Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/29

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I. THE ROMAN EMPIRE

At the beginning of the history of Europe stands the Roman Empire, and all the early part of the Middle Ages lies in the shadow cast by this great state. Yet the civilization of the Roman Empire was not wholly or even primarily European; it was based largely on the older civilizations of the Mediterranean basin. Alexander and his successors had fused Greek, Egyptian, and Syrian traditions into a common Hellenistic culture, and it was from this Hellenistic culture that the Romans drew most of their art and literature, their philosophy and religion, and even some of their ideas of government. Latin never supplanted Greek as the common language of the eastern part of the Mediterranean world, and the Romans never caught up to the peoples of the Levant in many important activities. Even at the height of the Empire, Alexandria was more important than Rome as an intellectual and artistic center, and Mediterranean trade was dominated by Syrians rather than by Italians. The great contribution of the Romans was the creation of a political organization which gave unity and peace to the Mediterranean basin for over two centuries. Peace and unity made it possible for the essential elements of the civilization of the eastern Mediterranean to be firmly established in the western part of the basin, and to spread, though less securely, beyond the Mediterranean watershed into western Spain, northern Gaul, the Rhineland, and Britain.

The Roman Empire was made by men who desired to see their state strong, and secure from any conceivable foreign danger.

The title of this chapter is borrowed from the excellent book of Christopher Dawson, which deals in detail with the matters briefly outlined in this chapter. Readers interested in the earlier part of the period will find many simulating ideas in F. Lot, The End of the Ancient World.