Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire

Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire

Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire

Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire


We look to Rome more than anywhere else for our European cultural roots. But Rome itself looked to the East, not to Europe. The Roman East had an immense impact upon Europe in a way that no other part of the empire had. Christianity is the most obvious influence, but there are many others from Syrian emperors of Rome to Oriental architecture, religious and intellectual ideas. Indeed, the story of Rome is more than anything else the story of a fascination for the East, one that amounted to an obsession. This book tells the story of how Near Eastern civilisation, most of all Christianity, came west to transform Europe. Rome in the East presents a comprehensive and coherent study of the history, architecture and archaeology of the Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, of Roman penetration beyond the frontiers, and of the ensuing interchange that brought about Rome's own transformation. Rome in the East is lavishly illustrated, including nearly two hundred photographs taken by the author himself.


This book began some six years ago. It was to be a straightforward work of synthesis, intended to summarise and discuss the relationship between the historical evidence and the material remains of the eastern bounds of the Roman Empire and beyond. The material remains alone of this area deserved a higher place in the orbit of Roman architecture, being some of the most extensive and spectacular in the Roman world.

As work progressed, however, it soon became apparent that there were things that needed to be said about the presence, role and character of Rome in the East. In particular, much of the material remains could only be satisfactorily explained from a Near Eastern archaeological viewpoint, rather than the more usual Classical and Western. This in turn seemed to demand an Eastern perspective for Rome in the East as a whole, and with it a resulting reappraisal and new emphasis. In reassessing the interaction of Rome and the East and its legacy, it further became apparent that much new comment could usefully be made on the legacy of Roman civilisation as a whole and the beginnings of Europe. In some ways this represents a challenge to previous views, in other ways it will present new evidence for old theories (and new theories of old evidence), but it is only another perspective.

The germ of this book probably began many years ago when I found myself being required to restore a monumental Roman arch at Jerash, the North Tetrapylon. After many years of the familiar shapes, forms and norms of Near Eastern archaeology and architecture, I suddenly found myself confronted by the far less familiar forms of that rather daunting beast, Classical architecture—and imperial Roman to boot. As well as the technical problems of producing a ‘new’ monument out of an apparently meaningless mass of rubble was the academic problem of working out what this Roman building looked like—and why. Here at least I was on familiar ground: a tetrapylon, or four-way arch, I knew from Iran, the chahartaq or Persian equivalent being one of the most fundamental ‘building blocks’ of Persian architecture. From there, I began to look at the other buildings at Jerash not as the Roman buildings they appeared to be, but as Near Eastern buildings, simply to find some common ground with my own architectural knowledge. This applied in particular to that most ubiquitous feature of Roman cities in the East, the colonnaded street, when those long daunting lines of very Roman colonnades simply melted away to appear as something I had been used to for years: eastern bazaar streets. The rest followed.

With such a long gestation and even longer background, the book naturally owes much to many more than I could possibly acknowledge. I would like to thank Wendy Ball, Leonard Harrow, Stan Kennon, E. Mary Smallwood, David Whitehouse and in

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