What Debt Did The Romans Owe To The Ancient Greek S Conquered The Romans?

How does the phrase “the conqueror became the conquered one” relate to Rome’s imperial expansion into the Hellenistic world?


This was the sentiment of Quintus Horatius Flaccus, commonly known as Horace, who lived from 65 B.C. to 8 B.C. This was an interesting, if dangerous, time to be a Roman, as it encompassed the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Empire under Augustus.

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The Greeks considered the Romans a barbarian culture. Although, after the wars with Pyrrhus of Epirus they had to admit “But they don’t fight like barbarians.”

Roman interactions with the Greek culture probably began around the 5th century BC as Greeks colonized much of Southern Italy and Sicily. Naples, Tarentum, Nola, Metapontum and Locri were all cities in Southern Italy that were founded by Greeks. The Romans eagerly embraced the arts, architecture and literature and even the gods of the Greeks (sometimes changing the names of the gods). By the third century B.C. the educated class of Roman all spoke and read Greek, and it was usual for wealthy Romans to hire (or purchase) Greek pedagogues for their children. In 212 B.C. during the Second Punic war, the Roman general Claudius Marcellus conquered Syracuse, a Greek city in Sicily, and, while he spared the populace he appropriated a vast amount of Greek artifacts for his triumph, bringing them to Rome to be displayed. The Romans went gaga over them and Greek statuary and other arts became all the rage.

In terms of literature, the first famous Roman tragic playwright, Livius Andronicus, was actually a Greek former slave who had belonged to someone from the Livius family. He was the first to translate the Iliad and the Odyssey from Greek into Latin, around 235 B.C. Also in the late third century B.C. we find the comedic playwright Titus Maccius Plautus. Plautus was not Greek but was an Italian rustic. His work, however, clearly draws on the inspiration of some of the later Greek comic playwrights like Menander.

Greek schools of philosophy also became very popular among Romans starting from the third century B.C. , notably Stoicism and Epicureanism.

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Some of the most famous Roman politicians were know to be Graecophiles, Both Scipio Major and Scipio Minor, Titus Quinctius Flamininus and Aemilius Paullus were all devotees of Greek culture. The very conservative Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder, on the other hand, detested Greek culture, believing that it was effete. He did not entirely reject Greek culture, however, as he claimed to be a Stoic.

The Romans did not actually conquer Greece outright until the Battle of Pydna in 168 B.C. when Aemilius Paullus defeated the Macedonian King Perseus. After this battle the Macedonian empire was broken up and Rome made Greece into a permanent province.

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In a sense, Horace was wrong. Greece had already conquered Rome culturally long before Rome conquered Greece politically.

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