Byzantium – Lost Heritage

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After the fall of the Roman Empire, there came a difficult time of the Dark Ages for Europe , when suddenly the light of Imperium Romanum went out and a new order began to shape, with Roman Catholic doctrine as its base. New State agencies and institutions started to grow. But Rome did not actually died, and it’s light appeared again in one of its five former patriarchates – Constantinople.

The Byzantine Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire sequel, it turned out to be a new light with its capital in Constantinople, whose name comes from the Emperor Constantine. At the same time Catholic religion was born, headed by the Patriarch of Constantinople. That triggered a conflict that resulted in the rivalry of patriarchate with the Roman Catholic Pope.

But the religious rivalry was only one element. Fathers of a new Europe of the Middle Ages aspired to the heirs of the Western Roman Empire. Starting from the Frankish king named Charlemagne, which was announced by Pope an Emperor, and then, after the collapse of the Kingdom of the Franks, the separation of the future Italy, France and Germany the vision of Germany as the new Rome was born – The Holy Roman Empire. This resulted in ‘two Romes’, where the splendor of Byzantium was lit up and Western creations were embedded in the darkness of the Middle Ages.

For Europeans, Byzantium was associated with wealth, vastness of art and incomprehensible culture. Probably at the same time, both sides blamed each other for heresy because of the differences in Christian doctrine. Catholic religion itself through the influence of the Byzantium also found its place in today’s Russia, Serbia and Bulgaria.

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Old Hagia Sophia

Given the stunning architecture, icons and other art forms, according to the military, the influence of Greek civilization and Constantinople itself, which in addition to the capital, was one of the largest commercial ports, not the least bit surprising opinion of the people of that time who had the opportunity to see the city while traveling merchant whether at the time of the Crusades, for which Constantinople was the stop before throwing himself into battle with the Arabs for control in the “Holy Land”.

The immigrants from western and northern Europe found an apparently well in the empire if you mention about merchant districts of Venetians, Genoans and Pisans, or even about Varangians – the descendants of the Vikings, bodyguards of the Emperor.

Byzantium from its very beginning was involved in a fight with Islam, even if not for the mastery in areas such as Antioch, then to survive in their difficult geographical situations.

Jealousy and fairy tales about the richness of Constantinople prevailed when during the Fourth Crusade Christians to show their mercy and respect their neighbor, drowned in blood and spoiled the beautiful capital (1204 A.D.), though the purpose of the crusade was to help the Crusaders fighting in Palestine. The consequence was the breakdown of the Empire into smaller kingdoms like Empire of Nicaea, Despotate of Epirus, Latin Empire based in Constantinople and others.

When at a later time the idea of the Crusades was coming down, it might be considered that this was the beginning of the end. The capture of Acre by the Mamelukes in 1291 was the end of Crusader’s country in the “Holy Land” by which Latin Empire has become a shield against the armies of Islam. Lonely, doomed to the sword of Muhammad.

In 1453 Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and this year is considered to be an end of the Eastern Roman Empire. The fall of the city meant an open way for the Islamic invasion on Europe, which was fortunately wiped out in 1683 by the Polish King Jan III Sobieski, at the Battle of Vienna.

Most of the lands formerly included in the Byzantine Empire was changed into the Ottoman Empire. Great, known throughout the world temple and patriarch cathedral of Hagia Sophia became a mosque. The whole cultural prey, whether we are talking about architecture, painting, writing or tradition, fell into the hands of the Turks. Constantinople was renamed to Istanbul, which today is the greatest city of Turkey.

I think the loss of this great heritage is one of the saddest moments in the history of White People, like flames in the Library of Alexandria. Formerly a light in the darkness of the Middle Ages, now owned by ethnically and culturally alien item.

Source: Byzantium: The surprising life of a medieval empire, Judith Herrin


by Brother Bart, TCM Poland