Part 1 // Contents // Part 3




PART 2: The shaping of the Roman conscience

                                    Chapter 4 -- The supra-national State

                                    Chapter 5 -- The Christian World

                              a) Political ideology

                              b) Caesaro-Papism

                              c) Theocracy



Chapter 4 -- The supra-national State


In this chapter we shall be examining the national conscience of our forefathers, from 300 A.D. onwards. This is the same national conscience that had been preserved up until the days of Hellas liberation in 1830 and which had furthermore differentiated us from western Europeans to a very large degree. In order to better comprehend this Roman national conscience we need to examine the national conscience of the Romans of the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries, when the conflicts between the Romans and the barbaric tribes began; in other words, between our ancestors and the ancestors of contemporary western Europeans.  This is not an easy feat to perform nowadays, since, in order to obtain a clear picture of that era, we must put aside the modern concepts that we might have stamped indelibly inside us that stem from the meaning Nation- State.  Nation-States are characterized by the common bonds of blood language tradition history, which differentiate them from other nation-states.


The Roman Empire was an entirely different thing.  It was the most powerful of all the political organisms that had ever appeared in the History of mankind until that time; and furthermore, after the incorporation of Hellas and the gradual formation of the Hellenic-Roman civilization, it was also the only carrier of civilization in Europe and the Mediterranean.  Throughout the vast expanse of the Empire, there had been no other civilized State. Even though there existed a multitude of nations, and an assortment of languages and religions within the Empire, all of these differences were insignificant, when compared to the difference between a Roman and a barbarian between civilized and primitive.  (Up until the middle of the 4th century, none of the barbaric tribes had even discovered writing; the Goths had only just acquired an alphabet at the time).


In this multi-national State, its citizens (as well as those inhabitants who had not yet become its citizens by 212 A.D., but who had done so at the time) were proud of their Romanicity and their education. Racial and national descent gradually ceased to be determining factors for the shaping of a collective conscience, and Romanicity became enveloped which is what is usually observed in such cases in a metaphysical cloak.  Rome was nicknamed the eternal city and the peoples faith in its eternicity was deep and unshakeable. [1]


Even the barbarians themselves stood in awe before that colossal political and military structure.  Their dream was not to demolish it we have no such indications but rather, they coveted becoming its members. [2]


They would enlist themselves in the Roman army as mercenaries and would long for a taste of their wealthy neighbors majesty.  Perhaps the only contemporary example that can help the reader to understand this feeling is the emigration to America.  America is, likewise, an almighty, wealthy, multi-national country in which an immigrants every previous national pride is extinguished, in expectation of the pride of becoming an American.  The dream of every desperate peasant from Salvador and Guatemala is not the destruction of what he is looking forward to; his desire is to be accepted by Americans as an equal to become a participant in their kingdom.

This is how we must envisage the original relations between the barbarians and the Romans.  Many of them actually did manage to rise through the military ranks; in fact, one of them, Stelechon, reached the stage of holding in his very hands the defence of Italy itself, around 400 A.D., bearing the title of Magister Militum.


The splendor of the Roman Empire and the respect of the barbarians were preserved long after the fall of Rome.  Besides, even its (incorrectly) alleged final conqueror, Odoacer in 476 A.D., did not dare to substitute the emperor Romulus-Augustus, whom he had overthrown.  We stress incorrectly, because there was nothing final about this conquest.  Sixty years later, the Roman army under Belissarius and Narses liberated the city once again. The only final thing that occurred in 476 A.D. was the abolition of diarchy, which had been the legacy of Theodosius I since 395 A.D.  From then on, there was only one Emperor of the Romans, with Constantinople as the Seat of the Throne.  Unfortunately, the use of the misleading term Byzantine hinders us from seeing things as they truly were, thus we read about the Byzantine conquest of Italy during the time of Justinian....  Odoacer had sent the imperial standards to the emperor of the eastern Roman Empire Zenon, from whom he requested to be given the title of patrician and be allowed to govern the West in the emperors name.


The same thing was observed with Odoacers victor, the Ostrogoth Theodoric (who was raised in Constantinople), king of Italy from 493 to 526 A.D.  Theodoric had minted coins exclusively in the name of the emperor of Constantinople and had adopted the name Flavius.  To the emperor Anastasios he had written: Regnum nostrum imitation vestra est, unici exemplar imperii  (Our reign is an imitation of yours, the exemplary, unique empire) [3]


Quite frequently, the barbarians would attempt to emulate the external characteristics of Roman ritual. Gregory, bishop of Turensium (Tours) has preserved for us the description of the proclamation of Clodovic (Clovis or Clodwig) as king of the Franks as consul in 508 A.D.:  The emperor Anastasios sent letters to Clodovic, to bestow consulship on him.  Clodovic stood in the church of saint Martin, draped in a cloak and military mantle, and was crowned with a diadem. He then mounted his horse and distributed with his own hands silver and gold coins to the crowd that was standing at the door of the church of saint Martin and up to the cathedral of Tours.  And from that day on, he was pronounced Consul or Augustus.  [4]

The feigned attempt of a barbarian chief to follow Roman rituals even down to the established distribution of coins needs no further comments. It is more than obvious, that the ultimate dream of every barbarian was to be able to resemble a Roman.


Even more characteristic was the stance of the Longobards, who, between 570 600 A.D. succeeded in finally Italy finally falling to the barbarians. Further away from Rome, in the territories of Ravenna, Naples, Calabria and Sicily, the remaining Romans in the western part of the Empire were, from then on, finally subjugated.  Even though more than 200 years had passed from the time that the Roman Empire began to display its weaknesses in the presence of the barbarians, the conquering Longobards still did not dare call themselves masters of Italian soil. The Longobard Paul the Deacon, when writing the history of his people in 780 A.D., mentions (in a widely commented phrase) that the Longobards remained in Italy as guests (hospes / hospites) of the Roman landlords. [5]


The fact that this word was used instead of the word patron that befits a feudal system is an indication that the Romans had not lost their titles as landowners.  The temporariness that the word hospes implies cannot have but one explanation: If the weapons of the Longobards had indeed irrevocably subdued the Romans in the territory that we mentioned, then this (Longobard) hesitance must, in our opinion, be attributed to the persistent splendor of the Roman legend.


An even more impressive element, however, which evidences the appeal of Roman authority, was the use of the title Roman Emperor by barbarian chieftains such as Charlemagne and Otto I in the 9th and 10th centuries, a full 400 500 years after the final fall of the Western Roman Empire. It appears that even then, in the conscience of every mediaeval man, the only legal, supreme authority continued to be the Roman emperor.  He alone had the sovereign right to power over all the Christians of the World.  We shall revert to the details of Charlemagnes coronation as emperor, in the 8th chapter.

In closing this section, we would like to repeat that the Roman Empire was a State in which it was impossible for racial and national fanaticisms to develop, in the form that mankind encountered from 1800 A.D. onwards.  In the supra-national Roman Empire with its variety of nationalities proudly participating in the idea of Romanicity, any former barbarian could become a Roman, provided he embraced the Hellenic-Roman education and tradition. Through marriages and inter-marriages, many barbarians were incorporated into Roman society. Stelechon, whom we mentioned previously, had married the niece of the emperor Theodosius the Great. Christianity, which had gradually become predominant throughout the Empire, gave the final blow to all ethnic/nationalist discriminations.

From then on, the supra-national Roman ideology now widespread thanks to the Christian teaching of brotherhood between all men was preserved for centuries in the Byzantine empire, which was also a supra-national State.  This is why there is absolutely no meaning to the discussions that still preoccupy historians, even today, as to how Hellenic the Byzantine empire was (see for example the conflicting opinions of Mango, Charanis, and Karayannopoulos).  From a national perspective, it was neither Hellenic, nor Byzantine; it was Roman and supra-national.  (Culturally of course it was undoubtedly the only carrier of Hellenic civilization).

Equally void of any content are the quarrels related to the stance of the Syrians - or later on the Slavs towards the Hellenes; in the Byzantine empire, anyone could become an emperor or a patriarch, regardless of their geographical or racial descent. Already, by the 8th century, we find a Slav, Niketas, had been elected Patriarch of Constantinople. [6]

And if we continue further, to the personages that the Romans respected most of all the saints we will see that they originated from every corner of Romania, even though they may not have been at all familiar with the Hellenic language.  R. Browning characteristically mentions saint Daniel the Stylete, who lived atop a column, (stylos = column, pillar) near Constantinople, between 460 and 493 A.D., whom the emperors Leo and Zenon regularly visited and consulted.  This saint Daniel never learnt the Hellenic language. His words were translated from the Syrian language, by his pupils. [7]

Equally impressive is the fact that saint Demetrius patron saint of Thessaloniki during the Slav raids of the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries later became (as Obolensky notes) one of the most popular saints of the mediaeval Slav world. [8]

The Romans maintained that same supra-national conscience, even after their subjugation by the Turks. A separate study would be able to show that this ecumenical concept was expressed by Righas Ferraios, when he called upon all the Balkan peoples to unite. Righas idea could not have originated solely from the spirit of Enlightenment of that era, which tended to stress the self-determination of each nation. It had far deeper roots, in the common Roman (Byzantine) tradition of the people of that region, where the most important thing was not racial descent, but the Orthodox faith and Hellenic education. [9]

Of course, for the western Europeans with their limited History and their barbarian tradition, all these things are not that easy to comprehend. This is why they incessantly strive to explain the achievements of a people based on naive racial criteria, whereby certain peoples or social classes due to their bloodline are more noble than others. In fact, during the 19th century, the more scientific racial theories had reached the point of classifying people based on the capacity of their skulls (hence the round-headed, long-headed, etc. types). 

It was within this racist mentality - whose consequences mankind has paid for very dearly during the 20th century - that the Falmereyer* -type theories are also situated; theories that so devastatingly affected the Hellenes 150 years ago.  Unfortunately, the westernizing of Hellas misled a great number of our historians into giving answers in the westernized context that Falmereyer had instituted.  In other words, the entire attempt was focused on proving that yes, the same blood as Pericles is still running through our veins to this day, instead of rejecting as entirely false and worthless any discussion that begins with racial instead of cultural characteristics. This too is an indication of how imperceptibly the western, anti-Roman mentality infiltrated latter-day Hellas.

*Translator's Note: The German anthropologist and historian Jacob Philip Falmerayer (1790-1862) claimed that the modern Hellene did not descend from Pericles nor from Socrates, but from Slavic and Albanian tribes which had inundated the Greek peninsula in the 6th century AD, to the point that they became Slavs. His racist theory, was based on "pure-blood" descent rather than culture and civilization.

But, let us go back to the era that we were examining, after the barbaric invasions. Beyond what we already mentioned, the Romans were very much aware that the barbarians who did not accept this cultural incorporation would remain a foreign object within the Empire, even though they inhabited its former territories.   This clear-cut (cultural, not racial) differentiation continued for centuries, even though western historians want to believe that Romans and barbarians eventually merged together, thus creating the West European civilization.  The truth is that, for the period of time that we have evidence at our disposal, the subjugated Romans preserved their identity, while the western European civilization began to take shape by destroying both the material as well as the spiritual monuments of the Hellenic-Roman world.

Let us now take a closer look at what happened to the Romans of the conquered regions from 476 A.D. onwards.  When the Ostrogoth Theodoric (who, by the way, should be noted is referred to as Great in western historiography!) overthrew Odoacer and became sovereign lord over Italy (493 A.D.), he did not impose Gothic administration and legislation on the Romans.  The emperor Anastasios had acknowledged him as rex and Theodoric instituted dual administration: the Ostrogoths governed all of the non-Roman populations, and the Roman officials the Romans.  [10]

Shortly after the death of Theodoric, the Roman army of Justinian liberated Italy and re-united the empire. This freedom however did not last very long.  As of 568 A.D., new barbaric tribes, the Longobards, dominated the Italian peninsula, looting and destroying everything in their path.  The few Roman citizens that survived were turned into vassals, or semi-free land farmers. Although we have very limited information as to their situation during this period, we can surmise that the distance between Romans and barbarians continued to be maintained during this status quo of barbarian occupation.  There are three main reasons for this belief:

The first reason was the cultural difference, as outlined above.  Secondly, there were religious differences between them also.  The Ostrogoths, the Visigoths, the Vandals and the Longobards maintained the Arian beliefs, whereas only the Franks had embraced Orthodoxy from the start.  This meant that even in areas where they lived together, Romans and barbarians were still not in close communion.  Finally, the third - and most important reason that the barbarian tribes did not become assimilated was that their differences had been waterproofed by their differing legal tradition; The laws governing the Germanic tribes (Longobards, Franks, etc.) were personal in concept, whereas the Roman laws were geographical. [11]

This meant that for example a Longobard would be judged on the basis of Longobardic law, regardless of where he resided.  On the other hand, according to Roman justice, all citizens residing on the lands of the Roman Empire, regardless of their nationality, would be judged by Roman law, an element that helped to eliminate all ethnic differences.  Germanic legislation thus played an important role in the development of the ethnic conscience of the barbaric tribes, since it distinguished between the different peoples very austerely.  Thus, legal tradition had, in this manner, also contributed towards the elimination of the Roman conscience in the West, and towards the birth of nationalism and even more so of racism, which has not ceased to comprise a permanent, ingrained element of Western societies ever since.

The subjugated Romans had resisted this cultural backslide. From the segments of Longobard justice that have been preserved (example, the law of Liutprand, king of the Longobards, 712-744 A.D.), it appears that the Romans had continued, 150 years after their subjugation to the Longobards, to be subject to their own system of justice.  For example, there is a law that says whomsoever draws up contracts, whether according to the laws of the Longobards or according to the laws of the Romans, must not draw them up opposing those laws. Also, according to the same justice system, if a Longobard woman were to marry a Roman, she forfeited her rights and the offspring of that marriage were to be considered Romans and thenceforth subject to Roman laws. [12]

Let us focus more carefully on the last provision of Liutprands legislation, which, in our opinion, is of immense significance.

First of all, it is a point worth noting and of extreme importance that Roman laws were familiar - and that they continued to apply - for the Romans.

Furthermore, the provision states clearly that both peoples remained separate, in a strict relationship of conqueror-conquered. In fact, a Roman was not allowed to rise to the ranks of nobility through marriage (whereas we mentioned earlier that in the Roman State, a barbarian could rise through the ranks through marriage or any other manner), unimpeded.  But, their wife would lose all her rights and would fall to the ranks of the (most probably vassal) Romans. It is worth noting here that the Longobards, in observing an old Germanic tradition, had instituted a standard price (wergild) for the price of a persons life.  This price was paid whenever someone killed or wounded someone else. It is characteristic, that the life of a free landowner was 300 solidi (=the standard Roman gold coin); the price for a free man without property was 150 solidi, while the semi-free aldius (this was the category that most of the subjugated Romans belonged to) was a mere 60 solidi. [13]

The conquered Romans struggled desperately to preserve whatever they could of their civilization under this status quo of barbarian occupation.  In these attempts, they were always supported by the still free regions of the Empire.  As mentioned above, the still free regions in Italy were Ravenna and its surrounding areas, Rome and the greater part of southern Italy. The imperial authority was represented in those regions, by the Exarch of Ravenna.

The entire history of Italy, from the death of Justinian (567 A.D.), through to the period of Liutprands legislation, is one big series of wars and compromises between Romans and Longobards. [14]

Resistance against every kind of barbarian became a basic national characteristic that branded the conscience of the Romans, throughout Mediaeval times.  It is not easy for one to historically prove that the main national objective of the Empire after 400 A.D. was one of defence; the defending of their civilization in the face of consecutive barbarian invasions.  Indeed, the only war that could be characterized as aggressive during the 1100 years of Christian Romania was Heraclius war against the Persians. Only then did the Empire go beyond the boundaries that it had inherited from idolatrous Rome.  All the other wars were waged for regaining Roman territories and liberating subjugated Romans in Italy, in northern Africa, in the middle East, in the Balkans....

With the passing of time, it became obvious that the liberation of all the Romans had become an impossible feat. It is within this bitter realization that one should seek the seeds of the yearning of Romanity - its ideology of an unredeemed homeland and the feeling of being wronged, but also its frailness opposite the aspirations of foreigners all of which have shaped latter-day Hellenism, up to the 20th century....

Romanitys yearning and the supra-national character of the Roman State, beyond any racial discrimination, comprised the two most important factors in the shaping of our national conscience. Both of these factors are totally foreign and altogether incomprehensible in the West. It is therefore not difficult to perceive that many of the present-day misunderstandings and disappointments between neo-Hellenes and western Europeans are attributed to this different outlook.  In the chapter that follows, we shall have the opportunity to analyze the role played by the third major difference between us and the westerners: the Orthodox Christian faith.



Chapter 5 -- The Christian World


a) Political ideology

The second significant coordinate of the Roman national conscience - after Romanicity was Christianity.  From 300 A.D. onwards, the gradual expansion of Christianity gave a fresh new character and purpose to the Empire.  The blending of Christianity and Romanicity did not take long in producing a new political ideology that was to remain predominant for many centuries in the free (eastern) region of the Empire.

According to this ideology, the Christian Roman Empire envisaged a terrestrial manifestation of the Kingdom of God.  The coincidence in time of the founding of the Empire by Augustus and the Incarnation of Christ was not by chance.  Origen was the first to proclaim that God had chosen that moment in History to send His Son into the world, at a time when Rome had succeeded in bringing an unimpeded unity and peace to all peoples. [15]

In his celebratory speech for the thirty years of Constantine the Greats reign, Eusebius of Caesaria had expressed the same theory; i.e., at the precise time when the reign of the Romans had been imposed on all the peoples and all the age-old enmities between nations had subsided, it was at that same period of time that the knowledge of one God was revealed to the people, and peace came to reign throughout the land. [16]

This remembrance survived within the Orthodox Church, throughout the pursuing centuries up to this day, in the well-known glorification hymn that is sung at Vespers, on the eve of Christmas:

                   Under the monarchy of Augustus in the land,

                     the polyarchy of the peoples did cease;

                     and upon Your incarnation by the Pure Virgin,

                     the polytheism of idols was abolished...

                     Under one, temporal kingdom

                     were all the cities joined,

                     and in one leadership of Divinity

                     did the nations come to believe.

And, because the Kingdom of God could not be anything else but one and indivisible, the Christian Roman Empire had to include all the Christians of the world.  The barbarian peoples that gradually became Christians took their place in a worldwide hierarchy, at the head of which was the Roman Emperor. 


He was the one who would adopt certain foreign chieftains and address others as friends. During a later time, for example, the worldwide hierarchy was as follows:  after the Emperor of Constantinople, there followed his spiritual children, such as the Armenian and Bulgarian chieftains. After them followed his spiritual brothers, such as the chieftains of the French and the Germans. Then there were his friends the emir of Egypt, the rulers of England, of Venice and of Genoa. And finally, there were his serfs, who were the miscellaneous, minor local chieftains of Armenia, Serbia, etc. [17]


This political ideology had never been questioned, not even by the barbarians (the Franks), who, in the 9th century had tried to become the substitute of Constantinople as the centre of universal power. It is characteristic how Chralemagne was set on being crowned emperor of the Romans, in the belief that this act would have automatically rendered him the substitute of the emperor of Constantinople who was at the top of the pyramid. We can therefore see how this was not a struggle to destroy the pyramid, but only to seize its apex. According to Helen Ahrweiler, the congruence of Romans and Christians was finalized as the official ideology at the time of Justinian in the middle of the 6th century, with the portrayal of the emperor on the gold coin of the Empire (the solidus), holding in one hand the globe with a cross on it (which symbolized ecumenicity), and in the other hand, the standard or a crucifix-shaped scepter (symbol of Roman and Christian authority in the world). [18]


The fact is, on the coins that had circulated on the occasion of the inauguration of Constantinople in 330 A.D., depicted on one side was a female figure (symbolizing New Rome), holding a globe and the Cross. (On the obverse side was a depiction of Old Rome, in the form of a wolverine with its twin cubs, with the Pantheon of idolatrous Romes gods overhead). [19]


From the 4th century onwards, the Roman soldiers no longer defended their political hypostasis only, but their Christian faith as well.  Over time, these two elements became inseparable.  Several centuries later, Leo VI (886-912 A.D.) characteristically wrote to the commanders of the army that it is their obligation to be ready to sacrifice their life for the homeland and the upright (orthodox) Christian faith, as do their soldiers who, with their cry The Cross shall Conquer, fight like soldiers of Christ our Lord, for parents, for friends, for the homeland, for the entire Christian nation. [20]



A reverberation of this congruence will again be observed, unchanged, 1000 years later, in the Romans that fought for the holy faith of Christ and the freedom of the homeland.  This was the outcome of a conviction that began at the turning point of Christianitys History the revelation of the message that appeared in the sky, before the eyes of Constantine the Great : IN THIS (the sign of the Cross) BE VICTORIOUS.  Within this political ideology, where all Christians comprised a Universal family, the wars waged by certain Christian tribes against Constantinople did not constitute a national conflict in the form that we know today.  On the contrary, it was regarded as an insurrection against the legal authorities, or, in other words, an internal civilian quarrel.  This is how the wars of the Empire with the Slavs for example (after their Christianization) were confronted.  One such characteristic incident is the Byzantine-Bulgarian war under Symeon, at the beginning of the 10th century.


Negotiations on behalf of the Empire at the time were undertaken by the Patriarch Nicholaos Mystikos, who addressed Symeon as a child of mine and tried to dissuade him, by calling his expedition a scandal (in the evangelical sense of the term).  And if Christ had said that it is to his benefit, if one scandalizes others even for something minor, to tie a mill-stone around his neck and fall into the sea rather than continue to scandalize, then what can we say Nicholaos wrote about this scandal, which is not something minor, but one that opposes the kingdom which stands above all other worldly authorities; the only kingdom on earth that was founded by the King of all? [21]


In all of the Nicholaos Mystikos correspondence with Symeon, the correlation of the Roman kingdom to the Christian Kingdom that was founded on earth by the King of all is very evident. Besides, as Obolensky notes, Symeon was from his part contending and simultaneously emulating the Empire, laying waste the Byzantine dominion and promoting the translation of Hellenic literature into the Slav tongue because he wished to relate to the cultural traditions of Byzantium, especially as he was already a semi-Hellene by way of education, having spent his childhood years in Constantinople. [22]


Finally, we should not forget that the Slavic name for Constantinople was Tsarigrad (literally, the City of Tsars/Caesars, or, the Regnant City).  To them, Constantinople was not just any other capital; it was the reigning city the summit of worldwide hierarchy. This ecumenical conscience began to form gradually, under the influence of the Orthodox Church, which had given a new meaning to the supra-national character of the Roman Empire.  According to the teaching of the Church, the division between nations was the result of mans sin and his arrogance, which led him to the construction of the Tower of Babel.  With the advent of Christ and the founding of the Church, the faithful were given the potential (and the destination) of transcending ethnic divisions and to thenceforth belong to a select breed, a regal priesthood, a holy nation, as the Apostle Peter had named the people of God. [23]



As underlined by fr. Hierotheos Vlachos, in this passage, which I believe comprises a focal point in the New Testament, it is more than obvious that the words people and nation are relieved of any racial inference and are instead related to the charismatic relationship between God and man that was attained through the incarnation of Christ. [24]


This is likewise why Paul had proclaimed that there is neither Jew nor Hellene, neither bondsman nor free, neither male nor female; for all of you are in Jesus Christ.  (Galatians 8:28).  Especially indicative from this point of view is the Kontakion (special, brief hymn) that is sung during the Pentecost, in which is mentioned the original division of mankind into nations and the transcendence of this division, with the founding of the Christian Church:


                    When He descended to confound their tongues,

                       the Almighty dispersed them into nations.

                       But when He distributed the tongues of fire,

                       He was summoning everyone into unity.

                       And we, accordingly, glorify the Most Holy Spirit. [25]


The ecumenical conscience of the Orthodox faithful, which the barbarians in the West swiftly destroyed, would thereafter survive in the Balkans, throughout the mediaeval and Ottoman eras, up to the middle of the 19th century. 


It was necessary for the entire arsenal of the Wests Enlightenment to be discharged into Hellas (and for Russian Pan-Slavism to be imposed on Bulgaria), for nationalist phenomena to appear and for the ecumenical Christian conscience to be smothered here also.[26]


In our time, we have the doubtful privilege of observing the tragic outcome of the final predominance of the Western idea of a national state in the Balkans and, as is usually the case with western hypocrisy, all Balkan peoples have now become the recipients of scornful comments, for having at last assimilated western perceptions....


The fresh destination that the Christian world theory gave to the state greatly differentiated the Christian Roman Empire from the subsequent great powers of History.  Thus, the relating of the Empire to a terrestrial Kingdom of God appears in forms that may seem strange nowadays.  For example, it has been observed that the closer we draw to the end of the Empire, in 1453, an apocalyptic vision of the end of History increasingly captivates the Byzantines. During this last period of Byzantium, eschatological literature on the end of the civilized world and the reign of the Antichrist appeared to be flourishing. Gradually the people began to relate the end of Byzantium to the end of the world in whole.  [27]


This trend was the result of the Christian Empires ideology, which also determined its objective.  As stressed in the previous chapter, and contrary to todays Great Powers, territorial expansion was not the objective of the Empire.  Romania was constantly on the defensive for 1100 years, the only exception being Heraclius battle against the Persians (which nonetheless came as a response to the Persian assault against Constantinople).  The Byzantine wars served only to preserve its civilization from the successive barbarian onslaughts that came from the East, the North and the West. As expressed so exquisitely by the poet Seferis:


                  For us, it was a different thing to fight

                    for the faith in Christ and for the soul of man,

                    enthroned on the lap of the Virgin Mother - the Supreme Defender -

 Neither was material prosperity the purpose of the Empire. The riches of Constantinople may have been fabled, yet the vision projected by the Christian faith was far beyond material wealth.  The Romans standards for emulation were not the wealthy merchants or landowners; their ideals were the landless monks, the holy Gerons (Elders) who had literally no possessions whatsoever. They were the ones that the people followed; they were the ones who could convince and rouse the populace.


The purpose of the Empire was we shall repeat it once more - the materializing of the Heavenly Kingdom.  The more that the people distanced themselves from the true faith, the more the State drew further away from the Heavenly Kingdom and was faced with deterioration and decadence.  The culmination of their alienation from the true faith was to be crowned by the domination of the Antichrist, whose arrival was also the harbinger of the Second Coming of Christ and therefore the dissolution of the Christian World.  This explains Helen Ahrweilers observation that we mentioned above.


When referring to the Christian character of the Roman Empire, of Romanity, after the 4th century, we risk making two mistakes, repeating two myths, having been influenced by developments in Western Europe. These are two myths that Western historians have disseminated thoughtlessly during older times, by projecting Western experiences onto the Eastern Roman Empire.  Fortunately, recent research is slowly piecing together a more accurate picture of that era, and this is assisting us in better understanding our past as well as our deep-rooted differences with the West.  One of the two myths is Caesaro-Papism; the second myth is the theocratic formation of the State. Let us now turn our attention to these two problems.


b) Caesaro-Papism


Caesaro-Papism is the theory of the Churchs subjugation to the political powers in our case, to the emperor.   Up until recently, western historians believed that this term described the relations between State and Church throughout the eleven centuries of Byzantine History.  On this admission, an entire edifice of analyses and interpretations of various historical problems was erected. For example, the historian M. Jugie had stated: Caesaro-Papism must undoubtedly bear the chief responsibility for the preparation of the Schism.[28]


S. Diomedes insisted that the emperor governed the Church just as he governed the appointing bishops. [29] The extreme yet characteristic formulation of this viewpoint belongs to Gibbon: the Greek patriarch was a domestic slave living under his masters glance, who, with only a gesture could transfer him from the monastery to the throne and from the throne to the monastery [30]


Having taken this view for granted, the greatest European historian of the 20th century, Arnold Toynbee, dedicated an entire chapter of his monumental work A Study of History on the causes of the fall of Orthodox Christianity. [31]  For Toynbee, the cause was exclusively the Churchs subordination to the emperor. That was why Orthodox Christianity was supposedly extinguished, as opposed to Western Christianity which, even ten centuries down the line, continues to dominate the globe.


Historically speaking, the view that the Church was subordinate to the emperor lacks any kind of basis. The term Caesaro-Papism or whichever synonymous alternative it may have is entirely unknown in the sources.  The examination of the sources that we have at our disposal can hardly support the theory of subordination. As stressed by H. Gregoire, the people of Byzantium never witnessed the dethronement of three Ecumenical Patriarchs by one emperor only, as was the case with Henry III, who dethroned three Popes.  It never witnessed any bishops fighting at the head of their own armies, or any instances of simony as scandalous as those that appeared in the West. Contrary to what is frequently repeated out of ignorance, the fact is that the Popes were the ones who had fallen into servitude, while the Patriarchs of Constantinople were the ones who were independent.[32]


In practice, the emperor always had an interest in ecclesiastic affairs and was the only one who had the right to convene an Ecumenical Council.  He furthermore attended to the unity of the dogma, at times even imposing certain debatable views.  However, with time, the Church learnt that resistance against the emperor in spiritual matters was both legitimate and effective. In the 7th century, both Emperor and Patriarch had aligned themselves with the heresy of Monotheletism for several decades. Only one solitary monk had bravely stood up against them: Maximus the Confessor.  Over time, Maximus views were recognized as orthodox and the Church continued along his tradition, without the emperor being able to impose his opinion.


From then on, Maximus example (but also of other, earlier theologians) became a guide for the Church. During the severe crisis of the Iconomachy, neither the decrees nor the persecutions or the exiles were able to overthrow the opposing view of the iconophiles. A broad resistance movement finally overthrew the imperial endeavors of one hundred and twenty years. It truly needs a special kind of imagination (or prejudice) for one to label a State a Caesaro-Papist one, in which it was impossible for the religious views of the emperor to be imposed on the population.


As observed by Gregoire, after the 9th century the Orthodox faith had become established; in other words, it had triumphed over the emperors. There was no longer a trace of previous politics, not even of the Iconomachy. [33] The final and most powerful indication of the (non)existence of Caesaro-Papism is found in the period between the 13th and the 15th centuries.  Various unification emperors proved to be entirely powerless in their attempts to unify the churches, with all the political benefits that this would have entailed.  Generally speaking, one is impressed by the populaces profound, non-political focusing on the faith during this period, to the detriment of the political benefit that might have been gained through religious concessions to the West.



For the Westerners (and the western-crazed) neo-Hellenes, this focusing seems illogical. In commenting on the famous expression by the grand duke Lukas Notaras, It is far better to see a Turkish head-dress prevailing in the middle of the city, than a Latin capuche (monks hood), a predominant representative of the Western spirit, Helen Glykatzi-Ahrweiler, had written in the past: these words indicate the blindness that the church, the people and the Byzantinue government itself had succumbed to, who had finally become convinced that the words of the Church had to prevail over the words and the interest of the State. [34]


But for the Romans, the explanation was simple. They were people with a deep-seated faith, who did not see the Church as an oppressive institution, but as a component of their very existence. Orthodoxy was one of the features that defined their national hypostasis. Furthermore, they were fully aware of the cultural baggage that they carried on their shoulders. Over and above any national ideal, they placed the preservation of their civilization, their way of life.



One can discern here once again the differing points of view between Romans and Western Europeans: for the latter, the defending and expanding of their racial, ethnic State was of primary importance.  To the Romans, what was more important was something far bigger - something that surpassed the boundaries of a race or a nation: the heritage of the entire Hellenic-Roman Christian civilization and the Orthodox faith which was the only thing that offered them a hope for eternity. And, as stressed above, they believed very deeply that if they alienated themselves from Orthodoxy, then their State would cease to be the terrestrial realization of the Heavenly Kingdom, therefore it too would soon be lost, just like everything else that is perishable in this material world. Subsequently, it was never in the thoughts of the Romans and could not be, by definition that there could be a conflict of interest between State and Church, as Ahrweiler believes.  On the contrary, they firmly believed that by preserving their faith they would remain unconquerable, even if they lost their national hypostasis.  Besides, they had prior proof of this.  Every Easter, the Orthodox would hear (and still hear, to this day) the celebratory hymns that are sung during Matins on Resurrection Day:


                 Now, everything is filled with light,

                   both the heavens and the earth and the underworld;

                   let all creation therefore celebrate

                   the rising of Christ, upon which it is firmly set.


                   Shine bright, shine bright, o new Jerusalem....

                   Sing now, and rejoice, o Zion.....


When John Mansoor from Damascus wrote these lines, one hundred years had already passed from the time that his homeland was permanently subjugated by the Arabs.  And yet, these verses are not verses of a man living in slavery.  They are hymns that overflow with freedom, hope and light; they are the words of a person who has remained spiritually unshackled because he is permeated with an inner freedom that is entirely unfamiliar to the West.  So unfamiliar, that for Mrs. Ahrweiler, the defending of this shining faith is indicative of the blindness that the people had succumbed to.


In completing this reference  to caesaro-papism, we can say (as Yannakopoulos has so accurately pointed out) that in the Christian-Roman ideology, the two institutions co-existed harmoniously.  Contrary to what was observed in the West, there was never any acute bisection between the political and the spiritual spheres. [35]   The Romans believed that the emperor had to be a Christ-emulator, and they knew that the well-being of the people could not be realized by an emperor who went contrary to their faith.


One last question remains to be asked.  Why did Western historians begin to apply the term caesaro-papism when referring to Byzantium?  One logical answer, which has been implied by Yannakopoulos, is that, judging from their own experience of the Popes political power, and not seeing anything analogous in the Orthodox Patriarch, they imagined that the Patriarch was subject to the emperor. This is what their own history showed:  since the Pope was constantly entangled in political-military conflicts with regents and emperors, he would sometimes end up victorious and at other times defeated.  There was no third choice. And since the Patriarch had no secular and military power, they assumed that he had been permanently defeated by the emperor, who had consequently transferred all of these powers to his own person, thus simultaneously becoming a Caesar and a Pope.  This unprecedented conclusion has been perpetuated, even up until our time, having become one of the tools in the Wests inexhaustible ideological armory against Hellenism.


c) Theocracy


By theocracy, we mean a political system in which religion has dominated every aspect of public life. Examples of theocratic states are: the ancient kingdom of Israel (during the time of the Judges), the Papal State until this day, and Iran of the 1980s decade.  In each of these cases, the uppermost religious official is simultaneously the uppermost ruler of the State.


Byzantium is frequently included amongst Historys theocratic regimes.  For most authors, this is considered self-evident, and a justification of the term is not deemed necessary by them. However, in our opinion, the issue of the Byzantine States theocratic nature is especially complex.  A more comprehensive examination of the topic would demand a special study and would deviate from the framework of the present project.  We would however like to point out, very succintly, some of the aspects of this problem, which could comprise the starting point of such a fuller study.


To begin with, it is not at all self-evident that Byzantium should be considered a theocratic State. Albeit the term is almost unanimously acceptable, different authors mean different things when they refer to it.  For example, Runciman had given the title Byzantine Theocracy to one of his treatises, which was nothing more than an overview of ecclesiastic History. [36].  Other western authors use the term in a sense that is very close to the meaning of Papo-caesarism; in other words, they assert that the Church had imposed its own views on all the important political and social issues of the Empire that the Church essentially governed the State.


To avoid the confusion that the lack of definition of the term theocracy causes to most authors, we propose four criteria, by which the existence and the degree of theocracy in a State can be detected:


1.      When political and religious authority are found in the same person.

2.      When religious canons (regulations) are imposed on the entirety of the States legislation.

3.      When public administration is undertaken by religious officials.

4.      When education is monitored by the religious hierarchy.


As strange as it may appear, Byzantium does not comply with any of the above four criteria of a theocratic State.  Let us examine them, in order:


1.  That the Pope and the Caesar were two separate persons is naturally a known fact. In the previous section, we had the opportunity to explain that neither of the two had absolute power over every facet of public life.  In other words, no Homeini had ever governed from the Patriarchal Throne, over the entire State. Furthermore, no bishop whatsoever had ever led any kind of military corps into battle, as was the rule in the West.


2. In the area of Justice, Byzantium continued its great Roman tradition. The basic axis of legislation throughout its centuries-old history continued to be Roman Justice, the way that Justinian had codified it.  Over time, amendments were added to it, which were imposed by changing social conditions, and the influence of Christianity. Thus, the final synthesis was a much more humane adaptation of Roman Justice.  Anyway, this all pertained to the secular (non-ecclesiastic) sphere of the State.  The law schools and the courts had nothing to do with the Church, and the judges were certainly not bishops, as was the case in the West. (The bishops could act as judges in certain special cases, if it was a request of the accused; however, this was more like a humane concession, which did not alter the essence of the otherwise secular justice system.)


3.  As a result of its uninterrupted cultural continuance, Byzantium always ensured an educated bureaucracy, which handled all state affairs.  On the contrary, in the West (as we shall see more analytically in the following chapter), from the 6th century onwards presented a huge void in education. A characteristic result of the decline in literacy in the West is that there were no longer any educated, non-ecclesiastic men, who could handle even the most elementary administrative needs.  Thus, from the 7th century onwards, Western Europe had to rely exclusively on the clergy for their diplomatic, administrative and educational functions.  By that time, in the court of Charlemagne (end 8th century), practically all of the familiar scholars - with the exception of Einhard - were clergymen (Alquin, Paul the Deacon, Peter the Deacon, Paulinus, e.a.). This was a development with colossal repercussions in Western history; not only because it was preserved for 100 years and had left its mark on the character of the West, but also because it gave rise to a savage anticlericalist spirit, which broke out during the years of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.  It was this reaction that eventually shaped the current stance of the Western European towards Christianity.  The Western European would have been a far different person, if he didnt carry inside him all those centuries of oppression, on account of the Latin Churchs monopolizing of public life.  All of these things are of course entirely unfamiliar to the Romans, given that the secular character of Roman administration was the basic characteristic of Byzantium, throughout its entire existence. And this is why anticlericalist messages were never successful in our land. [37]


4.  As far as education is concerned, we can discern three types of schools in Byzantium:  public schools, private schools and monastic seminaries. In the latter, only the children who had dedicated themselves to monasticism were allowed to attend.  In fact, the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) had strictly forbidden attendance of these schools by the laity, and as far as we can tell, this rule had been adhered to, without exception. [38]


Thus, the majority of our predecessors of Romania were educated in secular schools, as opposed to what was happening in the West during the same period.  As we know, the complete collapse of the Hellenic-Roman civilization in the West had, for many centuries, resulted in an elevation of the Church to being the exclusive carrier of education.  The only education that one could acquire was the one that the monasteries alone provided.  In contrast to this, education in Byzantium was chiefly focused on classical tradition.  Along with the Holy Bible, Homer was also a compulsory reading, whom the students had to learn by heart, and explain word for word. [39]


Psellos * brags about how he had learnt all of the Iliad by heart when he was still very young. [40] . Anna Comnena quotes Homeric verses sixty-six times in her Alexias, quite often without feeling the need to add the clarification the Homeric words...... [41]   To get an idea of the cultural chasm that separated Romans and the West, it suffices to remind the reader that the West became acquainted with Homer for the first time in the 14th century, when, upon the request of the Petrarch and Boccacio (a Roman of southern Italy), Pilatus translated the Iliad and the Odyssey into Latin. [42]


* Translators Note: Michael Psellos or Psellus - Greek: , Mikhaēl Psellos - was a Byzantine writer, philosopher, politician, and historian. He was born in 1017 or 1018, and died some time after 1078. You can find more info, here:.


The secular character of education during the millennial history of the empire is also highlighted by the fact that the University of Constantinople was a State institution that was never under the jurisdiction of the Church.  According to its founding Act (under Theodosius II, in 425 A.D.), its professors were paid by the State and were in fact exempt of taxation. [43]. It is characteristic, that the universitys program did not include the lesson of theology at all, since the purpose of State education was to educate State personnel and officials. [44]

 As we had mentioned at the beginning of this section, the issue of theocracy in Byzantium is a huge one and cannot be exhausted here. From the few things that were outlined above, however, it must have become obvious that the composition of the Christian Roman Empire was quite different to that which is presented by various popular, simplistic views.  At the risk of becoming tiresome, we shall once again say that unfortunately, we often fall into the mistake of relating the obscurantist, theocratic, western mediaeval era with the corresponding era of Byzantium.  As we have seen, however, their differences were huge and essential ones at that.  Illiteracy, lack of freedom, a religious oppression that culminated in the Holy Inquisition, bishops with military might that led forces consisting of monks into battle... all of these things are totally unknown in our land and our civilization. 

In part, this also explains the Romans stubborn resistance to the attempts of imposed westernization, which we can observe from 1204 A.D. to this day. In the following chapter, we will have the opportunity to examine other aspects of the cultural chasm between the Romans and the Westerners during mediaeval times a period which is often referred to as Dark Ages for all of Europe.  As we shall see, if, with the term Europe we are referring only to its western part, then, the characterization Dark Ages is absolutely correct.  If we include the Roman Empire Byzantium - then we ourselves become victims of an obscurantist cultural imperialism of the West.



* Perhaps this is the reason that the neo-Hellenic State was unable to find a single historical personage from the one-thousand year old Byzantine period who was worthy enough to be depicted on its coins:  Of the 12 coins and paper notes that are in circulation nowadays, 4 of them depict faces belonging to ancient history, 2 from ancient mythology (!) and 6 from our modern history.

 Translators note: The author is talking about Drachmas the official money of Greece, before the introduction of the Euro.




[1]This metaphysical conviction was so deep-rooted, that even in the mid-6th  century, immediately after the thorough ransacking of the city by Totilla the Goth in 546 A.D., one chronicler reassured that it would regain its prosperity, because it was eternal. (see Zacharias of Mytilene, , (Ekklisiastiki Istoria) 10, 16. (see also Herrin (1989), pages 41-42). Similar perceptions prevailed later on, for Constantinople.

[2]This observation might be surprising, therefore it will require clarification. As agreed by most historians nowadays, a careful study of the barbarian invasions of the 4th and 5th centuries shows that the Goths, the Franks and the other tribes were forced to cross the boundaries of the Empire, chased by the Huns. This was a desperate move for survival, and not a calculated, expansionist strategy. See for example Herrin (1989), p. 25, also Drew (1973), p. 4. The situation however did change, with the advent of the Longobards in 568 A.D.. See Loungis  (1989), pages 111-112.

[3]See Loungis  (1989), page 76.

[4]See Gregory of Tours, Book 2, chapter. 38, page 154.

[5]See Paul the Deacon, 2, chapter , pages 90-91. The concept of hospitalitas also existed in other conquerors, i.e. the Visigoths in Spain.

[6]See Theophanes, page 440.

[7]See Browning (1983), page 118.

[8]Obolensky (1991), Vol. ’, page 531.

[9] An analysis of the conversion from a supra-national to a national conscience, with references to Righas Ferraios, see fr. George Metallinos, , (Hellenism Suspended the Roman idea and the vision of Europe) published by the Apostoliki Diakonia, Athens, 1992, chapter (From the Imperial to the National idea), pages 8-29.

[10] See Herrin (1989), page 35.

[11]See Cook & Herzman, page 123.

[12]See commentary by Fulke on Paul the Deacon, page 307.

[13]See Drew (1973), pages 29-30.

[14]See Paul the Deacon, passim, and Loungis (1989), chapter 6.

[15]See Runciman (1982), p. 29.

[16] , . , . (In the same way also, one kingdom had flourished for all Romans, and the pre-eternal and unresolved hostility between nations was negated. Just as the knowledge of one God  was delivered to all people, so was the way of piety delivered, in Christs teaching that ensured salvation and accordingly, with one king, for one and continuous time, under the existing Roman authority, a profound peace had embraced the universe. See. (To Constantine the King, on his Thirty Years), XVI, in the work Byzantine Texts, supervised by D. Zakynthinos, Aetos publications, Athens, 1957, p. 41.

[17]See Karayannopoulos (1978), vol. , p. 34.

[18]See Ahrweiler (1988), p. 25.

[19]See Wallace-Hadrill (1962), p. 14.

[20]Patrologie Grecque, Migne, vol. 107. See Ahrweiler (1988), p. 41.

[21] , . (towards a kingdom that is above every temporal authority, which is the only one on earth that the King of all had established). See Patriarch Nicholas I the Mystic, Epistulae, publishers R. J. Jenkins L. G. Westernik, Dumbarton, Washington D. C., 1973, Epistle 8, p. 48.

[22]See. Obolensky (1991), vol. , p. 196. Obolensky has provided us with an exceptionally penetrating analysis of the empires ecumenical ideology, as reflected in the wars with Symeon. See. vol. , p. 178-197.

[23] , , , , . , ...  (for you are a select generation, a regal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for ministering, who are to proclaim the virtues of the One who called us forth from the darkness into His wondrous light. They, who were once not a people, are now the people of God) (Epistle I, Peter, 2: 9-10).

[24] See Archmandrite Hierotheos Vlachos (currently Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and St. Vlassios), ߻ (Born and raised as Romans), Holy Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos, Levadia 1996, chapter 7 Nation and Chauvinism p. 190. In fr. Hierotheos study, the reader will find a comprehensive analysis of Orthodoxys stance towards the idea of nation and chauvinism.

[25] See Archm. Hierotheos Vlachos, as above, p. 218.

[26] It is truly noteworthy, how the Ecumenical Patriarchate strove to remain intact from the microbe of chauvinism, up to the end of the 19th century. It confronted the Bulgarian nationalist demands as a religious (and not nationalist) schism, and in Macedonia, it was a frequently observed phenomenon to have arguments between the metropolitans and the ambassadors of Hellas regarding the proper tactics towards the Bulgarian actions. (See . Kofos National heritage and national identity in 19th and 20th century Macedonia,  Hellenic Foundation for Defence and Exterior Policy, Athens, 1991, p. 10). It is characteristic, that in 1872, with a Council held in Constantinople, nationalism was condemned as a heresy that went against the teaching of the Gospel and was totally unfamiliar to the Church. See the presentation and analysis of the Synodical  Oros of 1872 in fr. Hierotheos Vlachos, as above, p. 212-217.

[27]See Ahrweiler (1988), p. 144.

[28]See Yannakopoulos (1966), p. 280.

[29]as above, p. 280.

[30] see Gibbon, XLIX, vol. III, . 11.

[31]see. Toynbee (1972), chapter 24.

[32]see. Gregoire (1986), p. 194.

[33]as above, p. 203.

[34]see Ahrweiler (1988), p. 142.

[35]See Yannakopoulos (1966), p. 93.

[36]see Runciman (1982).

[37]It is worthy to note that the two anticlerical trends that appeared in Hellas were simple translations of western trends, which had nothing whatsoever to do with Hellenic reality. The one trend was the liberal enlightenment the way it was expressed, for example, by the anonymous author of the (Hellenic Prefecture) and the other trend was Marxism. The former was so cut off from Hellenic reality, that it began to speak of orders of priests and archmandrites, an institution that was totally foreign in our land (but very widespread in the West.....).  The leading researcher (and enthusiastic supporter) of the neo-Hellenic Enlightenment, K. Th. Demaras, accepts that one must not exclude the possibility that this is an author who is deprived of a Hellenic school education (see. K.Th. Demaras, 1977, p. 48). On the other hand, Marxism with its unbending ideological forms that rely exclusively on western experience, attempted to overcome the continuous difficulties that he encountered during his interpretation of the Hellenic society, by resorting to the ideological confusion of the Hellenic ruling class  or the incorrect realization of the working class. Of course it would require a far more comprehensive study that would examine the total omission of the Hellenic peculiarity by both these trends.

[38]see. Buckler, p. 309.

[39] as above, p. 295.

[40]see. Runciman (1979), p. 250.

[41]as above, p. 250.

[42]See Yannakopoulos (1966), p. 54.

[43]see. Buckler (1986), p. 310.

[44]see. Lemerle (1983), p. 89-90.



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