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The Byzantine Empire and a Sobering Lesson from History

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In 610 A.D. a man named Heraclius become Emperor of Rome (they were still calling it the Roman Empire, but we remember it as the Byzantine Empire). He inherited an empire in crisis: barbarians pouring in from the north and west, and an aggressive Persian Empire gobbling up Roman territory in the south. The empire’s finances were in disorder, the army was demoralized, and religious controversies brewed chaos on the home front.

By strenuous military and domestic efforts, Heraclius restored stability. In 624 he finally forced the Persians to sue for peace, regained all the lost territories, and a war that had gone on for some 400 years ended in a total Roman victory.

Finally it was time to rest. The treasury was replenished, all the empire’s enemies had been thoroughly defeated, and it seemed as if a new day had dawned. History, for all practical purposes, was over. There was no one left to fight. The people celebrated, and Heraclius struck commemorative gold coins and medallions to seal his victories.

But he lived to see the Arabs come roaring up from the south under their new banner of Islam, seizing Egypt, Syria, the Holy Land, and sweeping through Asia Minor to mount a siege of Constantinople itself. Heraclius watched from the walls as the Arabs, who had no proper siege equipment, shattered their armies against the city’s defenses. But the lost provinces were lost forever, and from then on the empire would be fighting for its very life against Islam, with the city finally falling to the Turks in 1453.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The point is that history wasn’t over: that with all the old enemies quelled, and no expectation of further trouble, a new and more powerful enemy arose–and history rolled on and on.

When the Soviet Union fell, Western leaders and alleged thinkers proclaimed that now history was really over, the great enemy was no more, and we could all just go back to making money and screwing around with our culture.

Like the Byzantines, our leaders were wrong.

I don’t think they have quite come to terms with that–do you?



 

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