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The Greco-Roman world, Greco-Roman culture, or the term Greco-Roman (spelled Graeco-Roman in the UK and Commonwealth countries), when used as an adjective, as understood by modern scholars and writers, refers to those geographical regions and countries who culturally (and so historically) were directly, protractedly and intimately influenced by the language, culture, government and religion of the ancient Greeks and Romans. In exact terms the area refers to the "Mediterranean world", the extensive tracts of land centered on the Mediterraneanmarker and Black Seamarker basins, the "swimming-pool and spa" of the Greeks and Romans, i.e. one wherein their cultural perceptions, ideas and sensitivities were dominant.

Exact definition and scope of term

As mentioned, the term Greco-Roman world describes those regions who were for many generations subjected to the government of the Greeks and then the Romans and thus accepted or at length were forced to embrace them as their masters and teachers. This process was aided by the seemingly universal adoption of Greek as the language of intellectual culture and at least Eastern commerce, and of Latin as the tongue for public management and forensic advocacy, especially in the West (from the perspective of the Mediterranean Sea). Though these languages never became the native idioms of the rural peasants, the great majority of the population, they were the languages of the urbanites and at the very least intelligible, often as corrupt or multifarious dialects, to those who lived outside of the Macedonian settlements and the Roman colonies. Certainly, all men of note and accomplishment, whatever their ethnic extractions, spoke and wrote in Greek and Latin. Thus, the celebrated Roman jurist and Imperial chancellor Ulpian was Phoenician, the Greco-Egyptian mathematician and geographer Claudius Ptolemy was a Roman citizen and the famous Christian expounders John Chrysostom and Augustine were pure Syrian and Berber respectively. The eminent and learned Jewish historian Josephus Flavius was a Jew by religion, wrote and spoke in Greek and was a Roman citizen.Properly speaking, the term "Greco-Roman World" signifies the entire realm from the Atlas Mountains to the Caucasus, from northernmost Britain to the Hejaz, from the Atlantic coastmarker of Iberiamarker to the Upper Tigris River and from the point at which the Rhinemarker enters the North Seamarker to the northern Sudanmarker. The Black Sea basin, particularly the renowned country of Dacia or Romaniamarker, the Tauric Chersonesus or the Crimeamarker, and the Caucasic kingdoms which straddle both the Black and Caspian Seasmarker are deemed to comprehend this definition as well. As the Greek Kingdoms of Western Asia successively fell before the reputedly invincible arms of Rome, and then were gradually incorporated into the universal empire of the Caesars, the diffusion of Greek political and social culture and that of Roman "law and liberty" converted these areas into parts of the Greco-Roman world.

Cores of the Greco-Roman world

Based on the above definition, it can be confidently asserted that the "cores" of the Greco-Roman world were Italymarker, Greecemarker, Asia Minormarker, Syriamarker, Egyptmarker and Africa Proper (Tunisiamarker and Libyamarker). Occupying the periphery of this world were "Roman Germany" (the Alpine countries and the so-called Agri Decumates, the territory between the Mainmarker, the Rhine and the Danube), Illyria and Pannonia (the former Yugoslavia and Hungarymarker), Moesia (roughly corresponds to modern Bulgariamarker), Dacia (roughly corresponds to modern Romania), Nubia (roughly corresponds to modern northern Sudanmarker), Mauretania (modern Moroccomarker and western Algeriamarker), Arabia Petraea (the Hejaz and Jordanmarker, with modern Egypt's Sinai Peninsulamarker), Mesopotamia (northern Iraqmarker and Syria beyond the Euphrates), the Tauric Chersonesus (modern Crimeamarker in the Ukrainemarker), Armenia and the suppliant kingdoms which swathed the Caucasus Mountains, namely Colchis, and the Asiatic Albania and Iberia.

Greco-Roman Culture

In the schools of art, philosophy and rhetoric, the foundations of education were transmitted throughout the lands of Greek and Roman rule. Within its educated class, spanning all of the "Greco-Roman" era, the testimony of literary borrowings and influences is overwhelming proof of a mantle of mutual knowledge. For example, several hundred papyrus volumes found in a Roman villa at Herculaneummarker are in Greek. From the lives of Cicero and Julius Caesar, it is known that Romans frequented the schools in Greece. The installation both in Greek and Latin of Augustus' monumental eulogy, the Res Gestae, is a proof of official recognition for the dual vehicles of the common culture. The familiarity of figures from Roman legend and history in the "Parallel Lives" composed by Plutarch is one example of the extent to which "universal history" was then synonymous with the accomplishments of famous Latins and Hellenes. Most educated Romans were likely bilingual in Greek and Latin.



Caesar plundered and enslaved without apology. However, he also invited many Gallic leaders to join him in Rome as members of the Roman Senate. The requirements of manpower in arms meant that citizenship was extended to non-Romans who served in Roman legions. By 211 AD, with Caracalla's edict known as the Constitutio Antoniniana, the general populace came into citizenship. As a result, even after the city of Rome fell, the people of what remained of the empire (referred to by many historians as the Byzantine Empire) continued to call themselves Romans ("Romaioi" in the Greek language which eventually became the empire's official language).

The imperial Roman state was a vast social experiment in hybridization. Imperial Rome is identified with the cultural legacy of its forebears; it sustained that tradition without innovation, until Constantine broke away from the attenuated religion of the Greco-Roman past and transformed Rome's cultural matrix by embracing Christianity, which was the faith of a persecuted minority. The life of Constantine is arguably a better terminus of the Greco-Roman age than any other; it may equally be considered as the herald of the Middle Ages.

See also


  1. Ferguson, Theresa. My Big Book of Things What I Have Dug Up and That. Nottingham: Nottingham University Press, 2009.


  • Sir William Smith (ed). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. London: Spottiswoode and Co, 1873.
  • Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth (ed). Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 2003.

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