Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Integrated History of the Ancient Mediterranean - A lecture series by Robert Garland (Part Four).

First of all, sorry for the lack of updates. I'm just terribly busy. I suppose that's a familiar story for most people around the holidays.

Nevertheless, I've finished Garland's lecture series and this post is about the final section (lectures 30-36) which cover the growth of Christianity and how the Roman Empire dealt with both it and Judaism.

In many respects the final section chronicles the dissolution of the integrated culture Garland is at pains to emphasise. Rome becomes less and less the focal point of the Empire, and eventually the capital is moved East to Constantinople and the Empire eventually splits into a Latin speaking West and a Greek speaking East.

The greatest strength of this chunk of lectures is that Garland illustrates perfectly the cultural milieu that Christianity originated out of - the complexity of the relationship between the monotheistic Jews/Christians and the polytheistic Romans; the deep relationship early Christianity had with Greek philosophy and much more.

In some respects, then, Christianity is the ultimate synthesis of Greek and Roman culture and is essentially the poster boy for Garland's series of lectures. Christianity took the intellectual ideas of the Greeks (their great strength) and was propagated under the rule of the Roman Emperors (ruling, after all, was the Roman's job).

The final lectures cover the "fall" of the Roman Empire, but Garland, sensibly I think, stresses that "fall" is the wrong word and that Gibbon's famous work "Decline and Fall" speaks more to his particular ideas than what actually happened. Garland urges us to consider it much more of a "change and upheaval" and a gradual process.

Nevertheless, the Roman Empire, as it existed in the reign of Augustus and his successors, did cease to exist and the cultural legacy of Rome would move eastwards (to the Greek speaking world, somewhat ironically) and endure for another millennia.

I was rather sad as the lectures finished. I think they're really rather superb. Garland argues consistently and eloquently for an understanding of an integrated culture and he chronicles how it arose, flourished and how it all panned out over the 36 lectures - no mean feat. It's an interesting angle to take and I think it's thoroughly worthwhile.

Studying either Greece or Rome in isolation misses something essential about both cultures and Garland has remedied that in these lectures. For providing a different perspective, I've found it invaluable. I recommend them heartily!

On an unrelated note, the Saturnalia is coming up (a forerunner of Christmas?) and so Merry Saturnalia to all!

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