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Was Innovation Unwanted in Byzantium?

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Abstract

It is a topos in Byzantine studies is that Byzantium was a conservative civilization, negative –if not hostile– to innovation. This general idea influenced the study of innovation in Byzantium, which has been presented by modern scholars as either absent or as being decisively opposed to. After a presentation of some preliminary questions on the use of terms as innovation in modern historical writing this article examines the use of Byzantine terms related to the concept of innovation in Byzantine lexicographical, historiographical and theological texts. The comparison of these works to ancient Greek ones demonstrates that the Byzantines continued using words and concepts as innovation, novelty etc. in a way similar to that used by their predecessors. Furthermore, the article demonstrates that the Byzantines probably had more than one understandings of innovation and were not negative towards innovation as such.
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A well established notion in Byzantine —and generally, medieval— studies is that Byzantium was a civilization, one of the most characteristic features of which was its conservatism. This general idea influenced the evaluation of innovation in Byzantium, which has been presented by modern scholars as either absent or as being decisively opposed to. The article makes a preliminary effort of reflecting over this notion by studying lexicographical and other textual sources and questioning whether the negative evaluation of Byzantine innovation has not been as thorough as it should and, probably, methodologically incorrect.
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