A Marriage of Civilizations
Greece and Rome: An Integrated History of the Ancient Mediterranean explores the many ways in which two very different cultures intersected, coincided, and at times collided. The relationship between Greeks and Romans has virtually no parallel in world history. Their contact created the extraordinary fusion that we call Greco-Roman—a unique marriage of civilizations that encompasses statecraft, mythology, language, philosophy, literature, fine arts, architecture, science, and much else.
Yet there is truth to the traditional view that parts of our cultural heritage derive specifically from Greece or from Rome. For example, the West owes its law codes to the legally oriented outlook of the Romans. By contrast, drama, which never caught on in Roman circles, is a wholly Greek invention. This is an example of how the relationship between these two cultures was like a marriage: two distinct personalities, competing in some areas, sharing in others, and creating a completely new synthesis in a third realm.
This cultural partnership began almost with the first recorded contact of Greeks and Romans in the 4th century B.C. and continued for almost 1,000 years. Consider these revealing clues:
- Much of what we think of today as Classical Greek art is, in fact, copies commissioned by wealthy Roman connoisseurs. The common museum label "Roman copy of a lost Greek original" attests to this fusion of Roman taste and Greek artistry.
- Romans displayed a love–hate relationship with Greece, epitomized by the Roman politician Cato the Elder, who was deeply immersed in Greek culture but who publicly denounced its corrupting influence.
- Educated Romans were predominately bilingual in Greek. Caesar's dying words were not the Latin "Et tu, Brute?" as Shakespeare has it in Julius Caesar, but reportedly the Greek "Kai su, teknon?" meaning "You too, child?"
- Christianity flourished and spread in the unsurpassed infrastructure of the Roman Empire. But the language of the New Testament is Greek, as is the philosophical outlook of Christianity's earliest theologians.
"There's never been anything quite like it," Professor Robert Garland marvels. "Greece and Rome are two cultures joined at the hip, arguably the most special and the most important relationship in all of history."
What You Will Learn
Greece and Rome brings together numerous historical and cultural themes for a close analysis of the two cultures that dominated the ancient Mediterranean world. If you are entirely new to this subject, you will find Professor Garland's presentation an ideal introduction to Classical civilization. And if you are already steeped in different details of the story, this course is a unique perspective on a central overriding influence of the era.
Greece and Rome begins by asking:
- Who were the Greeks and Romans?
- What were their images of themselves?
- How did they organize their societies?
Then you proceed to explore their interactions through trade and, inevitably, war as Roman influence began to spread into the eastern Mediterranean.
The world of the Greeks that the Romans encountered during this period, from the 3rd to 1st centuries B.C., was the spectacular Hellenistic civilization created by the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was a unified Greek culture with stunning artistic and intellectual achievements that thoroughly captivated—or "Hellenized"—the Romans. But their political interactions with the Greeks were another matter.
You will follow the long series of wars in which the Romans at first preserved Greek independence while suppressing hostile Greek rulers. Then Rome grew impatient with Greek ingratitude, duplicity, and infighting, and eventually resorted to the efficient brutality for which Rome's legions were renowned. With the death of Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemaic Greek rulers, in 31 B.C., Rome had conquered not only every Greek land, but the entire Mediterranean world. For the next half millennium, Greece and Rome would be inseparable.
Greece and Rome goes well beyond the political and military stories to immerse you in the details of life in Classical antiquity, investigating Greek and Roman approaches to human universals such as death, leisure, and sex. You will also explore, in depth, the emergence and development of an integrated Greco-Roman culture as reflected in religion, art, architecture, medicine, science, technology, various literary genres, education, and philosophy.
Finally, you will look at the challenges posed by Judaism and Christianity, and discover how the empire split into a Greek-speaking East and a Roman-speaking West.
How Were Greeks and Romans Different?
For all their similarities, Greeks and Romans were different enough that each engaged in cultural stereotyping of the other that amounted to latent racism. However, their more substantive differences included these:
- Religion: Greek religion was anthropomorphic, with deities displaying human form and manner. Early Romans didn't believe in deities, but rather in numina—divine powers that had precise functions but no physical identity.
- View of foreigners: Romans were far more diverse in origin than the Greeks, which made the Romans more open to foreigners. This had profound effects, as the Romans used grants of citizenship as a political tool to cement allies and expand empire.
- Entertainment: Most Greeks didn't enjoy seeing people butcher one another. The Romans, by contrast, had an inexhaustible appetite for gladiatorial combat, wild animal shows with human captives as prey, and public executions.
- Building big: The largest structures in the Greek world were theaters, some of which could hold 20,000–40,000 people. The Romans had a more grandiose concept of public space. The Circus Maximus, where chariot races took place, could pack in 250,000 spectators.
- Thinking deep: The Greeks delighted in analyzing the world, asking questions such as: What is the nature of existence? What constitutes the ideal state? What is virtue? For their part, the Romans were content to run the world.
Plutarch on Greeks, Romans, and Learning
In the 1st century, a prolific Greek writer emerged who is emblematic of everything this course is about. Plutarch recognized the value of examining the Greeks and Romans alongside one another, and wrote a celebrated set of parallel biographies of famous Greeks and Romans. He also believed that Greek and Roman histories hold instructive parallels.
Plutarch wrote on education as well, and in Lecture 28 you will hear Professor Garland read this quote: "Learning, of all human enterprises, alone is immortal and divine. The two chief things in human nature are mind and reason. The mind exercises control over reason … and it alone comes to maturity with increase of years, and the lapse of time, which strips away everything else, adds understanding to old age."
Course Lecture Titles
- 1. Who Were the Greeks? Who Were the Romans?
- 2. Trade and Travel in the Mediterranean
- 3. Democratic or Republican
- 4. Law and Order
- 5. Less than Fully Human
- 6. Close Encounters, 750–272 B.C.
- 7. The Velvet Glove, 272–190 B.C.
- 8. How the Two Polytheisms (Almost) Merged
- 9. The Iron Fist, 190–146 B.C.
- 10. The Last Hellenistic Dynasts, 146–31 B.C.
- 11. Why the Greeks Lost, Why the Romans Won
- 12. Philhellenism and Hellenophobia
- 13. The Two Languages
- 14. Leisure and Entertainment
- 15. Sex and Sexuality
- 16. Death and the Afterlife
- 17. From Mystery Religion to Ruler Cult
- 18. Greek Cities under Roman Rule
- 19. Greeks in Rome, Romans in Greece
- 20. The Hellenism of Augustus
- 21. Art, Looting, and Reproductions
- 22. Architecture, Sacred and Secular
- 23. Science and Technology
- 24. Disease, Medical Care, and Physicians
- 25. The Greek Epic and Its Roman Echo
- 26. Tragedy and Comedy
- 27. Love Poetry, Satire, History, the Novel
- 28. Greek Influences on Roman Education
- 29. Greek Philosophy and Its Roman Advocates
- 30. Hellenomania from Nero to Hadrian
- 31. Jews, Greeks, and Romans
- 32. Christianity's Debt to Greece and Rome
- 33. The Apotheosis of Athens
- 34. The Decline of the West
- 35. The Survival of the East
- 36. The Enduring Duo