Posted in BOOKS

The Eagle Has Two Faces: Journeys Through Byzantine Europe by Alexander J. Billinis

The Double Headed Eagle, the symbol of the Late Byzantine Empire, speaks eloquently to the worldview of the Byzantines, whose Empire looked both to the East and to the West, but never was-or is-really part of either. 

At its apogee, the Byzantine Empire was the highest civilization in Europe-the Center. This Double Headed Eagle is cherished by the Balkan Orthodox successors to Byzantium, and versions of it grace the national flags of Serbia, Montenegro, and even Albania. 

Encroached upon by both the Muslim East and the Catholic West, the Byzantine Eagle succumbed, only to emerge, in a state of arrested development, after several hundred years of Turkish or Western Catholic rule. 

This stunted progression emerges time and again in the civic culture, architecture, economics, and politics of the region, and has direct relevance on political and economic issues today, including Greece’s present financial malaise, and the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. 

Traveling through this Ex-Byzantine zone, Billinis offers history, architecture, personal experiences, and numerous anecdotes to expound on key central themes. First, that the Balkan Orthodox nations form a common culture and virtual commonwealth, while still maintaining ethnic, geographical, and linguistic diversity. 

Without understanding this common Byzantine base, it is impossible to appreciate and to understand the region. Second, the common experience of Turkish rule, while preserving Byzantine culture and insulating the Orthodox religion from Catholic encroachment, did so by cutting off Byzantine Europe from economic, political, cultural, and civic development in progress in Western Europe. 

The states that emerged from this condition were-and are-ill prepared to contribute and to compete in modern Europe, and in a globalized world. Finally, throughout, there is a sense that history, rather than linear, runs.

About the Author

Alexander Billinis is a Greek-American who has a lifelong interest in Byzantine history and its continuing, though little known, relevance to today’s world. His point of view is greatly influenced by being part of the Diaspora, which makes him both an insider and outsider to the Balkan region where Byzantium’s successors experience a rather complicated and frustrating existence. 

He has lived and worked in Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia, and has traveled extensively to other countries that have had influence on the Balkans, including Turkey, Italy, Austria, and Hungary. His interest in this area’s culture and history is balanced by the calculating analyses of an international banker, his career for more than a dozen years. 

His work is equal parts history, travelogue, combined with political and economic observation and commentary. A graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, Alexander Billinis majored in East European Studies just as the Communist bloc was in the process of dissolution, at a time when history and culture once again emerged over ideology.

He followed his studies with a semester at Budapest University of Economic Sciences and an internship in Sofia, Bulgaria. He also earned advanced degrees in international business and law. Working for various global banks took him and his family from Utah, to Chicago, to Athens, and to London. He has written for various Diaspora Greek and Serbian publications in the US, Canada, Greece, and Australia. 

He currently lives in Sombor, Serbia’s most architecturally beautiful city, with his Serbian-American wife and their two young children. This is his first book.

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