The Old Guard: The Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire is incredibly underrated, both in terms of its contributions to Western Civilization and the lessons we can gather from this empire.
Everyone discusses the fall of Rome, but its Middle Ages counterpart is often overlooked.
Not much of their legacy lives on because of the Turks and their desecration of anything beautiful, but we are fortunate that much of their splendor was traded through the Spain and Italian trade routes (and Byzantine holdings) throughout their years, giving us a few treasured historical insights to such a powerful empire.
I am fairly biased, I won’t lie to you all. I have always been enthralled by the Byzantines. They are a historical anomaly; a fascination for their fortitude in the face of so much adversity (from all sides). Their history is captivating and well-worth a dive in for those interested.
The Byzantines really were the Old Guard of Europe. They protected Europe from Islam for nearly a thousand years. If not for them, Islam would have been breathing at Europe’s door incessantly for a millennium.
But instead, the Old Guard Byzantium stood strong from after the fall of Western Rome in the 5th century AD to 1453 when Constantinople finally fell to the Ottomans. During that time, Europe developed the strength and civilizations of their own to repel further Islamic conquest. But they would have struggled significantly without the Byzantines.
God graced the Western Europeans with the Byzantine Empire to thwart off the Islamists, only for modern Europe to turn their backs on their sacrifice and allow the Islamists to freely invade them en masse as “refugees” today. A truly sad sight to behold.
Most of my readers already know of a few reasons why the Byzantines fell. Even if you don’t know the exact details, if you’ve read about the cycle of political collapse, I’m sure you could guess:
- Internal strife (The Byzantines fought each other more often than the Muslims toward the end).
- Foreign control / Financial issues (The Byzantines handed over control over their own finances to other states like Genoa and Venice, who then plagued them with foreign influence, up to and including selecting the Byzantine emperor indirectly).
- A weakened military.
- Tolerance toward foreign-born, especially when hunting for mercenaries.
- Religious upheaval (Mostly through Christian in-fighting).
These should sound very familiar for an American.
Another familiar trend during their collapse is reported by Sir John Glubb:
Another remarkable and unexpected symptom of national decline is the intensi- fication of internal political hatreds. One would have expected that, when the survival of the nation became precarious, political factions would drop their rivalry and stand shoulder-to-shoulder to save their country.
In the fourteenth century, the weakening empire of Byzantium was threatened, and indeed dominated, by the Ottoman Turks. The situation was so serious that one would have expected every subject of Byzantium to abandon his personal interests and to stand with his compatriots in a last desperate attempt to save the country. The reverse occurred. The Byzantines spent the last fifty years of their history in fighting one another in repeated civil wars, until the Ottomans moved in and administered the coup de grâce.
As the nation declines in power and wealth, a universal pessimism gradually pervades the people, and itself hastens the decline. There is nothing succeeds like success, and, in the Ages of Conquest and Commerce, the nation was carried triumphantly onwards on the wave of its own self-confidence. Republican Rome was repeatedly on the verge of extinction—in 390 B.C. when the Gauls sacked the city and in 216 B.C. after the Battle of Cannae. But no disasters could shake the resolution of the early Romans. Yet, in the later stages of Roman decline, the whole empire was deeply pessimistic, thereby sapping its own resolution.
Frivolity is the frequent companion of pessimism. Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. The resemblance between various declining nations in this respect is truly surprising. The Roman mob, we have seen, demanded free meals and public games. Gladiatorial shows, chariot races and athletic events were their passion. In the Byzantine Empire the rivalries of the Greens and the Blues in the hippodrome attained the importance of a major crisis.
So, we can add frivolous lust for distractions/escapes like sports and media consumption to the list (America definitely has that: Pathological Cowardice: The Final Stage Of Individualism). Along with blindness to catastrophic problems due to internal hatred (That too: The Division In Democracy). Oh, and a spiritual decay within the national soul of the people (No one would question this one).
So, all three are also relevant if we’re comparing the Byzantines to our current American Empire.
That’s eight out of eight so far. But who is keeping count?
Moving on—An often overlooked reason regarding the fall of the Byzantine Empire is immigration, which was the same as Rome.
I have been reading Harold King’s “A History Of Civilization“: a book that has been mostly relegated to the dustbin of history. It is not well known, nor is it popular, but it is interesting to see the mindset of our collective history from an earlier age.
King had an apt summary for their fall:
The fall of the Byzantine Empire should not be the subject of long musing, or prolonged wonder and distress that such a calamity descended. It deteriorated within, as did the Roman World, and for much the same reason; it was barbarized from without. The penetration of northern Slavs brought the same dilution of a high civilization which the Roman World had suffered from the Germans. And so, when the defenders of Constantinople no longer possessed the old intelligence and skill, that no longer impregnable fortress fell.
They were much more blunt back when the book was first written in the 1950s.
At the end of it all, the Byzantines were first overrun due to their spiritual weakness from within, before the Ottomans physically overran them from without.
What is interesting is that if we extend this past just the Romans and the Byzantines, the story is often similar. Note the trends with all civilizational collapses—A high civilization is diluted, most often by some spiritual plague internally, and then subsequently faces a physical ailment externally.
The slow decline of the high civilization comes about from a spiritual fall within the people that allows the physical degeneration to materialize. It starts with the national soul.
This is why many dissidents are rightfully aware that there is no “solution” to our current problems. The real problem—the dilution of the American soul—occurred long ago. What we are witnessing now is the finale; One that cannot be reversed.
Once the physical ailments are present, there is no longer any cure that will work, for the high civilization spirit is already long dead. It is a walking corpse.
There will be a day when the American Empire is added to this list, and someone writes a history book where they state that the ‘prolonged wonder of the collapse of the greatest hegemony in the world should not be surprising or even worth extra discussion, because it is the same as all the others. The penetration of the Americas by… Well, every other nation on the planet, was fully expected. The dilution of the high civilization occurred long before millions of people flocked to take advantage of the beautiful decay. Because that dilution allowed the locusts to be tolerated in the first place’.
And that will be common knowledge, as the Byzantine and Roman story is today.
Which gives us an important lesson for whatever new civilization eventually takes our place:
Stop making the same mistakes. Keep the spirit alive, and the other nations out.
Read Next: The Evil Of Ancient Carthage
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