Byzantine Republic?

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Panzersharkcat
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Byzantine Republic?

Postby Panzersharkcat » 2015-08-16 02:28am

Link to rest of the article.
The textbooks say the Byzantine Empire was a theocratic autocracy uniting church and state under an all-powerful emperor believed by the Byzantines to be God’s viceroy and vicar. Nonsense, says Anthony Kaldellis, professor of classics at Ohio State University. The Byzantine Empire was a continuation of the Roman Empire and even of the Roman Republic. Its political ideology was fundamentally secular and grounded in the ancient Roman republican belief that government exists to serve the common good. Its people no longer had a legal role in the election of leaders or legislators, but they often played an extralegal role in the making and unmaking of emperors, whose legitimacy depended on popularity and not on a claim of divine right or constitutional correctness. Emperors therefore ruled pragmatically and not fanatically, often disappointing the Church to please the people.

This is fresh air for Orthodox Christians, who have had to bear the accusation of Byzantine theocracy longer than Western Christians have had to bear the accusations of the Crusades and the Inquisition. But Kaldellis’s The Byzantine Republic also provides useful criticism of modern Western political thinking, as well as portentous, if inadvertent, insight into progressive democratic thinking and where it will take us.

His book is a frankly revisionist attack on the field of Byzantine studies, which has perpetuated age-old Western prejudices at odds with the historical record. Kaldellis takes aim mostly at academics of the 1930s and their imitators, but the roots of prejudice go back much further to the anti-Orthodox propaganda of the Middle Ages. The Orthodox Byzantines refused to recognize the supremacy of the Pope of Rome over all things sacred and secular, and they allowed their emperor far more authority over the Church than papal partisans could countenance. Later, during the Enlightenment, as the West moved to exclude religion from politics, the Byzantines were held up as the prime example of “caesaropapism” under the mistaken belief that the Byzantine emperor ruled as both king and pope, with no separation of church and state.

While I found it an interesting read, I do not know enough to say how accurate the book's thesis is. Thanas?
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K. A. Pital
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Re: Byzantine Republic?

Postby K. A. Pital » 2015-08-16 03:55am

I'd also like to hear Thanas' take on this, but from what I've read (the Slavic Byzantine studies were way more deep and nuanced than in the West), Byzantium was indeed not what it was made to be through the church propaganda. I agree with the review in that it's hard to apply modern conventions of secularism and religious rule to ancient societies, among them the Byzantine one, so there's more research needed into the matters of how religion affected - and regulated - the daily lives of the Byzantines. There's nothing wrong with claiming Byzantium was "accidentally" Christian, though: we have seen throughout history a variety of religions that could've taken the place of Christianity. Indeed, if one does not subscribe to Euro-centrism, religious dogmatism and Christianity itself, it is quite easy to come up with alternatives (even if they're not explicitly mentioned because ours is a world of real events, not imagined).

Thanks for bringing this to my (and everyone's attention). I think the book is worth a read.
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Re: Byzantine Republic?

Postby Thanas » 2015-08-16 11:38am

This is the problem of what happens when a magazine (American Conservative) lets a non-historian (and a protodeacon of the Orthodox Church to boot) review a historical work.

First of all, the conclusion that the Roman Emperors ruled pragmatically and had control over the church is nothing new. Not even in Western Scholarship. It has been the prevailing view since the great scholar Russian-born and German-educated George Ostrogorsky published his seminal "Geschichte des byzantinischen Staates" in 1940. Since then, nobody disputes that theory. Heck, even Norwich, a talented amateur, advances the same theory in his works. There is no opposition to this idea that is worth mentioning, so I don't see how this is anything besides beating a dead horse. It could be that there are some new details but everything the article mentions is already well-known. I cannot see how anybody who reads the Byzantine sources can come to any other conclusion. The fact that the Emperors were able to depose the heads of the church and access Church wealth should be enough even for the casual observer to recognize who pulls the shots.

And I don't see what is served with clubbing academics of the 1930s who are long dead and who switched their stances en masse after Ostrogorsky came out anyway.

Where the book however does stray off is in calling the Empire a continuation of the Roman Republic. It could be better called an evolution of it, for the previous emperors made some very harsh choices in limiting the senate and reducing its dignitas and auctoritas. In the same time, Justinian should not be seen as some arbiter of the politeia but instead as the last of the Emperors of the fourth and fitfth centuries.

In my opinion, the author is too caught up in official Imperial propaganda. Augustus portrayed himself a republican. As did most Emperors after him. Yet the form of the state was quite different and evolved constantly. It is very hard to look at the Byzantine empire of the Komneni and say "Yep, logical evolution of the Republic of the Punic Wars". Some elements were always there - including the service to the common good - but the overall state was quite different.

So I wouldn't spend money on it, but will check it out if the library gets it.
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cmdrjones
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Re: Byzantine Republic?

Postby cmdrjones » 2015-08-17 07:15pm

Thanas wrote:This is the problem of what happens when a magazine (American Conservative) lets a non-historian (and a protodeacon of the Orthodox Church to boot) review a historical work.

First of all, the conclusion that the Roman Emperors ruled pragmatically and had control over the church is nothing new. Not even in Western Scholarship. It has been the prevailing view since the great scholar Russian-born and German-educated George Ostrogorsky published his seminal "Geschichte des byzantinischen Staates" in 1940. Since then, nobody disputes that theory. Heck, even Norwich, a talented amateur, advances the same theory in his works. There is no opposition to this idea that is worth mentioning, so I don't see how this is anything besides beating a dead horse. It could be that there are some new details but everything the article mentions is already well-known. I cannot see how anybody who reads the Byzantine sources can come to any other conclusion. The fact that the Emperors were able to depose the heads of the church and access Church wealth should be enough even for the casual observer to recognize who pulls the shots.

And I don't see what is served with clubbing academics of the 1930s who are long dead and who switched their stances en masse after Ostrogorsky came out anyway.

Where the book however does stray off is in calling the Empire a continuation of the Roman Republic. It could be better called an evolution of it, for the previous emperors made some very harsh choices in limiting the senate and reducing its dignitas and auctoritas. In the same time, Justinian should not be seen as some arbiter of the politeia but instead as the last of the Emperors of the fourth and fitfth centuries.

In my opinion, the author is too caught up in official Imperial propaganda. Augustus portrayed himself a republican. As did most Emperors after him. Yet the form of the state was quite different and evolved constantly. It is very hard to look at the Byzantine empire of the Komneni and say "Yep, logical evolution of the Republic of the Punic Wars". Some elements were always there - including the service to the common good - but the overall state was quite different.

So I wouldn't spend money on it, but will check it out if the library gets it.


I think he's rehashing this trip over already covered ground for a modern audience. It a valid criticism, but if there hasn't been a major work on a subject LIKE this since the forties, then an update to bring it to a new generation could be warranted.... it's not like publishers go through their old stuff and yank out books from 70 years ago for a "reboot".... I dunno, perhaps they should.

I think anybody familiar with Iconoclasm would conclude they Byzantines did things far differently than the western church.
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Thanas
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Re: Byzantine Republic?

Postby Thanas » 2015-08-17 07:16pm

Eh...the Ostrogorsky book has been republished several times, is still in print and is just one of many who deal with this subject.
Whoever says "education does not matter" can try ignorance
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A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is 'survival as what'? A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for. It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! - Chief Judge Haywood
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