THE HISTORICAL PROBLEMS OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE,HELLENISM AND THE WEST
Quite often in various discussions I happened to notice that the term “Byzantinism” was being used with a negative inference. The term “Byzantinology” is used when someone talks superfluously. This term has been used thoughtlessly, while the reason for its implementation and its prevalence has being altogether overlooked.
Years ago, anything related to the Byzantine arts or the Byzantine civilization was something to be scorned. Naturally, this view is being re-examined nowadays. The disdain, the contempt and the sarcasm towards anything that pertains to Byzantium, or the use of certain terms with a negative inference are not unrelated to the attempts by Western Europeans to marginalize the Roman Empire – which in our time is labelled “Byzantium” – as well as to their efforts to dignify themselves, by regarding that they are the true successors of the great and illustrious Roman Empire.
The borders of Greece at 1830, after the revolution of 1821 against the 400-year Turkish occupation
In reality, the term “Byzantium” was coined at the beginning of the sixteenth century (1562 A.D.) by the west European historian Hieronymus Wolf and was repeatedly used from then on by other western European writers, whose aim was the disparaging of the Roman conscience. Anything associated with Byzantium was considered shameful and contemptible. In fact, “Byzantium” has even been linked to the Mediaeval Dark Ages.
From the historical aspect, however, “Byzantium” – which was the original name of the ancient Hellenic city founded by Byzas of Megara (province of Hellas) – is not mentioned at all. Instead, it is rather indifferently mentioned in passing, as ‘a city’ of the Roman Empire. When the capital of the Roman Empire was transferred from Rome to Byzantium, the latter was renamed “New Rome”, as compared to the original, ‘old’ Rome. In terms of religion and faith, the Roman Empire was mostly Orthodox and its civilization was Hellenic (since Hellenism had universal proportions), while the legal system was based on ancient Roman legislation. In the Roman conscience, two languages were dominant: Hellenic and Latin. Their faith and their cultural traditions were, after all, common. Anyone who incorporated these two elements was considered a “Roman”.
The later conquest of the western part of the Roman Empire by the Franks brought on many problems. In their attempts to convince that they were the true successors of the Roman Empire, the Franks would refer to the inhabitants of New Rome as “heretics”, “impostors” and “deceivers”.
This is how the derogatory terms against Romanity were being justified and we, the successors of Romanity, have been displaying tolerance without harbouring any suspicions and without giving these terms due consideration.
Undoubtedly, the truth is that Romanity is linked to the glory and the ascent of the human spirit. Despite the fact that some people use the term “Byzantinism” disparagingly, the reality of the matter is that this term engulfs the greatest achievements of mankind. When neo-Romans discussed theological matters, they did it in order to preserve humanity and the ways in which man can reach God. They didn’t merely entertain vast and unending social, political or philosophical conversations; these were discussions that dealt with existential issues. That is why neo-Romans were -and continue to be- up to date and always contemporary, as opposed to the Franks, (the occupants of the western reaches of the Roman Empire and masters of the West, where barbarism and a provincial spirit reigned supreme). When Romanity was at its apex, the West had succumbed to a barbarian dark age, given that orthodox theology was replaced by a scholastic theology, which limited the human experience within the bounds of human intelligence. Furthermore, the diminution of scholastic theology in the West nowadays, and the rise of apocalyptic orthodox theology, are also tokens of the difference that exists between the two civilizations and their ways of living.
This raises the question: “Romanity or Barbarity”? The author of this book has worked on this vital issue. I believe that it is quite enlightening and apocalyptic. The reader can learn many things and find Roman history analyzed, simplified and explained just like many other scientists have described it, but more so fr. John Romanides. Anyone can discover the virtues of being a neo-Roman. The author of this book, Anastasios Philippides, is an acquaintance of mine, and has been, for many decades. I first met him as a primary school student in Edessa. After he had finished his studies in the American College of Thessaloniki, Anatolia, he went on to the financial department of Yale University in USA.
He worked on extensive postgraduate and doctoral studies concerning financial matters and received his Master’s degree from the University of Georgetown in Washington, and later on he worked in the USA. That is how he became acquainted with the western way of life, and as far I know, it disappointed him. He studied the later Roman way of life with great interest and it impressed him profoundly. That is why he subsequently worked on it in a more scientific way, along with the desire to actually become better acquainted with the later Roman way of life. An objective reader can easily see this, by reading his works. A superficial reader may see this as an anti-European book, but the truth is that this book shows the lifestyle of the true Europe, which was ingrained in the spirit of Romanity. The true Europe relates to Europe before Charlemagne, whereas modern-day “Europe” appears to have Charlemagne as its center and portrays him as the successor of the founder of “The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”.
If someone were to dig the soil of Europe, study the culture, the customs, the songs, he will discover in them the true neo-Roman way of life. Thus, whenever we refer to Romanity, we are implying the whole of Europe, as well as the way of life which was inspired by the lifestyle of the Roman Empire, before its occupation by the Franks.
I am convinced that this book will be a good instructor for anyone who wants to cross over the ocean of modern life where the Charlemagne movements prevail, and visit the harbour of Romanity: the highest quality lifestyle that mankind has ever offered.
Archmandrite Hierotheos S. Vlachos
( Fr. Hierotheos is today the Rev. Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and St. Vlasios)
Oversized architecture: Larion, Famagusta, Bufavento:
almost resembling stage décor….
We were accustomed to imagining differently the heavenly sign: “Jesus Christ prevails”that we had once seen hovering above the walls of the Regnant City;
The now dry grass, is trampled on by gypsies’ tents;its mighty towers lay scattered on the ground,resembling dice tossed down by a potentate who lost the game…
For us, it was a different thing to fight for the faith in Christ and for the soul of man enthroned on the lap of the Virgin Mother – the “Supreme Defender” –whose frescoed eyes beheld the yearning of Romanity:
the yearning of that sea upon discovering the balance of kindness.
Thirteen years after the incorporation of Hellas in the European Economic Community, there have been increasing indications around us, of a profound economical and social crisis. Despite the hefty transfers of funds by the European Community, Hellas appears to be drifting away from, rather than drawing nearer to, its European colleagues. To this day, the Hellenic political reaction to this reality is limited to attempts at securing the largest possible amounts from the European funds. In other words, the viewpoint that is predominant is that the problem is purely one of ‘uneven development’, which can be solved only when sufficient funds and technical know-how pour into Hellas from the European Community.
Our opinion is that the Hellenic crisis is of a different nature. It is more of an overall national identity crisis, where the emerging prevalence of a foreign civilization is provoking spasmodic and uncontrollable personal reactions, beyond every moral framework and every form of hierarchy. The transfers of funds will not resolve any problem (not even the immediate economical one), if we do not previously acquire a realization of what our identity is, and what the cultural causes are, that differentiate us from the rest of the European Union; causes that can negate the customary formulas for transcending the crisis. Unless we do this, Hellas will continue to be asking for the others’ “understanding” with regard to her problems, while our European colleagues will continue to express their indignation over our non-conformance to their instructions.
In our opinion, the crisis that we see today is nothing more than the outcome of an age-old contest between two worlds, two civilizations, and two different perceptions of life. However, there is a tendency nowadays to demote the historical differences between Hellenism and the West, in our attempt to invoke a “common European heritage” which supposedly unites the people of the European Union. For example, the acceptance of the Maastricht Treaty – in absentia of the uninformed Hellenic people – was accompanied by a propagandistic bombardment, whose central message was that Hellas has “at last discovered its destiny”, in Europe. Given this kind of backdrop, any viewpoint that opposes the notion of a uniform European Idea and is reminiscent of the historical opposition between Hellas and Western Europe, is most assuredly condemned to be marginalized during the years to come.
The way to the acceptance of this neutralized version of History was opened two centuries ago by certain Western-educated Hellene scholars who imposed on our people a perception of life and History entirely opposite to those that the Hellenic people themselves had preserved during the years of the Turkish occupation. The systematic distortion of our cultural physiognomy has nowadays reached the extreme stage of schizophrenia.
We observe and analyze ourselves, our History and our religion, through a Western point of view. In other words, we look at ourselves in a mirror that doesn’t reflect us, but only an image of us, designed by Western Europeans. Thus, it is only to be expected, that we will not be able to solve our true problems, if we can’t even recognize them in our distorting mirror.
The result of this distortion, but also proof of our cultural difference, is the continuing misapprehension regarding Hellas’ place in Europe. Thus, we have Hellenes feeling flattered whenever they hear official foreign guests praising the country that gave birth to democracy, philosophy etc., and yet, these same Hellenes insist on overlooking the fact that those foreign guests are the ones that also regard today’s Hellas as a decadent country – an embarrassment to Europe. While Hellenes want to boast that they belong to the West, Western Europeans see us as an annoying remnant of the East inside their Community.
These misapprehensions often lead us into major national issues, even into national catastrophes, when Neo-Hellenes refuse to comprehend the Europeans’ reaction to our “justified” national demands. Thus, as a State, we are continuously perplexed by the foreigners’ stance towards the “Grand Idea”, the catastrophe of Asia Minor, the Cyprus issue and more recently, the “Macedonian issue”. In our opinion, it is unfortunately inevitable that the increasing nationalist tensions in Europe today will be bringing us new surprises in the near future, on account of the misguided expectations that we have of foreigners. Already, during the last two years, we have been witnesses to an incredible – for European colleagues- anti-Hellenic sentiment, as displayed in publications of the Western press.
And as far as Western Europeans are concerned, it is only natural for them to harbor whatever views they might have. The problem lies in our own ignorance of the different historical background on which they judge matters.
Our study consists of an effort to historically detect the advent of the different viewpoint through which the Hellenes and the western Europeans see Hellas. Some of the more important problems regarding our national identify cannot be addressed, unless we are familiar with the roots of our historical differences with the West.
An example of such a problem is -as we said before-the opinion that Westerners have about today’s Hellas. It is an opinion of deep contempt, as the millions of our compatriots abroad have had the chance to daily ascertain for themselves. Neo-Hellenes are of the opinion that this contempt has its roots in the Turkish occupation, when foreigners visiting Hellas had observed for themselves the locals’ tremendous lag in progress, as compared to the West. To the extent that Hellas still carries residues of the Turkish occupation, Westerners continue to maintain their contemptuous stance towards her.
This perception is utterly wrong and historically unfounded. The Westerners’ opinions of Hellas were NOT shaped during the Turkish occupation.
This same scorn is observed during the last centuries preceding the fall of Constantinople, when the Latin church had launched its all-out campaign to Latinize Romanity – in its religion as well as in its language. This same contempt is also observed during the time of the Crusades. And should we desire to seek its deeper roots, we will have to go back even further, to the beginning of the Mediaeval period, from the 5th to the 9th centuries, during which time, the idea of “Western Europe” was first formulated.
Consequently, the contempt of the Westerners does not originate from today’s “superiority” of the West’s civilization, but from the historical differences that existed as far back as the time that the western Europeans were still living in the darkness of mediaeval barbarity.
This very essential point is dealt with in more detail, in Part 3 (chapters 6, 7 and 8) of this study.
A second example of a problem that cannot be addressed -unless the historical cause of our difference with the West is researched- is the familiar dilemma as to whether Hellas belongs (culturally, that is) to the “East” or the “West”.1 In our opinion, the related discussions on this matter often do not take into account certain elementary historical facts. As we shall see in our study, Western Europe was born between the 5th and the 8th centuries, when the barbarian Germanic tribes clashed with the Hellenic-Roman civilization, whose exclusive carrier was, at the time, the so-called “Byzantine” Empire. The Western European conscience was shaped within this very conflict with Constantinople, and was defined by it.
From that time onwards, a “Western European” was defined as anyone who was not Christian Orthodox; one who did not feel that he belonged to the Ecumenical Christian Empire with Constantinople as its capital; and one who did not acknowledge the civilization that was formed from the synthesis of Hellenism and Christianity in the Eastern Roman Empire.
If we accept this basic historical definition, then any and all discussions regarding Hellas’ place in Europe, in the West or the East, will cease to be of any relevance. To the “Europeans”, Hellas by definition does not belong to Europe, since she is the heir of an opponent tradition – the opponent civilization which they themselves had to fight against tenaciously, so that they could become what they are today. It should not escape us, that European Mediaeval history between 800 and 1400 A.D. is essentially a continuous conflict between Latins and “Byzantines”.
But even nowadays, most of the seasonal discussions regarding the so-called “common European heritage” do not include elements of our Roman tradition. On the contrary, the remnants of this tradition are looked upon as anachronistic impediments for the fulfillment of Europe’s new cultural profile.
On the other hand, the Hellenes see no reason to identify themselves with either the East or the West, since these two concepts are both defined by an (opponent) relationship with Hellas. That is, the West exists –in the cultural sense- only because it fought against – and annihilated – the Hellenic-Roman civilization, otherwise, all of Europe would have continued to be a Roman province. The East was also something entirely different to the Hellenic-Roman culture, albeit deeply influenced by it during Mediaeval times.
The conclusion is that –historically- the West and the East are both defined by their relationships with Hellas, and not the other way around. This is a true fact, for the simple reason that Hellenes were for at least 1800 years (from 600 B.C. through to 1200 A.D.) undisputedly the most civilized nation in Europe. Subsequently, what happened was that all the other nations that came in contact with us had to take sides and either accept or reject the elements of the existing Hellenic civilization.
1 The «East» is understood here in its Arab-Turkish version, which is the one used mainly by foreigners when they refer to Hellas. There is also the inference to the East as developed by the Russian Slavophiles of the 19th century, with Alexei Komiakov its principal herald. See also Archmandrite Hierotheos Vlachos “Neo-Romans in the East and the West – a brief approach”, Holy Monastery of the Birth of the Theotokos (Pelagias), Levadia, 1993, page 27.
Published (in Greek) by Pelagia Publications