The Legacy of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire in Russia

The Legacy of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire in Russia, by Matfey Shaheen.

When did the Roman Empire fall? Would you be surprised to know the true date was in 1453 A.D. not long before Columbus’s voyage to the New World? …

Sometimes called the Byzantine Empire, an anachronistic term given to it by westerners to demean its Roman and Hellenistic legacy, [the Eastern Roman Empire] lasted from the foundation of Constantinople in the 4th century to its fall in the 15th century which changed Europe forever.

Many nations have desired a one thousand year reign, but this was a transethnic Empire united by Christian faith, and upon Orthodoxy its citizenship was based, a divinely mandated bond, more powerful, and superior than “blood and soil”.

The Byzantine Empire is the missing link in the story of the West, mostly ignored or forgotten.

No other empire in human history lasted as long as Byzantium. It existed for 1123 years. …

During its height, Byzantium was home to one sixth of the entire world population. The Empire stretched from Gibraltar to the Euphrates and Arabia. It encompassed the territories of modern Greece and Turkey, Israel and Egypt, Bulgaria, Serbia and Albania, Tunis, Algiers and Morocco, part of Italy, Spain, and Portugal. …

In 1204 … an army of Europeans calling themselves Crusaders, … instead of freeing the Holy Land treacherously sacked the most beautiful city in the world, [Constantinople]. Byzantine treasures were carried away in an uninterrupted flow over the course of fifty years. Hundreds of tons of precious coin alone were carried away at a time when the annual budget of the wealthiest European countries was no more than two tons of gold. …

An unprecedented flow of free money caused the Western European cities to grow wildly, and became the decisive catalyst in the development of craft, science, and the arts. The barbaric West became the civilized West only after it had taken over, stolen, destroyed, and swallowed up the Byzantine Empire.

Nationality:

Nationality problems in Byzantium really had not existed for many centuries. As the historical, lawful descendants of ancient Rome, which was destroyed by barbarians in the fifth century, the inhabitants of Byzantium called themselves Romans. In a vast empire divided into many nationalities there was one faith—Orthodox Christianity. The Byzantines literally fulfilled the Christian teaching of a new humanity living in a Divine spirit, where “there is neither Greek, nor Jew, nor Scythe,” as the Apostle Paul wrote. This hope preserved the country from the destructive storm of ethnic conflict. It was enough for any pagan or foreigner to accept the Orthodox Faith, and confirm it in deed, in order to become a full member of society. On the Byzantine throne, for example, were almost as many Armenians as there were Greeks; there were also citizens of Syrian, Arabian, Slavic, and Germanic origin. Amongst the higher ranks of government were representatives of all peoples in the Empire — the main requirements were their competence and dedication to the Orthodox Faith. This provided Byzantine civilization with incomparable cultural wealth. …

The very idea of a “nation” was actually a European concept which later in Byzantium evolved into an idea of their own national superiority (or more precisely, of that of the Greeks, around whom Byzantium had grown). Europeans lived in smaller states built upon ethnic principles; for example, France, Germanic countries, and Italian republics. National custom was good and correct for them; but the fact of the matter was that Byzantium was not an ethnic state, but rather a multi-national empire, and this was an essential difference. For one hundred years the Byzantines warred with this temptation and did not allow themselves to be broken. “We are all Romans — Orthodox citizens of the New Rome,” they proclaimed.

Sound familiar?

The demographic problem was one of the most serious problems in Byzantium. The Empire was gradually inhabited by peoples of a foreign spirit, who firmly supplanted the native Orthodox population. The country’s ethnic composition changed visibly. This was in some ways an irreversible process, for the birth rate in Byzantium was decreasing. …

The catastrophe was that the peoples who were pouring into the Empire were no longer becoming Romans, as they once had done, but remained permanently foreign, aggressive, and enemy. Now the newcomers treated Byzantium not as their new homeland, but only as potential property which should sooner or later come into their own hands.

This happened also because the Empire refused to educate the people — a concession it had made to the new, renaissance-era demagogy declaring state ideology to be a violation of the individual. However, nature abhors a vacuum. Having voluntarily renounced their thousand-year ideological function of educating and cultivating the people, the Byzantines made way for influences upon the minds and souls of their citizens; influences which were not so much a promotion of independent and free thinking as they were a form of intentional ideological aggression, aimed at destroying the foundations of state and society. …

In Byzantium, after the end of the 13th century, two parties emerged — one called for reliance upon the country’s internal strengths — to believe in them unconditionally, and to develop the country’s colossal potential. … The pro-Western party began to re-evaluate its fatherland’s history, culture, and Faith. However, instead of healthy criticism, they offered only destructive self-abnegation. Everything Western was exulted, and everything of their own was held in contempt. Byzantine history was distorted, faith and tradition were mocked, and the army was degraded. The whole of Byzantium began to be painted as a sort of universal monster.

The wealthy Byzantine younger generation no longer studied in its own country, but rather left to study abroad. The best minds of Byzantine science emigrated to the West — the state ceased to give them the proper attention. …

During the final, fatal attack on Constantinople, a brilliant metal-casting scholar, a Hungarian named Urban, offered to create for the Emperor large artillery armaments which could sweep away the Turkish troops. But the treasury was empty, and the rich of Constantinople did not give any money. Not having received payment, the insulted Urban offered his services to Sultan Mehmed. The Sultan seized the opportunity which would give him the capability to destroy the city’s invincible walls. He provided unlimited funds and began the project. Finally, the canons of Urban, the best student of the Byzantine ballistics school, decided the Empire’s fate. …

The fatal year of 1453 was approaching. In April, Sultan Mehmed [of the Turks, who were Muslims], still a very young man of twenty-one … attacked Constantinople. The Sultan was absolutely delirious with the idea of taking the Romans’ capital. … After a siege lasting many months and resisted heroically by the city’s defense forces, the Turks were able to break through the upper wall. The defense forces, frightened, turned to flight. …

Now a completely different people are living here, with different laws and morals [– they are Islamic]. The Byzantine inheritance, foreign to the invaders, was either destroyed or altered at the root. The descendents of those Greeks who were not destroyed by the conquerors were made into second class citizens in their own land, with no rights, for many long centuries.

hat-tip Stephen Neil