The cradle of Orthodoxy, or the abode of debauchery? What we were not told about Byzantium
Categories: HistoryBy Pictolic https://pictolic.com/en/article/the-cradle-of-orthodoxy-or-the-abode-of-debauchery-what-we-were-not-told-about-byzantium
In countries where the majority profess Orthodoxy, Byzantium is perceived as a source of spirituality and Christian wisdom. At the same time , in Western countries about this sunk in The summer of the Empire is remembered as a place where cunning, intrigue and fantastic luxury prevailed. In fact, the truth is somewhere in the middle, but we can say for sure that this state was not called the Second Rome for nothing. Next to spirituality and greatness in The most sophisticated debauchery flourished in Byzantium, capable of making even a seasoned modern porn connoisseur blush. (Careful! Adult content).
Historian Danya Pleshak dispelled the myths about Byzantium as a highly spiritual state and now everyone can draw the appropriate conclusions himself. The information shared by the researcher is not intended to denigrate the cradle of the Orthodox faith, but only to establish an objective view of a place that has been idealized for centuries.
It should be said right away that the church played an important role in the life of every resident of Byzantium. As one would expect, the spiritual fathers instructed their flock on the right path, convincing that sex is only necessary for procreation, and the sin of voluptuousness must be defeated.
Sexual promiscuity was attributed to pagan barbarians, who were primitive and base, did not know what marital fidelity was, and willingly entered into relationships with relatives, persons of their own sex, and even with animals. The monasteries diligently fought against temptations and the echoes of this battle can be heard even now. Even today, access to the Athos Monastery, once a powerful spiritual stronghold of Byzantium, is closed to women.
The highest indicator of spiritual perfection was considered to be the trips of the blessed to ... brothels. In the lives of the holy elders, there is often a plot where an enlightened elder appears to fallen women, instructs them on the right path and even gives money, but leaves without soiling himself with sin.
Saint Theophan became an excellent example of such steadfastness. This blessed elder not only appeared in a brothel with prostitutes, but also retired with one of them in her room. There, the woman in every way tempted the ascetic and tried to seduce him, but, as you may have guessed, she did not achieve success in this matter.
Before saying goodbye, Feofan proposes marriage to the woman and when she agrees, explains that he meant going to a monastery. Of course, there is no fiasco in Orthodox lives, and the sinner, suddenly repenting, leaves with Theophan from worldly life.
Sometimes strongly believing laymen also fell into extremes. History has preserved for us the story of another Theophanes (a common name among the Byzantines), nicknamed the Confessor, who fervently believed in God and immediately after the wedding offered his wife to give up carnal love forever. Needless to say, this story also had a happy ending and the young woman enthusiastically agreed. As a result, both went to the monastery, only Theophan to the male, and the happy wife to the female.
But, despite thousands of such instructive stories, which were fed to ordinary citizens, life in Byzantium, including sexual, was in full swing. Especially in this field, the ruling elite and the aristocracy have succeeded. As we have already said, the empire became a worthy successor to the Roman One, with all its orgies, bacchanalia and other interesting, but not too spiritual things.
In the 4th century AD, Emperor Justinian made an attempt to put his subjects in order and issued a decree prohibiting many types of love pleasures that go against Christian values. In particular, the sovereign outlawed pederasty, which at that time included sexual relations between adult men and boys.
In addition, the harsh Justinian greatly complicated the process of divorce and remarriage, and also introduced strict punishments for libertines and adulterers. One might think that the emperor himself was a virtuous man and possessed firm principles. Alas, this was not the case.
The court historian of Justinian, Procopius of Caesarea, in his documentary work "Secret History", describes the emperor himself, his family and his entourage as low, dissolute and cruel people. For example, the wife of the commander Belisarius cheated on him with his subordinate and deftly lied to her husband right in the eyes when he almost caught the lovers for adultery.
Got from Procopius and Justinian's own wife, Theodora. The myth exposer devoted an entire chapter of his book to descriptions of her sexual adventures. The future life partner of the emperor worked as a child in a pornographic circus attraction. At the time of her youth, she performed by herself - she lay down completely naked on the stage, and assistants strewed her body with grain and released specially trained geese that ate it.
After becoming Justinian's wife, the woman continued to treat sex quite freely and arranged orgies with ten young men under the mood. Procopius claimed that he had heard with his own ears how Theodora lamented the lack of natural openings and dreamed of another one, in the middle of her chest.
It is impossible to verify the authenticity of the "Secret History" and many historians consider Procopius to be just an old lustful dreamer, but most likely, only some exaggerations can be imputed to him, since there are many other written sources telling about the dissolute family of the Byzantine emperor.
Byzantine secular literature of the early Middle Ages generally gravitated towards eroticism and even pornography. In the 6th century in There was a poetry circle in Constantinople, whose members wrote poems and whole poems dedicated to different life situations. There were many things among them with open sexual content, for example, describing adultery and even rape.
Later, in the 12th-13th century, so-called romance novels came into fashion, the plots of which had an obvious antique coloring. Most often it was about a man and a woman who were separated by fate. Both of them defend their honor from the encroachments of insidious seducers, trying to save themselves for a loved one.
Considerable attention is paid in the art of that time and homosexual relationships. Despite the fact that same-sex relationships were officially banned, many Byzantines, like the Romans once, did not consider it necessary to limit themselves. By the way, even Saint Niphon was accused of a youthful predilection for sodomy. The author of his life equated pederasty with his other dangerous sin - visiting the theater. But the elder nevertheless repented and abandoned both acting and homosexuality, giving himself up to religion.
Saints Cosmas and Damian
Close relationships between men in Byzantium could be formalized officially. The so-called rite of adelphopoiesis, or fratricide, symbolized the establishment of a close spiritual connection between two men. Saints Cosmas and Damian were in such a kind of "marriage", in whose lives there are many controversial points.
In 1982, scholar John Boswell wrote that fratricide was nothing more than the first example of same-sex marriage. Of course, this interpretation of adelphopoiesis was indignantly rejected by the church and condemned by the academic community. Unfortunately, Boswell's scientific work was published after his death and a scientific dispute with opponents did not work out.
Such lovers were in particular demand among the ladies, since with them one could not be afraid of undesirable consequences in the form of pregnancy. The court castrati happily survived the seizure of the empire by the Muslims and settled for centuries in the harems of the sultan and nobles. However, in the 16th century, an observant sultan ordered to completely deprive them of their manhood, leaving no chance for normal intercourse.
Unfortunately, we have information only about the life of the upper and middle strata of society. Little is known about how peasants, artisans and soldiers treated sex. But the available samples of folk art, the main hero of which was the hero Digenis Akrit, indirectly say that the commoners in Byzantium were not Puritans. This hero of the epic did nothing but "hunt maidens", and, sometimes, took them not only with Byzantine charm, but also with brute force.