Roman Greece


Roman Greece

Roman Greece is the period of Greek history (of Greece proper; as opposed to the other centers of Hellenism in the Roman world) following the Roman victory over the Corinthians at the Battle of Corinth in 146 BC until the reestablishment of the city of Byzantium and the naming of the city by the Emperor Constantine as the capital of the Roman Empire (as Nova Roma, later Constantinople) in 330 AD.

The Greek peninsula came under Roman rule in 146 BC, Macedonia being a Roman province, while southern Greece came under the surveillance of Macedonia's praefect. However, some Greek poleis managed to maintain a partial independence and avoid taxation. The Aegean islands were added to this territory in 133 BC. Athens and other Greek cities revolted in 88 BC, and the peninsula was crushed by the Roman general Sulla. The Roman civil wars devastated the land even further, until Augustus organized the peninsula as the province of Achaea in 27 BC.

Greece was the key eastern province of the Roman Empire, as the Roman culture had long been in fact Greco-Roman. The Greek language served as a lingua franca in the East and in Italy, and many Greek intellectuals such as Galen would perform most of their work in Rome.

Several emperors contributed new buildings to Greek cities, especially in the Athenian agora, where the Agrippeia of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, the Library of Pantaenus, and the Tower of the Winds, among others, were built. Life in Greece continued under the Roman Empire much the same as it had previously. Roman culture was highly influenced by the Greeks; as Horace said, "Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit". (Translation: "Captive Greece took captive her uncouth conqueror".) The epics of Homer inspired the Aeneid of Virgil, and authors such as Seneca the younger wrote using Greek styles. The Roman nobles who regarded the Greeks as backwards and petty, were the main political opponents of Roman heroes such as Scipio Africanus, who tended to study philosophy and regard Greek culture and science as an example to be followed. Similarly, most Roman emperors tended to be philhellenic. The emperor Nero visited Greece in 66 AD, and performed at the Olympic Games, despite the rules against non-Greek participation. He was, of course, honoured with a victory in every contest, and in 67 AD he proclaimed the freedom of the Greeks at the Isthmian Games in Corinth, just as Flamininus had over 200 years previously. Hadrian was also particularly fond of the Greeks; before he became emperor he served as an eponymous archon of Athens. He also built his namesake arch there, and had a Greek lover, Antinous.

At the same time Greece and much of the rest of the Roman east came under the influence of Christianity. The apostle Paul of Tarsus had preached in Corinth and Athens, and Greece soon became one of the most highly Christianized areas of the empire.

Later Roman Empire

During the second and third centuries, Greece was divided into provinces including Achaea, Macedonia, Epirus, Thrace and Moesia. During the reign of Diocletian in the late 3rd century, Moesia was organized as a diocese, and was ruled by Galerius. Under Constantine Hellas was part of the prefectures of Macedonia and Thrace. Theodosius divided the prefecture of Macedonia into the provinces of Creta, Achaea, Thessalia, Epirus Vetus, Epirus Nova, and Macedonia. The Aegean islands formed the province of Insulae in the prefecture of Asiana.

Greece faced invasions from the Heruli, Goths, and Vandals during the reign of Theodosius. Stilicho, who acted as regent for Arcadius, evacuated Thessaly when the Visigoths invaded in the late 4th century. Arcadius' Chamberlain Eutropius allowed Alaric to enter Greece, and he looted Athens, Corinth and the Peloponnese. Stilicho eventually drove him out around 397 and Alaric was made magister militum in Illyricum. Eventually, Alaric and the Goths migrated to Italy, sacked Rome in 410, and built the Visigothic Empire in Iberia and southern France, which lasted until 711 with the advent of the Arabs.

Although Greece remained part of the relatively unified eastern half of the empire, the land had still never fully recovered from the Roman occupation almost 500 years earlier. It had become poor and underpopulated, and the focus of the Greek east had moved to Constantinople and Asia Minor during Constantine's reign. Athens, Sparta and other cities were ignored, and many of their statues and other art were removed and taken to Constantinople. Nevertheless, the area remained one of the strongest centres of Christianity in the late Roman and early Byzantine periods.

ee also

* Roman and Byzantine Greece


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