Why Byzantine Civilization is Important
Byzantine civilization is important because without it the modern Western world would not exist. Byzantium preserved and protected the very foundations of Western civilization, and it remains every bit as important as the ancient empires of classical Greece and Rome to civilization as we know it.
Byzantium, in fact, was the empires of Greece and Rome. It was the Eastern Roman Empire - the Rome that never "fell" until 1453 AD. The Eastern Empire provided continuous civilization and government for over a thousand years. For much of that time it rivaled the Roman Empire in size, and continued to field the most powerful and organized army and navy in the known world. Byzantium was as rich if not richer than ancient Rome during most of its history, and it maintained a culture equally advanced.
The Byzantine Empire was the
Shield of the West, actively protecting all of Europe from both invasion and
cultural destruction. Without Byzantium, Islam would almost certainly
today be the only surviving religion in Europe. Without Byzantium even
secular Greco-Roman history and culture would likely have been lost - just
as the histories, cultural traditions and even the monuments of the
Pre-Islamic civilizations of the Middle East were for centuries deliberately
ignored and forgotten.
The Byzantine Empire did more than protect - it also preserved. Even though the rise of Christianity was a major break which caused huge changes in the Greco-Roman world, much of the fabric of ancient life continued in Byzantium. This included the preservation and study of Classical science, literature, philosophy and critical thought, engineering, architecture, art and even medicine.
Most of the ancient Classical literature which survives today was preserved through the Byzantine Empire. The majority of the works of philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato, and the historical texts of Greece and Rome were saved by Byzantine scholars who maintained the ancient traditions of literature and learning. Works that had been lost for centuries in the West were reintroduced by Byzantines fleeing the final occupation of Constantinople, the last capital of the Empire, in 1453.
Byzantium did not simply preserve what was old; it also began what was new. Byzantine scholars and the "lost" knowledge they brought to Italy, Venice, France and England were a founding spark of the Renaissance Era, when sciences and rational enquiry began to lay the foundations of the modern world. Without this Renaissance process there would have been no Enlightenment - and no rise of science and technology.
Byzantium also contributed much to the world in its own right. The Eastern Roman Empire innovated its own new things; including new styles and advances in art, literature, architecture and engineering. Byzantine scholars were among the best, and at times the best and foremost scholars and innovators in the world. Byzantine contributions to Western culture are still around us every day.
At one time all of the Roman and Greek worlds were governed from Constantinople. If you have ancestors from Britain, Eastern or Western Europe, Egypt or elsewhere in North Africa - for centuries they were Byzantine Citizens - and this means you have direct Byzantine heritage.
If Constantinople had fallen to invasion at the same time as the city of Rome everything today would be different. Your religion, your language, your traditions and the culture you live in would likely have no Classical foundation at all. The Renaissance Era, the Age of Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution which grew from them would never have happened. The Dark Ages would have lasted centuries longer, and the last vestiges of Classical tradition would almost certainly have been replaced by dominant Arabic culture and Islamic religion and thought.
It is a tragedy that Byzantium, the Eastern Roman Empire, is today so little appreciated and poorly remembered. Never in the history of the world has a civilization provided so much to, and sacrificed so much for, the world around it. It is shameful that even the word "Byzantine" has come to have a derogatory meaning when its true legacy has always been one of honor.
Greece, Rome, and Byzantium are the foundations of the Western World. Because of this the Byzantine Empire will always matter, and always continue to be important.
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