Byzantium’s overlapping circles
By Jonathan Shepard
Paper given at 21st International Congress of Byzantine Studies (2006)
Introduction: The proposition that Byzantium belonged to a series of overlapping circles might pass for an echo of a late antique commonplace, that the Roman empire still ranged east, west and north, if not also to the south. Thus, for example, Avitus of Vienne, writing on behalf of King Sigismund of Burgundy, flattered Emperor Anastasius: ‘our country is your sphere; the light of the east touches Gaul and Scythia’. The notion that Roman rule had encompassed three continents could still be invoked in the twelfth century, in an orator’s potted version of imperial history: after the zenith of Augustus’ reign, Asia and ‘all Libya’ had been lost, and eventually only a small portion of Europe remained to the Romans; but now the great Alexios I Komnenos has restored much of Europe and parts of Asia to Roman dominion.