Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The religious life of Turkey
during the 12th to 15th cent. /

Η θρησκευτική ζωή στην Τουρκία
κατά την περίοδο από τον 12ο ως τον 15ο αι.



As is well known, Anatolia, from before the Roman dominion and throughout it, was a region which had a very rich and varied panoply of pagan cults which had survived from ancient times and had roots stretching backover thousands of years. Affected by various outside influences, these cults had developed their own, particular forms. By the time the region was taken over by Byzantium, it had already been under the influence of Christianity for some considerable time. Despite this, the Orthodox faith,which became the official religion of the empire, was unable fully to penetrate the most remote corners of Anatolia over the first few hundred years of the empire’s existence. Even in the sixth century when Byzantium was at its height, Christianity was not able completely to overthrow the pagan cults but was only able to mask them. As true pagan cults worshipping various gods from former times continued to exist, even Christianity itself cannot be said to have been more for many ‘Christians’ than a basic and crude Trinity of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. These ‘Christians’ pursued their beliefs in their old gods and various saints who were either imagined or real people by adapting them to Christianity. It is known that the first Christian priests who carried out missionary activities in various parts of the empirewere only successful in making a new religion there by providing a new interpretation of the old beliefs and by making this interpretation acceptable. This approach produced various types of popular Christianity created from an amalgam of Christianity and pagan cults which continued to exist and to be practised.

One of these was that of the dualist churches which came into existence as a result of the influence of the Manichaeists. Having been declared heretics in the Zoroastrian Sassanid Empire, they had fled from Iran and taken refuge in Anatolia where they had, in appearance, become Christian. In its political struggle with Byzantium, Iran encouraged the propagation and spread of Zoroastrian propaganda in Anatolia. Followers of religions which appeared as a reaction to Zoroastrism, such as eastern Mazdaism and Manichaeism, were forced to flee from Iran into Anatolia where Christianity came forceably into contact with them. Over time and under the influence of these Iranian religions, new Christian sects with a dualist character based on the concepts of goodness and evil of the gods, such as Marcionism (‘Marika’ in Islamic hereseyographic  sources), and Paulicianism (‘Bavlakiyye’ and ‘Bayalika’ in Islamic hereseyographic sources) which was to play an important role in the emergence of Bogomilism and Tondrakism, emerged. These sects had a powerful influence on the Byzantine population (the Armenians and the Greeks), especially in the rural areas.

This amalgamation of religious ideas resulted gradually in the formation among the various ethnic-religious groups such as the Greeks, Armenians and Suriyanis in Anatolia of independent ‘heretical’ churches outside the Orthodox fold. At the same time, the Orthodox faith itself also underwent changes. In particular, new separatist sects such as the Jacobites and Nestorians appeared as a result of the influence of various old Greek and Hellenistic schools of philosophical thought. These were labelled ‘deviational’, heretical, by the Orthodox church and by the Byzantine administration which claimed control of it. Although the Byzantine government, faced with these separatist religious currents, took forceful measures to strengthen Orthodoxy, and, forcing the various ethnic groups in Anatolia to accept the church, sought to use the church as a means to ensure the compliance of the population, this policy produced the opposite effect and Anatolia instead became the setting for various religious struggles.

Thus, when the Turks began to settle in Anatolia in the eleventh century they encountered a highly heterogeneous religious environment. The regions of inner and eastern Anatolia were divided into the small churches we have described, which had arisen as a reaction to Orthodoxy and which, for various political, social, economic and cultural reasons, were spread among the ethnic groups, apart from the Greeks. A point which must be stressed here in particular is that this religious division played an important role in the easing of the Turkish conquests in Anatolia and in their diffusion, and, therefore, favourably assisted their settlement in the region. Let us once more stress that the local population, exasperated by the state’s attitudewhich opened the way to separation of religious views and crushed by high taxation, were not particularly willing to oppose the Turks.


* The Cambridge History of Turkey,
Vol./Τόμ. 1, Byzantium to Turkey, 1071–1453
,
M. Kunt - K. Fleet (ed.),
Cambridge University Press, 2009,
pp./σσ. 381, 382.

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