That Byzantium saw many dramatic reversals of fortune is obvious. Yet modern and Byzantine observers alike have disagreed about the importance of those changes in Byzantine history. The Byzantines, aware of how long their empire had lasted and assuming it had always been much as it was in their own times, usually underestimated any changes. In this modern scholars have sometimes followed their Byzantine sources and sometimes reacted against them. Occasionally disagreement among modern historians has been sharp, as in the dispute between those who think Byzantium became poorer between the tenth and twelfth centuries and those who think it became richer. More often, however, the modern disputes are over matters of degree, such as whether the political and military decline of the empire in the seventh century was utterly devastating or merely severe. In some cases, both sides have defined their positions so vaguely that they seem to disagree not so much about what occurred as about how best to describe it. For example, the controversy about whether Byzantine cities disappeared or merely shrank in the seventh century may simply hinge upon the size that each side considers the minimum to call a settlement a city.
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