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Ptolemy's World, From The Atlas of Ancient and Classical Geography by Samuel Butler

Ptolemy's World, From The Atlas of Ancient and Classical Geography by Samuel Butler, Ernest Rhys, editor (Suffolk, 1907, repr. 1908)

Public Domain. Courtesy of Maps of Asia Minor, the Caucasus, and Neighboring Lands

Oikumene, from a Greek verb meaning "to inhabit," refers to the inhabited, populated, or civilized part of the world.

Usage: You may you find the term oikumene in descriptions of geography or maps, and the plural (oikumenes) to refer to different bordered regions.

Etymology Notes: You can see the Greek word for house, oikos, in oikumene. You also see oikos -- less obviously -- in the first two syllables of the word economy.

In Greek Mythology: When a chained ("bound") Prometheus describes Io's wanderings, he talks about her wandering through the eastern half of the oikumene ["Αἰσχύλου Προμηϑεύς," by Günther Zuntz; Hermes (1983), pp. 498-499.]

Conventional Spellings: You may find the word oikumene italicized as the Greek term itself, rather than as an English form of it.

There are English words that come directly from oikumene that make the same spelling alteration witnessed in economy [the "oik" to "ec"]. In the context of the early Christian Church, ecumenism refers to attempts made to unite all the churches (of the known, civilized world). Ecumenical (or Oicumenical) Councils were assemblies of the leading religious leaders of the Christian communities in the Christian world to make binding decisions on matters of Church law, policy, doctrine, etc. As distinct from the early ecumenical councils, the Ecumenical Movement is a modern (20th century) phenomenon. It attempts to unite all Christians.


  • "Oecumenical Councils" The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Ed. E. A. Livingstone. Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • "Αἰσχύλου Προμηϑεύς," by Günther Zuntz; Hermes (1983), pp. 498-499.
  • "Lists of Provinces in Ptolemy's Geography," by Aubrey Diller; Classical Philology, (Jul., 1939), pp. 228-238.
Alternate Spellings: ecumene, oecumene
Diller says that in his Geography, Ptolemy divided the oikumene into chorai (eparchiai and satrapeiai).

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