25 Things You May Not Know About The Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine Empire was the predominantly Greek-speaking eastern half and remainder of the Roman Empire during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Even though this vast empire survived for more than one thousand years, spawning a rich tradition of art, literature, and learning; and serving as a military buffer between the states of Europe and the threat of invasion from Asia, people may not be aware of its great legacy. From the longest continuously reigning Byzantine monarch to their outrageous love for sweets, here are 25 things you may not know about the Byzantine Empire.


The Byzantines loved sweets and desserts more than anything. There were dishes that we would recognize as desserts such as grouta, a sort of frumenty, sweetened with honey and studded with carob seeds or raisins, and the Byzantines loved to eat rice pudding served with honey and cinnamon. Since antiquity quince marmalade was known to the Greeks and Romans, but in the Byzantine Empire other jellies and conserves made their appearance as well, based on pear, citron, and lemon. The increasing availability of sugar assisted the confectioner’s inventiveness. Rose sugar, a popular medieval confection, may well have originated in Byzantium.


Flavored wines, a variant of the Roman conditum (spiced wine), became popular, as did flavored soft drinks, which were consumed on fast days. The versions that were aromatized with mastic, aniseed, rose, and absinthe were especially popular; they are distant ancestors of the mastikha, vermouth, absinthe, and ouzo in modern Greece.



The Byzantines enjoyed seafood, specifically a very popular dish they called “botargo,” which was salted mullet roe. By the twelfth century the Byzantines were familiar with caviar as well.


Certain fruits were pretty much unknown to the ancient European world but the Byzantines became the first to appreciate the aubergine (eggplant), lemons, and oranges.



The bakers of Constantinople were in a most favored trade, according to the ninth century Book of the Eparch, a handbook of city administration: “Bakers are never liable to be called for any public service, neither themselves nor their animals, to prevent any interruption of the baking of bread.” Apparently, bread was hot stuff to the Byzantines.


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