Greek East and Latin West

"Greek East" and "Latin West" are terms used to distinguish between the two parts of the Greco-Roman world, specifically the eastern regions where Greek was the lingua franca, and the western parts where Latin filled this role. During the Roman Empire a divide had persisted between Latin- and Greek-speaking areas; this divide was encouraged by administrative changes in the empire's structure between the 3rd and 5th centuries, which led ultimately to the establishment of separate Eastern and Western halves of the Empire.

After the fall of the Western Empire, the terms "Greek East" and "Latin West" are applied to areas that were formerly part of the Eastern or Western Empires, and also to areas that fell under the Greek or Latin cultural sphere but which had never been part of the Roman Empire. In this sense, particular attention is given to differences in Christianity in the two parts, specifically between Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity.

Use with regard to the Roman Empire

In the classical context, "Greek East" refers to the provinces and client states of the Roman Empire in which the lingua franca was primarily Greek.

This region included the whole Greek peninsula with some other northern parts in the Balkans, the provinces around the Black Sea, those of the Bosphorus, all of Asia Minor (in the loosest possible sense, to include Cappadocia and extending to Armenia Minor), Magna Graecia (southern part of the Italian peninsula and Sicily), and the other provinces along the eastern rim of the Mediterranean Sea (Judea, Syria, Cyrenaica and Egypt). These Roman provinces had been Greek colonies or Greek-ruled states during the Hellenistic period, i.e. until the Roman conquests.

At the start of late antiquity, beginning with the reorganization of the empire's provincial divisions during the reign of Diocletian (ruled 284–305), the expression "Greek East" evolved to stand in contradistinction to "Latin West". Thereafter, "Greek East" refers to the Greek-speaking provinces mentioned above (after 395 mostly in the Greek-speaking Eastern Roman Empire) in contradistinction to the provinces in Western Europe, Italia (excluding the Catepanate of Italy, where they still spoke Greek) and Northwest Africa (after 395 in the Latin-speaking Western Roman Empire).[1]

Use with regard to Christianity

Further information: East–West Schism

"Greek East" and "Latin West" are terms used also to divide Chalcedonian Christianity into the Greek-speaking, Orthodox peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean Basin, centered on the Byzantine Empire, and the Latin-speaking Catholic peoples of Western Europe.[2][3] Here, "Latin West" applies to regions that were formerly part of the Western Roman Empire, specifically Italia, Gallia (Gaul), Hispania, Northwest Africa, and Britannia, but also to areas that had never been part of the Empire but which later came under the culture sphere of the Latin West, such as Hibernia (Ireland), Caledonia (Scotland), and Magna Germania.

The adjective "Greek" excludes those communities in Eastern Christianity that use languages such as Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and, are in opposition to Constantinople, form, since the 5th century, what are now called the Church of the East and Oriental Orthodoxy. No such distinction applies to the West, where Latin continued to be the language of culture for many centuries after its breakup into a number of independent states.

See also


  1. Cf. Fishwick, Duncan. The imperial cult in the Latin West: studies in the ruler cult of the Western provinces of the Roman Empire. BRILL, 2002.
  2. Sherrard, Philip. The Greek East and the Latin West: a study in the Christian tradition. London: Oxford University Press, 1959; reprinted Limni [Greece]: Denise Harvey & Company, 1992 ISBN 960-7120-04-3.
  3. Andrew Louth, Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 691–1071 (St Vladimir's Seminary Press ISBN 978-0-88141-320-5)
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