Hellenism and the Shaping of the Byzantine Empire
Mittal, Rakesh (Marquette University)
2011 Jablonowski Award (Best Undergraduate Research Paper, History), Marquette University, November 30, (2010)
Since the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, perhaps no aspect of its tremendous legacy has more completely defined it in the popular and historical consciousness than its integral role in the preservation and dissemination of the art, literature, and philosophy of ancient Greece. Indeed, because the emphasis on and association with Hellenic culture that constituted a fundamental aspect of Byzantium facilitated the transmission of the cultural legacy of Ancient Greece to both the Muslim world and, ultimately, Western Europe, the Empire has, as Anthony Kaldellis asserts in Hellenism in Byzantium, consistently been cast, both popularly and historiographically, as the mere “caretaker of the classical tradition for the ultimate benefit of the West, its ‘true’ heir.” The integral role of Hellenism in the Byzantine Empire has been thoroughly examined vis-à-vis its external influence – its effects on the Islamic and Western worlds, to which the Hellenic culture that the Empire preserved as an essential element of its identity was transmitted. Meanwhile, its internal importance – its causes and its cultural and political effects within the Empire – has been generally neglected. Thus, through a reevaluation of Byzantine Hellenism that takes into account its geographical, linguistic, and cultural origins, as well as its influence on education, literature, art, religion, and society in the Empire, it is possible to gain a fuller, more complete understanding of the way in which it shaped not only the broader history of Western civilization but also the Byzantine Empire itself.