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The Hellenistic period

The Romans, unlike the Greeks were not gifted in abstract thought. They constructed no original system of philosophy, invented no major literary forms, and made no scientific discoveries. Yet, they excelled in the art of government and empire building, they created a workable world-state and developed skills in administration, law, and practical affairs. In the Punic Wars, the Roman republic defeated the Carthaginians in North Africa and Rome inherited the Pergamene Kingdom from the last of the Attalids in 133 B. C. Rome became heir to the legacy of the Hellenistic world of the Greeks.

The Hellenistic period which lasted 300 years in is noted by the death of Alexander in 323 B. C. It is marked by its rich, sophisticated and diverse culture. Many Romans were eager to merge with this Greek culture in order to exhibit the dominance of their rule over conquered societies. This exhibition of dominance was the primary motivation of the Roman desire to possess fine works of Greek Art. Whereas, other Romans, were convinced that the pursuit of the assimilation of foreign cultures would only harm the republic. During this time, much social disintegration and unhindered individualism threatened political stability.

However, the adoption of Greek art for Roman needs was very popular. An educated Roman was well versed in the history of Greek Art and was socially compelled to collect Greek art for personal embellishment. The modernization of the old Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia is an example of the new Roman attitude toward art and architecture as Greek artists migrated in vast numbers to the new capital of the world. Roman generals and their quest to establish Rome as the new unchallenged capital of the world justified the expense of replanning the old sanctuary.

This accomplishment would bring them personal glory and uplift the majestic status of Roman people. Roman architecture benefited as the city’s wealth grew as other leaders contributed to the expansion of new monuments. Lucias Cornelius Sculla, (82-78 B. C. ) led the Romans is Social War and later became dictator and master of the city of Rome. He brought Corinthian columns form the temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens to renew the shrine of the Roman Jupiter in the capital. This act symbolized the transferal of spiritual power from the aristocracy of the Senate to autocratic leaders, and art began to be shaped by their preferences.

This satisfied the Roman desire for grandiose architecture by being the model of Hellenistic majestic ornate style. The first leader to resolve the conflict of this desire for “magnificence beyond anything the world had ever seen” and the moralistic fear that Greek art was “corrupting Roman virtues” was Augustus Caesar. He used art as imperialistic treasures with his building program. Some examples of his architecture are; the Forum, Council House and Temple of Apollo on the Palatine. These examples illustrate effectively the might and grandeur of the Roman Empire.

The reign of Augustus brought forth the mindfulness of other art forms, such as literature. Virgil (70-19 B. C. ), was a Roman poet, who wrote the great epic poem, the Aeneid (30-19 B. C. ) during the last ten years his life. This masterpiece contained 12 books, and was written in dedication and praise to the glories of Augustus and his empire. It celebrated the Roman imperial values in the role of its Trojan hero Aeneas, who is destined to found a new city in Italy. Virgil was patronized by Maecenas on behalf of Octavian (later the emperor Augustus). He composed in the traditional Homeric meter of hexameters.

In contrast to the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Aeneid, is considered the first great literary epic, while Homer’s epics are deemed works of oral poetry. Virgil constructed this epic at the request of Augustus, to glorify Rome whereas, Homer chose to create based on societal morals. The late art of the Roman republic is synonomous to the last stage of the Hellenistic art period of Greece. Most masterpieces of Roman art are Greek. Imitations were common at that time, due to the Roman admiration of Hellenistic artistry. Roman art greatly resembled Hellenistic art in both style and convention.

As illustrated by the famous antique sculpture, Laocon and His Sons. This group was discovered in Rome in 1506. It is believed to be an original carving of the second century B. C. and it was thought to have been based on an Hellenistic masterpiece depicting Laocon and only one son. It was found in the remains of the palace of the emperor Titus. Other fragments of Hellenistic groupings were found in a grotto that served as a summer banquet hall of the emperor’s seaside villa at Sperlonga. The legend of Laocon is told by Virgil’s Aeneid, in the voice of the long dead defeated Trojans, describing Laocon as the priest of Neptune of Troy.

Moreover, during the last year of the Trojan War it appeared as though the Greeks had given up and broke encampment leaving a wooden horse as an offering to the goddess Athena. However, in fact the horse was hollow and was filled with armed men. Cassandra daughter of King Priam of Troy, was bestowed with the gift of prophecy from Apollo, who loved her. Nevertheless, she was also cursed by Apollo as a lunatic when she refused to return his love. No one believed her predictions of the Trojans deception. Laocon warned the Trojans “I fear the Greeks even when they come bearing gifts.

Laocon warnings only enraged Poseidon who was angry with Troy. Poseidon the god of sea (Neptune) unleashed two sea serpents out of the sea to the land towards Laocon, who was standing with his sons. Poseidon sought revenge on Athens since losing a wager with Athena. The serpents attacked Laocon’s sons first and Laocon struggled fiercely to save them but both he and his sons were strangled to death. All at once the Trojans were convinced to ignore Lacunas advice and eagerly pulling the horse into the city and were subsequently destroyed.

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