Episode 4 AD 500-633


The Romano-Hellenic Near East

Here we summon up a lost world, the Graeco-Roman Christian society of the Near East, as it existed for almost a millennium prior to the Islamic Invasions.
The evidence for this world lies all about us, in monumental ruins just as spectacular as those on the northern shores of the Mediterranean and on our library shelves. But our shared historical memory has no image of this world after the time of Cleopatra. Our forgetfulness renders the subsequent history of medieval Christendom unintelligible.

This episode tries to fill in the void in our memory, to paint an image of how a rich Graeco-Roman life was once lived by what have long since become Muslim societies.

How this eastern Graeco-Roman society became a Muslim one is a very long story, but it begins with a sudden barbarian conquest, the first jihad, starting around 636 AD.


  • The Graeco-Roman Near East as a forgotten civilisation.
  • Created by Alexander the Great and his Successors in the 300s BC, it constituted an integral society of Western character until the 640s AD.
  • The Roman Empire had a Hellenic culture. By 400 AD this culture had become Christianised.
  • Hellenic Egypt in the 500s and 600s AD.
  • Hellenic Syria in the 500s and 600s AD.
  • The Helleniized Near East was the birthplace of Christianity, and remained its heartland for 500 years.
  • Some characteristics of the development of Christianity: powerful bishops, the cult of relics, monasteries in Egypt, holy hermits in Syria.
  • Limits to an emperor’s power: the circus crowd, the bishops. The Roman emperors as part-theocrats.
  • The schisms of the bishops: Chalcedonianism (Orthodox & Catholic), Nestorian (modern Iraq) and Monophysitism (modern Egypt).
  • The problem of evidence for early Islam and the legendary character of much of the early Islamic historical tradition.
  • Some things we do know of Arabian tribal society.
  • First jihad into lower Mesopotamia (modern Iraq)

Now with the audio-only version included

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