The Romans (Latin: Rōmānī, Ancient Greek: Rhōmaîoi)[a] were a cultural group, variously referred to as an ethnicity[b] or a nationality, that in classical antiquity, from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD, came to rule the Near East, North Africa, and large parts of Europe through conquests made during the Roman Republic and the later Roman Empire. Originally only referring to the Italic citizens of Rome itself, the meaning of "Roman" underwent considerable changes throughout the long history of Roman civilisation as the borders of the Roman state expanded and contracted. At times, different groups within Roman society also had different ideas as to what it meant to be Roman. Aspects such as geography, language, and ethnicity could be seen as important by some, whereas others saw Roman citizenship and culture or behaviour as more important. At the height of the Roman Empire, Roman identity was a collective geopolitical identity, extended to nearly all subjects of the Roman emperors and encompassing vast regional and ethnical diversity.
|Imperial cult, Roman religion, Hellenistic religion, Christianity|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Other Mediterranean Sea peoples, other Italic peoples, modern Romance peoples and Greeks|
As the land under Roman rule increased from the 4th century BC onwards, Roman citizenship was gradually extended to the various peoples under Roman dominion. Citizenship grants, demographic growth, and settler and military colonies rapidly increased the number of Roman citizens. The increase achieved its peak with Emperor Caracalla's AD 212 Antonine Constitution, which extended citizenship rights to all free inhabitants of the empire. It is for the most part not clear to what extent the majority of Roman citizens in antiquity regarded themselves as being Roman. Most likely, local identities were prominent throughout the Roman Empire due to its vast geographical extent, but Roman identity provided a larger sense of common identity and became important when distinguishing from non-Romans, such as barbarian settlers and invaders. Roman culture was far from homogeneous; though there was a predominant Hellenistic-inspired cultural idiom, one of the strengths of the Roman Empire was also its ability to incorporate traditions from other cultures. Rome's cultural flexibility precluded the development of a strong Roman 'core identity' in Italy, but also contributed to the empire's longevity.
The Roman Empire affected the personal identities of its subject peoples to a considerable extent and Roman identity lasted throughout the lands of the empire until long after the Roman Empire itself had faded away. The collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century ended the political domination of the Roman Empire in Western Europe, but Roman identity survived in the west as an important political resource. Through the failures of the surviving Eastern Roman Empire, also called the Byzantine Empire, of reconquering and keeping control of the west and suppression from the new Germanic kingdoms, Roman identity faded away in the west, more or less disappearing in the 8th and 9th centuries. Increasingly, Western Europeans only began applying the designation of Roman to the citizens of the city of Rome itself. In the Greek-speaking east, still under imperial control, Roman identity survived until the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 and beyond, though it increasingly transformed into an ethnic identity, marked by Greek language and adherance to Orthodox Christianity, a precursor to modern Greek ethnic identity. The two major groups still clinging to Roman identity throughout the Middle Ages—the Byzantine Greeks of the eastern empire and the citizens of Rome itself—drifted apart linguistically and religiously and eventually ceased to recognise each other as Roman.
Whereas Roman identity faded away in most of the lands where it was once prominent, for some regions and peoples it proved considerably more tenacious. 'Roman' still refers to a citizen of Rome itself, and some Greeks, though most identify as Hellenes, continue to identify as Romioi, or related names. In the Alps, Roman identity survived uninterrupted, despite Frankish efforts at suppression. Today, the names of two groups in Switzerland still evokes their descent from these populations: the Romands and the Romansh people. Several ethnonyms of the Balkan Romance peoples, whose descent in most cases is unclear, evoke Roman identity. Several names derive from the Latin Romani (such as the Romanians, Aromanians and Istro-Romanians), or from the Germanic walhaz (which was used to refer to the Romans and was adopted in the form 'Vlach' as the only self-designation of the Megleno-Romanians).
The term 'Roman' is today used interchangeably to describe a historical timespan, a material culture, a geographical location, and a personal identity. Though these concepts are related, they are not identical. Many modern historians tend to have a preferred idea of what being Roman meant, so-called Romanitas, but this was a term rarely used in Ancient Rome itself. Like all identities, the identity of 'Roman' was flexible, dynamic and multi-layered, and never static or unchanging. Given that Rome was a geographically vast and chronologically long-lived state, there is no simple definition of what being Roman meant and definitions were inconsistent already in antiquity. Nevertheless, some elements remained common throughout much of Roman history.
Some ancient Romans considered aspects such as geography, language, and ethnicity as important markers of Romanness, whereas others saw Roman citizenship and culture or behaviour as more important. At the height of the Roman Empire, Roman identity formed a collective geopolitical identity, extended to nearly all subjects of the Roman emperors and encompassing vast regional and ethnical diversity. Often, what individual believed and did was far more important to the concept of Roman identity than long bloodlines and shared descent. The key to 'Romanness' in the minds of some famous Roman orators, such as Cicero, was keeping with Roman tradition and serving the Roman state. Cicero's view of Romanness were partly formed by his status as a "new man", the first of his family to serve in the Roman Senate, lacking prestigious lines of Roman descent himself. This is not to say that the importance of blood kinship was wholly dismissed. Orators such as Cicero frequently appealed to their noble contemporaries to live up to the 'greatness of their forefathers'. These appeals were typically only invoked towards illustrious noble families, with other important traditions emphasising Rome's collective descent.
Throughout its history, Rome proved to be uniquely capable of incorporating and integrating other peoples (romanisation). This sentiment originated from the city's foundation myths, including Rome being founded as something akin to a political sanctuary by Romulus, as well as the rape of the Sabine women, which represented how different peoples had commingled since the very beginning of the city. Cicero and other Roman authors sneered at peoples such as the Athenians, who prided themselves in their shared descent, and instead found pride in Rome's status as a "mongrel nation". Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a Greek historian who lived in Roman times, even embellished the multicultural origin of the Romans, writing that Romans had since the foundation of Rome welcomed innumerable immigrants not only from the rest of Italy, but from the entire world, whose cultures merged with theirs.
A handful of Roman authors, such as Tacitus and Suetonius, expressed concerns in their writings concerning Roman "blood purity" as Roman citizens from outside of Roman Italy increased in number. Neither author, however, suggested that the naturalisation of new citizens should stop, only that manumissions (freeing slaves) and grants of citizenship should be less frequent. Their concerns of blood purity did not match modern ideas of race or ethnicity, and had little to do with features such as skin colour or physical appearance. Terms such as "Aethiop", which Romans used for black people, carried no social implications, and though phenotype-related stereotypes certainly existed in Ancient Rome, inherited physical characteristics were typically not relevant to social status; people who looked different from the typical Mediterranean populace, such as black people, were not excluded from any profession and there are no records of stigmas or biases against "mixed race" relationships. The main dividing social differences in Ancient Rome were not based on physical features, but rather on differences in class or rank. Romans practised slavery extensively, but slaves in Ancient Rome were part of various different ethnic groups, and were not enslaved because of their ethnic affiliation. According to the English historian Emma Dench, it was "notoriously difficult to detect slaves by their appearance" in Ancient Rome.
Although Ancient Rome has been termed an 'evidently non-racist society', Romans carried considerable cultural stereotypes and prejudices against cultures and peoples that were not integrated into the Roman world, i.e. "barbarians". Though views differed through Roman history, the attitude towards peoples beyond the Roman frontier among most Roman writers in late antiquity can be summed up with "the only good barbarian is a dead barbarian". Throughout antiquity, the majority of Roman emperors included anti-barbarian imagery on their coinage, such as the emperor or Victoria (the personification and goddess of victory) being depicted as stepping on or dragging defeated barbarian enemies. Per the writings of Cicero, what made people barbarians were not their language or descent, but rather their customs and character, or lack thereof. Romans viewed themselves as superior over foreigners, but this stemmed not from perceived biological differences, but rather from what they perceived as a superior way of life. 'Barbarian' was as such a cultural, rather than biological, term. It was not impossible for a barbarian to become a Roman; the Roman state was itself seen as having the duty to conquer and transform, i.e. civilise, barbarian peoples.
A particularly disliked group of non-Romans within the empire were the Jews. The majority of the Roman populace detested Jews and Judaism, though views were more varied among the Roman elite. Although many, such as Tacitus, were also hostile to the Jews, others, such as Cicero, were merely unsympathetically indifferent and some did not consider the Jews to be barbarians at all. The Roman state was not wholly opposed to the Jews, since there was a sizeable Jewish population in Rome itself, as well as at least thirteen synagogues in the city. Roman antisemitism, which led to several persecutions and massacres, was not rooted in racial prejudice, but rather in the perception the Jews uniquely among conquered peoples refused to integrate into the Roman world. The Jews adhered to their own set of rules, restrictions and obligations, which were typically either disliked or misunderstood by the Romans, and they remained faithful to their own religion. The exclusivist religious practices of the Jews, and their opposition to abandoning their own customs in favour of those of Rome, even after being conquered and repeatedly suppressed, evoked the suspicion of the Romans.
The founding of Rome, and the history of the city and its people throughout its first few centuries, is steeped in myth and uncertainty. The traditional date for Rome's foundation, 753 BC, and the traditional date for the foundation of the Roman Republic, 509 BC, though commonly used even in modern historiography, are uncertain and mythical.[c] As in neighbouring city-states, the early Romans would have been composed mainly of Latin-speaking Italic people. The myths surrounding Rome's foundation combined, if not confused, several different stories, going from the origins of the Latin people under a king by the name Latinus, to Evander of Pallantium, who was said to have brought Greek culture to Italy, and a myth of Trojan origin through the heroic figure Aeneas. The actual mythical founder of the city itself, Romulus, only appears many generations into the complex web of foundation myths. Interpretations of these myths varied among authors in Antiquity,[d] but most agreed that their civilisation had been founded by a mixture of migrants and fugitives. These origin narratives would favour the later extensive integrations of foreigners into the Roman world.
From the middle of the 4th century onwards, Rome won a series of victories which saw them rise to rule all of Italy south of the Po river by 270 BC. Following the conquest of Italy, the Romans waged war against the great powers of their time; Carthage to the south and west and the various Hellenistic kingdoms to the east, and by the middle of the second century BC, all rivals had been defeated and Rome became recognised by other countries as the definite masters of the Mediterranean. By the late 3rd century BC, about a third of the people in Italy south of the Po river had been made Roman citizens, meaning that they were liable for military service, and the rest had been made into allies, frequently called on to join Roman wars. These allies were eventually made Roman citizens as well after refusal by the Roman government to make them so was met with the Social War, after which Roman citizenship was extended to all the people south of the Po river. In 49 BC, citizenship rights were also extended to the people of Cisalpine Gaul by Julius Caesar. The number of Romans would rapidly increase in later centuries through further extensions of citizenship. Typically, there were five different mechanisms for acquiring Roman citizenship: serving in the Roman army, holding office in cities with the Latin right, being granted it directly be the government, being part of a community that was granted citizenship as a "block grant" or, as a slave, being freed by a Roman citizen. Just as it could be gained, Roman status could also be lost, for instance through engaging practices considered corrupt or by being carried off into captivity in enemy raids (though one could again become a Roman upon returning from captivity).
In the early Roman Empire, the population was composed of several groups of distinct legal standing, including the Roman citizens themselves (cives romani), the provincials (provinciales), foreigners (peregrini) and free non-citizens such as freedmen (freed slaves) and slaves. Roman citizens were subject to the Roman legal system while provincials were subject to whatever laws and legal systems had been in place in their area at the time it was annexed by the Romans. Over time, Roman citizenship was gradually extended more and more and there was a regular "siphoning" of people from less privileged legal groups to more privileged groups, increasing the total percentage of subjects recognised as Romans though the incorporation of the provinciales and peregrini. The capability of the Roman Empire to integrate foreign peoples was one of the key elements that ensured its success. In antiquity, it was significantly easier as a foreigner to become a Roman than it was to become a member or citizen of any other contemporary state. This aspect of the Roman state was seen as important even by some of the emperors. For instance, Emperor Claudius (r. 41–54) pointed it out when questioned by the senate on admitting Gauls to join the senate:
What else proved fatal to Lacedaemon or Athens, in spite of their power in arms, but their policy of holding the conquered aloof as alien-born? But the sagacity of our own founder Romulus was such that several times he fought and naturalized a people in the course of the same day!
From the Principate (27 BC – AD 284) onwards, barbarians settled and integrated into the Roman world. Such settlers would have been granted certain legal rights simply by being within Roman territory, becoming provinciales and thus being eligible to serve as auxilia (auxiliary soldiers), which in turn made them eligible to become full cives Romani. Through this relatively rapid process, thousands of former barbarians could quickly become Romans. This tradition of straightforward integration eventually culminated in the Antonine Constitution, issued by Emperor Caracalla in 212, in which all free inhabitants of Empire were granted the citizenship. Caracalla's grant contributed to a vast increase in the number of people with the nomen (name indicating familial association) Aurelius.[e] By the time of the Antonine Constitution, many people throughout the provinces already considered themselves (and were considered by others) as Romans. Through the centuries of Roman expansion, large numbers of veterans and opportunists had settled in the provinces and colonies founded by Julius Caesar and Augustus alone saw between 500,000 and a million people from Italy settled in Rome's provinces. In AD 14, four to seven percent of the free people in the provinces of the empire were already Roman citizens. In addition to colonists, many provincials had also become citizens through grants by emperors and through other methods.
In most cases, it is not clear to what extent the majority of the new Roman citizens regarded themselves as being Roman, or to what extent they were regarded as such by others. For some provincials under Roman rule, the only experience with "Romans" prior to themselves being granted citizenship was through Rome's at times coercive tax-collection system or its army, aspects which were not assimilative in terms of forming an empire-spanning collective identity. Caracalla's grant marked a radical change in imperial policy towards the provincials. It is possible that decades, and in many cases centuries, of Romanization through Rome's cultural influence had already begun the evolution of a "national" Roman identity before 212 and that the grant only made the ongoing process legal, but the grant might also have served as the important prerequisite for a later nearly all-encompassing collective Roman identity. According to the British jurist Tony Honoré, the grant "gave many millions, perhaps a majority of the empire’s inhabitants […] a new consciousness of being Roman". It is likely that local identities survived after Caracalla's grant and remained prominent throughout the empire, but that self-identification as Roman provided a larger sense of common identity and became important when dealing with and distinguishing oneself from non-Romans, such as barbarian settlers and invaders.
In many cases, ancient Romans associated the same things with their identity as historians do today: the rich ancient Latin literature, the impressive Roman architecture, the common marble statues, the variety of cult sites, the Roman infrastructure and legal tradition, as well as the almost corporate identity of the Roman army were all cultural and symbolic ways to express Roman identity. Although there was a more or less unifying Roman identity, Roman culture in classical times was also far from homogeneous. There was a common cultural idiom, large portions of which was based in earlier Hellenistic culture, but Rome's strength also laid in its flexibility and its ability to incorporate traditions from other cultures. For instance, the religions of many conquered peoples were embraced through amalgamations of the gods of foreign pantheons with those of the Roman pantheon. In Egypt, Roman emperors were seen as the successors of the pharaohs (in modern historiography termed the Roman pharaohs) and were depicted as such in artwork and in temples. Many cults from the eastern Mediterranean and beyond spread to Western Europe over the course of Roman rule.
Once the very core of ancient Romanness, the city of Rome gradually lost its exceptional status within the empire in late antiquity. By the end of the third century, the city's importance was almost entirely ideological, and several emperors and usurpers had begun reigning from other cities closer to the imperial frontier. Rome's loss of status was also reflected in the perceptions of the city by the Roman populace. In the writings of the 4th-century Greek-speaking Roman soldier and author Ammianus Marcellinus, Rome is described almost like a foreign city, with disparaging comments on its corruption and impurity. Few Romans in late antiquity embodied all aspects of traditional Romanness. Many of them would have come from remote or less prestigious provinces and practiced religions and cults unheard of in Rome itself. Many of them would also have spoken 'barbarian languages' or Greek instead of Latin. Few inscriptions from late antiquity explicitly identify individuals as 'Roman citizens' or 'Romans'. Before the Antonine Constitution, being a Roman had been a mark of distinction and often stressed, but after the 3rd century Roman status went without saying. This silence does not mean that Romanness no longer mattered in the late Roman Empire, but rather that it had become less distinctive than other more specific marks of identity (such as local identities) and only needed to be stresssed or highlighted if a person had recently become a Roman, or if the Roman status of a person was in doubt. The prevalent view of the Romans themselves was that the populus Romanus, or Roman people, were a "people by constitution", as opposed to the barbarian peoples who were gentes, "peoples by descent" (i. e. ethnicities).
Given that Romanness had become near-universal within the empire, local identities became more and more prominent. The 6th-century Gallo-Roman historian Gregory of Tours in his writings consistently identifies himself as an 'Arvernian' rather than as a Roman. Though Gregory rarely discusses ethnic identities in his writings, with only a handful of references to various barbarian gentes, one type of identity that evidently mattered a lot to him was civititas, which city or settlement one was from, and ducatus, a slightly wider stretch of territory (such as the region of Champagne). In the late Roman Empire, one could identify as a Roman as a citizen of the empire, as a person originating from one of the major regions (Africa, Britannia, Gaul, Hispania etc.) or as originating from a specific province or city. Though the Romans themselves did not see them as equivalent concepts, there is no fundamental difference between such Roman sub-identities and the gens identities ascribed to barbarians. In some cases, Roman authors ascribed different qualities to citizens of different parts of the empire, such as Ammianus Marcellinus who wrote of the differences between 'Gauls' and 'Italians'. In the late Roman army, there were regiments named after Roman sub-identities, such as 'Celts' and 'Batavians', as well as regiments named after barbarian gentes, such as the Franks or Saxons.
The Roman army underwent considerable changes in the 4th century, experiencing what has been called 'barbarisation'. It is not clear to what extent there was actual non-Roman influence on the military; it is plausible that extensive numbers of barbarians were made part of the normal Roman military but it is equally plausible that there was also, or instead, a certain 'barbarian chic' in the army, comparable to the 19th-century French Zouaves (French military units in North Africa who adopted native clothing and cultural practices). In whatever case, the Roman military increasingly came to embody 'barbarian' aspects that in previous times had been considered antithetical to the Roman ideal. Sometimes the inclusion of barbarian elements in the Roman army became awkward due to the prevailing anti-barbarian stereotypes. In the 4th-century civil war between Theodosius I (r. 379–395) and Magnus Maximus (r. 383–388), the army of Magnus Maximus was composed solely of Roman soldiers whereas the victorious Theodosius bolstered his forces with Gothic soldiers. Given the negative stereotypes, the panegyrist Latinius Pacatus Drepanius (fl. 389–393) described the troops of Maximus as having 'lost' their Romanness due to following the usurper, while emphasising the Roman qualities of the Gothic soldiers (though despite their loyalty, Pacatus never describes them as 'Roman'), describing them as uncharacteristically loyal for barbarians, disciplined and following orders. Though their barbarian nature is repeatedly emphasised, the Roman qualities of the Gothic warriors means that the army of Theodosius, in the view of Pacatus, remained fundamentally Roman. Per Pacatus, the remaining troops of Maximus were pardoned by Theodosius after the defeat of the usurper, and through this became Roman again. For people born within the empire, virtue and following the right Roman leader was thus seen by Pacatus as enough to be Roman, but for the barbarian troops who exhibited the same qualities it was not. Nevertheless, at least some barbarian soldiers recruited into the Roman army proudly embraced Roman identification. For instance, a 3rd-century funerary inscription from Pannonia reads Francus ego cives Romanus miles in armis, which translates to "I, a Frank, a Roman citizen, a soldier in arms". In some cases, the barbarian heritage of certain late Roman individuals was completely ignored. The barbarian heritage of Flavius Stilicho (c. 359–408), whose father was a Vandal but mother a Roman, regent in the Western Roman Empire during the early reign of Honorius (r. 393–423), was not a matter of debate until after his fall from grace and execution in 408. During his tenure as regent, Stilicho was repeatedly compared to heroes of the ancient Roman Republic, such as Scipio Africanus.
Religion had always been an important marker of Romanness. As Christianity gradually became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire through late antiquity, and eventually became the only legal faith, the Christianised Roman aristocracy had to redefine their Roman identity in Christian terms. The rise of Christianity did not go unnoticed or unchallenged by the conservative elements of the pagan Roman elite, who became aware that power was slipping from their hands. Many of them, pressured by the increasingly anti-pagan and militant Christians, turned to emphasising that they were the only 'true Romans' as they preserved the traditional Roman religion and literary culture. According to the Roman statesman and orator Quintus Aurelius Symmachus (c. 345–402), true Romans were those who followed the traditional Roman way of life, including its ancient religions, and it was adherance to those religions that in the end would protect the empire from its enemies, as in previous centuries. Per Symmachus and his supporters, Romanness had nothing to do with Christianity, but depended on Rome's pagan past and its status as the heart of a vast and polytheistic empire. The ideas of Symmachus were not popular among the Christians. Some church leaders, such as Ambrose, the Archbishop of Mediolanum, launched formal and vicious assaults on paganism and those members of the elite which defended it. Like Symmachus, Ambrose saw Rome as the greatest city of the Roman Empire, but not because of its pagan past but because of its Christian present. Throughout late antiquity, Romanness became increasingly defined by Christian faith, which would eventually become the standard. The status of Christianity was much increased through the adoption of the religion by the Roman emperors. Throughout late antiquity, the emperors and their courts were viewed as the Romans par excellence.
As the Roman Empire lost, or ceded control of, territories to various barbarian rulers, the status of the Roman citizens in those provinces sometimes came into question. Orestes (died 476) was born a Roman citizen in Pannonia and spoke Latin as his native language. In the 430s, Pannonia was ceded to Attila the Hun, whom Orestes came to serve as a secretary. Though there is no reason to believe that Orestes himself ever doubted his own Romanness, the loss of his native province to the barbarians and his own personal association with Attila led to Orestes becoming the target of the same prejudice against non-Romans as the barbarians were, with records of Orestes being offended at being treated worse at the imperial court than the Hunnic warriors who accompanied him. Despite this, Orestes remained fundamentally Roman in his outlook, and in time even became a general of the empire. In 475, Orestes installed his son, Romulus Augustulus, as the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire. Over the course of the Roman Empire, men from nearly all of its provinces had come to rule as emperors. As such, Roman identity remained political, rather than ethnic, and open to people of various origins. This nature of Roman identity ensured that there was never a strong consolidation of a 'core identity' of Romans in Italy, but also likely contributed to the long-term endurance and success of the Roman state. The fall of the Western Roman Empire coincided with the first time the Romans actively excluded an influential foreign group within the empire, the barbarian and barbarian-descended generals of the 5th century, from Roman identity and access to the Roman imperial throne.
Few empires in history impacted their subjects to the same extent as the Roman Empire. Through imperial expansion, Romanness spread out over a wide stretch of territories that had never before shared a common identity and designation, and never would again. The personal identities of the population under Roman rule was affected to a considerable extent and Roman identity lasted throughout the lands of the empire until long after the empire itself had faded away.
From the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the late 5th century to the wars of Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century, the predominant structure of societies in the west were a near-completely barbarian military but also a near-completely Roman civil administration and aristocracy, a situation distinct, yet clearly evolved, from the society of late antiquity. The new barbarian kings in Western Europe took the Latin title of rex, which formed a basis of authority that they could use in diplomacy with other kingdoms and the surviving imperial court in Constantinople. Although some Roman authors, such as Procopius, described rex as a 'barbarian term', it had at points in the past been used to describe Roman emperors and clearly indicated that the barbarian rulers held authority, while not eclipsing the authority of the emperor in Constantinople. In addition to rex, the barbarian rulers also assumed a selection of Roman imperial titles and honours. Virtually all of the barbarian kings assumed the style dominus noster ("our lord"),[f] previously used only by Roman emperors, and nearly all of the Visigothic kings and the barbarian kings of Italy (up until the end of the Lombard kingdom) used the praenomen Flavius, borne by virtually all Roman emperors in late antiquity.
The pretense of Roman legitimacy was especially strong in Italy, the ancient heartland of the empire. The early kings of Italy, first Odoacer and then Theoderic the Great, were legally and ostensibly viceroys of the eastern emperor and thus integrated into the Roman government. Like the western emperors before them, they continued to appoint western consuls, which were accepted in the east and by the other barbarian kings. In contrast to many of the other barbarian kings, the rulers of Italy, even in later centuries, rarely used any ethnic qualifiers (such as the Frankish kings being titled as rex Francorum rather than just rex). The early barbarian rulers were careful to maintain a subordinate position to the emperors in Constantinople, and were in turn recognised with various honours. Theoderic the Great was recognised as a patrician by Emperor Anastasius I, who also returned the western imperial regalia, in Constantinople since 476, to Italy. These regalia were worn by Theoderic on occasions, and some of his Roman subjects referred to him as an emperor,[g] but he appears to himself only have used the title rex, careful not to insult the emperor in Constantinople. Theoderic was not the only barbarian ruler who was recognised as what essentially amounted to a client king. After the Franks defeated the Visigoths at the Battle of Vouillé in 507, the Frankish king Clovis I was recognised by Anastasius I as honorary consul, a patrician and a client king. Like Theoderic, some of the subjects of Clovis also referred to him as an emperor, rather than king, though he never adopted that title himself. As such, both Theoderic and Clovis enjoyed a certain afterglow of Rome's glory days. In both the cases of Theoderic and Clovis, recognition and honours from the eastern imperial court was viewed as giving them a certain degree of legitimacy, which they used to justify territorial expansion. Had they gone to war with each other, which appeared likely several times, it is not impossible that one of the two would have re-established the Western Roman Empire under their own rule. Though no war happened, the eastern emperors were worried about these developments. Seeing how the Roman honours extended to the barbarians could be interpreted as imperial "stamps of approval", no such honours were ever again extended to western kings and the eastern empire began to emphasise its own exclusive Roman legitimacy, which it would continue to do for the rest of its history. A key development was the so-called "Justinianic ideological offensive", which involved a re-writing of 5th century history to portray the west as lost to barbarian invasions, rather than attempting to further integrate the barbarian rulers into the Roman framework.
Culturally and legally, Romans remained prominent in the west for centuries. Roman law continued to be used in Western Europe throughout the early Middle Ages. For a time, Roman identity still provided a sense of unity throughout the Mediterranean. In the Vandal Kingdom, which did not maintain any pretense of loyalty to the eastern empire, 'Roman' became a politically loaded and suspicious word, as it implied political loyalty to the empire, and the populace rarely applied it to themselves. Both the Visigoths and the Franks issued law collections which either explicitly mention, or presuppose, the existence of a large population of Romans within their territories as barbarian laws distinguish between the barbarians who live by their own laws and the Romans, who live by Roman law. Throughout the rule of Odoacer and then the Ostrogoths, the Roman Senate continued to function, and even dominated the politics of Rome. It was still possible to become a Roman citizen in the west well into the 7th and 8th centuries. There are several Visigothic and Frankish documents that explain the benefits of becoming a Roman citizen, as well as records of acts of freeing slaves and making them Roman citizens. A 731 law by the Lombard king Liutprand specifies that if a "Roman" married a Lombard wife, that wife and all children of the couple would become Roman and the wife's relatives would no longer have the right to sue her, perhaps an idea which seemed attractive to Lombard women who wanted to escape the control of their relatives. By this point in time, Roman identity was in steep decline in Western Europe.[h] A fundamental turning point had been the wars of Justinian I in the 6th century (533–555), aimed at reconquering the lost provinces of the Western Roman Empire, in line with the "Justinianic ideological offensive". By the end of his wars, imperial control had been returned to northern Africa and Italy, but the ideology had also been asserted. As there could no longer be any doubt that the areas beyond Justinian's control were no longer considered part of the Roman Empire, instead remaining "lost to barbarians", Roman identity in those regions experienced a dramatic decline. During Justinian's reconquest of Italy, the Roman Senate disappeared, with most of its members moving to Constantinople. Although the senate achieved a certain legacy in the west,[i] the end of the institution removed a group that had always set the standard of what Romanness was supposed to mean. As a result of Justinian's wars, the Roman elite in Italy and elsewhere were also split between those who enjoyed barbarian rule and those who supported the emperor and later withdrew to regions governed by the empire, with Roman identity ceasing to provide a sense of social cohesion.
The disappearance of Roman identity was accelerated by the political division into multiple kingdoms leading to the gradual fragmentation and splitting of Latin into what would develop into the modern Romance languages. The unifying Roman identity was replaced by local identities based on the region one was from. Though many of the features of Romanness continued, such as language (though increasingly fragmenting), law, culture and literacy of Latin, their connectivity faded away. Where Romans had once accounted for the majority of the population, such as in Gaul and Spain, they quietly faded away as their descendants adopted other names and identities. The disappearance of Roman identity in Western Europe is reflected in the laws of the barbarian kingdoms. In Salic law, produced under Clovis I around the year 500, the Romans and the Franks are two parallel major populations in the Frankish kingdom, with well-defined legal statuses. A century later in the Lex Ripuaria, the Romans are just one of many smaller semi-free populations, restricted in their legal capacity. Such legal arrangements would have been unthinkable under the Roman Empire and even under the early decades of barbarian rule. In Gaul, many legal advantages formerly associated with Roman identity, such as tax exemption and career possibilities, were now associated with Frankish identity. The attractiveness of more local identities laid in that they were not binary opposed to the identity of 'Frankish' in the way that 'Roman' was: one could not be both Roman and Frankish, but it was possible to, for instance, be both Arvernian and Frankish. By the year 800, when the Frankish king Charlemagne was crowned as Roman emperor in Rome, the first time an emperor had been crowned in the city since antiquity, Roman identity was largely gone in Western Europe and the Romans that remained had a low social status.[j] The situation was somewhat paradoxical: living Romans, in Rome and elsewhere, had a poor reputation, with records of anti-Roman attacks and the use of 'Roman' as an insult, but the name of Rome was also used a source of great and unfailing political power and prestige, employed by many aristocratic families (sometimes proudly proclaiming invented Roman origins) and rulers throughout history. Charlemagne actively hoped to suppress Roman identity to avoid the possibility that the Romans could proclaim a Roman emperor in the same way as the Franks could proclaim a king of the Franks.
Of particular prominence was the city of Rome itself. Although Rome's past history was not forgotten, the city's importance in the Middle Ages primarily stemmed from it being the seat of the pope. In the 6th century writings of Gregory of Tours, Rome is not mentioned until Saint Peter arrives there, and Gregory appears indifferent to Rome once having been the capital of an empire. Throughout the early Middle Ages, the term 'Roman' became more and more associated by authors and intellectuals in Western Europe with the population of the city itself.[k] By the second half of the 8th century, westerners almost exclusively used the term to refer to the population of the city. During the time of the Byzantine Empire's rule over Rome, after Italy's reconquest by Justinian, the city was a peripheral city within the empire. Its importance stemmed from the Papacy, and the population itself was not specially administered and did not have any political participation in wider imperial affairs. When clashing with the emperors, the popes sometimes employed the fact that they had the backing of the populus Romanus ("people of Rome") as a legitimising factor, meaning that the political implications were still somewhat important. When the temporal power of the papacy was established through the foundation of the Papal States in the 8th century, the populus Romanus became a constitutional identity that accompanied, supported and legitimised the sovereignty of the popes.
The population of Rome and most of the rest of Western Europe saw Charlemagne and his successors, and not the Byzantines, as true Roman emperors.[l] Although continuity between Rome and Constantinople was accepted, and the Carolingians were seen as having more to do with the Lombard kings of Italy than the ancient Roman emperors, the Byzantines were typically seen as Greeks rather than Romans and were deemed to have abandoned Rome and Roman culture; not surviving intact but rather fleeing from their responsibilities. The prevalent view was that there used to be an empire, but that it had now transferred itself to the east and ceased to be properly Roman. Charlemagne's empire and the later Holy Roman Empire were not seen as Roman either per se, but the support of the Papacy and the Romans in Rome itself was seen as making the rulers of that empire into Roman emperors. Despite this support, the Romans held a considerably dislike for the Franks, whom they equated with their most ancient enemies, often referring to them as the 'Gauls'. The Franks were considered aggressive, insolent and vain, and often a threat since Frankish armies coming to Rome was not an uncommon event. The Franks and others in Western Europe did not view the population of Rome favourably either. Foreign sources are generally hostile, ascribing traits such as unrest and deceit to the Romans and describing them as "as proud as they are helpless". In some cases, Frankish nobles are noted to have used the antiquated Frankish language when they did not want the Romans to understand them. Anti-Roman sentiment lasted throughout the Middle Ages. As late as the 13th and 14th centuries, the writer Dante Alighieri wrote that the Romans "stand out among all Italians for the ugliness of their manners and their outward appearance". Part of the bad reputation of the Romans probably resulted from sometimes trying to take an independent position towards the popes or the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, rulers seen as having universal power, and thus being considered intruders in affairs and questions that exceeded their competence.
In the eastern Mediterranean, the Eastern Roman Empire, frequently referred to as the Byzantine Empire by modern historians, survived the 5th century more or less intact. As they remained inhabitants of the Roman Empire, the predominant identity in the east remained "Roman" (Rhōmaîoi). Throughout the millennium separating the fall of the western empire from the fall of the eastern empire, the average Byzantine citizen saw themselves as Roman beyond any doubt, speaking the Roman language (i.e. Greek), with their emperor ruling from their cultural and religious centre of Constantinople, the New Rome. In Byzantine writings up until at least the early 12th century, the idea of the Roman "homeland" consistently referred to the entire old orbis Romanum (Roman world), not to smaller regions such as Italy or Greece.[m]
In times when the Byzantine Empire still governed a vast empire spanning the Mediterranean, Roman identity was more common in the imperial heartlands rather than on its peripheries: in surviving documents, Byzantine individuals from Italy almost never describe themselves as "Roman" and Syriac sources almost always treat the Romans in third person. Despite this, Roman identity still provided a sense of belonging, and in times of uncertainty it was still embraced in the peripheral regions. For instance, an inscription on a brick from Sirmium, inscribed during the Avar siege of the city in 580–582, reads "Oh Lord, help the town and halt the Avar and protect the Romanía and the scribe. Amen." The Byzantine Empire was throughout its history frequently seen as "Greek", and its inhabitants as "Greeks", by Western Europeans. One of the earliest references to the easterners as "Greeks" comes from Bishop Avitus of Vienne who wrote, in the context of the Frankish king Clovis I's baptism; "Let Greece, to be sure, rejoice in having an orthodox ruler, but she is no longer the only one to deserve such a great gift". To the early Byzantines, up until around the 11th century or so, the terms "Greeks" and "Hellenes" were seen as offensive, as it downplayed their Roman nature and furthermore associated them with the ancient Pagan Greeks rather than the more recent Christian Romans.
The idea of Rome as res publica or sancta res publica remained an important imperial concept for centuries. From the 6th to the 8th century, it was not uncommon for western authors to still refer to the Byzantine Empire as res publica or sancta res publica. In the 6th-century letters of the Frankish king Childebert II to Emperor Maurice, the emperor is referred to as princeps Romanae reipublicae. References to Byzantium as the Roman Republic ceased as Byzantine control of Italy and Rome itself crumbled, and the Papacy began to use the term for their own, much more regional, domain and sphere of influence. When not wishing to distance themselves from the Byzantines, western authors typically used "Romans" to describe the population of the Byzantine Empire. In Isidore of Seville's 7th-century History of the Goths, the term Romani is first used for the inhabitants of the entire Roman Empire, and then refers to the Byzantine Empire and their remaining garrisons in Spain. Isidore never applies the term to the population of the former western provinces. Upon his conquest of Ravenna in 751, the Lombard king Aistulf proudly proclaimed that "the Roman people has been transferred to us by the Lord". The Romans of Byzantium were aware that their empire was no longer as powerful as it once had been. The 7th century text Doctrina Jacobi, set in Carthage, states that the territory ruled by the Romans had once stretched from Spain in the west to Persia in the east and Africa in the south to Britain in the north, with all the people in it having been subordinated to the Romans by the will of God. Though the old borders were still visible through the presence of monuments erected by the ancient emperors, the author of the Doctrina Jacobi stated that one could now see that the present Roman realm (the Romania) had been humbled.
As in earlier centuries, the Romans in the Byzantine Empire were at first considered a "people by constitution" rather than a gens. In Byzantine sources prior to the 11th century or so, "Romans" usually means the people that follow Chalcedonian Christianity and are loyal to the Byzantine emperor, i. e. all of the Christian citizens of the empire. Sporadic references to the Romans as a gens first appear in late antiquity. Priscian, a grammarian who was born in Roman North Africa and later lived in Constantinople during the late 5th century and early 6th century, mentions the existence of a gens Romana. The aforementioned letter from Childebert II to Maurice proclaims the peace between the "two gentes of the Franks and the Romans". Jordanes, himself identifying as a Roman, refers to the existence of a Roman gens in the title of his work on Roman history, De summa temporum vel de origine actibusque gentis Romanorum. As the Byzantine Empire lost territories in North Africa, the Levant and Italy, the Christians who lived in these regions ceased to be regocnised by the Byzantines as "Romans", which in turn led to the term "Roman" increasingly being applied to the now dominant Hellenic population of the remaining territories, rather than to all of the imperial citizens. The term still stressed a difference between civilised Romans and uncivilised barbarians, and still declared political allegiance with the Roman government, but also began to solely refer to the Hellenic populace, who believed they shared a common origin, followed Orthodox Christianity and spoke the same Greek language. The late 7th century was the first time (in the writings of St. Anastasios the Persian) that Greek, rather than Latin, was referred to as the rhomaisti (Roman way of speaking). In Leo the Deacon's 10th century histories, Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas is described as having settled communities of Armenians, Rhōmaîoi and other ethnicities on Crete, indicating that Romans by this time were just one of the groups within the empire. By the late 11th century, the transformation of "Roman" into a gens was complete, with references to people as "Rhōmaîos by birth" beginning to appear in the writings of Byzantine historians. The label was now also applied to Greeks outside of the empire's borders, such as the Greek-speaking Christians under Seljuk rule in Anatolia, who were referred to as Rhōmaîoi despite actively resisting attempts at re-integration by the Byzantine emperors. Even then, some later sources retain the view of antiquity that a Roman was a citizen of the Roman world, not necessarily of a specific ethnic group.[n]
The capture of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 shattered the Byzantine view of unbroken continuity from Rome to Constantinople. The Byzantine elite now had to seek new sources to legitimise them as Romans and began to increasingly detach their self-identity from the Roman Empire as a unit and look to Greek cultural heritage and Orthodox Christianity as the markers of what Romans were. The elites of the Empire of Nicaea, the Byzantine government-in-exile, connected the contemporary Romans to the ancient Greeks as the precursors who had once ruled the current land they inhabited, and ethnic Romanness became increasingly identified as someone who was ethno-culturally Hellenic. These ideas were taken further by Nicene emperors John III (r. 1222–1254) and Theodore II (r. 1254–1258), who stated that the present Rhōmaîoi were Hellenes, descendants of the Ancient Greeks. This does not mean that the Byzantines stopped identifying as Romans, rather that there was a double-identity; "Roman" and "Greek" were not seen as contrasting or opposing identities, but building blocks of the same identity. The Nicene emperors identified as Hellenic, but also saw themselves as the only true Roman emperors. During the rule of the Palaiologos dynasty, from the recapture of Constantinople in 1261 to the fall of the empire in 1453, Hellene lost ground as a self-identity, with few known uses of the term, and Rhōmaîoi once again became the dominant term used for self-description.[o]
Rhōmaîoi survived the fall of the Byzantine Empire as the primary self-designation of the Christian Greek inhabiants of the new Turkish Ottoman Empire. The popular historical memory of these Romans was not occupied with the glorious past of the Roman Empire of old or the Hellenism in the Byzantine Empire, but focused on legends of the fall and the loss of their Christian homeland and Constantinople. One such narrative was the myth that the last emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos would one day return from the dead to reconquer the city. In the early modern period, many Ottoman Turks, especially those who lived in the cities and were not part of the military or administration, also self-identified as Romans (Rūmī, رومى), as inhabitants of former Byzantine territory. The term Rūmī had originally been used by muslims for Christians in general, though later became restricted to just the Byzantines. After 1453, the term was not only sometimes a Turkish self-identification, but it was also used to refer to Ottoman Turks by other Islamic states and peoples. Sometimes, the term Rūm (Rome) was used for the Ottoman Empire. The identification of the Ottomans with the Romans was also made outside of the Islamic world. 16th-century Portuguese sources refer to the Ottomans they battled in the Indian Ocean as "rumes" and the Chinese Ming dynasty referred to the Ottomans as Lumi (魯迷), a transliteration of Rūmī, and to Constantinople as Lumi cheng (魯迷城, "Lumi city"). As applied to Ottoman Turks, Rūmī began to fall out of use at the end of the 17th century, and instead the word increasingly became associated only with the Greek population of the empire, a meaning that it still bears in Turkey today.
As applied to the Greeks, the self-identity as Romans endured longer. In the times prior to the Greek War of Independence (1821–1829), there was widespread hope and belief that the Roman Empire would eventually be restored, or "resurrected". In the 17th century, the chronicler Gaza Paisios Ligaridis wrote that "it is a great comfort to us thrice-miserable Romans to hear that there shall come a resurrection, a deliverance of our Genos". One prophecy held that the empire would be restored 320 years after Constantinople's conquest, in 1773, but when the ongoing Russo-Turkish war (Russia had for centuries hoped to capture Constantinople) at that time fell short of prophetic expectations, many Greek chroniclers commented on their disappointment. Kaisarios Dapontes wrote that "the empire of the Romans will never be resurrected" and Athanasios Komninos-Ypsilantis wrote that "if therefore, in the time appointed by the prophecies, the Romans have not been liberated, then it will be very difficult for the resurrection of the Roman empire to take place". By the time of the Greek War of Independence, the dominant self-identity of the Greeks was still Rhōmaîoi or Romioi. The 19th century general Yannis Makriyannis, who served in the war, recalled in his memoirs that a friend had asked him "What say you, is the Roman State far away from coming? Are we to sleep with the Turks and awaken with the Romans?"
The citizens of the city of Rome, though identifying nationally and ethnically as Italians, continue to identify with the demonym 'Roman' to this day. Rome is the most populous city in Italy with the city proper having about 2.8 million citizens and the Rome metropolitan area is home to over four million people. Since the collapse of Roman political dominion, governments inspired by the ancient Roman Republic have been revived in the city four times. The earliest such government was the Commune of Rome in the 12th century, founded as opposition towards the temporal powers of the Pope, which was followed by the government of Cola di Rienzo, who used the titles of 'tribune' and 'senator', in the 14th century, a sister republic to revolutionary France in the 18th century, which restored the office of Roman consul, and finally as the short-lived Roman Republic in 1849, with a government based on the triumvirates of ancient Rome.
The self-identity as Roman among the Greeks only began to lose ground by the time of the Greek War of Independence, when multiple factors saw the name 'Hellene' rise to replace it. Among these factors were that names such as "Hellene", "Hellas" and "Greece" were already in use for the country and its people by the other nations in Europe, the absence of the old Byzantine government to reinforce Roman identity, and the term Romioi becoming associated with those Greeks still under Ottoman rule rather than those actively fighting for independence. Thus, in the eyes of the independence movement, a Hellene was a brave and rebellious freedom fighter while a Roman was an idle slave under the Ottomans. Many Greeks, particularly those outside the then newly founded Greek state, continued to refer to themselves as Romioi well into the 20th century. Peter Charanis, who was born on the island of Lemnos in 1908 and later became a professor of Byzantine history at Rutgers University, recounts that when the island was taken from the Ottomans by Greece in 1912, Greek soldiers were sent to each village and stationed themselves in the public squares. According to Charanis, some of the island children ran to see what Greek soldiers looked like; ‘‘what are you looking at?’’ one of the soldiers asked. ‘‘At Hellenes,’’ the children replied. ‘‘Are you not Hellenes yourselves?’’ the soldier retorted. ‘‘No, we are Romans’’ the children replied. The modern Greek people still sometimes use Romioi to refer to themselves, as well as the term "Romaic" ("Roman") to refer to their Modern Greek language. Roman identity also survives prominently in some Greek populations outside of Greece itself. For instance, Greeks in Ukraine, settled there as part of Catherine the Great's Greek Plan in the 18th century, maintain Roman identity, designating themselves as Rumaioi.
The vast majority of the Romance peoples that descended from the intermingling of Romans and Germanic peoples following the collapse of Roman political unity in the west diverged into groups that no longer identify as Romans. In the Alpine regions north of Italy however, Roman identity showed considerable tenacity. The Romansh people of Switzerland are descended from these populations, which in turn descended from Romanised Rhaetians. Though most of the Romans of the region were assimilated by the Germanic tribes that settled there during the 5th and 6th centuries, the people who resisted assimilation became the Romansh people. In their own, Romansh language, they are called rumantsch or romontsch, which derives from the Latin romanice ("Romance"). Roman identity also survives in the Romands, the French-speaking community of Switzerland, and their homeland, Romandy, which covers the western part of the country.
In some regions, the Germanic word for the Romans (also used for western neighbours in general), walhaz, became an ethnonym, although it is in many cases only attested centuries after the end of Roman rule in said regions. The term walhaz is the origin of the modern term 'Welsh', i.e. the people of Wales, and of the historical exonym 'Vlach', which was used through the Middle Ages and the Modern Period for various Balkan Romance peoples. As endonyms, Roman identification was maintained by several Balkan Romance peoples. Prominently, the Romanians call themselves români and their nation România. How and when the Romanians came to adopt these names is not entirely clear,[p] but one theory is the idea of Daco-Roman continuity, that the modern Romanians are descended from Daco-Romans that came about as a result of Roman colonisation following the conquest of Dacia by Trajan (r. 98–117). The Aromanians, also of unclear origin, refer to themselves by various names, including arumani, armani, aromani and rumani, all of which are etymologically derived from the Latin Rōmānī. The Istro-Romanians sometimes identify as rumeri or similar terms, though these names have lost strength and Istro-Romanians often identify with their native villages instead. The Megleno-Romanians also identified as rumâni in the past, though this name was mostly replaced in favour of the term vlasi centuries ago. Vlasi is derived from "Vlach", in turn deriving from walhaz.
- The official languages of the Roman Empire were Latin and Greek.
- Though not an ethnicity in the sense of sharing the same genetic descent, the Romans could, per Diemen (2021) and others, be seen as an ethnicity in the sense of "a social identity (based on a contrast vis‐à‐vis others) characterised by metaphoric or fictive kinship".
- The 753 BC figure for Rome's foundation was first suggested by the antiquarian Titus Pomponius Atticus (c. 110–32 BC), and then adopted by the scholar Marcus Terentius Varro (116–27 BC), coming to be known as the 'Varronian chronology'. There were several alternate proposed dates for the foundation of the city and of the republic even in antiquity. The chronology of Atticus and Varro was not universally adopted until a considerable amount of time after it had first been suggested. Dates suggested by other ancient authors range in time from 814 to 729 BC. In the earliest Greek accounts of Roman history, formulated in the 5th century BC, the Greeks believed Rome to predate their own colonies in the western mediterranean, which would place the city's foundation before the 8th century BC. An early date is not impossible given that archaeological evidence in Rome confirms that the site was at least inhabited prior to 753 BC.
- Some Roman authors, such as Livy (64/59 BC – AD 12/17) attempted to combine the foundation myths into relatively straightforward stories, whereas others, such as the author of the 4th-century AD Origo gentis Romanae, leave the contradictions open.
- Though it is well-established in modern historiography, "Caracalla" was a nickname for the emperor, whose actual name was Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus.
- Dominus noster continued to be used throughout Western Europe for centuries. For rulers of Italy, the style is recorded as late as under Desiderius (r. 756–774), the last Lombard king of Italy, whose coins style him as dominus noster Desiderius rex.
- For instance, an inscription by Caecina Mavortius Basilius Decius (western consul in 486, praetorian prefect of Italy 486–493) refers to Theoderic as dominus noster gloriosissimus adque inclytus rex Theodericus victor ac triumfator semper Augustus.
- A well-documented case of the Romans "disappearing" is northern Gaul in the 6th and 7th centuries. In the 6th century, the personnel of churches in the region was dominated by people with Roman names. For instance, only a handful of non-Roman and non-Biblical names are recorded in the episcopal list of Metz from before the year 600. After 600, the situation is reversed and bishops had predominantly Frankish names. The reason for this change in naming practices might be a change in naming practices in Gaul, that people entering church services no longer adopted Roman names or that the Roman families which had provided the church personnel dropped in status.
- In Gaul, members of the aristocracy were sometimes identified as "senators" from the 5th century to the 7th century and the Carolingian dynasty claimed to be descended from a former Roman senatorial family. In Spain, references to people of "senatorial stock" appear as late as the 7th century and in Lombard Italy, "Senator" became a personal name, with at least two people known to have had the name in the 8th century. The practice of representing themselves as "the Senate" was revived by the aristocracy within the city of Rome in the 8th century, though the institution itself was not revived.
- 8th century sources from Salzburg still reference that there was a social group in the city called the Romani tributales but Romans at this time mostly merged with the wider tributales (tributary peoples) distinction rather than being separate in Frankish documents. Throughout most of former Gaul, the Roman elite which had lingered for centuries merged with the Frankish elite and lost their previous distinct identity. Though "Romans" continued to be a dominant identity in regional politics in southern Gaul for a while, the specific references to some individuals as "Romans" or "descendants of Romans" indicates that their Roman status was perhaps no longer being taken for granted and needed pointing out. The last groups of Romani in the Frankish realm lingered for some time, especially in Salzburg and Raetia, but mostly fade away in the early 9th century.
- As with the other early Medieval changes to Roman identity, the origins of this change can be traced to the 6th century. Cassiodorus, who served the Gothic kings, used 'Romans' to describe Roman people across Italy, but Pope Gregory the Great, at the end of the 6th century, uses 'Roman' almost exclusively for the people in the city. The Historia Langobardorum, written by Paul the Deacon in the 8th century, postulates that the term civis Romanus ("Roman citizen") is applied solely to someone who either lived in, or was born in, the city of Rome and it could for instance be applied to the Archbishop of Ravenna, Marinianus, only because he had originally been born in Rome. This indicates that the term at some point ceased to generally refer to all the Latin-speaking subjects of the Lombard kings and became restricted to the city itself.
- In some locations, such as southern Italy where authority frequently shifted between the Franks and Byzantines, recognition varied. Certain southern Italian sources accept both the Byzantines and the Franks as equally legitimate emperors, using the same language and honours for both.
- For much of its history, the populace of the Byzantine Empire firmly believed that the western empire, and other territories, would eventually be reconquered. As late as the middle of the 12th-century, the Byzantine princess Anna Komnene wrote that if her father, emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081–1118), "had not been hindered by unfavourable circumstances, he would have rightfully restored Roman rule over the whole former Roman world, up to the limits of the Atlantic Ocean in the west and India in the east".
- The 15th century Byzantine historian Doukas, for instance, refers to the Genoese general Giovanni Giustiniani, who assisted the Byzantines at the fall of Constantinople, as a 'general of the Romans'.
- Some Byzantine authors went as far as to return to using 'Hellenic' and 'Greek' solely as terms for the ancient pagan Greeks. In the writings of Doukas, the Greeks are a foreign people, separated from the present Romans by both time and religious differences. Doukas also uses the terms in an insulting manner for the anti-unionists active near the fall of Constantinople.
- One of the earliest records of the Romanians possibly being referred to as Romans is given in the Nibelungenlied, a German epic poem written before 1200 in which a "Duke Ramunc from the land of Vlachs" is mentioned. It has been argued that "Ramunc" was not the name of the duke, but a collective name that highlighted his ethnicity. Other documents, especially Byzantine or Hungarian ones, also attest the old Romanians as Romans or their descendants.
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