The Strange Case of Paisios Ligarides

Philip Longworth looks at a religious adventurer who ended up reviled as a double agent in 17th-century Europe.

The mid-seventeenth century was notorious for its turmoil and instability. Both England and the Netherlands experienced violent revolutions; and Central Europe was the scene of the vicious and ruinous Thirty Years' War. When the Peace of Westphalia brought it to an end in 1648 there mere revolts in France, Spain and Ukraine, and in cities as far apart as Naples and Moscow. Nor were these the last of the troubles. Wars broke out between England and Holland; France and Austria; Poland, Russia and Sweden; and all the while the 200-year struggle between the Ottoman Turks who controlled the Balkans and their Christian neighbours to the north continued, brutalising the frontier populations from Croatia and Bosnia in the West to the Cossack country in the East.

The turmoil, which often reflected political and dynastic rivalries, was fed by an unfavourable economic climate and consequent social distress. But it found expression, above all, in religious differences.

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