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The Greek Influence On Rome

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Julius_CaesarBy Dean J. Argyris* – Rome changed the world; there is no doubt of that. They constructed an intricate network of roads that connected Europe and they established the concept of having three governmental branches.  Rome’s role in the world is best demonstrated in the satirical Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian.’  Specifically, a scene where the People’s Front of Judea and NOT the Judean People’s Front asks, “apart from better sanitation and medicine and irrigation and public health and roads and freshwater systems and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?”

March 15 marks the day in 44BC when approximately 60 Roman Senators who were fearful of newly-named Dictator for Life Julius Caesar opted to assassinate him on the Senate floor.

What does any of this have to do with the Greeks?

There is an old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”  It could also be said that “Rome wasn’t built by the Greeks in a day.”

To this day the Greeks and Italians often point out the similarities between their cultures.  Roman architecture and Greek architecture are strikingly similar. The mythology is nearly the same, though the names are different, both sets of Gods reside on Mount Olympus. Western historians talk about Magna Grecia, a period beginning in the 8th Century BC in which the Greeks colonized what is now known as modern day Sicily, Calabria, Apulia, and Salento.  This could account for some of the similarities.  However, we need only look to the pages of Rome’s own mythology for further insight into the Greek influences on Rome.

In 29 B.C., Publius Vergilius Maro, better known as Virgil, wrote the epic Aeneid.  In the very first stanza, he wrote:

“Expelled and exiled, left the Trojan shore… before he won the Latian realm, and built the destined town; his banished Gods restored to rites divine and settled sure succession in his line. From whence the race of Alban fathers come, and the long glories of majestic Rome.”

The surviving Trojans sailed westward, being told by an oracle to return to their ancestral home. So, they went to Crete.  Finding Crete to inhospitable for them, they moved further west and settled along the Tiber River in Italy. This notion is further enforced in a prophecy that foretells that Carthage will be destroyed by the race descended from the Trojans.

However, the influence doesn’t stop there.  At the height of the Roman Republic and even during the beginning of the Roman Empire under the Julio-Claudian line (from Octavian/Augustus to Nero), if a Roman Patrician wished to reach the highest levels of education, they attended the schools in Greece.  Marcus Tulius Cicero, for example, one of Rome’s leading philosophers, constitutionalists and one of the politicians aligned against Julius Caesar, introduced the ‘common’ Roman to the Greek philosophers by translating many of the texts from Greek to Latin.

Julius Caesar and his general, Mark Antony, were known to have trained their legions in the Spartan manner; idolizing their fortitude.  Caesar and his nephew/adopted son Augustus revered Alexander the Great and during their stays in Alexandria, went to the tomb and paid their respects to the Greek general.  It is even rumored that Caesar wept by a statue of Alexander feeling embarrassed that Alexander had accomplished so much more at a younger age than Caesar.

Greeks also helped protect the Roman Empire during its infancy.  Spartan soldiers were often called up to assist Roman legions in their battles against the Middle-Eastern Parthian Empire.

However, since today marks the day Caesar was assassinated, let us take on a legend; Shakespeare.   Servillius Casca, that man who struck the first blow against Caesar by thrusting a dagger towards his neck cried “adelfe, voethei!”  Causing some 60 Senators to encircle Caesar and continually stab him. Marcus Junius Brutus came up and struck the final blow.  While it’s not certain what Caesar’s last words are, he did not say “E tu, Brute?” Most firsthand accounts seem to suggest that he spoke the Greek words, “kai su, teknon;” Greek for “and you, son?”

The influences continued on under the reign of Constantine I, who moved the capitol of Rome to Constantinople. In doing so, he caused an unspoken rift in the Roman Empire. Rome in the East, beginning with Constantine, became heavily influenced by Greek culture, with Greek becoming the prime language. Eventually it became informally known as “The Empire of the Greeks.” In the west, Latin began to dominate. The Great Schism essentially sealed the deal and the two churches (Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity) were thus born from one. Had the schism not occurred, there would probably have been no Ottoman conquest of Europe and thus no growing division in Theology and we could have found that Greek and Roman cultures would continue to be remarkably similar.

So on this, the Ides of March, let us remember that Greece may have been the first of western civilizations, in its twilight by the time of Rome’s ascension into the known world, but that Greece also was crucial in elevating Rome to the greatness it achieved.

*Dean Argiris is the founder of Argiris Consulting Group, a political consulting firm. Dean has authored and published commentaries on the Greek financial crisis and advocating a third approach to resolving the debacle.

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  • hankz

    If it wasn’t for Greece and Alexander The Great, the Roman Empire won’t have existed…

  • Zak

    Italians/Romans nearly destroyed the Greek race and culture. DNA approved that the Romans are indeed Anatolians mixed with Greeks. The proof is that Italians matched with Turks and their behavior on killing are similar. Romans/Italians and Turks forever Greek enemies who wanted to wipe out the Greek race/existence. Greeks fought so long to keep themselves alive until today.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pocat Patric Nilsson

    One of the most ridiculous articles I’ve ever read on the subject. Of course Rome was influenced by greek culture, like most European countries were influenced by French culture in the 17th and 18th centuries, no one would assert from that that France built their nations. That Julius Caesar may or might not have uttered his final words in greek, is no surprise either. Like French in the 17th and 18th centuries. Greek was at the time the language of culture, so it would not be a surprise that one of the most cultured persons of Rome would have used that, even in his final moment. Most upstart empire’s need to build a more glorius history than they actually had. So did Rome when Virgil glorified Rome’s past by tying it to the classic greek epos of the Iliad and the conflict about Troy. Sweden who was an upstart empire at the middle of the 17th century did the same when a renowned writer actually tried to tie Sweden to the origins of mankind, by saying his country was the Paradise from which Adam and Eve was banished. Rome was influenced by a higher culture, and great generals like Alexander and some architectural elements, but they built their own culture based on these influences. Like any artist who has other artists as influences, but still have their own style. Like any general who admire a great general in the past but still have tactics/strategy of their own. Like any architect liking some old building but still wanting to create their own. That does NOT make their output Greek. And when it comes to protecting the Roman Empire at it’s infancy???? Rome always used specialty auxiliary troops from conquered or allied nations to add to their capability in war, nothing special with them using Spartan troops. Would you say that the Numidian cavalry used at Zama was evidence of Numidia protecting the Roman Empire at it’s infancy? Of course not.