Lecture Notes
 Mediterranean Civilizations, ca. 2000 BC-AD 500

Introduction to Classical Civilizations:  Hellenic (or Greek) Civilization (ca. 1000-4th century BC); Hellenistic Civilization (4th-1st Centuries BC); Roman Civilization (753 BC-AD 476).  Major themes and emphases:  Athenian (direct) democracy, the Golden Age of Athens (5th century BC), and Hellenic Civilization; Hellenistic Civilization as a blend of the Greek and the ancient Near Eastern; Roman Civilization with its political genius that allowed it to conquer and rule for almost five centuries a vast empire centered on the Mediterranean Sea; Rome as the assimilator of the classical tradition; Rome as the cultural context in which Christianity was born, and Rome as the cultural bridge that transmitted both classical civilization and Christianity to Europe.

Classical or humanistic civilization emphasized matters concerning mankind and the making of this world into a better place; hence the classical tradition stresses rational and secular knowledge, liberty, freedom of inquiry, the nobility of human achievement, and the worth of the individual.  In pursuit of these goals, men and women of the Mediterranean world produced enduring works of art, architecture, philosophy, and literature, which are still taught in schools and universities and read for pleasure and instruction by people throughout the world.

Hellenic Greek Civilization

Map of the Greek World.

The Mycenaean Prelude, ca. 2000-1000 BC:  Earlier than 1600 BC, the Mycenaeans, an Indo-European people, settled in the Greek peninsula, especially the Peloponnesus, and mixed with the local peoples, borrowing elements of their culture (not unlike the migration of the Indo-Europeans into the Indian sub-continent).  Much of what we know about the magnificent and powerful civilization they created comes from three sources, the work of archaeologists like the legendary Heinrich Schliemann, the Iliad and the Odyssey, epic poems attributed to Homer, and the deciphering in 1952 of a language called Linear B.  By 1600BC,  the Mycenaeans had built a thriving civilization centered on cities like Mycenae, Tiryns, and Pylos; they build great palaces, buried their princes in elaborate tombs, and established colonies.

The Lion's Gate at Mycenae

Mycenaean Tomb Mask

One consequence of Mycenaean colonization and trade was the attack on Troy, which took place about 1220BC.  Although Homer tells us the war was over the abduction of Helen by the Trojans, the war probably was over control of trade routes along the coast of Asia Minor.  Troy was destroyed in the war, but Homer's Iliad and the Odyssey remain as accounts of this epic struggle.

Combat between Menelaus and Hercules.

Within a century of the Trojan War, Mycenaean civilization declined, and we can only speculate as to the causes of this decline; perhaps civil war, perhaps raids by “sea peoples”; in any event, about 1000BC, the warlike Dorians overran Mycenae, forcing the original Mycenaeans to flee, some to Attica (where the city of Athens survived), some to the coast of Asia Minor, where these peoples, later called the Ionians, would contribute much to the shaping of classical Hellenic civilization.  But, before this civilization reached its height in the 5th century BC, Greece had to survive both the Dark Ages and the Archaic Periods.

The Greek Dark Ages, ca. 1000-800 BC.

1. The influence of Geography:  the Mediterranean Sea and a mild climate; many Greeks became traders, colonists, and pirates; hence a cosmopolitan people; irregular coast and interior influenced the development of fiercely independent city states;

Map of Greece.

2. Virtually total decline of political, social, and economic life and the loss of literacy:  knowledge from the Iliad and Odyssey;

3. Character of Greek religion:  Greek religion, which was polytheistic and made up of stories or myths, served three functions:  a) it explained or solved some of the mysteries of the physical world and gave man a sense of his relation to it; b) it accounted for man's stormy passions, particularly those that caused loss of self-control; and c) it provided a means of obtaining such blessings as good fortune, long life, skill in craftsmanship, and good harvests.  The Greeks expected explanations of the human and natural world from their religion, not salvation from sin.  An immense number of Greek gods and goddesses, and the most important are the Greek Pantheon of the twelve Olympian gods, including Zeus, the chief god and the source of justice, Hera, his wife, Poseidon, his brother and the god of the seas and earthquakes; these gods behaved as mortals writ large, and each city-state worshiped its patron deity by the performance of rituals and sacrifices.  Greek religion stressed the basic values: “know thyself” and “nothing in excess” [i.e. the Golden Mean]; in short, Greek religion emphasized self-control and the avoidance of hubris, or pride.  The more emotional side of Greek religion was associated with Dionysus, a god of drink and sexual license.  Because the Greeks valued human life, they had little interest in an afterlife, conceiving of Hades as a place where a pale reflection of life on earth went on; they did see the Elysian Fields as a place of reward for the chosen of the gods and Tartarus as a place of punishment for rebellious gods.

Bust of Zeus.

The Archaic Period, ca. 800-479 BC:  Four Key Themes.

1. Greek colonization in the Mediterranean World:  Why?  trade and an outlet for expanding populations; Greek colonies founded throughout the Mediterranean World, including Spain, France, Corsica, Sardinia, Southern Italy, Sicily, North Africa, and the Black Sea; colonies allowed diffusion of Hellenic culture and culture contacts with other peoples that fostered cosmopolitanism of city-states like Athens.

2. The development of the Polis, or city-state (5 key points):  a) small, about the size of an American county; b) political, religious, economic, and cultural life centered on towns; c) citizenship was highly valued by the few who possessed it and they were obligated to participate in public affairs; d) public life was intense and competitive and helped create an atmosphere encouraging individualism and achievements in the arts, philosophy, and literature; e) citizens served in the army and the navy, especially in the Hoplite Phalanx; those who performed military service were able to demand increased political rights and spurred the evolution of city-states like Athens toward direct democracy.

The Hoplite Soldier in full armor.

Hoplites in Battle.

3. The political evolution of Athens from monarchy to direct democracy:  Monarchy (before 800 BC); Oligarchy (ca. 800 BC-594 BC); Evolution toward Direct Democracy (594-460 BC);  Why?  Pressure from the hoplites and those sold into debt slavery threatened the city; Wise individuals like Solon (594 BC), Cleisthenes, the “father of Athenian democracy” (508 BC), and Pericles (460 BC) made needed reforms.  Result:  Athens (with a population of about 300,0000, one third of whom were slaves) achieved direct democracy during the 5th century BC:  political power in the hands of the Assembly (40,000-50,000 adult male citizens meeting some 40 times a year); institutions like the Council of 500 and the Council of 50 governed when the Assembly was not in session; a court system; executive power in the hands of 9 Archons elected by the Assembly for a single term; military power in the hands of 10 elected Strategoi (= generals); practice of ostracism (exile by a majority vote of the Assembly).  In contrast, Sparta developed into a culturally backward polis dominated by a self-denying military oligarchy.

4. The Persian Wars (490-479 BC):  Challenge to Greek civilization from the Persians; Darius in 490 BC and Xerxes in 480-479 BC; key battles:  Marathon (490 BC); Thermopylae (480 BC); and Salamis (479 BC).  Results of Greek victory:  a) Persian culture (a blend of ancient eastern civilizations going back to the Sumerians) blocked from Europe; b) the Greeks, especially the Athenians, gained great confidence in the superiority of their civilization; this confidence, in part, resulted in the Golden Age of Athens, a brief interlude between the end of the Persian Wars in 479 BC and the outbreak of the Peloponnesian in 431 BC.

Map of the Persian Wars.

The Golden Age of Athens (479-431 BC)

1. Periclean Athens as a model for the Mediterranean World:  Pericles and the Athenians aspired to make Athens the most beautiful and powerful city-state in the Mediterranean world, a city that would be a center for culture and a model for all to imitate.  They succeeded so well that Periclean Athens, Athens of the Golden Age, has been admired and imitated ever since.  Nevertheless, a glance at the dates for the Golden Age, a brief flourishing in the forty-eight years between the end of the Persian Wars and the beginning of the Peloponnesian War reminds us that Athenian pride, the very hubris they so often warned against, helped bring about their downfall.

2. The Parthenon as a symbol of the Golden Mean:  During the Golden Age, all of the arts, from architecture, vase painting, and sculpture to philosophy, drama, and poetry, were nourished, and each of these art forms profited from interaction with other art forms.  The Parthenon, built by Ictinus and Kallicrates on the Acropolis between 477 and 438BC to house the cult-statue of Athena by Phidias, patron goddess of Athens, combines architecture and sculpture to form a whole that symbolizes the Golden Mean, the Greek search for balance, harmony, and order.  Although not as perfectly as the Parthenon, other Greek buildings aspired to the same goal, and all used similar techniques of construction, especially the post and lintel system, although the types of columns differed: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian.

The Acropolis Today

Parthenon Reconstruction Reconstructed View of the Acropolis and the Parthenon

Parthenon Cross Section Cross Section of the Parthenon

OrdersThe Greek Classical Orders.

3. Greek sculpture (types, not individuals; ethical and ennoble man; and idealized):  Just as buildings like the Parthenon epitomized Greek culture, so did the sculpture of Praxiteles or statues like the Kritios Boy; these statues are universal, that is they have little or no personality and they represent types, not individual human beings; these statues are ethical in that they serve to ennoble man and to emphasize that true nobility consists of the beautiful and the good, the rational and the avoidance of excess, again the Golden Mean; and, third, these statues are idealistic, they depict not nature or reality but perfection of form.  And, as we will see when we discuss Greek thought, the Athenians of the Golden Age also excelled in philosophy (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) and literature, especially the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides; many of the same characteristics present.

The Kritios Boy.

The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) and its aftermath to the Macedonian Conquest (404-338 BC):  Athens and Sparta fought a great civil war and when it was over, Athens was defeated and turned into a subject state of Sparta; the defeat ruined the Athenian economy, destroyed its democracy, decimated its population, and brought on a moral decline.  Between 404 and 338, various Greek city-states struggled for domination.  These wars weakened the Greeks and allowed their warlike neighbors, the Macedonians of first Philip and then Alexander the Great, to conquer Greece.  The political independence of the Greeks ended, but their culture was absorbed by the Macedonians and carried across the ancient Near East by Alexander's armies.  Resulting from the intermixing of Greek and ancient Near Eastern cultures was a new synthesis, the Hellenistic.

Hellenic Culture and Thought, 5th-4th centuries BC.

Greek Philosophy:  The Greeks did not invent philosophy, but they carried it to a higher level than any previous people.  In doing so, they raised and tried to answer questions about the nature of the physical universe and the nature of man, about the nature of truth and beauty, and about the meaning and purpose of life.  Much of philosophical thought since the 5th and 4th centuries BC has been a debate over the questions they raised.

1. The Pre-Socratics (mid-5th century BC):  Raised scientific and metaphysical questions; tried to answer them using rational modes of thought rather than mythological or religious ones.

2. The Sophists (mid-5th century BC):  The Greek focus on scientific and metaphysical questions shifted about 450BC, when an intellectual revolution occurred in Greece, primarily in Athens because of its system of direct democracy, its stress on individualism, and its need for solutions to social and political problems relating to the individual and society.  First came the Sophists, who proclaimed: “Man is the measure of all things” (Relativism).  What this phrase meant was that all things—goodness, truth, beauty, and justice, for example—are relative to the needs and interests of man, that there are no eternal truths, no eternal standards of right and wrong.  This radical skepticism taught, in other words, that only partial truths exists, truths that are valid only for a given time and place.  This radical relativism occasioned a reaction from thinkers who wondered:  how can any state or society be maintained if there is no Truth and if goodness, beauty, and justice are relative?

3. Socrates (dialectical method), Plato (idealist), and Aristotle (empiricist):  Common elements:  A) Real and absolute standards exist; B) Such real and absolute standards provide the moral foundation for the governance of states and the regulation of individual lives; C) Man, using his powers of rational inquiry, can understand what these standards are; D) Man, once he understands the nature of real and absolute standards, will live in accordance with them.

Greek Literature.

1. The epic: the Iliad and the Odyssey.

2. Greek tragedy (characteristics):  Aeschylus (Oresteia, themes of guilt and punishment), Sophocles Oedipus and Antigone), and Euripides.  A) Little or no action on the stage; plot is familiar to the audience; little character development; B) Tragedy (like Greek sculpture) deals with types (i.e. Oedipus); C) common themes are the conflicts between individuals and the laws of the universe; D) the fall of the hero usually results from a flaw and an offense that disrupted the moral order of the universe; and E) the purpose of the plays was to depict human suffering and to portray human actions so as to purge the emotions of the audience by representing the triumph of justice.

The Theater in Athens.

3. Greek comedy.  Lysistrata by Aristophanes.

4. Greek history writing:  Herodotus (ca. 484-ca. 420 BC): the “father of history” and author of a history of the Persian Wars; he sought to understand the nature of human behavior and draw lessons for the present from the study of the past.  Thucydides (ca. 460-ca. 400 BC): the “founder of scientific history” and author of a history of the Peloponnesian War; he wrote to provide lessons about human behavior in politics for future statesmen and generals.

Hellenic (classical culture):  adopted and adapted by the Macedonians; a key element in Hellenistic civilization; adopted and adapted by the Romans; and the cultural context for the birth of Christianity.

Hellenistic Civilization and Thought, 4th-1st Centuries BC

Introduction:  Hellenistic Civilization refers to the sophisticated civilization that developed in the territory conquered by Alexander the Great (4th century BC).  It was a blend of Greek culture with the old oriental cultures of Egypt and the Near East; from this interaction emerged a cultural synthesis that not only inspired major achievements in the arts, in science, and in philosophy but also provided the intellectual and social context in which Christianity was born.  The unifying language for this civilization was Greek.

Alexander the Great's Empire.

Macedonia, Philip II (359-336 BC), and Alexander the Great (356-323 BC)

A Man who changed the course of history
His conquests open a new era in human history and in the history of classical civilization
The city-state with its unique civilization was replaced by immense monarchies
Greek culture spread east and blended with Oriental cultures, transforming both

Alexander's campaigns (336-323 BC), from the Greek peninsula to the Indus River.
Alexander's failure to consolidate the empire he conquered
The tripartite division of Alexander's empire: the Ptolemaic, the Seleucid, and the Antigonad

Hellenistic WorldMap of the Hellenistic World after the Death of Alexander the Great.

Hellenistic Culture:  The creation of great empires during the Hellenistic period meant a loss of freedom for the citizens of the polis and led to its decline as a political and cultural center.  As a consequence, the Greeks and the other inhabitants of the cities turned their attention from political and public matters and focused on the personal and the individual in religion, philosophy, and the arts.

Model of the Upper City at Pergamon.

Hellenistic Religions:  Worship of monarchs and emperors as gods or demi-gods; the development of personal of mystery religions, such as the worship of Isis or the Great Mother Goddess; mystery religions featured the attainment of personal salvation, often through the mystical union of the worshiper and the god, and elaborate rituals; they offered no ethical teachings; intellectuals turned to philosophy.

Hellenistic Art:  It built upon its Greek heritage (values of the Golden Mean and idealism) and transformed it: Hellenistic art and architecture favored the larger-than-life (the Pergamon Altarpiece or the Mausoleum of King Mausolus); exaggerated realism (The Boxer or The Laocöon); and the emotional and melodramatic.

The Altar of Zeus from Pergamon (now in Berlin).

The Laocoon.

Hellenistic Literature:  Less important than that of Periclean Athens; characterized by Polybius (ca. 200-120 BC), author of a history of the rise of Rome, and comedies by Menander (4th century BC) and others; important was the great Library of Alexandria, with its 500,000 volumes and scrolls.

Hellenistic Science:  An important field of study; textbook summaries by Galen (medicine) and Ptolemy (the Almagest, geocentric cosmology)

The Cosmos According to Ptolemy.

dominated European scientific thinking until the Renaissance; also important were Euclid, Archimedes (the lever and pi), Hero of Alexander (the steam engine),

Steam Engline by Hero of Alexander.

and Eratosthenes (circumference of the earth at 24,662 miles).

Hellenistic Philosophy:  Cynicism; Skepticism; Epicureanism (materialism; denial of divine intervention; human happiness is the highest good; intellectual pleasure superior to the physical); Stoicism (universe is an organic whole governed by universal Reason; man is rational and can live in harmony with the universe, practicing courage, justice, temperance; brotherhood of man; natural moral law as a source of law); and the Eclecticism.

Conclusion:  The Hellenistic world is conquered by the Romans, who absorb both Hellenic and Hellenistic culture and transmit it to the lands they conquer.  The Romans = a historical bridge.

Roman Civilization, 753 BC-AD 476

Major Themes of Roman History:  1) Create a Republic and achieve domination over Italy south of the Po River by the early fourth century BC; 2) Achieve domination over the Mediterranean world and Europe to the Rhine and Danube Rivers by AD 100; 3) Created institutions and a legal system (code law) that allowed Rome to govern this empire effectively; 4) Crisis of the Third Century almost brought about the collapse of Rome; 5) Rome recovered and was converted to Christianity; 6) Explaining the fall of Rome in 476 has interested thinkers every since.

The Roman Empire.

Chronology:  Roman Republic and Empire

1.  Roman Civilization from its origins to the end of the Republic, 753 BC-27 BC.

Early Italy and the Roman Monarchy, 753-509 BC.
The Roman Republic, 509-27 BC
The Creation of the Republic and the Conquest of Italy, 509-264 BC
The Punic Wars (with Carthage) and the Overseas Expansion of Rome, 264-146 BC
The Crisis of the Late Republic, 133-27 BC.
2.  Roman Civilization from the Creation of the Empire to its Fall, 27 BC-AD 476.
The Principate (Early Empire), the Pax Romana, and the Five Good Emperors, 27 BC-AD 180.
The Crisis of the Third Century, AD 180-284.
Late Antiquity, AD 284-610.
Key Themes of Roman History.

1.  The Creation of a Republic and a System of Government for Captured Lands within Italy.  Based on an unwritten constitution and controlled by the Patrician elite; executive power rested with two consuls elected from the Patricians and granted their authority (the imperium) by the Senate; the Senate (300 Patricians; later 600) controlled finances and foreign affairs; the Assembly had very limited power.  Republican government was flexible, and over time the Plebeian class gained a measure of political, legal, and social equality, including the creation of the office of Tribune (had a veto to protect the Plebeians), the Law of the 12 Tablets (450 BC), and the opening of the office of consul to the Plebeians.  Captured lands allowed independence and autonomy in exchange for loyalty; rebels received swift and brutal punishment.

Curia The Roman Curia (where the Senate met).

CuriaThe Interior of the Roman Curia.

2.  The Overseas Expansion of Rome.  Between 264 and 146 BC, Rome fought the three Punic Wars with Carthage; the high point for the Carthagians was the campaign of Hannibal during the second war; by the end of the Punic Wars, Rome dominated the Mediterranean world.  Rome had to develop a system of government for the new territories; also Roman civilization transformed by contact with Hellenic and Hellenistic culture.

The Punic Wars (264-146 BC)

3.  The Crisis of the Late Republic, 146-27 BC.  Roman republican government proved incapable of transforming itself into a government for an empire; the result was a struggle for power between the Patrician and Plebeian classes.  Powerful generals with private armies emerged and fought openly for power.  one of the most successful was Julius Caesar (49-44BC), who "crossed the Rubicon" and became dictator in 49 BC.  Within five years, he was dead.  The civil wars went on until Octavian defeated the last of his rivals, Mark Antony (and Cleopatra) at Actium in 31 BC.

Bust of Julius Caesar.

4.  The Creation of the Empire.  Octavian (after 27 BC: Augustus): restored peace, provided fair, orderly, and efficient government, and peace within Rome and its territories; his government was a monarchy with a republican façade;

The Emperor Augustus.

the army was professionalized (20 year enlistment; good pay and pensions).

A typical Roman Centurion.

A Roman Legionaire.

Roman LegionA Roman Legion in Formation.

Four emperors after Augustus were members of his family (the Julians); none were great, and some, like Caligula, were so bad that they were assassinated.  Evident was a key problem:  succession.  Reign of the Five Good Emperors (AD 96-180): a) temporarily solved the succession problem; b) the Senate became an effective legislative and administrative body; c) an imperial bureaucracy administered the empire; d) Roman culture spread throughout the empire; and e) the empire ceased expanding and began building defenses (Hadrian's Wall in Britain).

Map of the Roman Empire in the 1st Century AD.

Hadrian's Wall (boundry of the Roman Empire in Britain).

5.  Roman Civilization.

Model of Imperial Rome.

Law:  an early codification was the Law of the Twelve Tablets (c. 450 BC); supplemented over the centuries by edicts and judicial decisions; also a "law of the peoples" for those conquered; two systems combined in AD 212; notable codifications: Theodosian Code (AD 438) and the Justinian Code (6th century).

Science and Engineering:  favored compilations of encyclopedias, like the Pliny the Elder's Natural Science, over original research.  Engineering:  roads, bridges, aqueducts like the Pont du Gard (France), which brought millions of gallons of fresh water into Roman cities.

The Pont du Gard (France).

  The Romans also excelled at urban planning.

Model of a Roman Military Camp.

Architecture:  Much borrowed from the Greeks, i.e. form of the temple; excelled in the use of concrete, the arch, the vault, and the dome; important buildings:  the basilica, the Colosseum (sat 50,000), the Pantheon (a domed temple to all the gods), public baths and theaters, triumphal arches and columns, such as Trajan's Column.  The Roman style emphasized: grandeur, magnificence, size, and solidity.

The Colosseum.

The Exterior of the Pantheon.
The Interior of the Pantheon.

Trajan's Column.

Literature:  not as profound as Greek literature; important figures include Cicero (106-43 BC), who won fame as an orator and writer about rhetoric, and Virgil (70-19 BC), author of the Aeneid, an epic which recounts the founding of Rome and whose hero embodies the traditional Roman virtues (duty, responsibility, serious purpose, and patriotism).

6.  The Crisis of the Third Century, AD 180-284.  Characterized by succession crises; civil war (between 235-284, there were 22 emperors, and all but two were murdered); economic hardship, including declining production, inflation, and high taxes; threats on Rome's frontiers from the Goths and others; and the growing popularity and spread of Christianity.

7.  The World of Late Antiquity (AD 284-610).  The slow, almost unnoticeable transition from the classical civilization of Rome to the emergence of separate barbarian kingdoms following the collapse of the Roman Empire.  It thus includes the transformation of the Roman Empire by the emperors Diocletian and Constantine,

The Palace of Diocletian at Split (Croatia).

the shift in the governing center of the Empire east to cities like Constantinople, the legalization and triumph of Christianity (Emperor Constantine and the Edict of Milan, AD 313),

Bust of the Emperor Constantine.

the barbarian invasions by Visigoths, the Vandals, the Ostrogoths (Theodoric the Great and Ravenna),

the "fall of Rome"--traditionally assigned the date of AD 476--and the replacement of the political unity imposed by the Roman Empire with separate and often warring Germanic kingdoms like the Franks.  From the ambitions of these latter kingdoms emerged the nations of modern Western Europe.  Also: urban decline, decline of government and culture.  Meanwhile, Christianity emerges as a unifying and civilizing force.

The Place of Theodoric the Ostrogoth (from S. Apollinare nuovo, Ravenna).

The Tomb of Theodoric the Ostrogoth (Ravenna).

8.  Decline of the Roman Empire.  Dynastic succession problems; bureaucratic corruption; inequitable economic burdens; regional, racial, or ethnic tensions; decline of morale and martial spirit; moral decline; escapism and other worldly religions (Christianity); and external enemies.  Hence Gibbon rightly asks:  how did is survive for so long:  Rome expanded and conquests provided wealth for new conquests; expansion went on until there were not enough Romans to govern those conquered; once expansion stopped, so did the influx of wealth; without it, internal prosperity and defenses could not be maintained; hence the Germanic barbarians triumph and Rome "fell" in AD 476.

The Rise and Triumph of Christianity, 1st-6th Centuries AD

The Historical Context at the Time of the Birth of Jesus:  Roman rule since 64 BC; Jews had considerable religious and political freedom; Culturally and intellectually indebted to Hellenistic civilization; Palestine a hotbed of religious activity and contenders were: the High Priests; the Sadducees; the Pharisees; the Essenes; and the Zealots.

Palestine at the Time of Christ.

The Life and Teachings of Jesus:  Scanty knowledge comes from the synoptic gospels (Mark, ca. AD 70; Matthew, ca. AD 90; and Luke, ca. AD 80-90) and John (AD 85-150 or later).  Born in Bethlehem, c. 4 BC; lived in obscurity for 30 years, perhaps working as a carpenter; baptized at 30 by John the Baptist and proclaimed the Messiah; taught in the company of the 12 disciples for three years; His message:  strict monotheism; repentance from sin; the brotherhood of man; the Golden Rule; he identified with the poor, the sick, and with outcasts like tax collectors and prostitutes; opposed the religious ceremonialism of the Pharisees; and prophesied the imminent coming of the Last Judgment and the Kingdom of Heaven; tried and convicted in a Jewish court and turned over to the Romans for execution in AD 29 or 30.

The Baptism of Christ (Baptistry, Ravenna).

Christ before Pilate (S. Apollinare nuovo, Ravenna).

Christianity Following the Crucifixion:  Followers of Jesus, believing that he was the Son of God and had risen from the dead, set out to convert the Roman Empire; in the process, they created a theology (=systematic body of religious belief) and broadened the appeal of Christianity by proclaiming it a universal religion, not just a Jewish religion; key role played by the convert Paul, who-as author of the epistles [letters] -may be called the founder of Christian theology; many converts, especially among the urban population of the eastern Empire; Paul beheaded in Rome during one of Nero's persecutions.

The Apostle Paul (Early Christian Mosaic).

The World of the Apostle Paul.

Christianity after Paul:  Church develops as an institution; the sacraments (baptism and the Eucharist); a separate priesthood to administer the sacraments; the organization of a church hierarchy modeled on the government of the Roman Empire, especially the institution of the office of bishop; over time, the Bishop of Rome (capital of the Rome Empire, site of the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, and doctrine of Apostolic Succession) recognized as head of the church, or Pope.  This organization allowed the Church to survive the collapse of Rome and helped it to convert the barbarian Germans.

Portrait of Saint Peter (Icon).

Christianity in the Roman Age of Crisis:  Third Century in Rome brought anxiety, political chaos, economic crisis, and disease.  Christianity offered Romans facing a hard life in this world the promise of salvation and the hope of an eternal afterlife.  But, Christianity offered more; hence what accounts for its success: 1) The Unity of the Roman world and the Pax Romana (Paul and others could travel and communicate with the early churches); 2) it is a syncretic religion; 3) it was young and dynamic; 4) it had a moral code; it claimed to explain the existence of sin and evil; and it was exclusive and absolute; 5) it had mystical and sacred rites; 6) it appealed to the poor and the dispossessed; 7) it had a sacred text (OT and NT) and a history; and 8) it had an efficient hierarchical organization.

The Transformation of Christianity after its Legalization in AD 313 (Edict of Milan issued by Constantine); by 394, it was the Roman state religion.  But growth and success transformed Christianity: 1) the building and decoration of public churches (Old Saint Peter's [AD 325] in Rome a prototype);

The Exterior of S. Apollinaire in Classe (Ravenna).

The Interior of S. Apollinaire in Classe (Ravenna).

2) doctrinal disputes (Arian Controversy and the Nicene Creed);

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

3) canon of scripture (St. Jerome's Vulgate, or Latin translation of the Bible); 4) monasticism and the Rule of Saint Benedict.  The Church sought to require uniformity of belief and obedience to Church authorities (the Pope, bishops, and priests).

Vulgate Manuscript from the Vulgate.

Saint Benedict as a Scribe.

The Abbey of Monte Cassino (Italy).

Early Christian Thought (4th-6th centuries): Work of the Church Fathers (early Christian intellectuals); two main themes: 1) preserve but rethink the classical heritage, which emphasized rationality and man living in this world; 2) this world actually transitory, a testing place for the faithful.  Church Fathers include: St Jerome (340?-420); St Ambrose (340?-397); St. Augustine (354-430); and St Gregory the Great (540-604).  Most notable was St. Augustine, a convert and author of the Confessions and the City of God, the latter a defense of Christianity against charges that it was responsible for the barbarian Sack of Rome in AD 410.

Text@Robert W. Brown

This Page is Maintained by Robert W. Brown

Last Update: 09.II.2009

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