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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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Wednesday, May 3, 2023

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Byzantium and 'The Franks'. A complex tragedy.

If united, Constantinople would still be Christian.

by Ferdinand III



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.  


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