My upcoming second project, Remembering Rome, Forgetting Byzantium: Afterlives of an Empire, investigates the historical memory of the Roman/Byzantine Empire in Eastern Europe and around. I look at how the modern countries whose territory used to be part of the ancient and medieval empire remember it and commemorate it in their public spaces today – museums, archaeological sites and historical landmarks. In this project, I show how these countries have differentiated between the “Roman” and “Byzantine” phases of their past over the last couple of centuries.
Although in English we differentiate between both phases, what we call Byzantium was actually the eastern half of the old Roman Empire that split into two parts in the late 4th century. The Western half, which Western Civilization identifies as the real successor of the Roman Empire, was weaker politically and economically, and survived less than a century. The eastern half, which we call Byzantium, existed for more than a thousand years.
Despite this, in today’s world, “The Roman Empire” is much more popular (and lucrative) than “The Byzantine Empire”. It draws more Western interest in the form of tourists and academic project, and provides additional international political benefits – especially with regards to the European Union. In my project, I argue that although the modern countries used to be part of the same empires for most of the past two thousand years, each of them chooses to remember a different past and use distinct strategies to commemorate it. In almost all cases, the Byzantine Empire’s heritage is left aside, while the Roman Empire’s heritage is closely adopted.
This project is based on a series of research trips I have made to Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Caucasus over the past several years. In them, I’ve visited twenty countries, seen hundreds of museums and historical sites, and had my own share of adventures. The project’s product will be a monograph, which have begun writing.