Backer Rewards Episode 13 – The Byzantine Legacy

Our thirteenth Kickstarter backers reward episode looks at the legacy of Byzantium and why it seems so forgotten today.

Download: The Byzantine Legacy

RSS Feed: The History of Byzantium

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Categories: Kickstarter Rewards | 24 Comments

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24 thoughts on “Backer Rewards Episode 13 – The Byzantine Legacy

  1. Constantine

    Huge objection over the proposition that no modern nation claims Byzantium as part of its past (I might even go as far as saying, a bit offensive too). Robin apparently knows that Greeks do regard Byzantium as part of their history, but considers the claim disputable. I know not who is disputing it and I am even harder pressed to imagine on what grounds could anyone dispute the direct linguistic, cultural, religious, ethnic, and ideological continuity between Byzantium and the modern Greek state. Over 40% of Greece’s population are descendants of refugees from Asia Minor and Constantinople following the 1922-24 exchange of population pact that ended the Greco-turkish war. A war, let it be said, fueled by the ideological foundation of “Μεγαλη Ιδεα” the so called “Great Ideal” which was nothing more than the aspiration of restoring Greece to its Byzantine heartland. Millions of people have given their lives to this idea, and for better or worse (rather the latter) is simmering to this day. Let me close by sharing a little cultural tidbit from my early youth, People of my generation growing up in Greece, will remember that when parents, teachers, priests, or army captains wanted to put us to shame for something we did, would say “is that how we will take back the City?” Draw your own conclusions about the weight of Byzantium over the psyche of at least one nation…

    • Vassiliki

      I second your opinion, but as Robin is a foreigner I can see why he thinks like that. The question he was responding to was something along the lines of why is Byzantium not popular among history enthusiasts worldwide, and I think the theories he offered could hold water. By calling ourselves Greeks and not Romans, and emphasising to the world the image of the descendants of the Ancient Greeks rather than the Byzantines I suppose creates a disconnect between Modern Greece and Byzantium in the eyes of foreigners. The fact that Istanbul and all of Anatolia now belong to Turkey makes matters even worse, even though all of modern day Greece was also part of the empire. I do agree, however, that the way he said it came out quite offensive especially towards the Mikrasiates refugees, their families and the nowadays tiny Greek communities that still survive in Turkey and who had to go through so much pain and suffering. After all, if this podcast was recorded 100 years ago it would be pretty obvious who the direct heirs of the Byzantine legacy are, as back then the Romioi of Asia Minor numbered millions. And let’s not forget, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul still exists today, an institution that survives directly from Byzantine times. It would be really interesting to have a podcast like this done by a Greek who cared about the history of post-1453 Ottoman Romioi/Greeks and eventually Modern Greeks, even though I have questions as to how objective they could be. They would probably not be able to make a living out of it like Robin does either.

      • My point was that there is a debate within Greece itself about how much of the Byzantine legacy is part of their history. Not that I dispute Greek claims to descent from Byzantium.

      • Vassiliki

        I don’t know about academic debates but among the general public I don’t think there’s any such debate…

  2. dustz92

    So here I am going to talk the comparison to Al-Andalus, because the 500 last years of it (more or less) mirror the ones from Byzantium. Golden age in the 10th century, collapse during the 11th with permanent loss of border regions, recovery during the 12th, only to be stopped by a death blow during the early 13th, reaching the mid 14th as a lost cause that somewhat holds on until the 15th. Also the fall of Granada/Constantinople marking the end of the middle ages in the region.

    Major differences in the aftermath is that in the Spanish case the expulsion of the non-assimilated population happened in the early 17th century instead of the early 20th, and probably because of that, being so far in time from the modern nationalisms, the possible case of Morocco being the “heir” of Al-Andalus is basically zero (despite the fact that Andalusia often controlled parts of North Africa and especially during the latter centuries, the capital was sometimes there), to the point that I have never heard of anybody even mentioning it.
    However, the other side is that is that despite Al-Andalus having absolutely nobody to claim it as “theirs”, its legacy it is still very much alive today in the peninsula, especially in the south of Spain (the equivalent of Western Anatolia for the Byzantines) and considered as part of the local heritage and not really seen as foreign. Something that I don’t think it happens in Turkey at all with the Byzantines, despite that in a lot of ways things are similar.

  3. Very interesting point of comparison

  4. Hermes

    Robin, I really respect the work you have done on this podcast but you are way out of line in this particular podcast. And as some people commented above quite offensive.

    The idea that no modern claims Byzantine heritage is ludicrous. Many nations claim a heritage from Byzantium including Serbia, Russia, Romania and even Bulgaria and Turkey. However, Greece and Cyprus for obvious linguistic, cultural, religious, ethnic and genetic claim the most Byzantine heritage and this heritage it is indisputable in Greece and Cyprus. One has to only peruse Greek and Cypriot school history books to see. But this identity is manisfested in many other ways.

    Robin, might be inspired by some of Kaldellis’s theories i.e. Byzantines were Romans and modern Greeks have rejected the Romioi label so cannot claim continuity. But ethnic group’s self identification and significations are always changing, even to the point of changing their name somewhat. But it is the same polity regardless of whether they call themselves Romioi, Hellenes, Graeci.

    • I did not say that modern nations do not claim “heritage” from Byzantium. I said no modern nation claims the whole of the history of the Byzantine state as a continuous part of their national history. Even with Greece I specifically said “Now I know this causes lots of controversy when it comes to the nation of Greece where some would see Byzantium as very much their past.”

      • Hermes

        Robin, the view within Greece and Cyprus that Byzantium is not a whole part of their history is a very very small but sometimes vocal and controversial minority. They are irrelevant. The Greek ownership of Byzantium is ubiquitous in Greece ranging from school history books, church, military, modern art, street names, monuments, museums, music, sporting teams, modern architecture, …the list is endless.

    • Costas

      If Kaldellis is saying this then he doesn’t know that I – a modern Greek – can tell by the ending of his last name (-Ellis) that he’s from the island of Lesvos. And that people have had that ending to their last names since the late 1300’s

      • Costas

        One could go as far as claiming that the obscurity of Byzantine history is in direct correlation with the obscurity of the Greek language.

  5. Greekslayer

    greek filth and their filthy empire. HAIL TO THE CAESAR IN THE WEST KAROLUS MAGNUS

  6. Alan Howard

    As a person who has studied and worked in the Middle East for many years, I would agree with most of the comments you made vis-a-vis the influence of Islam on Western Europe and its more insular culture – and the nature of “blocking” that the Byzantine Empire did from allowing the Islamic world spreading into Europe. Yes, the Muslims of al Andalus did come into Europe via Spain but other than universities and philosophy and its influence in the Islamic world spreading into Western Europe and ultimately jump-starting the Renaissance the influence was minimal.
    But I would argue that the Byzantines influenced the Islamic world far more than you suggest in the podcast. Yes, the Islamic world broke out of Arabia and swallowed the Persian empire whole – and there is no question that the type of government the Ummayad and Abbasids set up mirrored the influence of the Persian style of government. But the conquering of formerly Roman lands from the Levant, to North Africa also had a profound influence on Islam – just I believe in more subtle ways.

    The development of falsafa (Islamic philosophy) owes not only its existence but also many of its formative conclusions to the translation into Arabic of Plotinus, Plato, Aristotle, and so many others. The way Muslims today worldwide view their world and their daily interactions with it were shaped to a large degree by these philosophical arguments. The Mut’azila and their arguments over the physicality of God (e.g. does he have human features, when the Quran says he sits on his throne….does he really, etc.) mirror these same discussions in Eastern Orthodoxy.
    There are also surprising aspects of Islamic Hudud Law (not to be confused with Sharia) which governed punishments for civil crimes which seem to almost verbatim come from Byzantine legal texts.
    And finally while you may not see much Byzantine influence on how Muslims conduct themselves in Malaysia or even Libya today (other than the softer areas I’ve mentioned above). The Ottomans have some very unique aspects to the Islam they practice that I believe come from Byzantium, and are often overlooked because they are religious in nature. They include: the way the Ottoman Sultans structured their palace bureaucracy, the nature of the officials operating in the Sublime Porte was almost identical to the way the Byzantine palace and court were structured. During the Friday sermon given at Ottoman (now Turkish) mosques the Imam will in many cases sit on a raised structure separate from the minbar (where most Imams give sermons in mosques) and give a sermon. Once they are done with this they will then go to the minbar and deliver a much shorter little sermon and then conclude and lead the communal prayer – I believe this separate pulpit and sermon owes much of its structure to Byzantine practice which separated the sermon and liturgy within Orthodox practice. And also you see in Ottoman/Turkish practice sort of holy days leading up to well-known Islamic holidays that you do not see in the rest of the Islamic world (or at least not as often) – for instance In Turkey today you have sort of milestone holy days marked by fasting and such (supported by religious authorities who cite Hadith, religious texts) leading up to the beginning of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan – such as Kandil and others. A Muslim in Indonesia does not celebrate these sort of smaller practices, but Turkish Muslims do – I believe they are a Byzantine legacy in the sense of the Orthodox practice of having holy days leading up to Easter or Christmas. The Ottoman Sultans found that religious practice and ritual helped support their claim to authority – just as Byzantine emperors solidified their bonafides by surrounding themselves with Christian ritual and special saint-days, etc.

    So as I stated, you are correct in talking about Persian influence on the Islamic world as far as its governments and even laws. But the Byzantine legacy lives on in other more subtle ways, with some being more influential on Turkish Islamic practice than other groups – but it is nonetheless there.

  7. Vassiliki

    I thought comments were moderated? Why is that “greekslayer” comment visible??

    • Because it’s a joke, it’s signed by Charlemagne

      • Vassiliki

        And you don’t see anything wrong with someone saying “greek filth” in an out of context joke? Ah right, I forgot, Greeks cannot claim historical continuity with the filthy empire so we cannot claim offense when someone calls us filth if they sign off as a medieval king. smh

  8. I think the joke is in context

    • Vassiliki

      English filth, on brand

      • Liudbrqnd

        Lol! Let’s try not to turn this into a YouTube comment section.

      • Liudbrand of Cremona

        Fail!!! I wanted to post my reply as Liudbrand of Cremona!

  9. Costas

    You should see the results of my 23andMe!

    If modern Greeks do not claim descent from Byzantium, where do they claim descent from?

    Modern Greeks are as direct descendants of the Greek speaking populations of Byzantium.

    “400 years of slavery” is something you will hear often when you come to Greece and even the least educated in Greece will have knowledge of Byzantine past.

    Listening to this podcast has surprisingly opened my eyes to how NON-Greek Byzantium was. I thought it was completely Greek!

    I still think that there’s more to be said about the Greek conscience of the Byzantines. I find it highly unlikely that Armenians -for example- identified themselves within the Byzantine Empire but the Greek speakers did not carry their language as part of their identity.

    The Patriarchate is the best example of uninterrupted history from Byzantium to modern Greece.

    The modern patriarchate is in large a Greek institution and it has been this way since the Byzantine times

    • Costas

      When was the last non-Greek patriarch?

      • Costas

        Ioannou Tzimiski is the name of the main road of Thessaloniki…
        Let’s assume that the Greeks had not taken Thessaloniki during the Balkan Wars.
        Is there any doubt that the name of the city would not have been the Byzantine name and the main road not that of a Byzantine Emperor?

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