Two meanings of the tern 'Hellenism' are of concern to scholars of Buzantium.


  1. Devotion to Greek civilization.
  2. Throughout the millennium of their empire, Byzantine scholars expressed their links with ancient Greek culture through the conservatism of their archaizing literary language, which attempted to "atticize" or imitate the Greek written in the Golden Age of Athens. The system of education in Byzantium also used a curriculum based heavily on the study of a limited selection of ancient authors; a familiarity, often superficial, with Greek classical literature was presumed among the literati, who made frequent allusions to antiquity in their writings.

    A greater emphasis on Hellenism began to manifest itself in the course of the 12th century and became more marked in the late Byzantine period, in the face of continuing conflict with the Westerners and the growing threat of the Turks. Moreover, as the empire shrank, it lost its multiethnic composition and by the 13th century was limited, for the most part, to Greek-speaking lands.

    The Greeks began to call themselves Hellenes as well as Rhomaioi and to think of themselves as a 'genos', or "nation". Intense interest in ancient Greek culture was characteristic of the Palaiologian period, culminating in George Gemistos Plethon, who advocated a return to a somewhat philosophical version of ancient Greek paganism, utopian social reforms based on Plato's 'Republic', and the establishment of an independent Greek state in the Peloponnesos.


  3. Historical period

In the Byzantine era, the historians Malalas, George the Synkellos, Kedrenos, and Zonaras were particularly interested in Hellenism.

They emphasized, among other themes, the internal strife in which the 'toparchiai' (the realms of the 'diadochoi' or successors of Alexander) were involved until they were engulfed by the Romans; they were also concerned with Jewish History under Hellenistic monarchs and with the mission of Jesus.

As for the Hellenistic cultural heritage, the Byzantines paid special attention to scientific writings (e.g., Ptolemy), works on grammar (Dionysios Thrax), didactic poetry (Aratos, 3rd century B.C.), and epic (Apollonios of Rhodes, 3rd century B.C.).


A.M.Talbot, A.Kazhdan,

Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (1991), vol.2, p.912