The East

Greek language, culture, and trade had dominated the Mediterranean littoral several centuries. The administration by the Roman Empire brings legal, engineering and economic standardization and the Pax Romana to a diverse Greek world. But I think if we look closely it is still very much a Greek world, even though it benefits from Roman administration. Greek culture dominates the empire. Romans adopt and emulate Greek art, letters and religion. They standardize a system of coinage that is largely Greek. The major cities of the “Roman” empire were mostly Greek. Two of the three major metropoli (Rome, Antioch and Alexandria) and five the six next largest cities (Carthage, Smyrna, Pergamun, Athens, Ephesus, and Palmyra) were all Greek. Most of the population of Roman Empire was located along coastal areas between Alexandria and Athens. This same area also was responsible for much of the trade and wealth of the empire.

While Latin may have been the language for administration, Greek was still the language for culture, education and commerce. While Latin was the official language for imperial administration, even the emperors themselves would use the Greek language for any serious, literary or cultural writings (e.g., Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations or Julian’s literary and philosophical writings).

The East is really the central part of the empire. It only makes sense to move the capital to a more central location. Constantinople is directly in the middle of the most populous, wealthy and active part of the empire. The particular location is at the crossroads of major land and sea routes, yet has strong natural defenses to protect from attack. The East is the heart of the empire not the “other half.”

Many have pointed out the dominance of Christianity in this area and how this may have created a more unified and homogenous culture. While there is a much stronger Christian population in the East I think we have to be careful to avoid the anachronism of projecting our notion of a unified set of Christian doctrines and beliefs onto this time period. Christianity in the time of Diocletian and Constantine is not an organized system of beliefs but a multiplicity of conflicting ideas and practices. It is probably better think of many “Christianities” in this period. Christianity as single system of belief, if it is ever established, will be largely the result of the efforts of Byzantine emperors and bishops in the coming centuries.


~ by severalfourmany on December 9, 2007.

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