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Byz·​an·​tine ˈbi-zᵊn-ˌtēn How to pronounce Byzantine (audio)
bī-ˈzan- How to pronounce Byzantine (audio)
: of, relating to, or characteristic of the ancient city of Byzantium
Byzantine art
architecture : of, relating to, or having the characteristics of a style of architecture developed in the Byzantine Empire especially in the fifth and sixth centuries featuring the dome carried on pendentives over a square and incrustation with marble veneering and with colored mosaics on grounds of gold
Christianity : of or relating to the churches using a traditional Greek rite and subject to Eastern (see eastern sense 2) canon law
often not capitalized
: of, relating to, or characterized by a devious and usually surreptitious manner of operation
a Byzantine power struggle
: intricately involved : labyrinthine
rules of Byzantine complexity


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: a native or inhabitant of Byzantium

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Byzantine, a Word for History Buffs

Today, the city that lies on the Bosporus Strait in Turkey is named Istanbul, but it was once known as Constantinople (a name given to it when it became the capital of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire), and in ancient times, it was called Byzantium. Its history is exotic—filled with mystics, wars, and political infighting—and over time the word Byzantine (from Late Latin Byzantinus, the name for a native of Byzantium) became synonymous with anything characteristic of the city or empire, from architecture to intrigue. The figurative sense referring to a devious manner of operation first appeared in the late 1930s. It was popularized by frequent use in reference to the Soviet Union, whose secrecy and despotism were equated by Westerners with what went on in the old Byzantine Empire.

Examples of Byzantine in a Sentence

Adjective spent his first year at the Pentagon just trying to fathom its byzantine workings
Recent Examples on the Web
Archaeologists recently unearthed a Byzantine church there—and, at the same excavation site, a ruin that might have been the very synagogue in which Paul preached two millenniums ago. Joshua Hammer, Smithsonian Magazine, 15 May 2024 Throughout the empire’s reign, as a wealth of Byzantine silver made its way to Europe, it was hoarded by high-status power brokers, per the Guardian’s Esther Addley. Sonja Anderson, Smithsonian Magazine, 11 Apr. 2024 Clocks there still run on Byzantine time, with the day starting at sunset rather than midnight. Robert F. Worth, The Atlantic, 10 Apr. 2024 Exactly how and when the Byzantine and French silver were transformed into English coins is unclear. Paul Smaglik, Discover Magazine, 8 Apr. 2024 On some of the stones found in the ruins, Arabic inscriptions, Byzantine iconography and Maltese crosses were found carved into the rock, according to the study. Irene Wright, Miami Herald, 1 Apr. 2024 At the Parthenon, a Byzantine tower and mosque from the Ottoman era were knocked down. Tony Perrottet, Smithsonian Magazine, 27 Mar. 2024 But its notoriously Byzantine regulations and misleading guidance from some loan-servicing companies meant that few public servants managed to get debt relief. Aimee Picchi, CBS News, 21 Mar. 2024 Like, there’s Byzantine rules about all these things. Quartz Staff, Quartz, 19 Mar. 2024
The remains of two other churches lay near this basilica, evidence that Sia had grown into an important center of the faith during the last days of Rome and the dawn of the Byzantine Empire. Joshua Hammer, Smithsonian Magazine, 15 May 2024 After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, half of Eastern Europe, including the Balkans and Mediterranean, fell under Ottoman rule and was cut off from regular communication with the West. Lauren Costantino, Miami Herald, 15 Apr. 2024 At its peak, the Byzantine Empire stretched from Syria to southern Spain. Sonja Anderson, Smithsonian Magazine, 11 Apr. 2024 In those 29 coins, the researchers found a clear chemical and isotopic signature that matched third to early seventh century silver from the Byzantine Empire in the eastern Mediterranean. Paul Smaglik, Discover Magazine, 8 Apr. 2024 From the pottery in particular, researchers were able to confidently conclude that the timing of the wreck coincided with the reign of Byzantine Emperor Anastasius in the late 400s and early 500s AD. Julia Daye, Miami Herald, 26 Mar. 2024 This remarkably romantic walled town is a stony museum of Byzantine, Ottoman, and Venetian history dating back to the 13th century. Rick Steves, Chicago Tribune, 30 Jan. 2024 In the east, the chart shows the remnants of the Crusader strongholds and the final throes of the Byzantine Empire. Hannah Fry, Los Angeles Times, 25 Oct. 2023 The phantom time hypothesis goes something like this: The Holy Roman Emperor Otto III conspired with Pope Sylvester II (and quite possibly the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII as well) to doctor the dating system. Benjamin Plackett, Discover Magazine, 4 Oct. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'Byzantine.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use


1651, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1651, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of Byzantine was in 1651


Dictionary Entries Near Byzantine

Cite this Entry

“Byzantine.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
Byz·​an·​tine ˈbiz-ən-ˌtēn How to pronounce Byzantine (audio) bə-ˈzan- How to pronounce Byzantine (audio)
: a person born or living in Byzantium or in the Byzantine Empire


2 of 2 adjective
: of, relating to, or typical of Byzantium or the Eastern Roman Empire
: of or relating to a style of architecture developed in the Byzantine Empire especially in the 5th and 6th centuries characterized by a central dome over a square space and by much use of mosaics
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