Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Greek East

Last night, FLG was going to watch Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance on Netflix streaming. But then decided that he ought to watch The Dark Ages, which was also in his queue, beforehand.

They made a point of referring to Justinian as ruler of the "Greek East." FLG was confused by this because he always thought Heraclius officially Hellenized the Byzantine Empire. FLG understands that the culture of the people can be Hellenistic while the government works in Latin. Kinda like how, almost in reverse, the Ptolemies were Hellenized, but the bulk of the population were Egyptian.

But that makes FLG wonder why the Romans were so effective in propagating their Latinized culture in the West, but not at replacing Greek culture in the East. Was it just that the West was a bunch of ragtag strongmen while the Diadochi and the Greek culture in their kingdoms, while weaker than their zenith, were still formidable? FLG's understanding of the Ptolemies, as articulated above, seems to undermine this.

9 comments:

Andrew Stevens said...

My understanding is that the Romans did not bother to propagate their language anywhere. The Romans generally left local customs and languages undisturbed, simply adding Roman improvements on top of them. In the West, there was no effective administration until the Romans created it so Latin was the language of administration in the West. Moreover, vulgar Latin, the language of the soldiers, eventually supplanted all the barbarian tongues (probably due to competitive advantages in vocabulary, an advantage Latin did not possess over Greek). In the East, administration in Greek was far easier since most of the states were already used to being administered in Greek. So even when it was still one empire, there were already two official languages of administration - Latin in the West and Greek in the East.

I'm not sure I quite understand what happened in between the early administration of the East which I believe was in Greek and Heraclius. Obviously, Latin starts getting used in administration and government or else Heraclius has nothing to eliminate. But I think it was always confined to fairly ceremonial things - e.g. the title "Augustus," laws being officially written in Latin (but still administered in Greek), etc. I believe Heraclius's gesture was more symbolic as a final break with Rome than substantive.

I'd be happy to be corrected on this by anyone who knows more than I do.

Withywindle said...

"Ruler of the Greek East" - if that was the phrse used - is wonderfully ambiguous. Doesn't commit you to saying it was ruled in Greek. My favorite factoid is that Greek extended so little from the Mediterranean that they started speaking Latin in FYR Macedonia -- hence Romanian, Vlach, etc.

arethusa said...

FLG, there is certainly a distinction between the West and the East under Rome. Romanization theory, which used to be the hot thing in ancient history (but quickly became overused and oversimplified), always held that the distinction between West and East is that in the West native cultures were far less well rooted than in the Greek East. Pace Andrew Stevens, the Romans may not have propagated anything specifically, but in the West they very definitely made it difficult to get ahead socially, politically, or economically there without becoming Romanized - meaning adoption of Latin names, the Latin language, Latin culture, perhaps even Roman religion. This process was naturally not uniform across all the provinces (Germania and Britannia in particular were often quite difficult). In this way, the Romans could be compared to the Ptolemies - native Egyptians often adopted Greek names to get ahead professionally, etc. BUT the difference between the Romans and the Ptolemies is that the Romans did not feel the same need to ingratiate themselves with the local population as Alexander's Successors did. That ingratiation is most clear in the Seleucids, but even the Ptolemies, though maintaining Greek as the official language and keeping their army (until Ptolemy IV), their court and bureaucracy Greco-Macedonian, felt the need to appeal to Egyptian sentiment - this is quite clear in some of their coinage, their adoption of Pharaonic custom and iconography, and Ptolemy I Soter's possible institution of Serapis as a god. Some of the later Ptolemies, like Ptolemy VIII Physcon (by far the worst of the Ptolemies, imo) even depended on Egyptian support in the countryside to retain their crown in time of civil war.

Andrew Stevens said...

But didn't all of Anatolia speak Greek after Alexander and before the coming of the Turks? That would make 90% of the Empire in the 8th century Greek speaking with the exception of the northern areas you mention. Of course, that doesn't defend the statement that Justinian was the ruler of the "Greek East." Under Justinian, the Empire was much larger than just Greece and Anatolia and I don't think very much of it other than Greece and Anatolia spoke Greek primarily, although it was probably a lingua franca which everybody could speak a little.

Andrew Stevens said...

My post just above was a response to Withywindle, not Arethusa, whose post didn't exist when I posted mine. I certainly agree with Arethusa that those areas where people could aspire to Roman citizenship Romanized for the reasons she mentioned.

FLG said...

Thanks, Arethusa. (and Andrew.)

Withywindle said...

AS: I don't know that all of Anatolia ever spoke Greek. I had a vague idea that after 1071 it was the non-Greeks away from the coast who Turkified & Islamified relatively easily, while the ethnic Greeks on the coast stayed Grecophone and Christian. Which doesn't mean that they didn't speak Greek inland too--my massive ignorance will happily defer to any Byzantinist not named Daniel Larison. And I would defer to him too save for feeling cheeky.

arethusa said...

Koine Greek was spoken everywhere Alexander conquered and founded cities, as far east as Ai Khanum. (Native languages such as Aramaic thrived alongside it.) This lasted until about AD 330; linguists date "Medieval Greek" from the foundation of Constantinople.

Andrew Stevens said...

Unlike Arethusa, I don't know that it's true, but that's what I seem to recall. It's certainly true that the Turks wiped out Greek pretty effectively, whether by design or by accident.

 
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