Greek scholars in the Renaissance

The migration waves of Byzantine scholars and émigrés in the period following the Crusader sacking of Constantinople in 1204 and the end of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, is considered by many scholars key to the revival of Greek and Roman studies that led to the development of the Renaissance humanism[4] and science. These émigrés brought to Western Europe the relatively well-preserved remnants and accumulated knowledge of their own (Greek) civilization, which had mostly not survived the Dark Ages in the West.

Their main role within Renaissance humanism was the teaching of the Greek language to their western counterparts in universities or privately together with the spread of ancient texts. Their forerunners were Barlaam of Calabria (Bernardo Massari) and Leonzio Pilato, two translators who were both born in Calabria in southern Italy and who were both educated in the Greek language. The impact of these two scholars on the very first Renaissance humanists was indisputable.[5]

By 1500 there was a Greek-speaking community of about 5,000 in Venice. The Venetians also ruled Crete, Dalmatia, and scattered islands and port cities of the former empire, the populations of which were augmented by refugees from other Byzantine provinces who preferred Venetian to Ottoman governance. Crete was especially notable for the Cretan School of icon-painting, which after 1453 became the most important in the Greek world.[6]

After the peak of the Italian Renaissance in the first decades of the 16th century, the flow of information reversed, and Greek scholars in Italy were employed to oppose Turkish expansion into former Byzantine lands in Greece, prevent the Protestant Reformation spreading there and help bring the Eastern Churches back into communion with Rome. In 1577, Gregory XIII founded the Collegio Pontifico Greco as a college in Rome to receive young Greeks belonging to any nation in which the Greek Rite was used, and consequently for Greek refugees in Italy as well as the Ruthenians and Malchites of Egypt and Syria. The construction of the College and Church of S. Atanasio, joined by a bridge over the Via dei Greci, was begun in that year.[7]

Ghirlandaio - Tornabuoni Chapel - a Humanist philosopher
Demetrios Chalkokondyles (brother of Laonikos Chalkokondyles) (1424–1511) was a Greek Renaissance scholar,[1] Humanist and teacher of Greek and Platonic philosophy.[2]
Argyropoulos (detail) Calling of the Apostles
John Argyropoulos (1415–1487) was a Greek Renaissance scholar who played a prominent role in the revival of Greek philosophy in Italy.[3]

Contribution of Greek scholars to the Italian Renaissance

Plethon autograph
One of Georgius Gemistus (Plethon)'s manuscripts, in Greek, written in the early 15th century.
Johannes Bessarion aport012
Cardinal Bessarion (1395–1472) of Trebizond, Pontus was a Greek scholar, statesman, and cardinal and one of the leading figures in the rise of the intellectual Renaissance.[8]

Although ideas from ancient Rome already enjoyed popularity with the scholars of the 14th century and their importance to the Renaissance was undeniable, the lessons of Greek learning brought by Byzantine intellectuals changed the course of humanism and the Renaissance itself. While Greek learning affected all the subjects of the studia humanitatis, history and philosophy in particular were profoundly affected by the texts and ideas brought from Byzantium. History was changed by the re-discovery and spread of Greek historians’ writings, and this knowledge of Greek historical treatises helped the subject of history become a guide to virtuous living based on the study of past events and people. The effects of this renewed knowledge of Greek history can be seen in the writings of humanists on virtue, which was a popular topic. Specifically, these effects are shown in the examples provided from Greek antiquity that displayed virtue as well as vice. The philosophy of not only Aristotle but also Plato affected the Renaissance by causing debates over man’s place in the universe, the immortality of the soul, and the ability of man to improve himself through virtue. The flourishing of philosophical writings in the 15th century revealed the impact of Greek philosophy and science on the Renaissance. The resonance of these changes lasted through the centuries following the Renaissance not only in the writing of humanists, but also in the education and values of Europe and western society even to the present day.[9][10][11]

Deno Geanakopoulos in his work on the contribution of Byzantine scholars to Renaissance has summarised their input into three major shifts to Renaissance thought: 1) In early 14th century Florence from the early, central emphasis on rhetoric to one on metaphysical philosophy by means of introducing and reinterpretation of the Platonic texts, 2) In Venice-Padua by reducing the dominance of Averroist Aristotle in science and philosophy by supplementing but not completely replacing it with Byzantine traditions which utilised ancient and Byzantine commentators on Aristotle, 3) and earlier in the mid 15th century in Rome, through emphasis not on any philosophical school but through the production of more authentic and reliable versions of Greek texts relevant to all fields of humanism and science and with respect to the Greek fathers of the church. Hardly less important was their direct or indirect influence on exegesis of the New Testament itself through Bessarion's inspiration of Lorenzo Valla's biblical emendations of the Latin vulgate in the light of the Greek text.[12]


Painting and music

El Greco - Portrait of a Man - WGA10554
El Greco (literally 'the Greek') the nickname for the Cretan painter Dominikos Theotokopoulos.

See also


  1. ^ Beckett, William à (1834). A universal biography: including scriptual, classical and mythological memoirs, together with accounts of many eminent living characters, Volume 1. Mayhew, Isaac and Co. p. 730. OCLC 15617538. CHALCONDYLES (DEMETRIUS), a learned modern Greek, and a native of Athens, came over into Italy about 1447, and after a short abode at Rome
  2. ^ Bèze, Théodore de; Summers, Kirk M. (2001). A view from the Palatine: the Iuvenilia of Théodore de Bèze. Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. p. 442. ISBN 9780866982795. Demetrius Chalcondyles (1423-1511), a Greek refugee who taught Greek at Perugia, Padua, Florence, and Milan. Around 1493 he produced a Greek textbook for beginners.
  3. ^ Rabil, Albert (1991). Knowledge, goodness, and power: the debate over nobility among quattrocento Italian humanists. Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies. p. 197. ISBN 978-0-86698-100-2. John Argyropoulos (ca. 1415-87) played a prominent role in the revival of Greek philosophy in Italy. He came to Italy permanently in 1457 and held
  4. ^ Byzantines in Renaissance Italy
  5. ^ The Italian renaissance in its historical background, Denis Hay Cambridge University Press 1976
  6. ^ Maria Constantoudaki-Kitromilides in From Byzantium to El Greco,p.51-2, Athens 1987, Byzantine Museum of Arts
  7. ^ De Meester, "Le Collège Pontifical Grec de Rome", Rome, 1910
  8. ^ Bunson, Matthew (2004). OSV's encyclopedia of Catholic history. Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. p. 141. ISBN 978-1-59276-026-8. BESSARION, JOHN (c. 1395-1472) + Greek scholar, cardinal, and statesman. One of the foremost figures in the rise of the intellectual Renaissance in the
  9. ^ Constantinople and the West by Deno John Geanakopulos- Italian Renaissance and thought and the role of Byzantine emigres scholars in Florence, Rome and Venice: A reassessment University of Wisconsin Press, 1989
  10. ^ From Byzantium to Italy: Greek Studies in the Italian Renaissance. by N. G. Wilson The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 743-744
  11. ^ Eight philosophers of the Italian Renaissance, Paul Oskar Kristeller, Stanford University Press,1964
  12. ^ Constantinople and the West by Deno John Geanakopulos- Italian Renaissance and thought and the role of Byzantine emigres scholars in Florence, Rome and Venice: A reassessment University of Wisconsin Press, 1989
  13. ^ Boehm, Eric H. (1995). Historical abstracts: Modern history abstracts, 1450-1914, Volume 46, Issues 3-4. American Bibliographical Center of ABC-Clio. p. 755. OCLC 701679973. Between the 15th and 19th centuries the University of Padua attracted a great number of Greek students who wanted to study medicine. They came not only from Venetian dominions (where the percentage reaches 97% of the students of Italian universities) but also from Turkish-occupied territories of Greece. Several professors of the School of Medicine and Philosophy were Greeks, including Giovanni Cottunio, Niccolo Calliachi, Giorgio Calafatti...
  14. ^ Convegno internazionale nuove idee e nuova arte nell '700 italiano, Roma, 19-23 maggio 1975. Accademia nazionale dei Lincei. 1977. p. 429. OCLC 4666566. Nicolò Duodo riuniva alcuni pensatori ai quali Andrea Musalo, oriundo greco, professore di matematica e dilettante di architettura chiariva le nuove idée nella storia dell’arte.
  15. ^ Feller, François-Xavier de (1782). Dictionnaire historique, Volume 2. Mathieu Rieger fils. p. 18. OCLC 310948713. CALLIACHI, ( Nicolas ) grec de Candie, y naquit en 1645. Il profefla les belles
  16. ^ Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin. Institut für Griechisch-Römische Altertumskunde, Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin. Zentralinstitut für Alte Geschichte und Archäologie (1956). Berliner byzantinistische Arbeiten, Volume 40. Akademie-Verlag. pp. 209–210. John Cigala (born at Nicosia 1622). He studied at the College of Saint Athanasios, Rome (1635-1642), which he graduated as Doctor of Philosophy and Theology and at which he taught Greek successfully for eight years (1642-1650). From Rome he moved to Venice, where he practised law for a short time, therefore he may have also studied law. - In 1666 he was appointed Professor of Philosophy and Logic at the University of Padova. In 1678 he was appointed Professor to the second chair of Philosophy of the same University and in 1687 (214) to the first. From some time before 1678 he had also been censor of the books published by the S. Ufficio, Venice, which presupposed his Catholic loyalty, actually praised by D’ Alviani. His Greek and theological wisdom, his modesty, piety and other humane virtues are praised by Petin, Nicholas Bouboulios and D’ Alviani. In 1685 he appears as bestman at the marriage of Antonia daughter of Const. Tzane the Cretan painter to Mario Botza. Some of his epigrams have survived published in books of other scholars. Because of his duties as censor he seems to have lived in Venice from time to time. He died on the 5/11/1687.
  17. ^ Merry, Bruce (2004). Encyclopedia of modern Greek literature. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 442. ISBN 978-0-313-30813-0. Leonardos Filaras (1595-1673) devoted much of his career to coaxing Western European intellectuals to support Greek liberation. Two letters from Milton (1608-1674) attest Filaras’s ptriiotic crusade.
  18. ^ Nano Chatzidakis: The character of the Velimezis Collection


  • Deno J. Geanakoplos, Byzantine East and Latin West: Two worlds of Christendom in Middle Ages and renaissance. The Academy Library Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1966.
  • Deno J. Geanakoplos, (1958) A Byzantine looks at the renaissance, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 1 (2);pp:157-62.
  • Jonathan Harris, Greek Émigrés in the West, 1400-1520, Camberley: Porphyrogenitus, 1995.
  • Louise Ropes Loomis (1908) The Greek Renaissance in Italy The American Historical Review, 13(2);pp:246-258.
  • John Monfasani Byzantine Scholars in Renaissance Italy: Cardinal Bessarion and Other Émigrés: Selected Essays, Aldershot, Hampshire: Variorum, 1995.
  • Steven Runciman, The fall of Constantinople, 1453. Cambridge University press, Cambridge 1965.
  • Fotis Vassileiou & Barbara Saribalidou, Short Biographical Lexicon of Byzantine Academics Immigrants to Western Europe, 2007.
  • Dimitri Tselos (1956) A Greco-Italian School of Illuminators and Fresco Painters: Its Relation to the Principal Reims
  • Nigel G. Wilson. From Byzantium to Italy: Greek Studies in the Italian Renaissance. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

External links

Bandon (Byzantine Empire)

The bandon (Greek: βάνδον) was the basic military unit and administrative territorial entity of the middle Byzantine Empire. Its name, like the Latin bandus and bandum ("ensign, banner"), had a Germanic origin. It derived from the Gothic bandwō, which is the witness of foreign influence in the army at the time this type of unit evolved.

Byzantine commonwealth

The term Byzantine commonwealth was coined by 20th-century historians to refer to the area where Byzantine general influence (Byzantine liturgical and cultural tradition) was spread during the Middle Ages by Byzantine statehood and missionaries. This area covers approximately the modern-day countries of Greece, Cyprus, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, southwestern Russia, and Georgia (known as the region of Eastern Orthodoxy in Europe).

Byzantine cuisine

Byzantine cuisine was marked by a merger of Greek and Roman gastronomy. The development of the Byzantine Empire and trade brought in spices, sugar and new vegetables to Greece.

Cooks experimented with new combinations of food, creating two styles in the process. These were the Eastern (Asia Minor and the Eastern Aegean), consisting of Byzantine cuisine supplemented by trade items, and a leaner style primarily based on local Greek culture.

Byzantine novel

Byzantine romance represents a revival of the ancient Greek romance of Roman times. Works in this category were written by Byzantine Greeks of the Eastern Roman Empire during the 12th century.

Byzantine philosophy

Byzantine philosophy refers to the distinctive philosophical ideas of the philosophers and scholars of the Byzantine Empire, especially between the 8th and 15th centuries. It was characterised by a Christian world-view, but one which could draw ideas directly from the Greek texts of Plato, Aristotle, and the Neoplatonists.

Comes sacrarum largitionum

The comes sacrarum largitionum ("Count of the Sacred Largesses"; in Greek: κόμης τῶν θείων θησαυρῶν, kómes tōn theíon thesaurōn) was one of the senior fiscal officials of the late Roman Empire and the early Byzantine Empire.

Although it is first attested in 342/345, its creation must date to ca. 318, under Emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306–337). The comes was the successor of the Principate-era rationalis, and supervised those financial sectors that were left outside the purview of the praetorian prefects: the taxation of senators, the chrysargyron tax, customs duties, mines, mints and state-run mills and textile factories. Initially, the comes also controlled the emperor's private domains, but these passed under the control of the comes rerum privatarum by the end of the 4th century. He also exercised some judicial functions related to taxation in his administrative courts in particular in matters of fiscal debt.

The office of the comes gradually declined in importance after the late 5th century, especially after Emperor Anastasius I (r. 491–518) abolished the hated chrysargyron. He remained however one of the main fiscal ministers, controlling an array of bureaux (scrinia) and with an extensive staff detached to the provinces. The last comes known is mentioned under the Emperor Phocas (r. 602–610). He was succeeded by the sakellarios and the logothetes tou genikou, who remained the chief fiscal ministers in the middle Byzantine period (7th–11th centuries).


Droungos (Greek: δροῦγγος, sometimes δρόγγος, drongos) or drungus is a late Roman and Byzantine term for a battalion-sized military unit, and later for a local command guarding mountain districts. Its commander was a "droungarios" or "drungarius" (δρουγγάριος), anglicized as "Drungary".

Epi tou eidikou

The epi tou eidikou (Greek: ἐπὶ τοῦ εἰδικοῦ [λόγου], "in charge of the special [department]"), also known simply as the [e]idikos, meaning "Special Secretary", or, from the 11th century on, as the logothetes tou eidikou, was an official of the Byzantine Empire who controlled the department known as eidikon, a special treasury and storehouse.


The katepánō (Greek: κατεπάνω, lit. "[the one] placed at the top", or " the topmost") was a senior Byzantine military rank and office. The word was Latinized as capetanus/catepan, and its meaning seems to have merged with that of the Italian "capitaneus" (which derives from the Latin word "caput", meaning head). This hybridized term gave rise to the English language term captain and its equivalents in other languages (Capitan, Kapitan, Kapitän, El Capitán, Il Capitano, Kapudan Pasha etc.)

Kephale (Byzantine Empire)

In the late Byzantine Empire, the term kephale (Greek: κεφαλή, kephalē, "head") was used to denote local and provincial governors.

It entered use in the second half of the 13th century, and was derived from the colloquial language. Consequently, it never became an established title or rank of the Byzantine imperial hierarchy, but remained a descriptive term. In essence, the kephalē replaced the Komnenian-era doux as the civil and military governor of a territorial administrative unit, known as a katepanikion (κατεπανίκιον, katepaníkion), but also termed a kephalatikion (κεφαλατίκιον, kephalatíkion). In size, these provinces were small compared to the earlier themata, and could range from a few villages surrounding the kephale's seat (a kastron, "fortress"), to an entire island. This arrangement was also adopted by the Second Bulgarian Empire (as Bulgarian: кефалия, kefaliya) and Serbian Empire (as Serbian: кефалиja, kefalija).

In the 14th century, superior kephalai were appointed (katholikai kephalai, "universal heads") overseeing a group of provinces under their respective [merikai] kephalai ("[partial] heads"). The former were usually kin of the emperor or members of the senior aristocratic clans. By the late 14th century, with the increasing decentralization of the Empire and the creation of appanages in the form of semi-independent despotates, these senior posts vanished.

Kleisoura (Byzantine district)

In the Byzantine Empire, a kleisoura (Greek: κλεισούρα, "enclosure, defile") was a term traditionally applied to a fortified mountain pass and the military district protecting it. By the late 7th century, it came to be applied to more extensive frontier districts, distinct from the larger themata, chiefly along the Empire's eastern border with the Caliphate along the line of the Taurus-Anti-Taurus mountains (in the West, only Strymon was in its early days termed a kleisoura). A kleisoura or kleisourarchia was an autonomous command, under a kleisourarches (Greek: κλεισουράρχης). Eventually, most kleisourai were raised to full themata, and the term fell out of use after the 10th century (in late Byzantine times, droungos had a similar meaning). Its Islamic counterpart in Cilicia and Mesopotamia was the al-thughūr.


The mesazōn (Greek: μεσάζων "intermediary") was a high dignitary and official during the last centuries of the Byzantine Empire, who acted as the chief minister and principal aide of the Byzantine emperor.

New Learning

In the history of ideas the New Learning in Europe is the Renaissance humanism, developed in the later fifteenth century. Newly retrieved classical texts sparked philological study of a refined and classical Latin style in prose and poetry.

The term came to refer to other trends, one being the new formulation of the relationship between the Church and the individual arising from the Protestant Revolution. Contemporaries noticed this: Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk lamented "It was merry in England afore the new learning came up", in relation to reading the Bible.An earlier 'new learning' had a similar cause, two centuries earlier. In that case it was new texts of Aristotle that were discovered, with a major impact on scholasticism. A later phase of the New Learning of the Renaissance concerned the beginnings of modern scientific thought. Here Francis Bacon is pointed to as an important reference point and catalyst.


Oktōēchos (here transcribed "Octoechos"; Greek: ὁ Ὀκτώηχος Greek pronunciation: [okˈtóixos]; from ὀκτώ "eight" and ἦχος "sound, mode" called echos; Slavonic: Осмогласие, Osmoglasie from о́смь "eight" and гласъ, Glagolitic: ⰳⰾⰰⱄⱏ, "voice, sound") is the eight-mode system used for the composition of religious chant in Byzantine, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, Latin and Slavic churches since the Middle Ages. In a modified form the octoechos is still regarded as the foundation of the tradition of monodic chant in the Byzantine Rite today.

Palace of Blachernae

The Palace of Blachernae (Greek: τὸ ἐν Βλαχέρναις Παλάτιον) was an imperial Byzantine residence in the suburb of Blachernae, located in the northwestern section of Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey). The area of the palace is now mostly overbuilt, and only literary sources are available as to its description.


The Paramonai (Greek: Παραμοναί) were an obscure Byzantine guard regiment of the Palaiologan period.

The name derives from the Greek verb παραμένω, meaning "to stand near something". Unlike other major guard units in the Palaiologan army like the Varangian Guard, the regiment of the Paramonai was a native Byzantine formation, although little else is known about it. Its existence is safely attested in the literary sources only for the period from 1272 until 1315.They are still mentioned by the mid-14th century writer Pseudo-Kodinos, however, who records that the regiment had two divisions, one on foot and the other on horse, each commanded by an allagator, and that all the soldiers were armed with swords. The veracity of Kodinos's account is impossible to ascertain.


A sakellarios (Greek: σακελλάριος) is an official entrusted with administrative and financial duties (cf. sakellē or sakellion, "purse, treasury"). The title was used in the Byzantine Empire with varying functions, and remains in use in the Eastern Orthodox Church.


Scholarius (Σχολάριος), Scholares (Σχολάρης) or Scholaris may be:

Greek scholars in the Renaissance

the title of a medieval scholar in general

a member of the Scholae Palatinae military unit

the epithet of Gennadius Scholarius

the epithet of Niketas Scholares


The vestiarion (Greek: βεστιάριον, from Latin: vestiarium, "wardrobe"), sometimes with the adjectives basilikon ("imperial") or mega ("great"), was one of the major fiscal departments of the Byzantine bureaucracy. In English, it is often known as the department of the Public Wardrobe. Originating from the late Roman palace office of the sacrum vestiarium, it became an independent department in the 7th century under a chartoularios. By the late Byzantine period, it had become the state's sole treasury department. The public vestiarion must not be confused with the Byzantine emperor's private wardrobe, the oikeiakon vestiarion, which was headed by the prōtovestiarios.

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