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The legacy of the East in Roman civilization

 

The Ancient East, especially Syria and Egypt, played an important role in the history of the Romans and their civilization, and this role was not limited to one field alone, but rather extended to include political, cultural, economic, religious, and we do not have enough space to talk about the Syrian fathers of the church who contributed to laying the foundations of Christianity in the Roman world, or about the Roman saints who were taught by Syrian theologians, or about the biography of some hermits, such as Simon the Syrian, who inspired the life of hermits in Western Europe.

 It is important for us to emphasize that the emergence of Christianity represented a major turning point in the history of Roman civilization, as it contributed to building a new civilization, the civilization of Europe in the Middle Ages, whose spirit and substance were Christianity.

fields.

The beginning of the relationship between Syria and the Romans

It is known that the Romans seized Syria and Egypt from the successors of Alexander the Great of Macedon (d. 323 BC).

 They replaced the Seleucids in ruling Syria in the year (64 BC), and replaced the Ptolemies in ruling Egypt in the year (31 BC), Syria was formed With its capital, Antioch, at the time, it was one of the most important and richest regions of the Roman Empire, due to its unique geographical location, ancient cultural heritage, and huge economic resources.

The ancient Syrian civilization reached the Romans through several paths, the most important of which is through the Greek civilization that the Romans inherited, and of which the heritage of the East was an important element of its formation.

 Through direct contact between the Romans and the Syrians, after Syria turned into a Roman province in 64 BC, and then through the Syrian communities that settled in many cities of the Roman world, which permeated the empire throughout the first two centuries AD, and whose members worked in trade, industry, thought, and art.

Political relationship

In the political field, the Syrians’ contribution to Roman history was a qualitative contribution, The Romans’ occupation of Syria brought them into direct contact with their traditional enemies, the Persians, consequently, Syria turned into a theater of conflict between the two largest powers in the ancient world, the Persians and the Romans, and the Syrians paid with their lives, civilization, and economy as a price for this conflict.

 Based on this “strategic” importance of Syria, the Romans placed it under the rule of a Roman figure with the rank of vice-consul, who had four military divisions under his command.

The political importance of Syria was not limited to the military

aspect, but six emperors of Syrian origin ascended the Roman throne between 193 AD and 249 AD, that is, during one of the most turbulent periods of Roman history, which was known as the crisis of the third century AD. these emperors are: Septimius Severus (193-211 AD), who was from a Canaanite family, but was born in a village in Libya, which had originally been built by the Syrian Canaanites. Septimus married Julia Domna, and she gave birth to Caracalla and Geta, after his death in 211 AD, the two brothers ruled the empire in dual rule, then Caracalla ruled alone in 212 AD.

After the death of Caracalla in 217 AD, Elagbalus, a native of Homs, assumed the Roman throne, after his death in 222 AD, his cousin Alexander Severus (222-235 AD), who was from the Akkar region, in northern Lebanon, ascended the Roman throne.

 The last of the six emperors of Syrian origin was Philip the Arab (244-249 AD), who was born in the Syrian city of Shahba, some historians narrate that he secretly converted to Christianity, and his reign was a period of political and religious peace and huge architectural achievements.

Syrian women

During Roman rule, Syrian women also played a major political role, such as Julia Domna, the wife of Septimius Severus, who combined beauty, reason, and culture in her person. Her sister Julia Maesa was also famous, two of whose grandchildren ascended the imperial throne: Elagbalus and Alexander Severus. We should also not forget some of the Syrian kings who played a major role in Roman political history, such as Udhayna II, king of Palmyra between 258-267 AD. Udhayna was an ally of the Romans, and he defeated the Persians. The Romans granted him the title “Emperor of the East,” while he took the title “King of Kings” for himself. After his death, his wife, Queen Zenobia, assumed the throne of Palmyra as guardian of her minor son, she demonstrated superior ability in managing the affairs of the kingdom. she seized all of Syria, Egypt, and Asia Minor from the Romans, and assumed the title Queen of the East.

Syrian culture in Europe

As for the cultural field, the Syrians had a great place in Roman civilization, to the point that modern researchers today use the term “Latin literature” instead of the term “Roman literature,” in recognition that not all of this literature was created by the Romans or Italians, but that many writers contributed to it, the philosophers and historians were from Eastern civilizations, and they wrote their works in Latin, and not in their national language such as Aramaic in Syria and Coptic in Egypt, these Eastern innovators also took Latin names, in keeping with the custom of the educated elite of that era.

law

In the field of law, the credit for Rome occupying the forefront in going back to the Beirut School, in which legal studies flourished, from the middle of the second century AD until the emergence of Constantinople in this field in the sixth century.

  Likewise, the legal jurist Eulpianus (d. 223 AD) emerged. He was from the city of Tyre, he studied under Papinianus at the Beirut School, he became one of the most famous legal scholars in the Roman world and held high judicial positions during the reign of Septimius and his son Caracalla, the legal jurist Paulus also gained fame, he was born in Homs, lived in Rome, was a contemporary of the two previous giants, and held important judicial positions during the reigns of Elagbalus and Alexander, and left many legal writings.

Likewise, the legal jurist Eulpianus (d. 223 AD) emerged, he was from the city of Tyre. He studied under Papinianus at the Beirut School, He became one of the most famous legal scholars in the Roman world and held high judicial positions during the reign of Septimius and his son Caracalla.

The legal jurist Paulus also gained fame, he was born in Homs, lived in Rome, was a contemporary of the two previous giants, and held important judicial positions during the reigns of Elagbalus and Alexander, and left many legal writings.

Philosophy

In the field of philosophy, a number of Syrian philosophers became famous, such as the philosopher Posidonius (d. 51 BC), who was from the city of Apamea, and was one of the greatest philosophers of the Stoic doctrine. Among the Syrian philosophers, we also mention Numenus, who lived in the second century AD, he was also from the city of Apamea, and his philosophy was an important source of Neo-Platonism. The philosopher Porphyrius (d. 305 AD), who was from the city of Tyre, also appeared and left many works. We also mention the Syrian philosopher Yamelinos (d. 330 AD), who was born in a village in Lebanon, founded a school in Apamea that mixed religion and philosophy, and wrote a number of books in the field of philosophy. We should not forget the Syrian philosopher Longinus (d. 273 AD), who beautified intellectual life in the Kingdom of Zenobia and fell victim to Roman oppression.

History (Nicolas Damascene)

In the field of history, a number of Syrian historians appeared in the Roman era, including Nicholas of Damascus, who was born in Damascus in 64 BC, and whose works include his book on “The Life of Augustus.”

The historian Philo al-Jubaili, who was born in the Lebanese city of Byblos in 70 AD, was also famous, and among his works was his book on “The Life of Emperor Hadrian (d. 138 AD).”

The historian Africanus also appeared, he was born in Jerusalem in the third century AD, and was a prominent figure during the reign of the Severian emperors. we should not forget the Palestinian church historian Eusebius (260-340 AD), who became bishop of the Palestinian city of Caesarea, and worked as an advisor to the Emperor Constantine the Great (d. 337 AD), he wrote several books, including the book “Ecclesiastical History” and the book “The Life of Constantine.” As for the last major Syrian historian of the Roman era, he was the historian Ammianus Marcellus, who was born in Antioch in 330 AD, and devoted his life to his book “The History of the Romans.” his writings are considered of great scientific value because he was an eyewitness to many events.

Literature and language

As for the Syrian writers and linguists of the Roman era, we mention among them Probus, who lived in the first century AD.

 He was born in Beirut and settled in Rome. He was a scholar of grammar, criticism, and rhetoric. He collected texts by ancient authors, such as Virgil, and criticized them. Among them also was Adrian, who lived in the second century AD. He was born in Tire and moved to Athens, where he occupied the chair of rhetoric.

 Adrianus then moved from Athens to Rome and assumed the position of secretary to Emperor Commodus, in the fourth century AD, the fame of the Syrian rhetorician Libanus (d. 393 AD), who was from Antioch, became famous, he became a professor of rhetoric in Constantinople and then in Antioch. among his famous students were: John Chrysostom and the historian Ammianus Marcellus.

Arts... Antioch is the mother of arts

Syrian arts also spread throughout the Roman world, including music, acting, decoration, etc., and Antioch was its most important center, as for architecture, Syria was a model followed by Rome itself, it is sufficient to mention in this regard Apollodorus of Damascus, who was born in Damascus in 60 AD and died in 125 AD, and is considered the greatest architect in ancient history, during the reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD), he reached a position equivalent to the Minister of Works in our era. Among his achievements: Trajan's Square, the House of Justice, and Trajan's Column in Rome. 

Economy

In the economic field, the Syrians played an important role in the Roman era, and a number of factors helped them to do so, including: Syria’s geographical location, which made it the empire’s gateway to the economy of the entire East, and the crossroads of most of the international trade routes that connected the empire to India and China, in addition to Syria’s wealth, industrial and agricultural, and the skill of the Syrian merchant and his extensive experience in transporting goods, organizing convoys, and banking.

In addition to this is the peace that spread throughout the Roman Empire in the first two centuries AD, and the road network that the Romans built to connect the outskirts of the empire, which extended from the Rhine and the Danube in the north to Sudan in the south, and from the Atlantic in the west to the Euphrates in the east. Among the things that the Syrian merchant transported from his country to the rest of the Roman provinces: wheat, purple silk products, leather goods, glass, dyes, perfumes, wine, priestly robes, medicinal herbs, and others.

From Egypt, wheat, papyrus, and ivory were transported, and olive oil was transported from Africa (Tunisia). Syrian merchants also transported Far Eastern goods, known as Kamali, to the markets of the empire, such as: spices of all kinds, jewelry and ivory from India, precious stones from Ceylon, and silks of all kinds from China.

The historian Moss says in his book “The Birth of the Middle Ages”: “The Syrians were the greatest merchants in the Roman world, as they spread throughout the empire, as individuals and groups, and their crowding intensified along the commercial routes in the empire.”

Historians confirm that Roman society consumed more than it produced, and this made its trade balance with the East a losing balance, as paying for goods coming from the East with gold coins.

It should be noted that the role of Syrian merchants was not limited to transporting stores only, but rather many cultural influences, artistic and literary, popular stories, myths and religious beliefs, leaked through them.

religion (Worship of the sun god)

As for what Syria provided to the Roman world in the religious field, it exceeded what it provided to it in other fields, despite their importance.

Before the advent of Christianity, the Romans worshiped several gods, such as Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Minerva, and Diana, in addition to worshiping the emperor himself, then many Eastern beliefs moved into the empire, from Syria, the worship of the sun god spread widely. Indeed, one of the priests of the Homsian Sun Temple, Emperor Elagabalus, ascended the Roman throne.

Syrian merchants and soldiers also transferred to the Roman world the worship of the Persian god of light, Mithras, during the first century AD, and the Manichaean doctrine, in the third century AD, it seems that these Eastern doctrines were vanguards to the emergence of Christianity..

Syria's religious influence in the Roman world reached its peak with the emergence of Christianity from its land and its spread throughout the empire, rather, historians view the penetration of Christianity into the Roman Empire as one of the results of the influence of Syrian civilization on Roman civilization.

Christianity is of Eastern origin and has no roots in the European past or in the traditions of classical civilization, Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem in Palestine during the reign of Emperor Augustus (27 BC - 14 BC), and he called for the worship of God, peace, and love, twelve students, known as the Apostles, joined him, most of whom were from Syria, and after his death they completed his message.

The oldest church in the history of Christianity was built on Syrian soil, which is the Church of Antioch, which was founded by the apostles Peter and Paul, and became the mother of the churches.

Peter also founded the Church of Rome, and had the upper hand in establishing the Christian community there, Peter and Paul made great efforts to spread Christianity in the Roman world during the reign of Emperor Nero (d. 68 AD), until they became martyrs for Christianity in 64 AD. 

A number of popes of Syrian origin ascended to the Church of Rome, two of them during the days of the Roman Empire, namely: Pope Evaristus (d. 105 AD), who was originally from Antioch, and Pope Antiquitus I (d. 166 AD), who was from the city of Homs.

Six popes of Syrian origin also ascended the papal throne after the fall of the empire and the rise of the German kingdoms, we mention among them Theodore I (d. 649 AD), who was of Jerusalem origin, and John V (d. 686 AD), who was from Antioch...etc.

We do not have enough space to talk about the Syrian fathers of the church who contributed to laying the foundations of Christianity in the Roman world, or about the Roman saints who were taught by Syrian theologians, or about the biography of some hermits, such as Simon the Syrian, who inspired the life of hermits in Western Europe. It is important for us to emphasize that the emergence of Christianity represented a major turning point in the history of Roman civilization, as it contributed to building a new civilization, the civilization of Europe in the Middle Ages, whose spirit and substance were Christianity.

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