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Ludovicus

How the Irish Saved Classical Civilization

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Upon their entrance into Western history in the fifth century, they were the most barbaric of barbarians, practitioners of human sacrifice, cattle rustlers, traders in human beings (the children they captured along the Atlantic edge of Europe), insane warriors who entered battle stark naked. And yet it was the Irish who were around to pick up the pieces when the Roman Empire collapsed in the West under the increasing assaults of Germanic tribes.

 

 

It's one of the ironies of history.

 

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/17/opinion/...dsredirect=true

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Upon their entrance into Western history in the fifth century, they were the most barbaric of barbarians, practitioners of human sacrifice, cattle rustlers, traders in human beings (the children they captured along the Atlantic edge of Europe), insane warriors who entered battle stark naked. And yet it was the Irish who were around to pick up the pieces when the Roman Empire collapsed in the West under the increasing assaults of Germanic tribes.

 

 

It's one of the ironies of history.

 

Yep, a belated Saint Patrick's Day to all. :lol:

 

My inner-Italian, however, prefers to celebrate the day with these memories of a Gallic past:

 

 

 

 

guy also known as gaius

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Whilst I cannot dismiss what the Irish did in the early dark ages, I should point out they lost the battle for religious domination to Rome. The Irish presencve in Europe was never strong or widespread enough, and with the conversion of the Saxon tribes in the 6th century the settlement allowed 'english' christianity to succeed. Incidentially Augustine turned a blind eye to their own take on the christian rituals, and indeed, the dates they were to be observed, which is interesting considering he was supposed to be there to bring the islands populations back within the fold.

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Upon their entrance into Western history in the fifth century, they were the most barbaric of barbarians, practitioners of human sacrifice, cattle rustlers, traders in human beings (the children they captured along the Atlantic edge of Europe), insane warriors who entered battle stark naked. And yet it was the Irish who were around to pick up the pieces when the Roman Empire collapsed in the West under the increasing assaults of Germanic tribes.

 

 

It's one of the ironies of history.

 

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/17/opinion/...dsredirect=true

 

It is generally accepted that it was the Byzantines that preserved most of the works of Classical Antiquity.

 

I find the following statements interesting:

 

"The glories of Christianity — particularly its books — fascinated the Irish. They came to love the Roman alphabet that Patrick and his successors taught them, as well the precious illuminated manuscripts that he presented to them. There was indeed nothing in their intellectual heritage to block their receptivity to the Christian faith.

 

There was also nothing in their heritage to draw them to master the intricacies of the Greco-Roman tradition. This turned out to be a stroke of luck, for the ancient Irish never embraced classical cynicism or the gloomy Greco-Roman sense of fatedness.

 

Instead, they remained in many ways remarkably unjaded, full of wonder at the unexpectedness of human life. “Well, the heart’s a wonder,” says Pegeen Mike in John Millington Synge’s comedy “The Playboy of the Western World.” It was a sentiment first articulated by Patrick’s converts, who put down their weapons and took up their pens. They copied out the great Greco-Roman books, many of which they didn’t really understand, thus saving in its purest form most of the classical library."

 

It seems to me that their emphasis was on religious scholarship, with little or no understanding of Greco-Roman philosophy (Not only cynicism, but also stoicism, epicureanism, and skepticism). I personally find Greco-Roman philosophy refreshing compared to gloomy monasticism that was present in the dark ages.

 

I might add that it sounds as if they were embracing faith instead of reason.

 

One would think that since there was nothing in their intellectual heritage to block their receptivity to the Christian faith, they would have been more like the puritans, i.e. eliminating Roman Catholic influence from their church. Instead, the Irish are the most catholic of all the people in the British isles. Can anyone explain this apparent paradox?

Edited by barca

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Upon their entrance into Western history in the fifth century, they were the most barbaric of barbarians, practitioners of human sacrifice, cattle rustlers, traders in human beings (the children they captured along the Atlantic edge of Europe), insane warriors who entered battle stark naked. And yet it was the Irish who were around to pick up the pieces when the Roman Empire collapsed in the West under the increasing assaults of Germanic tribes.

 

 

It's one of the ironies of history.

 

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/17/opinion/...dsredirect=true

 

It is generally accepted that it was the Byzantines that preserved most of the works of Classical Antiquity.

 

 

 

Yes, the Byzantines held on to the works of Classical Antiquity, but they don't seems to have had much interest in them. In the West, we rediscover these ancient sources of knowledge thanks to the Arabs in Spain and then, secondarily, from refugees fleeing Constantinople's fall.

 

From Richard E. Rubenstein's very interesting "Aristotle's Children," pp. 76-77:

 

Despite the survival of Roman authority in Constantinople, the same shift from this-worldly to otherworldly concerns that marked post-Roman thinking in the West occurred in the East as well, although it took place more sporadically and slowly...While scholars in Alexandria and Constantinople continued to read Plato and Aristotle, "they commented endlessly on the learning inherited from the past, but almost never doubted this learning or tried to move beyond it."1 To some extent, this petrifaction of philosophy can be attributed to the overcentralized administration of the Byzantine emperors, which destroyed the independent aristocratic elite. But it was also the result of people's passionate interest in matters of faith and their inclination to use philosophy,if at all, as a stick with wihich to beat their ideological opponents.

 

1 Ferdinand B. Artz, etc.

Edited by Ludovicus

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Yes, the Byzantines held on to the works of Classical Antiquity, but they don't seems to have had much interest in them. In the West, we rediscover these ancient sources of knowledge thanks to the Arabs in Spain and then, secondarily, from refugees fleeing Constantinople's fall.

 

"they commented endlessly on the learning inherited from the past, but almost never doubted this learning or tried to move beyond it."1 To some extent, this petrifaction of philosophy can be attributed to the overcentralized administration of the Byzantine emperors, which destroyed the independent aristocratic elite. But it was also the result of people's passionate interest in matters of faith and their inclination to use philosophy,if at all, as a stick with wihich to beat their ideological opponents.

 

That's a somewhat biased viewpoint which is prevalent among traditional Western Historians, and many modern scholars disagree with this viewpoint. The increase in Imperial authority was an unfortunate but necessary evil to deal with an ongoing crisis (loss of the West, barbarian incursions, Islam, religious controversies within Christianity.) The East never allowed the Church to become too powerful, whereas in the West, Roman catholicism was able to exert a lot of political influence over the various kingdoms.

 

There is a great book that I am reading now which presents a refreshing view of Byzantine Civilization:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Lost-West-Forgotten-...1252&sr=1-1

 

There were numerous great leaders that repeatedly pulled Eastern Empire out impending collapse. There were also some extremely inept rulers who lost all the ground that their predecessors had gained. There were numerous pressures on them from all sides, and they had to know what they were doing in order to survive as long as they did.

 

Were there some scary Byzantines who used their religious views as club to control people? Yes e.g. the Iconoclasts, an unfortunate setback which alienated them from the west, but generally they were much more advanced intellectually, economically, and politically than the barbarian West.

Edited by barca

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Yes, the Byzantines held on to the works of Classical Antiquity, but they don't seems to have had much interest in them. In the West, we rediscover these ancient sources of knowledge thanks to the Arabs in Spain and then, secondarily, from refugees fleeing Constantinople's fall.

 

"they commented endlessly on the learning inherited from the past, but almost never doubted this learning or tried to move beyond it."1 To some extent, this petrifaction of philosophy can be attributed to the overcentralized administration of the Byzantine emperors, which destroyed the independent aristocratic elite. But it was also the result of people's passionate interest in matters of faith and their inclination to use philosophy,if at all, as a stick with wihich to beat their ideological opponents.

 

That's a somewhat biased viewpoint which is prevalent among traditional Western Historians, and many modern scholars disagree with this viewpoint. The increase in Imperial authority was an unfortunate but necessary evil to deal with an ongoing crisis (loss of the West, barbarian incursions, Islam, religious controversies within Christianity.) The East never allowed the Church to become too powerful, whereas in the West, Roman catholicism was able to exert a lot of political influence over the various kingdoms.

 

There is a great book that I am reading now which presents a refreshing view of Byzantine Civilization:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Lost-West-Forgotten-...1252&sr=1-1

 

There were numerous great leaders that repeatedly pulled Eastern Empire out impending collapse. There were also some extremely inept rulers who lost all the ground that their predecessors had gained. There were numerous pressures on them from all sides, and they had to know what they were doing in order to survive as long as they did.

 

Were there some scary Byzantines who used their religious views as club to control people? Yes e.g. the Iconoclasts, an unfortunate setback which alienated them from the west, but generally they were much more advanced intellectually, economically, and politically than the barbarian West.

 

 

I agree that the Byzantines were more advanced than the West, particularly prior to the 1200's. Though Moorish Spain, with access to many classical works and technology based on these via Arab translations, was a near equal to the Roman East.

My point is that Byzantines seem to have abandoned the study of philosophy in favor of theology. Remember that Justinian closed the Academy in Athens.

 

Thanks for the link to Brownworth's "Lost to the West." It looks like a very interesting and worthwhile book. I plan to order it.

Edited by Ludovicus

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Remember that Justinian closed the Academy in Athens.

 

 

Yes, that was very unhellenic of him.

 

Justinian was a great leader, but he had his imperfections. One can only wonder what the Byzantines could have accomplished if they hadn't gotten bogged down on religious ideology. It is interesting that there were still significant remnants of pagan thought despite the edicts of Theodosius more than 100 years earlier to make Christianity the state religion.

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One would think that since there was nothing in their intellectual heritage to block their receptivity to the Christian faith, they would have been more like the puritans, i.e. eliminating Roman Catholic influence from their church. Instead, the Irish are the most catholic of all the people in the British isles. Can anyone explain this apparent paradox?

 

Puritans? That's where you're going wrong. The various christian sects of late Roman times are quite diverse and bear in mind it wasn't until the Council of Nicaea that any real agreement was reached on what actually comprised christian belief, and that was the point that anything else was considered a heresy, and although the religious purges were yet to occur, the church of Rome was keen to keep things in line and frequently sent out missionaries to preach and convert to their accepted version. Some cults, like Pelagianism, were considered too heretical and in this case Bishop Germanus of Auxerre arrived in 429 to sort them out (it's also said he returned in 440 but that might be a corrupt description of the same visit) - Pelagius disappeared, and I note he went on record as saying that if someone wanted to call themselves chritian then they should be christians, whereas the Roman system imported by Augustine in the 6th century was much more ambivalent - some might say tolerant .

 

The problem was that while the irish christians expanded and influenced developments in the British Isles, the Roman church was not going to let this 'alternative' religion run things, and in England at least the conversion of the Saxons to Roman christianity was very much the cause of irish christianity becoming outshadowed. Ireland too had missionaries sent there, and as their own version of christianity lost influence so the Roman priests grew to fill the void. Pagan beliefs and Irish christianity didn't actually die out as such since many of those cults continued on the fringes of acceptability, but the Roman church grew to such overwhelming control of European hearts and minds that Pope Urban II attempted to create a pan-european religious dictatorship at the end of the eleventh century.

 

It was perhaps a little ironic that it was Constantinople that upset the apple cart. A letter from Emperor Alexius to the Pope asked for military assistance against the heathen Turks and bingo - the Crusades were born, which helped dilute the christian zeal over the course of the next two hundred years, but by then the Roman church was dominant anyway.

 

The paradox as you see it is only an apparent one, and is easily explainable as shifts in power balance between sects over long periods of time.

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Yes, the Byzantines held on to the works of Classical Antiquity, but they don't seems to have had much interest in them. In the West, we rediscover these ancient sources of knowledge thanks to the Arabs in Spain and then, secondarily, from refugees fleeing Constantinople's fall.

 

The Arabs discovered ancient culture by conquering most byzantine territories and dealing culturally with the surviving Byzantine Empire.

 

The survival of ancient culture in Early and High Medieval Europe happened also thanks to the Catholic Church that saved and copied the ancient sources in the medieval abbeys spreaded throughout the continent.

 

The european rediscovery of the ancient culture started in late medieval Italy thanks to those byzantine refugees (which left the Balkans and Anatolia since the XIVth century) which started to teach and spread it in their new motherland (which at the same time was opening the first universities).

 

It seems to me that while the contribute of the Arabs in transfering to us the greek-roman culture can't be discarded, it has become overrated for PC reasons.

Edited by Late Emperor

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Yes, the Byzantines held on to the works of Classical Antiquity, but they don't seems to have had much interest in them. In the West, we rediscover these ancient sources of knowledge thanks to the Arabs in Spain and then, secondarily, from refugees fleeing Constantinople's fall.

 

The Arabs discovered ancient culture by conquering most byzantine territories and dealing culturally with the surviving Byzantine Empire.

 

The survival of ancient culture in Early and High Medieval Europe happened also thanks to the Catholic Church that saved and copied the ancient sources in the medieval abbeys spreaded throughout the continent.

 

The european rediscovery of the ancient culture started in late medieval Italy thanks to those byzantine refugees (which left the Balkans and Anatolia since the XIVth century) which started to teach and spread it in their new motherland (which at the same time was opening the first universities).

 

It seems to me that while the contribute of the Arabs in transfering to us the greek-roman culture can't be discarded, it has become overrated for PC reasons.

The Arab contributions to European civilization precede the arrival of Byzantine refugees from Anatolia and the Balkans by more than a hundred years. Perhaps you are referring to Byzantines who worked along with Arabs and with Latin Christians at the Norman royal court in 12th century Sicily. Here classical and religious texts were shared in translation. The translation school in Toledo, soon after the city's recapture by Christians, saw a very large output of Arab, Christian, and Jewish scholarship. Here many important Arab translations of Latin and Greek works---works lost to the West--- took place. Visiting Italian scholars returned to Italy with (for them) newly found classical works and original Arab discoveries in optics, astronomy, medicine, physics, and mathematics in hand in Latin translations. It was these new discoveries along with the rescued texts of the classical world that helped make possible humanism and the Renaissance.While Byzantines shared their classical heritage with the West at a few points during the Middle Ages, they had little or nothing to offer Europe in the area of new scientific discoveries. That was the Arab advantage. See here for Latin translations of the 12th Century: http://en.wikipedia....he_12th_century

Edited by Ludovicus

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Ludovicus, as I pointed out in my previous post, the arabs had access to classical culture by conquering the eastern roman territories in middle east and egypt: it means that without the eastern roman empire surviving the germanic invasions and fall of the west in the Vth and VIth centuries, the arabs would have found very few of classical civilization because a lot would have been lost.

 

While it's true that important scientific advances were made by medieval muslims this has less to do with the saving classic civilization and more to do with their own scientific effort and it doesn't mean that most of classic culture was saved by them.

 

In the following article it explain that the byzantine contribute to the revival of classic studies in Europe wasn't secondary at all (although exagerated by past scholars) and shows how few of the classic heritage was still unknown in Europe in the XVth century.

 

http://www.the-orb.net/encyclop/late/laterbyz/harris-ren.html

 

THE SCHOLARS

 

Thus the Greek emigres who reached Italy during the fifteenth century were by no means all scholars: they ranged from exiled royalty to carpenters and mercenaries. Yet there can be no doubt that some of them played an important part in spreading a knowledge of the classical Greek language and ancient Greek literature in Italy. There was a good reason for this: reading classical Greek and even composing in the same style were an integral part of Byzantine higher education. Whereas in the West secular education had tended to die out in the early Middle Ages, in Byzantium it was sustained. In each generation, those who took their education beyond the age of fourteen would be instructed in the works of the ancient Greek poets, historians, dramatists and philosophers. Thus any educated Byzantine in the imperial service would have had a knowledge of these works which would have been the envy of many educated Italians, who were now starting to take an interest in ancient Greek literature (Constantinides, 1-2). Manuel Chrysoloras arrived in Italy at the end of the fourteenth century. He came not as a teacher or a scholar, but as an envoy of the Byzantine emperor, charged with negotiating western assistance for the beleaguered empire. In 1391, however, while staying in Venice, he gave some lessons in Greek to a certain Roberto Rossi, who then passed an enthusiastic account of his teacher to Coluccio Salutati (1331-1406), the Chancellor of Florence. So impressed was Salutati that he decided to secure Chrysoloras's services, and in 1396 invited him to teach grammar and Greek literature at University of Florence. Chrysoloras only occupied this post between 1397 and 1400, but in that period had a tremendous effect. Among his pupils were numbered some of the foremost figures of the revival of Greek studies in renaissance Italy, including Guarino da Verona (1374-1460) and Pallas Strozzi (1372-1462). Chrysoloras was not the only one to receive such a welcome. When George Gemistos Plethon attended the Council of Florence in 1439, his lectures on the differences between the work of Plato and Aristotle were eagerly received and prompted the later comment of Marsilio Ficino (1433-99) that Plethon had brought the spirit of Plato from the Byzantine empire to Italy (Thompson, 78; Setton, 57-8; Brown, 389-90; Woodhouse, 171-88). The success of Chrysoloras and Plethon cannot have gone unnoticed by other members of the Byzantine ruling classes, eager to escape to the West, and others were soon following in his footsteps. John Argyropoulos, an official in the service of one of the rulers of the Byzantine Morea, was sent to Italy in 1456 on a diplomatic mission. He too was offered the chance to teach in Florence and he accepted with alacrity, remaining in Italy until his death in 1487. Other cities also attracted Byzantines to teach Greek: Theodore Gaza of Thessalonica taught at Ferrara, Naples and Rome, Demetrius Chalkondyles of Athens at Padua, Florence and Milan (Geanakoplos, Constantinople and the West, 72-87, 91-113; Geanakoplos, 'The discourse', 118-44; Harris, Greek Emigres, pp. 122-3). Of no less importance than the teaching activity of these individuals, however, were their translations from Greek into Latin. Early in the fifteenth century, Manuel Chrysoloras co-operated with Uberto Decembrio (d.1427) to produce a Latin version of Plato's Republic, and in Rome the process of translation was specifically encouraged by Popes Nicholas V (1447-55) and Sixtus IV (1471-84). Under papal patronage, George of Trebizond produced Latin versions of Plato's Laws and, together with Theodore Gaza, of a large part of the Aristotelian corpus. The availability of these texts in Latin opened them up to a much wider readership (Monfasani, Collectio, 698-754; Geanakoplos, Constantinople and the West, 79-82; Wilson, 76-8; Setton, 78-80).

 

THE DEBATE OVER PLATO

 

In addition to teaching and translating, the Byzantine scholars were also at the centre of the debate over the merits and meaning of works of the ancient Greek philosophers, particularly those of Plato. Unavailable in western Europe for most of the Middle Ages, Plato's works were now much more accessible thanks to the Latin translations of Manuel Chrysoloras, George of Trebizond and others. Renaissance Italy was particularly receptive to the ideas of Plato because political attitudes had been changing during the fifteenth century, as interest in the values which had been used to underpin the traditional concept of citizenship declined. In the past, the highest duty of the citizen had been considered to be that of involving himself in civic affairs, a notion that is prominent is the works of Cicero and Aristotle. Now a life of contemplative withdrawal and disengagement from political life was coming to be seen as praiseworthy. Politics were to be left rather to those who had been educated to pursue them, among whom the ruler or the prince was paramount. It is no coincidence that the later fifteenth century saw the writing of numerous `mirrors of princes', such as Niccol

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Late Emperor,

Thank you for the link to "Byzantines in the Renaissance" in your post above. It introduced me to Byzantine refugee scholars I hadn't heard of before.

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A few reviews of the book Aristotle au mont Saint-Michel ("Aristotle at Mont Saint-Michel", book not yet available in English):

 

Europe's debt to Islam given a skeptical look - http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/28/world/europe/28iht-politicus.2.12398698.html

The West?s Cultural Continuity: Aristotle at Mont Saint-Michel - http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/3732

The Not-So-Dark Ages - http://www.thecatholicthing.org/content/view/1883/2/

 

This book basically outlines the West's continuity with its classical past and delivers some heavy blows against the idea that "were it not for the Muslims" that Europe would somehow have remained ignorant of its classical past. An interesting point in case is that the works of Aristotle actually had been translated directly from Byzantine sources in Greek in the monastery at Mont Saint-Michel in France, several decades before Arabic translations had even reached Moorish Spain, though for some reason the Arab translations were the ones that ultimately were diffused throughout Europe.

 

My own main gripe however with the Arab translations is the fact that I don't see that this in itself is anything to be particularly grateful for. When the Arab Muslims conquered the Byzantine provinces, they found libraries full of Greek texts in places like Alexandria, which were being cared for by scribes who read, copied and diffused them from generation to generation. What followed after the Muslim conquests was that Greek as the lingua franca for the past millenium or so (at least since Alexander's conquests) was suppressed in favor of Arabic. This was in stark contrast to the policy of the Latin-speaking Romans who had a high reverence for Greek culture and language, and who left this Greek cultural presence running largely untouched.

 

The consequence of the suppression of Greek as the official language was inevitably that anything that wasn't translated in the first few generations was bound to be forgotten and to fall into decay since there would be no Greek-speaking scribes to read, copy and diffuse these works that were in less demand. We know for instance that the Arabs were largely uninterested in Greek poetry, theater and epics, of which incidentally little remains (most of what we have is from papyrus fragments found at archeological sites like Oxyrhynchus).

 

Unlike Aristotle, who had aroused some interest among Arabic speakers, much of Plato's works were ignored in the Muslim world and only became available in Europe through Byzantine scholars in the early 15:th century. Euclid's Elements, the foremost mathematical treatise of ancient times, was introduced to the Arabs through the Byzantines in 760, which is rather strange, given the prominence of this work and that only some cataclysmic event could have made it virtually dissappear from the eastern Mediterranean (the cataclysmic event would have been the neglect of Greek language). This may be an indication that other prominent scientific works (perhaps from the likes of Ctesibius and others) may have shared the fate of Plato and Euclid under Muslim rule.

 

Another issue with the translations were the intentional (religious) as well as unintentional corruptions of the original texts that were introduced. Basically, whenever the Greek originals of any such work became publicly available, it sooner or later replaced translations from Arabic (though of course many Arabic sources remained in circulation for a long time). Today Arabic sources are used only for works that didn't survive in the Greek original, like Ptolemy's Almagest.

 

Having said all of this, there were some obvious advantages for the Europeans as far as the Arabic libraries in Toledo were concerned and Arabs did bring some new knowledge into the mix (algebra, for instance). However, had it not been for the Muslim conquests of the eastern Mediterranean, Europeans would never have become isolated from places of learning like Alexandria in the first place, where learned people of late antiquity, like Boethius, may have studied and come into contact with these works. Boethius even planned to translate many of Plato's works into Latin, though his life was cut short and this never materialized. Just a century later, well-versed intellectuals like Boethius would be unthinkable in the West for the next several centuries at least in part due to the Arab conquests. Incidentally, these conquests also led to the stagnation of technological know-how in the Byzantine world which had peaked with the construction of the Hagia Sophia aided by scholars educated in Alexandria.

 

Another issue with the Muslim conquests is that it also brought an end to the supply of papyrus to Europe, leaving only the much more expensive vellum as writing material doubtlessly bringing down literacy and the diffusion of Greco-Roman texts during the Middle Ages. To be fair, though, later on during the reconquest of Spain, Europeans acquired Chinese papermaking technology through the papermaking factories that the Moors had left behind. However, there is no doubt that the Arab Muslim contribution was far from positive overall and whenever positive, their contribution has to be weighed against the fact that they did not simply fill a vacuum but on the contrary conquered and profited from an existing civilization that was fairly well integrated with Europe, while at the same time depriving the West further access to these sources (that is, until the Spanish reconquest).

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