Bloody Shovel 3

We will drown and nobody shall save us

Posts tagged as: byzantium

Why Christians lose

Everybody in the blogosphere writes reviews of books by modern economists or academics, producing a lively discussion on the topics on vogue. That's also how people like Yglesias or Tyler Cowen get good money also. Well I'm not going to participate in that, and I'm not reading any of these trendy books, in part because my fellow bloggers have done all the digestion necessary for me to know what the book is about without contributing to their chalupas eating budget.

All this doesn't mean that I don't read any books at all. It's that what I read doesn't usually interest anyone else. But to hell with it, I've got a blog and I'm gonna do a book review too.

I just finished reading the 1971 book, The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century, by Speros Vryonis Jr.

The Byzantine Empire is one of the most interesting polities in human history, for many reasons. For one, it was the Roman Empire! Or so they called themselves, Romania. It was a Christian bureaucratic theocracy in a time where most of Europe was divided in tiny fiefdoms by uncouth German knights. Humans generally have a fascination for continuity, and Byzantium was a miracle of continuity in a world of violent upheaval. It survived the Goths, the Slavs, the Bulgars. Even the Arabs, although they did do a lot...

Constantinople's suicide

I apologise for the frivolous intermede, and now continue with more serious matters.

Following up with the first post, I'll explain how big, rich and important Anatolia (Asia Minor) was for the Empire, and how the Empire basically let the Turks in by sheer incompetence.

The first chapter in the book is dedicated to bust the myth that Asia Minor wasn't Greek to begin with. It's been written often that the loss of Asia Minor was analogue to that of Syria or Egypt: the people were ethnically distinct from their rulers, and as a result didn't care being ruled by the Turks. Vryonis asserts with strong evidence that the population of Asia Minor, if originally distinct, had long been Hellenised, and by the 6th century was majority Greek speaking, Orthodox Christian up to Cappadocia (up to Sebasteia, modern Sivas). Further east the Syrian, Armenian or Kurdish element was more prevalent. Asia Minor had been spared the multiple invasions that Greece had suffered, such as the Germanic and Slavic invasions in the 5th and 6th centuries. Besides some Arab raids after the rise of the Caliphate, Asia Minor had enjoyed a long peace, and was by far the richest part of the Byzantine Empire.

It also was the "spiritual reservoir"(Vryonis' words) of the Empire. Asia Minor was one of the earliest areas to be Christianised, and was "strewn with sanctuaries and cults of numerous saints"...

Where did all the Christians go?

So in the last post we saw how the Byzantine Empire thought that playing a soap opera style family feud was more important than the lives of 10 million Greek Christians in Asia Minor.

Vyronis tells how this crushing defeat woke up all the Greek nation to the danger of the Muslim Turks:

The strife between the generals and bureaucrats not only did not abate, but the very appearance of the Turks in Anatolia seemed to add a certain zest to the struggle as each side strove to outdo the other in purchasing Turkish military aid in a quest for power. This graphically illustrates how narrow and selfish political considerations outweighed all other factors, the Turkish danger included. By this time the true nature of the Turkish menace was apparent to all, to both bureaucrats and generals, but the desire for the imperial crown was overpowering.

Oh.  But the infighting topic is already getting boring, so let's talk about the new boss: the Turks.

I remember reading some years ago some smartass claiming that the Turkish conquest was a good thing, because the Byzantines had double taxes to pay for State and Church, and Muslims have it more streamlined. Yeah he really said so. Of course when one just sees the maps changing colors it doesn't seem like the change was more than just one boss going out and a new boss coming in. The old story of how feudal wars were a trivial business because...

The Byzantine Cognitive Elite

One of the funniest chapters of Vyronis' book tells how the Byzantine intelligentsia coped with the loss of the empire. The Middle Ages were the golden age of religion; everything was understood in terms of God and scripture, all matters big and small were referred to the local priest or bishop, which would use their theological training to explain to the flock how anything, from the local disease which decimated a village's livestock, to an earthquake that devastated a whole area, it was all God's will, chastening the people for their sins.

Well if an earthquake is a proof of God's wrath, the Turkish invasion surely meant God was really really pissed. How did the theologians deal with that? Muslims were as likely as Christians, if not more so, to credit God for their victories, and they surely seemed to have the upper hand in the God's with us business. So what was a Constantinople intellectual supposed to do? Accept God's message and convert? Hell no. People don't spend decades analysing the most intricate minutiae about the relation of the Father and the Son, the double nature of Christ, or the surface area of angels and pins, just to throw it all away and get in the business of hadith reciting. There's already enough competition there already anyway.

So Christian intellectuals chose to fight Islam in the realm of ideas. One funny thing about Muslims that is little acknowledged today, is that the people really think their religion is true, and do enjoy ta...