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The Spirit of the Byzantine Empire

The impressive grandeur and the vibrant charm of the Greek Middle Ages

By Giorgos Panagiotakis

 

INTRODUCTION

It was the most powerful empire in Europe for centuries, a state bridging three continents and bringing together two cultures: that of the West and that of the East. It was created as the extension of the ancient Greco-Roman world around the 4th century AD and managed to hold its grounds throughout the Middle Ages. In the height of its glory, in the mid-6th century AD, its borders expanded from the Atlantic Ocean to Persia, and from North Africa to the Russian coastline. It was a blend of nations, cultures, languages and religions. A diverse country, which was crossed by ships and caravans of merchants. An essentially Greek empire, which was flourishing spiritually and economically and was characterized by a very particular, mystical fragrance.

The years of decline ultimately arrived. The mighty empire was weakened, it shrank and was eventually abolished. In 1453, its capital, Constantinople, fell into the hands of foreigners, but the spirit of the Byzantine Empire survived and with the help of artist and philosopher refugees it grafted on European thought and contributed to the Renaissance. Centuries later, this spirit lives on. It is among the founding materials of the contemporary Greek identity, having transpired in its tradition, its art, even its cuisine! Let's make an attempt to map it out, travelling from the Byzantium of the past all the way to nowadays.