Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Against His-Story, Against Leviathan! Chapter 12 (Byzantium, Donatists & Vandals, Persian Revolution, depopulation of Italy, Mohammad and those armez)


The ancient Greek city called Byzantium inherits all the refinements of Roman Civilization and also all the rot. It becomes the head of half the former worm. It retains the machinery of the entire worm while the body continues to decompose and shrink.

The former boundaries of the Roman Empire are the only Kingdom of Heaven to which the Emperors in Byzantium are committed. The abomination abhorred by the early Christians is Paradise to the Byzantine Christians.

All that Christianity contributes to this eastern half of Rome is "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," the fanatical attempt to impose what later imperialists will call Gleichschaltung. Such a Gleichschaltung will be realized by much later Leviathans which learn to reduce people to appendages of technology.

The Byzantine Empire fails to realize either its Roman or its Christian goals because it is nothing but a languishing sequel to the rapidly decomposing Roman Leviathan.

The war against all gods other than the three-headed Optimus Maximus is carried out with the fanaticism and thoroughness of the Israelites, from whome this bizarre undertaking is inherited.

The Temple-State is inaugurated already during Constantine's reign, and Pagan centers are plundered to decorate the State Church. Bishops and priests are exempted from taxes, and since the fortunes of the rich are bequeathed to the Church, its officials become as wealthy as owners of Latifundia.

The taxes themselves are paid by serfs, cultivators who are fixed to plantations and forced to part with a third of their crops.

In the North African province, peasants armed with clubs rise up to restore their lost equality, and the Byzantine rulers declare a holy war against the priests who side with the peasants, stigmatizing the rising as a Donatist heresy.

The war against paganism and heresy halts briefly when an old-timer ruler named Julian tries to restore the pagan gods for the same reason Constantine chose the Christian god: to enhance the killing power of the legions. But Julian destroys all faith in the killing power of the pagan gods when he leads a legion to devestate Persia, orders his ships burned behind him, and perishes with most of his legion before reaching the Persian capital.

It is idle to speculate if Julian's victory would have restored the respectability of the pagan gods; we know that his defeat seals their fate. His immediate successors ban all non-Christian practices, close the temples, expropriate them, and institute an inquisition. Celebrants of Isis, Osiris and Serapis become criminals who are hunted by the theological police; Manicheans are deprived of all rights and become objects of plunder and persecution.

* * *

The attempt to eliminate human diversity fails. As soon as all non-Christian beliefs and ceremonies are eliminated, the same diversity of beliefs and ceremonies reappears among the Christians themselves, and the war against outsiders continues as a war against schismatics and heretics among the insiders.

If Christianity consisted only of Lugalzaggizi-Optimus, its prison would be narrow indeed, and Gleichschaltung might be an achievable goal. But as Gibbon will observe, Christianity is a composite of polytheism, pagan ceremonies, fabulous martyrs, relics, miracles, saints, incense and tapers. It once tried to embrace a vast resistance movement, and it retains its past as froxen baggage permanently embedded in its Gospels.

The so-called Donatist peasants who rise against their landlords are heretics because they think the crosswearing landlords, wealthy officials and vicious military squads repressing the peasants do no have anything in common with the Jesus or the apostles of the Gospels. These African peasants are among the first of a long tradition of rebels who will accuse official Christians of being anti-Christs. Byzantium sends a legion to repress the peasants and the heresy, but Byzantium fails. The peasants invite a Gothic tribe named Vandals by the Byzantines. These Vandals settle in North Africa as deliverers of the Donatists. The Vandals build a large fleet, gain control over most Mediterranean commerce, and hold off Byzantium's armies for four and a half generations.

But not all heretics find deliverers. We've already glanced at seeresses Priscilla, Maximilia and other Anatolians who thought the Gospels intended to encourage the creative imagination, not repress it. Stigmatized as Montanist heretics, persecuted by Emperor Justinian's police, these feminist Christians protest against the heresy-hunt by immolating themselves.

The Byzantine emperors declare war against Egyptian and Levantine Nestorians who insist that the Son was a human being, and then against Monophysites who insist He was a god.

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But all the victories against idols, idolaters and heretics do no more for Byzantium than they did for the Israelites. The remnant Roman Empire continues to Decompose. Visigoths and Ostrogoths set up camps just outside the Empire's boundaries and insist on staying. Huns establish themselves just North of the boundary, defeat every army Byzantium sends against them, and force tribute payments to go to from the Roman Emperor to the "Scythian Shepherds."

The Huns are no longer fleeing from Leviathan. Armored with Leviathanic traits and technologies during their long defensive war, they are now attacking on every front. They invaded China. They destroyed the Gupta Empire in India. They defeated Byzantium's armies. They defeat Persia's Zarathustrian ruler Firuz and install themselves in Persia's eastern provinces.

The defeat of Persia's armies by Huns is followed by a social revolution in Persia. Manicheans and radical Zarathustrians rise up against clergy and nobility, redistribute lands, and establish classless communities where sharing replaces hoarding. The Sassani aristocracy and the Zarathustrian clergy are overthrown. This is the oment the Byzantine Emperor chooses to invade Persia.

The prospect of Byzantine serfdom frightens Persian revolutionaries, familiar as they are with the numerous persecuted Christian heretics who have found refuge in Persia. The Persian aristocrats recruit an army of huns and Arabs to crush the revolution and massacre the Manicheans. The Persian nobility and clergy are restored--but not for long.

Both the Byzantines and the Persians enlarge their armies by recruiting in arabia. They do not know they are training their own gravediggers.

Now another one of Civilization's great men accedes to the Byzantine throne, a warmonger named Justinian who tries to bring back the days when armored letgions devastated the world from one extremity to the other.

Autocrat Justinian dispatches a vast floating army to North Africa, to devastate the realm of the Donatist peasants' Vandal deliverers.

The Byzantine army tries to reinclude Rome in the Roman Empire by ousting the Goths, and it proceeds to achieve this aim by invading and repopulating Italy. Peasants spared by the armies are killed by the famines. Italian cities are abandoned by their starving inhabitants. The Byzantines do smash the Ostrogoths and regain Rome, at least until the Lombards arrive and chase the Byzantine officials to their last Italian footholds, Venice and Ravenna.

After depopulating Italy, the Byzantine armies march against Persia.

All these wars exhaust the two remaining Leviathans west of China. These vast military undertakings with their costly technologies and enormous armies are all borne gy the enserfed peasantry, not by a mercantile network. Sassanid Persia is heir to the land worms of the Fertile Crescent, and there's nothing Greek about the Byzantine Empire except the location and language.

Byzantium is no more an octopus than its Roman parent was. Byzantium is a worm with a fleet, and its wealth comes, not from the circulation of commodities in the holds of ships but from the burdens borne by the peasantry. This makes the peasants hospitable to all invaders who make incursions into Byzantine territory. Invaders grow more numerous the more the Leviathans stir up the Steppes and Arabia.

The Byzantines bribe people called Avars to plunder and destroy communities of Slavs.

The same year, Persians bribe iron-armed Turks to plunder Huns and other Turks.

The Slavs and Turks will later dismember both empires and be welcomed by peasants as deliverers from unbearable oppression.

In their continuing wars against each other, Byzantium and Persia have recourse to ever-more recruits from Arabia. The Persians, attacked by Arabs allied with Byzantium, occupy the Levant and Egypt as well as part of Anatolia. The Persians even reach the walls of Byzantine itself with an army of Avars, Bulgars, Jews and Slavs.

Byzantine Emperor Heraclius counterattacks with an army of Khazar Turks. The Byzantines and their Turkish troops overrun the Levant; they plant a True Cross in Jerusalem to celebrate their victory over the Zarathustrians, Jews and heretics.

If the Byzantines know that a man called Muhammad and his followers are just then occupying Medina, this information cannot be very important to them.

Four years later this Muhammad's followers defeat a Byzantine army in the southern Levant. During the next seven years, these Arabs who are perfectly familiar with Byzantine technology and military tactics occupy all of the Roman province of Syria including Jerusalem as well as the provincial capital Caesaera, all of Egypt including Greek Alexandria and, a generation a a half later, all of North Africa, taken so recently from the Vandals at such a great cost, including Byzantine Carthage. And wherever the invaders go, they are welcomed as liberators by Byzantium's oppressed peasants and persecuted heretics.

Now the Roman Empire is confined to Anatolia and the Balkans. Muhammad's followers are now of interest to all Byzantium, whereas Rome's former far-flung provinces are of interest only antiquarians.

The successor to the monster that once encased a third of Eurasia's peoples still exists, but it is no longer a viable Leviathan. The capital, pretending that it is still the head of a world-embracing Leviathan, continues to maintain an imperial court and its corps of guards, a nobility whose former far-flung Latifundia are now as distant as Rome's former provinces, priests enough to shepher a continent of sheep, as well as the imperial army.

The remaining peasants are now virtually expropriated. The consequences are obvious. Bulgar peasants align themselves with a local potentate who proclaims himself Khan, Slavic peasants proclaim themselves independent of the Byzantines, and at last Anatolian peasants welcome Seljuk Turks as deliverers from an oppression beyond human endurance.

Then Frankish and Norman knights arrive from Rome's former western provinces, not as allies, but as seekers of spoils in what remains of the Empire.

And the most miserable moment comes when Venetians, descendants of the last Byzantines in Italy, divert the Fourth Crusade and make Byzantium itself the victim of the greedy fanaticism of Western Knights.

Constantine's polis is all that's left of the Roman Empire.

The fall took long, so long that none remember what was supposed to follow the fall of the Fourth Kingdom. Consequently none are surprised when the Turkish army of a certain Uthman moves across Anatolia (a region called "Rome" by the Turks) and turns Constantine's polis into the capital of a fifth kingdom.

* * *

Already before the Turks extinguish the last remnant, it becomes clear that the liquidation of paganism and heresy did nothing to arrest the decomposition of the Empire, and also that the heresy-hunts failed to extinguish resistance.

Either through contact with Turks who remembered Mani, or through contact with Persians who remembered the great uprising of the Persian peasantry against the Sassanid nobility and Zarathustrian aristocracy, Byzantium's Bulgar converts rediscover the Manichean heresy. They call themselves Bogomili, "God-lovers," and they consider Byzantium's Christian priests agents of Ahriman, whom they call Satan. They are convinced that it is the oppression of peasants that is sinful, not the peasants. They say the evil ones are not the poor and miserable, but the landlords and tax collectors who make people porr and miserable. They urge peasants to brighten their lives and the world by withholding their crops and their services from Satan's agents.

The Bulgars carry the message to Serbs and Bosnians who share it with Italian residents and visitors of Dubrovnik. The Italians carry ancient Mani's vision, couched in the Pope's language, to their Lombard, Norman and Frankish neighbors.

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