The Byzantine Empire succeeded the Roman Empire and officially began when Constantine the Great (St Constantine - 272-337 AD) moved his capital in 330 AD from Rome to Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople (now Istanbul). Constantine had chosen the site for his new capital with care. He placed Constantinople on the frontier of Europe and Asia, dominating the waterway connecting the Mediterranean and Black seas. It was a crossroads of trade, of cultures and with a great tradition going back to prehistory.
From 330 AD to 1453 AD Byzantium reigned supreme, and while Western Europe languished in the dark ages, Byzantium flourished. The most salient aspect of Greek Byzantium was the transmission of classical culture. While classical studies, science, and philosophy largely dissipated in the Latin west, Byzantine education and philosophy still zealously pursued these intellectual traditions. It was in Byzantium that Plato and Aristotle continued to be studied and were eventually transmitted first into the Islamic world and then back into Western Europe. A basic education in Byzantium consisted first of the mastery of classical Greek literature, such as Homer (largely unknown in the West during this period) and almost all of the Greek literature we have today was only preserved by the Byzantines.
The Byzantine emperors reigned over a vast empire of fabulous wealth. Life in Constantinople was extremely civilised and the emperor’s court and his nobles lived a lavish existence, dressed in silks, adorned with gold and precious stones and eating the best and freshest foods spiced with the richest condiments the Orient had to offer.
Here is a recipe from the Byzantine Empire, which has continued to be cooked and enjoyed by Greeks (and not only!) until present times - in fact, this was our dinner tonight!
KEFTÉDHES (BYZANTINE MEATBALLS)
500 g lean beef or veal, ground
1 large onion, grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 egg, beaten lightly
3 slices of bread, crusts removed, soaked in water and squeezed lightly
3 tablespoonfuls finely chopped parsley
2 sprigs fresh mint
3 tablespoonfuls red wine
2-3 tablespoonfuls water, if necessary
Freshly ground cinnamon (pinch)
Freshly ground pepper (to taste)
Freshly ground nutmeg (pinch)
Freshly ground allspice (pimento - pinch)
Salt to taste
1 cup of barley, powdered in the blender
Olive oil, enough for a frying depth of 2 cm
In the authentic recipe, the meat would probably be pounded or finely minced with a knife instead of ground.
Mix all ingredients except barley and olive oil, and refrigerate for an hour.
Pinch off small pieces of the mixture, the size of walnuts, form into a ball and dredge in the barley flour.
Heat the oil to a smoking point and fry the meatballs until crisp, turning constantly. Remove and drain on absorbent paper.
Serve with a green salad and crispy bread, accompanied by a gutsy red wine.