Monotheists, Dualists and Pagans

Authored by: Christopher Livanos

The Byzantine World

Print publication date:  February  2010
Online publication date:  December  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415440103
eBook ISBN: 9780203817254
Adobe ISBN: 9781136727870

10.4324/9780203817254.ch9

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Abstract

The scholarly literature devoted to paganism and Orthodoxy in the Byzantine empire has understandably focused on the very earliest part of the Byzantine history, when paganism still had significant numbers and prestige. 1 The empire, however, did not cease to have important relations with groups of people, internal as well as external, whom we would today classify as “pagan.” We may note from the outset that no satisfactory equivalent to “pagan” existed in the language of the Byzantines. Any essay purporting to cover the topic of “Orthodoxy and Paganism” in Byzantium ought to discuss not only the pagan holdouts of late antiquity, but polytheistic people such as the pre-Christian Slavs, and Byzantines whose interest in paganism ranged from the syncretism of Michael Psellos to George Gemistos Plethon’s full embrace of a Neoplatonic form of pagan religion. After paganism forever lost the battle for the empire’s soul to Christianity, the pre-Christian past remained an important part of the cultural heritage of educated Byzantines. Officially, a Byzantine was expected to revile the ancient religion while admiring other aspects of ancient culture. The boundary between acceptable and excessive admiration for pagan antiquity was not always clear, and charges of paganism could be leveled against scholars of antiquity by their opponents for reasons of theological disagreement, political rivalry or personal animosity.

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