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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.   

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Friday, April 24, 2009

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Byzantium: The Decline and Fall by John Julius Norwich, 450 pgs, 1996.

Lessons from the end of the Eastern Roman Empire.

by Ferdinand III

The importance of the ancient Eastern Roman and Greek empire of Byzantium [330 A.D. - 1453 A.D] which at one time controlled the entire Eastern Mediterranean from the world's richest city of Constantinople, is today largely lost. Genuflections to the supposed civilisation expressed by the totality and depravity of Islam; post-modern relativity; and a hatred or immoderate distaste for White based civilisation's is the norm. As Norwich capably and lucidly demonstrates, Byzantium was of course instrumental in securing Western civilisation. 

The history of the Eastern Roman empire of Constantine is a curiously gaping hole in the Western consciousness. Byzantium is typically ignored or ridiculed as a relic of an Orthodox religious state – one that did nothing to promote ideas, knowledge, culture or help create the platform of intellectual and spiritual advancements which created the modern world. In fact most lay-people believe that Turkey was always Islamic. Few know or care that the transmission of ancient Greek and Roman knowledge came first and foremost to the West via Byzantium – not via the Arabs as the post – modern lie of incredible mendacity, would have us believe. 

Norwich's book is a long, small font, detailed read. It is not for those who don't already possess some passion for the ancient world. The glory of Byzantium and its decay, is presented in factual and well sourced detail. This is probably the best one-book work of the Byzantine era – replete with stories, anecdotes, detailed character portraits, memorable battle scenes and ruthlessly realistic interpretations. It is however, distinctly un-post modern, and likely to offend those mired in academia, Western self-loathing, or the many who bay on all fours that Islam created the modern world. That is also why the book is such a wonderful read. 

One example is the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to Mehmet II the Islamic Turkish sultan. By this point the Byzantine empire was the city itself, de-populated, hungry, without a navy and with only 9.000 men to defend over 15 miles of massive stone walls protecting the city. The total citizenry might have totaled some 50.000 men, women and children. Mediterranean trade, long disrupted and taken over by the Venetians and the Geneose, and disrupted by Muslim predations and warring, had resulted in a city suffering from poverty, run down public buildings, poor water quality, and disease. Since the Crusader sack of 1204 the fate of city was never in doubt – it was just a question of when, not if, the Byzantine world would end. Mehmet II and his 100.000 Turkish warriors had some difficulty – but not much – in investing and then destroying the city in few months - and the carnage perpetrated by the Turks once they broke into the most important Christian city in the world, was without precedent: 

“It was early morning, with the waning moon high in the sky. The siege of Constantinople was over. The walls were strewn with the dead and dying, but of living, able-bodied defenders there was scarcely a trace....By noon the streets were running red with blood. Houses were ransacked, women and children raped or impaled, churches razed, icons wrenched from their golden frames, books ripped from their silver bindings....The most hideous scenes of all, however, were enacted in the church of the Holy Wisdom [St. Sophia].....The poorer and more unattractive of the congregation were massacred on the spot; the remainder were lashed together and led off to the Turkish camps, for their captors to do with as they liked.” 

Few survived the Muslim devastation. Those who did were sold into slavery or used as sex chattel. The Turkish raped of Constantinople was one of history's great tragedies. The capital of Orthodox Christianity was gone. So too was the heir to the Greek and Roman civilisation's which had infused and organised the Byzantine empire. It was the Byzantines who through trade, religious missions and conflict with Western states, which had transmitted the learning of the ancients. It was Byzantine, building, art, public works, inventions and science, transmuted to Western sources, which had kept alive ancient learning. Like the Nestorian Christians, Greeks, and Jews in the Arab empires, the Byzantines had already extracted and kept most of the great learning and works of previous empires alive. Byzantine was, unlike the Arab and Turkish empires, an almost completely literate society. It was through trade, incessant conflict including the Venetian destruction and takeover of Constantinople in 1204, and various spiritual and trade missions that the learned Byzantines were able to disseminate ancient learning and historical legacies, to the West. 

As Norwich states there is an: “....immeasurable cultural debt that the Western world owes to a civilisation which alone preserved much of the heritage of Greek and Latin antiquity, during these dark centuries when the lights of learning in the West were almost extinguished.”

In today's deformed world of academia and media dis-information, it is of course the Muslims and Arabs who 'invented' civilisation and the modern world. The Byzantines are forgotten or unknown, yet they along with Nestorian Christians, Levantine Greeks, and Jews, were the purveyors and protectors of the ideas both rational and spiritual, which created the modern world. Byzantium was in actual fact the great fusion of three important cultures – all of which were necessary antecedents to the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, and the Reformation: “....the greatness of Byzantium lay in .... 'the Triple Fusion': that of a Roman body, a Greek mind and an oriental, mystical soul.” Without this fusion the creation of modern Europe would have been impossible.

Byzantium was also throughout its enormous history, a deeply religious society – literate, educated, curious, - but at its core the empire and its patrons and citizenry had a profound belief in the idea of God, Christian principles and the resurrection. This is one reason why moderns have difficulty understanding or accepting the great artifacts and achievements of Byzantium. Fools, follies, waste, stupidities and ineptness there was aplenty throughout the Eastern Roman Empire's history. But these were outweighed by courage, education, an appreciation of the spiritual, artistic innovation and astonishing richness, machines, inventions, trade, ideas, cultural openness and of course sheer longevity. Not many empires last 1100 years. At its core therefore Byzantium must have had great strengths to survive for so long. It is those assets which in part, helped inform Western development.

The debt owed by the modern world to the ancient Greek-Roman kingdom of the Byzantines is immense. As I wrote after reading 'Sailing from Byzantium', by Colin Wells:
“How different history would be if say the Bulgars, Serbs, Russians or Pechenegs had been converted to Catholicism or worse, Islam. Not only did the Byzantines preserve knowledge, they also improved on engineering and architectural legacies, using [much like the Romans] cement in their construction, and advanced techniques in the areas of agricultural, road building and monument creation. These influences were deeply felt by the expanding Muslim caliphates who would later incorporate Byzantine originality into their own works projects.

Byzantium's importance is aptly summed up by Well's when he states, '...But had Byzantium fallen a decade and half earlier [say 720 A.D.], the Arabs might have been able to mount a simultaneous invasion from the East, catching Europe in a pincer. The outcome might just possibly have been a Muslim Europe. Constantinople's great walls protected more than just a city, more even than just an empire. Although this card can be overplayed, Byzantium was a bulwark for Europe in the East.'”

Indeed it was. Byzantium allowed Europe to develop. It was an important, and at times, lonely outpost of Western civilisation. It negated for centuries the rise of the East and of Islam. This bulwark allowed Europe time to develop and consolidate its power. If the Byzantines had succumbed to the Arabs in the 7th or 8th century, Europe, or large tracts of it, would have been Arabicized.

Byzantine's collapse was for many reasons, an inevitability. Nevertheless its destruction is one of the greatest tragedies in history. The Turkish takeover of Constantinople and the destruction of a noble, intelligent and complicated culture did nothing to advance civilisation. In the place of Greek and Roman learning, there was erected a primitive, expansive and aggressive Islamic cult and empire – shut off from inquiry, science and spiritual tolerance and dedicated to imperialism. We see the results today in the failed Islamic states which gird the globe from North Africa to Pakistan. This might have been Europe's fate as well - if not for Byzantium.

Only post-moderns and relativists could rejoice at trading Constantinople for Istanbul.

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