Foreign Influences; Hellenism at Rome.When we think of the conquests of Rome, we usually think of the armies which she defeated, and the lands which she subdued. But these were not the only conquests which she made. She appropriated not only foreign lands, but also foreign ideas. While she was plundering foreign temples, she was obtaining new ideas of religion and art. The educated and civilized people whom she captured in war and of whom she made slaves, often became the teachers of her children and the writers of her books. In such ways as these Rome came under the influence of foreign ideas. The most powerful of these foreign influences was that of Greece. We might say that when Greece was conquered by Rome, Rome was civilized by Greece. These foreign influences were seen in her new ideas of religion and philosophy, in her literature, her art, and her manners.
The Roman Religion.As Rome came into contact with other people, we can see how her religion was affected by foreign influences. The worship of the family remained much the same; but the religion of the state became considerably changed. It is said that the entire Greek Olympus was introduced into Italy. The Romans adopted the Greek ideas and stories regarding the gods; and their worship became more showy and elaborate. Even some of the superstitious and fantastic rites of Asia found their way into Rome. These changes did not improve the religion. On the contrary, they made it more corrupt. The Roman religion, by absorbing the various ideas of other people, became a world-wide and composite form of paganism. One of the redeeming features of the Roman religion was the worship of exalted qualities, like Honor and Virtue; for example, alongside of the temple to Juno, temples were also erected to Loyalty and Hope.
Roman Philosophy.The more educated Romans lost their interest in religion, and betook themselves to the study of Greek philosophy. They studied the nature of the gods and the moral duties of men. In this way the Greek ideas of philosophy found their way into Rome. Some of these ideas, like those of the Stoics, were elevating, and tended to preserve the simplicity and strength of the old Roman character. But other ideas, like those of the Epicureans, seemed to justify a life of pleasure and luxury.
Roman Literature.Before the Romans came into contact with the Greeks, they cannot be said to have had anything which can properly be called a literature. They had certain crude verses and ballads; but it was the Greeks who first taught them how to write. It was not until the close of the first Punic war, when the Greek influence became strong, that we begin to find the names of any Latin authors. The first author, Andronicus, who is said to have been a Greek slave, wrote a Latin poem in imitation of Homer. Then came Naevius, who combined a Greek taste with a Roman spirit, and who wrote a poem on the first Punic war; and after him, Ennius, who taught Greek to the Romans, and wrote a great poem on the history of Rome, called the “Annals.” The Greek influence is also seen in Plautus and Terence, the greatest writers of Roman comedy; and in Fabius Pictor, who wrote a history of Rome, in the Greek language.
Roman Art.As the Romans were a practical people, their earliest art was shown in their buildings. From the Etruscans they had learned to use the arch and to build strong and massive structures. But the more refined features of art they obtained from the Greeks. While the Romans could never hope to acquire the pure aesthetic spirit of the Greeks, they were inspired with a passion for collecting Greek works of art, and for adorning their buildings with Greek ornaments. They imitated the Greek models and professed to admire the Greek taste; so that they came to be, in fact, the preservers of Greek art.
Roman Manners and Morals.It is difficult for us to think of a nation of warriors as a nation of refined people. The brutalities of war seem inconsistent with the finer arts of living. But as the Romans obtained wealth from their wars, they affected the refinement of their more cultivated neighbors. Some men, like Scipio Africanus, looked with favor upon the introduction of Greek ideas and manners; but others, like Cato the Censor, were bitterly opposed to it. When the Romans lost the simplicity of the earlier times, they came to indulge in luxuries and to be lovers of pomp and show. They loaded their tables with rich services of plate; they ransacked the land and the sea for delicacies with which to please their palates. Roman culture was often more artificial than real. The survival of the barbarous spirit of the Romans in the midst of their professed refinement is seen in their amusements, especially the gladiatorial shows, in which men were forced to fight with wild beasts and with one another to entertain the people.
In conclusion, we may say that by their conquests the Romans became a great and, in a certain sense, a civilized people, who appropriated and preserved many of the best elements of the ancient world; but who were yet selfish, ambitious, and avaricious, and who lacked the genuine taste and generous spirit which belong to the highest type of human culture.
SELECTIONS FOR READING
Mommsen, Vol. II., Bk. III., Ch. 10, “Third Macedonian War” (2).1
Michelet, Bk. II., Ch. 8, “Reduction of Spain and the Greek States” (6).
How and Leigh, Ch. 27, “Fall of Macedonia and Greece” (1).
Pelham, Bk. III., Ch. 3, “The Roman State and People” (1).
Granrud, Third Period, “The Supremacy of the Senate” (13).
Abbott, Ch. 5, “The Supremacy of the Nobilitas” (13).
CATO THE CENSOR AND THE GREEK INFLUENCE.Liddell, pp. 450-455 (1); How and Leigh, pp. 302-305, see also index “Hellenism” (1); Shuckburgh, pp. 405, 406, 518-521 (1); Cruttwell, pp. 91-98 (17); Pelham, pp. 192-198 (1); Mommsen, Vol. II., pp. 413-423, 557-567 (2); Plutarch, “Cato the Censor” (11).
1 The figure in parenthesis refers to the number of the topic in the Appendix, where a fuller title of the book will be found.