Greece and Rome: An Integrated History of the Ancient Mediterranean
November 11, 2015 | By William Glasgow
In the 1st century B.C., Rome’s matchless armies consolidated control over the entire Mediterranean world, and Greece lay vanquished along with scores of other formerly independent lands—yet the Roman poet Horace saw something special in Greece when he wrote “Greece, the captive, made her savage victor captive.”
- What did Horace mean by this paradoxical quote?
- What did Greek culture symbolize to the militarily successful Romans?
- How did the Greeks, in turn, view their Latin-speaking rulers?
- How did these two independent branches of ancient civilization develop and then become inextricably entwined, with implications for all of subsequent Western culture?
The answers to these and other intriguing questions require an understanding not just of Rome but of Greece as well. Integrated approaches to teaching Greek and Roman history, however, are a rarity in academia. Most scholars are historians of either Greek or Roman history and perform research solely in that specific field, an approach that author and award-winning Professor Robert Garland considers questionable.
“It’s only by studying the two cultures in connection with each other that we can come to an understanding of that unique cultural entity that is ‘Greco-Roman,'” he notes.
Greece and Rome: An Integrated History of the Ancient Mediterranean is an impressive and rare opportunity to understand the two dominant cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world in relation to one another. Over the course of 36 lectures, Professor Garland explores the many ways in which these two very different cultures intersected, coincided, and at times collided.
Explore Greco-Roman Culture
The relationship between the Greeks and the Romans has virtually no parallel in world history. Greece and Rome’s relationship resembled a marriage: two distinct personalities competing in some areas, sharing in others, and sometimes creating an entirely new synthesis of the two civilizations.
This synthesis created the extraordinary culture that we call Greco-Roman: a unique fusion of civilizations that encompasses statecraft, mythology, language, philosophy, fine arts, architecture, science, and much else. “The term suggests there was an unbreakable tie between the two cultures,” says Professor Garland. “And indeed there was. What would Rome have been without the imprint of the Greeks, and what would we know about the Greeks were it not for the Romans?”
Professor Garland cites three critical reasons why an understanding of the Greco-Roman world is so important to us here in the 21st century:
- The connections between the two civilizations remind us that culture is not created and owned by a single people, but is enriched through the contributions of others.
- The relationship between the Greeks and Romans is somewhat analogous to the relationship between the British and the Americans.
- An integrated study of the Greeks and Romans helps us understand how each profoundly influenced the other.
Follow Twin Historical Paths
Greece and Rome begins by asking who the Greeks and Romans were, what their images of themselves were, and how they organized their societies. From there, you explore their first historical 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 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 the Romans.
Roman political interactions with the Greeks, however, were another matter.
You follow the long series of wars in which the Romans at first preserved Greek independence and then, having grown impatient with Greek ingratitude, duplicity, and infighting, eventually resorted to the efficient brutality for which Rome’s legions were renowned. In 30 B.C., with the death of Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemaic Greek rulers, Rome had conquered not only every Greek land but the entire Mediterranean world.
A Rich Cultural Partnership
For the next half millennium, Greece and Rome were inseparable. “There’s never been anything quite like it,” Professor Garland says. “Greece and Rome are two cultures joined at the hip, arguably the most special and the most important cultural relationship in all of history.”
Greece and Rome goes beyond the political and military stories and immerses you in the details of life in Classical antiquity. You investigate Greek and Roman approaches to human universals such as death, leisure, and sex. You also witness the emergence and development of an integrated Greco-Roman culture as reflected in religion, art, architecture, medicine, science, technology, literature, education, and philosophy.
- Much of what we think of today as Classical Greek art is, in fact, copies commissioned by wealthy Roman connoisseurs.
- 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 predominantly bilingual, speaking also Greek.
- The prolific writer Plutarch recognized the value of examining the Greeks and Romans alongside one another without prejudice and wrote a celebrated set of parallel biographies of famous Greeks and Romans.
Despite all their similarities, Greeks and Romans were different enough that each engaged in cultural stereotyping of the other, which amounted to latent nationalism. Throughout the lectures, you explore some of their more substantive cultural differences, including:
- Religion: Greek religion was anthropomorphic, with deities displaying human form and manner. Early Romans did not believe in deities but rather in numina—divine powers that had precise functions but no physical identity.
- Views of foreigners: Romans were far more diverse in origin than the Greeks, which made them more open to foreigners. This had profound effects, as the Romans used grants of citizenship as a political tool to cement and expand the Roman Empire.
- Construction: The largest structures in the Greek world were theaters, some of which could hold 20,000 to 40,000 people. The Romans had a more grandiose concept of public space, as seen in the Circus Maximus, in which 250,000 spectators could assemble to watch a chariot race.
- Thinking: The Greeks delighted in analyzing the world and asking questions about the nature of existence, the constitution of the ideal state, and the definition of virtue. For their part, the Romans, though they also studied philosophy, were content to run the world.
An Expert in the Classical World
Professor Garland has spent his entire career immersed in classical studies and in the worlds of ancient Greece and Rome.
His academic research focuses on the cultural, religious, social, and political histories of these two civilizations. He has written numerous books on subjects ranging from the politics of Athenian religion and disability in the Greco-Roman world to daily life in ancient Greece and the idea of celebrity in antiquity.
Delight in the wide variety of sources—literature, archaeology, the visual arts, coinage, inscriptions—that he draws upon in order to assemble a fascinating and complex picture of these two great civilizations. Value his mastery of detail on his subject, as he helps you to reach important conclusions from an analysis of the shared cultural features of Greece and Rome. And appreciate how Dr. Garland always keeps Greece and Rome focused on how this material affects us in the present day.
“I profoundly believe that Greece and Rome are inside us, both as destructive and as creative forces,” he says. “They’ve taught us our ways of being a human being and of seeing the world. We are their heirs and their guardians, a heavy but invigorating challenge.”