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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantium and the Crusades

The First Crusade and Byzantium 


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Byzantium played such an important role in that epoch that the study of the Eastern Empire is necessary to a full and complete understanding of the origin and development of the crusades. Moreover, the majority of those who have studied the crusades have treated the problem from a too occidental point of view, with the tendency to make of the Greek Empire the scapegoat charged with all the faults of the crusaders.

Since their first appearance in the stage of world history in the fourth decade of the seventh century, the Arabs, with extraordinary rapidity, had conquered on the territory of the Eastern Empire, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, the eastern regions of Asia Minor, Egypt, the northern seashore of Africa, and then Spain, the major part of which had belonged to the Visigoths. In the second half of the seventh and at the beginning of the eighth century, the Arabs had twice besieged Constantinople, which had been rescued, not without difficulty, by the energy and talent of the Emperors Constantine IV and Leo III Isaurian. In 732 the Arabs who had invaded Gaul from beyond the Pyrenees were stopped by Charles Martel near Poitiers. In the ninth century they conquered Crete, and toward the beginning of the tenth century Sicily and the major part of the southern Italian possessions of the Eastern Empire passed over into their hands.

These Arabian conquests were of the greatest importance for the political and economic situation of Europe. The astounding offensive of the Arabs, as H. Pirenne said, changed the face of the world. Its sudden thrust had destroyed ancient Europe. It had put an end to the Mediterranean commonwealth in which it had gathered its strength. The Mediterranean had been a Roman lake; now it became, for the most part, a Moslem lake. This statement of the Belgian historian must be accepted with some reservations. Commercial relations between western Europe and the eastern countries were restricted by the Muslims but were not suspended. Merchants and pilgrims continued to travel back and forth, and exotic oriental products were available in Europe, for example, in Gaul.

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