Was Innovation unwanted in Byzantium?
By Apostolos Spanos
Byzantium Wanted: The Desire and Rejection of an Empire (Uppsala, 2013)
Introduction: A well-established thesis in Byzantine studies is that Byzantium was a conservative civilization, negative –if not hostile– to innovation. This general idea influenced the study of innovation in Byzantium, which has been presented by modern scholars as either absent or as being decisively opposed to. After a presentation of some preliminary questions on the use of terms as innovation in modern historical writing this article examines the use of Byzantine terms related to the concept of innovation in Byzantine lexicographical, historiographical and theological texts.
The comparison of these works to ancient Greek ones demonstrates that the Byzantines continued using words and concepts as innovation, novelty etc. in a way similar to that used by their predecessors. Furthermore, the article demonstrates that the Byzantines probably had more than one understandings of innovation and were not negative towards innovation as such.
It is often said that Byzantium and the Byzantines were negative, if not inimical and hostile, to innovation. Albeit not thoroughly studied and contradicted, directly or not, by a number of modern studies, the notion of Byzantium as a static and changeless civilization has influenced a great number of historians, who have presented the Byzantine understanding of innovation in negative light, particularly in the fields of politics and religion, where the Byzantines are supposed to have perceived innovation as rebellion and heresy correspondingly.
But, really, did the Byzantines have one and only one understanding of innovation? Were they negative or sceptical towards innovation as such? And furthermore, did they evaluate innovation in a way that was originally their own?