Stench Power and Byzantine tolerance
From Edward Luttwak’s excellent Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, an interesting aside on how Byzantine culture lent itself to the rediscovery of a Greek “curiosity about foreign peoples”:
Christianity certainly helped to combat prejudice – not only because of its universal embrace but also because it dissuaded its followers from bathing, and therefore removed the barrier of smell that greatly inhibited Roman intimacy with barbarians.
Of course, bribery ended up being more crucial than cultural attraction. But the willingness of the Byzantines to negotiate with and reach out to “savages” makes one wonder if these medieval Orthodox Christians were in some ways more tolerant than today’s universal liberal society. Then again, when the pagans, heathens and barbarians are your close neighbors, prudence tends to dissuade proselytization and crusading…