Were the Byzantines responsible for the Renaissance?

Mar 29 2010


Listener Gerardo asked if the Renaissance can really be attributed to Byzantium’s influence.  I think it’s going too far to say that Byzantine émigrés caused the Renaissance, but they certainly shaped it.  Western Europe was rediscovering its classical past and was fascinated especially by ancient Greece when Byzantine figures like Pletho, Chrysoloras and Cydones arrived.  They acted as a catalyst to a movement already underway, tutoring some of the earliest figures of the Renaissance.  The study of Greek- which had died out in medieval Europe- was re-introduced and the West was re-acquainted with the giants of Greek learning.  The Renaissance would undoubtedly have occurred without these direct Byzantine influences, but it would have been much poorer for the absence.

2 responses so far

  1. Would you say that Constantinople deserves just as much credit as Baghdad for securing ancient Greco-Roman cultural and scientific advances during the dark ages?

  2. As far as preserving the ancient Greco-Roman cultural and scientific advances I would say that Constantinople deserves far more credit than Baghdad. The Arabs got a hold of the intellectual legacy of the classical world in the first place from Byzantium. The Islamic contribution lies in extending the scientific inquiry that they then handed off to the West via Spain, but that would have been impossible without the eastern-Roman scholars who initially saved it. Popular culture- as usual only telling half of the story- assigns most of the thanks to the Muslim world and ignores Byzantium.

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