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The Neo-Byzantine society: A brief look at the reasons behind the Byzantine Empire’s rise in promine

Discussion in 'World History' started by Kyriakos, May 28, 2019.

  1. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    The Neo-Byzantine society: A brief look at the reasons behind the Byzantine Empire’s rise in prominence in computer games.

    Anyone who is familiar with computer strategy games will more than likely be aware of the rather impressive prominence of the Byzantine Empire in such software in recent years. It is obvious that the popularity of the Empire (the official name of which was “The Roman Empire”) has next to nothing to do with nationalism; given the main currently existing country which can be regarded as its successor is Greece, and globally Greek gamers certainly are only a very small minority. The Byzantine Empire has become so alluring an option to play as in strategy games because of what it comes to symbolize. In this brief article I will present my own estimate as to just what it is picked as up by multinational players.

    The Byzantine Empire lasted for more than 1000 years, despite existing in a state of nearly endless warfare. Attacked by many sides, and torn apart by civil wars, it finally was ended in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople. For most – or even all – of its existence it was a major power, and looked down upon other states. Having taken the mantle from Rome and Greek-Roman civilization, the Empire did come across often as a paradigm of arrogance and sybaritic attitude; and at times paid dearly for its open contempt of other powers.

    In my mind the Byzantine Empire can be likened to a person who is estranged from their environment, proud and even schizoid personality-wise: even during the final siege of Constantinople there was an ongoing theological debate on a rather obscure point concerning metaphysical qualities, to do with the traits of angels… As strange or decadent as such a person – or state entity – may seem, it should also be noted that there is a certain mystical aura about them, and when that is coupled with the purple-born majesty of a former superstate the effect can easily become charming.

    I think that the current age has allowed us to observe just how fundamental and powerful the urge to self-express is for all of us; and I would hazard to make the claim that perhaps self-expression had in the pre-internet age been associated with only a small minority of individuals: the celebrated artists, while now everyone posting on a web-community can freely present some elements of thinking which used to be a bit of an anathema due to their “esoteric” quality.

    “Esoteric” is, I believe, as good a term as any to describe the Byzantine Empire itself and a facet of the current phenomenon of Byzantinophilia-through-games. What better symbol of such an attitude than a prominent entity which fell from grace, yet during its 1000-year existence had been striving to be inward-looking and keep its distance from its neighbors? Extreme introversion, esoteric thinking, a schizoid personality may all well be still largely frowned upon; yet I believe such traits will enjoy more acceptance as we move on to the next phase of our history as a species. And despite the fact that – it should go without saying – it would be a misguided stance to isolate oneself and be occupied to the extreme with only internal objects and akin to bathing for centuries in the cold waters of the human imagination, one still may wish to reflect on the evidently true development we witness through all kinds of internet-hosted phenomena (games, posts, memes, videos, article writing etc) of a rise in self-reflection and the consequent aspiration to be a more involved citizen in the empire of one’s own mind.

    (@Dachs , remember our old discussion on the schizoid byz empire? :D )
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2019
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  2. Zardnaar

    Zardnaar Chieftain

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    It's because it was the last remnant of Rome and people love an underdog.
     
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  3. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Chieftain

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    It has something for the classicists (especially during certain periods), something for people interested in religion, something for medievalists... and yeah, underdog sympathy plays a part here.
     
  4. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    Don't forget, also, the interest in a "clash of civilizations". People on the far right of white societies see the Byzantine state and military as having been the so-called shield of Western Christianity against Islam. Some of the best-selling pop-history books on the Byzantine Empire in English in the last few decades have made use of terminology designed to evoke this association. Many of the people online who clamor for the Empire's presence in, say, strategy games (although by all accounts it was worse on the Paradox forums several years ago than it currently is) want to play out their fantasies of bringing fire and sword to the infidel.
    Not specifically, no. Sorry. But if you hum a few bars...
     
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  5. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Escaped Lunatic

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    Hey, don't knock it til you've tried it. You certainly don't have to be a white/Christian nationalist to have that sort of fantasy... :yup:
     
  6. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    Considering it wasn't exactly a friendly discussion, I'd rather let it buried as it is :D
     
  7. abradley

    abradley Chieftain

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    Kyriakos posted:
    "The Neo-Byzantine society: A brief look at the reasons behind the Byzantine Empire’s rise in prominence in computer games.
    {Snip}"

    Been wanting to post with you on Byzantium, all my life I've been interested in it, then I found Edward Luttwak's

    The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire

    Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2009. 512pp. $35.00 ISBN 978-0-674-03519-5.
    http://www.deremilitari.org/REVIEWS/Luttwak_GrandStrategyByzEmp.htm

    And devoured it, almost understood what he was saying, but his view that the US should adopt Byzantine strategy where practicable seemed like a good idea.

    OK, to my main point, if you read Luttwak's book what did you think of it?
     
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  8. Ajidica

    Ajidica High Quality Person

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    That seems to assume there was a 'Grand Strategy' in the Byzantine Empire on any level besides "let's bully foreigners".
    It's like the people who talk about Late Roman strategy as 'defense in depth' with field armies stationed away from the frontier to mount a mobile defense despite that having no basis in our understanding of -however vaguely- the Romans understood 'grand strategy', how the legions were structured, or even basic logistical/command and control capacity at the time.
     
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  9. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    It's actually the same guy.

    Luttwak is on firmer ground here because he does have a more coherent body of thought to point to in the form of the Byzantine military classics. Perhaps a better title for the book would have been The Byzantine Way of War, because it is more about Truppenpraxis, diplomatic priorities, and general approaches to strategy than anything else.

    Luttwak's first text had a great deal more to do with NATO strategic thought in the latter half of the Cold War than with how the Roman military was actually organized and how Romans thought of fighting war. Nevertheless, he was at the time justified in pointing out some assumptions that Romans tended to have about the way war worked and how to conduct it. Similar assumptions have been accepted by most writers on antique military history. His mistake was in arguably being overly schematic and in perhaps not making the best use of his evidence; many of his critics made the mistake of reading assumptions into the term "grand strategy" that did not necessarily belong there.

    This Byzantine text is less freighted with those assumptions. It contains a great deal that would not go amiss in a book by Haldon, who himself was a reader on an early draft of the manuscript. (It also, however, is not fully current in some ways, and in other ways I think that Luttwak misuses or misinterprets his evidence.) It does not engage with modern comparisons nearly so much as in the Rome book. You can still see Luttwak's priorities as a writer on modern strategy, and you can see some inflections in the text that imply criticism of American reliance on military force in the Middle East, but conflating those parts with the whole would be a mistake.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2019
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  10. Ajidica

    Ajidica High Quality Person

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    Thanks Dachs.
     
  11. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    Morelike tourmapraxis, amirite :)
     
  12. Lexicus

    Lexicus Warlord

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    @Dachs, are you familiar with the Videssos series by Harry Turtledove? That was what sparked my interest in the Byzantine empire.

    I understand completely the odious sorts of political associations this has in modern times, but is this view inaccurate? More by virtue of geographic position than anything else, my understanding is the Byzantines did serve as a shield for points further west against the various nomads to the east, north and south.

    Isn't it just historically accurate? The Byzantines were the most powerful state in the medieval world for centuries. That was true even after the Muslims took the eastern provinces. Having a strategy game set in the early medieval period without the Byzantine empire would be like having a World War I game without Germany. I think that the long fight between the Byzantines and the various Caliphates was the most interesting geopolitical thing going on for a long time in the "west", certainly far more interesting than endless squabbling amongst the inbred savages of northwest Europe.
     
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  13. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    Aware of it. Never read it. Turtledove isn't for me.
    H I S T O R I C A L A C C U R A C Y

    Aight, let's back up. OP is noticing that the Byzantine Empire has a lot of stans on the Internet, and that many of them are gamers. True. OP believes that one of the reasons that this is so is because the Empire was weird and paradoxical. This is also undoubtedly true.

    I point out that another reason for this popularity is because a bunch of gamers are on the far right and view everything as a clash of civilizations between "Western" values and the Other. They see the Byzantine Empire as a bulwark in that clash, and playing as the Byzantines in games allows them to live out masturbatory geopolitical fantasies.

    That doesn't amount to a judgment on whether the Empire should be in video games. There are plenty of normal things that obviously have a place in video games and other media that can still be twisted by the end user. It's not a judgment on roleplaying in games, either. Now, I do imply that I disagree with the view of the Empire as defender of the West, but I don't discuss its "historical accuracy" or lack thereof.
     
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  14. Lexicus

    Lexicus Warlord

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    Well, yes- I know you didn't discuss the 'historical accuracy' which is why I was asking you about it. Your views are likely to be more informed than mine.

    Fwiw I have roleplayed the Empire in Medieval 2: Total War and Rhy's and Fall: Dawn of Civilization not as "defender of the West" but as the reuniter (ie, conqueror) of the West.
     
  15. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    That would be like trying to assess the 'historical accuracy' of the belief that the United States of America is a shining city on a hill and beacon of freedom. Or, more pejoratively, like assessing the accuracy of the belief that Klansmen are the hallowed preservers of their culture and heritage from intrusion, inclusion, and dilution of color, of creed, and of their old-time religion. It, like...doesn't really matter what facts you pull out? The frame for the discussion is already set, and the facts drop neatly into the places that have been set for them.
     
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  16. Lexicus

    Lexicus Warlord

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    Well, talk about this more. I'm interested in a historiographical breakdown
     
  17. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    Have you read that book?
    I am curious as to how it presents byzantine views on those other nations - I suppose it paints a picture of trash talk which would make the 89-90 Pistons proud.
    Besides, who cares what barbarians and sir Charles think :jesus:
     
  18. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    I'm not sure what there is to talk about. If you're the kind of Westerner who uses terms like Christendom unironically and who views Islam as the Enemy, you will find it a good and useful way to talk about the past. If you are not, then you probably won't.
    I have!

    In Cabinet, Kaldellis mostly collates and reproduces interesting segments of the primary sources. For example, he gives brief summaries of some of the serious ethnographical works produced by the Romans, but also, say, the racist jokes found in Philogelos. There is some delightful trash talk, like Prokopios on the Heruli: "They have sex in unholy ways, especially men with donkeys; they are the vilest of all people" (Wars 7.14.36).

    And there's some outright weirdness. In the epilogue to his Theogony, Tzetzes talks about how amazing he is at languages. He can greet foreigners in their own tongues. He gives examples of the greetings he uses with Iranians, Latins, etc. His greeting to the Jews is awful and anti-Semitic, because of course it is. But his greeting for Alan women is...kind of amazing.

    "If an Alan woman has a priest for a boyfriend, then she will hear such words:
    'Aren't you ashamed, my lady, to have a priest **** your ****?'
    [οὐκ αἰσχύνεσαι, αὐθέντριά μου, νὰ γαμῇ τὸ μουνίν σου παπᾶς]
    to farnetz kintzi mesfili kaitz fua saunge
    [du farnitz, kintzae mae sfili, kajci fae wa sawgin]?"

    There are five manuscripts of the Theogony and Tzetzes' epilogue survives only in a few of them. Only one scribe stuck with the text long enough to get this part of it down, and recorded the Greek versions of the phrases in red ink. Tzetzes probably had the Greek translations in the original as well, and was probably responsible for the, uh, inventive mistranslation.

    By the way, this is one of very few surviving examples of medieval Alanic and is extremely important for reconstructing Proto-Ossetic. So it gets cited all the time. Unfortunately, it's usually censored in the citations.

    Kaldellis doesn't censor it, though. Anyway, the book's great. There are two chapters on how the Byzantines thought of foreigners specifically, one for sources before 641 and one for after.
     
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  19. Lexicus

    Lexicus Warlord

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    Well there must be some kind of historiographical debate about these matters. Anything you can tell me about it would be of interest to me.

    I'm the kind of Westerner who uses the term "Christendom" unironically to talk about the middle ages. Is that bad?
     
  20. Arakhor

    Arakhor Dremora Courtier Moderator

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    I also use it in a historical context.
     

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