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Anglo-Saxon Perceptions of Byzantium: Myth of the Greek East

Thomas Lecaque

Abbreviated version presented at the 22nd International Byzantine Congress in Sofia, Bulgaria

Anglo-Saxon Perceptions of Byzantium: The Myth of the Greek EastThe departure of the Roman legions from Britain in the fifth century, and the sack of Rome by the Goths shortly before, mark the direct end of the island’s incorporation in the Roman Empire, according to the Venerable Bede. Even shorn from the Empire, and even after the Anglo-Saxon invasions, the island’s interest in Rome and the Empire remained. Contacts with Byzantium, though sporadic, continued through the 7th century, ending with the arrival of Theodore of Tarsus and Hadrian of Africa. After Archbishop Theodore’s death, knowledge of the East steadily declined until it became a place of myth and wonder rather than fact. TheMuslim and Viking invasions changed the political and material boundaries of Western Europe,further isolating the Anglo-Saxons from the Mediterranean. The taking of the title “Holy Roman Emperor” by Charlemagne and the papacy’s withdrawal from the Byzantine sphere of influencefinally eliminated the direct ideological links between Byzantium and Rome. Despite this, thememory of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Greek East remained in the Anglo-Saxon imagination, a place of high culture, magic, and wonder.

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