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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Empire of Nicaea (1204-1261)

Education, learning, literature, and art 


The Original Greek New Testament

After the ruin of the Empire in 1204 and its division into a certain number of independent Latin and Greek dominions, the state of Nicaea became not only the center for the future political unification of the Hellenes, but also a hotbed of intense cultural life. As George of Cyprus states, in the second half of the thirteenth century, Nicaea was said to be an ancient Athens in her abundance of scholars and a marvelous and greatly loved source of scholarship. Perhaps it may not be amiss to recall that in the West in the Middle Ages Paris was called a new Athens and a city of science. However on his coming to Nicaea George of Cyprus was disappointed in his expectations of Nicaea as a city of scholarship. In one of his works Theodore Lascaris said that Corinth was famous for music, Thessaly for weaving, Philadelphia for shoe-making, and Nicaea for philosophy.

All the Lascarids, except the last, the child John IV, were real admirers of learning and education and very well understood that spiritual culture was one of the foundations of a strong state. In spite of the great difficulties in the external and internal relations of his young empire, the first ruler of Nicaea, Theodore I, was interested in the problems of learning. He invited to his court many scholars, especially from the Greek regions occupied or menaced by the Franks. Such an invitation was received, for example, by the metropolitan of Athens, Michael Acominatus, who had fled before the Latin invasion to the island of Ceos, but he was unable to accept it because of his advanced age and poor health. However, Michael's brother, Nicetas Acominatus, an historian, retired to Nicaea after the taking of Constantinople by the Franks. Enjoying leisure and tranquility at Theodore Lascaris court, he put into permanent shape his historical works and wrote his theological treatise A Treasury of Orthodoxy.

Theodore's successor, the famous John III Ducas Vatatzes, despite his vigorous and continued military and international activity, found time enough to satisfy the cultural needs of the Empire. In his cities he founded libraries, particularly of art and sciences, and he sometimes himself sent young men to school to stimulate education in his country. To his time belongs the most eminent representative of the cultural movement of the thirteenth century, Nicephorus Blemmydes, scholar, writer, and teacher. Among his disciples were the enlightened writer on the throne, Vatatzes' successor, Theodore II Lascaris, and a very well known historian and statesman, George Acropolita. Like his father, Theodore was deeply interested in libraries; he collected books and distributed them to different libraries, and he even allowed the books to be taken out by the readers to their homes for reading.

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