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Old May 24th, 2013, 12:25 PM   #1

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East and West


Another thread got me thinking; what does Historum have to say of Medieval Europe's most prominent feature: its dual nature, of a Greek east and Latin west?

Many have argued that this oringinates in Roman times; once Latin had spread to the West, a gradual linguistic and cultural rift emerged between the two halves of the Mediterranean, which continued and grew into the Medieval period. I understand that many, as a result, tend to see Byzantium as different from the West wholly- and to not have evovled out of the same world.

My own opinion is of course a far different story, and wholly influenced and biased of course, by my fervent study of the southern Mediterranean. But what are your thoughts on the subject, Historumites?
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Old May 24th, 2013, 01:56 PM   #2
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For the ordinary inhabitant of areas you describe, the linguistic and cultural rift probably had no relevance: the average Gaul probably had little in common linguistically and culturally with the average Bithynian or Cappadocian.

But ideologically, I think the rift started with the gradual sidelining of the traditional Senatorial aristocracy and the upper-class ethos they upheld, which of course included immersion in both Greek and Latin culture.
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Old May 24th, 2013, 08:54 PM   #3

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For the ordinary inhabitant of areas you describe, the linguistic and cultural rift probably had no relevance: the average Gaul probably had little in common linguistically and culturally with the average Bithynian or Cappadocian.

But ideologically, I think the rift started with the gradual sidelining of the traditional Senatorial aristocracy and the upper-class ethos they upheld, which of course included immersion in both Greek and Latin culture.
Haha, you essentially re-stated a thesis of mine here . Yes, in my view as well it is the Senatorial elite with their Estates, and the similar-looking cities dotting the Mediterranean whch best show us the virtual "unanimity" of Greek and Latin. For example, much as the Sentorial class in Italy and Baetica almost all spoke Greek- with some being Greeks themselves- so too was Greek a common tongue in the urban ports and markets on either side of the Sea.

On a higher note, the Villa culture- and the urban centers serving a common functionality- are prime pieces of Roman Civilization. It seems logical to me that with the disappearence of this form of living in the 7th and eigth centuries, in Gaul and Anatolia, has something to do with a religio-cultural scale on the proportions we see during the Middle Ages.
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Old May 25th, 2013, 06:47 AM   #4

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Haha, you essentially re-stated a thesis of mine here . Yes, in my view as well it is the Senatorial elite with their Estates, and the similar-looking cities dotting the Mediterranean whch best show us the virtual "unanimity" of Greek and Latin. For example, much as the Sentorial class in Italy and Baetica almost all spoke Greek- with some being Greeks themselves- so too was Greek a common tongue in the urban ports and markets on either side of the Sea.

On a higher note, the Villa culture- and the urban centers serving a common functionality- are prime pieces of Roman Civilization. It seems logical to me that with the disappearence of this form of living in the 7th and eigth centuries, in Gaul and Anatolia, has something to do with a religio-cultural scale on the proportions we see during the Middle Ages.
I agree that this Greek and Latin dichotomy is one that arises from elite culture, but I think that is a false and inaccurate way to representing the medieval world. First, it implies a greater continuity with Graeco-Roman civilization than is often the case. This is not to say that all of classical civilization disappeared on either side, but rather to give the period greater appreciation on its own ground rather than following the Enlightenment Romanophile reasoning that some late antiquity scholars have taken up. The idea of a Greek east and Latin west is a false dichotomy that fails to give proper credence to many of the other cultures and languages that formed the interplay of life around the Mediterranean. Realistically speaking, we can only talk of a Greek/Armenian/Syriac/Arabic east.
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Old May 25th, 2013, 09:02 AM   #5

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I agree that this Greek and Latin dichotomy is one that arises from elite culture, but I think that is a false and inaccurate way to representing the medieval world. First, it implies a greater continuity with Graeco-Roman civilization than is often the case. This is not to say that all of classical civilization disappeared on either side, but rather to give the period greater appreciation on its own ground rather than following the Enlightenment Romanophile reasoning that some late antiquity scholars have taken up. The idea of a Greek east and Latin west is a false dichotomy that fails to give proper credence to many of the other cultures and languages that formed the interplay of life around the Mediterranean. Realistically speaking, we can only talk of a Greek/Armenian/Syriac/Arabic east.
Agreed. On account of Greek and latin Senaotrial class, I was Generalizing, but was referring to the Imperial period, not the Medieval. (hence senatorial)

Also, you are spot on with the Greek-Latin "oversimplification" we see in lots of modern scholarship. I can tell you, that in our period of late Antiquity, you can draw the same parallels in the west. The "Latin West" was somewhat less distinct in it's social and regional cultural layering- but the same law applies. In the west of Africa and Spain, large tracts if land remained out of touch for all intents and purposes eith the rest of Romanitas. In Baetica we can still see the ghosts of non-roman populations representing themselves through different cultures within the social ladder, as demonstrated excellently by Malaca.
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Old May 25th, 2013, 09:39 AM   #6
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Many ways to divide ..


Significant parts of Europe had very limited or no greek or roman (or christian) heritage, so there is more than one division.
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Old May 25th, 2013, 10:00 AM   #7

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Agreed. On account of Greek and latin Senaotrial class, I was Generalizing, but was referring to the Imperial period, not the Medieval. (hence senatorial)

Also, you are spot on with the Greek-Latin "oversimplification" we see in lots of modern scholarship. I can tell you, that in our period of late Antiquity, you can draw the same parallels in the west. The "Latin West" was somewhat less distinct in it's social and regional cultural layering- but the same law applies. In the west of Africa and Spain, large tracts if land remained out of touch for all intents and purposes eith the rest of Romanitas. In Baetica we can still see the ghosts of non-roman populations representing themselves through different cultures within the social ladder, as demonstrated excellently by Malaca.
Thanks. I was hoping you were going to fill in on the divisions in the early medieval west, since my gaze is firmly fixed between Constantinople and Damascus, and thus I don't get much of a chance to look west very often.

I do suspect (but haven't looked into the most important recent work on the topic, a book in French by Christian Settipani) that the final death-blow to the senatorials in the Byzantine lands was less the loss of the city and moreso their complete loss of function. Caucasian aristocrats seem to have eagerly stepped into military roles in Byzantium in the seventh and eighth centuries, creating a new aristocracy that got its power from the army and was not based in Graeco-Roman culture. I would also hazard a guess that this is related to the lack of literature in classical genres from the "dark age" period; these new aristocrats were largely busy elsewhere, and on top of that there was no good story with a beginning, middle, and end to tell, since Byzantium was still fighting for its life. Throughout the entire Roman the elites had served as agents in the collection of taxes, but this seems to have become particularly stringent under the Dominate. With the collapse of the standing army in the seventh century and the subsequent economic damage, specially appointed imperial officials appear and seem to have become the IRS in the countryside, further diminishing the already limited roles of the traditional elites.

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Old May 25th, 2013, 10:11 AM   #8
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I agree that this Greek and Latin dichotomy is one that arises from elite culture, but I think that is a false and inaccurate way to representing the medieval world. First, it implies a greater continuity with Graeco-Roman civilization than is often the case. This is not to say that all of classical civilization disappeared on either side, but rather to give the period greater appreciation on its own ground rather than following the Enlightenment Romanophile reasoning that some late antiquity scholars have taken up. The idea of a Greek east and Latin west is a false dichotomy that fails to give proper credence to many of the other cultures and languages that formed the interplay of life around the Mediterranean. Realistically speaking, we can only talk of a Greek/Armenian/Syriac/Arabic east.
People in your discipline say this. People in my discipline say this. Yet this isn't ever going to really percolate throughout pop history and the public ever. This is something that I was discussing with a sociologist friend of mine recently. People are too vested, the blinkers are on too tightly. You'd have to suborn someone with a lot of popular clout and get them to almost...preach. Its one of the things that makes any outreach work an absolute nightmare btw.

I think generally the classical element in the East is heavily under-estimated though, again from ideology and then simple habit.

Last edited by World Focker; May 25th, 2013 at 10:13 AM.
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Old May 25th, 2013, 10:33 AM   #9

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People in your discipline say this. People in my discipline say this. Yet this isn't ever going to really percolate throughout pop history and the public ever. This is something that I was discussing with a sociologist friend of mine recently. People are too vested, the blinkers are on too tightly. You'd have to suborn someone with a lot of popular clout and get them to almost...preach. Its one of the things that makes any outreach work an absolute nightmare btw.

I think generally the classical element in the East is heavily under-estimated though, again from ideology and then simple habit.
I suspect the difficulty in acquiring the languages is part of the problem. Until relatively recently, there was no English textbook for learning Syriac without having first learned Hebrew. Armenian is a rare language that hardly ever seems to be taught. Finding Arabic programs is easier, but at least in my experience (I'm in a late antiquity program that is entirely taught by classicists, who despite generally having a Brownian outlook on things don't go beyond the reign of Justinian) there are few who have the classical languages and Arabic. I'm going to have to go overseas to do a D.Phil where I can learn some classical Arabic, because at least here it is not taught.

I do wonder if the classical element in the Byzantine world is de-emphasized since it seems more than a few Byzantinists are disgruntled classicists. I'm certainly amongst that crowd, but at the same time I have little trouble in seeing the 7-9th c. as a time where the classical element has reached its nadir, although this could simply be related to the source material we have.

Last edited by Kirialax; May 25th, 2013 at 10:37 AM.
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Old May 25th, 2013, 10:54 AM   #10

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Thanks. I was hoping you were going to fill in on the divisions in the early medieval west, since my gaze is firmly fixed between Constantinople and Damascus, and thus I don't get much of a chance to look west very often.

I do suspect (but haven't looked into the most important recent work on the topic, a book in French by Christian Settipani) that the final death-blow to the senatorials in the Byzantine lands was less the loss of the city and moreso their complete loss of function. Caucasian aristocrats seem to have eagerly stepped into military roles in Byzantium in the seventh and eighth centuries, creating a new aristocracy that got its power from the army and was not based in Graeco-Roman culture. I would also hazard a guess that this is related to the lack of literature in classical genres from the "dark age" period; these new aristocrats were largely busy elsewhere, and on top of that there was no good story with a beginning, middle, and end to tell, since Byzantium was still fighting for its life. Throughout the entire Roman the elites had served as agents in the collection of taxes, but this seems to have become particularly stringent under the Dominate. With the collapse of the standing army in the seventh century and the subsequent economic damage, specially appointed imperial officials appear and seem to have become the IRS in the countryside, further diminishing the already limited roles of the traditional elites.
Indeed. The case of Gaul around the same time period I believe to be somewhat a similar transformation, although Gaul of this period is not my specialty. I do want to stress the similarity, that instead of what we had going on in Iberia- IE an almost complete absorbtion of the Goths into the Senatorial Aristocracy, and assuming many aspects of their administrative and poltiical functionalities- the Frankish realm, perhaps due to holding equal weight across the Rhine, continued down the path of replacing the Senatorial elite with a new, militarized aristocracy, entirely Germanic in it's capabilities- but, ironically, Latin speaking and mostly indigenous. The process is similar to what happened in Anatolia, albeit obviously without the influence of Constantinople direct control, and the lack of the Germanic (IE like Byzantium's Armenian and Caucasian) families importing themselves; it was essentially their practical roles that were adopted. It is also, however, in the west, a continuation of the events of the 5th century- but developing opposite after the 6th century to that of Gothic hispania.

Kind of a mouthful, but the process is indeed hard to explain. It's also important that we give Frankish lands across the Rhine their bit of influence on these developments, too. Similarly to how the Armenian and Caucasian influences began to really take effect in the 7th century in Byzantium, so too did the Germanic, non-Frankish influences from beyond the Rhine take their hold as well. Previously the caste of the Franks followed the path of the Goths, but after the 6th century, their roles and assimilation into gaul were interrupted and began to show influence of Germania- as did the whole of Francia north of Provence, Septimania and Aquitaine.

Very interesting the whole tax system was in Late Antiquity. Similarly to both Byzantium, and surprisingly, Lombardy, the tax systems broke down in a very similar manner.
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