Byzantine Civilization


On May the twenty-ninth, 1453, a civilization was wiped out irrevocably.  It had left a glorious legacy in learning and in art; it had raised whole countries from barbarism and had given refinement to others; its strength and its intelligence for centuries had been the protection of Christendom.  For eleven centuries Constantinople had been the centre of the world of light.  The quick brilliance, the interest and the aestheticism of the Greek, the proud stability and the administrative competence of the Roman, the transcendental intensity of the Christian from the East, welded together into a fluid sensitive mass, were put now to sleep.  Constantinople was become the seat of brutal force, of ignorance, of magnificent tastelessness.  Only in the Russian palaces, over which flew the two-headed eagle, the crest of the House of Palaeologus, did vestige of Byzantium linger for a few more centuries–only there, and in dark halls by the Golden Horn, hidden amongst the houses of the Phanar, where the Patriarch kept up his shadowy Court, allowed by the statesmanship of the Conquering Sultan and the labour of George Gennadius Scholarius to rule over the subject Christian people and give them some measure of security….but the Two-headed Eagle no longer flies in Russia, and the Phanar is lost in uncertainty and fear.  The last remains are dying or are dead.

It is as the seers of Byzantium foretold, the prophets that spoke incessantly of the fate that was coming, of the final days of the City.  The weary Byzantine knew that the doom so often threatened must some day surely envelop him.  And what did it matter?  It was needless to complain.  This world was a foolish travesty, haunted with pain and with sorrowful memories and foreboding.  Peace and true happiness lay beyond.  What was the Emperor, the Peer of the Apostles, what even was Constantinople itself, the great City dear to God and to His Mother, compared to Christ Pantocrator and the glorious Courts of Heaven?

Sir Steven Runciman, Byzantine Civilization, p. 240