Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Byzantine Art of Persuasion (Part III)

10 languages of lies 

The following example is just slightly younger and it is related to the reign of Justin II (565-578), nephew of Justinian and the first successor. Here, in a similar way, sophistically cunning civilized Byzantines collide with genuine honesty of primitive barbarians. Again it comes to newcomers from Asia, only this time it’s not the Huns, but the Turks and Avars. Because of the troubles they had with the Persians on the famous Silk Road that stretched from China to the far eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, the Byzantines made a covenant with middle-Asia Turks. The contract did not include only sales and relocation of famous Silk Road, it provided and a military alliance against a common enemy – the Persians. Frequent exchange of legations - seven Byzantine delegations traveled on the Turkish court in the course of eight years - testified about intimate ties.

However, circumstances have changed dramatically in the year of 576 because the empire made an alliance with the Avars against the Danube Slavs. That was sufficient reason to the Turks, who felt let down, to suddenly change their attitude towards Byzantium. When the Roman emissaries found themselves in front of the new ruler of Turkey, Turksat, on them gushed avalanche of anger. Torrent of words, which was recorded by Byzantine writer, Menander Protector is in his historical record, was accompanied by an unusual gesture: since he had only one tongue in his oral cavity, resent ruler of the Turks tried somehow to push all ten of his fingers in his mouth so he could symbolically accompany the sentences from which the blood vessels of Byzantine envoys froze, "Are you not the Romans (Byzantines), who have ten languages and lie on all these languages? …like my ten fingers in my mouth, that’s how you use many languages: with one you deceive me, with another Avars, my slaves. Simply put, you are wheedling all nations, and deceive them with art of your words and your traitorous ideas, disregarding those who are rushing down to trouble from which only you have gain. "

After a short pause he continued his tirade by saying: “Turks never lie”, and then in the threatening tone he revealed he’s appeals: “Your emperor will answer to me for his behavior, he, who speaks to me about friendship and at the same time, makes an agreement with Avars, slaves who escaped from their masters... Why, oh, Romans, you always send my envoys through the Caucasus when they are traveling to Byzantium, and claim that there is no other way they could go? You do that with the hope that I will due to inaccessible terrain refrain from attacks on Roman lands. But I know exactly where Dnieper, Danube and Maritsa flow. It is not unknown to me how strong your power is, for I am the master of the whole country, from the first solar rays in the east to the last edge on the west.

With this frightening admission, which almost cost life the Byzantine envoys, Turkish-Byzantine eight-year-old alliance abruptly stopped. That same year the Turkish army threatened Byzantine possessions in the Crimea. Turkish Khan’s speech, let me add, filled with dignify confidence, is a vivid example of distrust and contempt which was, thanks to Byzantine too cunning and ruthless diplomacy, certainly often provoked in their victims in the area of the Eurasian steppes.

The Byzantines have expressed their persuasive skills and during the Christianization of Russians. In the Russian source “Повесть временных лет” (Tale of Bygone Years), in a very interesting and sometimes on the verge of anecdote way, it is shown how Prince Vladimir of Kiev - who wanted to turn his compatriots from polytheistic pagan to one of the monotheistic religions – made an important decision. This unusual story is actually a mixture of facts and fiction, a mixture which stands hesitantly between story, extensive theological treatises and ironic jest. Of course, in it are inserted and later amendments.

To read "Byzantine Art of Persuasion (Part IV)", click HERE.

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