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Western Civilisation

Western Civilisation was and is superior to anything Islam has developed.  Islam has not aided in the development of the modern world; in fact civilisation has only been created in spite of Islam.  Raising the alarm about the paganism called 'Submission' since 2000.  


Books Reviewed - Recent Articles

Judith Herrin, ‘Byzantium. The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire’.

Excellent one volume overview of one of history’s most influential empires.

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Medieval historian Herrin provides an accessible and understandable introduction to a complex entity which persisted for 1123 years – Byzantium.  Covering such a vast distance of time, within 400 or so pages, is impossible if one delves into all the details and intricacies of a regime which lasted almost as long as the Roman Western empire if we accept the oral traditions of Rome’s founding (~773 BC to 476 AD).  Because Rome is situated in the so-called ‘West’ (named as such, because it was the western rump that survived the Musulman Jihad stretching from 632 AD to the end of the Ottoman empire), it is given deferential, reverential, almost divine worship far above and beyond its reality or actual contributions.  Byzantium is painted as ‘eastern’, mystical, foreign, strange, distorted and given the attributes of being mendacious, regressive, ‘dark’, corrupted, and far beneath the splendours of the slave-based tracts and military despotism of Rome.  Oddly in the ‘Western’ world, this undying veneration of all things ‘Roman’, is never permitted for the ‘Roman’ Catholic Church. 


There are broadly three views of Byzantium within ‘academia’.  One can see them as ‘phases’ of current cultural thought on the topic, starting in the 16th century until today.  The first and most prevalent is the Western and especially the ‘Enlightenment’ tradition based on Anglo-Saxon Byzantophobia.  This viewpoint, which is premised on Christophobia, portrays the complexity of a long-lived state in mostly crude and not very erudite terms, depicting the long history of Byzantium as one of war, intrigue, guile, superstition, abstraction, corruption, inferiority, and inevitable failure. 


A second view exemplified by that of Runciman, Norwich and others in the 20th century revisionist mould, could be classified as excessively ‘Byzantophile’ or Philhellene.  This camp elevates Byzantium far above Western Europe, portraying the Franks and especially the Crusaders in the dimmest possible way as savages, barbarians, cannibals, illiterates, unwashed and unholy.  This viewpoint broadly extols the Byzantines at the expense of their Western co-religionists.  Such themses echoed in ahistorical and popular literary such as Walter Scott’s, The Talisman, which concludes that the Byzantines are far more civilised than the ‘Franks’, but inferior to the Musulmans who are the superiors of the Western Christians, with Scott ennobling the Jihadist, Saladin, who murdered tens of thousands of Musulmans and Christians in his never-ending Jihad as some sort of chivalric hero.  A more ignorant view of reality is hard to find.


A third viewpoint is of course those who sit in the middle between these two endpoints.  Herrin is one such historian.  This group looks at the good and bad of Byzantium and on balance, surveys its very complicated and rich history, and leaves much impressed with its culture, refinement, technology, artistry, military and political prowess and its longevity, whilst noting its demerits.  Unlike those who venerate all things ‘Roman’, or who whimper and collapse to their knees at all things ‘ancient Greek’, this group is probably best placed to give an accurate assessment of the most Christian empire in history, only equalled in the West by the reasonably short reign of Charlemagne. 


Herrin quotes Braudel and cites the long duration of history.  Any historian who understands Braudel’s magisterial work is well worth a read.  Some facts that I learnt whilst reading this book.


The modern ‘Western’ world would not exist without the shield of Byzantium.  It would have been overrun by either the Arab or Turkish Mahometans.


Byzantium was a creative culture that fused the Roman, the Greek and the Christian into an energetic, forward looking, but deeply religious and self-reflecting empire of action and belief.  It was a unique blend, never equalled in history.  This muscular blend of the pagan and ancient, with the Christian and modern, is why the empire lasted in various shapes and sizes for 1100 years.


Eastern Europe and Russia were Christianised by Byzantium, and this is maybe its most important legacy and cultural achievement.


Fundamental aspects of modern government can find their ancestry in Byzantine governance, including a sophisticated diplomatic service, permanent civilian bureaucracy, detailed record keeping and complex administrative systems and processes.


The grandeur of ceremony, Christian worship, the edifices and Churches, the processions, all informed Western European tradition.


The West inherited its legal system from Byzantium, ideas of a permanent court and legal apparatus; and many artifacts of culture including the fork, advanced educational systems, state investment in the arts and sciences, and modern ideas around trade and its taxation and control (there never was, nor is, ‘free trade’).


Byzantine engineering outclassed the Romans and Greeks and astonished Western visitors.  Aqueducts, fortifications, roads, new cities, bridges and massive buildings such as the domed Hagia Sophia, all of which were present by 800 AD, far outclassed anything that Western Europe could boast of by the 9th century.


In the time of the Norman, the bastard William ‘the Conqueror’ and 1066, London had maybe 12.000 inhabitants, Paris perhaps 35.000, Rome some 50.000 whilst Constantinople boasted over 500.000, making it the second largest city in world outside of China, after Baghdad.


Byzantium was the crucial bridge between pagan Greece and Rome, and the medieval Christian era.  Libraries of Greek and Roman authors, philosophers, ‘scientists’, naturalists, pagan theologians, existed in Byzantium and were the basis of Musulman and later Western scholarship and debate.  Without this corpus and documentation much knowledge would have been lost.


This book is a very good anodyne for the largely anti-Christian, anti-Byzantine approach found in the West.  Serious scholarship and assessment reach a different set of conclusions when viewing the Byzantine empire.  Herrin does an excellent job at explaining the main themes of Byzantium without getting lost in the maze of details.  A book well worth reading.



Review: 'Byzantium and the Crusades', by Johnathan Harris.

Confirming the superiority of the West over the Orientalized Byzantines.

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Harris is an expert on Byzantium and this book is an invaluable and extraordinarily interesting resource. He looks at the Crusades in the Holy Land, from 1095 to 1291, through the perspective of the Byzantines. Harris uses mostly Byzantine and 'Eastern' sources, as well as chronicles from Latin and Western participants who had first-hand experience with the various Crusades. Harris' work confirms what is pretty clear when one reads about the Crusades. The Latin sack of Constantinople in 1204, in which a Christian army on its way to the Holy Land was diverted to attack the capital of Eastern Christianity, to pay its debts, divert the invasion of Egypt to Constantinople, was as much tragedy and misfortune as it was anti-Christian and perfidious.


Harris' theme does however,  run counter to the mainstream view of Crusading. In universities, schools, the media, and most books, the Western Crusades are portrayed as a long, sorry saga, of Catholic European imperialism, greed, lust for Near Eastern wealth, and the unprovoked disruption of wonderful, peaceful, sophisticated and advanced Muslim societies, with the so-called 'sack' of Constantinople the apogee of illiterate barbarism and bloodshed. In reality the opposites are true.


The 1204 sack of Constantinople was perhaps 1/10 as 'bloody' as the Turkish assault, slaughter, pillage and rape of 1453, in which some 40.000 people were marched off into slavery and some 20.000 killed. No one was enslaved in 1204 and no more than 3.000 were killed – the fighting was over quickly and the 'Crusaders' never did slaughter anyone in the streets [though rape, idol destruction, and the theft of anything containing gold or silver was rampant, as is usual in medieval warfare]. Muslim war against Christians had already be in train for 460 years before the first Crusade entered Turkey, and over 560 years before the Crusaders breached Byzantium's walls in 1204. It is a puerile mind indeed which makes the claim that the eternal and vicious Muslim Jihad was not the originator of the Crusades.


It is also nescient to claim that the Crusades were some sort of imperialist venture. As Harris and others make clear the flow of money was one way – from West to East and no Franks migrated to settle in the Crusader states.  In fact most Crusaders left after a few weeks or months of fighting, due to a lack of money, a belief that duty was done and their sins remitted, or a desire to return to their families and home societies. There was little point in fact, to migrate from Europe to Israel or the Holy Land. Compared to Europe the Holy Land was poor and offered little in the way of attractions.


The main value of this book, is that Harris takes a realistic and pragmatic view of Byzantium through its own sources, and how the Eastern Greeks tried to 'manage' the Crusades. After their crushing annihilation in 1071 by the Turks at Manzikert, the Eastern Greeks or Romans, appealed to Western Europe for help in rolling back the Muslim tide. The Crusades followed and in 1099 Jerusalem was retaken. Yet the Byzantines never viewed the Westerners as allies. The Greeks or Romans, eyed the Latins as competitors, viewing Western power which was obviously much greater by this period than Byzantine, as a threat to the continuation of the Eastern Roman empire. So much for Christian unity in the face of the Muslim threat.


Harris relates very well the threats that the French Normans based in Sicily posed to the Byzantines, especially to Eastern Roman lands in Greece and the seaboard of Anatolia. Venice was at times both an ally and a competitor to Byzantine ambition in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Byzantines also faced threats from the Bulgars, Russians, various Turkish tribes and were marred by intra-Byzantine civil wars and claims to the throne. In the anarchic chaos and in the face of declining power, Byzantine policy became ever more tangled, corrupt and confused – an empire grasping at straws.


Harris repeatedly makes the important point that in essence and in-toto, Byzantine policy made little sense, and was the main cause of the empire falling to the Latins in 1204 [it was recovered in 1261].

“The Byzantine political elite were working within the context of a strongly defined political ideology to which all subscribed, whatever their differences in terms of faction or party.”


That policy was quite simplistic though in implementation it could be complex. The Byzantine state was weak. By the 11th century it had no standing army and no navy – it relied on paid mercenaries to do its fighting. But it did have money from trade and manufacture; and it did have an imperial reputation of wealth and power. Eastern Roman policy against its enemies was at its core one of crass simplicisme. Pay off your enemies. Divide them against each other by using gold. Hire foreigners to do your fighting for you. Make many and sundry alliances to counter-act any threats. It was the policy set of a weak and enfeebled state and it lead ineluctably, to lies, cheating, immorality and opacity:

“Duplicity was almost a measure of sophistication, a mark of superiority over the uneducated and uncultured.”


The Byzantine elite Harris reports, were not only arrogant but 'over'-educated. They were tutored in memorization of classic Greek texts, and schooled in the use of arcane rhetoric in which lies could be presented as honest facts. In other words, the system of education was not oriented towards science, discovery, investigation or robust debates and innovation. It was premised on arcana and deceit. It must have produced a wonderful collection of rich and sophisticated nitwits:

“To the modern mind, there is something faintly absurd about the conviction of the Byzantine elite that their classical education gave them all the skills they needed....”


Education can take many forms and the classical schooling found in Byzantium, was only one aspect of an educated mind.  It was not the strong foundation to conduct and manage complex political and diplomatic relationships.  

The fruits of bad policy and not very rational, clear-minded or moral leadership, would find its expression in some 200 years of conflict with the West. Byzantine policy by itself, ensured that there would be a war with Latin armies. In fact in every single Crusade, as Harris relates, we see that Byzantines or their mercenaries attacked Crusading armies; helped the Turks; and denying Latin soldiers food and supplies – all in contravention of various signed treaties. As Harris so helpfully relates, Byzantine sources reveal the depths of Eastern depravity:

“The importance of Choniates's History, however, goes far beyond its basic balance. It is from Choniates that we first discern doubts being raised inside Byzantium as to the wisdom of applying traditional Byzantine foreign policy aims and methods to crusading expeditions and to the crusader states.”


Choniates was a high ranking Byzantine leader and politician and had personal first-hand experience of the Third Crusade.

“For Choniates the message was clear. Byzantine diplomacy was a fatal mix of swaggering arrogance and abject submission, and completely unsuited to the situation in which the empire now found itself.”


In many ways the Byzantines viewed the Latins as more of a threat than the Turks. The Second Crusade was purposefully destroyed by the Greeks, when their scouts lead the Crusading army into a Turkish trap in southern Anatolia and the entire army was wiped out. This was standard Greek policy. Harass, attack, and deflect the Crusading armies as they passed through Byzantine territory. Pay Turkish mercenaries to harass or give battle to the Christians. Deny them food, or sell them poisoned food at inflated prices. Help them not.

“In order to weaken the passing crusade [the second] armies so that they would have no opportunity to attack Byzantine territory....[the emperors had] ordered attacks on their armies in the Balkans usually by Pecheneg mercenaries. There was little difference between this and paying the Turks to do the same thing in Asia Minor.”

“The promised supplies [for the Third Crusade] also failed to materialise forcing the Germans to forage for food. When the German army reached Philippopolis on 24 August 1189, news arrived that Isaac II [the Byzantine emperor], had arrested and imprisoned the ambassadors that Frederick had sent ahead to Constantinople.”


Open alliances with the Turks persisted during almost the entire duration of the Crusading period – a fact not lost in Western Europe, who were sending men and treasure to both rescue the Holy Land from Turkish occupation and in so doing, save Byzantium by defeating the Muslims. One main source of irritation for Latins was the Byzantine claim that its church was the true 'Mother Church', one that had taken on the legacy and glory of Rome and its founding Church. In other words, Byzantium expected Rome to submit its religiosity to that of the Eastern Church. Since the Latin West was so much wealthier in aggregate, stronger, more civilized in many ways, and certainly more innovative and dynamic, this absurd claim that the 'Franks' should submit their spirituality to the powers of the Eastern Orthodox church would have grated hard on the nerves and sensibilities of not only Crusaders and Popes, but simple laymen as well.

“ amount of repackaging could disguise the fundamental differences that existed between east and west over the questions of papal authority and the Filioque.” [Filioque references which church should be supreme - the Western or Eastern].


By 1203 there were over 100 years of conflict and bad blood between the Latins and Byzantines. Seen in the 'long duree' of history, an all out conflict while not inevitable, was probably unavoidable. The Greeks did their best to provoke the Latins . Venetians were expelled from Constantinople in 1171 and their property seized. Some were killed in riots. And 10 years later;

“Adronicus....During his seizure of power in 1182, he permitted a massacre of Italian residents in Constantinople...Henceforth it would inevitably be an agreement with the sultan of Syria and Egypt, Saladin, over the protectorship of the Holy deliberate and sinister machinations against the Holy Land and Jerusalem.”




Not only were the Greeks helping the Muslims and attacking Western armies. But they were expelling and killing citizens and traders living in their capital. Anti-Latin sentiment within Byzantium, appeared to be all too real to Western eyes.



As Harris confirms the attack on Constantinople in 1203 and its reduction in 1204, was an accident, generated by specific circumstances. It was indirectly generated, by Byzantine perfidy and poor policy and diplomacy.

“When the soldiers of the Fourth Crusade first attacked the walls of Constantinople in the summer of 1203, they did so at the behest of a Byzantine prince, Alexios Angelos, while the stiffest resistance they encountered came not from the Byzantines but from the western European troops in imperial service.”


The attack was motivated in part of course by Venetian ambition in the Eastern Mediterranean and the necessity for money. The Fourth Crusade owed the Venetians through a contractual agreement, a lot of money that they did not have. The easiest available source of wealth was of course resident in the Eastern capital of Christendom:

“The need for Byzantine wealth was all the greater because the Fourth Crusade had been plagued by shortage of finance from the very beginning.”


Not all the Crusaders agreed to attack Constantinople. Many left directly for the Holy Land. But even so the reality is pretty clear. If the taking of the tired, obsolete, superstitious and ill-educated Eastern Orthodox capital by Western forces had not occurred in 1204, it would have happened at some point. Harris's work makes this rather clear. The beauty of the book is that he dispenses with all of the ill-informed opinions about the 'sack' of 1204. And Harris uses Byzantine sources to prove the point.


With the advent of the Crusades and the importation of tens of thousands of resilient Frankish warriors into Asia minor and Syria, Byzantium was able to rally and by 1150, was in a much stronger position than in 1095.  However, due to bad luck, circumstances, poor diplomacy and using age old methods of bribery, political interference, burning the candle at both ends,  and viewing the Musulman as potential allies instead of the erstwhile, infidel and enemy, Byzantium was partly responsible for its own failure and the sack of 1204.  If the West and Byzantium had treated each other as brothers-in-arms, world history might be decidedly different. 


Johathan Harris, The Lost World of Byzantium

The most Christian empire in history and one of the most successful states in all of history.

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Italophile Book Reviews: The Lost World of Byzantium by Jonathan Harris

This is a very good one volume history of the vitally important, but vastly misunderstood Christian Byzantine empire which lasted 1123 years, one of the longest surviving empires in history.  The main Western theme animated by the writings of Gibbon, is that Christian Byzantium was a complex of ‘cowardice and discord’, riddled with ‘effeminate’ ‘Greeks’, dogmatic, antiquarian, too Christian and other-worldly, theologically focused, worried about ceremony and decoration when there were wars to fight and enemies to subdue, and infertile in the production of arts, science, technology and innovation.  Gibbon’s dissertation has little basis in fact, and as Harris ably points out, most of the opprobrium which is attributed to Byzantium is incorrect, with many of the criticisms the opposite of reality.


As Harris relates, history is filled with temporal empires from the Sumerians to Alexander, Attila and the ‘1000 year’ Reich.  Why then he asks, did Byzantium survive and at times, simply thrive, for 1100 years?  Is that longevity to be ascribed to a sick, weak, confused, doddering, incoherent culture and civilisation?  Is Gibbon’s analysis even remotely feasible given the long duration of one of history’s most iconic and important states?  Western Europe would not exist without Byzantium – it would be Muslim.  Harris is quite impressed with Byzantium, as anyone who studies history must be, commenting:


“Its distinctive society and ethos were formed in response to the phenomenal and constant pressure on its borders.  In the face of the challenge, military prowess alone was no longer enough.  Defeat one group in battle, and three more would arrive to take their place.  A completely new way of thinking would have to emerge that sought other ways of defusing the threat, whether by integration and settlement, or by bribery and covert action….or…by creating a visual splendour that would overawe their enemies and draw them into the fold as friends and allies.”


Byzantium was able to survive due to military, political, economic, and most importantly its cultural strength and at times hegemony, based on the fusion of Christianity and the Greco-Roman past.  As Harris relates Constantinople and Byzantium, though it waxed and waned, were beacons of Christianity and light houses for art, architecture, pageantry, wealth, technology, and the advanced accoutrements of civilisation.  The empire and its leading cities were simply wonders of the world, to those who visited them at their heights of glory.  Here in Byzantium was the melange of the ancient and the new, of the past with the future, and of Christianity with paganism.  It simply overawed all who encountered it.


This superiority of Christian-Byzantine civilisation was in essence its salvation.  Viewed as permanent, divinely protected, rich in every aspect of civilised society, educated, artistic and intelligent, the Christian Byzantie empire not only converted the Slavs, Bulgars, Russians and others to the Holy Church, but it provided a buffer state for Western Europe against the depredations of the Persians (6th, 7th centuries), the Muslim Arabs (7th, 8th centuries) and the Turks (various tribes, Seljuks, Ottomans) from the 10th to the 15th centuries.  Byzantium informed Western Europe through its culture, trade, libraries, writings, art and theological and political governance.  It also protected Europe from being conquered.  As Harris correctly states, one of the main aspects of Byzantium besides its most Christian and Orthodox culture, was its ability to use various tools to integrate and indeed subjugate once erstwhile enemies and antagonists.  This is one important element in Byzantium’s redolent and impressive history and long duration of survival.  


The most vital fact in Byzantium’s long story, is the one Gibbon hated.  Byzantium was the most Christian empire in history.  Christian culture provided Byzantium with the platform, learning and wealth to become one of the longest surviving states in history, and thanks to its Christian nature, Byzantium was in many ways, and across any vector which one can use to measure a civilisation, one of the most successful states in world history.