The Crusades: Prespective
from the past of Byzantine
By: Samantha Warda
1. The Byzantine Empire influenced the development of religion, culture, and politics in western Europe. On a religious level, the seven ecumenical councils of the Christian Church, all held before the eastern schism, were convened by emperors who ruled the eastern Greek (as opposed to western Latin) part of the Roman empire (Nicea, Chalcedon, etc. were all near Constantinople). The eastern concept of the `pentarchy` with co-equal bishops rather than a unique Pope became the model of Anglican and Lutheran ecclesiastical polity.
In culture, Greek learning and language were preserved in Byzantium after the fall of Rome in the 6th century. The tradition of ancient culture was preserved in the Byzantine and Arab worlds, and gradually transmitted back to the west from the twelfth through the sixteenth centuries, due to a combination of trade, crusades, and refugees.
Finally, the Crusades were launched in response to appeals from the Byzantine Empire for military help against Turks and Arabs.
Since the age of the great historian Edward Gibbon, the Byzantine Empire has a reputation of stagnation, great luxury and corruption. Most surely the emperors in Constantinopel held an eastern court. That means courtlife was ruled by a very formal hierarchy. There were all kinds of political intrigues between factions. However, the image of a luxury-addicted, conspiring, decadent court with treacherous empresses and an inert state system is historically inaccurate. On the contrary: for its age, the Byzantine Empire was quite modern. Its tax system and administration were so efficient that the empire survived more than a thousand years.
The culture of Byzantium was rich and affluent, while science and technology also flourished. Very important for us, nowadays, was the Byzantine tradition of rhetoric and public debate. Philosophical and theological discources were important in public life, even emperors taking part in them. The debates kept knowledge and admiration for the Greek philosophical and scientific heritage alive. Byzantine intellectuals quoted their classical predecessors with great respect, even though they had not been Christians. And although it was the Byzantine emperor Justinian who closed Plato's famous Academy of Athens in 529 CE, the Byzantines are also responsible for much of the passing on of the Greek legacy to the Muslims, who later helped Europe to explore this knowledge again and so stood at the beginning of European Renaissance.
Just over nine hundred years ago, Pope Urban II closed a provincial church council at Clermont Ferrand with a rousing call to arms that launched the First Crusade. Every day from November 1995 to August 1999 will have marked the nine-hundredth anniversary of one of the extraordinary series of events that led huge companies of men from France and Germany to Constantinople, then on to Nicaea, Edessa, Antioch and Jerusalem, suffering great losses from dehydration, starvation, disease and ambush, yet managing to capture three formidably defended cities and to defeat three massive counter-attacks by the local Muslim powers who seemed to have all the advantages. However we look at the First Crusade – whether we look at the causes of a mass movement that defies rational explanation; whether we look at the gripping story of incredible success against seemingly impossible odds; or whether we focus on the consequences of an enterprise that was surely the most decisive moment in western civilization’s long rise towards global hegemony – however we look at it, whatever we make of it, and whether we like it or not, the crusade is important to all of us who deal with the Middle Ages, the Mediterranean and the Near East, and the arrival of this symbolic anniversary invites us to reflect on its relevance for us.
Fortunately for those of us who are not historians of the crusades, there is no lack of up-to-date literature to help us concentrate our minds. Indeed, the last thirty-five years have seen a remarkable flowering of crusade scholarship in North America, in Israel, in Germany, and above all in Britain, where a generation of productive and dedicated scholars, mainly under the leadership of Jonathan Riley-Smith, is rewriting the whole history of the crusading movement, in practice and in theory, from beginning. to end. They have already published significant contributions to the re-interpretation of the First Crusade – I mention Riley-Smith’s own book on the subject, published in 1986,1 John France’s military history of the crusade,2 and Marcus Bull’s study of lay piety in south western France in the eleventh century 3 - and we can no doubt look forward to the appearance of more volumes occasioned by the ninth centenary celebrations. The day is hopefully not far off when we will know all that can be known, or at least will have heard all that can usefully be said, about what was in Pope Urban’s mind when he preached at Clermont, and what was in the minds of the laymen who answered, or did not answer, his call to arms. What is certain is that the labours of so many energetic milites Christi make it unnecessary, and indeed impertinent, for a Byzantinist to pronounce on such matters. We have come a long way since the 1950s, when a Byzantinist, Sir Steven Runciman, could write an authoritative, best-selling history of the crusades.
And yet, in moving on from Runciman, we have lost as well as gained. We have lost not only the combination of scholarly erudition and narrative ease which still make Runciman an unbeatable first introduction to the subject; we have also lost the sense of Byzantium as something integral to the crusading movement. ~ Whereas Runciman stressed the role of the Byzantine emperor Alexios I (1081-1118) in initiating the crusade, directing the crusaders and helping them on their way, the two recent monographs by Jonathan Riley-Smith and John France have cast him as a much more marginal player.5 Riley-Smith suggests that relations with Byzantium were not uppermost in Urban II’s calculations, and France, after dismissing the evidence of the main Byzantine source, the biography of Alexios I by his daughter Anna Comnena, argues that Alexios did little to help the crusade and was indifferent to its fate once he had used it to recapture Nicaea. Neither of these judgements is highly momentous in itself, but taken together and in the context of the general drift of modern crusade scholarship, they can be regarded as symptomatic of a tendency to write Byzantium out of the script, or, to choose a metaphor appropriate to our small academic world of conferences and symposia, not to invite Byzantium to the party. Byzantium is barely mentioned in the Oxford History of the Crusades, edited by Jonathan Riley-Smith and published in 1995. Byzantium thus comes to be seen as an unwilling, passive and even obstructive channel that the crusade had to pass through in order to get from Western Europe to the Holy Land: the place that happened to be on the way, or in the way. To use another metaphor, Byzantium was the temporary conductor of an electrical charge which the empire played no part in creating and had no interest in retaining.
Also,the official language of Byzantium at the time of its founding was Latin, the language of Rome; however its locals spoke Greek. The Code of Justinian was written in Latin. However, over time, Greek replaced Latin as the language of the government. Scholars no longer learned to read Latin, but rather drew inspiration from both the New Testament (originally written in Greek) and the philosophy and literature of classical Greece.
The large bureaucracy of Byzantium necessitated an efficient educational system to train government workers. It was in the educational system that the influence and legacy of Classical Greece, rather than Classical Rome, was most evident. Aristocrats often hired tutors for their children; however the workforce of the government normally came from a state organized school system that taught reading, writing and grammar, which were followed by classical Greek literature, philosophy, and medicine. Boys and girls were educated in the system.
Literacy was quite high in Byzantine society. Merchants, manufacturers, clergy, and military personnel had at least a primary education. There was also a school of higher learning at Constantinople which offered instruction in law, medicine and philosophy. It operated for the life of the Byzantine Empire, more than one thousand years.
Byzantine scholarship reflected its Greek roots. Scholars concentrated on the humanities: literature, history and philosophy, rather than natural sciences or medicine. They produced commentaries on Homer, Plato, and Aristotle; which were used as textbooks in schools along with classical works themselves. Those within the Empire who were educated considered themselves the heirs of classical Greece, and went to great lengths to preserve their legacy. Almost all the literary and philosophical works of classical Greece survive because they were preserved by the Empire.
the Byzantine Empire comprised the entire eastern half of the old Roman Empire, from the Balkans on eastward to Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, including Egypt. Three major influences shaped the Byzantine Empire— Greek, Roman, and Christian. The Greek cultural and philosophical influence was the result of geography; the Byzantine Empire was centered in the Greek half of the former Roman Empire. The Roman influence was legal and political; since what became the Byzantine Empire had been administered from Rome for centuries, its leaders were accustomed to Roman methods of organization. The Christian influence was there from the very beginning, with the conversion of the emperor Constantine and his decree that his subjects would practice his religion. Christianity was the central defining factor of the Byzantine Empire throughout its existence.
Therefore, the Byzantine emperor was regarded somewhat differently from the Roman emperor. The Romans had considered their emperor to be himself a god. The Byzantines, on the other hand, believed that their emperor was God’s representative on earth.
Just like the Romans and all other successful empires, the Byzantines had a highly efficient bureaucracy and an impressive army. Byzantine civil servants were educated at the University of Constantinople, which was founded in the fifth century. This shared educational background served as a unifying factor across all branches of the civil service. The military featured an intimidating cavalry with great skill at archery. The Byzantines also inherited the Roman skill at architecture, building impressive fortifications.
Below the emperor, the Byzantine aristocracy was divided into three groups: bureaucrats, clergy, and military officers. The bulk of the army was drawn from among the farmers at first; as time went on, however, the Byzantines began relying more and more on mercenaries, just as the Romans had done. Below the aristocracy were the merchants and peasants. Byzantine women had certain legal rights, just as they had under Rome; three even ruled all of Byzantium as empresses. An educated Byzantine woman from a wealthy and powerful family could wield considerable social and even political influence.
The Byzantine Empire had three different levels of society. The upper class, the middle class, and the lower class people each with their own skills, like the emperor is at the top. The people did not get to move in between levels of their society it was set at birth by the emperor. Your place in the levels was determined by your hereditary (birth). Slaves worked off of the upper class, the slaves were a part of the lower class people which could be small land owners. As a citizen of the Byzantine Empire, the Emperor said what rights you have based on your social class. Like the egypt pyramid as king and then kings helper and then slavery and farmers.
The purposes of this is that, Byzantine philosophy is the study and teaching of traditional subjects of philosophy in the Greek language between c. 730 and 1453. The second half of this delineation construes the attribute “Byzantine” rather narrowly, in that it excludes the whole period between c. 330 and c. 730, which is commonly referred to by historians as “Early Byzantine” (and also leaves out of account philosophical activity in the minority languages of the Byzantine Empire). The main reason for focusing on the philosophical works after c. 730 is that Early Byzantine philosophy is usually covered in accounts of late Ancient Philosophy, of which it is a seamless continuation. The first half of the delineation should not be taken to imply any particular view regarding the “true face of Byzantine philosophy”, although we do think that it is by being related in certain ways to the philosophical tradition that a written work is eligible to be classed as philosophical. This tradition was formed in antiquity. Hence, the works discussed here will typically be concerned with questions inherited from ancient philosophy.
We have tried to impose a provisional borderline between Byzantine philosophy and other areas which are so closely related to Byzantine philosophy as to be sometimes inseparable from it. Most importantly, we have tried to demarcate our subject matter from that of Byzantine theology, not because we believe that an account in which the religious dimension is largely ignored will be sufficient to grasp Byzantine intellectual history in its organic entirety, but because we think that a clearer conception of the “purely” philosophical part of Byzantine intellectual history is both desirable in itself and necessary for the understanding of the whole. This may seem to lead us straight towards an episodic account, concentrating on a few solitary thinkers on the fringe of Byzantine intellectual history. In order to avoid this we have chosen not to place very heavy demands on the originality of the works to be included. Our main concern has been to describe the typical features of the philosophical tradition in Byzantium, rather than to highlight the rare instances when innovative views and arguments were put forward.
The main part of the article is divided into two sections. Section 1 attempts to situate Byzantine philosophy in the general context of Byzantine culture and education, and to give a brief survey of the more important philosophical authors and their works. For Section 2, we have made a selection of two especially significant topics in the fields of natural philosophy and metaphysics. This arrangement allows us to look a bit more closely at the form and content of some Byzantine philosophical views and arguments without giving up the ambition to be reasonably historically comprehensive.
The crusades, originally intended to save the Byzantine Empire, among other things, failed to do this and hastened its decline instead. The crusaders sacked Byzantine cities and eventually captured Constantinople in 1204. They then used Constantinople as the capital of what is called the Latin Empire, which it remained, until the Byzantines managed to recapture it in 1264. The Byzantine Empire never really recovered from this, though it held on for almost another 200 years.
he Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World is the result of scholarly reassessments of theCrusades on the 900th anniversary of the appearance of crusading armies outside Nicaea. The views expressed here complement the considerable number of other examinations that focused on the internal, Western, aspects of themovement on the 900th anniversary of the Council of Clermont.
The volume opens with an introduction to the historiography of the Crusades, followed by wide-ranging discussions covering four topics: holy war in Byzantium and Islam; the approaches and attitudes of the various peoples affected by and involved in the Crusades; the movement's effect on the economies of the eastern Mediterranean; and the influence of the Crusades on the art and architecture of the East.