by Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D.
πάνδεινα κακὰ πέπονθεν ἡ Ῥωμανία ὑπὸ τῶν Ἀράβων μέχρι τοῦ νῦν.
All terrible evils has Romania suffered from the Arabs even until now.
Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-959 AD) quoting the Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor (c.815) [De Administrando Imperio, Greek text edited by Gy. Moravcsik, Dumbarton Oaks Texts, 1967, 2008, p.94]
Ἡ Ῥωμανία πῶς σοι φαίνεται;
Στήκει ὡς τὸ ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς ἢ ἠλαττώθη;
How does Romania look to you?
Does it stand as from the beginning, or has it diminished?
Doctrina Jacobi nuper baptizati, Διδασκαλία Ἰακώβου νεοβαπτίστου, 634 AD, A.H.M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602 [The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986, p. 316, translation modified], Greek text, "Doctrina Jacobi Nuper Baptizati," Édition et traduction par Vincent Déroche, Travaux et Mémoires, 11 [Collège de France Centre de Recherche d'Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance, De Boccard, Paris, 1991, p.167, see]
Ὑμεῖς οὐχὶ Ῥωμαῖοι, ἀλλὰ Λαγούβαρδοι ἐστέ.
Vos non Romani, sed Longobardi estis!
You are not Romans, but Lombards!
The Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas to Liutprand of Cremona (c.920-972), who represents the "Roman" Emperor Otto I, 968 AD; "Embassy," XII, The Complete Works of Liudprand of Cremona, translated by Paolo Squatriti [The Catholic Press of America, 2007, p.246]; Latin text, "Liudprandi Legatio," Die Werke Liudprands von Cremona, herausgeben von Joseph Becker [Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum, Hahnsche Buchhandlung, Hannover und Leipzig, 1915, p.182; Reprint, University of Michigan Libraries, 2012]; Liutprand, of course, was himself the Lombard, not the Saxon Otto; the Greek version here is a speculative back-translation from the Latin of Liutprand.
We have knowingly reared a whole generation in ignorance of history, literature, religion, morality. "They have sown the wind, and shall reap the whirlwind." (Hosea 8:7.)
David Gelernter, America-Lite, How Imperial Academia Dismantled our Culture (and Ushered In the Obamacrats) [Encounter Books, 2012, p.152]
At this site there are several pages dealing with the history of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. In particular, there is an extensive essay on related issues, "Decadence, Rome and Romania, the Emperors Who Weren't, and Other Reflections on Roman History." This is certainly enough material for a book, which I have been urged to write.
Because of that, in 2016 I wrote up a prospectus for a book, which I sent to Viking Press. I picked Viking because they had published a book, Justinian’s Flea, Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe, by William Rosen , which now seems to have acquired a new subtitle, The First Great Plague and the End of the Rome Empire. This book had cited my own Rome and Romania page in an endnote [#36, p.331]. Mr. Rosen himself (d.2016) was not an academic historian but an executive in publishing, who began to write non-fiction on various subjects, living near where I do now, in Princeton, New Jersey. As I believe is customary in such matters, Viking ignored my letter.
I am not an academic historian either, but a retired academic philosopher. I have also heard a bit about the publishing business, where, even with a manuscript in hand, getting a hearing with a publisher about a book requires some kind of connection, an agent, or the Old Boy Net. These are not acquired at will.
As it happens, when this website, which started in 1996, was young, I had an inquiry from someone at the University of Chicago Press. He was interested in my work and wanted to meet at a conference of the American Philosophical Association (the APA). I otherwise had no reason to attend the APA meeting, did not generally have good experiences at them, and the material of the site, of course, was in rudimentary form. So I really didn't see much point in going just to meet this person. However, I thought he might have followed through anyway; but he never did. Perhaps he read more at the Proceedings and didn't like it.
Some years have gone by. I have little respect for most academic philosophy, where apologists still labor to de-Nazify Martin Heidegger and to de-nature (or whitewash) the racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism of Friedrich Nietzsche, and I am thus not likely to be recommended by anyone from that direction, or gain any endorsement by readers employed by any academic press. Meanwhile, electronic media are taking over, perhaps in fulfillment of the assertion by Harold Ramis (d.2014) in Ghostbusters, that “Print is dead.” I don’t think that is quite true, yet; but in the long run e-books may come first and bound, hard copy books may only appear as print-on-demand. So this site itself is, after a fashion, in the avant garde. It is more accessible than any printed book.
Nevertheless, printed books are still what get advertising, interviews, and money; and no public figure, academic or otherwise, has positively cited The Proceedings of the Friesian School in a visible public venue. So I can't see that there is any path or leverage to get a book published based on the material at this site. I am under the radar for most of the issues -- philosophical, historical, and political -- that concern me here.
On the other hand, one ought to be prepared. Lightning may strike, and not just literally in an area with a volatile climate. Of the books I would like to publish, I think that the one on Roman history is the best to lead with, since everyone has heard something about this, its issues do not involve difficult to understand philosophical arguments, and the misconceptions and falsehoods about Roman history, the Middle Ages, and even the history of science are blatant and eggregious, with considerable important implications.
So I am preparing this page as a version of the book prospectus. With a list of eight chapters, this would make a reasonable book, and as time goes on I expect to add material to each treatment here. The alternatives are that it may get noticed by someone to accept or promote the project, or in time a full book manuscript may end up being developed, which can then be shopped around, as manuscripts have often been.
I have been advised against the title, both by my wife and by other colleagues perhaps also wiser than myself. However, one wants a book title that signals what the book is about. Books about the Mediaeval Roman Empire traditionally say they are about "Byzantium"; yet part of the point of the book is to take seriously the statement of Peter Brown that the term "Byzantine Empire" is "a modern misnomer redolent of ill-informed contempt" [G.W. Bowersock, Peter Brown, and Oleg Grabar, Late Antiquity, A Guide to the Postclassical World, Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 1999, p.vii]. As such, "Byzantine Empire" and its reflexes ought to be avoided. The suggested title here, then -- It Was Not Called “Byzantium” -- tells anyone what the book is about but also that the nature of the identification is going to be called into question. I don't see other books about "Byzantium" that accomplish such a task so succinctly. I think that if this is a bad title, then there is no point in writing such a book. The 2019 book Romanland, by Anthony Kaldellis, has much the same purpose, but this is only indicated with a neologism, without the implied rebuke of my title. It ought to be in your face against all the customary uses of "Byzantine."
The proper name of the Roman Empire was “Romania” in Latin and Ῥωμανία in Greek. These names were used at least as early as the 4th century AD and as late as the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.
Yet one can read a great deal of history by Byzantinists, or a great deal of Roman history by Classicists, and not be made aware of this simple fact. I first saw it in The World of Late Antiquity by celebrated Princeton historian Peter Brown. The names are ignored in most histories, and sometimes they seem to be actively suppressed, as though the historians don’t want us to know what the Late Antique and Medieval Roman Empire was called, even though they usually admit, in passing, that the citizens of the “Byzantine Empire” always called themselves “Romans,” Ῥωμαῖοι in Greek, and called their state ἡ Ῥωμαίων Βασιλεία, hê Rhômaíôn Basileía, the “Empire of the Romans.”
There are ideological reasons for this situation, beginning with the Franks and Germans, from Charlemagne in the year 800 AD, wanting to claim that they were real “real” Romans (resulting in the “Holy Roman Empire”), despite the direct political, cultural, and religious succession of the emperors in Constantinople from Augustus and Constantine I – and the absurdity of German speaking Germans being “Romans.” While preferring to call the Ῥωμαῖοι “Greeks,” Mediaeval “Franks” or “Latins” – i.e. French, Germans, English, Spanish, etc. – nevertheless consistently called the empire “Romania.” They didn’t know what else to call it -- if not the insulting "Empire of the Greeks." When Liutprand of Cremona arrived in Constantinople with a letter from the Pope in those terms, the Emperor Nicephorus Phocas threw him in prison. They never did get along, and Liutprand vented his spleen against all "Romans," proudly exalting all the Germans -- Lombards, Saxons, Franks, Lotharingians, Bavarians, Swabians, and Burgundians -- instead.
The words “Byzantine” and “Byzantium,” based on the original Greek name of Constantinople, Βυζάντιον, did not come to be used for Romania until well after the empire had fallen to the Turks in 1453. Even now, this usage is often explained by historians as due to the want of a simple, proper name for the empire, as though the name “Romania” had never existed -- and even though its use could never be confused with the modern kingdom and republic of Romania, which did not exist before 1859 and for many years had a name, Rumania or Roumania, that reflected Turkish pronunciation. The ideology of “Byzantium,” very evident in Edward Gibbon, is still a matter of claiming the “true” Roman heritage, which apparently more properly belongs to an 18th century British historian than to the people who were living in its continuous political and cultural tradition.
Modern Byzantinists, like Gibbon himself, often seem to display some dislike or distaste for the people and state that they study. While they usually acknowledge what the Ῥωμαῖοι called themselves, they drop the matter as quickly as possible and are apparently more comfortable with a de-Romanized entity, Byzantium, than with the implications of the truth. At a time when people fall all over themselves to say “Mumbai” rather than “Bombay,” or “Beijing” rather than “Peking,” even though they can’t even say what language “Mumbai” derives from (Marathi), or how “Běijīng” is actually pronounced (it is not a “b” or a “j” familiar from English or French -- the tones, rarely seen, are their own challenge), it is remarkable to read in its entirety a hefty tome on the history of the “Byzantine Empire” and not know what its inhabitants, and even its enemies, called it.
While as a teacher I could no longer count on people knowing this, it used to be general knowledge that the Roman Empire fell in 476 AD. However, no one at the time thought so. And if we ask people now, even well educated academics, what actually happened in 476, chances are they won’t have the faintest idea. It must have been something at Rome involving barbarians, and I have seen published books asserting that barbarians sacked Rome and overthrew the last emperor in 476. However, nothing happened at Rome in 476; and someone might have lived out the year there and not noticed anything unusual. I have a fantasy of doing a Kenneth Clark-like stand-up in front of a digital reproduction of the 5th century Roman Forum, waiting for the barbarians to arrive. And waiting. And waiting. And finally divulging that, at that point, the barbarians never do arrive, at least not in any form that we are likely to imagine (i.e. when the Ostrogoths took over the government of Italy, in 493).
Instead, the last emperor of the Western part of the divided Roman Empire was deposed by a coup in Ravenna, where the seat of Western government had been since 402 AD – and where the government of Italy would remain until 751 (who knows this?). Since the Western Emperors had been figureheads for most of the time since about 461, the beneficiary of the coup, the Magister Militum, or “Master of Soldiers,” Odoacer, sent the regalia of the Western Emperor to Constantinople and informed the Eastern Emperor, now the only Emperor, that he would rule Italy (to which the Western Empire had been reduced) under the direct authority of Constantinople. The last Western Emperors were so ephemeral that the later historian of the English Church, the marvelously named Venerable Bede, entirely ignored them; and reckoned the legitimate succession of the Roman Empire entirely in Constantinople.
Hence the subtitle of the proposed book. If no one in 476, or for many centuries afterwards, thought that the Roman Empire had “fallen,” this is an “unsettling truth”; and what it was that actually happened, and why people thought about it in certain ways later, needs to be exposed and explained. Meanwhile, books are published constantly about the “Fall of Rome,” rarely with acknowledgment that this was unheard of at the time; and it is not unknown in published books to find unqualified generalizations about the Dark Ages, concerning the loss of literacy, urban life, a cash economy, and trade, that may have been true in Western Europe under the Germans but that are quite false if anyone thinks they apply to Constantinople and Romania. Bryan Ward-Perkins, whose generally good book The Fall of Rome is subtitled and the End of Civilization (Oxford University Press, 2005, 2006), is actually aware that there was no “End of Civilization” in Constantinople, where libraries held the heritage of Roman law and Greek literature, in a city that was the largest in Europe for most of the Middle Ages – something else rarely noted. His title is thus deceptive, even in terms of the information contained in his own book. This is a strange situation.
Part of the common perception of the Middle Ages is that it was a time of ignorance and bigotry. All thanks to religion – or least to Christianity. Islam tends to get a better rap, as part of a questionable contemporary apologetic for radical Islam. On no scientific issue is the case so open and shut as whether the sun revolves around the earth, or the earth around the sun. Thus, we find Christopher Hitchens saying:
Augustine was an self-centered fantasist and an earth-centered ignoramus: he was guiltily convinced that god cared about his trivial theft from some unimportant pear trees, and quite persuaded -- by an analogous solipsism -- that the sun revolved around the earth. [god is not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything, 2007, p.64]
The sense here seems to be that anyone who thought that the sun revolved around the earth in the 5th century AD had to be an “ignoramus” and a “solipsist.” However, if we were to ask the late Mr. Hitchens what the evidence was for Heliocentrism in the 5th century AD, he would be no more able to tell us than he could, I suspect, about what happened at Rome in 476.
In fact, until Galileo, almost all the actual scientific evidence was against Heliocentrism, yet many historians and philosophers of science have a poor grasp of the facts and the issues involved. Even Stephen Hawking has admitted that there were no mathematical flaws in the Geocentric astronomy of Claudius Ptolemy; and the only observational embarrassment to his system, that the moon on its epicycle does not change its visible distance from the earth, as it should, also happened to be an embarrassment to the astronomy of Nicolaus Copernicus, who retained an epicycle for the motion of the moon, despite an otherwise Heliocentric system. Instead, most popular presentations I see of the history of science repeat falsehood and follies about Ancient and Mediaeval astronomy. What the moon was doing was not understood until Kepler.
Christopher Hitchens also says that most Greek scientific literature was only preserved in Arabic translations, because the Emperor Justinian had destroyed it. This is quite false. Indeed, in the 12th century, the Emperor Manuel made a gift of a copy of Claudius Ptolemy's Almagest to King William I of Naples and Sicily. This was about the time that Arabic translations were arriving in Europe and well before the era when Greek refugees from the Turks brought many Greek manuscripts to the West. Greek texts were already being translated, and although St. Thomas Aquinas was still relying on Latin translations from Arabic in the 13th century, he began to receive translations from Greek.
What is obviously missing in modern tendentious histories of science is not just that there was no real evidence in favor of Heliocentrism, but that the evidence against it was decisive, not in astronomy, but in physics. This is routinely overlooked. It is bad enough when writers fail to understand the nature of the astronomical evidence; but when they seem to be unaware of the problems in physics, they hardly seem competent. Thus, Greek physics held that if you stop pushing an object, it will slow down and stop. This is what we see in ordinary life. The contrary principle, of inertia, that bodies in motion continue in motion, in the absence of friction, is something we do not see. It was a leap of imagination by Galileo. If Mediaeval physicists are to be faulted for not being Galileo, no scientist can ever be excused for failing to equal the achievements of their successors. At the same time, what the Mediaeval physicists did achieve cannot be appreciated.
One of the most famous moments in the history of science was when Galileo demonstrated that Aristotle and all Mediaeval physicists were idiots. He did this just by dropped two weights of different sizes and noting that they fell at the same rate and hit the ground at the same time. This refuted Aristotle, who said that the speed of the weights would be in proportion to their weight, so that the heavier weight would hit the ground first. Thus, the brilliant neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran tells us about all the reading he did in the history of science, leading him to say:
Once upon a time, it was so obvious that a four-pound rock would plummet earthward twice as fast as a two-pound rock, that no one ever bothered to test it. That is, until Galileo Galilei came along and took ten minutes to perform an elegantly simple experiment that yielded a counterintuitive result and changed the course of history. [The Tell-Tale Brain, 2011, W.W. Norton & Company, pp.xviii-xix]
Unfortunately, this is all false. Aristotle’s theory was tested, by a fellow named John Philoponus, who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, in the 6th century AD, during the remarkable Age of Justinian. John dropped his weights, and he did not see anything like the difference that Aristotle had claimed. Indeed, he often could not see any difference at all. This actually led to a revolution in physics, which is ignored by most histories of science, even the otherwise excellent recent one by the physicist Steven Weinberg (To Explain the World, The Discovery of Modern Science, 2015).
The historian of science Alberto Martínez has discovered that a lot of people were dropping weights in Galileo’s lifetime. Some even thought that Aristotle was right ["Galileo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa," Science Secrets, The Truth about Darwin's Finches, Einstein's Wife, and Other Myths, University of Pittsburgh, 2011]. Even Martínez, however, doesn’t know that everyone was dropping weights because Philoponus had recently been translated. Indeed, one of Galileo’s own teachers, Girolamo Borro (1512-1592), had already demonstrated the experiment, perhaps in front of Galileo himself [Charles Schmitt, "Philoponus' Commentary on Aristotle's Physics in the Sixteenth Century," Philoponus and the rejection of Aristotelian science, Duckworth, 1987, p.222].
John Philoponus, besides refuting Aristotle, was responsible for any entirely new theory of motion, the “impetus” theory. This was not inertia, but it threw off the earlier idea that objects could only move by being pushed. Previously, everyone thought that bodies flew through the air because the air was pushing them. Philoponus refuted this with experiments. Translated into Arabic, the physics of Philoponus entered the mainstream of Mediaeval science, where the impetus theory became accepted. Isaac Newton said that he advanced by standing on the shoulders of giants. Galileo was able to advance by standing on the shoulders of, among others, John Philoponus.
In the year 988, the Emperor Basil II made a deal: Vladmir I, Grand Prince of Kiev, agreed to convert to Christianity, which he did in 989, thereby becoming St. Vladimir, and in return Basil sent his sister Anna to marry him, which she did, and Vladmir supplied 6000 mercenaries, called the τάγμα τῶν Βαράγγων, the Varangian Guard, to Basil. With these men, Basil was able to put down the rebellion of Bardas Phocas (987-988).
Speculation now is that Vladmir send along a group of Swedes who had arrived recently in Russia and that were toublesome enough that he was glad to see them go. If so, they seem to have been a lot happier in Constantinople. And there soon followed more Norsemen, not just from Sweden, but from Denmark, Norway, and even Iceland. Having recently converted to Christianity, all of these Scandinavians were expected to stop preying on other Christians the way they always had as Vikings. But with the Emperor of the Romans, not only could they continue fighting, but they would be well paid for it as well. An Icelander, Bolli Bollason, in the 1020's, was said to have been the first West Norseman in the Varangian Guard. When he returned home, fitted out with a red cape and gold trim on his weapons, reportedly, "Wherever he went, women paid heed to nothing but gazing at Bolli and his grandeur." There was just not such paid work, in gold, available elsewhere in Europe.
Although this went on for centuries, we do not have autobiographical accounts of any of the Norsemen who joined the Varangian Guard. Unless we count Harald III Hardråde of Norway (1047-1066). We do not have his personal story, but we do have King Harald's Saga, by Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), which was based on treatments, often preserved by poets, derived from Harald's recollections of his experience. I have recounted elsewhere my fantasy of a movie based on the Saga and other historical material. A lot was going on while Harald was in the East, and when he returned to Norway, and became King, he eventually had the chance to be King of England also -- but was then defeated and killed at Stamford Bridge, in 1066. He gets called "the Last Viking."
We know of a vivid incident that occurs later. Alexius Comnenus, scrambling to oppose the Turkish invasion of Anatolia, and having called for help from the West, entertained Scandinavian monarchs on Crusade or pilgrimage, particularly the Kings Eric I the Evergood of Denmark and Sigurð I the Crusader of Norway. Alexius at first distrusted Eric, as he did all the Crusaders, and had him camp outside Constantinople. We are told, however, that his spies reported Eric urging the Danish Varangians to serve the Emperor faithfully. Eric was then invited into the City and honored -- at least according to the Norse sources. Unfortunately, the pious King never made it to Jerusalem but died and was buried on Cyprus.
Alexius is remembered in the Icelandic Sagas as Kirjalax, evidently from Κύριος Ἀλέξιος, Kyrios Alexios, "Lord Alexius." The name was also used, confusingly, for subsequent Comneni. The positive reputation of Alexius in Scandinavia thus stands in noteworthy contrast to what it became in Latin Western Europe, where the conflicts of the First Crusade resulted in a smear campaign against Alexius on behalf of some of the Crusaders, particularly Bohemond of Antioch, who wanted to put his own machinations in the best light. Bohemond was successful in that and became widely regarded as the principle hero of the First Crusade, even though he had dropped out and failed to accompany the Crusaders to the capture of Jerusalem. A remarkable, if ironic, public relations triumph. Worse, of course, was when Venice manipulated to the Fourth Crusade into taking and sacking Constantinople, something for which the Orthodox East has never forgiven the Latin West. There were still Varangians, however, defending the City.
For more than three hundred years, Englishmen journeyed to Constantinople to join the Varangian Guard. This was attested the first time in 1080, and the last time in 1404. The first Englishmen arrived, however, soon after 1066, as refugees from the Norman Conquest of England. One can read a great deal of history about Mediaeval England, however, as I did as an undergraduate, without hearing about these people. For a long time, I figured that British historians did not know of the Mediaeval historians writing in Greek. However, most of the information about this is actually in Latin sources that Western Medievalists should be quite aware of. A major source is thus the 12th century Norman historian Ordericus Vitalis. Edward Gibbon himself cites Vitalis. Another source mentions that 4350 English emigrants in 235 ships arrived in Constantinople in 1075, and that they were settled on land then known as Nova Anglia, “New England.” This New England was not at Plymouth Rock.
A remarkable feature of this history is that while the earliest Englishmen to arrive in Constantinople, and to join the Varangian Guard, were Anglo-Saxon refugees from the Normans, is short order it becomes evident that Norman nobility themselves were traveling to join the Guard. Thus, after the Emperor Manuel was defeated by the Turks at Myriocephalum in 1176, he wrote a letter to King Henry II of England, of “Lion in Winter” and “Becket” fame, reporting on the good conduct of the Englishmen at the battle, and also asking some questions about conditions in England. Just as remarkable as this whole history, again, is how little we hear about it. Although there was an English church in Constantinople, and something like a Roman recruiting office for a while in London, the refugees from Saxon England, and the men who became the Ἐγκλινοβάραγγοι, the “English Varangians,” in the following centuries, were more or less, as the Classicist Anthony Kaldellis says, “written out of history.” Somehow, they are an embarrassment to British historians, even though there is mention of them in Gibbon, and Sir Walter Scott wrote a historical novel, Count Robert of Paris, that features them.
Some time shortly after 1042, Maria Scleraena, the mistress of the Emperor Constantine IX Monomachus (1042-1055), entered the theater in Constantinople. Constantine was married to the elderly Empress Zoë Porphyrogenita (1028-1050). It was a marriage of convenience, and Zoë not only allowed Maria to live in the palace but granted her the title “Augusta.” This may have been Maria’s first appearance in public in her new status. Seeing her, one of the nobles of Constantinople whispered, οὐ νέμεσις, “No blame.” This was what one of the elders of Troy said as Helen appeared on the walls:
Small blame [οὐ νέμεσις] that Trojans and well-greaved Achaeans should for such a woman long time suffer woes; wondrously like is she to the immortal goddesses to look upon. [The Iliad, 3:156-158, Loeb Classical Library, A.T. Murray translation, Harvard, 1924, 1988, p.129]
What A.T. Murray translates as “small blame” is actually “no blame.” No one can be blamed for infatuation with a woman of such transcendent beauty -- she was a daughter of Zeus and subsequently deified -- even when a terrible war results.
It is hard to imagine this event at any other Court in Europe, or in Islam, at the time. No one at the Court of the King of England or the King of France, or of the Emperor of Germany, knew Homer, who was not yet available. There was no theater in Islam at all, and women did not appear in public in any such way. But people in Romania knew their Homer – except for Maria herself, who had to ask about the reference.
This was the civilization of Constantinople. In our own day, Muslim radicals destroy Buddhist art in Afghanistan, or blow up ancient temples in Iraq and at Palmyra, Syria. But Constantine I had adorned Constantinople with the art of the Classical World. Later, when the Crusaders occupied the city in 1204, a Greek historian rebuked them as “enemies of the beautiful” for melting down a bronze statue of the goddess Hera. Actually, they just needed the money. But we have a list of the statues that were in the city, although it apparently is not exhaustive.
Now all that is gone, except for what was looted by the Crusaders, like the bronze horses from Delphi that the Venetians put on St. Mark’s Cathedral. Some Roman monuments remain in İstanbul, but the libraries and Classical statuary have vanished. We know that an equestrian statue of Justinian was specifically destroyed. The base of the “Serpent Column” from Delphi stands along what was the “spina” or axis of the Hippodrome (near where terrorists recently killed German tourists with a bomb), but its upper part is supposed to have been shattered by the mace of Meḥmet II himself, the Conqueror of Constantinople, as he rode up to it on May 29, 1453.
There is now a narrative, promoted by historians and scholars, that the Crusades began just because of the bigotry, xenophobia, intolerance, and racism of Europeans, who up and out of nowhere decided to invade the Middle East, where a tolerant Islam had been quietly minding its own business, in order to massacre Muslims and Jews and conquer Jerusalem, where they had no legitimate business. At this site, I have considered, by way of example, versions of this promoted by Robert Hughes and by Patrick J. Geary, learned men who seem to demonstrate astounding levels of ignorance and bias about the origin of the First Crusade, not to mention the history of Islam and the nature of its regimes in the Middle East. At a time when Middle Eastern Jews have fled to Israel, and Jihadists have tortured, murdered, raped, and enslaved Christians and other religious minorities in the area, a great deal of informed perspective is in order.
Let's look at a representative reaction to the Crusades by Robert Hughes, in one of his last books:
It seems extraordinary, looking back on the Crusades from nearly a thousand years later, that they could ever have been conceived as anything but a mirage, a long bout of collective religious delusion. What good could it do to "free" a portion of the Middle East from its inhabitation by Muslims, for no better reason than that a Jewish prophet had once lived, preached, and died there? But territoriality, especially when conceived in religious terms, heightened by the hope of eternal life and sharpened by xenophobia, is a murderous and intractable passion, and many Christians in the Middle Ages felt it intensely. Crusades were the ultimate form of that fear and hatred of the Other which underlies the sense of racial and religious selfhood, and a man conscious of his honor would have needed an almost superhuman detachment to resist their impulse, once it was aroused by preacher and pope. [Rome, A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History, 2011, Vintage Books, 2012],p.184]
One would never know from this that the Turks had just destroyed a Roman army at Manzikert, in 1071, and had proceeded to overrun Anatolia, laying the foundation for what is today "Turkey." Anyone, like Robert Hughes, might ask some Armenians about it. The Armenian Patriarchate was forced to flee to Cilicia, where it remained, as the "Great House of Cillicia" (even after an Armenian Patriarchate was restored in Armenia in 1441), until forced to flee to Lebanon in the wake of the Turkish genocide -- where it remains with the Armenian community in Lebanon.
So what "religious delusion" drove Muslims to continually attack Christians? Is Hughes aware of the existence of Turkish invasions and conquest? Were they motivated by any "murderous and intractable passion," like "xenophobia"? Or is it only Christians who are subject to such passions, or "mirages" or "collective religious delusions"? And if the Crusaders had no business entering territories that were the "inhabitation" of Muslims, what business did the Arabs have in conquering these lands back in the 7th century, when they were inhabited by Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians -- the Zoroastrians whose religion by the 11th century had been all but wiped out in their own country? -- certainly a kind of genocide, even if only cultural (which continues, by the way, today). Meanwhile, at the same time, Christians were, perhaps until the Mamlûks, a much larger part, perhaps a majority, of the population in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt -- much more than they are now.
Hughes knows about the Islamic Conquest, as he knows that Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453. Yet he forgets all his indigation and self-righteousness when it comes to these events; and one might come away with the impression that Islamic Conquests are always fine, but Christian defense or counter-attack involve mirages, delusions, xenophobia, murderous passions, "fear and hatred of the Other," and a "sense of racial and religious selfhood," at the time and place when no one would have thought of race as having anything to do with it.
The treatment of the Crusades by Hughes is thus an embarrassment to all the fine work he had ever done in art criticism, art history, history, and cultural commentary. He was seized here with an irrational "passion" that reflects nothing but modern political biases and dishonesty. I say "dishonesty" because, while it is possible that he was ignorant of Manzikert and the history of the Seljuk Turks, he cannot have been ignorant of the existence of the original Arab Conquest of the Middle East, or of the fact that the Turks have not always been in Anatolia (they were not at Troy, for instance), and that they did take Constantinople, a place they had never lived, in an epic siege and storm, slaughtering and enslaving Christians, and destroying centuries of art and culture. But in the ignorant and delusional ideology of the modern bien pensants, Christians are always villians, never victims.
But can Hughes really have been ignorant of the fact that the First Crusade was occasioned by an appeal for help from the Emperor Alexius Comnenus? Or do Christians have no right for help against the Jihâd, which, of course, was only a defensive response against the imperialistic Crusades, which, unfortunately, at the time of Manizkert, hadn't happened yet? Robert Hughes is now past any inquiry from mortals, but he is not alone in the bias and ignorance he displayed, or in the apparent willingness to second the Islamist and Jihadist apologetic that relies on the failure of modern "education" to provide students, and even scholars, with a background of sound historical knowledge.
This central issue of this proposed book is the place of Romania and Constantinople in Western Civilization. While any proper history details the literature and the knowledge of the Greek language brought by refugees to Italy and the West after the Turkish Conquest, the full effect of this is not always appreciated. On the other hand, even this role is sometimes overlooked. Kenneth Clark's classic video documentary Civilisation (1969), has a great deal to say about the Renaissance, but he forgets that Greeks and Greek learning had anything to do with it. On the other hand, even when acknowledged, the influence may be underestimated. While philosophers in Islam became increasingly preoccupied with Aristotle, which carried over to people like St. Thomas Aquinas, philosophy in Romania remained strongly focused on Plato and on the Neoplatonists of the 3rd century AD and later. The difference that this made in the Renaissance was in enthusiasm for Plato and Neoplatonism. The difference that makes in our own day was in the fascination of Plato for mathematics, which held little interest for Aristotle.
While the Renaissance is mainly remembered for its art, which is what someone like Kenneth Clark shows us, we generally do not think of it in relation to the birth of modern science. That came a little later. But it came with an emphasis on mathematics, which, as in Pythagoras and Plato, was seen as the key to the universe. Galileo, Kepler, and Newton were mathematicians; and we know, at least about Kepler, that he was dotty for Plato. Even now, the seriousness of a science is generally judged in relation to its use of mathematics; and physics remains the place where the most advanced mathematics is used to sound the deepest secrets of nature. But this is what Mediaeval physics was usually lacking; and the influence of Aristotle, who is correctly seen as more interested in observation than Plato, nevertheless served to suppress the direction that modern science needed to go. The paradox that one needed both Aristotelian observation (magnified by Philoponus) and Platonic mathematics is something that philosophers of science don’t always appreciate.
Meanwhile, something like modern publishing began in Venice, where Aldus Manutius (Teobaldo Mannucci, d.1515) founded the Aldine Press and, with help of a large staff of Greek expatriates, created printed editions of a large part of Greek literature, often in the convenient octavo pocket editions that he popularized. The influence of this was varied but may have been particularly important in political philosophy.
In the Spring Semester of 2017, I taught a class at Rutgers University on philosophy in the 18th Century. I taught it largely in terms of exploding the "conventional wisdom" on many questions, including the theory of space in Immanuel Kant. It Was Not Called “Byzantium” would also be a treatment exploding conventional wisdom, in terms probably much more easily understood than problems with the metaphysics of space. The very proposition that the Roman Empire did not "fall" in 476, something that would have been incomprehensible and bizarre to people at the time, raises numerous questions, not the least of which is why books get published one after another about the "fall" of Rome. What really happened? And why do people talk about it the way they do now? This is a large story, one that is barely recognized in either popular or academic culture. Yet it bears on many contemporary issues, not the least of which is our understanding of the history of science, of conflicts involving militant Islam, and of the very meaning of "Western Civilization," whose existence and nature are actually under attack by the very people charged with conveying its history and heritage of the the next generation.
King Harald's Saga, the Movie
Philosophy of History