The migration waves of Byzantine scholars and émigrés in the period following the Crusader sacking of Constantinople in 1204 and the end of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, is considered by many scholars key to the revival of Greek and Roman studies that led to the development of the Renaissance humanism[5] and science. These émigrés brought to Western Europe the relatively well-preserved remnants and accumulated knowledge of their own (Greek) civilization, which had mostly not survived the Early Middle Ages in the West. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica: "Many modern scholars also agree that the exodus of Greeks to Italy as a result of this event marked the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance".[6]


The main role of Byzantine scholars within Renaissance humanism was the teaching of the Greek language to their western counterparts in universities or privately together with the spread of ancient texts. Their forerunners were Barlaam of Calabria (Bernardo Massari) and Leonzio Pilato, two translators who were both born in Calabria in southern Italy and who were both educated in the Greek language. The impact of these two scholars on the first Renaissance humanists was indisputable.[7]

By 1500 there was a Greek-speaking community of about 5,000 in Venice. The Venetians also ruled Crete, Dalmatia, and scattered islands and port cities of the former empire, the populations of which were augmented by refugees from other Byzantine provinces who preferred Venetian to Ottoman governance. Crete was especially notable for the Cretan School of icon-painting, which after 1453 became the most important in the Greek world.[8]

After the peak of the Italian Renaissance in the first decades of the 16th century, the flow of information reversed, and Greek scholars in Italy were employed to oppose Turkish expansion into former Byzantine lands in Greece, prevent the Protestant Reformation spreading there and help bring the Eastern Churches back into communion with Rome. In 1577, Gregory XIII founded the Collegio Pontifico Greco as a college in Rome to receive young Greeks belonging to any nation in which the Greek Rite was used, and consequently for Greek refugees in Italy as well as the Ruthenians and Malchites of Egypt and Syria. The construction of the College and Church of S. Atanasio, joined by a bridge over the Via dei Greci, was begun in that year.[9]

Although ideas from ancient Rome already enjoyed popularity with the scholars of the 14th century and their importance to the Renaissance was undeniable, the lessons of Greek learning brought by Byzantine intellectuals changed the course of humanism and the Renaissance itself.[citation needed] While Greek learning affected all the subjects of the studia humanitatis, history and philosophy in particular were profoundly affected by the texts and ideas brought from Byzantium. History was changed by the re-discovery and spread of Greek historians’ writings, and this knowledge of Greek historical treatises helped the subject of history become a guide to virtuous living based on the study of past events and people. The effects of this renewed knowledge of Greek history can be seen in the writings of humanists on virtue, which was a popular topic. Specifically, these effects are shown in the examples provided from Greek antiquity that displayed virtue as well as vice.

The philosophy of not only Aristotle but also Plato affected the Renaissance by causing debates over man’s place in the universe, the immortality of the soul, and the ability of man to improve himself through virtue. The flourishing of philosophical writings in the 15th century revealed the impact of Greek philosophy and science on the Renaissance. The resonance of these changes lasted through the centuries following the Renaissance not only in the writing of humanists, but also in the education and values of Europe and western society even to the present day.[10][11][12]

Deno Geanakopoulos in his work on the contribution of Byzantine scholars to Renaissance has summarised their input into three major shifts to Renaissance thought: