George Finlay’s illustrious, and nuanced book on the history of the Greek people is a landmark triumph for Western civilization. He surveys the history of the Greeks from the time of the Roman conquest until his own time in the middle of the nineteenth century. Finlay examines cultural, political, as well as military metamorphoses in Greek civilization, and how these developments evolved over the centuries. He touches upon almost everything including the abolition of the philosophical schools at Athens by the Roman Emperor Justinian in the early sixth century.
The abolition happened early in Justinian’s reign – i.e. before the plague, and the wars – and for this reason has somewhat perplexed historians. Finlay finds fault with policy for the decision, which was rooted in Justinian’s conceivable wish to make the newly established University of Constantinople – i.e. the Pandidakterion – the premier intellectual institution in the Roman Empire. However, the decision may also have been influenced by Justinian’s campaign against crypto-paganism within the empire.
“History tells us that Athens prospered, and that her schools were frequented by many eminent men long after the ravages of Alaric and the visit of Synesius. The empress Eudocia (Athenais) was a year old, and Synesius might have seen in a nurse’s arms the infant who received at Athens the education which made her one of the most accomplished ladies of a brilliant and luxurious court, as well as a person of learning, even without reference to her sex and rank.
“St. John Chrysostom informs us that, in the court of the first Eudocia, the mother of Pulcheria, a knowledge of dress, embroidery, and music, were considered the most important objects on which taste could be displayed; but that to converse with elegance, and to compose pretty verses, were regarded as necessary proofs of intellectual superiority.
“When the members of the native aristocracy in Greece found that they were excluded by the Romans from the civil and military service of the State, they devoted themselves to literature and philosophy. It became the tone of a good society to be pedantic. The wealth and fame of Herodes Atticus have rendered him the type of the Greek aristocratic philosophers.
“Antoninus Pius increased the public importance of the schools of Athens, and gave them an official character, by allowing the professors named by the emperor an annual salary of ten thousand drachmas. Marcus Aurelius, who visited Athens on his return from the East after the rebellion of Avidius Cassius, established official teachers of every kind of learning then publicly taught, and organized the philosophers into a university. Scholarchs were appointed for the four great philosophical sects of the stoics, platonists, peripatetics, and epicureans, who received fixed salaries from the government. The wealth and avarice of the Athenian philosophers became after this common subjects of envy and reproach. Many names of some eminence in literature might be cited as connected with the Athenian schools during the second and third centuries; but to show the universal character of the studies pursued, and the freedom of inquiry that was allowed, it is only necessary to mention the Christian writers Quadratus, Aristeides, and Athenagoras, who shared with their heathen contemporaries the fame and patronage of which Athens could dispose.
“At last, in the year 529, Justinian confiscated all the funds devoted to philosophic instructions at Athens, closed the schools, and seized the endowments of the academy of Plato, which had maintained an uninterrupted succession of teachers for nearly nine hundred years. The last teacher enjoyed an annual revenue of one thousand gold solidi, but it is probable that he wandered in a deserted grove, and lectured in an empty hall.
*All excerpts have been taken from Greece Under the Romans B.C. 146 – A.D. 716, Cristo Raúl.
Abolition of the Philosophical Schools at Athens by Justinian – George Finlay
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