Volume 1: Gracchus to the end of the Jugurthine War, B.C. 133-104
|A history of Rome|
This volume, intended as the first of a series, is now left by the lamented death of its author as an isolated unit. Dr Greenidge has not left behind him sufficient material to justify the continuance of the work by the hand of an Editor. Notwithstanding this unhappy curtailment of the original scheme, the Publishers believe that this volume, comprising as it does a strongly marked epoch of Roman History, is well able to stand alone and to serve as a valuable contribution to the story of the later Republic.
There were other objects, valued for their intrinsic worth as much as for the distinction conveyed by their possession, which attracted the ambition and strained the revenues of the fashionable man. Works of art must once have been cheap on the Roman market; for, even if we refuse to credit the story of Mummius' estimate of the prize which fallen Corinth had delivered into his hands,' yet the transhipment of cargoes of the priceless treasures to Rome is at least a historic fact, and the Gracchi must themselves have seen the trains of wagons bearing their precious freight along the Via Sacra to the Capitol.
The spoils of the generous conqueror were lent to adorn the triumphs, the public buildings and even the private houses, of others; but much that had been yielded by Corinth had become the property neither of the general nor of the State. Polybius had seen the Roman legionaries playing at draughts on the Dionysus of Aristeides and many another famous canvas which had been torn from its place and thrown as a carpet upon the ground, but many a camp follower must have had a better estimate of the material value of the paintings of the Hellenic masters, and the cupidity of the Roman collector must often have been satisfied at no great cost to his resources.
The extent to which a returning army could disseminate its acquired tastes and distribute its captured goods had been shown some forty years before the fall of Corinth when Manlius brought his legions back from the first exploration of the rich cities of Asia. Things and names, of which the Roman had never dreamed, soon gratified the eye and struck the ear with a familiar sound. He learnt to love the bronze couches meant for the dining hall, the slender side tables with the strange foreign name, the delicate tissues are woven to form the hangings of the bed or litter, the notes struck from the psalter and the harp by the fingers of the dancing-women of the East. This was the first situation of the efflorescent luxury of Eastern Hellenism, but some five-and-twenty years before this date Rome had received her first experience of the purer taste of the Greek genius in the West.
The whole series of acts of artistic vandalism which marked the footsteps of the conquering state could be traced back to the measures taken by Claudius Marcellus after the fall of Syracuse. The systematic plunder of works of art was for the first time given an official sanction, and the public edifices of Rome were by no means the sole beneficiaries of this new interpretation of the rights of war.
Much of the valuable plunder had found its way into private houses, to stimulate the envious cupidity of many a future governor who, cursed with the taste of a collector and unblessed by the opportunity of war, would make subtle raids on the artistic treasures of his province a secret article of his administration.
When the ruling classes of a nation have been familiarised for the larger part of a century with the easy acquisition of the best material treasures of the world, things that have once seemed luxuries come to fill an easy place in the category of accepted wants. But the sudden supply has stopped; the market value, which plunder has destroyed or lessened, has risen to its normal level; another burden has been added to life, there is one further stimulus to wealth and, so pressing is the social need, that the means to its satisfaction are not likely to be too diligently scrutinised before they are adopted. More pardonable were the tastes that were associated with the more purely intellectual elements in Hellenic culture — with the in- fluence which the Greek rhetor or philosopher exercised in his converse with the stern but receptive minds of Rome, the love of books, the new lessons which were to be taught as to the rhythmic flow of language and the rhythmic movement of the limbs. The Greek adventurer was one of the most striking features of the epoch which immediately followed the close of the great wars.
Abel Hendy Jones Greenidge was a writer on ancient history and law.
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