Lecture 2: The Near East in Late Antiquity: religion and imperial power

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1 Lecture 2: The Near East in Late Antiquity: religion and imperial power

2 Aim of Today s lecture: To understand the historical regional context that defined Muhammad s world

3 Lecture structure: 2 parts 1. Discuss main imperial states that dominated the Near East in 600 CE* 2. Discuss the major religions of this period * CE = common era and BCE = before common era

4 Thesis While there is great fluidity in terms of belief, doctrine and practice among the major regional religions of the time, there are also political and religious forces working to stabilise this fluidity and align religious and political affiliation.

5 Regional Political Context Byzantine and Sassanid Empires

6 Byzantine Empire 3 Phases of Rome Phase 1: Roman Republic (500 BCE to 30 BCE) Phase 2: Roman Empire (30 BCE to 476 CE) Phase 3: Byzantine Empire (330 CE to 1453)

7 Eastern Roman Empire

8 Eastern and Western Empire West Latin speaking and pagan East Greek speaking and Christian West sphere of influence: Europe, Med and NA East sphere of influence: Asia, Egypt and Levant West ruled from Rome East ruled from Nicomedia

9 Administrative division to empire Empire split in 286 Capital moved from Rome to Byzantium in 330 Name of capital city changed to Constantinople Eastern empire flourishes, Western disintegrates

10 Sassanid Empire

11 Sassanid Persian Empire Latest empires resident in the region around present day Iran and Iraq Persian language, religion and culture Persians mentioned throughout Greek texts and philosophical works Achaemenid > Parthian > Sassanid Dynasties

12 Persian culture and civilisation Oriental, Indian and Asian art has roots in Persian culture Religion, philosophy, dress, poetry and literature highly influential Religion: Zoroastrianism.

13 Religions in late antiquity Paganism/Hellenism Judaism Christianity Zoroastrianism

14 Paganism Catch-all for many polytheistic religions Paganism in Near East had roots in Egypt and Greece

15 Hellenism Flourished in former areas of Greek empire Greek Gods: Zeus, Athena, Apollo Intercessors: took a direct interest in human affairs Often supplicated to help ensure success Practiced in homes and patron temples Evolving and melding with other traditions

16 3 points about Paganism Very flexible and adaptable Served very practical needs Fight between Paganism and monotheistic religions overplayed

17 Paganism vs. Christianity Christianity still in formation Many details not yet settled Similar dynamic in early Judaism and early Islam Monotheism has its roots in paganism

18 Judaism Prominent and influential in Near East Based on high-powerful God worshipped originally in Palestine Jewish Diaspora promoted its spread Pagans viewed Jews with suspicion Jews influenced by Paganism and Hellenism Judaism most well-developed mono-theistic religion at the time. Other monotheistic faiths took Judaism as point of reference

19 Christianity 1 of 2 imperial religions in the region Constantine made official religion of Rome Distinction from Judaism not clear Christian Church very committed to doctrine Intolerant of doctrinal deviation Battles between the five Holy Sees Church characterized by sectarian strife

20 Zoroastrianism Traditional religion of Persia and Sassanid empire Predates Judaism - major influence on Jewish and Christian monotheism Posits existence of supreme and original God that represents order and a secondary God that represents disorder Gods in unending struggle involving whole universe and humanity Has political dimension order associated with the state

21 Persian tolerance Christians and Jews tolerated under Sassanid empire Jews and Zoroastrians often not tolerated under Byzantines Christian and Jewish distaste for Zoroastrianism dualism Jews and Christains outsiders since uniquely Persian religion

22 Take Home 10

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