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Thursday, May 20, 2021

Brainy Byzantines Versus Brawny Westerners

In the Middle Ages, the Byzantine Empire saw itself as the “brainy people” who were the true guardians of the holy faith, and the inheritors of the legacy of the Roman Empire, while the Western Catholic nations saw themselves as the “brawny people” on whom had fallen the mantle of freeing the Holy Land. The Westerners saw weakness and amorality in the sophistication and erudition of the Byzantines, while the Byzantines saw barbarism and greed in the warlike nature of the West. 

Anna Komnene, the daughter of Alexius I Comnenus, the Byzantine Emperor who ruled from 1081 to 1118, wrote a biography of her father in which she commented extensively on the pilgrims and warriors who arrived during the First Crusade. She wrote: “Alexius had dreaded [the arrival of the Franks], knowing as he did their uncontrollable passion, their erratic character, and their irresolution, not to mention their greed.” But her comments were colored by hindsight—by the experience of the failures of the First Crusade. The narratives of the both sides have to be examined to find the truth about the First Crusade. 

While the Byzantines and the Westerners shared a common religion and history, the divide between the “brainy people” and the “brawny people” could not be reconciled.

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