The Classical Roman Period
CLASSICAL ROMAN PERIOD
(200 BC-455 AD)
Ancient Greece's culture gives way to Roman power when Rome conquers Greece in 146 AD. During the course of the following six hundred years the Roman Empire would grow to encompass almost all of mainland Europe and parts of Africa and the Middle East. Everywhere they went the Romans took with them their culture and remarkable technology while borrowing heavily from the cultures they encountered and in some cases eradicated. Much of their early culture and mythology was lifted directly from the Greek cultures they conquered. Over the centuries Rome saw many leaders, some skilled politicians and great philosphers, others brutal tyrants who ruled with an iron fist.
(Above) The extent of the Roman Empire
The Roman Republic was traditionally founded in 509 BC or thereabouts (scholars disagree on dates) , but it is limited in size until later on. Playwrights of this time include Plautus and Terence. After nearly 500 years as a Republic, Rome slides into dictatorship under Julius Caesar who seizes control in a military coup following his success over the Gauls. Rome finally falls into a monarchical (kings and queens) empire under Caesar Augustus in 27 AD. This later period is known as the Roman Imperial period. Roman writers include Ovid, Horace, and Virgil. Roman philosophers include Marcus Aurelius and Lucretius. Roman rhetoricians (renowned speakers) include Cicero and Quintilian.
The Poet Virgil and The Aeneid
The founding mythology of the Roman nation is as complicated and as rich as any other with poets such as Virgil being commisioned by their rulers to create a variety of powerfully poetic depictions of the birth of the nation and to legitimise their place in what is a very bloody Roman history. Virgil's Aeneid stands out as the classic example in which the poet tells of how Aeneas, a Trojan warrior and lord, dramatically escapes from Troy as it burns at the hands of the invading Greeks. Carrying his father, Anchises on his back Aeneas escapes with a few other survivors who build a fleet and sail away with the intention to build a second Troy.
(Above) Aeneas escaping from the burning city of Troy carrying his father on his back
Aeneas finds sanctury with the beautiful queen Dido at Cartage who welcomes him as a guest but quickly falls in love with him with the intervention of Cupid on behest of Venus. Love kindles between the two and they share a steamy night together in a cave after their ship is wrecked during a hunting trip. However, the god Mercury appears to Aeneas and reminds him that he must move on with his quest as it is his destiny to found Rome and start a new and glorious nation. Aeneas makes to stay in Cartage but after Jupiter himself reminds him of his true calling he leaves the city and the heartbroken Dido behind. Distraught at her loss she throws herself onto a funeral pyre while simultaneously stabbing herself with Aeneas' sword but not before she foretells the impending war between her people and the nation that Aeneas will found (Rome). Finally Aeneas finds a suitable spot to found his new nation but not before he becomes involved in a civil war in which he distinguishes himself in battle. The poem ends abruptly with Aeneas killing Turnus, the warrior lord of the opposing army. The poem was unfinished at the time of Virgil's death and it is said that he wanted it to be destroyed, although fortunately it was not and survives to this day.
(Above) Queen Dido of Carthage stabs herself with Aeneas's sword and throws herself onto her funeral pyre