Bureaucrats Trumped Art
Friday 11 of
the last great world historian, said of the Byzantine Civilization it had
minimal art but was full of bureaucrats. Treadgold's history of the Byzantine
Empire is remarkably deficient in citations of great Byzantine artists because
there were so few or none. Compared to the Greek civilization before it the
Byzantine is horrendous, worse than the Yankees without Roger Clemens or other
former Boston pitchers (including Babe Ruth). Byzantine art in writing was also
terrible for its lack of creativity and productivity. You won't find a
Sophocles or Aeschelus, a Homer or a Phidias amidst the Byzantine's roster of
artists. The Byzantine civilization was a retreating rump state of the former
unified Roman Empire that best served the world by keeping the heathen at bay
for another 900 years after the fall of Rome.
Most Byzantine art of quality was created late in its history when more travel
and communication with the early Italian Renaissance allowed 13th century
artists the opportunity to become productive in a politically chaotic era with
incessant Muslim war on the south and west and the need for a rapprochement
with the western church and increasingly strong Europeans to help contain Muslim
invasion pressure. Byzantine art was basically frescoes, mosaics and church
decorations-nothing like the brilliant Greek art of Athens.
The Byzantine philosophic production of neo-Platonists such as Plotinus was
brilliant, yet even that description of The One was condemned, unfortunately as
Constantinople had some fine architecture such as the Haggia Sophia, yet it
lacked a history for itself as a people native to the locale. As the artificial
eastern Roman Empire cut off from its source at Rome because Constantine moved
the capitol of the Empire to Constantinople permitting a schism to grow between
the Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions over the centuries the Byzantine
was concerned about being a self-perpetuating bureaucracy interested mostly in
it self. Reconciliation at meetings in Venice and Firenze (with the Medici
hosting the latter spectacle in the 13th century) even as the horde of Muslims
that would finish up the consumption of the rotten empire of the east Byzantium
The Byzantine Empire had no tradition of a Republic behind it to draw upon.
Instead in had some of the worst imperials in history such as Justinian and
Theodora, and of course the state Church led by the Emperor (imagine Bill or
Hillary, George Bush or Barack Obama as head of the church) with a host of
monasteries and monks wise enough to keep a distance from the royal court busy
mismanaging the world. The political writing was censored, more so than in the
Roman Empire with it's Suetonius, Juvenal and other acerbic or frank writers.
Procopius wrote the Secret History of Justinian and Theodora (she slept with
50,000 men)yet was careful to conceal his name and not publish until after his
The masses were entertained with games and rival red and blue popular cults
giving the people as fans some sports to fight and kill over civilly until the
schism of east and west branches of the Christian church was permitted by
Photius in the 9th century. Emperor Leo III (the Isaurian, 716-41) began troubling
church users of artistic religious images and statues as iconoclasm grew in the
Byzantium Empire. Iconoclasm was likely another of the impacts of Muslim
pressures at the boundaries of the Byzantine Empire. While the use of fiction
images in Church contexts isn't a desirable practice, neither is it something
to slaughter people about who do(its probable that the recent (Muslim) suicide
bombing of the Indian embassy in Afghanistan was prompted by Indian sympathy
for idolatrous reincarnation/Hindu phenomenalities they are associated with).
Muslim pressures to conform to vulnerable religious beliefs at the frontier of
a civilization have a history of compelling believers of other faiths toward
In Italy the Medici sheltered and nurtured a young Leonardo Da Vinci who was
adopted from his poor father and given support. Michelangelo worked for the
Medici and gave refuge to Galileo. The number of artists they sponsored in
Firenze is incredible and that tradition continued in Rome when they produced
Popes such as Leo X. The Byzantine Empire on the other hand marginalized
artists and writers. Being a faceless bureaucrat was the great achievement of
the Byzantine Empire-an enigmatic bulwark against immediate pagan invasion of
Europe from the east giving Europe time to grow and become invaded by their
native Vikings who eventually made it all the way to Constantinople without
being able to conquer the crown jewel.
Byzantium was a clever synthetic state conquered in time by Turkish ethnic
tribesmen that transformed the formerly Greek, Italian, German and Celtic
nation into a bastion of Islamic militancy that wasn't subdued until the First
World War defeat along with its partner Germany.
The Byzantine Empire was one of the most inartistic of world history more like
the Abassid Caliphate in quantity and quality than a European or Chinese state.
While itís nearly impossible to entirely prevent works of art from being
created the Byzantine civilization made a heroic effort.
in Gary Gibson' s Blog
Posted at 15:13:07 UTC