Archive for the 'Rus Culture' Category

Did the Byzantine Empire Fall in 1991?

Jan 31 2012 Published by under Rus,Rus Culture,Russia,Russian Revolution

Drew asks if we can consider the Soviet Empire as a continuation of Byzantium.  It’s well known that Moscow at one time considered itself as the ‘third Rome’ (or second Constantinople).  There were some compelling reasons to think this.  Moscow was originally built on seven hills like Rome and Constantinople, Russian troops had been serving in the Byzantine army since the 10th century, and the Russian alphabet, Orthodoxy, and (to some degree) culture had been provided by Byzantium.  When Ivan III married Sophia Paleologus- the niece of the last Byzantine emperor- he had a strong claim to be the legitimate heir to the Roman Empire.

Setting aside Ivan for a moment, we can dismiss the Soviet Empire entirely.  It was a reaction against the very institutions which drew their inspiration from Byzantium.  It replaced Orthodoxy with its own saints- Marx, Lenin, Stalin, etc- and did away with the traditional and political underpinnings of the Tsardom.

A better case can be made that the Russian Revolution of 1917 ended Byzantium, but there are still some serious problems with this.  For all of the similarities the Russian Empire was a unique entity.  They added their own influences into the mix and ultimately drew their inspiration from the Slavic world not the Greek one.  More importantly, they didn’t think of themselves as a continuation so much as use imperial Byzantine symbols to legitimize their own rule.  Ivan wrapped himself in the double eagle because it added to his prestige, not because he thought of himself as a new Constantine.  He was more interested in keeping Ivan alive (and in power) than in resuscitating Byzantium.  Constantinople was only important so far as it aided that goal.

A case in point is the 2009 Russian video “Death of an Empire: the Byzantine Lesson” which is narrated by Vladimir Putin’s father-confessor.  (you can watch the entire thing on youtube)  The film draws a parallel between Byzantium and Russia and the message is that the West is not to be trusted.  The Byzantine Empire is pressed into service as a surrogate Russia, and its fall is a warning not to fall into the debt of the West.  But the narrator’s call is not to restore Byzantium, it is to restore the Orthodox Russian Empire; an entity not a successor.

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Byzantium on the Volga

Mar 13 2011 Published by under Kiev,Rus,Rus Culture

St. Sophia of Kiev

Jack asks how close early Russian culture was to Byzantine culture.

The Rus had contact with Constantinople at least as early as the 830’s, but the close ties began with the Rus adoption of Christianity in 989.  As always with Byzantine policy, Christianity was the main vehicle for the transmission of culture.  The first cathedrals in Russia were built by imported Byzantine architects and they were decorated by imperial artisans.  St. Sophia of Kiev, the premier Rus architectural achievement of the 11th century, was modeled on the Hagia Sophia and its metropolitan was subordinated to the Patriarch of Constantinople.  By the 1040’s a Byzantine traveler to Kiev would have found it at least visually familiar.

But Russian culture was never a simple copy of Byzantium.  It took centuries for Christianity to spread across the vast Rus lands and only a select part of Byzantium was absorbed.  For instance, although the Bible was rendered into Old Church Slavonic there is no evidence that any of the Greek treatises on philosophy, mathematics, or science were translated.  In other words, the Rus were only interested in some aspects of imperial culture- mostly the magnificent pageantry.  The divine liturgy was imported along with the dress and trappings of the court, but the literature was passed up.  By the end of the 11th century Constantinople’s pull was beginning to wane and then in 1236 with the invasion of the Golden Horde Russia was wrenched firmly into the Mongolian orbit.

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