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.