chapter  3
e Second Rome as Seen by the ird: Russian Debates on ‘the Byzantine legacy’
Pages 26

Although Rus’ coexisted with Byzantium for half a millennium, the importance of Byzantine influence on Russian culture should not be overestimated. How much could a young culture, which was taking shape in the vast expanse of Eastern Europe, borrow from an ancient civilization rooted in the traditions of Mediterranean culture, Roman statehood and Greek learning? Since the mid-eleventh century, Byzantium had been steadily diminishing in size for four hundred years, until it shrivelled to two small slivers of land. Мuscovy emerged as a minuscule princedom at the beginning of the thirteenth century and grew steadily, until four hundred years later it became the largest country in the world. The Byzantines were very slowly relinquishing their (sometimes ungrounded) sense of superiority over the ‘barbarians’. The Russians to this day cannot get rid of their (sometimes ungrounded) ‘inferiority complex’ in relation to the West. The emotional characteristics of Russian music, dance and clothing all have nothing in common with their Byzantine counterparts. Blueberries are as unheard of in the south as olive trees are in the north. A Greek would never have enjoyed pickled cabbage or home-brewed alcohol, while a Russian pilgrim in Constantinople vomited at the sight of the Greeks savouring traditional Byzantine seafood. A legend from the Russian Primary Chronicle sarcastically describes the bewilderment of the Apostle Andrew (who embodies a Byzantine here) at the Novgorodian bath customs: ‘They warm them to extreme heat […] they take young branches and lash their bodies. They actually lash themselves so violently that they barely escape alive. Then they drench themselves with cold water’.2 On the other hand, Stephen of Novgorod, who undertook a

pilgrimage to Constantinople in the fourteenth century, could think of no parallel to Constantinople except ‘a great forest – it’s impossible to get around without a good guide’.3