Errors and Omissions: Byzantium deserves a better press than this

Our Letters editor takes to task this week's Independent coverage

Share

We have been hearing a great deal recently about the “Byzantine” constitution of the Liberal Democrat party. The Rennard affair has exposed how complex the machinery is and how difficult it is for the party leader to get anything done.

The Byzantine Empire – the Roman Empire of the Middle Ages – had a very bad press from historians until quite recently. Among the many undesirable features of this corrupt, decadent, priest-ridden absolutism, so we were told, were a top-heavy bureaucracy and a great deal of devious court intrigue. Hence, in a 20th-century usage, “Byzantine” signifies not just a fine style of architecture but a rotten style of government.

But there is another way of looking at it. The Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire survived its western sister by nearly 1,000 years. It held back the tide of Islam in Asia for nearly six centuries, regaining territory after every setback, until it was crippled by the western stab in the back of the Fourth Crusade in 1204. How did it manage this remarkable feat? It was very good at turning economic strength into military and naval power, through the “thematic” system of military land tenure and other means. And one of the reasons it was able to do all that was that it was the only state in medieval Christendom with anything like a modern civil service.

You could argue that “Byzantine” should really be a byword for clever, efficient administration and heroic resilience in the face of adversity, but I don’t suppose that will happen soon.

Onions is onions: One of the crucial virtues of a good copy editor is a well-informed imagination. Last Saturday, the Magazine published a recipe for “Roast rack of deer with leek and potato stovies”. But reading the recipe, and imagining how one would cook the dish and what it would be like to eat, one soon realised that it was actually onion and potato stovies. No leeks mentioned.

It looks as if the writer changed his mind about which vegetable to use and forgot to change the heading, and an editor bunged the copy in without imagining the dish.

Unamusing: Our Tuesday story about the Public Accounts Committee report on the royal finances appeared under the following headline: “We are not amused: Queen told to rein in her spending.”

I wish people would drop this cliché about “We are not amused”. It is quite likely that Queen Victoria never said it, and to trot it out every time anything happens that might be displeasing to the Queen is not amusing at all.

On Tuesday we reported a day of evidence in the News of the World phone-hacking trial. A reporter told the court he had got a job after he told the editor how he could bring in exclusive stories. That, he said, was “the kerching moment”.

That set me wondering what the verb “kerch” might mean. Surely the word that mimics the ring of an old-fashioned mechanical cash register should be spelt with a hyphen: “ker-ching”.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Co-Ordinator - FF&E

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior FF&E Project Co-ordinator is re...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Carer / Support Worker plus Bank Support

£10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A delightful, 11 year old boy who lives in t...

Recruitment Genius: Office Furniture Installer / Driver

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Furniture Installer /...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - North West - OTE £40k

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron and Ed Miliband officially launched their election campaigns yesterday after Parliament was dissolved  

All-or-nothing simplicities are going to blight this election

John Rentoul
 

If I Were Prime Minister: Every civil servant would be held accountable by their own civilian 'buddy'

Julia Hobsbawm
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor