Byzantium and the Slavs

Dimitri Obolensky
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Among the most notable events that have shaped the history of Europe is the influence exerted by Byzantium on the cultural life of Eastern Europe. At different times in their history the peoples who lived in that region--Bulgarians, Albanians, Serbs, Romanians, Ukrainians, and Russians--experienced the lasting impact of Byzantine culture. Through the relations established by these people with Byzantium during the Middle Ages, their ruling and educated classes were led to adopt many features of Byzantine civilization--notably its religion and law, its literature and art--with the result that they were able to share in, and eventually to contribute to, a common cultural tradition. This Byzantine heritage, some of which has survived to the present day, was a significant enough component of their medieval tradition to justify the view that they formed a single international community, termed the Byzantine Commonwealth.

The essays which comprise this book aim to identify and discuss some salient features of this commonwealth. One of its more prominent member-states is Russia. On two occasions, once in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and again in the fourteenth and fifteenth, Byzantium exerted a formative influence on the society and culture of Rus'. Unless this influence is properly appreciated and understood, much in Russia's history will remain unintelligible.

These insightful twelve studies may be divided thematically into three groups. The first is concerned with the general aspects of Slavo-Byzantine relations. The chapters in the second group deal with the specific features of the acculturation process and with the reciprocal nature of these relations. The third is concerned with the contacts between Byzantium and medieval Rus'.


About the Author: Sir Dimitri Obolensky is professor emeritus of Russian and Balkan history at Oxford University. He has written numerous books, including The Byzantine Commonwealth published by St Vladimir's Seminary Press.