To the Romans, the Greek civilization was a source of inspiration and as Athens prospered under the Emperor Hadrian, Rome prospered from the ideas of the ancient Athenians.
168 BC the Romans defeat the Macedonians in the
battle of Pydna. In 146 BC and 86 BC the Romans seize rebellious Corinth,
killing all the men, selling the women into slavery and destroying
the city as an example. When Athens
joins King Mithridates in another rebellion against the Romans
in Asia Minor they invade the city, destroy the walls and leave
with the most valuable sculptures. When Octavion becomes emperor
with his victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra (of the line of
Greek Ptolemaic Pharaohs) the period
of peace which follows is known as Pax-Romana, lasting 300 years.
It is the longest period of peace in the history of Greece. The
Roman emperors Nero and Hadrian take a special interest
in Greece. Nero begins work on the Corinth Canal, using slave labor.
Hadrian builds the Roman Agora (market) and the library
that bears his name. On the archway, built by the Athenians
to honor their emperor there are two inscriptions. On
the side facing the Acropolis it says: This is Athens, the ancient city of
Theseus. On the other side it says: This is the
city of Hadrian and not of Theseus. It is Hadrian
who completes the massive temple to Olympian Zeus(photo) in
124 AD continuing the work that had been begun in 515 B.C. by Peisistratos the Younger.
Adrianou (Hadrian) street still exists, leading from Hadrian's arch
to the Roman Agora.
wealthy Herod Atticus, aka Tiberius Claudius Atticus Herodes is
the most celebrated orator of his time. In the poem Herodes Atticus
by the great Alexandrian poet C.P. Cavafy he writes of a
visit to Athens by the great sophist, Alexander of Seleucia who
arrives to find the city empty because Herod Atticus had
gone out to the country and all the young men have followed
him to hear him speak. The theater he builds at the base of the Acropolis
in 161 AD is in honor of his Roman wife Annie Rigillia.
It is destroyed in 267 AD, the ruins excavated in 1858 and restored
in 1961. (Today It is still used for concerts and theatrical performances.)
Greek is the primary language spoken in the empire and Greeks are
participants in the Roman senate. The city of Athens is still a center of knowledge for
the empire and Hellenism is spread throughout the Roman world. Now known as the
Roman province of Achaia, the Hellenes are the primary influence on the Romans,
morally, intellectually, and through art and architecture. It has been said
that the Roman civilization was an attempt to mimic the ancient Hellenes, though
the Romans did not believe that the Greeks of their time were the
equals of the ancient Greeks, or of the Romans themselves.
During the Roman period the schools of Athens
flourish with the young men of many Roman noble families coming
to the city to get an education. In the 2nd century the Romans endow
the University of Athens, paying their teachers generously and exempting
them from taxes, letting them know that they are free to
speak their minds without fear of prosecution. Roman emperors came
to Eleuesis to take part in the ancient mysteries. The process known
as syncretism gives Roman names to the Greek Gods. Simultaneously
the Jews who have spread throughout the Roman-Hellenic world
introduce their form of monotheism, a jealous God, who favored the
'Chosen' people above all others. To the Greeks the idea of a God
favoring one group of people over another seems irrational. The
cult of Christianity which mixes some of the ideas of Jewish monotheism
with Platonic metaphysics, Aristotelian logic and the ethics of
the Stoics, is much more palatable to the Greeks.
During this period of Roman rule the people
known as Hellenes are spread throughout the Mediterranean. In
the library of Alexandria all the writings of the world were kept,
translated into Greek. People communicated in Greek and followers of
Jesus Christ had written the gospels and the other books of the
New Testament were in Greek.
In the first century AD the Apostle Paul, who has been ordained as a missionary in the church at Antioch comes to the island of Cyprus, preaching that Jesus Christ is the savior of all mankind and not just a chosen
few. He is teaching a form of monotheism that allows everyone to take part and be saved. From Cyprus he returns to the Greek cities of Asia Minor, then crosses to Neapolis (Kavala) and establishes the first Christian community in Philippi. In Thessaloniki he establishes a church of Jewish and Greek converts, then when he is nearly arrested, escapes to Veria and preaches in the synagogue. From there he begins his journey to Athens by sea, landing in Glyfada and preaches his sermon on the 'Unknown God' on the Aeropagos
hill under the Acropolis. From there he moved on to Corinth where he lived for almost two years and set up another Christian community. Paul has been called the Apostle of Greece and the second founder of Christianity. It is through the Greeks that Christianity spreads through the world. The first Christian church in Rome was Greek. In fact all the first churches of the west are Greek, their services in Greek, their scriptures and liturgy in Greek.
In 64 AD the city
of Rome burns and the Emperor Nero blames the Christians. This begins a long period of persecution but by the 4th Century the Christian Church is the most popular institution in the world.
Another group in Greece are the Romaniotes, an obscure branch of Judaism who arrived in Greece after the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem. They were slaves on their way to Rome when their ship was forced ashore by bad weather. They were easily integrated, as they already
spoke the Greek language. The Romanites were overwhelmed by the influx of Spanish Jews in 1492 and most of them were absorbed into the Shephardic culture. Several pockets of Romaniote culture remained,
most notably in Yanina and Crete though the group was eventually sent to Auschwitz during the Nazi Occupation. A small number survive scattered throughout Greece and there is a small synagogue and museum in New York City founded by survivors from Yanina.
See the Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum