Latin and colonisation …

As we know, Latin didn’t die with the western Roman empire. It continued in use as the language of the church, and by and by became the language of scholarship.

After all many of the Renaissance masters and later wrote in Latin – not Greek, Latin, as a lingua franca for scholarship, for science, for medicine.

And this of course meant that there was a cohort of educated men, and I’m afraid they were almost exclusively men, in every generation.

This Latinity of course served as a tool to control access to knowledge – if a book was in Latin, and you didn’t know Latin you couldn’t read it. And even when books were published in English, French or what have you, sometimes medical texts had footnotes in Latin, or indeed allusions to things that gentlemen did not discuss, in Latin – I’ve even seen one case where the Latin footnote had embedded note in Greek to make it even more obscure.

And of course these latinate individuals went out in the eighteenth and nineteenth century to be colonizers, and often tended to see themselves as new Romans, and saw the colonized through the lens of their latinate education, as barbarians, or in the case of obvious other highly educated cultures such as those of India and southeast Asia as something akin to the Roman view of Hellenistic culture.

It’s also why we get strange abberations as the suggestion that the Masai were descended from a Roman auxiliary cohort that went feral – purely on the basis of some superficial resemblances between Masai military organisation and the late Roman army and the predeliction of the Masai for red cloaks.

So we have a question – what was the impact of classical studies on European colonisation and what, if any is its influence today?

As they used to say in exam papers, discuss.

Written with StackEdit.

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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