The Last of the Romans


Not a long one today but I’ve always been interested in the last hold outs of any dead culture or long ago civilization. Stories of Ishi, the last of the Yahi Indians, where the remnants of Nazi Germany fled to, or the last defenders of Roman civilization in Britain have always interested me. Something about defiance in the face of decline is immensely fascinating.

I can’t be the only one. Heck, there’s even an entire section in the dictionary for “The Last of the Romans.” (Hint: There’s a lot of them.)

Which is why I felt compelled to share this story of the survival of Roman identity, even until our modern era.

Greek-born Peter Charanis, eminent doctor of Byzantine history, grew up on the island of Lemnos, which transferred from Turkey to Greece in 1912 after the First Balkan War. When the Greek Navy took over the island, Admiral Kountouriotis sent men to occupy the town square. Charanis, who was a young child,  ran down with his friends to shore to see what these soldiers looked like.  His parents called them Hellenes, an ancient term for “Greeks” dating back to Homer.

One soldier, tired of being stared at, finally asked them, “What are you looking at?”
A friend of Charanis responded, “At the Hellenes.”

The soldier laughed, “Are you not Hellenes yourselves?”

“No,” he responded, matter of fact. “We are Rhomaîoi.”

We are Romans.

2,058 years after the Battle of Corinth and 459 years after the sack of Constantinople, here were people calling themselves Romans.
For various and sundry readings related to this;
  • Hellenism in Byzantium: The Transformations of Greek Identity and the Reception of the Classical Tradition  by Anthony Kaldellis, Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • Carlyle’s discussion of “The Last of the Romans” in On Heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History.
  • The History of Byzantium Podcast’s excellent episode on Byzantine identity.

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