To what extent was the East Roman Empire open to religious minorities?

Constantin Pfarl

Geschichte

The Byzantine Empire was a multi-ethnic state and a open society. It was indeed a society with no prejudices towards members of different national backgrounds. As a matter of fact, in Byzantine society nobody seems to be really bothered for his ethnic background. Although Greek language and culture were at all times predominant and served as the indisputable vehicle of communication for the citizens‘advancement in the power structure, the ethnic origin from the classical Greek lands, the mainland of Greece, the Aegean islands and the traditionally Greek regions of Asia Minor hat no political or social significance at all. The very name „Ελλην“-Greek was abandoned, apparently without grief, as synonymous to „pagan“ and therefore opposite to Christian. Roman was the name of the Empire and its citizens and this name was generic, not ethnic.

The old Roman institution of citizenship, civitas Romana, had faded already during the early centuries. Apparently, the citizenship did not serve any more as a functional civic identity. By the sixth century the Roman citizens, the cives, were gradually transformed to and were treated as the Emperor’s subjects, subiecti, who were bound directly with and to him through an oath of allegiance; and for this qualification, of being the Emperor’s subjects, there existed no pre-requirements or preconditions of any sort: ethnic background, sin colour, language or religion. It was a time before prejudices of modern times. Anyone was accepted as Roman in vague and not strictly legal sense as long as he served the Emperor’s cause. For immigrants coming into the Empire individually, either as public servants, or more often as soldiers, or in groups through bilateral agreements for their settlement on Roman soil (as foederati), there were no restrictions apart from those we would call today state security reasons: Goths in Thrace, later in Spain an in Italy, Franks in Gauls, Lombards in Pannonia and later in Italy, Vandals in Roman Africa, Saxons at the north western provinces and finally in Britain.

Read more: 

Evangelos  Chrysos: The Jews and other Minorities in Byzantium (2009); online: https://www.academia.edu/31948026/2009-_The_Jews_and_other_Minorities_in_Byzantium
Ralph-Johannes Lilie: Zur Stellung von ethnischen und religiösen Minderheiten in Byzanz: Armenier, Muslime und Paulikianer
 (2012) - In: Visions of community in the post-Roman world, 301-316.

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