Easter is coming up. I mean Orthodox Easter on April 12 and not that Popish phoniness on the fifth.
All this put me in mind of Byzantium. Bear with me as I’d like you to try a thought experiment. Close your eyes and imagine writing a history of Civilization and when you got to the High Middle Ages and needed to figure out what to do next.
Well, naturally there’s the Renaissance in the 14th Century. Well, imagine instead of doing that, you skipped over the next hundreds of years, called it the ‘Dank Ages’ and then picked up the story at the Battle of Midway in WW2 in the Pacific where the United States became the west’s undisputed power.
Would such a history be any good?
Of course not and it would be ridiculed because so many European institutions would mock it by providing mountains of unbroken chains of evidence to the contrary. The same didn’t happen after the fall of the Eastern Church and Byzantium. Byzantium had no inheriting institutions to claim its history. For example, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union inherited the Czarist Empire as well as all of its institutions, art, embassies, libraries, universities and social institutions.
Without getting too far into it, the traditional division between Antiquity and the Middle Ages is the division of Rome into Eastern and Western Empires. This happened for a lot of reasons including the power base had shifted from Rome itself to increasingly populated provinces and other municipalities, and the consequential shift in trade routes to meet new population demands, and the fact that power had shifted form the Senate to armies in the field. (It’s complicated: go look it up.) The Eastern Empire continued as Rome’s primary inheritor after being founded in 330 AD.
- The kids at their state-run schools were taught Homer and other classics.
- They called themselves Romans.
- They spoke Greek.
- Of the 5,500 written works that have survived from Ancient times, 4,500 come to us through Byzantium.
- They even had women doctors!
- Constantinople was simply referred to as ‘The City’ even as far as the Netherlands because it had no peer in the Western World.
But because of many things such as a string of leadership crises, and getting steamrolled by the newly-created Islamic religion, Constantinople’s Empire after 1,100-ish years of unbroken history ended only when the newfangled canon knocked down the Theodosian Walls, the Eastern Roman Empire had no inheritor.
So the fucking Catholics basically invented the myth that nothing happened between the division of the Empire in 476 and the removal of their competition, the Byzantines in 1453. That well-meaning autodidact Gibbon described the Byzantines as an aristocracy of no certain gender who did nothing except speak bad Greek. Well, were did all of that artwork, scholarship, gold, and those manuscripts suddenly appear from in Italy in the Renaissance?
It’s a myth. There was a massive, complex and interesting history to which we owe an incredible debt but because the Eastern Church got fragmented, the Vatican basically wrote their competitors out of the history books.
Talk about sore winners.
It’s my fear that the 21st Century will see Russia’s place in world affairs diminished beyond all measure. We rose to the fore in the 20th Century and were a factor in everyone’s calculations. Now there is only the US and they’re writing the history books.
Happy fucking Easter.
Post Scriptum: Of course, it would be helpful if Russia had some competing ideology to offer the world apart from gangsterism. I should probably work on that.