Nova Roma and Byzantium Novum

The world is full of strange things, isn’t it?

Way back in 1998 or so some people started an organization called Nova Roma. It was intended to be a reconstruction or revival of Roman pagan religion, organized in the form of a sovereign state modelled after the Roman Republic, with claims to real sovereignty as a national state, a so called micronation. It looked very promising and I was a member of Nova Roma in its earliest days. Unfortunately things started to go wrong soon after it was founded. Nova Roma was taken over by Christians and atheists who had no interest in pagan religion and just wanted to play games in Roman costumes. There was quite a lot of what can only be described as pure vitriol in the conversations on their Yahoo conversation groups. I left the group and started my own paper state, the Antonine Imperium. Nova Roma went on its merry way, collecting game players, scandals, and a number of very nasty people. I recently saw a claim that it didn’t matter if the person selected as their chief priest was really a Christian because the Roman religion was a matter of orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy. In other words, as long as their priests wore the right costume and said the right words it didn’t matter if the priests did not actually believe in the deities they were supposedly worshipping. At one time, I believe, Nova Roma claimed to have over 2,000 members. I have heard that there was a mass exodus or expulsion of members this past spring, so that there are only a few hundred members left. So who left, the good guys or the bad guys? Throughout its history Nova Roma retained at least a few sincere practitioners of Religio Romana. Are they still there?

The principal founders of Nova Roma were two gentlemen using the names Cassius Julianus and Vedius Germanicus. As I recall, Vedius left the group, came back later, and I think was eventually expelled. Cassius, their Pontifex Maximus, was eventually expelled for alleged “inactivity”. As far as I know both of these men are sincere people with good intentions. They made a lot of mistakes in setting up Nova Roma, but those mistakes were not as obvious at the beginning as they are now.

Here is where it starts to get strange. Two or so years ago an entity named Byzantium Novum was created. This is a revival of the so called Byzantine Empire, it claims limited national sovereignty, and its centerpiece is the Byzantine Christian Church, identified with the Greek Orthodox Church. Hellenic Graeco Roman paganism is included as a tolerated faith and there are no religious requirements imposed on members of Byzantium Novum. They claim to have about 200 members. Now get ready for this – the founding member is none other than Cassius Julianus! Would someone like to explain to me why a professed “pagan” would want to participate in the revival of a Christian empire? They do have a very nice website at www.byzantiumnovum.org It’s worth paying a visit.

Now, in real life there never was any such thing as a Byzantine Empire. The term “Byzantine” came into use by historians as a derogatory name for the later phases of the Roman Empire. The people of the “Byzantine” Empire called themselves Romans, they never called themselves Byzantines. The old Greek city of Byzantium was swept away to make room for the new city of Constantinople. Most of the buildings of old Byzantium were demolished to provide materials for the new city. And, there are people today who are descended from the last citizens of the empire. They call themselves “Romai” or something similar, not Byzantine. And I seem to recall that they are Greek Orthodox in terms of religion, perhaps aggresively so.

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Published in: on July 5, 2011 at 1:26 am  Comments (19)  
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  1. How bizarre! It always saddens me to hear what happened to Nova Roma, though even from the beginning I could tell it tended too much towards the reenactor side of things which is part of why I never bothered getting involved with them. But this takes it to a whole other level. And it’s a shame that they don’t have more on their Byzantine Paganism page, as that’s a topic that would interest me considering the recent thrust of my studies.

    • Curious indeed.
      As I recall, Cassius Julianus and Vedius Germanicus were very keen on the idea of ultimately creating a real sovereign entity or micronation, similar in legal status to the Vatican, or San Marino, or Monaco. There might be practical reasons to pursue this idea through a revived Byzantine Empire. Nova Roma was modeled after the so called Roman Republic, which ended more than 2,000 years ago. The so called Byzantine Empire ended just over 500 years ago, which is much closer to us in time. The medieval world is much closer to us than the world of antiquity in terms of clothing, food, and general customs. People who are into the re-enactment scene are going to be more comfortable with medieval trousers than with the tunics and draped garments of antiquity. And, re-enactors can be a perfectly legitimate source of support for revivalism, if managed properly.

      There is an unbroken line of legal succession of emperors and governmental authority from the first Roman emperor Augustus in 27 bce down to the last emperor Constantine XI in 1453. The pagan Roman Empire and the Christian Byzantine Empire are really the same empire, even if its different phases are tagged with different names. No pagan institutions, none whatsoever, survived the transition from paganism to Christianity, which was also the transition from the ancient world to the medieval world. However, the institutions of the Greek Orthodox Chuch did survive the final fall of the empire in 1453. The Greek Church provides a living link back to the Byzantines, and through them back to the ancient pagans. Reviving Byzantium as a religiously tolerant society including both Christianity and paganism could be a very smart move. There are other links too. There are people today who can trace their ancestry back to the last days of the empire and they remember that their forebears were the last citizens of that empire. There are even, it is believed, people today who can trace their ancestry back to some of the noble Byzantine families of the 14th and 15th centuries and possibly to some of the Imperial families, the old emperors themselves. If Byzantium Novum could attract some of these people as members it would add an aura of legitimacy to their efforts that no other revivalist group could match. And, promoting the new Byzantium as a tolerant society with a place for Graeco Roman paganism could be appealing to people. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

  2. I kind of lost interest in Nova Roma last year when, upon applying to join, I was told that the Nomen I had selected from their own list was not an approved Nomen — because apparently, they thought I’d typed in “Rufus”, which they suggested I would have to be settled for Cognomen, if I was that attached to the meaning. It doesn’t really give me confidence that whomever they had reviewing applications a) can’t tell the difference, and b) is so unfamiliar with their own lists that the potential for two different but similar names is lost on them. I felt like arguing it, and I can no longer remember why I didn’t.

    The history summary here really disappoints me to learn, but considering some of the drama I’ve seen with other groups, really doesn’t surprise me to learn. 😦

    • The nit pickiness about name choices is kind of silly when carried to extremes. The distinction between names traditionally used only for nomens and only for cognomens gradually (and mostly) disappeared over the course of Roman history. Roman names used during the Late Republic and Imperial eras show a tremendous variety of usage.

      Sometimes I try not to be too negative about Nova Roma. The group still has potential. I hope.

      • Thing is, I might’ve understood the nit-pickery, in spite of the facts you clearly point out, if not for the fact that their own Nomen list said otherwise, much less the fact that I can pull up Nomen examples of “Rufius” on Wikipaedia, even.

        I went to “no mail” on their public e-mail shortly after, but at least as of last year, I saw potential — at least up to that point. It’s just disheartening to see such a lack of basic familiarity with the groups own literature in some-one who basically has the power to gatekeep potential applicants.

  3. Hi there,
    I found your comment that NR had been overrun by Christians to be somewhat of a surprise. I left NR because, as a Christian, I refused to swear an oath to the Roman gods.
    I am now a member of Byzantium Novum and have one nit-pcik in your otherwise excellent article: the Byzantine Greek Church (by whatever name) is not our centerpiece. In fact, that list is one of our slower ones and we currently have no active religious leader for our micronation. It is merely one aspect of Byzantium Novum. I have a hard time trying to figure out what our centerpiece is, but it certainly isn’t any church — unlike NR, we do not have a religious litmus test (regardless of what may have happened to it in the struggle between Christians and pagans there).

    • Thanks for your comments. In my opinion, NR was not overrun by Christians acting as Chrstians, but rather by role and game players who happened to be at least nominal Christians in their so called real lives. But, anyway…

      Byzantium Novum is certainly an interesting organization, and has the potential to appeal to both Christians and pagans who have an interest in Classical culture. Good luck with your membership.

      My own preference for this type of organization is for something more pagan oriented, such as my own paper empire, the Antonine Imperium, which in a vague way is somewhat intended as a pagan version of the Vatican.

  4. Greetings,

    This is Marcus Cassius Julianus replying to the questions/comments in your article:

    I. I am the sole original founder of Byzantium Novum. I have made provision for Flavius Vedius Germaicus, the co-founder of Nova Roma to have a Senatorship if he should ever wish, but he did not help create Byzantium Novum nor is he currently involved.

    II. I created Byzantium Novum in part to prove that many of the aspects of NR that others have criticized as fatal flaws were not necessarily “mistakes” and are in fact quite viable…

    NR has in the past been criticized for being founded as a micronation, for including politics, for allowing a mix of religions to co-exist, for allowing women to fill non-traditional roles, and for not being strictly “historical reconstructionist” in its religious and social format.

    Nova Roma has also been derided for being built as a “top down” creation, in that its structure was set up before here was much of a community to fill the various organizational roles desired.

    I have deliberately built Byzantium Novum to include ALL those controversial aspects. I also have deliberately NOT included the later changes that some of Nova Roma’s critics tried to impose on NR to “fix” it.

    Amazingly, Byzantium Novum has so far had none of the difficulties or divisions that Nova Roma has suffered. I believe this goes a long way to prove that the basic concepts above – which were argued over so much in Nova Roma – were not “the causes” of the problems NR has had in years past.

    III. Although I am a practicing Pagan who works toward the restoration of ancient religion as a modern path, I am not “against” other religions. I believed that Christians deserved a place in Nova Roma, even though it is based on the religion of ancient Rome, as much of their foundation does come from the Roman world. I believe that Pagans deserve a place in Byzantium Novum, as their classical faith was the foundation of the Byzantine world.

    Through working on Byzantium Novum I have also learned that Paganism never completely died out in the Byzantine Empire… and that there were a few Pagans still publicly practicing and advocating the return of the ancient Gods even as late as 1453 AD. I personally see that as something to treasure and build from rather than to regret and forget.

    Finally, I do of course understand that “Byzantine” is a modern word and that there was no “Byzantine Empire” by name. The people of the Eastern Roman Empire called themselves the “Romaioi” , or Romans, right up until the fall of Constantinople.

    However, the Eastern Roman Empire is mostly forgotten today. Most people have never really heard of it, and most of those that have dismiss it completely. We are using the modern words “Byzantine” and “Byzantium” simply so people will understand what time period and culture we’re working with… and so we can be found more easily on the Internet.

    So far Byzantium Novum continues to do well. Byzantium is more difficult to popularize than ancient Rome because it really IS the “forgotten empire”… but we’ve gained around 10 Citizens each month so far. We do have well over 200 live, contactable people at this point and are working hard to build on the local provincial level and keep things “real world.” So far we have have several local provinces where people are getting together and doing activities live and in person. 🙂

    Obviously time will tell. Happily, so far it’s “telling” good things, and the culture and history of the Eastern Roman Empire has proven to be a worthwhile involvement!

    -Marcus Cassius Julianus
    Co-Founder Nova Roma
    Founder of Byzantium Novum

    • Thanks, Cassius, for your comments. I do appreciate your time and interest. And thanks for clarifying your own position in regards to the founding of Byzantium Novum.

      In my opinion, even though this is just rehashing old business, there were two primary mistakes in Nova Roma’s beginning. Firstly, trying to set up the organization as a micronation and as a non profit legal corporation under United States law at the same time and as the same organization. Micronations and non profit businesses are two different things. The legal stuff should have waited until after the micronation was firmly established and stable. Secondly, the group was turned over to its members prematurely. More time should have been allowed for a stable and reliable membership to be established.

      I am all in favor of establishing micronations and “top down” organizations for various purposes. I am not convinced of the wisdom of mixing “pagan” and “non pagan” elements in the same organization if the organization’s primary purpose is religious in nature.

      I have an instinctive hostile reaction to that word “Byzantine” for some reason, although I will admit that the term is useful and well established. There is still a degree of prejudice against the Eastern Empire among modern historians. After the Roman Empire splintered apart in the fifth century ce, most of its former western territories descended into what can correctly be described as the Dark Ages. The Latin speaking west underwent large scale failures at all levels of society, from top to bottom. This did not happen in the Greek speaking east. For the most part there was no “Dark Age” in the Eastern Empire. This is a fact that modern historians still have trouble dealing with. In my mind, the Byzantine Empire is the Roman Empire.

      I wish you success in your efforts. If Byzantium Novum can become a new and more religiously equitable version of the old Byzantne Empire, then well and good.

      Poppaeus

    • Hi! How is your project going right now in 2016?

      • Things in Byzantium Novum are going along well! We’ve topped 600 Citizens overall and the local provinces are continuing to grow. Very encouraging considering that Eastern Rome from the 4th century onward is much less popular and well known than Republican or Imperial Rome in the West…

      • Good! And what about international acknowledgment as a micronation?

  5. Greetings,

    Thanks for your excellent comments. 🙂

    I quite agree with your first observation! At the time we believed the concept of a “micronation” was the larger of the two ideas and that a new nation project could easily “own” a corporation as a subsidy. Instead the corporation took over the nation – and in essence that turned Nova Roma into simply a modern organization for interest in Ancient Rome. That process simply horrified me and I have not made the same error with Byzantium Novum.

    I agree with your second concept as well; Germanicus and I turned NR over to the membership too early. We were trying hard to show that we had not built Nova Roma for self glorification and that Rome itself was most important. Our desires to emulate Cincinnatus and “go back to our farms” as quickly as possible were very Republican Roman. Sadly we had no idea that others would be so eager to change the very foundations of what we’d created. Learning from that I would never undertake a similar project without a foundational “covenant” of laws/rules establishing permanent structure and which could not be undone by any means later on.

    I do believe that people of different faiths can share history, culture, philosophy and daily activities together even in a community with religious goals. Even so we do handle this mix somewhat differently in Byzantium Novum than was done in NR. The main goal of BN is to rebuild Byzantine State and Culture – the Orthodox Church exists quite separately and has not had to be reconstructed in our micronation. Our religious forums are therefore a good deal more separated from daily business.

    On the subject of religious balance, I am currently building a secondary site to explore the continuation of the ancient Classical faiths in the Byzantine period: http://www.byzantinepagan.org .

    It is still in progress but I am hoping this will help to restore some of the religious equality originally decreed in the East by Constantine.

    Finally, in regard to the word Byzantine I should mention that the other reason we’ve used the term was to avoid competing directly against Nova Roma by basing our name on the words “Rome or Roman.” As flawed as the word “Byzantine” is it did help us show off our different focus. We of course do our best to help people understand that the Eastern Roman Empire was a direct continuation of the Roman world.

    I appreciate your thoughts on these things and quite enjoy this blog of yours. You have very good information here and it has been good to discuss Roman micronational topics in a reasonable setting!

    -Marcus Cassius Julianus

  6. I have a similar project, it’s called New Thrace and intend to recreate the ancient Thracian culture and living.

  7. A simple investigation in a New Oxford American Dictionary shows that a lot of what this “Byzantine Paganism” is claimed to be, is simple revival of philosophical thought- not of ancient religion. I have a Mac, so I can just triple tap to bring up information about a person or word, and I was looking through the “Heroes” list. A bunch of the “Heroes of Paganism” were Bishops or Cardinals that incorporated Greek philosophy into the Orthodox Church.

    Disappointing, I thought there was something interesting going on here.

  8. Check out Universalis Roma on Facebook. We are attempting to do things a bit differently. I have no issues with NR, but I to was thrown off with some of the ideals and methods.Cassius does not know me by name, but he and I have emailed concerning his site. He meant well, but often times, such things can spiral out of control. I have learned much from him, and I do not intend to let UR suffer the same fate. If true Roman faith interests you, and you want more than just a reenactment revival, then come see us. We are in need of faithful, intelligent, men and women, to grow our ranks.

    • Thanks for the notice. I am not on Facebook or any of the social media, other than this blog. Good luck.

  9. Thanks for this information. but i was just wondering if it is still active today?

    • Both Nova Roma and Byzantium Novum are still active.


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