Byz·​an·​tine | \ ˈbi-zᵊn-ˌtēn How to pronounce Byzantine (audio) , ˈbī-, -ˌtīn; bə-ˈzan-ˌtēn, bī-ˈzan- How to pronounce Byzantine (audio) \

Definition of Byzantine

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : of, relating to, or characteristic of the ancient city of Byzantium Byzantine art
2 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
3 Christianity : of or relating to the churches using a traditional Greek rite and subject to Eastern (see eastern sense 2) canon law
4 often not capitalized
a : of, relating to, or characterized by a devious and usually surreptitious manner of operation a Byzantine power struggle
b : intricately involved : labyrinthine rules of Byzantine complexity



Definition of Byzantine (Entry 2 of 2)

: 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 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 the word Byzantine (from Late Latin Byzantinus, for "native of Byzantium") became synonymous with anything characteristic of the city or empire, from architecture to intrigue. The figurative sense of labyrinthine deviousness first appeared in the late 1930s. It was popularized by its 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.

First Known Use of Byzantine


1651, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1651, in the meaning defined above

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The first known use of Byzantine was in 1651

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Cite this Entry

“Byzantine.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Jan. 2021.

More from Merriam-Webster on Byzantine

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for Byzantine

Nglish: Translation of Byzantine for Spanish Speakers

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