Research Paper: Roman Empire in Greece

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[. . .] The different approach Rome took in Asia Minor rather than Gaul is indicated, as Salmeri notes, by the fact that Gallia "Narbonenensis sent its men to the Senate well ahead of Asia, although the latter had been created a province some years before Narbonensis" (Salmeri 2000: 56). But it was also, in Salmeri's view, not a deliberate slight: instead, the different ruling strategies that were pursued in the Hellenistic east when Rome "realized that the system of government adopted in Spain and Gaul would not do for an area like Asia Minor which was marked by robust development and urbanization" (Salmeri 2000: 55). The context of Hellenistic interaction between city-states -- rather than large tribal areas like Gaul -- means that perhaps Dionysius is attempting to define Rome as just another Greek city-state in order to maintain the internal Hellenistic paradigm for government.

Interestingly we can read Plutarch's own rhetorical approach in the Precepts of Statecraft as to some extent mimicking Dionysius' earlier writing. Plutarch will rely on an example in which the linkage between the Caesars and Alexander himself is made explicit, and seems calculated to flatter:

And Caesar,81 when he took Alexandria, drove into the city holding Areius by the hand and conversing with him only of all his friends, then said to the Alexandrians, who were expecting the most extreme measures and were begging for mercy, that he pardoned them on account of the greatness of their city and for the sake of its founder Alexander, "and thirdly," said he, "as a favour to my friend here." Is there any comparison between such a favour and the procuratorships and governorships of provinces from which many talents may be gained and in pursuit of which most public men grow old haunting the doors of other men's houses82 and leaving their own affairs uncared for? (Praecepta 18)

Plutarch has recourse to Caesar's example in what is a discussion about imperial policies of preferment and advancement, which may hinge upon a despotism tempered only by philhellenic sentiments. Woolf notes the "notoriously philellenic" public stances taken by various Roman emperors, including (perhaps most notoriously) the vexed question of Nero's various Greek adventures, which have led to contradictory assertions of its significance either "as mania or as policy" (Woolf 1994: 133). Yet later emperors such as Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius were more unambiguous in their strategies than Nero: "by intervening to preserve what was good about Greece, through beneficia and law," these emperors would paradoxically "show themselves as more Roman, not less" (Woolf 1994: 135). Dio Chrysostom exemplifies the twofold nature of the cultural encounter, when he addresses the subject of his own banishment by the Roman emperor upon the reversal of the decree of banishment by his successor. Dio takes for granted the notion that there are different rhetorical worlds which are also different levels of acculturation between Rome and the east:

Now to my hearers I used to say practically the same things as Socrates did, things old-fashioned and trite though they were, and when they refused to leave me in peace even on reaching Rome itself, I did not venture to speak any word of my own, fearing lest I be laughed at and regarded as a fool, since I was well aware how completely old-fashioned and ignorant I was; and I said to myself: "Come now, if I, copying the words of another, use such derogatory words about things which are highly regarded at Rome here, and tell them that not one of these things is a good, if I speak of luxury and intemperance, and tell them that what they need is a thorough and sound education, perhaps they will not laugh at me for uttering such sentiments nor declare that I am a fool. (Or. 13:29.)

Just as Dio invokes Socrates here, Plutarch overall is keen to place the Roman imperial rulers within the context of larger legendary figures, both Greek and Roman, in such a way that exempts them from criticism: the Precepts are filled with historical-cum-anecdotal maunderings such as "Why, the Athenians blamed Cimon for wine-drinking, and the Romans, having nothing else to say, blamed Scipio for sleeping; and the enemies of Pompey the Great, observing that he scratched his head with one finger, reviled him for it" (Praecepta 4). To some degree this allows Roman history a greater respectability by employing the same "parallel lives" method that Plutarch would use in his perennially-popular moralistic biographical sketches. But it does seem like Plutarch puts the Roman emperor in a place that lies beyond outright skepticism.

The role of the emperor was, of course, expanded into an ideologically religious one by making him the subject of a cult. To some extent the introduction of a Roman "imperial cult" dedicated to ritual worship of the Roman emperor or his family was another way in which Roman models would be assimilated to existing Hellenistic reality. Price notes that the imperial cult took the place of existinc "Hellenistic royal cults" although the actual element of deification was a Roman refinement: Hellenistic decrees will "describe the political benefactions of the king," but only the Roman "decrees make explicit and elaborate comparisons between actions fo the emperor and those of the gods" (Price 1984: 55). Price also notes that in the Hellenistic period "royal cults were city cults" but that the Roman imperial cult included this element but was extended to larger practice "organized by the provincial assemblies" (Price 1984: 56). Religion was simply a part of Roman imperial policy, and although Roman religion was overall extremely flexible and welcoming towards foreign importations, they expected the same out of territories added to the empire. In the Greek east, religious practice was likewise adjusted, and Woolf notes that "the cultic life of the city" was subject to imperial "corrections," or reforms to religious practice dictated as part of imperial policy "sponsored by Rome, and most on lines approved of by Romans" (Woolf 1994: 123). The priests of the imperial cult "came from the local elite and were generally among the most prominent figures in the city," Price notes, and their priesthood included privilege in the political assemblies as well (Price 1984: 62-3). (The political meaning, and uneasiness about it, may be the reason why -- in Preston's analysis -- Plutarch is nervous about discussing the imperial cult, and "seems almost deliberately to bypass" the topic [Preston 2001: 110].) As for how it operated as a religious institution, Woolf sees the process more as one of syncretism, and warns that it would be "a mistake to treat the imperial cult as a unitary phenomenon, rather than as the product of countless recognitions of the emperor and insertions of him into existing contexts" (Woolf 1994: 127). Price offers an example of such syncretism where "a foundation at Ephesus gives the idea of the way that the emperor was added to the traditional cult of Artemis" (Price 1984: 104).

But priesthood -- and the introduction to the Roman cursus honorum as a gateway to social and economic advancement -- were only a few of the social benefits that could be gained by a conciliatory relation on the part of the Greek east to their new Roman overlords. The benefits offered by Roman citizenship were to some degree ambiguous, and Salmeri notes that "the Lycian Opramoas, one of the wealthiest inhabitants of the Empire known to us, brought such benefits to his countrymen as only an emperor normally could, yet he does not seem to have acquired Roman citizenship" (Salmeri 2000: 59). But overall, citizenship was a positive goal held out as a reward to the Hellenic world, despite the persistence of negative stereotypes about the Greek east within Rome itself. Woolf notes that "Roman characterization of imperial Greeks was cast in typically moral terms," and Greeks were used to "exemplify volubilitas, ineptia, arrogantia, impudentia, and levitas" -- all vices which could be interpreted as explaining the fact that the Helllenistic world had failed in its maintenance of imperium. (Woolf 1994: 121). But overall we are addressing the issue of social control, and there is no reason why condescension and a desire to pacify cannot exist simultaneously in the treatment of a subaltern population. Salmeri does not give much weight to Woolf's analysis, which he thinks fails "to give much weight to the significant changes that centuries of Roman control, in areas such as Asia Minor, eventually brought about in the conduct of city politics and in the making and advancement of the ruling class" (Salmeri 2000: 53). But of course there could be no "making" of a ruling class without a system of education, and here the Greek model of paideia had been adopted and institutionalized by the Romans, and included therefore a sort of reverence for the Greek language, culture, and associated Greece with cultural improvement. (Plutarch as… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Roman Empire in Greece.  (2011, March 7).  Retrieved April 22, 2019, from

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"Roman Empire in Greece."  March 7, 2011.  Accessed April 22, 2019.