Not far from the ruins of ancient Sparta, in what is known as the High Middle Ages, a settlement sprang up. This settlement is a town called Mistra. It was founded by French crusaders, dividing among themselves the lands of the defeated Byzantine Empire gained by treachery and deceit.
He tells a beautiful story about Mistra on the pages of his book entitled “The Lost Capital of Byzantium”. British historian Steven Runciman is known for his works on the history of Byzantium and the Crusades, written with true epic proportions. The history of Mistra and the Peloponnese is presented from the 13th to the 19th century. The mutual coexistence of the Latins with the Orthodox Greek population was complicated, and with time Muslims joined them, being for a long time the only masters of these lands. With his typical insight and rare objectivity, Mr. Runciman describes these complex relationships between disparate communities which, in the case of Greeks and Latins, have been divided by years of distrust and bloody experiences caused by treason, such as the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204. The reader who is interested in art will also find something interesting in the description of Mistra’s buildings. Byzantine motifs often intersected with Western patterns, giving an interesting combination. The flourishing of culture and the role played by scholars active in the cozy Masters cannot be overestimated. The proximity of the Apennine Peninsula facilitated the flow of the ancient heritage kept by the Byzantines to the Western countries, which in turn contributed to the awakening of interest in the heritage of antiquity, which initiated the wonderful era of the Renaissance.
In the historical period discussed in Mr. Runciman’s book, all the then-political powers of Europe and Western Asia were interested in the lands of the Peloponnese. The victims of their intrigues, especially during the Turkish rule over these lands, were their Greek inhabitants and the creations of high culture produced by them. Many times, other political powers offered the Greeks help, unsuccessful until the 19th century, in regaining freedom by throwing off the Turkish yoke. For example, Russian aid should be given, which is exactly the same as with the so-called “devastating Russian renovation”. The aid offered by Empress Catherine to the planned uprising of the Greeks against the Ottoman Turks in the Peloponnese in the late 1860s turned out to be nothing more than a great disaster for the entire region. It fell prey to a chord of Albanian mercenaries, whom the victorious Turks allowed to loot everything at will.
“The Lost Capital of Byzantium” is fascinating to read and can be successfully recommended to all history buffs and travelers.