First off, I'd like to take a second to recommend a fantastic podcast by Robin Pierson, The History of Byzantium. If you've ever heard of it, Mike Duncan's famous podcast, The History of Rome, then think of Robin's as the continuation of Mike's work. THoR ended with the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, and THoB picks up right where Mike left off. It's an excellent podcast, and both are top contenders for my favorite podcasts ever. You should check them out.
I'm by no means caught up with the series. I'm on episode 43 and the series is, at time of writing, on episode 90. Regardless, I'd like to share a story that Robin told in episode 41 Who is a Byzantine that blew me away.
We often think of the Romans and the Byzantines as two distinct empires, when in fact they were the same thing. The people of the Byzantine Empire called themselves Romans, and they called their empire Rome. Today, we think of the Roman Empire as a thing long gone, but what's truly amazing is that it has only been 563 years since the fall of the empire. That may seem like a long time, but considering that the empire was around, in some form or another for 2,209 years(!), 500 isn't that long at all. Something that has been around for 2,000 years doesn't just vanish into the night, it leaves remnants that we can see even today, and I'm not talking about the stone monuments. The people who lived as Romans have not disappeared. This clip from episode 41 really hammers that home.
When the island was occupied by the Greek navy, Greek soldiers were sent to the villages and stationed themselves in the public squares. Some of the children ran to see what these Greek soldiers, these Hellenes, looked like. "What are you looking at?" one of them asked. "At Hellenes," we replied. "Are you not Hellenes yourselves," he retorted. "No, we are Romans." [p.42]
What that means is that there are probably still people today who were born calling themselves Romans, 500 years after the empire collapsed, and that is truly an amazing thought.