It is easy to conceive of the crusades as a conflict between Latin Christian West and the Muslim Middle East, forgetting that between these two geographic/religious groupings was an Orthodox Christian Empire -- what we have come to call the Byzantine Empire. It was the latter that both triggered the crusades and became a victim of them. In a four-part series, I look briefly at the complex role of Byzantium in the crusades, starting today with a look at the Byzantine perspective of the world on the eve of the crusades.
|Constantine I as Founder of Constantinople|
|Charlemagne by Albrecht Duerer|
Thus, even in the 12th century, during a period of (rare) accord between Constantinople and the crusader states, the Byzantine Emperor could describe the Latin Christians as “Barbarian peoples whose way of life is entirely incompatible with our own. Their gaze is scarcely human, while ours is full of humanity; our speech is agreeable, while theirs is harsh and garbled. They are all armed and … bloodthirsty … while we are peaceful and compassionate and refuse to carry weapons needlessly, not being in thrall to Ares.” [Manuel Comnenus, trans. Michael Angold, 291.]
Added to this profound sense of cultural superiority came the religious belief that Constantinople — not Rome or Jerusalem — was the center of the Christian world and that the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire was the head of the Church. Thus, the authority of the Pope was nil in Constantinople, where the patriarchs of the Eastern Church were more beholden to the Emperor than the other way around. In the eyes of the “Romans” living in the “Roman Empire,” Constantinople was not only the new Rome, it was also the new Jerusalem since it as here that the Head of the Church resided and ruled, surrounded by sacred relics displayed in the Pharos chapel in the Imperial district of the city.
|Agia Sophia, Constantinople/Istanbul|
Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades. Find out more at: https://www.helenapschrader.com/crusades.html