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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.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web
The club and the city of Oakland have navigated a Byzantine series of approvals and environmental impact reports to bring Fisher’s dream of a $12 billion real estate project that includes a ballpark closer to reality. Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY, 20 Apr. 2023 Intricate mosaics, made of tiles each the size of a thumbnail, cover the walls and domed ceiling of the Byzantine-style church. Sophie Carson, Journal Sentinel, 29 Jan. 2023 One of Anguissola’s ancestors, according to family tradition, was the Byzantine warlord Galvano Sourdi. Washington Post, 18 Jan. 2023 But the robust attendance at St. Clement was fleeting, Wojcik said, and on Christmas Day and the Sunday after, the parish priest was disheartened to see the century-old, Byzantine-style church was once again echoing with half-empty pews. Karen Ann Cullotta,, 31 Dec. 2021 The fate of two other Byzantine-era religious monuments became the subject of fierce international debate this summer, when Turkey’s government reopened the world-famous Hagia Sophia—the grand sixth-century church later converted into a mosque and then a museum—to Islamic worship. Jennifer Hattam, History & Culture, 30 Nov. 2020

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 6 Jun. 2023.

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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