Imperial Ecumene and Polyethnicity

Peter Fibiger Bang

in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199211524
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History

 Imperial Ecumene and Polyethnicity

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The ancient Mediterranean was a complex patchwork of diverse ethnic groups and cultures. Local or regional brands of knowledge, culture, and power had been subsumed under an imperial cultural and political umbrella of much wider geographical extent. Roman government suffered from no illusions that it could do without the forms of locally based power represented by diverse ethnic groups and instead push to create a homogeneous ‘national’ identity for the imperial population at large. Imperial polyethnicity, however, was not exactly a multicultural idyll. There was plenty of ethnic prejudice and tension. Polyethnicity, after all, was not based on equality of rights; it was the product of conquest, an expression of imperial subjection and hierarchy. The Roman Empire ordered ethnic diversity for strategic consumption, a principle that was embodied in the biggest and single most important organisation in the empire: the Roman army. This article examines the cosmopolitan civilization or ecumene and polyethnicity in ancient Rome, as well as universalism, hegemony, and hierarchy.

Keywords: Roman Empire; ecumene; polyethnicity; universalism; hegemony; hierarchy; ethnic groups; culture; power; army

Article.  6828 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical History ; Ancient Roman History

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