28 May, 1453

I would like to take you back to evening of May 28, 1453.  This is the evening before the date (29 May, 1453) that is widely associated with the beginning of the renaissance period in Europe.  The evening before was, in my opinion, much more significant to current events.

As some of you will recall from history class, May 29 signified the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, which at the time was just left with the city of Constantinople (and which we now call the the Byzantime empire) at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.  The Ottomans had laid siege to the city on April 5.  The outcome of the war was not preordained on April 5.  There were several twists and turns, but on May 28, it was known that the city would fall on May 29.

The Romans (Greeks really) had 5000 fighting men, and the city had about 30,000 inhabitants.  What did they all do on May 28, 1453 ?

The prayed.  At the Hagia Sophia.  Together.  And this was a big deal.

Follow me after the jump to find out why.

It was a big deal because in the 1400 years of the Empire, through 88 Emperors, countless usurpers, and government forms spanning from the Republic to an Empire to a Diarchy, a Terarchy; the citizens had never prayed together.

In the beginning, there was a dispute over religion.  Paganism was the dominant Hellenistic religion.  This was supplanted by Christianity, largely because it afforded an advantage to Constantine (the Emperor who built the walls of Constantinople).  Pagans continued to hold some position of influence for another 200 years or so; but paganism's time had passed.  

The citizenry had found a new reason to fued, and the feud was on whether Christ was divine, or if he was divine and human at the same time.  This is a difference that I cannot understand, but it was of sufficient import to the citizens that they would kill for that difference.  Many an Emperor would spend a substantial portion of their energies mediating between the "greens" and the "red" (the colors associated with those two camps).  Having the differences dismissed as inconsequential was not acceptable to either the "reds" or the "greens".  The Emperor Justinian tried doing just that, and had 30,000 rioting citizens (both reds and greens) baying for his blood as a consequence in AD 532 (in reality, Justinian had committed an additional sin of appointing a pagan tax collector).  

The feud between the reds and the greens was never resolved.  Until May 28, 1453, that is.  But it was joined by several other feuds.  Chief among them was the controversy over iconoclasm.

Christianity, if you trace it back to it's basics, forbids you from making and worshipping graven images.  A strict literal interpretation of this rule would preclude you from making any replicas of God, or of Christ.  Fortunately for our art musuems, the early Christians decided to ignore this rule.  But there was always a simmering tension between the iconodules (people who revere icons, and for whom religious worship includes a large dose of icons), and iconoclasts (people who hate icons, as a graven image; and would destroy all icons).

In the absence of an external threat (i.e., until Islam burst onto the scene), the iconodules had the upper hand.  After all, icons are pretty; and pretty things (and pretty girls) are reason enough to abandon the 10 commandments.  But the advent of Islam was different.  Islam burst forth with such speed that it caused the Romans (who, at this point, had lost control of Rome, and had started speaking Greek) to question their own faith.  What is it that we are doing wrong, that has pissed of God so much.  The Roman Empire, you see, always had God's sanction to rule.  Without divine help, it would fall.  The wise citizens looked around and decided that God was mad at them because they were making and displaying graven images.  God, apparently, does not get upset over stealing, or coveting of the neighbours wife.  After all, the Muslims lie and bed their neighbours wife just as much; and God did not appear to be mad at them.  And the only thing the Muslims did different was that they interpreted the specific instructions on graven images more literally (well, that, and they believed that Christ was not the last Prophet...but they were clearly wrong about that).

And so, it was out with iconoclasm, and in with the iconodules.  

The growth of Islam was stunted by a combination of events; but the wise citizens decided that the underlying reason was God had forgotten his instructions on graven images.  And so, iconoclasm was restored in 853 AD by Empress Theodora.  Talk about flip flops (John Kerrey would not even come close).  

All these changes do not come without hurt feelings, of course.  And where feelings are hurt, blood is often spilled.

Life continued for the merry Romans (or Greeks, or Byzantines).  They had to deal with the occassional crusaders who wandered by.  Regrettably, the founders of the Empire were foolish enough to locate their empire between the crusaders and their goal; and most of the crusaders would end up eating/drinking/looting/raping within the Roman empire.  You really cannot expect much more from an army without any top level, or middle level leadership.  The crusaders ended up weakening the Roman empire, which was perhaps not far from their original purpose.  You see, the crusades had been initiated as a result of a fiery speech given by Pope Urban II in 1095.  Some say, it was the fieriest speech ever delivered by a human.  The stated goal was to recapture Jerusalem from those Muslims; and the specific excuse was a request made by the "Eastern"  Roman Emperor (and at this point, the Eastern Romans were foreigners with strange perfume and unacceptable religions practices) for a small assistance in a specific campaign. Yep...another religious dispute.

And so, on it went into the 1400s.  At this point, it was known that the Roman empire would fall at some point.  It had too much debt, too many divisions, and too little revenue.  There had been too many rampaging crusaders.  The thick walls of Constantinople, that had been sufficient protection for 1000 years, were thinned considerably by the discovery of gunpowder, and of the cannon ball.  There were, quite simply, too many Muslims.  Furthermore, the Muslims were good at Maths, and Engineering.

And so, finally, the Empire initiated a process of resolving differences. The difference between iconodules and iconoclasts was settled forever (hopefully), by the state commissioning an icon that celebrated the Empress Theodora in AD 853 praying before the Virgin Mary.  The iconodules had won, and the 10 commandments be damned.  There are simply too many pretty things in the world to be bent out of shape over the 10 commandments.  

They also attempted, unsuccessfully, to unify the eastern and western churches.  This was a futile attempt ~ the western church was too powerful at the time, and was not interested in a unification.  It was interested in a surrender.  The eastern church did just that ~ it agreed to dissolve itself, and merge into the western church; if the west would help them fend off the Muslims.... with a real Army, and not another group of crusaders.

But what of the original controversy.  Is Christ merely divine, or is he divine and human at the same time ?  That was not resolved...until May 28, 1453.

That evening, with the Ottomans resting up for a final assault, with certain death within 24 hours being the only possible outcome, the "reds" and the "greens" finally came together during an evening sermon at the Hagia Sophia.  For the first time.  Also the last time.  Evah!!

And that brings me to the Ground Zero Mosque.  Can you, logically, figure out the difference between those who believe that Christ is divine, or God's human son, or both, or all (i.e., the Christians), and those who believe that Christ is divine, and God's messenger PBUH (i.e., the Muslims).  If you can, then I would like to hear from you.  Yes, the Muslims all point to a specific direction when they pray, and they do pray in a strange language other than Latin and Greek and Hebrew.  And yes, their beautiful call to prayer sounds intimidating to those who are not invited (and annoying to those who would rather not be invited); but they are praying to the same God.

It is not a dispute over which God (or Goddess) gets to lord over us all.  It is not a dispute over the number of God(s) or Goddess(es) that are in existence.  Everyone agrees that it is the same God.

Will we have to wait for our own 28 May, 1453 before we can pray together ?


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I enjoyed this!

by Charles Lemos 2010-08-24 04:39AM | 2 recs

I thought you would.  

But will anyone else, that is the question.


by Ravi Verma 2010-08-24 11:09AM | 1 recs
I don't agree there's a God or Goddess or any other imaginery soul lording over us..

So "Everyone agrees that it is the same God."  is not really everybody..

Otherwise very interesting diary, although my understanding is that Roman Empire started with Augustus (post Republican phase) -27 BC)..


by louisprandtl 2010-08-24 12:15PM | 1 recs
RE: I don't agree there's a God or Goddess or any other imaginery soul lording over us..

Yes, I played loose with some facts. That tends to happen when you are inherently sloppy (as I am).


WRT the Roman empire starting with Augustus; I agree that yours is the consensus opinion.  However, I view the Republican era as one in name only; and so the distinction between Republic and Empire is one of degree and not substantive.  Even in the Republican era, you had to satisfy certain conditions before you could be elected as the big boss (you had to be born free, you had to be born into immense wealth which entitled you to vote for the Senate, you had to be born into even more wealth to run for Senate, etc. etc.) Thus, the Republican era was a pseudo empire at it's core.

This should not be suprising, given that the transition from "Republic" to "Empire" happened within much less than 1 generation... Augustus was a boy of 17 sans the Augustus title when Ceasar was assassinated, and when everyone was a proud Republican.  By the time he was 22, he had become "Augustus", and the citizens had meekly accepted the Empire.  If you think of this, it can only make sense if the Republic was a sham to begin with.



by Ravi Verma 2010-08-24 12:55PM | 1 recs
RE: I don't agree there's a God or Goddess or any other imaginery soul lording over us..

Ah, I get it now...

You were complaining about my sloppy math... 1453 - (-27) is closer to 1500 than to 1400.  Fair enough.

by Ravi Verma 2010-08-24 01:14PM | 1 recs
Ah I see

I  guess you want me to consult  Mr. Gibbons...:) If you want to include all of Roman civilization that would be the following:


Roman Kingdom

753 BC – 509 BC


Roman Republic

508 BC – 27 BC

Roman Empire

27 BC – AD 1453


More than 1500 years, won't you agree?

by louisprandtl 2010-08-25 12:14AM | 1 recs
RE: Ah I see

Yes, but I was trying to focus on the period that was dominated by the red vs green dispute.  This era was only about 1000 years (post Constantine; and really only from 450 AD to about 1400 AD).

By 1400, the dispute had become meaningless and was only given a few extra years because Timur Lane came and captured the Ottoman ruler... thereby giving the empire a few more years, allowing the feud to continue.

So, I should have narrowed my window down to about AD 450 to about AD 1400.

Regardless, I admit that I am sloppy with my  facts.  I am not a historian by profession; and generally dont bother to edit myself; or to double check my facts that I recite from memory..often incorrectly and/or inconsistently.  For instance, I used the number 88 emperors, which is generally said to include the line from Diocletian to Constantine 11; but cheerfully included the era from Augustus in laying down the era; which I then added up as 1400 yrs (also incorrectly); even though I was only talking about a 1000 yr period.  


I suppose I should have spent a few minutes editing myself..but life is pretty hectic.  I did want to write that diary, because I have been very saddened by the GZM; but...

How have you been...I dont know if you remember me from 2 yrs back (or was it more?).  We used to have several discussion on foreign policy.

And who is Mr Gibbons ?

by Ravi Verma 2010-08-25 01:58AM | 1 recs
Sorry I meant Mr. Gibbon...alias Edward Gibbon.



by louisprandtl 2010-08-25 11:16PM | 1 recs
Your diary was an awesome read.

I really enjoyed reading about the "reds" and "greens" and your historical narration of the relevant period of that divisiness in Roman Empire.

Of course, I remember our interchanges in these pages. I think your handle was Lotus Bloom. I rarely write diaries these days. I mostly lurk and read DKos and MotleyMoose these days. Here I do read Charles Lemos and JA and occassional diaries from folks whose name I can recognize. It's hard to write comments here since the changes in the format.



by louisprandtl 2010-08-25 11:14PM | 1 recs
RE: Your diary was an awesome read.

Yes, I did use that handle.  I had forgotten if my switch was before, or after our exchanges.  I am glad you remembered (and honored as well) !!

I, too, rarely write diaries myself.  It is a pity, this blog used to have several insightful diaries.  JA's combative attitude seems to have scared off most people; although I think he is generally right on most issues.  I come here for Charles Lemos ~ wish I had half that writing talent.

I am half tempted to dig back at our old comments to say who was right on our discussions.  My guess is that we both will have plenty of hat to eat; if we could revisit our old comments.

by Ravi Verma 2010-08-26 12:35AM | 1 recs


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