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Western Civilisation

Until the advent of materialism and 19th c. dogma, Western Civilisation was  superior to anything Islam had developed.  Islam has not aided in the development of the modern world; in fact civilisation has only been created in spite of Islam.  Proof of this resides in the 'modern' world and the unending political-economic and spiritual poverty of Muslim states and regions.  Squatting on richer civilisations is not 'progress'.  Islam is pagan, totalitarian, and irrational.   

Archive - May 2023

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

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

Bookmark and Share | Byzantium | 9780141031026 | Judith Herrin | Boeken


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 themes 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 anti-Christian imperialist 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.

A complicated relationship.

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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. 


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. 


History of the Byzantine Empire, Sir Charles Oman, 272 pages, 2018

If Byzantium did not exist there would be no Europe.

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History of the Byzantine Empire by [Charles Oman] 

Sir Charles Oman was a Victorian writer of prodigious output and talent.  His books are quite ‘Victorian’ and thus a pleasure to read, devoid as they are, of the current ‘modern world’s’ madness of relativity, diversity, inclusivity and ‘hurt feelings’.  He has written extensively on the middle ages, the peninsula war of the early 19th century against Napoleon and the ‘art’ of war in general.  His works are always well researched and reveal a broad knowledge, detail and clearly stated viewpoints, which even if the reader may not agree with, are at least baldly presented and do not suffer from ‘nuances’, or ‘complications’. 


Westerners would do well to read this and other works on Byzantium each of which will offer a slightly different viewpoint but most agreeing that it was essential to the survival of European Christendom, without which, there is no modern world.  You don’t necessarily have to believe Norwich that the West was responsible for the collapse of the Eastern Byzantine empire (it played a role, but was not the cause of its demise), or others who believe that it was ‘oriental’ and doomed to failure (it was Christian and not oriental).  Most surveyors of Byzantium, even those who loathe Christianity though they enjoy the fruits of its civilisation, come away with a deep regard for the accomplishments of an empire which last from 330 AD to 1453 AD, the longest lasting empire in history.  Even slavery as Oman documents was greatly modified and affected:


Slavery was also profoundly affected by the teaching of the Church. The ancient world, save a few philosophers, had regarded the slave with such contempt that he was hardly reckoned a moral being or conceived to have rights or virtues. Christianity taught that he was a man with an immortal soul, no less than his own master, and bade slaves and freemen meet on terms of perfect equality around the baptismal font and before the sacred table. It was from the first taught that the man who manumitted his slaves earned the approval of heaven, and all occasions of rejoicing, public and private, were fitly commemorated by the liberation of deserving individuals. Though slavery was not extinguished for centuries, its evils were immensely modified; Justinian’s (6th c.) legislation shows that by his time public opinion had condemned the characteristic evils of ancient slavery: he permitted the intermarriage of slaves and free persons, stipulating only for the consent of the owner of the servile partner in the wedlock. He declared the children of such mixed marriages free, and he made the prostitution of a slave by a master a criminal offence. Hereditary slavery became almost unknown….


How many today know the above?  Few.  The entire moral, legal and professional outlook including that of science and math, was vastly improved and deepened by Christianity.


Beyond the above benefits, as a commentary we can say rather obviously that the fast imploding, modern, quite demoralised and demented Western Civilisation owes its very existence in many ways, to the Orthodox Christian empire of Byzantium.  The import of the Eastern Roman-Greek-Christian empire can be summarised quite simply:  if Byzantium did not exist than the Arab Muslims, or even more likely, the Muslim Turks (Seljuks or Ottomans), would have conquered most of Europe


It really is quite as straightforward as that.  Add in the cultural ‘enrichment’ offered by Byzantine to the West including: early universities (8th century onwards), libraries of classical writing and philosophy, maginificent and glorious art, a legal codex which forms the basis of modern legal systems, the extravagance and ceremony of King-or-Emperor-Empress-ship, military technology, sundry inventions for ordinary life, the early form of feudal organisation to protect its borders (often used as a pejorative against the middle ages, but it was the only construction that was sensible at the time), the nexus of trade and capital networks, massive and innovative engineering and building works including the Hagia Sophia and of course its pious and comprehensive Christianity which converted the Balkans, Bulgaria, and most importantly Russia to the true faith.


Oman covers most of these facts and the vital nature of this Christian empire, as it sought to survive the onslaughts of pagan nomads from the Huns, Avars, Magyars, Pechenegs, Goths, Slavs, Russians or Vikings and others, to Persians, Arabs, Turks and the catastrophe rendered to world civilisation by the endless Muslim Jihad, now in the dark ignorance of our modern dark ages, ascribed to, and blamed on the Christians who are somehow cited as the impetus and mainspring of unrelenting evil.  Blame the victim it is called and is routinely done by the mendacious, evil and stupid.


The history of Byzantium is complex and quite byzantine.  You need to have a materials at hand and a transcriber to understand the various Emperors, reigns, families, children, alliances, coups and counter-coups, historical events and sundry details of every age.  It is hard work to plough through.  Oman captures most of this quite well, and highlights some important facts given below.


Justinian I as Louis XIV

Justinian I of the 6th century tried to reconstitute the entire Roman empire by embarking on ill-fated, and quite pointless wars in Italy and North Africa.  He is the creator of great works including the Hagia Sophia.  But he also bankrupted the empire.


In the extent of his conquests and the magnificence of his public works, he was incomparably the greatest of the emperors who reigned at Constantinople. But the greatness was purely personal: he left the empire weaker in resources, if broader in provinces, than he found it. Of all the great sovereigns of history he may be most fairly compared with Louis XIV. of France; but it may be remembered to his credit in the comparison that Louis has nothing to set against Justinian’s great legal work—the compilation of the Pandects and Institutes, and that Justinian’s private life, unlike that of the Frenchman, was strict even to austerity. All night long, we read, he sat alone over his State papers in his cabinet, or paced the dark halls in deep thought. His sleepless vigilance so struck his subjects that the strangest legends became current even in his life-time: his enemies whispered that he was no mere man, but an evil spirit that required no rest. One grotesque tale even said that the Emperor had been seen long after midnight traversing the corridors of his palace—without his head…..


The grinding taxation of Justinian’s reign bore fruit in the permanent impoverishment of the provinces: his successors were never able to raise such a revenue again. Here again Justinian may well be compared to Louis XIV.



Justinian’s reign, of overreach, massive taxes and burdens carried an awful price which lasted for some 3 generations and this impoverishment would prove decisive.  In the early 7th century, the Muslim Jihad issued forth in all its pestilential madness in 634 AD to conquer the world.  For some 20 years before this onslaught, it was the Persians who attempted to destroy the Eastern Christian empire.  They enacted huge slaughter and terror, long since forgotten of course in the ‘West’.  This long war plus religious schisms and civil conflict within the Byzantine empire set the stage for the rapid Arab-Muslim conquests of the 630s and 40s. 


The great town of Damascus fell into his (Chosroes the Persian King) hands; but worse was to come. In 614 the Persian army appeared before the holy city of Jerusalem, took it after a short resistance, and occupied it with a garrison. But the populace rose and slaughtered the Persian troops when Shahrbarz had departed with his main army. This brought him back in wrath: he stormed the city and put 90,000 Christians to the sword, only sparing the Jewish inhabitants. Zacharias, Patriarch of Jerusalem, was carried into captivity, and with him went what all Christians then regarded as the most precious thing in the world—the wood of the “True Cross.” Helena, the mother of Constantine, had dug the relic up, according to the well-known legend, on Mount Moriah, and built for it a splendid shrine. Now Shahrbarz desecrated the church and took off the “True Cross” to Persia.


The horror and rage roused by the loss of the “True Cross” and the blasphemies of King Chosroës brought about the first real outburst of national feeling that we meet in the history of the Eastern Empire.


It was felt that the fate of Christendom hung in the balance, and that all, from highest to lowest, were bound to make one great effort to beat back the fire-worshipping Persians from Palestine, and recover the Holy Places. The Emperor vowed that he would take the field at the head of the army—a thing most unprecedented, for since the death of Theodosius I., in 395, no Caesar had ever gone out in person to war. The Church came forward in the most noble way—at the instance of the Patriarch Sergius all the churches of Constantinople sent their treasures and ornaments to the mint to be coined down, and serve as a great loan to the state, which was to be repaid when the Persians should have been conquered.


Heraclius and the Crusade against the Persians.


This expedition of Heraclius was in spirit the first of the Crusades. It was the first war that the Roman Empire had ever undertaken in a spirit of religious enthusiasm, for it was to no mere political end that the Emperor and his people looked forward. … Heraclius made no less than six campaigns (a.d. 622-27) in his gallant and successful attempt to save the half-ruined empire. He won great and well-deserved fame, and his name would be reckoned among the foremost of the world’s warrior-kings if it had not been for the misfortunes which afterwards fell on him in his old age.


….(after annihilating the Persians) … on the condition that every inch of Roman territory should be evacuated, all Roman captives freed, a war indemnity paid, and the spoils of Jerusalem, including the “True Cross,” faithfully restored. Chosroes consented with alacrity, and in March, 628, a glorious peace ended the twenty-six years of the Persian war.


This was, perhaps, the greatest triumph that any emperor ever won. Heraclius had surpassed the eastern achievements of Trajan and Severus, and led his troops further east than any Roman general had ever penetrated. His task, too, had been the hardest ever imposed on an emperor; none of his predecessors had ever started to war with his very capital beleaguered and with three-fourths of his provinces in the hands of the enemy.



After this glorious victory against the pagan Persians it seemed that the Byzantine empire was safe.  But just a few short years later, the Arab Muslims swarmed into the Levant and Syria, feasting on a reduced and tired army, a fatigued and in some cases depopulated region, and an empire beset with internal convulsions.


The moment of the Saracen invasion was chosen most unhappily for Heraclius. He had just paid off the enormous debt that he had contracted to the Church, and to do so had not only drained the treasury but imposed some new and unwise taxes on the harassed provincials, and disbanded many of his veterans for the sake of economySyria and Egypt, after spending twelve and ten years respectively under the Persian yoke, had not yet got back into their old organization. Both countries were much distracted with religious troubles; the heretical sects of the Monophysites and Jacobites who swarmed within their boundaries had lifted up their heads under the Persian rule, being relieved from the governmental repression that had hitherto been their lot. They seem to have constituted an actual majority of the population, and bitterly resented the endeavours of Heraclius to enforce orthodoxy in the reconquered provinces. 


Their discontent was so bitter that during the Saracen invasion they stood aside and refused to help the imperial armies, or even on occasion aided the alien enemy.


After the defeat at Yarmuk in 636 AD, the Byzantines promptly lost Syria, the Levant and by 642 most of Egypt and Libya.  The granary of the empire, Egypt was gone, the great port of Alexandria, its massive library burnt to the ground by the Muslim fanatics, now in the hands of a raging enemy, manpower, taxation, trade all reduced, neutered or lost.  In 673 AD the Byzantines fought off a massive Arab Muslim attack on Constantinople itself, which largely saved Europe.  This feat would be repeated in 717 AD. 


673 the Caliph made ready an expedition, the like of which had never yet been undertaken by the Saracens. A great fleet and land army started from Syria to undertake the siege of Constantinople itself, an enterprise which the Moslems had not yet attempted. It was headed by the general Abderrahman, and accompanied by Yezid, the Caliph’s son and heir. The fleet beat the imperial navy off the sea, forced the passage of the Dardanelles, and took Cyzicus. Using that city as its base, it proceeded to blockade the Bosphorus.


The great glory of Constantine IV. is that he withstood, defeated, and drove away the mighty armament of Moawiah. For four years the investment of Constantinople lingered on, and the stubborn resistance of the garrison seemed unable to do more than stave off the evil day. But the happy invention of fire-tubes for squirting inflammable liquids (probably the famous “Greek-fire” of which we first hear at this time), gave the Emperor’s fleet the superiority in a decisive naval battle. At the same time a great victory was won on land and thirty thousand Arabs slain. Abderrahman had fallen during the siege, and his successors had to lead back the mere wrecks of a fleet and army to the disheartened Caliph.


The Arab Muslims tried again in 717 and 18.


In August, 717, only five months after his coronation, the Isaurian saw the vessels of the Saracens sailing up the Propontis, while their army had crossed into Thrace and was approaching the city from the western side. Moslemah caused his troops to build a line of circumvallation from the sea to the Golden Horn, cutting Constantinople off from all communication with Thrace, while Suleiman blocked the southern exit of the Bosphorus, and tried to close it on the northern side also, so as to prevent any supplies coming by water from the Euxine.


The lightly clad Orientals could not stand the weather, and died off like flies of dysentery and cold. The vizier Suleiman was among those who perished. Meanwhile the Byzantines suffered little, being covered by roofs all the winter. When next spring came round Moslemah would have had to raise the siege if he had not been heavily reinforced both by sea and land. A fleet of reserve arrived from Egypt, and a large army came up from Tarsus and occupied the Asiatic shores of the Bosphorus.


Moslemah got back to Tarsus with only thirty thousand men at his back, out of more than a hundred thousand who had started with him or come to him as reinforcements. The fleet fared even worse: it was caught by a tempest in the Aegean, and so fearfully shattered that it is said that only five vessels out of the whole Armada got back to Syria unharmed. Thus ended the last great endeavour of the Saracen to destroy Constantinople.


Leo III the Emperor of Byzantium saved not just the Eastern Christian empire, but Europe.


To Leo, far more than to his contemporary the Frank Charles Martel, is the delivery of Christendom from the Moslem danger to be attributed. Charles turned back a plundering horde sent out from an outlying province of the Caliphate. Leo repulsed the grand-army of the Saracens, raised from the whole of their eastern realms, and commanded by the brother of their monarch.


Today of course most of the media-educated saturated Western populace denounce Christianity, embrace the ‘wonders’ of the Musulman cult and profess themselves ‘rationalists’.  It should be noted that none of these devoted acolytes of the relativity cult would live or thrive in a Moslem state.  The sex slavery, the plundering, the pillage, the pulling down of churches, monasteries, libraries, engineering works and the utter destruction of industry and agriculture is feted as a golden age, the age of light in the dark age of Christian superstition.  The idiocy of such beliefs simply astounds.  No Christianity, no modern world. No Byzantine empire, no Europe. 

Byzantium and 'The Franks'. A complex tragedy.

If united, Constantinople would still be Christian.

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1204: Le Siège de Constantinople - Encyclopédie de l'Histoire du Monde


(Sack of Constantinople, 1204).



Western Civilisation owes a lot to the Byzantine empire, the most Christian and pious state in history.  Art, technology, the sciences, universities with the first existing during the 9th century in Constantinople, literacy, a huge corpus of ancient pagan thought, continuation of Greek and Roman philosophies and ideas, the complexity and accounting around extended trade, heavy calvary and the attendant technology and metallurgy, social organisation, vast engineering works and advances, public spectacles and baths; and not the least a deep religious piety and understanding, using reason and logical arguments to understand faith. 

In short, the very foundations of Western civilisation were in part built on Byzantium.  The Renaissance for example occurred after 1453 and the Musulman annexation of Constantinople.  The exodus before 1450 of Orthodox Christian Byzantines to Italy provided the nucleus and energy of this engineering and scientific boom for the 15th century and beyond.  The wealth of Venice, Genoa and Pisa, was largely accrued thanks to Byzantium and often at her expense.  The very existence of Christian Europe itself was largely due to the Byzantine buffer state keeping the Mahometan at bay and providing a nexus of Christian opposition to the Ottomans. 

Byzantium is rarely pursued by those interested in medieval affairs.  They tend to the bigoted, myopic and incorrect assessments of Gibbon, who blamed Christians and the feminising effects of advanced culture for the Roman world’s decline.  There is not a single shred of evidence or common sense to support that assertion.  The debt owed by the fast-declining and imploding West to the ‘East’ is substantial.  Many good books exist which outline in different ways this credit. 

Some excellent books on Byzantium include Charles Oman’s ‘History of the Byzantine Empire’, Jonathan Harris’ ‘Lost World of Byzantium’ and , John Julius Norwich’s indefatigably long and detailed trilogy ‘Byzantium’ running to a vast number of very detailed pages.  Oman and Harris provide superb single volume accounts of Byzantium’s complex history from 330 AD or so, to 1453, the longest surviving empire in history.  Norwich’s account is incredibly forensic and well researched and will take a good long time to plough through.  All authors take a slightly different view of Byzantium and its relationship with the Western world.  But all agree that the impact on Western Europe was considerable indeed.  Constantinople was of course the greatest city in the world for 1000 years, the heart of Christendom, the locus of east-west trade, the entrepot of art, academies, libraries and science, the great generator of wealth and prestige.  Westerners who visited Constantinople at its height were overwhelmed by its beauty, its size, its churches including the largest structure in the world for a millennium the Hagia Sophia, its sophisticated political system and even its machines with mechanical devices impressing court visitors in the forms of roaring lions, chirping birds and gliding thrones. 

The relationship between the ‘Franks’ or Westerners and the Byzantines was complex.  It covered trade, religion, politics, and family dynasties.  Norwich in general takes the view that the Western states, especially the Franks and Normans were instrumental in Byzantium’s destruction.  The 4th Crusade which was redirected at the behest of Venice to take and sack Constantinople the most obvious example.  The Frankish territory conquered during the first Crusade, much of it formerly Byzantine territory, effectively reduced the empire in size, manpower and taxable income.  Venice, Genoa and Pisa dominated the mercantile trade and Venice especially was in effect Byzantium’s navy from the 10th century onwards.  The Norman 11th and 12th century wars on Byzantium in Greece and the Balkans also effectively impaired and degenerated the Orthodox state.  The constant religious conflicts exacerbated the military and political, with the final schism between Rome and the Eastern Church realised in 1054.

While all of this is true and aptly elaborated by Norwich, Oman and Harris and many others take a slightly different view.  The Franks or Westerners for more than 150 years were the sole fighting men and guarantors of the Byzantines dating from the early 11th century to beyond the Latin takeover of the empire (1204-1259) and even into the 14th century.  The Frankish crusades bought Byzantium its very life, and by 1150 the eastern empire was in a recrudescence, an efflorescence of wealth and peace thanks to the Frankish takeover of Syria and the Levant, pushing the Musulmans away from Byzantine’s borders. 

The eastern empire was also crass and hypocritical doing nothing to help the Crusades and even forming alliances with the Musulmans, viewing the Franks with as much distrust as they did the Infidel.  It is said with some evidence that the Byzantines helped the Musulman Turks destroy the 2nd crusade in Anatolia.  This duplicity bought them no favours with the Franks who could see little point in conquering territory in the East and handing it back to the Byzantines who had done nothing to aid in its recovery.  In the late 12th century there were pogroms and massacres (1187) in Constantinople of Venetians, Genoese and Pisans, due mostly to a widespread hatred of Western domination of trade and commerce.  The Franks naturally viewed all of this as simply an example of the effete, weak, incapable and mendacious character of the Eastern Greeks, who were too besotted with wealth and ease to protect their own empire or behave properly and help fellow Christians against the Infidel or respect trade, commercial and political agreements.  In this vein the sack of Constantinople in 1204 seems rather inevitable if for nothing else as a reprisal for the murders of innocent traders and the duplicity in helping the Mahometan during the Crusades. 

The relationship between the Eastern Greeks and the Western ‘Franks’ was thus very complicated.  The fact that there were flows of trade, ideas, culture and art and technology is indisputable.  The two Christian spheres of power had many bonds to unite them as well as many fences and walls to divide them.  Both viewed each other as ‘schismatic’ allowing the unchristian ideal of warring against a fellow believer to be conducted in ‘good conscience’.  A tragedy of history is that Byzantium’s eventual demise to the Musulmans did not need to happen.  If the Franks and the Greeks could have found a way to cooperate, their united strength would have most likely seen off the Turks and Ottomans.  The fact that they could not, and did not view the Infidel as infinitely worse than each other, is a monumental calamity.  If they had sought to reason and ally with each other, Constantinople would still be Christian.