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The Hellenisation Of Rome Notes

Classics Notes > Roman History 241 BC to 146 BC Notes

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What should we understand by 'The Hellenisation of Rome' in this period? What was it? What difference did it make?
Hellenisation was a process which, to varying extents, had affected the greater part of the empire in Africa, Asia and Europe conquered by Alexander the Great and then dominated by the various dynasties which eventually succeeded him. In the Seleucid and Ptolemaic kingdoms, where the process was naturally most obvious, the Greco-Macedonian settlers dominated the political and cultural lives of the many new cities founded throughout the empires. They took with them their Greek institutions such as democracy and social/cultural life based around the gymnasium and the theatre; the thoroughly Hellenised city of Ai Khanoum found in modern Afghanistan is a good example of the extent of this phenomenon. How far this applied to Rome, what form it took there (it certainly did not have the same influence and effects everywhere) and how active or passive the two sides were in bringing it about are important questions when considering Roman interaction with the Greek East, predominantly from 200 BC onwards but even before this. The archaeological and literary evidence shows that the process had a long history which spiked considerably at crucial moments, in particular the Roman domination of Greece itself. Hellenistic influence was predominantly felt culturally at Rome; her art, architecture and literature were all heavily affected and this reflects the traditional Roman receptiveness to new ideas, religions and people. It also came to represent the new Roman mastery of the Greeks; she had conquered the East and part of the spoils was their culture, which was the Rome's to use as she saw fit. Hellenistic forms were used by the Roman nobility to advertise themselves at home but also diplomatically by the senate to represent their dominate position. Rome adopted and adapted, culturally and politically, many aspects of Hellenism throughout her history; there are very few things which can be called truly, traditionally and specifically Roman. Early Hellenistic influences in Rome, during the period before the second Punic War, came from two areas; Etruria, which was at least partly Hellenised, and the southern cities of Magna Graecia, which were mainly Greek colonies and so naturally had very close ties with the Greek mainland. There were some limited artistic and architectural influences, such as the temple to the god Asclepius built in 291 and the Greek style sarcophagus of Cornelius Scipio Barbatus, but the main influence was literary and the majority of early Roman literature has a strongly Greek origin; for instance the Sibylline books, from which prophetic readings were frequently taken (notably the advice in 205 to import the Bona Dea cult from the East), were written in Greek in 431 BC and read with Greek cultic practises. With regard to more regular forms of literature the earliest Roman authors known come from the second half of the third century and the Greek influence on them is undeniable. Livius Andronicus was the first to translate the Odyssey and drama into Latin from Greek and one of the first annalists, Fabius Pictor, chose to write his history of Rome in Greek; both men undoubtedly had a deep knowledge of the Greek language and its literature. Furthermore the two earliest

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