” (The Byzantines started speaking Greek in 610 (introduced as official language, complicated story) before that they spoke Latin, why? because they were the Romans, not to mention many languages in the Empire to begin with)

Or “Well, the Byzantines may have been originally Roman, but they changed over time”. The Byzantines at some point had the same army as the Late Romans. Latin was used in the administration and court I believe, and in feneral the Roman empire had a lot of languages used all over the place but they were still the same civilization and shared a lot of culture. And even if they didn’t change that much, the argument that they changed is weak, 16th century France and 18th century France were very different, but they were still France.

So, in other words.

Some people were like: What’s the point of having a short-lasting Roman civ when the west and east were very very similar (in fact they were the same civilization and the same nation imo) and we already have Byzantines? The west and east were still extremely similar by the fall of west. And Romans is imo a Multiethnic nation therefore the same civ.

While, other people were like: Roman empire ended in 476. If you say Romans should not be in the game, Celts/Huns/Goths should not be either cuz all of them are contemporary with Romans.

Some people were like: “Nope. The Byzantines never actually called themselves the Byzantines, they called themselves Romans, and they were Romans, they had an uninterrupted line of succession from Augustus. The Byzantines were the “Medieval Romans” not “Eastern Romans”. So having ancient Rome (even 4th cenutry) and medieval Rome in the same game is like having the Ottoman Empire and Republic of Turkey in the same game as 2 different civs.”

Other people were like: “Byzantines are East, Romans are West. They are different people.”

Some say: 2 political entities, same civs. (Rome fell in 1453)

Others says: 2 political entities, 2 different civs. (Rome fell in 476)

Isn’t this interesting? There are 2 completely different ways to view Western Rome ↔ Eastern Rome relationships. With some saying Western Rome is the “true Rome” while others saying that both were equally Rome.

Why is this? In my opinion, because:

Western history posits a default Anglo-Saxon view of the world, centered on the Christian world of Western & Central Europe. From the Anglo-Saxon point of view, the Dark and Feudal ages are seen from a perspective of “Rome is over”, focusing exclusively on the feudal structures of the west, with kings and crusades, to the detriment of the history of the east. Byzantium is an obstacle, the Abbassids are an opponent, countries and cultures in Eastern Europe only exist when they come into contact with the west. Thus the role of the Byzantines is downplayed to… not be Romans.

So, is Byzantium… Roman?

First of all, the name, how do countries get their name, who gets to make the decision? There is legacy and legitimacy in clamining a title. Why do we call it “Byzantium” ? Why Rome ended in the 5th century when an entire state called “the Roman Empire” existed for another 1000 years.

The name for the Byzantine Empire comes from the settlement Byzantion (not Byzantium), the city that was there before Contantinopole. The name for the Byzantine Empire comes from the settlement, it is in a way associating the capital with the country, mirroring Rome in a way. But while Rome grew: City State → Kingdom → Republic → Empire, keeping its name despite changing capitals more than once. Byzantion was chosen as a capital with the “refounding” and renaming of the city by emperor Constantine in 330 AD before the split into East and West Rome. In 395 Rome divided itself into 2 administrative regions cooperating as one Empire essentially. Think of it as empowering a second emperor granting Imperium to a co-ruler.

As time goes on and history marches forward, the western part of the Empire collapses, that’s what we refer to for reasons as the fall of Rome. By now, something may strike you as a bit odd.

The Byzantines called their capital Constantinopole before there was 2 Romes and before they were even the only Rome. So how did the name “Byzantine” come to signify the whole empire?

Justinian I (Belisarius & stuff) was the last Roman/Byzantine Emperor to speak Latin as a first language, which signifies the transition from a Latin-speaking Empire to a Greek-speaking Empire. Then in 610 Greek became the official language of the Roman/Byzantine Empire. As for the Greek themselves, even as Latin faded as the primary spoken language the common name for the empire among Greek-speaking people was “the Roman Empire” and they themselves “Romans”.

So what about the Holy Roman Empire? The Byzantines called them the “Germanic/Frankish kingdom” which to be completely fair, is correct to reality.

How did other people refer to the Byzantines? the most common was calling them Greeks. After the fall of Constantinopole you start to see them being referred to as retrospectively as the Byzantines.

The main point of divergence was religion. Catholics having control of the city of Rome had quite the argument to call themselves “Roman successors”. Then again, the Romans were never Catholic, so?

But what about the “other Romes”: Holy Roman Empire & Latin Empire.

Holy Roman Emperors styled themselves as Imperator Augustus for the most of the existance of the Empire. Why do this? Why be Roman? was Regna Germania not enough of a title? the claim of a title was a powerful political tool that had a lot to do with legitimacy, legacy and authority.

This is the same reason the Latin Empire was referred to as such. Or as Romania (not to be confused with today’s country Romania). Anything, as long as it wasn’t Rome. The Latin Empire was not about to anger the HRE by laying claim to Roman authority.

Think of it like copyright avoidance but for international relationships. For a more modern comparison, think of it as China & Taiwan and the significance of being 2 China.

Fundamentally, the “Roman Empire” and “Emperor” function as titles. There can only be 1 Empire. Period. Full Stop.

From this comes the problem of the 2 emperors (Holy Roman Empire & Latin Empire). Despite taking a different name and sharing a religion (Catholicism). The Latin Empire claiming emperorship still butted heads with HRE. Once you understand that, it starts to make sense why the Byzantines are refered to as they are. Sometimes as the Greeks, sometimes as the Byzantines, but never as the Romans.

Never really as the Romans as they would prefer, there’s power in that title. A special legitimacy that was sought after by the Holy Roman Empire, which is joked to be neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire. Really, this joke only shows the plasticity of the word Empire, which is ironic given how important it was to those who desired to style themselves as such.

The Ottomans, who conquered the Byzantines and claimed the title “successor of Rome” by right of conquest because they defeated the Romans (now it was advantageous to call the Byzantines Romans) did not refer to the ruler of HRE as anything more than king.

To be fair to the Ottomans, they did conquer the last guys who called themselves “the Roman Empire” where the HRE simply had permission from the Pope, who, in terms of his authority decide what is “truly Roman”, well, that just goes back to the earlier religious divide.

Ultimately, the reason for seeking the legacy was the same for the Germans, Franks, Ottomans - power.

And step one to take that name is to refuse to admit someone else is already using it.

CONCLUSION: The reasons the Byzantine Empire is called the Byzantine Empire are a bit historical, a bit cultural and primarily political. Anyone with a vast interest in the legacy of rome was bound to take that title, and they weren’t willing to share.

I will say it makes sense for us to use the term Byzantine now, it helps us distinguish a time period for an empire, it gives us a word for a place, time and people. And generally, we don’t tend to refer to countries by something that requires geographic designation relative to something that doesn’t exist (the Roman Empire but not in Rome), and it would be weird to use the term East Rome when there was no West Rome.

But at the same time, I don’t know if that’s a fair argument, because we certainly call the Holy Roman Empire what they want to be called. We don’t just insist that they are the Germanic Empire or something.


Nicely put. However, I’ll that until 800, EVERYONE called them Romans. Only afer the coronation of Charlemagne the Western Europeans started calling them Greeks. Everyone else in the world, from Axsum to China, called them Romans

This is super important. I have also seen people argue that because the Eastern court was not ethnically Roman, they weren’t Roman. Or because they weren’t culturally Italic, they weren’t Romans. Like, weren’t Constantine, Diocletian or Pontius Pilatus Roman? How about Hispanic Emperors?

Also, Western and Eastern are a modern construction.in their time, they called themselves coEmperors

Edit: see two comments below for an example

1 Like

Types of cataphracts existed maybe as early as the 10th century bce.

I am a bit confused by your conclusion. I take it that you believe the Romans should not be in AoE 2, but it is not totally clear.

1 Like

I think that determining the Byzantine Empire to be a continuation of the Roman Empire simply based on the fact that they called themselves Romans is a mistake. Culturally, they were extremely different, and also used different tactics (that I’m not sure on). The Byzantine Empire is technically considered the eastern half of the Roman Empire, but it is not synonymous with the Romans.

1 Like

Yes, my conclusion is that Romans should not have been part of AoE2 because we already had the Byzantines to represent the Romans. As for the Goths & Huns that were used as examples, the Goths & Huns outlived the Western Roman Empire thus went into the Dark Age.

But this was not a “Remove the Romans” text, in fact, I actually like the way they represented the Early Romans/ Western Romans / whatever, in the game, this text was more a discussion on the different perspectives over the Byzantine Empire and why some people (to this day, given the discussions on the forum at the release of the DLC) consider the Byzantines either Romans, not-Romans, or Roman-ish but not really Romans.

Not true.

1 Like

So were Romans from Italy, British Islands and Hispania and the laters aren’t considered nonRomans


They are like Germany and Austria or Argentina and Uruguay, basically the same thing with minor differences.

Western Rome has more latín influence, eastern has more greek… but they were both romans

1 Like

While they descended from the same government, they were vastly different. The Eastern Roman Empire was heavily Greek focused. It followed Greek traditions, used Greek Language, was based in the Greek sphere of influence, and it did have civil wars with the Western Empire.

The Western Empire was Roman focused, actual Rome… You know, Roman culture, Roman language (Latin), Roman military traditions, etc.

So the distinction absolutely makes sense. While Byzantine as a term was invented after the fact, it still remains factual that the Eastern Roman Empire pretty much was only roman in name and heritage.

Even the examples cited above aren’t correct because Austria and Germany both use German.
I can’t think of a good example that had a split like the Roman Empire did.
Most nation splits I can think of share the same culture and language.

I.E North/South Korea, China/Taiwan, etc.
Rome is quite unique in the fact that it split into a Greek and Latin side, but both were Roman in heritage so to speak.


One could argue that’s what the Liberators’ civil war was about xD

Historical comparisons have their limits, one could also equate this with British and the US in AoE3 (and some did).
I don’t think the division of the Roman Empire has any equivalent in history. It’s the only instance I can think of of a state spliting itself into two different entities while still seeing each other as parts of the same state and, at least in theory, equals. The closest thing in my opininion would be how the British Empire evolved into the Commonwealth of Nations, and even this comparison has its limits.

1 Like

So during the Tetrarchy, the Nicomedian and Trier based polities weren’t Roman?

1 Like

I’m confused by this – is this a normal phrase that people use? As far as I’m concerned, Anglo-Saxon culture hasn’t really existed since the 11th century. (You could argue that it hung on for a bit, ### it definitely doesn’t exist anymore.) How can anyone still have an Anglo-Saxon point of view on anything?

My guess is this is maybe some American English way of using “Anglo-Saxon” that I’m not familiar with.

It’s equivalent to the modern English speaking world.


It’s more often used as a way to talk about the British and the countries with a culture mostly of British descent, so mainly USA, Canada, Australia and NZ.


Anglosphere is the more common term.


I don’t know, the Anglosphere refers to all English speaking countries and I think I’ve only ever seen Anglo Saxon used to refer to white English speaking peoples specifically…

1 Like

Anglosphere deals more with influence, including with systems of justice and philosophy, and less with language or ethnicity explicitly. In fact there is a joke that the Swedes speak better English than the Brits, but it may also be a truism.


Eastern Roman Empire was heavily Greek focused → They mainly spoke Greek. Switched Latin for official in 610. That was some 130 years AFTER the fall of the Western Roman Empire & 300 years after Constantinople became the capital of the Roman Empire. But the state apparatus, customs, traditions, remained the same.

They changed in time yes. The Byzantine Empire of 1200 was very different from the Byzantine Empire of 600. But all nations change it time. France of 1900 was very different from France of 1300. Rome of 200 AD was very different from Rome of 400 BC. It’s quite odd to “freeze in time” Rome in 476 and say “ok, this is what Rome should have been, anything that isn’t like that isn’t Rome”. Imagine doing the same for France, well, today’s France isn’t France then.

Used Greek Language → This is by far the biggest difference. That they started using the Greek language after 610. My question is the following: Say Trump’s nightmare becomes reality. 100+ Mexicans come to USA. And in time Spanish becomes the dominant language. Are the Americans not Americans anymore now because they speak Spanish but they used to speak English? If your answer is “no, they are still Americans even if they now speak Spanish”, then why do you make a separate case for the Romans?

No, I don’t know, can you help me and be specific on what this “You know, Roman culture, Roman military traditions, etc.” is like as opposed to the Eastern Roman one? Because at the time of the split they were pretty much the same. Afterwards, one evolved. And the other of course it was the same because it was dead in 476.

Roman language I get it, you mean Latin, for the others I don’t.

Most nation splits I can think of share the same culture and language. ↔ Including the Western & Eastern Roman Empire. Except, Western died in 476 so stayed the same. Eastern didn’t die so naturally it changed over time.

If you compare the Roman Kingdom or Roman Republic with Western Rome you will find huge differences, so which ones were the true Romans according to you? Roman Kingdom,Roman Republic or Western Rome?

When it originally split it was a Latin and a Latin side. If that’s your main reason for seeing them different. But if that’s your main reason again, Americans who started speaking Spanish are still American? Yes/No, why?

1 Like

You assumed most of the critics is due to the Roman civs not fitting the time frame. I dont think that is the biggest concurn of most players. The DLC was just half done and the devs are lacking the communication skills to tell that. I see that is the biggest issue with the DLC.

Besides this remark i liked you wall of text. Nice to learn a history lesson.


From what I noticed that was the no.1 criticism. There was a guy who counted all topics about that when the outrage came. Main criticism was that Romans do not fit the time frame. The community was very divided in whether the Romans should or shouldn’t have been in the game. So much that the devs addressed it in a news feed.

Then, for those that wanted Romans, was another that it felt like too little having only 1 civ in AoE2 and that not having them in ranked (only singleplayer) is a joke.

That was my experience in that moment, but I didn’t stay to make statistics.

1 Like

So here’s my favourite subject!
I need to correct some mistakes before making my point.
First, greek didn’t become the spoken language in 629 but just the official one. Greek was already spoken there since the Roman conquest of Macedonia because here’s the deal: the eastern part of the Roman empire has always been culturally greek. I suspect this mistake being the whole point of the discussion because it confuses what is nominal (byzantines being the heir of the Roman empire) with what is factual (byzantines were culturally Greeks, not Romans/Latins).
The second error I remember is cataphracts not existing in western Rome in the 5th century. They were there since the times of gallienus or at least the 4th century and were called by Latins clibanarii while cataphracts derived from the Greek cataphraktoi.
The last one is Huns and goths outliving Romans. In the case of Huns, their empire crumbled before the western one shortly after Attila’s death and Huns begin being assimilated by new invaders like Avars while continuing to serve under eastern Romans. We have accounts of hunnish generals until Justinian and probably after him, a time where Romans already lost their political unity but were alive as people in the western Germanic kingdom. Romans simply fused with goths and other Germanic people at a certain point in the 8th century but they were a minority and in decline since the 7th. Most laws issued in Lombard and Frankish kingdoms in the 7th century quote Romans as a distinct people from Germans occupants while this distinction starts to be ignored by the late Visigothic kingdom when a codex decided to fuse the two ethnicities, maybe as a propaganda act to unite Hispanic Romans and goths against the new Muslim threat or maybe because they were effectively merged by that point. So most probably Romans outlived Huns and came close to outlive goths (outside of Crimea) too.

I premise I’m not proving byzantines were not Romans because I’m a Charlemagne’s spy, I think the holy Roman empire indeed was as “Roman” as the Byzantine one. It was just a matter of power by that point… You know, how an heir try to prove to be the legitimate one when a rich relative dies because money yeah…
Aoe2 usually depicts ethnicities and “Byzantine” is technically not but you could call them Greeks if you dislike the term. Byzantines were not neither culturally nor ethnically Romans, they were Romans just politically / by administrative convention.

The argument that they called themselves Romans I can’t take seriously… So if I call myself a martian that makes me one? I mean everyone can think what they want in their head but when discussing we need to have a little common grasp on terms. Greeks were conquered by Romans and cultural assimilation worked so well during centuries that they adopt and were willing to adapt to the standard of the conqueror (almost a case of Stockholm syndrome here ahah). Nothing new, that was Rome universalism and way of absorbing people into itself, that’s what any culturally hegemonic empire do until it works. Christian Berbers before the Muslim conquest sometimes referred to themselves as Romans. The latin cultural implant was so effective in Dacia that they referred to themselves as Romania in middle ages. That does not make Romania Roman nowadays right?

And even the exhonym argument does not convince me either since it’s a simplification by people who couldn’t really know about European history’s nuances. Chinese called byzantines “Lumi” (Romans) probably because that’s what they were known as, it doesn’t prove anything substantial since byzantines advertised themselves as Roman heir anyway… Muslims called them Rum and Seljuks Turks even created the sultanate of Rum just because they conquered a piece of Anatolia but that doesn’t mean they were in Rome or into something that was Roman by any means lol. It was just something nominal and purely symbolic. Christians used to call any person east of Jerusalem a Saracen… Does that term has any cultural relevance for someone who really knows the nuances of Arab culture? Words are used to define and categorize, sometimes broadly and intelligently, sometimes very narrowly or in an utilitarian way.

I think the concept that byzantines are Romans and that Rome fell only when Constantinople fell (which would be very counterintuitive if we were not convinced by it through ideological means but I get the “symbolic” aspect of it) is due to a misconception that confound the political with the cultural, the literal with the factual. And it’s also very romantic to think that Rome sort of outlived Romans in spirit which is surely true but aoe2 is about ethnic groups not spirits.
Anyway I don’t expect anyone to change their mind since as I said anyone is free to feel what they want and to identify themselves in what they believe. Still this doesn’t cancel facts and arguments. I mean when you think of it we’re literally arguing about a whole empire the city whose name is taken from wasn’t even under its dominion for the most time… So to me byzantines makes more sense for Byzantium than Romans who were the people with capital the city of Rome, at least until Diocletian. Indeed aoe2 Romans are meant to represent the period of traumatic changes between that and byzantines fully becoming their own thing (7th century?), Losing even the last administrative, militar and political similarity they inherited from late Romans.