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History of the Byzantine Philosophy and the Slavs

Posted in Ancient Greece  by antiques

byzantine-philosophy-wedding-ringPerhaps the single most salient aspect of Byzantine culture was the transmission of classical culture. While classical studies, science, and philosophy largely dissipated in the Latin west, Byzantine education and philosophy still zealously pursued these intellectual traditions. It was in Byzantium that Plato and Aristotle continued to be studied and were eventually transmitted first into the Islamic world and then back into western Europe. A basic education in Byzantium consisted first of the mastery of classical Greek literature, such as Homer (largely unknown in the West during this period)—almost all of the Greek literature we have today was only preserved by the Byzantines.

Unlike Greece and Rome during the classical period or the Latin West during the Middle Ages, women actively participated in the intellectual life of the culture. While they could not attend schools, aristocratic women were often well-educated at home by tutors in literature, history, composition, and philosophy. The greatest of Byzantine writers, in fact, was the historian Anna Comnena, the daughter of the emperor Alexius. Her biography of her father is one of the greatest works of medieval historiography in existence—this includes the histories written in Europe.

Byzantine culture is important because of two lines of transmission. One of line of transmission involved the exporting of classical Greek and Roman culture into Islam and, to a lesser extent, the transmission of Byzantine theological speculation into Islamic theology. The second is the transmission of Byzantine culture and religion to Slavic peoples, especially to the Russians.

We know very little about the Slavs before the Middle Ages—what we do know we only know through archaeology. As Byzantium, however, turned less of its attention towards Europe and the west, they became increasingly interested in the peoples to the north. We don’t know how cultural contact was initiated between these two peoples, but sometime around 988 a Russian ruler named Vladimir converted to Byzantine Christianity. From that point onwards, the Slavs in Russia became a kind of cultural inheritor of Byzantine culture, adopting the religion, theology, some social structures, and writing from the Byzantines to the south. In many ways Russian and Slavic culture is the continuance of Byzantine culture and many Byzantine cultural practices and beliefs are still practiced among Slavs today. Russian religion, art, philosophy, and even literature, such as the writings of Chekhov and Dostoevsky, show profound influences from Byzantine culture. The Byzantine inheritance also included the sense that Byzantine culture and practice was fundamentally different from European culture and practice. This sense of Byzantine distinctiveness would also impress itself on Slavic cultures up until the present.

So close was this cultural connection, that Russians believed that they were the inheritors of the Byzantine Empire when it finally collapsed in 1453. The Russian rulers assumed the title of “Caesar,” the title bestowed on Byzantine emperors—in Russian, the word is “Tsar.” With the government centered in Moscow, the Russian Tsars declared Moscow to be the “third Rome,” after Rome and Byzantium, and so located themselves in a cultural and historical trajectory that began with the Roman empire. - Inspired by

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