THE HISTORY: Byzantine Civilization
In 395 A.D. the Roman Empire was finally dismembered. Its western part fell to the barbarians while the eastern part played an important role in world history for more than a thousand years. With the establishment of Constantinople in 330 A.D. as the capital of the Eastern Roman and the complete predominance of Christianity, the Greeks became conscious of their national identity and laid the foundations of the later powerful Byzantine Empire. Byzantine civilization is considered to be a continuation of ancient Greek civilization with many Roman and Eastern influences. Its main identifying feature was the Christian religion which pervaded its legislation, its literature, its architecture, etc. The Byzantine emperors converted neighboring people to Christianity and, with their powerful fleet, ruled the seas up to the 8th century A.D.
The strategic position of Constantinople, on the site of old Byzantium, between the two large continents of Europe and Asia, shifted the centre of gravity of world domination to the east. But it also became a pole of attraction for all foreign invaders.
In 1096 A.D. the "Frankish" infiltration of the Levant began with the First Crusade. The Crusaders overran the Greek lands. The Fourth Crusade ended with the taking of Constantinople in 1204 and the sharing of the empire among the Crusaders, while Venice imposed itself on the Levant for centuries, in parallel with the Turks. Venice dominated some Creek islands either directly or indirectly. Euboea, the Cyclades, the Ionian islands, Crete and Cyprus were more or less Venetian possessions from 1489 onwards while in the 15th century, Thasos, Samothrace, Imbros, Lemnos, Chios, Samos, Icaria and the ports of Ainos in Thrace and Phocaea in Ionia were Genoese dependencies. Rhodes and Its neighboring islands had been occupied by the Knights of St. John since 1308.
The dismantling of the Byzantine Empire, however, did not bring about the dismantling of Hellenism as well. The idea of national unity had already been sufficiently developed to spark the formation of cores of resistance. Michael Palaeologus succeeded in retaking Constantinople in 1262 and the revived empire lived on for another two centuries. The empire of the Palaeologi was, in fact, nothing more than a national Greek state which, under attack from the Serbs, Bulgarians and Turks was obliged to abandon the dream of empire and barricade itself behind a national idea in order to defend what had remained of Hellenism. The same spirit of resistance inspired the rest of the Greeks, those who were still under Frankish occupation.
The Fall of Constantinople
Finally, in 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks after a siege of two months. The last emperor of Byzantium, Constantine Palaeologus, fell with the city. Hellenism was then nourished by traditions in which one legend featured very largely: that of the king (Constantine) who had been turned into marble by an angel, and hidden from the Turks until the time was ripe for his resurrection and return. The structure of the social and political life of the Turks, who occupied themselves mainly with their holy war, led them to leave such things as trade, arts and crafts and other productive activities to their vassals, thus making the latter indispensable to the functioning of the empire's administrative machine.
The Turkish Occupation
For Hellenism, the Turkish conquest signified catastrophe, decline and retrogression. Religion played an important role during the first centuries of the conquest in upholding morale and fostering resistance. In the 18th century, however, in parallel with the development of trade in Greek lands, there was a change in economic relations and a Greek urban, middle class began to be formed which, in spite of its peculiar nature, promoted the development of a national conscience.
Inspired by the age of enlightenment in France and stimulating
a flowering of intellectual thought, it fired enslaved Greeks with the idea
of freedom and equality. At the beginning of the 19th century, the national
conscience of the Greeks had reached full maturity and clarity.