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Source – Atlas of Prejudice

Chasing the?Horizon

How during the Age of Discovery the search for known unknowns unexpectedly became a journey for unknown unknowns

1492 was a blockbuster year in world history with a beginning worthy of a Venezuelan soap opera. There was barely any time for opening credits. On the second day of January the last Muslim state on the Iberian Peninsula, the Emirate of Granada, was finally conquered by the armies of the Catholic Monarchs, a fanatical incestuous couple comprising of Isabella I, Queen of Castile, and Ferdinand II, King of Aragon. Their personal union would later become the foundation of what we know today as Spain. Read more….

For those lucky enough to be there, the sight of the surrender must have felt like the ultimate Castilian wet dream. The cross of Christ hung on the walls of the enchanting Alhambra palace. The Moorish Emir Muhammad XII slowly approached, holding the keys of his city, ready to present them to his conquerors and kiss their hands as a sign of capitulation. Suddenly, there came a dramatic ceremonial twist. To save the dignity of her son from complete emasculation, Muhammad?s mother begged the Catholic Monarchs to amend the protocol, so the city can pass in their possession without the aforementioned humiliating kiss. Isabella and Ferdinand agreed.

?La rendici?n de Granada? by Francisco Pradilla?Ortiz

The crowd, deeply moved by the merciful gesture, spontaneously started to sing the Catholic evergreen?Te Deum?and burst into tears of joy. Rumor has it that only the mercy of the almighty Christian God, who opened the heavens to take a peek at the momentous celebration, spared those people from severe dehydration by miraculously reinforcing their lacrimal glands with holy water. According to a popular legend, when Muhammad XII reached a nearby hill on his way to exile, he turned back to see his beloved palace for the last time. Overtaken by sadness and corroding sense of loss, he started to weep until his mother, a true incarnation of a perfect Muslim dominatrix, consoled him with the words, ?Thou dost weep like a woman for what thou couldst not defend as a man.?

Among the exalted crowd of Christians, who celebrated the fall of the Muslim Emirate, was a Genovese sailor called Christopher Columbus. He had more than one reason to be happy. The Catholic Monarchs had promised to finance his voyage to discover a Western route to India, one that would be free from the interference of infidels like Muhammad XII and his much more powerful brother-in-faith, the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople.

Most people believed Columbus was either on drugs or simply delusional. Yet Isabella and Ferdinand had little to lose from subsidizing a suicide mission of three ships. However, if such a route truly existed, Castile would have a chance to surpass both the incredibly wealthy Ottoman Empire to the East and the increasingly ambitious Portuguese Kingdom to the West, which was stubbornly looking for an Eastern maritime route to India.

In our age of reason we are often tempted to imagine Columbus as an adventurous explorer driven by an insatiable curiosity and a passion for the unknown.

The truth is a little bit different. Europe was a messy place at the end of the 15th Century. A significant part of it was ruled by Muslims. The Spanish Reconquista may have pushed out the Moors to Africa, and brought Christianity back to the Iberian Peninsula after 700 years of struggle, but in the East another great Muslim power was rapidly chipping away land from the Danubian Christian kingdoms. Its ambitions were far bigger than those of the small Moorish states in the dysfunctional Al Andalus, whose last remnant was the decadent Emirate of Granada. The Ottomans wanted it all and they wanted it now. After the conquest of Constantinople, they laid claim to the entire region previously ruled by the Roman Empire, which is to say no less than half of the continent.

European history is incredibly poor in symbols. Usually one would expect that as ages pass by, new ideas would come and older ones would be forgotten. Instead, many of them were repeatedly recycled, like a plot of a profitable action movie.

One of the ever recurring obsessions of various European rulers was the restoration of the Roman Empire. The city of Rome was considered the political center of the European world for so long that it became a synonym of political power. This didn?t change when Emperor Constantine abruptly moved the Roman capital to Constantinople. True to their habit, people just started referring to the new capital as the Second Rome.

Sack of Rome by the sexy agile Visigoths on 24 August 410. Masterfully depicted by Joseph-No?l Sylvestre

In 476, after centuries of military struggle, moral decay, and political bankruptcy, the First Rome, or whatever ruins remained of it, finally fell in the arms of the barbarians. Despite no longer being in possession of its ancient capital, the Roman Empire continued to thrive to the East as if nothing significant happened.

The Romans in Constantinople could have never imagined that in the 16th Century a German historian called Hieronymus Wolf would coin a new name for their state???Byzantine Empire.?From a historical point of view this made as little sense as naming modern Iraq?Babylonia.?But Western historians gradually fell in love with it, probably because it mischievously implied that the empire ruled from Constantinople had nothing to do with Rome itself.

For all intents and purposes (and historical accuracy), the Byzantine Empire was a direct continuation of its ancient predecessor. Despite the fact that Greek relatively quickly replaced Latin as the main language, people there continued to refer to themselves and their state as Roman. The name change in the West served to historically legitimize the Frankenstein monster called Holy Roman Empire, which was inhabited exclusively by sinners and never had Rome as its capital.

The Papacy started the Holy Roman Empire project as an attempt to maintain its spiritual and political independence, a frivolity that the Byzantine emperors and their subordinate patriarchs in the East had no desire to tolerate. In order to solve this problem once and for all, Pope Leo III came up with a brilliant idea. He seduced the most powerful leader in the West, Charlemagne, and crowned him a Roman Emperor on Christmas day, exactly 800 years after the (alleged) birth of Jesus.

The double-headed eagle of the Holy Roman Empire, stolen from Byzantine heraldry and later adopted by Imperial Russia (after claiming the title Third Rome). Seriously, think of something original, people! Illustration by Hans Burgkmair the?Elder

Both men yearned for each other like a desert yearns for rain. Charlemagne, as vein as a Hollywood actress, was eager to consolidate his conquests in Italy and Saxony. Leo III needed an ally with a sizable army to cushion the Papacy from the Byzantine interference and extend his ambitions for universal spiritual domination.

It can be speculated who was the real beneficiary of this arranged marriage. Charlemagne probably cared more about slaying insubordinate Saxons, who just happened to be non-Christian, than about the holiness of his title. Leo III must have considered politics a necessary evil that could be tolerated until the second coming of his beloved employer Jesus Christ.

However, 1200 years later, the Papacy still stands, stubbornly holding on to the past, and preaching about the dangers of condoms and genetic engineering. Charlemagne?s Empire disintegrated soon after his death, and all that remains from it today is the emperor?s grave in the famous Aachen Cathedral, which, quite ironically, is owned by the Catholic Church. The spirit must be truly mightier than the sword.

Once they tasted the sweet nectar of world domination, the Roman popes never gave up their right to legitimize every political ruler in the world. It may seem na?ve and delusional in retrospective, but those people weren?t at all detached from reality. They simply realized it can be bent upon their will.

Just in case someone had doubts about the seriousness of their claims, the popes started wearing a fancy 3-layer tiara that looked like a late 20th Century beauty parlor hair-dryer. Extravagant clothing has always been used for intimidation purposes but the papal tiara was a true masterpiece of its kind. It was also uncomfortable to wear, although what is a neck injury next to the promise of universal supremacy?

When the Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453 they didn?t simply conquer a city. They acquired a symbol. It immediately became the capital of their empire and the 21-year-old Sultan Mehmed II titled himself?Kayser-i R?m, which, translated from Turkish, meant?Roman Caesar.?Thus, according to Mehmed?s logic, he obtained the right to rule over the First Rome as well. The Ottomans never managed to conquer Italy, even though in 1480 they occupied Otranto, a city in Apulia, which at the time was part of the Neapolitan Kingdom, the southern neighbor of the Papal State.

Sixtus IV, who had the misfortune to reign as Pope in those troubled times, got truly scared and even started making plans for Rome?s evacuation, in case the Ottoman hordes from Otranto decided to head north. Drawing fire exit labels with one hand and calling for a global Christian crusade against the infidels with the other, he finally hit the jackpot when Mehmed II died and a dynastic battle prevented further Ottoman expansion.

Yanko Tsvetkov

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