Tag Archives: Byzantium

NL XLII: The First Barbarism: The Saracens

Index to this series

Executive summary: The barbarians who overran the Western Roman Empire were not barbarists in Collingwood’s technical sense. However, “in the seventh century a movement inspired by hostility towards everything Roman … and everything Christian, flared up on the south-eastern frontier of the Roman world” (42. 22). This movement was therefore barbarist. Failing to conquer Europe, either from the east at Constantinople, or from the west at Tours, the movement settled down and ceased being barbarist—by the account in Chapter XLII, “The First Barbarism: The Saracens,” and later, in Collingwood’s New Leviathan. I check this account against more recent sources; it is barbarist to think that the “movement” in question, or indeed any movement, must always be barbarist; I look at the “civilization” of the British Empire as portrayed in a story of Maugham, and I compare a character of the story to Collingwood.


Collingwood’s historical account of barbarisms is a minefield, if one wishes not to sound like a barbarist oneself. The four examples will be

  1. the Saracens,
  2. the “Albigensian Heresy” (or the Bogomils),
  3. the Turks, and
  4. the Germans.

The very formula “the X”—definite article followed by national or quasi-national adjective—this has a barbaric use in branding a people with indelible features. A retort then is “not all X,” as in “not all men.” Collingwood issues such a proviso himself:

45. 68. Please observe, Reader, that I am not talking about all Germans. I do not say that all Germans are liars. I know of some who are not; those heroes, for example, who continue in spite of everything the Nazis can do to run their secret wireless station and keep on printing Das Wahre Deutschland.

Das wahre Deutschland, from a Swiss antiquarian bookshop, Antiquariat Peter Petrej

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Edirne

This is about a May Day trip to the second Ottoman capital from the third. In the latter, the government has been suppressing May Day demonstrations in Taksim Square since 2013. That year, the suppression may have helped provoke the Gezi Park protests, as I suggested in “May Day One Month Late.” I reported on the following year’s suppression in “Madness, Stupidity, or Evil?” This year (2017), labor unions held a legal May Day demonstration in Bakırköy, further west in European Istanbul, as reported by the Anadolu Agency (which as far as I know is owned by the Turkish state). My wife and I just got out of town.

Selimiye Mosque, 2017.04.30

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Beykoz, Istanbul

After five years in Istanbul, we continue to learn how much there is still to discover here. Now we have been to the Asian borough of Beykoz. Much of what we saw there was rural, and the topography and flora reminded me of Appalachia. I have nothing to say about the poverty and ignorance that might be suggested by this term; for me, Appalachia was always a locus for holidays, mostly at my late uncle’s place in West Virginia, but also in the form of bicycle tours. Travelling now to Beykoz, Country roads, I could think, take me home, to the place I belong! We got there by public bus from our European borough of Şişli.

Polonezköy, Beykoz, 2016.08.14

Polonezköy, Beykoz, 2016.08.14

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Turks of 1071 and Today



Skip to Michael Attaleiates on Alparslan after the Battle of Manzikert

Published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788, Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire tells the story of a thousand years and more, from before the founding of Constantinople in 330 till after its loss in 1453. Gibbon can be ridiculed for his title: a millenium is a long time to be in decline. The three thick volumes of the Penguin edition took me a long time to read, if not quite as long as Gibbon took to write. I was living in Ankara at the time, but I enjoyed being able to read Gibbon’s work also while visiting the three old imperial capitals: Istanbul, Rome, and Milan. Continue reading

Books hung out with

The following are some books that I have read more times than I can remember. I list them in order of publication, though my first readings of them came in the opposite order:

  1. R. G. Collingwood, The Principles of Art (1938);
  2. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge (1944);
  3. Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974).

I want to say some things about all of these books, and their writers. I intend especially to address the last book, which I shall call ZAMM. Continue reading

Michael Psellus on learning

The value of learning was in question, a thousand years ago, during and after the reign of Emperor Basil II, in what was to become Istanbul. When learning has no purpose, it may flourish; when it has, it may be abandoned when the purpose is not achieved soon enough. Michael Psellus suggests this in Fourteen Byzantine Emperors (London: Penguin, 1966).

Michael Psellos
Michael Psellos (left) with his student, Byzantine Emperor Michael VII Doukas (from Wikipedia)

Basil died in 1025. Michael was born in 1018; here is what he says.

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Basil II

One reason for this blog is to avoid being enclosed by the wall of the garden called Facebook.

Sometimes I enjoy reading the history of where I live, and lately I have been working slowly through Judith Herrin, Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire. The work is not chronological like that of John Julius Norwich (I have read only his Short History of Byzantium); but it does have a chapter on Emperor Basil II, the so-called Bulgar-Slayer, who apparently led the Byzantine Empire to its apogee. Reading this, I could not remember having read about Basil before, in Michael Psellus; but I had, as I could see when Herrin mentioned the latter. Continue reading