Transition and Transformation

The Early Reception of the Greek and Roman Inheritance (3rd-8th c. CE)


Giulia Agostini (Sapienza – University of Rome) []

Elisa Nuria Merisio (Sapienza – University of Rome) []

Anna Salsano (Sapienza – University of Rome) [

Emanuele Zimbardi (Sapienza – University of Rome and Freie Universität Berlin) []

The Graeco-Roman civilization underwent a period of transition between the 3rd century, the age of the rise of a Syrian imperial dinasty, and the 8th century, the period of Charles the Great in the West and of the Arab invasions of Mediterranean countries. Through a complex process of transformation and adaptation to new demands emerging throughout the Roman Empire, the Graeco-Roman inheritance was preserved in many different forms and could fulfil new functions in the various regions of the Empire. The dialectic between tradition and innovation is particularly evident in some socio-historical and cultural phenomena, such as political and legal reforms, a re-shaping of the local elites, appearance of ‘new’ written languages, and transition to Christian faith. 

Although many administrative and legal reforms had been implemented from the 3rd century onwards, there was always an ideal continuity with the Roman past and its institutions. One of the main consequences of the reforms of Diocletian and Constantine was the widespread adoption of Roman government practices and status standardization of the provinces, so that even in multicultural contexts (e.g. Egypt and Asia Minor) the influence of Graeco-Roman culture became more and more evident. At the same time, the regions of the Empire developed a certain kind of autonomy, and in the provincial cities new social and ethnic players (e.g. ‘barbars’ or Christian bishops) started to be involved in the local political life, taking up the Graeco-Roman inheritance of civic engagement. 

The extent to which Greek and Latin inheritance was filtered and re-shaped in different contexts can be fully measured in the regions where local cultures emerged under the surface of the overwhelming Graeco-Roman culture. This is quite apparent in the case of written languages that appear for the first time in literary and/or epigraphic sources during Late Antiquity (e.g. Coptic in Egypt, Syriac in the Eastern provinces). Some of these developed peculiar forms of expression very early, appropriating Greek and Roman tradition and, at the same time, countering it by means of ‘indigenous’ features. Later, it was the turn of other languages to take up the Graeco-Roman inheritance, especially via translations from Greek (e.g. Armenian, Georgian, and eventually Arabic). In this multifaceted phenomenon, Christian religion played a pivotal role, assuming and readapting in a multilingual context the oecumenical ‘spirit’ of the Graeco-Roman culture. 

The aim of our panel is to compare results of different researches about Graceo-Roman Inheritance in different geographical areas and in different languages, to achieve a multidisciplinary and innovative perspective in the way of reception of Classical Culture. This panel welcomes papers dealing with the Early Reception of Greek and Roman civilizations from a literary, political, artistic and historical point of view, in both Greek- and Latin-speaking regions and in other areas of the Late Antique world where other languages were spoken and written. In a multidisciplinary perspective, by Early Reception we mean any form of re-interpretation and re-appropriation of Greek and Roman civilizations in the light of new socio-historical needs and different regional backgrounds. 

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