The Cultural Connection between Rome and Conquered Greece

 

The Roman Empire came into the height of its power around 44 B.C., with the death of Julius Caesar and the implementation of Augustus as emperor (The Roman Empire). During its time of expansion from 44 B.C. to 116 B.C., Rome enveloped the remaining civilizations that had posed a threat to its power, including Greece (The Roman Empire). Because of the empire’s vast size and the diversity of its conquered people, Roman culture was a great fusion of different cultures, with the distinct additions of Greece shining through. Although Rome conquered the land of Greece, many scholars throughout history, such as the Roman poet Horace, have noted that the culture of Greece appears to have conquered Rome by integrating itself into Roman culture. Although there is irrefutable evidence of Greek influence in the core of Roman society, conquered Greece did not turn and conquer Rome by way of culture, for as time went on the Romans used their Greek roots to develop their customs in a different direction, particularly in the areas of values, treatment of women, and government. Thus, Rome was more culturally influential than Greece, because of their fresh adaptation of various aspects of society.

 

The Roman poet Horace noticed the cultural similarities between Greece and Rome, and came to the conclusion that although Rome was the physical conqueror, in reality it was Greece that triumphed.  Horace was hired by the Roman government to write poems as great as the revered Greek bard, Homer. This demonstrates the Roman’s awareness of their cultural connection to Greece, and their wish to surpass the legacy left behind by the Greeks. The poet they hired to do so however, did not believe it possible, and made this opinion clear when he said, “Conquered Greece had conquered the brute victor and brought her arts into rustic Latium” (Horace). He believed that although the Roman Empire had outwardly won the battle against Greece, in being conquered the Greeks had inserted their culture into Roman life, and in the end it would be the essence of Greece, not Rome, that lived on. Horace’s opinion is supported by several aspects of Roman culture, such as the polytheistic religion and the early art. The Roman religion is most similar to the Greek not only in its pagan tendencies, but in its essential purpose, and the way that its deities are viewed by the people. The Romans essentially seized the Greek religion and declared it their own, as historians have noted, “Greek Mythology evolved into the Roman Pantheon through cultural infusion” (Nosotros). Both the Greeks and Romans viewed the gods as interfering in a man’s everyday life, and they also both recognized sacrifice and prayer as a direct method to improve quality of life by way of pleasing the gods (Nosotros). Early Roman art, particularly the statues, is considered imitative of Classical Grecian art, and the lack of distinction is transparent, due to the similar styles and subject matter chosen by the respective artists. The subjects evident in the commencement of Roman art are Greek legends and gods, such as Odysseus, Hercules, and Achilles (Precourt). Roman religion and art is nearly indistinguishable from their Greek equivalents because of the nearly direct absorption of these aspects of culture from Greece to Rome. This happened because these aspects of culture were so inherently intertwined, and fit so easily into developing Roman culture.

 

At first glance the Roman and Greek values are nearly identical to each other. But a closer look at the source for the central ideals of each civilization reveals the difference in essential attitude that drove formation of ideals, and how that difference manifested itself in several aspects of culture. Although both cultures were fundamentally militaristic, Roman society had a central violence to it that its Greek counterpart never exhibited. This is made clear through the entertainment of the Greeks in comparison to that of the Romans: the former consisted of sports such as throwing and running, while the latter was dominated by the bloody deaths of gladiators, whether by the hands of another unfortunate fighter, or a wild animal (Roman Society). Even the government of Rome was violent, for the magistrates of the late Republic had personal armies to fight against their peers, and a majority of emperors met their end at the hands of their successor. One example is Emperor Caligula, who was murdered by his closest advisors so that his uncle, Claudius, could take over (The Roman Empire). The greater difference, however, lies in the attitude of the Romans, for one of the essential Roman values is gravitas, or the “deep-rooted seriousness that has defined Roman character” (Document 1). The Greeks showed nothing like this, in fact, “because of this trait, the Greeks perhaps considered the Romans a dull lot, even unimaginative” (Document 1). Even Roman art, which is so similar to Greek art, shows the difference that gravitas makes, for Roman art nearly always had a function, while much of the paramount Greek art was purely ornamental. Along with the unshakable Roman seriousness and duty, came the importance of family that defined Roman life, and contrasts with the general Greek disregard of family. While the Roman family served as a template for the state, and was considered of vital importance, in Sparta, marriage was a loose affair, with women divorcing their husbands if they were away for too long (Roman Society). While the Greek ideals do exhibit surface similarities to the Roman values, the core of each belief system is dissimilar, and under close examination, Greek influence is nearly inconsequential.

The treatment of women did not differ greatly from society to society around 44 B.C., but any discrepancies had a drastic effect, and there were vital differences between Roman and Greek management of females. Women were not permitted to participate in the government in either Greece or Rome. Roman women however, were given much more power than their Grecian counterparts ever had, both inside the household and out of it. Roman women fought for more rights, with the appeal of the Oppian Law as example, were revered and given power as the mistresses of their households, and in many cases their opinions regarding politics were valued and weighted (Thompson). They were not trapped in their homes like Greek wives, for “they could freely receive visitors, leave the house, visits other households, or leave to go shopping” (Roman Society). Although an Athenian woman never gained the privilege of leaving her home, even as Greece grew and changed, a Roman woman’s role was constantly in flux, and by the beginning of the empire, a woman with three children was able to live without a guardian (Thompson). The Roman importance of family also furthered a woman’s power, for she was considered the mistress of her home, and was respected as such (Roman Society). This was taken to an extreme in several cases, for as time passed it became socially acceptable for a man to take his wives’ advice on politics; “There is little doubt that many women exercised considerable influence through their husbands on the political life of the country” (Thompson). In the case of an emperor, that gave a woman quite a bit of political power. The treatment and evolution in status of women clearly separates Roman from Greek, and the position of women was an aspect of Greek culture that was not prolonged by Rome.

 

Although the government of both Greece and Rome began as a monarchy, each evolved completely differently as time passed, to Athenian democracy and the Empire, respectively. Although Greek government changed to give more power and rights to the poor as time went on, eventually implementing democracy, the Roman plebeians were never given full rights within government, and in the end Rome was controlled by one powerful emperor (World History). Athenian democracy is a Greek accomplishment of fame and reverence, but Rome never implemented a democracy. In contrast, Roman government changed over time to take, not give, more political power to the common people. The common people also served a crucial purpose to Rome, for unlike Greeks, who relied heavily on trade for their economy and goods, in Rome, “about 90 percent of the people were engaged in farming. Most Romans survived on the produce from their local area” (World History). During the Republic, plebeian farmers were represented, however unfairly, by the Tribal assembly, but by the end of the empire, the emperors were blatantly totalitarian dictators. Ancient Greece came to an end because of the stronger powers that conquered it, but Rome was the undisputed superpower when its government collapsed. Though Greece became more democratic with the passage of time, Rome became more firmly in the hands of a single person as the empire grew. Rome could not have been as it was without the influence of Greece, but the very essence of Greek culture, Athenian democracy, was never realized in Rome.  The culture of Greece did not conquer Rome because it did not conquer its leaders, its government. Rome was the victor because Greece failed to implement the central aspect of its culture in its conquerors, and Roman government evolved into something entirely different.

 

Despite the strong early influences of Greece, Roman culture developed over time into something entirely different, a mixture of the many cultures it acquired, and in the end it was only Rome that was victorious. Although the Romans did undoubtedly take some aspects of Greek culture, the differences in their value systems, the way they regarded their women, and the way that they ran their government proved Roman culture was its own. Throughout history, every time that one culture conquered another, fragments of the subjugated society remained in evidence through their conquerors. But in the end, it is always the powerful victor that comes out on top, regardless of its influences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

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Hudelson, Mark. "Greek vs. Roman." Study Guide. Palomar College. 16 Dec 2008             <http://daphne.palomar.edu/mhudelson/StudyGuides/GreekRoman_WA.html>.

Nosotro, Rit. "Greek Mythology: From Rome to Today." Hyper History. April 15 2008.                Hyper History. 16 Dec 2008         <http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/essays/cot/t2w06greekinfluence.htm>.

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World History: Patterns of Interaction. McDougal-Littell: 1999, pp. 148-150.