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Communication in Europe and its Influence


The legacy of Hellenic culture would eventually and selectively pass to Rome. It was preceded by the art of writing itself. The Roman alphabet, nearly identical to the one we employ but limited at the time to block capitals, resulted from the modification of a Greek variant sometimes known as the Euboean or Western Greek alphabet. This diffused into the Italian peninsula under the auspices of the Etruscans, who eventually ceded it to Rome, where it was modified into the alphabet used in most of western Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, Australasia, and the Americas. The contrasting Ionian or Eastern Greek alphabet became the standard for written communication in the fifth-century B.C.E. Athens and the model for the modern Greek alphabet; it also provided inspiration for the later Cyrillic alphabet, used to write Russian and several other Slavic languages.

Many historians contend that the intellectual and artistic achievements of Rome failed to surpass the legacy of Hellenic civilization. However, it appears that in both the Roman Republic (fifth to first centuries B.C.E.) and Roman Empire (first century B.C.E. to fifth century C.E.) the literacy rate was higher—yet oratorical eloquence was just as prized and cultivated as it had been in Greece. Earlier views suggesting that mass literacy might have existed in Rome have been tempered by recent estimates restricting it to anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of the population. Nevertheless, writing, in the form of signage and inscriptions on altars and monuments, was widespread. The ruins of Pompeii even reveal electoral posters, along with graffiti drawing on the poetry of Ovid and Propertius, which suggests that even some members of the underclass must have been able to read and write. In wealthier homes slaves were sometimes taught to be household scribes. Literacy was also not unknown among the gladiators.

The book trade, in the form of papyrus scrolls, flourished under the empire. Teams of scribes were able to produce hundreds of copies and occasionally revised "editions" of a given work—a feat usually linked with the printing revolution. Bookstores were established, and even advertised. Papyrus was, however, expensive (ordinary correspondence usually employed wax tablets) and many private libraries accumulated written materials more for status—conspicuous consumption, to use Thorstein Veblen's term—than for the sake of having a repository of knowledge.

More so than in Greece, the communication of ideas in Rome emphasized practical arts such as the building of roads, aqueducts, bridges, and mills. Literacy also served administration and law, especially in rationalizing the transition from republic to empire. The growing body of law regarding contract and property rights and other legal obligations further inflated a growing bureaucracy. Communication over distance was accomplished through an efficient imperial postal system and an early forerunner of the newspaper, the acta—a sheet of relevant news that would be distributed, copied, redistributed, and when necessary, read aloud to those who were not literate. Coordinating events in time was expedited through the calendrical reforms overseen by Julius Caesar (100–44 B.C.E.), which laid the foundations of the calendar we use today. The variable (against the solar year) 12-month lunar calendar, in which the year starts in March, was displaced by a 365.2-day, (366 every fourth year), 12-month year starting in January, with the number of days in each month adjusted accordingly.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cluster compound to ConcupiscenceCommunication in Europe and its Influence - Orality And Literacy In Greece, Plato's Critique, Rome, The Middle Ages, Monastic Expansion