History of the Byzantine Empire

History of the Byzantine Empire

History of the Byzantine Empire

History of the Byzantine Empire

Excerpt

The history of the Byzantine Empire, notwithstanding the numerous works which have almost re-created it in the last fifty years, is still the object of unyielding prejudices, especially in the West. To many of our contemporaries it still appears, as it appeared to Montesquieu and Gibbon, as the continuation and degeneration of the Roman Empire. Through an unconscious effect of immemorial jealousies, through a dim recollection of vanished religious passions, we still judge the Greeks of the Middle Ages as did the Crusaders, who did not understand them, and the Popes, who excommunicated them.

In like manner, Byzantine art is still too often regarded as a stationary art, -- we like to call it "hieratic," -- powerless to renew itself, and, under the close surveillance of the Church, limiting its thousand-year activity to copying over and over again the creations of a few artists of genius.

As a matter of fact, Byzantium was something quite different. Although she freely proclaimed herself to be the inheritor and continuator of Rome; although her emperors, to the very last, assumed the title of "Basileus of the Romans"; although they never abandoned the claims that they asserted to the ancient and glorious capital of the Empire, yet in reality Byzantium very quickly became, and was essentially, an Oriental monarchy.

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