National Geographic : 1962 Dec
Mediterranean and Black Seas for a thousand years, had failed to become a great city. Constantinople, however, marked a break with the pagan past. Constantine, the first Christian ruler, established it as the distinctly Christian capital of the Empire. By the end of the fourth century, almost everyone had become his own theologian. As St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote in amusement and despair: "Every place in the city is full of theolo gians-the back alleys and public squares, the streets, the highways-clothes dealers, mon ey changers, and grocers are all theologians. "If you inquire about the value of your money, some philosopher explains wherein the Son differs from the Father. If you ask the price of bread, your answer is the Father is greater than the Son. "If you should want to know whether the bath is ready, you get the pronouncement that the Son was created out of nothing!" Latin Gives Way to Greek But the greatness of Byzantine life does not lie in the controversies of theologians or in the ceremonial appearances of stiff-gowned court officials gliding down marble stairs. Life was hard, and Byzantine society was tough. Over the centuries the people endured half a dozen 812 great sieges. The government always knew when to fight and when to make peace. The dust of battle settled on many a fine mosaic. Although Constantine and those he brought from the West spoke Latin, official language of the army and the law courts, most people in the East continued to speak Greek. Latin gradually declined and, by the mid-seventh century, was entirely abandoned. City Falls to Turks in 1453 The Byzantine Greeks built beautiful churches, but loved classical literature as well as the liturgy. If they tended sometimes toward asceticism and mysticism, they also prized social dignity. In 1203-4 they lost their capital city to soldiers of the Fourth Crusade, but recovered it in 1261. Their defense of Constantinople against the seven weeks' siege of the Ottoman Turks in 1453 is one of the most glorious epi sodes in the long history of resistance to in vaders. But again they lost their city and their freedom. A millennium of history came to an end, and many a Byzantine had reason to recall the words of the psalmist: "For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past...."