Byzantium was a melting-pot society, characterized during its earlier centuries by a degree of social mobility that belies the stereotype, often applied to it, of an immobile caste-ridden society.A source of strength in the early Middle Ages, Byzantium’s central geographical position served it ill after the 10th century.Proud of that Christian and Roman heritage, convinced that their earthly empire so nearly resembled the heavenly pattern that it could never change, they called themselves Romaioi, or Romans. The term East Rome accurately described the political unit embracing the Eastern provinces of the old Roman Empire until 476, while there were yet two emperors.The same term may even be used until the last half of the 6th century, as long as men continued to act and think according to patterns not unlike those prevailing in an earlier Roman Empire.
The Eastern provinces were ancient and populous centres of that urban life that for millennia had defined the character of Mediterranean civilization.The conquests of that age presented new problems of organization and assimilation, and those the emperors had to confront at precisely the time when older questions of economic and social policy pressed for answers in a new and acute form. Bitter ethnic and religious hostility marked the history of the empire’s later centuries, weakening Byzantium in the face of new enemies descending upon it from east and west.The empire finally collapsed when its administrative structures could no longer support the burden of leadership thrust upon it by military conquests.During those same centuries, nonetheless, there were changes so profound in their cumulative effect that after the 7th century state and society in the East differed markedly from their earlier forms.In an effort to recognize that distinction, historians traditionally have described the medieval empire as Byzantine.
The Roman Empire, the ancestor of the Byzantine, remarkably blended unity and diversity, the former being by far the better known, since its constituents were the predominant features of Roman civilization.