From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Greco-Roman world, Greco-Roman culture, or the term Graeco-Roman when used as an adjective, as understood by modern scholars and writers, refers to those geographical regions and countries who culturally (and so historically) were directly, protractedly and intimately influenced by the language, culture, government and religion of the ancient Greeks and Romans. In exact terms the area refers to the "Mediterranean world", the extensive tracts of land centered on the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins, the "swimming-pool and spa" of the Greeks and Romans, i.e. one wherein their cultural perceptions, ideas and sensitivities were dominant.
In the schools of art, philosophy and rhetoric, the foundations of education were transmitted throughout the lands of Greek and Roman rule. Within its educated class, spanning all of the "Greco-Roman" era, the testimony of literary borrowings and influences is overwhelming proof of a mantle of mutual knowledge. For example, several hundred papyrus volumes found in a Roman villa at Herculaneum are in Greek. From the lives of Cicero and Julius Caesar, it is known that Romans frequented the schools in Greece. The installation both in Greek and Latin of Augustus' monumental eulogy, the Res Gestae, is a proof of official recognition for the dual vehicles of the common culture. The familiarity of figures from Roman legend and history in the "Parallel Lives" composed by Plutarch is one example of the extent to which "universal history" was then synonymous with the accomplishments of famous Latins and Hellenes. Most educated Romans were likely bilingual in Greek and Latin.
Signification of term
This term, rather broad in superficial signification, is given a more precise, historic and determinate meaning by an understanding of political and cultural developments in ancient history. Historically, the entire expanse of land and sea between the Pillars of Hercules (Strait of Gibraltar) and the River Indus (excluding the Arabian peninsula) were at one point in time or another subordinated to the authority of the Greeks and Rome. Those regions which were but briefly or nominally subjugated to the civilisations of these two cultural preceptors, i.e. Asia between the Tigris and the Indus for the Greeks following Alexander the Great's conquests, and Germany between the Rhine and the Elbe by the arms of Augustus, are for this reason normally discounted. There are, of course, slight exceptions to this open rule. The ill-defined but strongly characteristic Asian region of Bactria was one of the few formerly Persian satrapies beyond the Tigris wherein Hellenism was so devotedly embraced by the natives, as was the Punjab, that the culture and thought survived the waning and ultimate disappearance of the administration of Alexander's Successors (the Diadochi). In both areas, long after direct communications with the traditional Hellenistic world cores of Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor and Macedonia had been terminated by the interposition of "uncouth" Barbarians (i.e. Parthians), Hellenism not only flourished but in indigenous kingdoms found a vibrant and powerful expression. Moreover, these exceptions often, even after their practical establishments had been subverted and destroyed, still transmitted the knowledge of Hellenism as intermediaries to new states, i.e. the Bactrian and Indian Greeks "Hellenizing" the Scythic Kushans, and the Armenians, later reinforced through the facility of Christianity, disseminating Greek ideas to the Caucasian kingdoms of Colchis, Asiatic Iberia and Asiatic Albania (all of which escaped the yoke of the Macedonians but fell before the armies of Republican and then Imperial Rome).
Exact definition and scope of term
As mentioned, the term Greco-Roman world describes those regions who were for many generations subjected to the government of the Greeks and then the Romans and thus accepted or at length were forced to embrace them as their masters and teachers. This process was aided by the seemingly universal adoption of Greek as the language of intellectual culture and at least Eastern commerce, and of Latin as the tongue for public management and forensic advocacy, especially in the West (from the perspective of the Mediterranean Sea). Though these languages never became the native idioms of the rural peasants, the great majority of the population, they were the languages of the urbanites and at the very least intelligible, often as corrupt or multifarious dialects, to those who lived outside of the Macedonian settlements and the Roman colonies. Certainly, all men of note and accomplishment, whatever their ethnic extractions, spoke and wrote in Greek and Latin. Thus, the celebrated Roman jurist and Imperial chancellor Ulpian was Phoenician, the Greco-Egyptian mathematician and geographer Claudius Ptolemy was a Roman citizen and the famous Christian expounders John Chrysostom and Augustine were pure Syrian and Berber respectively. The eminent and learned Jewish historian Josephus Flavius was a Jew by religion, wrote and spoke in Greek and was a Roman citizen. Properly speaking, the term "Greco-Roman World" signifies the entire realm from the Atlas Mountains to the Caucasus, from northernmost Britain to the Hejaz, from the Atlantic coast of Iberia to the Upper Tigris River and from the point at which the Rhine enters the North Sea to the northern Sudan. The Black Sea basin, particularly the renowned country of Dacia or Romania, the Tauric Chersonesus or the Crimea, and the Caucasic kingdoms which straddle both the Black and Caspian Seas are deemed to comprehend this definition as well. As the Greek Kingdoms of Western Asia successively fell before the reputedly invincible arms of Rome, and then were gradually incorporated into the universal empire of the Caesars, the diffusion of Greek political and social culture and that of Roman "law and liberty" converted these areas into parts of the Greco-Roman World.
Cores of the Greco-Roman world
Based on the above definition, it can be confidently asserted that the "cores" of the Greco-Roman world were Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt and Africa Proper (Tunisia and Libya). Occupying the periphery of this world were "Roman Germany" (the Alpine countries and the so-called Agri Decumates, the territory between the Main, the Rhine and the Danube), Illyria and Pannonia (the former Yugoslavia and Hungary), Moesia (roughly corresponds to modern Bulgaria), Dacia (roughly corresponds to modern Romania), Nubia (roughly corresponds to modern northern Sudan), Mauretania (modern Morocco and western Algeria), Arabia Petraea (the Hejaz and Jordan, with modern Egypt's Sinai Peninsula), Mesopotamia (northern Iraq and Syria beyond the Euphrates), the Tauric Chersonesus (modern Crimea in the Ukraine), Armenia and the suppliant kingdoms which swathed the Caucasus Mountains, namely Colchis, and the Asiatic Albania and Iberia.
Rome became the superpower of its age in the political and legal spheres, and by its military might, the enormous Roman state created an enduring amalgam of disparate peoples and bestowed relative peace and prosperity on those.
Caesar plundered and enslaved without apology. However, he also invited many Gallic leaders to join him in Rome as members of the Roman Senate. The requirements of manpower in arms meant that citizenship was extended to non-Romans who served in Roman legions. By 211 AD, with Caracalla's edict known as the Constitutio Antoniniana, the general populace came into citizenship. As a result, even after the city of Rome fell, the people of what remained of the empire (referred to by many historians as the Byzantine Empire) continued to call themselves Romans ("Romaioi" in the Greek language which eventually became the empire's official language).
The imperial Roman state was a vast social experiment in hybridization. Imperial Rome is identified with the cultural legacy of its forebears; it sustained that tradition without innovation, until Constantine broke away from the attenuated religion of the Greco-Roman past and transformed Rome's cultural matrix by embracing Christianity, which was the faith of a persecuted minority. The life of Constantine is arguably a better terminus of the Greco-Roman age than any other; it may equally be considered as the herald of the Middle Ages.
- Classical mythology
- Greco-Roman mysteries
- Magic in the Greco-Roman world
- List of Graeco-Roman geographers