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The influence of Byzantine culture on Russia: the transformation of Russia into a unique civilization between East and West

Russia is a representative of Slavic civilization and has distinctive features in world civilization. The Slavic nation has a typical oriental national flavor, but its civilization was influenced by Byzantine Empire and absorbed a large number of features of a trading civilization. Therefore, Russia became a country between East and West, with Western Christianity, writing, literature and art, and at same time with autocratic system of Eastern countries. The influence of Byzantine Empire on Russia is enormous, and to this day Russia still considers its country legal successor of Byzantium. This article analyzes and summarizes main influences of Byzantine civilization on Russian civilization.

1. Economic and cultural exchanges between Kievan Rus and Byzantium

Slavs living in Eastern Europe. The climate here is cold, and social development is slow. Until 4th century, Slavs were mostly still in a state of fishing and hunting. Starting from 4th century, Slavs began to enter era of agriculture, and society moved forward. By 8th century, transition to an era of military democracy began, and classes continued to divide and began transition to state. During this era, small city-states called "principalities" began to emerge in Eastern Slavia. In 862, Rurik from Varangians founded a kingdom known in history as "Rurik dynasty", first dynasty in history of Russia. In 882, Kyiv became capital of Rurik dynasty, and from then on it was called "Kievan Rus".

Although Kievan Rus was created, it is very backward and primitive in all aspects, for example, "Sorgon Parade" in way it is exploited, which is very barbaric. Every year from November to April of following year, Grand Duke of Ross leads an army to various places to collect tribute. After beginning of spring, Grand Duke Ross brought together merchants from all walks of life to smuggle these products to Byzantium for trade. Thus, Ross's economy was closely linked to Byzantium. With this commercial connection, commercial towns in Ross area also prospered. Ross also waged wars with Byzantines many times, demanding some trading privileges.


Trade exchanges between Russia and Byzantium had a great influence on history of Russia. On one hand, advanced Byzantine culture was quickly brought to Eastern Europe, which greatly accelerated social progress of Russia, and on other hand, it greatly changed characteristics of Russian civilization. Without influence of Byzantium, Russia would have become a traditionally agricultural and civilized country. However, under influence of Byzantine trade factors, Russia gradually acquired a strong trading civilization, and protection and expansion of trade interests became one of starting points of Russia's foreign policy. As Russian society lagged behind Byzantium, Russian religion was also influenced by Byzantium and even directly adopted Byzantine Orthodox Church.

Before introduction of Orthodox Church, people of Russia professed primitive polytheism. In 9th century, Orthodox Church spread in Bulgaria and gradually penetrated into peoples of Rus'. In 860, Ross' envoy was baptized in Byzantium, and first Russian historical work, The Chronicle of Past Years, recorded event when Byzantium sent a bishop to Ross to preach in 874. Under Igor, an Orthodox church appeared in Kyiv. In 988, Grand Duke Vladimir of Rus' married a Byzantine princess and officially declared Orthodox Church state religion, abolishing former polytheism. Since then, Russia has become another Orthodox country. After status of Orthodox Church was established in Rus', Byzantium immediately took control of Kievan Russian Church. Subsequently, there was a struggle between political power and religious power in Ross, which actually included a struggle for the independence of religious power.

Kyiv Sophia Cathedral

In Western Europe, before that, backward Germanic people conquered Western Roman Empire, but Catholicism of Western Rome conquered Germanic people. In Eastern Rome, history is playing out again. However, Rus' did not conquer Byzantium, he claimed inheritance of Byzantium. After fall of Byzantine Empire, center of trade between Asia and Europe moved to Italy. Due to decline in commercial trade, country of Rus fell into a difficult period of development, economy fell into decay, country split. After that, Mongols conquered countries of Rus' and founded Golden Horde. The rise and fall of Ross is linked to Byzantine business.

Secondly, influence of Byzantine civilization on Russian political system.

In early Russian state there was no autocratic concept, and nobility became main restrictive force of Grand Duke. The city assembly of Kievan Rus became another major institution that limited power of monarchy, possessing highest suffrage, right to decide wars, power of legislation and diplomacy. This system of mutual checks and balances is result of development of an official commercial civilization. However, autocratic thinking of Byzantium gradually changed this direction.

Rome was originally a relatively democratic country, and one day Roman Republic was established in it. As its territory expanded, Rome gradually became centralized. In Byzantine era, he absorbed imperial traditions of Persia and Egypt and formed a centralized system based on supremacy of imperial power and deification of imperial power. Starting with Diocletian, monarch is no longer "first citizen", but a dictator who monopolizes power. When Orthodox Church was introduced in Rus', Byzantine despotism was also introduced in Rus': “They tried to introduce Byzantine political convictions into the political life of Kyiv.”

Ivan III

The rule of Mongolia in 13th century stimulated growth of this despotism. Having got rid of control of Mongolia, Russia embarked on path of autocracy. Grand Duke Ivan III of Moscow began to call himself "Tsar of All Rus'" and "dictator". The word "tsar" in Rus' was introduced from Byzantium, which wanted to be "Caesar", that was name of emperor. In 1453 Byzantine Empire fell and Russia became leader of Orthodox state. Thus, Russia began to claim inheritance of Rome. In 1472, Sophia, niece of last Byzantine emperor, married Ivan III. Ivan III began to call himself "king". In 1495, concept of "Third Rome" appeared.

Double-sided seal of Ivan III

Byzantine despotism is highly combined with "messianic thought" in Orthodox Church, forming a kind of cosmopolitanism. Messianic thinking" means that "one day he (the Messiah) will again come into world from heaven and establish Kingdom of God on earth. "And this Messiah is leader of Orthodox Church, emperor, and his mission is to maintain world order, unite all peoples and bring them under authority of Orthodox Church. This has become a source of consciousness for Russia's insane external expansion.< /strong>Russia under expansion of neighboring countries has always used banner of salvation of others.For example, after victory over Napoleon in 1812, Russia believed that it had "saved Europe" and was awarded title of "European Gendarmerie" in 1840s. p>

"The ideal monarch must fulfill his lofty mission and lead peoples of Russia and world to a land of happiness" - Gogol.

Russian expansion

Under influence of Byzantine absolutism in state-religious relations, Russia did not form a situation in which religious supremacy dominated in Western Europe in Middle Ages. The Eastern Orthodox Church was recognized under Roman Emperor Constantine, developed enormously and became state religion in 380. Because Orthodox Church was an emperor-supported religion, it cooperated with emperor in many aspects of state affairs. The emperor protected church, and church spiritually strengthened regime. The Orthodox Church gradually turned into a theoretical weapon of monarchical power. Constantine said that he was "both emperor and godfather", and later Justinian also stated that "I am a priest". Russia accepts Orthodox Church and, naturally, considers tsar supreme godfather, and religion has become an instrument of information for tsar.

In terms of law, people of Ross in early days had no written laws, only barbaric customary laws such as blood feuds, tit for tat, an eye for an eye, etc. Having come into contact with Byzantine civilization, Ross began to imitate Byzantium in publication of statutory laws, such as "Russian Law", "Russian Truth", etc. Kievan Rus introduced a large number of Byzantine legal provisions and legal concepts and carried out a certain transformation in order to adapt them to life of Rus.

Thirdly, influence of Byzantine civilization on Russian culture.

Byzantine civilization was brought to Rus' in all aspects. The Orthodox Church and absolutism are most far-reaching influences, accompanied by arrival in Russia of two cultural and artistic features that are easier for people to notice.

First, text aspect. The earliest Russian writing was simple linear-symbolic writing, unable to record complex economic activities. In 9th century, Cyril of Bulgaria created Cyrillic alphabet based on Greek alphabet. In 10th century, Slavic alphabet became widespread and became alphabet widely used by mainstream Slavs. Later, alphabet was constantly simplified and turned into modern Russian. The advent of writing accelerated spread of culture. In 10th century, it was built on model of Byzantine aristocratic school, and noble children could study Greek knowledge at school. Beginning in 1551, Russia began widespread construction of schools to further popularize literacy.

After advent of writing, literature also arose. The oldest literature in Rus' was mainly folklore. After invention of writing, a large number of Byzantine religious classics were translated into Slavic writing and spread to Rus'. Then some people began to imitate writing of Byzantine literati, which led to localization of literature. In 12th century, earliest historical work in Rus', The Chronicle of Past Years, appeared, in which a large number of documents from Byzantine region were used and which became most important research material in Russian Middle Ages. In addition, moral norms of Orthodox Church and literary style of Byzantium constantly influence Russian literary creativity. Until 17th century, under influence of Western European civilization, Russian literature got rid of shackles of Byzantine literature and embarked on path of independent development.

"Past years"

Due to introduction of Orthodox Church, a large number of churches were built throughout Russia, and these churches brought Byzantine architectural art to Russia. In 10th century, temples built by Kievan Rus mainly imitated Byzantine architecture, for example, majestic appearance of temple, interior was decorated with a large number of paintings, mosaics, gold and silver items from Byzantium. In residential buildings, a large number of buildings of this style are also imitated. At that time, Orthodox churches were mainly domed structures, and a large number of Roman architectural styles were used. Onion temples on streets of Russian cities today are an architectural style left by Byzantium. Starting from 15th century, Italian architectural styles began to be promoted in Russia, but foundations of Byzantine architecture were still not shaken.

Onion Church in Moscow

From point of view of painting, earliest humanistic painting in Rus' is icon painting, which was also brought from Byzantium. This type of icon painting is characterized by rigidity, grandeur and solemnity, since Orthodox Church emphasizes sinfulness of a person in its essence, pain and darkness are emphasized in paintings. From end of 12th century, localized icon paintings began to appear in Rus', which began to turn into secular paintings. In 16th century, Russian painting began to break shackles of Byzantine painting, became vibrant in style and rich in subject matter. However, influence of Byzantine style did not completely disappear, and official murals remained in Byzantine style until 17th century.

Orthodox iconography

Today's Russian culture is a fusion of Byzantine, Slavic and Western European cultures. Because of this, Russian civilization has both Western and Eastern flavor. However, Western cultural flavor in Russia seems to be so deeply repressed that it is difficult for her to integrate into Western countries. Before Peter Great, Russia strictly forbade introduction of Western European books, which created a gap between Russia and Western Europe. During period of Peter Great, Westernization was carried out on a large scale, and this was only when they began to massively come into contact with Western culture. Westernization of Russia is a slow process, and only here a unique culture has been formed, different from culture of Western countries.

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