Basic structures are part of any kind of Greek city in the Ancient World. And what Alexander the Great and his successors did was they took that basic Greek structure, and they transplanted it all over the Eastern Mediterranean, whether they were in Egypt or Syria or Asia Minor or anyplace else.
One can travel right now to Turkey or Syria or Israel or Jordan or Egypt, and one can see excavations of towns, and it’s remarkable how they all look so much alike, because they’re all inspired by this originally Greek model of the city.
Alexander the Great and his successors Hellenized the entire eastern Mediterranean, and that meant, every major city would have a certain commonality to it. It would have a certain koine to it; that is, a Greek overlay, over what may be also be there, the original indigenous kind of cultures and languages.
Alexander the Great also used what is called ‘religious syncretism,’ Alexander took this tendency of syncretism, of mixing together different religious traditions from different places, and he used it as a self-conscious propaganda technique. Alexander even started claiming divine status for himself. Alexander went around passing out rumors that his mother had actually been impregnated by the god Apollo, when he appeared as a snake in her bed. So, Alexander is putting himself forward as divine. Why? This is not a Greek tradition, but it’s very much a tradition in the East for kings to be considered by their people to be gods.
Alexander says, “Well, if they can be gods, I can be a god.” So Alexander starts spreading rumors that he is divine himself. Alexander probably even believed it; and so he had a god father, he had a human mother, and so then he would identify himself with whoever was a god in the different places. So Alexander would identify himself as a Greek god with a Persian god. Alexander would identify the goddess Isis with some Greek goddess; and so all the time these different gods from different places were basically all said to be simply different cultural representations, different names, for what were generally the same gods all over the place.
Also, though, what they would do is sometimes they wouldn’t try to simply say these gods are the same. What they would just do is add on more gods. They’d get to Syria, “Look at all these god that the Syrians worship. Well, we’ll just add those into our pantheon of gods too.” And this is part of what ancient religion was like, is that people were not exclusive.
You didn’t have to worry. Just because you worshiped one god, doesn’t mean you couldn’t worship another god or several gods or five gods or a hundred gods. Gods knew who everybody was-they weren’t particularly jealous, in that sense. So this is the way people did it. But what Alexander and his successors did, was they made sort of a conscious, propagandistic decision to use religious syncretism to bind together their kingdoms.
The Romans, when they came on the scene, in the East, and they gradually became more and more powerful, they destroyed Corinth in a big battle in 144BC. Pompey was the Roman general who took over Jerusalem in 63BC. So the Romans were in charge of Judah from 63BC on. And this is very important, because the Romans, as their power grew in the East, they simply moved increasingly into the eastern Mediterranean and they adopted the whole Greek system, the Greek world, and they didn’t even try to make it non-Greek.
So Romans didn’t go around trying to get people in the East to speak Latin. They might put up an official inscription in an Eastern City in Latin, but they’d almost always, if it was an official inscription, it would also be listed in Greek, So Romans who ruled in the East were expected to speak Greek. And by this time all educated Roman men were expected to be able to speak Greek, well if possible.
So the Romans didn’t try to make the East Roman, in that sense, culturally, nor did they try to change the language. Greek language, culture, and religions, different religions and the syncretism, Greek education, the polis structure-all of these things remained in the East throughout the Roman rule of the East, all the way up until the time you had a Christian emperor with Constantine and later.
Here is the history that lead to the Nicene Creed. The early Christians who chose the human and divine route, though they had to spilt this up. Some believed Jesus was always divine; others believed Jesus became divine.
If Jesus became divine, then when did he become divine, at his birth, at his baptism, or at his resurrection? Other Christians say, no, he always was divine, but even they believed in different choices too, because some believed Jesus was divine but also fully human.
Other Christians believed Jesus was fully divine but not fully human. They believed Jesus was so divine he was God, so that when Jesus walked along on wet sand on the beach, his feet did not leave footprints, that is how divine he was, but this belief became declared as a heresy.
Out of all these choices, only one of them is considered Orthodox by the later church, so that what Christians end up with is the Nicene Creed, or the Creed of Chalcedon, which is what Christians came to believe? There were lots of complexities in early Christianity that finally got whittled down into a more united consensus view on Christology.
My favorite from Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary: