Translated from Polish by Maciej Giertych




 Available at eBay (Type in ‘Feliks Koneczny’ into the search box).



























































III THE GLAGOLITHIC ALPHABET (679-890)                                        


IV BULGARIA AND RUTHENIA (888-988)                                            


V CLUNY AND THE SCHISM (927-1090)                                             


VI SOCIAL STRUCTURES (989-1217)                                               






IX MOSCOW CULTURE (1425-1552)              


X PROTESTANTISM (1453-1618)                     




XII THE WEAKENING OF SOCIETIES (1611-1714)          










XVII THE FALL OF BYZANTINISM (1889-1944)         
















Why is that contemporary states are progressively increasing the field of their activity? Do they have to be responsible not only for foreign policy, defence and the judiciary, but also for the economy, for education, for health care, for sport and entertainment? Do they have to impose their ideologies on family life, on sex education, on social mores, on the understanding of human nature, its finality, dignity and its social involvement? Who has attributed to state bureaucracies the right to encroach upon such issues? On what basis government bureaucrats are often irremovable, omnipotent and endowed with the attribute of infallibility? Is the formulation of such questions a relatively recent phenomenon provoked by changes that have come about within living memory or have these questions, and also answers to them, not been with us for centuries?

Ultimately, these questions and their answers belong to the realm of ethics. They depend upon the general perception of social morality that a given society has. When a problem appears, is it to be resolved by those who perceive the problem and react to it with their personal generosity, cooperating at times with others who also perceive the problem, or is the issue to be met with passive indifference in the conviction that it is the unique responsibility of state to react? In most countries of the West the state takes away a vast percentage of the income earned by individuals and then it expects only a passive uncritical reception of the services it guarantees. An attentive observation of society in these countries shows that the consequent reduction of the sphere of social responsibility of individuals is generally accompanied by an increased sense of entitlement. While with the wide access to information the perception of various social ills is growing and it generates a sense of moral abhorrence, this abomination is usually followed up by expectations that the state should do something about this, and the state is to offer its services free of charge. As a result more and more people are on the receiving end and those who contribute to this, not through personal generosity, but through imposed taxation are wondering where all this is going. It is easy to throw the increasing debt on the next generation, but will that future generation be willing to pay, and why should the young and the unborn incur debts? After all, St. Paul taught that “children are not expected to save up for their parents, but parents for children” (2 Cor 12, 14). Furthermore, the increasing of the competence of the states with the allowing of them to intrude into all walks of life is simultaneously and progressively lowering the moral standards of society. Since the states do not, like the Church, have access to the grace of God and to the living Word of God, and they only have their penal system and an invasive, heavy, expensive bureaucracy, the states can only expect and require behaviour that is in accord with a very low moral standard. They can also penalize those who expect higher moral standards, accusing them of not being sufficiently open-minded. The more all-encompassing is the modern state, the more with its mighty power it is lowering the ethos of personal and social life. All this is usually done in the name of equal treatment of all by the state, but this means that the public ethos is constantly falling to the level of the lowest possible common denominator.

Feliks Koneczny, the author of this study was a Polish Catholic historian living in seemingly distant times (1862-1949). Due to the Nazi and Communist totalitarianisms his most important works had been unknown for half a century. He viewed universal history through the prism of social ethics. He was interested not so much in the ideas of ethicists but in the practical value systems that societies and peoples have. He observed that these value systems differ, generating profound differences between peoples, and at the same time these value systems are extremely resistant and are passed on from generation to generation. The understanding of how communal life is to be organized was described by him as a “civilization”. Koneczny tried to individuate the continuous thread of the fundamental value systems of civilizations and observe their interaction in history. His conclusion was that when differing civilizations meet, people either try to construct and defend a social context in which they can continue to live according to their own values, or they clash with those who have a different ethos, or they become bewildered and lose a focus in their own personal and social life. People need a focus, they need to know in the name of what values they are living out their lives, and if they fail to perceive these values lived out by others around them, they are then confused, their actions become impulsive, haphazard and ultimately void of any moral orientation. Such people suffer from a paralysis of moral responsibility and they end up being in an a-civilized state. Since, these conundrums are real and of a social nature, they can be observed in society, both today and in the past. They can thus become the subject matter of the interest of a historian.

Koneczny differentiated between the private and the public law. The private law expresses the grass-roots organization of social entities, be they clans, families, legally endowed social classes described in mediaeval and post-mediaeval Europe as “estates”, self-governing associations of craftsmen, religious groups, religious orders, cities, universities, and local governments. The public law expresses the organization of the state as it imposes from above its authority and its agencies, in view of its own ends. The perception of how the private and public law meet and relate is essentially a question of social ethics, an opinion about what is deemed proper according to the value system of a given civilization, in which communal life is organized in a particular way.

In The Byzantine civilization Koneczny studied the historical interaction of various possible arrangements of the public and the private law. He individuated what he called the Latin civilization, which is characterized by the conviction that the public law must respect and even defend the rights of private law. This view has its origins in ancient, republican Rome and it was affirmed, developed and extended by the Catholic Church. Ultimately it affirms what is termed today as the principle of subsidiarity. A higher level institution should not interfere and impose its authority on issues that can be done on a lower grass-roots level. The Latin civilization is built upon personalism, upon respect for individual human dignity and human rights, and on the fundamental conviction that the spiritual power is above the temporal. This means that morality is not to be reduced to the private sphere, but it is to illuminate and also influence the public sphere, meaning the state, its functioning, the economic system and foreign policy.

The Byzantine civilization is different, because it is built upon the conviction that the public law of the state is supreme and it can therefore reduce, limit, tax out of existence, control and abolish all grass-roots activities in the name of the dignity of the state. This view has its origins in the despotic states of the Near East of antiquity. It was adopted by imperial Rome and then transferred to Constantinople. The heavy, centralized, bureaucratic state of Byzantium with its fabulously rich capital surrounded by abject, enslaved poverty worked on the imagination of centuries, but also it was hated by those who had any direct contact with it. The Byzantine system denied personalism and human dignity. It became a synonym of complex legal procedures, contributing to abuses and corruption, intrigues, immorality, repression and a total subservience of the Church to the state, meaning that there was no place in this system for any assessment of the functioning of the state in the light of Gospel principles. Koneczny claimed that the Byzantine state served as a model for the European Holy Roman Empire, which, precisely for this reason was in permanent conflict with the papacy. Through the Teutonic Knights installed in Prussia and through the Reformation, Byzantinism had a continuation in the absolutist monarchies of modern Europe and in all the socialist expansions of the competence of states. For this reason, Koneczny continued his reflection on the Byzantine civilization right up to his own times, to the Second World War.

While perceiving a profound impact of the Byzantine civilization on modern Germany, and thus on continental Europe, Koneczny surprisingly did not include Russia in the Byzantine civilization. He saw in history the presence of another model for the organization of communal life coming from Asia, which he described as the Turanian civilization. In this world there is no permanent public law, there is only the private law, but of one individual, the khan, the tsar, the sultan. All the people and all the wealth that passes through their hands are the private property of the supreme leader, who is not bound by any obligations, any acquired rights of private law, any consistency of public law, any moral rule whatever. The tyrannical rule that expresses his arbitrary whims generates fear, and in fact the more brutal he is, the more he is respected by his subjects. The Turanian civilization furnished the underlying ethos of the empire of Genghis Khan, of Muscovy and Russia and of Ottoman Turkey. Russia is therefore not to be viewed as a child of the Ruthenia of Kiev, but as the descendant of a former colony of the Mongolian khans of Saratov. In fact, the mediaeval Ruthenians of today’s Ukraine and Belarus willingly aligned themselves first with Lithuania and then with Poland, because being on the watershed of conflicting civilizations, they looked towards Europe as they tried to escape from Mongolian and Muscovite brutality.

Koneczny’s vision of universal European history that begins in antiquity and ends in the XX century is presented as an interaction of these three fundamental and contradictory views about how communal life is to function. Koneczny amassed a wealth of historical material. In many details, he certainly may be corrected by more recent scholarship. The value of his work, however, lies primarily in the overall recognition of the importance of ethical ideals in history and the perception that these ideals are profoundly different among different peoples. Koneczny did not engage in philosophical ethics or in moral theology. He did not attempt to justify objectively, rationally or theologically the moral qualification of acts and the moral norms. He accepted Catholic ethics at face value. Furthermore, he noted the social dimension of Catholic ethics that dates not from Pope Leo XIII, but has been in existence throughout nearly two millennia of the Church’s history. He saw the Catholic Church as the courageous defender of the dignity of the human person, of the autonomy of all grass-roots groups and as the educator of nations. With the eye of a historian he saw how with great difficulty the high standards of Catholic social morality were maintained and how they had to be defended against miscomprehensions and contrary visions. He observed that always this could be done with greater success, whenever the imposing power of the state was limited and subjected to higher moral criteria.

Koneczny learnt that all ideologies that promote the cosmopolitan integration of peoples living according to conflicting ethical principles will eventually have to crash. This is the experience of history. He distinguished between nationality and citizenship. He claimed that it is only within the Latin civilization that a consciousness of belonging to a given nation is born. This entails an allegiance towards the nation, its culture, history and values. It involves a moral stance that generates moral responsibilities. These are distinct from being subject to a monarch or from citizenship, which express only a legal dependency towards some higher political power. Koneczny did not imagine that concern for the monogamous family as a fundamental social unit will also require a courageous and public moral stance similar to the moral responsibility for one’s nation. After all, Koneczny died in 1949. He did, however, perceive that the emancipation of the family from the clan structure, and the affirmation of monogamy by the Catholic Church is a factor of fundamental importance conditioning the Latin civilization.

Koneczny perceived a basic difference between the Latin and Byzantine civilizations, consisting in the Catholic aloofness of the Church from the state and the Byzantine dependency and subservience towards the state of both Orthodoxy and major currents of Protestantism. In the light of Koneczny’s perspective, it is not surprising that in states that function according to the Byzantine model, whether it is ancient and mediaeval Byzantium or modern Germany, where the state collects taxes for the Church and then administers the distribution of funds, the clergy has a deep anti-Roman complex. When the ecclesial structure is directly dependent upon the state, the clergy prefer not to stand up to it in the defence of moral values. But where the Catholic Church has the courage to maintain a counter-cultural stance, there the Gospel is preached in its fullness, and in time it may condition the social fabric.

Wojciech Giertych OP

                                                                               Theologian of the Papal Household






This book has been partially ready and already announced in 1935 in my book On the Plurality of Civilizations (in a footnote on p. 307). There I explained its genesis and motives. Over a period of more than 20 years various parts of the book have been written in multiple sequences. They were constantly corrected, edited and supplemented, but also shortened in places where this was needed for the sake of brevity and clarity, and even more had to be deleted for “technical” reasons. A long and tedious work conducted with almost stubbornness was first to convince me whether my method of studying civilizations is appropriate and when I attained confidence that it is, there began a second period of the work in which I tried to check out on the historical description of the Byzantine civilization how far my science of civilizations provides a truly “new view of universal history”. The Byzantine civilization is best suited for such a check because its history covers almost the whole of the history that we tend to refer to as universal; its roots are in distant antiquity among the pharaohs and its high branches only today are beginning dry up. Thus, something like an academic textbook resulted, which studies universal history from the point of view of the science of civilizations.

This new point of observation permitted many new things to be spotted. Beginning with numerous issues pertaining to Church history one can also quote as an example the explanation of the ideological background to the efforts of Alexander the Great; new theses concerning the rise and fall of Rome; new views about the Hellenistic period as well as about the Germanic invasions etc. In mediaeval history, such questions as iconoclasm, the Apostles of the Slavs and even the Cluniac reform are viewed anew. The conflicts of emperors with the papacy are seen in a new light. In modern history we note the Byzantine poison almost throughout Europe. Even the Enlightenment becomes more pronounced against the background of Byzantinism, the greatest genius of which proved to be Bismarck and its grave-digger Hitler. A new light is also thrown on the modern history of England. What is perhaps most important, it becomes clear that always, since the days of the pharaohs until today, it is impossible to be civilized in two different ways, because civilizational mixtures lead to degeneration and finally to craziness bringing us all into an a-civilizational state.

May these few words encourage the reader to study the work all the way to the end not being discouraged by deficiencies in arrangement and in the writer’s workshop. These were impossible to avoid, since the book was written too long and in a situation where there were shortcomings in the scientific apparatus. The work has been brought to some sort of end in spite of the fact that from 1939 onwards access to all scientific libraries was closed and it was announced with severity that “all scientific work of Poles is strictly forbidden”. Nevertheless Polish scholars continued to work. They did not fold their hands, nor did they lose spirit.

Kraków, March 1947.






The genesis of the Byzantine civilization belongs to a series of most important issues of universal history, particularly since it is closely connected with the “rise and fall of Rome”. Its genealogy is very long, longer than for any other civilization. Frequently one has to step back to the ancient Egyptian and Persian civilizations. One has to study the Hellenistic and Syrian civilizations and one has to acquaint oneself with the Roman and finally the Latin one. The Byzantine civilization is not a homogenous formation but a historical agglomeration that built up over many centuries from numerous peoples of various countries in three parts of the world.

The tendency towards emanationism, which is manifest in the Orthodox Church even today (Mere|kowski, Berdyaev), derives from the ancient Orient. It is also from there, from Babylon and Egypt that the idea of state universalism came to the late Roman Empire and to the Byzantine one. And the typically Byzantine ideal of uniformity that is felt so strongly that compulsion is used with conviction so as to impose it comes from ancient Iran. Thus we have to immerse even there into the past so as to reach to the roots of Byzantinism.

The view, even though it is universally held, that Byzantinism was born only after the fall of the Roman civilization and that it represents one of the two branches that grew on the ruins of the classical civilization, parallel with the Latin one is false. An even greater error is the view that Byzantinism is some kind of continuation of Hellenic Greek civilization. It was not born of the Hellenic but of the Hellenistic background, which is not a fruit of Greece but of Asia. Let us not be fooled by the affinity of terms.

Thus we have to consider both Hellenic Greece and the Hellenistic states from the viewpoint of the science of civilizations. Simple chronology of history indicates that Rome was drawing not from Hellenic Greece but from the Hellenistic model. Since the final ages of the history of Rome have so much in common with the Orient we have to study how this grew upon the “proper” ancient Rome, in the times prior to the magnum delirium of Horace. In this comparing and analysing, is it possible to avoid the immortal topic: “Greece and Rome”? This question studied here from a new vantage point will prove to appear very different.

All these issues strangely combine and interlock but as we shall see they form a consistent scientific whole. The science of civilizations brings with it a new view of the entire universal history.

In order to understand the most important historical moments it often proved necessary to explore deeply even into the notions about the relationship between the natural and the supernatural world. Not only in ancient history but also in the entire universal history we see emanationism and creationism facing each other. The classical world confessed creationism. The East (except for the Jews) was emanationist. In both systems there can be competition between local and tribal deities as well as their hierarchy, eternal or temporal, unchangeable or conditional.

The relationship of man to God is variously understood. In the Brahman civilization only exceptional individuals can think of a direct relationship with the highest divine element, with Brahma. The general populace does not know Brahma; thus there are no temples for him, there is no cult, there are no priests. The majority only pays homage to a multitude of deities not being worried at all about their mutual relationships. Under creationism mythology is strictly hierarchical, whereas it is chaotic with emanationism.

Man wishes to approach God and rarely does he dare to suspect that he could do this directly. The vast majority of humankind is of the opinion that man is incapable of this (even in prayer) while being in a normal state; for this one has to bring oneself into an exceptional state, an extraordinary one. They are of the opinion that a normal person has no access to God, and that this can be obtained only through abnormality (the dancing dervishes, Korybantes, self-mutilations etc.). At a higher level this is manifest in the view that the approaching of God is possible only after exceptional, ingenious mortifications of the body, bordering on abnormality. This idea passed on from ancient Egypt to Eastern Christianity. (Among the Greeks such requirements were rare and among the Romans they did not occur at all). It is only Catholicism that allows a perfectly normal man to directly face God. In Catholicism this is simply recognized as a personal relationship (an idea which generates the horror of abomination among the Chinese).

The vast majority of peoples recognizes only a communal approach to God, excluding an individual direct access, requiring that it be through the mediation of the community of which the given individual is a member (for example, a Jew prays as a Jew and not individually). These views pass on into private and public life resulting in either communalism or personalism in the psyche of peoples.

Convictions, views and opinions are historical facts of first order importance, because it is abstracts that govern history.

One can detect religious influences in views about the nature of supreme state authority, thus these views are located in the very foundation of the intellect, in notions about the relationship between the natural and the supernatural world.

In ancient Orient the idea of a universal state had Babylonian traditions. As everywhere also there the notion of value was for a long time tied exclusively with physical force and from this the ideal of conquest and occupation developed. The local deity is the source and giver of strength. The gods are constantly in conflict with one another in support of their peoples; the god is either a winner or he demonstrates that he is not a true god. The world is conquered by the happy followers of the highest and the strongest of all the competing gods. As the ruler makes consecutive conquests he approaches the perfection of his god, for example of Marduk and he becomes as if a god himself. The rulers of Babylon call themselves gods (they even build temples for themselves), but only when they become the “rulers of the four quarters of the world”. Later however, “more subtle religious notions developed since between the gods and men an unfathomable abyss appears” and then only symbols had to suffice. In the glorifying hymns of the period of Hammurabi only kings are compared with the gods but they are not considered as such (Jouguet 1926, 3, 7-9). In any case a Babylonian can approach his god but he is never consubstantial with it in an emanationist way. A Babylonian ruler is deified a posteriori and this is not emanationism.

This is not the case in Egypt. There “from the very beginning until the latest time the king was considered an incarnation of the deity” (Piotrowicz 1922, 4). Incarnation is a consequence of the emanationist doctrine held in Egypt and in India. It is not known where is its origin – it could have developed independently both here and there. The Hindu one is known to us very accurately (with the karma and nirvana); we know little about the Egyptian emanation apart from information about the incarnation of the bull Apis.

Emanationism holds that the entire universe was located at the beginning in the immortal being (Brahma) and from it, it gradually emerges in parts through emanation. Everything that exists is in connection with some emanation. The further from the Primordial Being the emanation takes place the less perfect it is in its products.

All deities derive from emanations of the primordial being, and the kings also, or at least they are descendants of one of the deities. A priori a king is an incarnation of a deity.1

Belief in incarnation does not automatically exclude an invader. A god can transfer his incarnation onto someone else, be it even a foreigner. Obviously the god exits from the current incarnate.

The Hindu rajahs are held to be such until this day since he allows him to be beaten. In this way emanationism mixes with the lower notion of competition among the gods.

The socio-political results of emanationism (a priori) and of deification (a posteriori) are the same: the head of state deserves divine respect with all the accompanying consequences.

A people believing in emanationism cannot have above it any other governance than an absolute one. It will recognize only such a ruler in whom it sees an emanation of a deity, an incarnation. Such an individual is deified and from the moment he takes over the throne he becomes the unlimited master of the country, of everyone and of everything as a God on earth, as an incarnation of the deity. This personal right of the monarch, his right of universal ownership becomes the point of departure for all laws.

Where a single individual thinks nothing of himself and all value is said to derive from belonging to a community there develops a tendency to fix the features of communalism and to spread them compulsorily. Unity cannot be understood in any other way than as uniformity. And since there is no uniformity without compulsion the head of state is endowed with unlimited power. In the advanced statehood of Egypt statism, fiscalism and bureaucracy developed. Weaker rudiments of these three can be found everywhere where governance is considered to be an emanation of a deity. Besides this in Egypt and Asia Minor there was the binding of the peasants to the soil and in Egypt there was also a caste system.

The historical axis of Egypt is its aiming for universalism. It is not known whether this was understood there only physically, politically or also spiritually, or whether political universalism was only to be an introduction to a higher spiritual one. We have too little data to answer a question posed in this way. However universalism is not a historical speciality of only the pharaohs.

After all, from China to Ultima Thule universalism was for millennia considered a system of a higher order, a perfection of communal life, in other words: a political or social ideal frequently linking one with the other. Universalism is an essential motive of entire universal history. But there are various methods of universalism, various ways of understanding and applying it depending on the civilization. We shall often meet with this problem in discussing the themes of this book.

Egypt is the cradle of universalism by conquest. Already in the XIVth c. B.C., during the reign of Ramses Sesostris (1392-1328 B.C.) the realm of the pharaohs extended as far as the Euphrates River. This ideal passed on from the conquerors to the conquered, who later themselves became victorious conquerors. The Babylonians and Assyrians passed through the Egyptian school with high marks. In the time of the Assyrian Tiglet Pilezer III (745-726 B.C.) the whole of Asia Minor was under Assyria; and under Assarhaddon (681-668 B.C.) Egypt became a province of Assyria. Next the heritage of the idea of a universal state passed on to the Persians and in 525 B.C., Egypt, the originator of the idea found itself in Persian captivity.

In Egypt, ages ago political despotism was joined with economic despotism. The pharaoh was the lord of the land and of everything the land gives or hides (Jauguet 1933, 33). The peasants were formally permanent tenants in the possessions of kings, temples and aristocracy; in fact they were serfs bound to the soil which they were not allowed to leave, neither, themselves or their progeny. Craftsmanship was as if “nationalized”; the craftsmen as a rule worked in workshops that were the property of the pharaohs and thus Egypt was a “classical country of monopolies” (Jauguet 1933, 34).

In even earlier centuries a monopoly for grain was introduced because the farmers were allowed to sell it only to the state at a price determined by the state. Great mines were the property of the state. Besides, there was a monopoly of salt and of some crafts. The entire population was in fact composed of slaves of the land or of crafts (Jauguet 1933, 76).

Statism requires an extensive bureaucracy. The population was under the constant control of the administration. Egypt is the cradle of bureaucracy. It was organised multilaterally and very strictly according to hierarchical ranks. Governance was organised in departments and the fiscal department excelled in matchless strictness and efficiency.

This was spoiled under Persian rule in the system of the satraps; in place of precision that was most severe for the population there appeared the arbitrariness of the satraps, which was doubled and tripled by the arbitrariness of their officials.

What was worse, the Egyptians suffered religious persecution under the Persians. The second Persian ruler, the son and successor of Cyrus called Cambyses (529-522), having conquered Egypt not only was guilty of many cruel atrocities, but, what more, he ill-treated the religion of the Egyptians and publicly committed profanations (Jauguet 1933, 35). During the days of his successor Darius (son of Hystaspes) an uprising exploded in Egypt, which failed, but it prevented a third expedition of the king against Greece (the years 490-485); it was only his son Xerxes I who could attempt it in 480. During the days of the next king Artaxerxes (465-424) a second Egyptian uprising broke out, with some support from the Athenians, but it was also suppressed. The third one during the reign of Darius II Nothus (424-405) was finally successful and Egypt regained its independence, but only for 60 years, since it was conquered again by Artaxerxes III Ochos (359-338). 17 years later Alexander the Great entered the country.

The Persians did not confess emanationism or deification. Their religious dualism had to assess whether the religions of subdued peoples were generated by Ormuzd or Ahriman. Deification of the ruler was not a part of this religious system. This has nothing to do with the fact that they took over from Babylon the magnificence of court ceremonial, which was heavy and complicated, beginning with the dress down to the servility which included prostrating oneself with the face to the ground. With all due likelihood the Babylonians venerated in this way the deity to which height the king was elevated and this is how the Greeks understood this proskynesis [ÀÁ¿ÃºÍ½·Ã¹Â – act of prostrating oneself before a person of higher social rank] because they had been practicing this only in front of the altars of deities. For the Persians this was a gesture of court homage. But they have adopted the Babylonian ceremonial because until Xerxes they permitted the fiction of Babylonian independence and the Persian kings annually went through the as if investiture made by Bel-Marduk. Later this changed and the Babylonians were even forbidden to carry arms (Jouguet 1926, II, 5; Piotrowicz 1922, 9). What more, the Persians began persecuting the religions of subdued peoples. They must have assessed that they were the manifestations of Ahriman. Is it not then that Amon hid in Apis and the Syrian deities hid in stones (meteorites)? Since the Persian kings refused deification they could not be recognized as proper rulers in Egypt or anywhere else in Asia Minor. The deification of a monarch was a “state necessity” there; otherwise the ruler was deprived of a legal basis and the people had the right to profit from any opportunity to come again under the rule of incarnations of their own deities. In this manner the entire Persian state was ready for rebellion, if only the issue is considered from the religious point of view. This of course was known at the Macedonian court.

Probing deeper into the essence of things we see that we have here various methods of grasping the relationship between the natural and the supernatural worlds. We know three such methods and all of them were present in the universal Persian state, namely: the competition of deities, emanationism and the belief in the acts of creation. Iranian dualism represented the highest possible level of the doctrine of competition and it stood on the boundary between polytheism and monotheism. But in the Persian state emanationism was much more universal, together with the deification of the monarch, however, this did not affect the Persian religion.

Ethnographic Persia is only the province of Persis, with the coastal area of the northern part of the Persian Gulf and the Persian people consisted of ten tribes. This was minuscule with respect to the population of the enormous state. The Greek was surprised how is it that so many different peoples could be within the same state; but he also knew that the rule there was always based on the sword alone and that everything depended on the state of the army.

The Persian kings did not care about being derived from gods; thus nowhere were they considered legitimate rulers. They never abandoned the Iranian dualism. Moreover they wished to make their religion into a universal one and they knew no other means to achieve this than by force; thus everywhere they persecuted the local religions and for this they were hated.

The Persian king was not an incarnation of the deity but an instrument of Ormuzd to combat Ahriman and for this purpose he had to be endowed with all the necessary means; otherwise he would not be able to perform his functions appropriately. Thus, he was an absolute ruler just as the Egyptian pharaoh. In order to spread the rule of Ormuzd on earth he had to, like the pharaohs, aim at conquering the four quarters of the world.

And so the idea of a universal state attained by conquest is of oriental origin. It is from there also, ex Oriente, that the superstition derives, which claims that the state is the more potent on the exterior the more power the head of state has in the interior. If a monarchy is to be threatening towards its neighbours the monarch should above all be threatening towards his own subjects. Such a line of thought established itself primarily in Asia. On this point the Syrian (Phrygian) and Persian civilizations were in agreement; the Egyptian took this up somewhat later.

Agreement on some points with the Egyptian and Syrian civilizations led the Persian outlook to some form of compromise. The ruler did not derive from the deity, but as the executor of his will he is his deputy on earth and therefore he is close to the deity; by his merits he can even raise to the level where he becomes similar to the deity. Thus, this was as if deification ex post, a posteriori. And since no king was ever short of flatterers exalting his achievements, even if he had none, so after some time it became automatically understood that the Persian king is to be honoured as if he were a god.

Were it not for the religious persecutions the Persians could have made their state permanently universal. This however did not happen because they had all the subdued peoples in contempt and made them feel that they are captives.

Royal despotic autocracy is based on a permanent army. The administration must adapt to this. The Persian state was divided into large regions ruled by satraps who were the deputies of the king having also an unlimited power; they were as if provincial dukes “who frequently conducted an independent policy, hostile to other satraps” (ZieliDski 1922, II, 29). For this reason it is difficult to judge who was more dependent on whom. The satraps depended upon the king or the king upon the good will of the satraps?

The second weak side of the statehood was that there was a uniformity of law in the entire state regardless of the multiplicity of social structures among the governed peoples and the great diversity in their level of civilization. Besides the primitive nomads the Persian state also included such peoples as the Lydians and the Chaldeans who had their own ancient legal systems not to mention Egypt; it is known that it was only Alexander the Great who reintroduced the old native laws there (Jouguet 1926, 85). Under Persian rule nowhere was there an appropriate law and an improper law is a totally bad law. The population that is burdened with such a law only waits for an opportunity to shed it.

How different were the Greek notions, where every more significant city was a state to itself and could arrange its own law! There was no shortage of other contradictions; there was polygamy with eunuchs at least in the palaces of the king and notables who held whole harems and besides this there was the eastern abhorrence of the naked body (ZieliDski 1922, II, 217). Forget the Persian attire with very wide trousers!

The social structure among the peoples of Asia Minor was more or less unitary. There were always big landowners there, who were in fact owners even though formally they were tenants of large regions leased to them by the rulers. They were the masters of the peasant people who were bound to the soil (Jouguet 1926, 404, attachés au sol). To the east of the Persian state nomadic pastoral peoples were dominant.

We find many of the Egyptian and Persian features later on in Byzantium: despotism, fiscalism, bureaucracy. Our investigations should establish whether we are dealing with the generation of similar symptoms in differing countries and times independently of each other, that is, with no historical relationship; or rather that there is such a relationship over centuries and distant countries, and if this is the case, we would have to recognise the influence of ancient Orient on the Byzantine civilization.

Iran can interest us here only from middle of the VIth c. B.C. when Cyrus (Kuruš, Korsh) the Elder imprisoned and beat the head of the Persians, the Median Astyages in 558 B.C. From that time the ancient Persian state begins, which was to last until 330.

The rule of the Persian Achaemenids spreading gradually over the whole of Iran was crowned in 538 by the conquest of Babylon. The coastal settlements of Greek Asia Minor were compelled in 546 to accept Persian domination and pay tributes. The son of Cyrus, Cambyses conquered Egypt in 525 and was hated there because he showed disrespect to the local religious cult. After his death turmoil results from which Darius (521-485), son of Hystaspes, also an Achaemenid emerges victorious. The Asia Minor Greeks had to supply him with a fleet for an expedition against the Scythians as a result of which Thrace came under the domination of Persia.

Thrace is much closer to Asia than Macedonia. This is a minor fact but it recalls the fact that Persians, clothed in their wide trousers that seemed so obscene to the Greeks had a pleasant surprise in Thrace, when they met a Thracian peasant also dressed in trousers (Parandowski 1933, 158). Thrace inclines geographically to Asia and because of the Thracian Khersones it is closer to it. This peninsula was known to Greek traders for long. They occupied it from the north where it linked with the Thracian continent and they fortified it with a thick wall so as to withstand attacks from Thracian barbarians.

Around mid VIth c. B.C. a major state centre developed there governed by the Athenian tyrant Miltiades the Elder. From there, across the Hellespont and then across the wider seas of Propontis [Marmara] the Greek settler reached further north to the Thracian Bosphorus (the very name is Thracian) that is even closer to Asia than Khersones. From there it is a stone’s throw from Europe to Asia. A suburb of Constantinople, Scutari, lies in Asia and in antiquity Khalkedon was there, a city of Bithynia3.

On the Asiatic mainland there were no Greek settlements anywhere nearer than the Aeolian ones on the Phrygian coast and the sea route to the Black sea was much easier for the Asia Minor Greeks than the land route.

At the southern end of Thracian Bosphorus stood the “fort of Byzas”, Byzantion. Who was he? Was he a Greek trader, explorer and of necessity a warrior, all in one person? Or was he a Phoenician, Punician or Carthaginian? Over the African Sirte Minor there was also a “Byzantium”, a larger settlement amidst the Libyan surrounding. Maybe Byzas (the same or some namesake) discovered the Thracian Bosphorus for the Phoenicians or the Punicians? It would be difficult to assume that he was some tribal prince of the Bosphorian Thracians.

With time this fort disappeared, but in 667 the trading value of this place was recognized by the Dorian traders from Megara. The number of settlers increased as they came from other regions, from Corinth, from the Boeotian Thebes and finally also from Asiatic Greece, even from the faraway Miletus. This second fort of Byzas was undoubtedly Greek and as it developed it generated the greed of the neighbouring tribes of Thrace. Somehow they managed with this.

But they proved unable to withstand the Persian onslaught. When Darius (521-480), the son of Hystaspes moved against the Scythians he occupied Byzantion already in his first expedition in 515. When still during the reign of this very same Darius a Greek uprising broke out, initially in Miletus in 500, Byzantion joined. And when the Persians suppressed the uprising in land and sea battles (500-494), when Miletus was destroyed and a part of its inhabitants resettled at the mouth of the Tigris, Byzantion was subjected to an even harsher fate because the Persians dispersed its entire population. Some of them established a new settlement, Mesembria on the Black Sea: thus it is there that one should look for the descendants of the true Byzantines. The Persians built a fortress in Byzantion, which was to be a major support for their expansion onto the European side.

Later the help given by Athens and Erytra to their countrymen in Asia during an uprising against the Persians gave Darius an excuse for his and his son’s Xerxes’ expeditions against the Greeks, but these ended with a Greek victory at Salamis in 480.

Meanwhile the Persian rule over Bosphorus lasted 37 years. Since the city was populated anew thus, it can be said that a new Byzantium was established, a third one in succession. It was set up by the Persians but soon its occupying force represented only a small fragment of the new population. New traders came and continued to come and thus the most westerly post of Asiatic trade was established there. For 37 years traders of the whole Persian state, an enormous country indeed, benefited from the Persian expansion, but it was mostly the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor who linked ever more with the new Empire on its European side. The Bosphorus Greeks, however, preferred not to belong to the state of the “kings”, and when two years after Salamis, in 478, they regained independence, they immediately joined the Athenian alliance.

Later the Athenians sent reinforcements to the insurgents rebelling against Artaxerxes (465-424) in Egypt whose rule was interrupted by many revolts and started to be based on mercenary forces. During the reign of Darius II Nothus (424-405) Egypt regains independence which however lasted only 60 years. At that time Byzantion belongs to the Hellenic political system. During the Peloponnesian war (431-404) Byzantium was either under Athens or under Sparta. In the year 405 (the battle of Aigospotamoi) began the decided hegemony of Sparta.

That same year Darius II Nothus died and of his two sons the elder sat on the throne, Artaxerxes Mnemon (405-359), while the younger one, Cyrus (Kuruš) known in history as Cyrus the Younger was made commander in Asia Minor. He supplied help from there to Sparta against Athens – as a result of which he obtained Spartan assistance when he started conspiring against his brother. It was at that time that Byzantium moved to the Spartan camp and obtained from Sparta in 403 Clearchus, a nauarch [admiral] as governor. He however used his military strength to make himself into a tyrant of Byzantium and cared not for other things. The Spartans themselves had chased him out. Clearchus tried his luck as an organiser of mercenaries and took up service with Cyrus the Younger. He was successful and in the triumphant march through Tarsus to Issus he reached as far as Cunaxa, 120 km from Babylon. The Greek soldiers fought bravely but the forces of Cyrus failed. This battle was lost by Cyrus, for which Clearchus paid with his head. Ten thousand Greek mercenary soldiers were sent home having all sorts of trials during their retreat (“catabasis”). That was in 401.

For some time Greece was supplying mercenaries and the Greek condottieri were primarily from Sparta. In fact the true leader of Cyrus the Younger’s expedition was Clearchus who was a condottiere. These leaders were developing the military art and this expedition was in fact the first such systematic endeavour (ZieliDski 1922, II, 22). We can consider as the second one the expedition of Spartan Agesilaos against Persia in 399. When the Persians began punishing the Ionian cities in revenge for the participation in the action of Cyrus the Younger the Ionians called for help the Spartan mercenaries. Their third leader Agesilaos proved so brave and able that he moved victoriously deep into Asia. But the permanently full Persian treasury proved stronger. It is for Persian money that the Corinthian war was conducted which began with the battle of Cnidus (which will be discussed more, later) and which led to the renewal of Athenian hegemony.

Being mercenaries became for the Greeks the second main occupation, besides trade, and this was to remain so until the IVth c. A. D.

It is difficult to suppose that the mercenary Greeks were only from Greece proper. Taking various things into consideration one should rather suspect that not many were truly so, that there was more Greeks from the islands, from the Asia Minor settlements and from the “barbarian” north of Greece, from Macedonia and possibly also Thrace.

Soon the Thracians matured to state unification. They had their own native civilization, a different one, which is acknowledged by all Greek sources but we know very little about their method of organization of communal life. We know that they had a clan system and that it developed into a tribal one; but this is a process that took place and takes place the world over; there are no communities which would not have passed through such a stage of organization. But the Thracians rose later to a higher level that not all communities attain, because their tribes joined together becoming peoples. The sources mention four of them: “The Odrysians on the river Hebros (the Maritsa of today), the Bessers along the Rhodope Mts. and the Bistones and Cicones along the Aegean Sea; each of these peoples had their own king.” Finally, they have made a further progress in organization, being in this superior to the Greeks. Every Greek people, even the smallest, formed until the very end a separate political unit. The Thracians, after various conflicts and alliances finally united around 380 B.C. under a founder of a dynasty named Kotys forming thereby a united Thracian entity.

Actually not the “whole” of Thrace was involved because it did not include Byzantium and its region. After some time this city removed itself from all links with Greece and having resisted Epaminondas in 364 it did not belong from 355 to any Hellenic coalition or to any other union, maintaining a total independence, in all and everything, such that it was considered by the Greeks as complete independence – those Greeks who unfortunately stopped short at the lowest political level of organization of communal life.

Meanwhile on the west a new power developed – the Macedonian one. The Thracians knew the Macedonians for a long time, from the various battles that they waged with one another with varying success. The period of Kotys was not favourable for Macedonia but then the fortune turned radically. All the Thracian peoples were conquered by Philip of Macedonia. However Byzantium defended itself resisting Philip in 340 and it was only Alexander the Great who became master of the richest city on the Bosphorus.

Both these civilizations, the folk Thracian one and the trading one, the oldest “Byzantine” were distinctly ... defective. The Thracians had nothing to pass on to the next generations apart from a memory of their great ability to form larger associations. Byzantium by any means did not belong to that civilization which is commonly referred to as “Hellenic” but which in fact was Athenian. The population was composed of arrivals from various parts of European and Asiatic Greece and they brought with them various Hellenic civilizations which did not produce a synthesis and instead formed a mechanical mixture that was oblivious to everything that was not connected with trade. The Corinthians and their descendants, also the descendants of Megara, Thebes and Miletus maintained in the second Byzantium or else in Mesembria and next in the third Byzantium some remnants of the civilizations of their old nests. The more they differed, the more the settlers coming from various civilizations had to be in contact with one another and become dependent upon one another (in trade), the more they had to become indifferent to civilizational differences and incline increasingly towards an a-civilizational state maintaining only the material culture and trade customs. Not only did they not graft onto the settlement any method of organization of communal life from one of the cities of their origin, not only did they fail to invent a new one, but they became indifferent in many fields and issues that were not directly connected with the trading function of the settlement. This was the general picture in all these Greek settlements that accepted co-settlers from various parts of Hellas. On the other hand it is not possible to deny a civilizational outlook to settlements that were uniform. In particular, the Athenian settlements had a very clear civilizational type. One does not hear about any settlers from Attica among the population of Byzantion, which was of various origins.

All these circumstances point to the conclusion that Byzantion did not favour the maintenance of any civilization proper to the ancestors of the settlers, nor were there conditions for the development of a new one. In fact, the civilization known as Byzantine does not originate from this city or its environs. Thanks to its geographic position and to its trade-political role it was later to serve as a capital of a civilization that developed beyond it and was named after it due to a set of historical circumstances.

Macedonia, neighbouring Thrace from the west stood at a higher intellectual as well as economic level, because it was based ever more on Hellenic education and had more goods that could be exchanged by Greek traders.

But was Macedonia a Greek country? It did not belong to Hellas and for a long time it did not participate in the pan-Hellenic Olympic Games. In fact, there is even no “absolute certainty” that the Macedonians were of Greek origin or that their language was a variant of Greek. The Greeks themselves variously judged the relationship of the language to Hellenism. They did not consider the Pamphylians as Greeks even though they spoke in pure Greek; they were always considered as barbarians. The cultural level also was not a criterion since the Cyprus Greeks were considered Hellens as well as the Aeolians who were of very low culture (WaBek 1924, II 326).

It is possible that the population of Macedonia had a multiple genesis; it is also suspected that in various parts of Macedonia the population was of diverse origin, Pelasgian, Thracian, Illyrian, Phrygian and their union was strictly a question of statehood when they were conquered by the Makedonians, a mountain people from the upper Aliákmon river. Possibly only they were of Greek blood and later their descendants spread the Hellenic identity.

The hegemony of these Makedonians created the Macedonian state. This began already around the year 700 B.C. until the growth of the state was curtailed by the Persians during the reign of the Macedonian king Amyntas I (540-498), whose son Alexander I (498-454) even had to supply contingents in support of Xerxes. Later dynastic conflicts (not without murders) lead to a division of the state into four districts until Perdiccas II (436-413) united them again into a single state.

It was already Amyntas who established relationships with Athens. The spread of Hellenic education on a major scale occurred during the reign of Archelaus (413-399) who called to his court a number of most eminent Greek poets, philosophers and artists. He also adopted Greek military norms. At that time Spartan hegemony among the Greeks was beginning to weaken. In 394 Persia again interfered in Greek issues. One can question whether during the sea battle of Cnidus the Spartan fleet was defeated by the Athenian Conon or rather by his ally the satrap Pharnabazus. We know for sure that the “long walls” linking Athens with Piraeus were soon rebuilt with Persian money. Thus in the peace of Antalcidas (387) Persia not only regained Ionia of western Asia and Cyprus but also obtained legal influence on Greek issues as a guarantor of the independence of smaller Hellenic states.

Meanwhile the Macedonian king Amyntas II (393-369) was increasingly surrounding himself with Greeks. Nikomachos, the court physician, was a personal friend of his. But a new period of troubles and decline came which lasted till mid IVth c. It was only under Philip II (359-336) that not only a revival of the state occurred but also its great flourishing. The Macedonian kingdom became a great power. This is the same Philip who made a great imprint on the history of Greece; he was the victor at Chaeronea (338). He was very touched by the Greek mind and he called on the son of Nikomachos, Aristotle, to become the tutor of his son Alexander, who was 13 years old at the time.

Before we try to depict the civilizational background of the actions of Alexander the Great we have to look back, because this conqueror entered the great roads of history as an arch-strategist of the whole of Hellas. He included in it his own Macedonia. Let us consider therefore how much of the Hellenic identity was there in the Greek that he was spreading in the Orient.

Copyright © Feliks Koneczny and Maciej Giertych 2017

Version: 30th December 2017