Brownworth Lars - Lost to the West

Author : Brownworth Lars
Title : Lost to the West The forgotten Byzantine Empire that rescued Western Civilization
Year : 2009

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Introduction. I first met Byzantium in a pleasant little salt marsh on the north shore of Long Island. I had paused there to read a book about what was innocently called the “later Roman Empire,” prepared to trace the familiar descent of civilization into the chaos and savagery of the Dark Ages. Instead, nestled under my favorite tree, I found myself confronted with a rich tapestry of lively emperors and seething barbarian hordes, of men and women who claimed to be emperors of Rome long after the Roman Empire was supposed to be dead and buried. It was at once both familiar and exotic; a Roman Empire that had somehow survived the Dark Ages, and kept the light of the classical world alive. At times, its history seemed to be ripped from the headlines. This Judeo-Christian society with Greco-Roman roots struggled with immigration, the role of church and state, and the dangers of a militant Islam. Its poor wanted the rich taxed more, its rich could afford to find the loopholes, and a swollen bureaucracy tried hard to find a balance that brought in enough money without crushing everyone. And yet Byzantium was at the same time a place of startling strangeness, alluring but quite alien to the modern world. Holy men perched atop pillars, emperors ascended pulpits to deliver lashing sermons, and hairsplitting points of theology could touch off riots in the streets. The concepts of democracy that infuse the modern world would have horrified the Byzantines. Their society had been founded in the instability and chaos of the third century, a time of endemic revolts with emperors who were desperately trying to elevate the dignity of the throne. Democracy, with its implications that all were equal, would have struck at the very underpinnings of their hierarchical, ordered world, raising nightmares of the unceasing civil wars that they had labored so hard to escape. The Byzantines, however, were no prisoners of an oppressive autocratic society. Lowly peasants and orphaned women found their way onto the throne, and it was a humble farmer from what is now Macedonia who rose to become Byzantium’s greatest ruler, extending its vast domains until they embraced nearly the entire Mediterranean. His successors oversaw a deeply religious society with a secular educational system that saw itself as the guardian of light and civilization in a swiftly darkening world. They were, as Robert Byron so famously put it, a “triple fusion”: a Roman body, a Greek mind, and a mystic soul. ...

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