"But before we become too certain of our rectitude and complacent about how far our society has advanced, we should remember that secular ideological violence -- "ethical" in the sense that it is employed on behalf of a religious or cultural or even pseudoscientific ideal that is considered by its adherents to be of universal importance -- has manifested itself recently in wars waged in the names of imperialism, nationalism, Marxism, fascism, anticolonialism, humanitarianism, and even liberal democracy."
-- Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam
The Stage Setting
The World of Late Antiquity was in serious decline.
|Map from The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History: Trade Routes and Towns|
Global warming, with its longer growing seasons and more expansive agriculture, had ended and global cooling had set in. The bubonic plague had, well, plagued the Empire. Population had dropped 20% and cultivated land had contracted, esp. in North Africa, Rome's breadbasket after the wheat of Egypt had been diverted to Constantinople by the New World Order. Town life in Western Europe had virtually ceased even before the Germans crossed the frozen Rhine on the last day of AD 406.
The Empire itself was being called Romania
by folks sensing that they were now all in the same lifeboat together. The Gauls had finally given up Gallic for Latin, and the Iberians likewise, though both spoke it with funny accents. Case endings were no longer being pronounced, though they were still being meticulously spelled. (Though odd spelling mistakes are creeping in as the new semi-literate elites have begun spelling things they way they sound.) The Latin demonstrative ille
has been clipped to become il
or even el
in different dialects and the definite article has appeared as if by magic.
The Empire is a large agribusiness with luxury goods coming in from the east and bulk commodities circulating on the Mediterranean, the backbone and center of the classical world. Anyone much more than a day's cart ride from the sea coast is S.O.L. bulk shipment-wise, save for what can be raised locally. The grain grown in Egypt and Africa is destined for the welfare lines in the great cities. The peasants in the provinces live in poverty and oppression, and many have been placing themselves under the protection of local counts or (in the West) barbarian barons. (Outside the Empire, in Ireland, it is different: the farms are smaller, the peasants are independent, and they are well-armed.)
North of the Alps, the city lamps have gone out, but there are still four sizable metropolises around the Mediterranean, though only Constantinople is still growing. None of them exceed 125,000 people. Rome itself is only a shadow of its old imperial glory. Anybody who is anybody is headed for Constantinople to kiss imperial butt.
At the time of the map, all the territory shown in the map is Christian of one sort or another except for the North, where the Scandinavians, Saxons, Lombards, Slavs, etc. remain pagan, and the East, where the Persians practice Zoroastrianism. The Arabian peninsula is a mixture of pagans, Jews, and Christians; and there are additional Christians off the map in Ethiopia (Axum), India (Malabar Coast), and in Central Asia.
There are also Jews ruling Yemen, in the city-state of Yathrib (now Medina), and in the empire of the nomadic Khazars north of the Caucasus. Also, as agriculture contracts with the cooling climate, the pagan Berbers of the Sahara have begun raiding the Christian Berbers of the coast.
As the Church had grown, so had the need for some sort of organization. Each of the four metropolises has become the seat of a Patriarch of the Church and under each is a set of local bishops. The idea is to keep the beliefs reasonably uniform. This network parallels roughly the organization of the Empire in which the Church found herself.Or did until trans-alpine Europe began to deflate.
1. First in dignity is Rome
, the See of St. Peter, which has administrative authority over all the West, including North Africa as far as Tripolitania (Tunisia) and northern Europe as far as anyone dares go a-calling. About a hundred years before the map, Patrick chased snakes out of Ireland, and about a hundred years after it, Boniface will cut down the Donar Oak in Hesse. The bishop of Rome, who started calling himself "Pope" about a hundred and fifty years before the map, has a collegial doctrinal authority over the whole church. That is, when the others cannot agree on a troublesome matter, they would appeal to Rome.
2. Second in dignity is Alexandria
, the See of St. Mark, whose Patriarch is also called "Pope", and who has administrative authority over All Africa east of the Libyan desert and south into Nubia and Ethiopia. It is a raucous and rowdy city, given since ancient times to frequent rioting over even the election of a patriarch.
3. Third, but disputing precedence with Alexandria from the get-go, is Antioch
, the city where folks were first called "Christians." This See, too, was founded by Peter. It has authority over "all the East," including lands under Persian rule, on the Malabar coast of India, and even in China. Antioch is at the end of the Silk Road and the Spice Route and is known even to the Chinese (who call it Tai Ch'in (Daqin)). [The term actually refers to the whole Roman Empire, but the Chinese only knew it as the terminus of the Silk Road.]
|Constantinople, with the Land Walls in the background|
4. Finally, the bishop of Constantinople
, the See of St. Andrew, has recently been raised by the Council of Chalcedon to the status of Patriarch over the objections of Antioch and Alexandria. But it's hard to say no when one of your parishioners is the Emperor of the Whole Freaking World. Well, of what is still being called the Roman Empire. This gives the Ecumenical Patriarch considerable throw-weight of metal, especially when that metal is carried by Gen. Belisarius and Gen. Narses who, shortly after the time of the map will bring all the cities shown (except the Persian ones) back into the "Roman" embrace. They will even bring in some of the uncitied regions: the remainder of North Africa, the southern third of Spain.
5. A fifth Patriarch, Jerusalem
, the See of St. James, administers three provinces in Palestine; but this position is mostly honorary as being the Mother Church. Jerusalem at the time is nowheresville and was given the honor at the council of Chalcedon. Jews had been forbidden to live in Jerusalem by the pagan Romans after the failed revolt of Bar Kockba
. This really frosted them and they are eager to return from Arabia and Persia.
|Ctesiphon, what's left of it|
6. Outside the system, a sixth patriarch is the Patriarch of Ctesiphon,
in Iraq, near what is now Baghdad, and was then part of the Persian Empire. This is the center of the Ancient Church of the East and is not in communion with any of the other Patriarchal Sees. It achieved its status by being outside Roman control. The Nestorians expelled by the Empire after the Council of Ephesus had gone there. Their descendants are the Assyrian Christians
currently being massacred and expelled by ISIS.
But all is not beer and skittles.
(Except maybe in German lands, where there is at least beer. Come to think of it, they may also have played an early form of skittles
. Who knows?)
|Vandals behaving badly. Why are football teams named Vikings|
and Pirates, but not Vandals and Visigoths?
Rome, away off in the mostly-rural West has her own problems. The
Eternal City has proven not so eternal. She had been sacked (almost
reverently) by Alaric's Visigoths (410)
demanding their back pay as foederati
, then by the Vandals (455)
(who thereby gave us "vandalism"), and will shortly be besieged and wasted in the upcoming 10 Years War between Byzantium and the Ostrogothic kingdom
shortly after the time of the above map. The Ostrogoths are trying to keep up appearances for the sake of the kids, but otherwise the Western Patriarchate consists of a
gaggle of Germanic warlords, and their spiritual shepherd is more like a border collie. The situation around map-time is roughly this:
united the Franks into a single nation, and converted to Catholicism a generation
or two before the map. But the Frankish custom of dividing the inheritance among all surviving male heirs means a) unified kingdoms split up in the next generation and b) the next generation starts killing one another. The Visigoths in Spain are about to switch from Arian to Catholic ca. 589
, but the Ostrogoths in Italy will remain stubbornly Arian until the
Byzantines arrive, kick their butts, and snuff out the lights in Rome
|Pope Dioscorus of Alexandria |
is a saint in the Coptic Church
But the truly fatal flaws are in the East, where religious tumult brews over Christological matters that seem rather obscure to Moderns. A succession of heresies -- Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, and others in between -- have inflamed passions. Somehow.
In overreaction to Nestorianism
, there had been a swing to the opposite extreme of Monophysitism
. So a Council had been called at Chalcedon
in 451 to settle things. This Council declared that Monophysites had cooties and deposed Patriarch Dioscorus from the See of Alexandria, installing Proterius in his place.
|Pope Proterius of Alexandria is a |
saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church
The non-Chalcedonians in Alexandria took offense at the deposition of Dioscorus
and thought the pro-Chalcedonians looked too much like neo-Nestorians. In time-honored Alexandrian fashion, they settled the debate by mob violence. A mob attacked Proterius
in the cathedral baptistery during Holy Week, dragged him through the streets behind a chariot, dismembered him, and burned his body, thus showing their displeasure in that very special Alexandrian way (cf. Arian Bishop George (361), philosopher Hypatia (415), and Prefect Callistus (422)). Thus began the line of Coptic Popes of Alexandria
. Most of the Egyptians went with the non-Chalcedonians so this represents the majority, but an official (Chalcedonian/Orthodox) Patriarch continued to administer the church in the name of the emperor, and persecute the Copts, who began to look around for someone, anyone
to liberate them from Greek oppression. The irony is that the non-Chalcedonians were not really Monophysites. The real problem was that the Greeks were in freaking charge and did not want anyone to forget it.
The situation in Antioch was similar, but instead of killing the Orthodox patriarch, the Syrians simply continued to recognize the deposed heretical one and after AD 518 Antioch wound up permanently with two Patriarchs. Again, much of this was rooted in Syrian resentment against heavy-handed Greek rule. Ironically, both the Egyptians and the Syrians also regarded genuine Monophysites as heretics and preferred to call themselves Miaphysites
From our distant perspective, much of the problem seems to have stemmed from the difficulty of translating Greek philosophical terms into Syriac and Coptic. These were not only different languages, but were from different language families! Concepts that were distinct in Greek overlapped in Syriac. Discussions in 1984 between St. John Paul II and Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, the Patriarch of the Syriac Church,
concluded the whole thing was a matter of "differences in terminology and culture and in the various formulae
adopted by different theological schools to express the same matter."
In 525, shortly before the above map and off its southeast border, Dhu Nuwas, a pagan Yemeni convert to Judaism rebelled against the Ethiopian garrison and attempted to forcibly convert the Christian Arabs of Najran,
throwing those who refused into a burning ditch. Survivors who escaped to
Ethiopia secured a punitive expedition from Axum, which crossed into the
Yemen and kicked Yemeni butt. The story of the Martyrs of Najran spread all over the Middle East.
Last but not least,
|The Relevant World in AD 600, on the Eve of the Byzanto-Sassanid Was|
a new round (602-628) of the neverending war between the occupier of the Iranian Plateau and the occupier of the Anatolian Plateau -- a war that goes back to Achaemenid Persia vs. Lydia -- was being played out between the Sassanids and the Byzantines
. The Persian Sassanids take advantage of a Roman Civil war, which we won't Phocas on, and invade Anatolia, Syria, and even Egypt. Woo-hoo. It's Cyrus the Great reborn! The Persians bring a force of Jews along with them and restore them to Jerusalem. Even more shades of Cyrus! The Jews then proceed to slaughter all the Christians in town. Bad tactical move.
The Persians think this is going a little too far and begin to suppress the Jews, who respond WTF? Fun and games in the early 7th century. Heraclius, the governor of Africa, overthrows Phocas and after a penalty flag for offsides, throws long and goes straight for the Persian heartland. The shah pulls all his troops out of the Empire to block him and gets himself assassinated by his brother, who sues for peace. He's like, Dude, what were you thinking?
Jerusalem is now back under Christian rule. The Jews are like uh-oh.
Shah and Emperor look around and realize that nearly thirty years of continuous war has seriously depleted their military resources. Oh well. We'll just take some time to patch things up and rebuild.
But they would not have time, because....
It's Jihad Time!