What Were the Responses in the Greek East to Roman Domination Research Paper

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Roman Empire in Greece & the East

The gradual "Romanization" of the Hellenistic world is attested to solidly by material culture: architectural, archeological and numismatic evidence abounds to show that the Romans would have a real and substantial presence in those eastern areas which had once been the dominions of Alexander the Great. But in order to assess the Hellenistic response to this Romanization, we need to look beyond the material artifacts to a certain degree. I am inclined to agree with Greg Woolf that to a certain extent this is a distraction from the real rhetorical and psychological process whereby Romanization was effected: as Woolf notes, "to explain why some Roman material culture was nevertheless adopted by some Greeks it is necessary to invoke a second factor, namely the very marginal role played by material culture in Greek self-definition" (Woolf 1994: 128). I would suggest that the historical facts necessitate an approach which is largely rhetorical in character. Certainly the Romans were fully aware of the symbolic nature of their acquisition of those areas which had once, briefly, been united under the Hellenic imperial rule of Alexander of Macedon -- several of the Julio-Claudian emperors would make highly public (and gestural) pilgrimages to the tomb of Alexander, and the story, presumably apocryphal, told by Strabo among others that the Roman emperor Augustus would accidentally break off the embalmed nose of Alexander the Great's corpse says much about the Roman consciousness of their illustrious precursor, and perhaps also about the eastern response to a new Roman reality within the recollected glory of the creation of Hellenistic culture in Alexander's wake. I will look at three rhetorical strategies for accommodating the Hellenistic world to Roman rule -- strategies which I would loosely term as historical, religious and ideological (while maintaining the awareness that, obviously, there is significant overlap between each of these three basic areas. I will look at the rhetorical strategy which seeks to historically contextualize Roman rule within legends and myths of origin; the way in which religions were used to "Romanize" the east, particularly the cults of worship surrounding the Roman emperor; and finally the way in which education and political life would serve as the means whereby the Romanization could occur. I hope to show that in each of these cases, the overall rhetorical maneuvering can be taken to represent the deep ambiguity of Hellenistic cultural response to the rise of Rome, showing that the overall Greek response was aware of a privileged but potentially vulnerable role within Rome's imperial system .

The facts of history would offer the Hellenistic world a number of intriguing examples which would inevitably be associated in the general consciousness with Rome's establishment, and later extension, of an empire. The first is perhaps the largest and most ironic -- namely the origin of many southern Italian cities as trading colonies by the Greeks long before Rome itself was a city of any real size or significance. The Greek outposts in Sicily and at Neapolis, or present day Naples, would have been a major fact of life for Rome at the earliest. For one example of a specific fact of the Greek mythic past intruding into the Roman reality lies in the legendary mystic philosopher Pythagoras. Pythagoras supposedly traveled from the Aegean (on the island of Samos) ultimately to settle in one of the Greek colonial outposts in Italy, Croton. Legend connected this Pythagorean settlement with the origins of the Roman state under the kingship of Numa. By the time of the Roman empire, this legend needed to be maintained in spite of the facts: Salmeri notes that Livy, Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Cicero would all reject as "anachronistic" this "tradition of Numa as a pupil of Pythagoras" (Salmeri 2000: 87). But there is a larger rhetorical purpose here, which begins by calling attention to the linkage between the cultural golden age of Athens in the 5th century B.C.E. And the origin of Rome: Pythagoras was a significant influence on Socrates and Plato alike, and the notion that he would establish some sort of religious phalanstery at Croton suggests that perhaps Rome's Republic would have its origin somehow in Plato's Republic. But these worries about history may indicate a larger ideological unease. Preston thinks that "the rejection of Numa's debt to Pythagoras is used as a symbol of a wider rejection of foreign influences on Roman culture," and notes that Ovid's Metamorphoses -- which will climax in a speech by Pythagoras before unveiling the newly-deified Julius Caesar -- also "explicitly" retains the link between Numa and Pythagoras to make a large spiritual claim for Roman authority if not autochthony, not necessarily intended to be "identified with Numa's political policies" (Preston 2001: 103). It would seem that the invocation of a classical Greek connection with Roman origins here is ambiguous in its result. Such ambiguities about other aspects of Rome's history would also play out uneasily in the Hellenistic imagination: in particular, the mythic origin of Rome as a people in the flight of Aeneas from Troy, most notably depicted in the explicitly imperial Aeneid of Vergil. Obviously the chief imperial meaning of invoking Troy as part of Rome's history lies in Troy's utter destruction, paralleled by Rome's treatment of Carthage. But to assert Trojan origins is to assert an identity contrary to the hard-won Hellenistic group identity in which the loose affiliation of Greek city-states who would legendarily join to besiege a city in Asia Minor becomes a sort of trope for the mutual alignment of the Greek-speaking areas of the eastern Mediterranean even as their political and imperial identities grew decadent. If Trojan might seem to us like another way of saying "non-Greek" (but also non-barbarian) then Preston notes that "the myth of the Trojan origin of Rome" would put but to open-ended ideological use "in Hellenistic Greece...both to justify enmity towards the Romans and to claim ancient ties of friendship." She adds "the assertion that the Romans were of Trojan origin did not dictate a single attitude towards them. Instead the myth could be reinterpreted in a number of ways to suit contemporary political demands" (Preston 2001: 99)

Of course the perennial popularity of legends and myths of origin in political discourse is easily explained by the way in which they can be readily adapted to serve any ideological purpose. It is a different rhetorical approach to assess them historically -- which requires a reduction to, rather than an embellishment of, the truth. The historical approach is exemplified by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who would address the question of Roman origins from a Hellenistic standpoint in the Roman Antiquities. After a cursory examination of the legend of Romulus -- who gave his name to the city -- Dionysius concludes (somewhat shockingly to our own ears):

. Hence, from now on let the reader forever renounce the views of those who make Rome a retreat of barbarians, fugitive and vagabonds, and let him confidently affirm it to be a Greek city, -- which will be easy when he shows that it is at once the most hospitable and friendly of all cities, and when he bears in mind that the Aborigines were Oenotrians, and these in turn Arcadians, and remembers those who joined with them in their settlement, the Pelasgians who were Argives by descent and came into Italy from Thessaly; and recalls, moreover, the arrival of Evander and the Arcadians, who settled round the Palatine hill, after the Aborigines had granted the place to them; and also the Peloponnesians, who, coming along with Hercules, settled upon the Saturnian hill; and, last of all, those who left the Troad and were intermixed with the earlier settlers. For one will find no nation that is more ancient or more Greek than these. (Rom. Ant. 89.1-2).

Dionysius' project here has "often been characterized as highly conciliatory, not to say flattering" towards the Romans, but Preston notes the way in which it also silently elides the issue of native Roman culture: by reducing Latin to "a dialect of Greek," for example, Preston thinks that "for Dionysius, there is no Roman culture" (Preston 2001: 100). Yet at the same time, Preston concedes that there may be an element of flattery and admiration in this rhetorical straegy as well: she notes that for Plutarch over a century later, it will still remain true that "the highest compliment a Roman may earn is to be called 'Greek,' which is assimilated to meaning 'civilized'." (Preston 2001: 101). This willingness to redefine Romans as Greeks might represent, to a certain degree, the way in which Rome's own cultural privileging of the Greek language and literature would permit Rome to view Greeks with a certain element of exceptionalism. Moreover, from the Greek standpoint, the entry into Roman imperial ambitions came late, and as somewhat of an afterthought: since Rome's initial territorial expansion was into areas that had been outside the boundaries of Alexander's Hellenistic world (the former Carthaginian territories of Spain, and…[continue]

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