World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0000803597
Reproduction Date:

Title: Ecumene  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Aethiopia, Cartography, Island of the Jewel, Map projection, Caput Mundi
Collection: Ancient Greece, Christian Terminology, Ecclesiology
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


The ecumene (US) or oecumene (UK; Greek: οἰκουμένη, oikouménē, lit. "inhabited") was an ancient Greek term for the known world, the inhabited world, or the habitable world. Under the Roman Empire, it came to refer to the civilized world and the secular and religious imperial administration. In present usage, it is used as the noun form of "ecumenical" and describes the Christian Church as a unified whole or the unified modern world civilization. It is also used in cartography to describe a type of world map (mappa mundi) used in late Antiquity and the Middle Ages.


  • Etymology 1
  • Greece 2
  • Rome 3
  • Modernity 4
    • Religion 4.1
    • Culture 4.2
    • Cartography 4.3
  • Fiction 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


A modern depiction of the ecumene described by Herodotus in the 5th century BC.

The Greek term is the feminine present middle voice participle of the verb οἰκέω (oikéō, "to inhabit") and is a clipped form of οἰκουμένη γῆ (oikouménē gē, "inhabited world").[1]


A Ptolemaic world map (Johannes Schnitzer, 1482).

Eratosthenes of Cyrene (276–196 BC) deduced the circumference of the Earth with remarkable accuracy. The Greek cartographer Crates created a globe about 150 BC.[2] Claudius Ptolemy (AD 83–161) calculated the Earth's surface in his Geography and described the inhabited portion as spanning 180 degrees of longitude (from the Fortunate Isles in the west to Serae and Serica (China) in the east) and about 80 degrees of latitude[3] (from Thule in the north to anti-Meroe below the equator). Ptolemy was well aware that Europe knew only about a quarter of the globe and his erroneous belief that the Indian Ocean was landlocked led to expectation of an unknown land (terra incognita). In fact, symmetry led him to expect that there should be three other continents to balance the ecumene: Perioeci (lit. "beside the ecumene"), Antoeci ("opposite the ecumene"), and the Antipodes (“opposite the feet”).


The word was adopted within Christianity after Constantine I's assembly of a synod of bishops from all over the world, the first ecumenical council, at Nicaea in 325.

By that time, the Greek term had come to refer more specifically to the civilized world and then simply the Roman Empire. This usage continued after the Diocletian Reforms and the Byzantine emperors used it to refer to their imperial administration. Constantinople was the "Ecumenical City" and, after 586, its patriarch was known as the "Ecumenical Patriarch". Pope Gregory I objected to the adoption of this style by John the Faster, as it implied a universal jurisdiction he believed to be held by Rome.[4] His Fifth Epistle berates John for having "attempted to seize upon a new name, whereby the hearts of all your brethren might have come to take offence",[5] despite the title having been granted at the emperor Maurice's behest.



An ecumenical worship service at Taizé Monastery.

In the 20th century, the term has been employed to refer to unified World Council of Churches. Relevant issues include Baptism, the Eucharist and Ministry.


Known world of the Mesopotamian, Babylonian, and Assyrian cultures from documentary sources

In the context of cultural history, the term was first used in an academic sense by Lewis Mumford in his work, Technics and Civilization (1934)[6] and later popularized by William McNeill's "Rise of the West". McNeill suggested that a single global ecumene was created through the dominance of European political institutions, science, technology, and economic forms from the late 18th century onwards. One could argue that prior to the great voyages of discovery, initiated by Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and Ferdinand Magellan, there were originally two separate ecumenes—one covering the Old World and one the New. It was the Spanish conquistadores that fused this second ecumene to the first to create a single integrated "world system".

It must be said that the "ecumene" can differ depending on the viewpoint from which it is perceived: for example, Ancient Babylonians would be familiar with a different area of the world than the Ancient Greeks (though they may overlap). See image to the right.


The term is used in cartography and the historical cartography to describe a type of symbolic, schematic world map made in late Antiquity and the Middle Ages.



  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary. "œcumene, n."
  2. ^ Klein, Samuel John (2005), "Oecumene", Cartography Word of the Day, Designorati, retrieved 2008-01-03 
  3. ^ Although Ptolemy did not measure latitude with degrees but with hours of midsummer daylight, from 12 at the equator to 24 in the arctic.
  4. ^  
  5. ^ St Gregory the Great. Epistle V, §xviii.
  6. ^  
  7. ^ EcumeneHalopedia –
  8. ^ RateHalopedia –

External links

  • The Apotheosis of Homer showing personification of Oecumene
  • Pope Gregory and the Universal Episcopate
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.