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The British diplomat and author Paul Rycaut (1628-1700) was the tenth son of a Londonese merchant. Rycaut studied at Cambridge and spent several years travelling in Europe, Asia and Africa. He settled in Istanbul in 1661, as member of the embassy of Charles II of England to Mehmed IV's court, holding the position of private secretary to the embassador.

In the following eight years Rycaut was able to study the mores, customs and religion of the Ottoman Turks. He returned to London twice on state missions, and published the text of Britain's 1661 peace treaty with the Sublime Porte. Rycaut's diplomatic ability, and, above all, the fact that he had obtained privileges for British ships sailing in Ottoman waters, earned him the position of General Consul of England at Izmir, a post that he held for eleven years (1667 – 1678). In this period, Rycaut worked to obtain favourable conditions for British commerce in the Middle East. In 1685, he returned to his home country after twenty-four years and continued his diplomatic career in Ireland. In spite of inner turmoil in Britain, Rycaut was able to maintain his influence. He died in 1700.

An eminent figure among the British who were active in the Eastern Mediterrranean, Rycaut wrote “The present State of the Ottoman Empire” (London, 1667), which was republished several times and translated into other European languages. Another major work of his was “Greek and Armenian Churches” (London, 1679, translated into French in 1690), commissioned by the King of England. Rycaut's third major work was “The History of the Turkish Empire” (London, 1680). Rycaut's books on the institutions and the history of the Ottoman state constituted essential manuals, by means of which Western Europeans were able to approach the splendid and at the same time alien to them Ottoman empire. In addition, Rycaut's texts influenced all later similar treatises.

Rycaut was among the first Western Europeans to show sympathy for the Eastern Orthodox world. In his treatise on the Greek Orthodox church, he adheres to the view that clergy and laymen live in misery because of their ignorance and lack of education; however, he marvels at the Church's ability to survive and recognizes the tyrannical stance of the Church of Rome. Rycaut writes on fasting and religious celebrations as well as pagan customs. He was able to watch a religious procession of a holy icon, and expresses the opinion that icon painting is quite crude. Rycaut intervened in the negotiations and disputes between the Patriarch and other church officials, and dedicated a whole chapter of his work to Mount Athos. In the second chapter of his treatise, he describes his visits to the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse in Asia Minor, while the third chapter deals with church hierarchy and the election of the Patriarch. Chapters VII- X and XII – XV cover the Mysteries of the Church. Chapters V and VI describe the fasts and the festivities of the Orthodox Greeks and chapters XVI-XVII describe the church services and adoration of the icons. The last two chapters, XVIII-XIX, refer to the presence and rule of Western Christians over the islands of the Archipelago and diverse questions such as the emanation of the Holy Spirit, holy wells and the apocryphal evangiles.

Written by Ioli Vingopoulou

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