In 200 BC the consuls and the leaders of the senate asked the Roman assembly to declare war on Macedon. Ostensibly, they wanted to protect their recent conquests in northern Italy from the powerful Macedonians and the kingdom of Antiochus, based in Syria but including Iran and much of Asia Minor as well. (The kingdoms had an alliance of their own to conquer the Greek isles.) In reality, the Romans may have pursued conquest and the profits of conquest because after conquering Carthage and Cisalpine Gaul, war had become a habit. The elite Romans could rule like kings in the conquered areas, enrich themselves and their dependents, and bring honor to their families.
Rome sent ambassadors to Greece to secure treaties with small city-states to protect them from attack by the Macedonians. Phillip V of Macedonia was provoked into attacking the city, then Rome declared war. When Macedonia fell, the other city-states went under Rome’s protection with little resistance. When Macedonia revolted, the king was deposed and Macedonia became a Roman province with a garrison. When Corinth revolted against Rome, the city was leveled and its population sold into slavery. Greece was cowed by the example of Corinth. Democracy was suppressed where it existed, and Rome became Greece’s master.
As Rome became a greater and greater influence in the politics of the Hellenistic world, Greek influence on the culture of Rome was also expanding. The Romans were attracted to Greek culture and liked to think of themselves as its champions. Hellenism, an affection for things Greek, sank deep into the lives of the Roman upper classes. The Roman “Hellenists” had a vision of a new, more cultured, more cosmopolitan Rome.
Romans adapted Hellenic culture to their own needs. Roman rule over Campania and Sicily had already acquainted many Romans with Greek theater, religion, and culture. The looting of Greek cities for art and for human beings landed artwork and educated Greeks entered Roman aristocratic households as slaves or hostages for their city’s good behavior.
Religion was another important aspect of Roman culture influenced by the Greeks. Roman religion became a close imitation of the Greek one to the extent that the Greek pantheon and mythology were adopted wholesale by the Romans—only the names changed.
Tomorrow, The Greek Creation Myth Rita Bay