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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.   


Medieval/Early Modern Christianity - Recent Articles

Christian Byzantium and Greek Civilisation

Europe would not have existed without the Christian empire of Byzantium

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The Fall of Constantinople & the Byzantine Empire - HubPages


Not only did Christian Byzantium save Europe from the Mahometan Jihad, acting as the protective shield for the West, or the remaining rump of the former Roman empire, it also salvaged ancient Greek philosophy, science and literature.  The Byzantine ‘Renaissance’ from the 9th to 11th centuries, was similar to the Carolingian in Francia during the 9th century, but deeper, broader and more extensively premised on ‘classical’ Greek history and sources.  Universities were developed in Constantinople during the 6th century, predating ‘Western’ institutions by some 500 years.  Byzantine scholars had long studied the ancient Greeks and reconciled if not incorporated many of their ideas into Christian theology.


The Christian Byzantines or ‘Eastern Romans’ fully embraced their Hellenistic past and culture.  World history would be much different if they had not.  Greek culture and the Koine Greek language suffused and enthused Byzantian society and its development, transmitting ancient Greek ideas and influences to the world.  Copies of ancients were transcribed and stored in massive libraries and archives. 


The largest library in ancient history sat in the Christian Greek city of Alexandria – burned down by the Mahometans in 641 A.D.  Thousands of tonnes of priceless artefacts were destroyed by the Jihad.  Who knows what wisdom, science and philosophy were annihilated in this book burning.  Entirely new perspectives on Christian Byzantium and ancient Greek and Roman history were lost.


Byzantine literature represented a continuation of ancient Greek traditions, replicating the styles of Homer, Lucian and Herodotus.  Byzantine monks collected, translated and copied Greek language texts and classical literature safeguarding them for posterity.  These preserved works were the basis for the Western ‘Renaissance’ of the 15th century, an event fuelled by Greek refugees fleeing the Mahometan Jihad, who ended up in Italy with their treasures and libraries.


John of Damascus in the 8th century wrote the ‘Dialectica’, which commented on Aristotle’s ‘Prior Analytics’ and deductive reasoning.  He used this format in the great ‘iconoclasm’ debate of the 8th century.  If certain principles are known to be factual we can make deductions from that premise.  In the 9th century Plotinus the Patriarach of Constantinople wrote ‘Amphilocia’ which included a commentary on Aristotle’s ‘Categories’ and concepts of substances and predication.  The 11th century monk Psellos reintroduced Plato with analysis and commentary, aligning Platonic thought with Christian theology. 


Art1204 early christian & byzantine art


Medicine, much more advanced than the ancient Greek and the ideas of Galen, also flourished in Constantinople, eventually transferred to the West through merchants and the Crusades.  Architecture and new engineering practices abounded during the 1000 years of Byzantine existence.  The Haggia Sophia, built in the 6th century, was the largest dome ever built and was only imitated and surpassed in Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. 


Roman water works, aqueducts, baths, sewers and fountains providing fresh water dominated major Byzantine cities by 900 A.D.  Such public works did not exist in the West until the 19th century.  Justinian’s legal codex compiled in the 6th century, is the basis for Western canon and civil law and directly informs today legal corpus in Western states.  Sundry inventions from the knife and fork, to gunpowder, military inventions, advance art, chemistry, advanced mathematics and governmental organisation, flowed from Byzantium to the West.


The cultural impact of Byzantium on European history was enormous.  It is not an exaggeration to state that the West would not have existed without Christian Byzantium. 




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. 


Byzantium and the end of glory

John Julius Norwich and 'Byzantium, the Apogee'

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Alexius I Comnenus | Byzantine emperor | Britannicajohn julius norwich byzantium apogee - Google Search | Magical book ...

(Alexius Comnenus)


John Julius Norwich’s very detailed and well written narrative entitled ‘Byzantium, the Apogee’ is a great primer for any who are interested in the most Christian, and for nigh on 1000 years, the world’s wealthiest and most sophisticated empire.  As Norwich relates, the battle of Manzikert on August 26, 1071 AD, was unquestionably,


“…the greatest disaster suffered by the Empire of Byzantium in the seven and half centuries of its existence.  The humiliation was bad enough, the performance of the imperial army having been characterised by a combination of treachery, panic and ignominious flight; the fate of the Emperor, too, was unparalleled since the capture of Valerian I by the Persian King Shapur I in AD 260….the real tragedy lay not in the battle itself but in its appalling epilogue.  Had Romanus Diogenes been permitted to retain his throne, all would have been well…”


The Musulman Seljuk Turk annihilation of Romanus and the largely mercenary armies of Byzantium at Manzikert, denuded the Christian empire of valuable and arable land, which provide men for the armies, taxes for the state and food for Constantinople.  The Musulman Sultan was more focussed on conquering Fatimid Shia Egypt than in eradicating Byzantium.  He took Romanus prisoner and on very lenient terms, without demanding more land or excessive ransom, allowed him to return to Constantinople, assuming that his northern border would now be secured and he could assault and reduce the Fatimid Caliphate.  Romanus never regained the throne, losing it to the usurper Michael VII, who blinded the former emperor, and imprisoned him in a monastery, where he died 2 years later.  One of the first acts of Michael VII was to repudiate the treaty between Romanus and the Seljuks. 


The abrogation of the lenient treaty meant that by 1080, the Turks had conquered wide swathes of Anatolia, some 30.000 square miles according to Norwich, renamed the Sultanate of Rum (Eastern Rome).  In a short period of time Byzantium had lost half its manpower and a considerable portion of its grain output.  The court intrigues in Constantinople, the persona ambition, the smug ‘intellectualism’ of the inner circle, led to disastrous and quite ignorant decisions.  The empire did nothing to obstruct the flood of Muslim Turks over once Christian territory, with wealthy cities, trade routes and valuable farmland given up with nary a fight.  The magnificent achievements of Basil II or the Bulgar slayer, in extending Byzantine control over the Balkans and to the Danube were also crumbling away due to ineptitude and corruption.  The empire was seeing itself torn from the south and from the north.


Inflation and economic malaise followed political and military turmoil and tumult.  The standard gold coin lost 25% of its value in a decade, with Emperor Michael VII nicknamed ‘Minus-a-quarter’.  A weak and feckless leader, Michael VII allowed the government to be run by a corrupt eunuch from his inner circle, one Nicephoritzes, who promptly continued the great centralisation of authority.  Corn and grain trade became government monopolies, which predictably became disasters.  The socialisation of key agricultural output created shortages, high prices and poor quality.  The supply of grain dropped as the landowners were squeezed by high taxation and reduced prices and profits, whilst consumers saw their price of basic bread rise sharply.  Inflation simply accelerated.


As with all flailing and failing empires, civil war followed and hollowed out a lost decade after Manzikert.  It was a mixture of ‘the anarchy’ in the England (1138-1153) and the War of the Roses (1455-1485).  It ended with the rise of a young, dynamic and successful military commander to the throne, one Alexius Comnenus.  He gave the empire 30 years of solid leadership but even his skills and acumen could not repair the damage of Manzikert and the lost years from 1025 and the death of Basil II, to 1080.  As Norwich states, ‘But he could, and did, restore to Byzantium its reputation and its good name among nations, thus preparing it to play its part in the great drama that was to begin to unfold even before the end of that turbulent century: the Crusades’.


The fate of Byzantium leads to one of the great ‘what if’ questions of history.  What if after 1025, the leadership of the Christian Byzantine leadership had been as intelligent, skilful, ruthless and militarily bold and capable as Basil II, or Alexius Comnenus?  It is unlikely that Manzikert would have occurred, and improbable that the Muslim Turks would have swept through Anatolia and beyond.  It is highly likely that modern day Turkey would be Christian, and Istanbul unknown and still called by its rightful name – Constantinople.