It is a well-known fact that the modern concept of Europe as such cannot be traced back to classical antiquity:
The Aegean Sea and the Hellespont were never an important cultural and/or political frontier. A major part of what we today call "Europe" always remained outside the Greco-Roman sphere of interest. Finally, the recourse on a "European" identity remained a purely literary phenomenon and in late antiquity "Europe" could even be used as a designation for a rather small geographical area in Thrace.
However, when taking a closer look at the few examples for a more inclusive construction of an "European" identity, it becomes evident that these appear always in a polemical context, which is characterized by an antithetical opposition between Europe and Asia. In these contexts Europeanness was defined primarily through hostility towards an oriental Other, who was perceived as despotic/slavish, luxurious and effeminate. This construct was reified through a theory of climatic determination of character and culture, which provided a scientific explanation and justification for the postulated superiority of Europe (especially Greece) over Asia.
The Romans did not adopt the concept of “Europe”, but they continued to exploit propagandistically the opposition to Asia and the Orient. Even if the Romans did not use the name "Europe", their concept of the "Occident" in fact preserved the core of a rudimentary "European" identity as can be found in Greek authors.
The name "Europe" was revived only by pope Pius II. after the fall of Constantinople. Again, we find European identity defined in polemical antagonism to an Oriental enemy. This was, of course, an intentional recourse on ancient discourse by the pope who – as an established humanist scholar – was well acquainted with the ancient sources.
It remains true that the classical tradition does not help us much in defining, where Europe is. However, through the antithesis Europe-Asia the modern idea of what Europe should be does indeed owe some important elements to antiquity.
Angaben zum Forschungsprojekt
|Beginn des Projekts:||Januar 2009|
|Ende des Projekts:||August 2009|
|Projektleitung:||Hartmann, Dr. Andreas|
|Finanzierung des Projekts:||Aus Lehrstuhletat (intern)|
|Themengebiete:||N Geschichte > NH Griechisch-römische Geschichte|