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Text 4. Greece and Rome


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Although we conquered Greece, she conquered us: “She brought Art to rustic Rome”, wrote Horace, the great Roman poet, in about 35 B.C. Many Roman citizens agreed with him. The Romans may have triumphed militarily over Greece in 146 B.C. However, the resulting close contact with Greek culture dramatically changed many parts of Roman life. Greek ideas, art, and customs all were to become an important part of the Roman heritage.

The Greek roots of Roman culture run deep. As early as the 600s B.C., Greece had established powerful colonies in southern Italy and Sicily. Greek culture spread quickly as Greek merchants traded Greek goods, such as fine pottery and metalwork, with neighboring peoples. By the 200s B.C., the Greek epic the Odyssey had been translated into Latin.

Greek influence grew even more when the two cultures came into greater contact after Rome’s conquest of Greece. Victorious Roman troops brought Greek statues and painting back to Rome, where they were admired and copied. Greek scholars were brought to Rome as slaves to teach wealthy Roman children.

In fact, Greek culture influenced Roman culture so much that the result is called Greco-Roman culture. With the growth of the Roman Republic, Greco-Roman culture spread throughout the Mediterranean world.

The Romans borrowed heavily from the Greeks. They worshiped Greek gods and gave them Roman names. The Greek god Zeus, ruler of the gods, became the Roman god Jupiter; Aphrodite, goddess of love, became Venus; Ares, the god of war, became Mars.

Roman writers often turned to the Greeks for inspiration. The Roman poet Virgil began to write the Aeneid, his epic poem, as the Trojan War was ending. This is where the Greek epic closes.

In the Aeneid, a Trojan hero known as Aeneas escapes from the Greeks and sails to Italy. It is then Aeneas’s descendant, Romulus, who found the city of Rome. In this way, Virgil links one of the central myths of Greek culture with the birth of Rome.

In architecture, the Romans adopted basic Greek forms. A number of Roman temples, for example, have columns surrounding the main structure, just as most Greek temples do.

Many Romans, including Horace, were not pleased that Greek culture was so widely admired and imitated in Rome. One of the most vocal critics was a well-known Roman senator of the 100s B.C., Cato the Elder.

Cato, who had a great love for Rome, feared that Greek ideas would make the Romans weak. The Romans did borrow very heavily from Greek culture. However, they also created many original works of their own.

The Greeks were inventive, bringing out new ideas and new art forms. The Romans were practical, using and adapting whatever ideas and forms suited their needs. The early Romans were bent on expansion, and they mastered the skills necessary for building and governing and empire. Among these skills were military organization, legal administration, and special engineering ability.

The Roman army was one of the greatest military forces the world has ever seen. Before the Romans, most armies triumphed over their enemies simply by outnumbering them. The Roman army, however, won its victories mainly of its determination and discipline.

Although the early Republic relied on citizen-farmers, after about 100 B.C., Rome began to build a full-time army. Roman soldiers enlisted for periods of up to 20 years. They became hardened by years of fighting.

The Roman army was well organized with a strict chain of command. The army was divided into legions of 6,000 men each. Each legion was a self-contained unit with all the workers necessary to supply the army during long campaigns. Arrow makers, nurses, and engineers traveled with the soldiers. Thus the army could wage long battles without returning to Rome for supplies.

The Roman army was also unusually good at adapting to changing conditions. Specially trained troops of skilled archers, spear throwers, or horse riders could be called into battle.

In contrast, most Greek city-states (except for Sparta) had small armies of citizens, not professional soldiers. These armies served only when needed.

To unify and control their huge Republic, the Roman built more than 50,000 miles of roads – many of them paved with stone. With the paved roads, both messengers and troops could race to remote Roman provinces in case of enemy attack. The network of road was also a great help to trade and communication.

Roman roads were built so well that some are still in use. In the city of Rome, honking cars and buses filled with commuters and sightseers clatter over the Appian Way, one of the very first Roman roads, built in 312 B.C.

In contrast, the mountainous countryside of Greece made road-building difficult. Since no part of their country was very far from the sea, the Greeks turned to it instead. Sea lanes became Greek highways.

Romans also used their engineering skills to perfect the arch they had inherited from the Etruscans. In addition, they invented a new building material – concrete. Concrete is long-lasting, but compared to stone, lightweight. With arches and concrete, the Romans were able to build huge public works – bridges, aqueducts, and stadiums.


Among the engineering skills developed by Roman builders was surveying.

Romans used arches and concrete to build huge bridgelike structures. These aqueductswere built to carry water from mountain springs to the public fountains and baths in nearby cities. One of the longest of these supplied water to the Roman city of Carthage. It ran for more than 50 miles from its source in the mountains to the city.

Roman laws were first written as the Twelve Tables in 450 B.C. Over time, the Roman developed a legal system with courts, judges, and lawyers. Judges based their decisions on common sense, fairness, and individual rights.

The Athenian system of justice was more direct. There were no judges or lawyers. Instead, the accused and accuser argued their own cases before the assembly, which acted as a jury.

As the Romans extended citizenship to a conquered people, they spread their legal system throughout the Mediterranean world. Roman law is the origin of modern-day legal systems in many parts of the world.

The Romans owed much to Greek culture. Yet in practical matters, such as military organization, engineering, and legal administration, the Romans made their own mark on the world.

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