Paul Halsall

Introduction to the Medieval World

Class 2: Christianity and the Parting of the Ways: Invasions, Constantinople, Christianity

Assigned Reading:


I. Introduction A. The question today then, in broad terms is what was the classical world and why did it collapse. Why didn't a Mediterranean civ. continue, why did it divide in three parts. B. We must be careful, about what we mean by collapse of the Roman Empire - Influence of Gibbon - Byzantium continued, and even in the West there were several crises before its demise. II The roots of Western History? A. Near Eastern Cultures Egypt - c. 4000 BC Longest continuous civilization. Architecture, Influence on Jews. Mesopotamia [IRAQ] - also c. 4000 BC Sumeria, Babylonia, Assyria -Writing -Numbers - use of base 12 in time -Astronomy and Astrology B. Jews The Jews are the only ancient people still around. One does not meet Hittites or Goths in the Street, but the Jews are still here. They absorbed a lot from Egypt and Mesopotamia - e.g. the creation story. Perhaps legal ideas. But one massive original contribution:- Monotheism - A belief in one caring God. Also a belief in History - that we are going somewhere, in contrast to more cyclic views in the East. Jews wrote the Bible - the most read book in the world - at least 3000 years old. One of chief sources of western culture. C. The Classical World - Greece The other major source of Western ideas. Ideas are more important than the details of its history. They survive in literature and art. From around 750 BC. Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey The ideas of an Ordered COSMOS - vital in western ideas about science, reason and God. Invention of writing - for everyone not just the clergy. Thales of Miletus - for first time asked what the world was made of - water - Science. Athens - the people, democracy, natural art. c. 500-300 BC Socrates: People as morally autonomous. Plato - asked most of the philosophical questions - how do we know what we know. Idea of the Soul Aristotle - introduces observation into science. "Invents" logic Alexander the Great. - c. 300 BC. Conquers the whole Eastern Mediterranean. Greek ideas and Greek language dominate the whole area. Hellenism. [Note The Greeks did not know about much the Jews, but the Jews knew about the Greeks.] All discussion so far has been about the Eastern Mediterranean, away from what we now call the West, or even Europe. D. Classical World - Rome Always a Western City. From around 300 it began to grow in political importance. Within Three Hundred Years it had unified the whole Med. into one state. Most spoke either Latin or Greek. Intellectually Rome was dominated by Greece, But its genius was in statecraft and law. - Roman Law. Literature Cicero - created Latin philosophical terminology Seneca - stoic playwright Ovid - love poet Virgil - the Aeneid. . Art Greek copies - marble from bronze. Architecture . Philosophy Platonism - Forms Aristotelianism Epicureans Stoics E. The Civic Basis of Classical Civilization Size of Roman Empire - 3000 miles - much bigger than in modern world. Number of people - c. 50 Million [pop of mod. England, or NY,NJ,CT, RI,MASS] - a lot of empty space. Number of bureaucrats - c. 1000 So civilization was spread very thinly - based on cities. Cities effectively ruled the area around them. Origin of word `civilization' - civis II. The Unity of the Late Antique World A. Unity of the classical world, centered around the Mediterranean comprising several ancient civilizations, e.g. Egypt, but since the time of Alexander the Great dominated by Greek culture, and from the mid second century BC by the political might of Rome. An impressive civilization. B. The Pax Romana from c. 30AD to c. 230AD. Period of Peace. [Mention origins of dating system] [need for periodization] Gibbon and the Antonnines The Antonnines - humanity' happiest time? Gibbon Hollister - God help us all, But Gibbon had a point. III. The Third Century Collapse A. From Republic to Empire Julius Caesar Augustus New government under old forms. B. Third Century Difficulties 1. Central Admin. - Rome always governed empire on basis of its old city government. As it got bigger Army becomes more important. In third century the system collapses -235-285 - 19 emperors. all but one die violently 2. External Attacks Sassanids in Persian from 224 AD Germans on European Frontiers. IV. The Military Revolution A. 260 - New Governing Class Merit based. Open Old Roman forms abolished Adoption of Eastern ideas of the Emperor Emperor Worship idea of Autocracy "the prince can do no wrong" "the word of the prince is law" B. Diocletian 285-305 Spalato Dividing the Empire - four emperors Augustuses and Caesars Fixing the economy - the Edict. Maintained by Constantine. V. Constantine and Christianity A. Constantine - 306-337. Fought lots of Battles. B. Milvian Bridge - The Labarum 312 [cf. Apollo] Edict of Toleration 313 - Christianity. Christianity about 25% of pop. Did C. Adopt as a new glue. Only baptized on his death bed. Will look at this more - but lets go on for the moment with political events. C. Constantinople 324AD D. For another century or so there was a Roman revival, mainly in the East, but also in the West. But it did not last. Final Split in 395 btw East and West. 410, Rome sacked, 476 last Western emperor. deposed. Fundamental weaknesses in Rome. VI. Why Rome Fell? A. Many reasons given for collapse of Roman Empire Orgies - immorality - no Too much lead - no? Homosexuality - no Climatic change - poss. Christianity - complicated effect. Not monocausal - but basic weaknesses in the economy must be seen as important. B. The Roman Economy 1. Classes - very small upper class. Roman and regional. Bias against work - in Greek way of thinking. Urban proletariats - Rome, Antioch, Alexandria. But minor as a whole Most people worked on the land, as coloni or slaves. West rich as long as it was expanding - producing more slaves. Once it stopped expanding it had little commerce. few cities. Vast areas of wilderness with oases of cultivation. Little incentive to produce for slaves, or innovate in work. Archimedes - military innovation, not economic. 2. The Civic Basis of Classical Civilization Size of Roman Empire - 3000 miles - much bigger than in modern world. Number of people - c. 50 Million [pop of mod. England, or NY,NJ,CT, RI,MASS] - a lot of empty space. Number of bureaucrats - c. 1000 So civilization was spread very thinly - based on cities. Cities effectively ruled the area around them. Origin of word `civilization' - civis 3. The New Government and Taxes Was Military - expensive - spent a lot of money on the army. Needed taxation to support. Little plunder as rich areas were mostly in Roman Empire. Military grows from 400,000 to 600,000 But, especially in the West, less and less wealth. 4. Tax farm system The curiales retire from the towns, to their country villas. The cities either collapse or come under the sway of the Church. When Germans attack again in the fifth century, the Roman Empire in the West is not in good shape to resist. So they take over, at first as a new governing class, But they prove unable, for a variety of reasons to maintain classical civ. after c. 600. We will look into the reasons why in a later class. 5. But in the meantime the Roman Empire has undergone a fundamental religious transformation. Which will effect the part that survives in the East, and lead to long term effects on the new culture that will arise in the West. VII. Christianity A. Paganism Chthonic religion Olympian religion Household Religion Civic religion Ritual religion - pontifex maximus B. Philosophy Provided intellectual with life pattern. 1. Epicureans Stoics Lack of Transcendence. 2. Aristotelianism - not that important in antiquity 3. Neoplatonism - Plotinus. Revived paganism. C. New Mood in Religion - Transcendence and Salvation Peter Brown - from about 170 AD. Need for individual religion. Need for salvation. Isis cult Great Mother - emasculation (also in Christianity. Mithraism D. Demons - everywhere. E. Jews - sophisticated religion. Israelite Religion - tribal God YHWH Temple religion - Sadducees Rabbinic religion - Pharisees They absorbed a lot from Egypt and Mesopotamia - e.g. the creation story. Perhaps legal ideas. But one massive original contribution. Monotheism - A belief in one caring God. Also a belief in History - that we are going somewhere, in contrast to more cyclic views in the East. Jews wrote the Bible - the most read book in the world - at least 3000 years old. One of chief sources of western culture. F. Jesus A pharisaic Jew. [give story of Hillel - what is the law?] Life - New Testament. Works Did he intend to found a church? Death and Resurrection G. St. Paul Greek Speaking Jew. High Christology - refer office book. Sin Atonement. Missions - Use map. H. Organization of the Church St. James and Jerusalem. St. Peter and Antioch, And Rome Variety of Patterns Bishops Presbyters Deacons The Penatarchy - Major Cities dominate. Not official until Nicea. Cf. Hollister. I. Why was Christianity So Successful? Problems - Not Roman, Jewish, Slave religion. Advantages Revealed book Historical concreteness Belief in the end of the world Simple initiation rite - Baptism Urge to mission Christ as enemy of Demons, and as doctor Looked after its members. J. Persecutions - The Blood of the Martyrs Nero c. 67 Decius c. 250 Catacombs in Rome - Origin of Christian Iconography Peace 261-303 - Growth of the Church. Diocletian 303 Constantine K. Egypt, Anatolia and Rome L. Vita Perfectiva Importance of Asceticism. Early Syrian Christianity Monasticism. Sometimes said to begin after persecutions, but St. Anthony goes to Desert in 269 Cenobitic and eremetical VIII. Development of Christianity A. Need for Change Heresy Problems in formulations of Trinity and Christology No problem, little doctrine, e.g. on Baptism B. Until it was legal main job was to survive, but after it became legal - the problem arose. Christianity changes from a sect (challenging the world. to a church (accommodating to the world. C. The Fathers Explain concept. Origen Athanasius vs. Arius Ambrose 340-97 - Independence of the Church, vs. Theodosius II after he attacked Thessalonica. Jerome 340-420 - Vulgate Augustine 354-430 - City of God, and Predestination Not cyclic history. History as an end. D. Donatism Response to last persecution. in North Africa E. Arianism Egypt - firstborn, therefore not God Ulfilas and the Goths F. Councils Sardica Nicea 325 G. Monophysitism Chalcedon In Byzantine Section H. Church has 200 Years to infiltrate Roman Life Julian the Apostate `Vicisti. Galeleo' - a myth - novel by Gore Vidal Church takes over the towns - it provides a new community. IX. Invasions Persia - Sassanid Germans - Goths Tacitus - Germania 98 Ad German Law - particular vs. Roman Law - principles e.g.. Wergilds Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Suevi, Franks Migrations - Huns ( at Rome vs. Leo I. Alimenta Feodorati Adrianople 378 Odovacar - 478 Theodoric - 495-536 X. Discussion Topics A. Why Rome Fell? B. Early Christianity Historical Origins? Did it go wrong with Constantine? C. Asceticism D. Persistence of Idea of Rome

Return to Introduction to the Medieval World main page


© Paul Halsall, 1996.

This file is not copy-permitted.