1902 Encyclopedia > Greece > Greek History: Period of Greek Subjection: from the Death of Alexander to the Ascendancy of Constantine the Great as sole Emperor, 323 B.C. to 323 A.D.

(Part 10)



I: Period of Greek Subjection: from the Death of Alexander to the Ascendancy of Constantine the Great as sole Emperor, 323 B.C. to 323 A.D.

Effect of The conquests of Alexander the Great differed from those Alex-^ 0f almost every other great conqueror in this that they anders wer6 followed up by a scheme of civil government, the quests, object of which was to secure the well-being and promote the civilization of all his subjects. That he was not the ambitious madman which he is often represented as being is amply proved by the forethought with which his cam-paigns were planned, and by his attention to the commis-sariat and to other details connected with the transport and maintenance of his vast armies. But his true greatness is most clearly shown by his endeavouring to introduce unity into his vast empire, not by subjecting one race to another, or crushing out the hope of further resistance by an iron rule, but by establishing in it centres of permanent institu-tions and common culture. These were the Greek colonies with municipal government which he founded at intervals throughout Asia. By these the subject countries, without being forced into a common mould, or organized in defiance of their feelings and prejudices and without reference to their national institutions, were gradually leavened by the system that existed among them, and obtained a certain infusion of the Hellenic character and Hellenic modes of thought. Though Alexander himself did not survive to complete his project, yet enough had been accomplished at the time of his death to leave its influence firmly imprinted, even when his empire fell to pieces and was partitioned among his generals. The consequences of this to Asia were of incalculable importance, and continued unimpaired until the tide of Mahometan conquest swept over the country; and even then it was from Greek literature and art that the Arabs obtained the culture for which they have been celebrated. But its effect was hardly less marked on the Greeks themselves. The Hellenic world was henceforth divided into two sections—the Greeks of Greece proper, and the Macedonian Greeks of Asia and Egypt. Between these there existed a common bond in similarity of educa-tion, religion, and social feelings, in the possession of a com-mon language and literature, and in their exclusiveness, whether as a free population ruling a large slave element, or as a privileged class in the midst of less favoured races; but the differences were equally striking. The former re-tained more of the independent spirit of the ancient Greeks, of their moral character and patriotism; the latter were more cosmopolitan, more subservient, more ready to take the impress of those among whom they were thrown; in them the Ulysses type of Greek character, if we may so speak—its astuteness and versatility—became predominant. This distinction is all-important for the subsequent history, since, in the earlier period, it is rather the Greeks of Hellas who attract our attention, whereas after the foundation of Constantinople the Macedonian Greeks occupy the most prominent position. At the same time a change passed over the Greek language; while the ancient dialects were retained, more or less, in the provinces of Greece proper, the Attic dialect became the court language of the Macedonian monarchs, and was used almost exclusively by prose writers. Gradually Macedonian and other provincial-isms crept into it, and it was modified by simpler expressions, and words in more general use, being substituted for those preferred by the classic writers of Athens ; and thus was formed what was called the common or generally used dialect. The non-Greek inhabitants of the countries in which the Greeks were settled were described as " Hel-lenizing," and consequently their language, such as we find it in the Septuagint and the New Testament, was called Hellenistic Greek. The literary spirit also migrated to Alexandria, which became for a time the home of the principal Greek culture, and nurtured the genius of Theo-critus, the first of pastoral poets, the taste and erudition of Aratus and Apollonius Rhodius, and the research of Aristarchus and other eminent Homeric critics.

The period of somewhat less than two centuries (323-146 Events B.C.) which intervened between the death of Alexander and during the conquest of Greece by the Romans was a sort of twilight ^_14 between liberty and subjection. The Lamian War, as the contest between a number of the Grecian states, with Athens at their head, and Antipater, one of Alexander's immediate successors in Macedonia, was called from the siege of Lamia, which was its most prominent event, soon convinced the Greeks that it was idle for them to struggle single-handed with their great neighbour. After that the country formed a bone of contention between the neighbouring potentates in Macedonia, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt; and most of the states, with the exception of Sparta, were in the power sometimes of one sometimes of another of them, though the contests of their masters secured them from time to time a partial independence. At length the constant danger to which their liberties were exposed suggested the necessity of some kind of combination on the part of the separate states, and the famous Achaean league arose (280 B.C.), which revived the dying energies of the Greeks, and has thrown a lustre over their period of decline. For the origin of this federation we must go back to the early history of the district of Achaia in northern Peloponnesus, the inhabit-ants of which, from being isolated from other races by their position between the Arcadian mountains and the Corinthian Gulf, and occupying a succession of valleys and small plains, found a federal union to be the most natural political system by which they could be held together. Throughout the greater part of their history this people exercised little influence on the fortunes of Greece, but in her time of greatest need they came forward as her champions. The league was now revived, with a more definite organization and a wider political object, and under the leadership oi Aratus, the greatest of its early " strategi," it wrested Sicyon from the power of its tyrant, and Corinth from the hands of the Macedonians, until at last it embraced Athens, and almost the whole of the Peloponnesus. Unfortunately Sparta held aloof. That city, which had succeeded in maintaining its independence, had fallen into the hands of a narrow oligarchy of wealthy proprietors, who rose in violent opposition to their reforming kings—men whose names would be a glory to any period—Agis and Cleomenes, and succeeded in putting the first to death, while the latter was enabled to overpower them through the influence won by his military successes. But circumstances involved Aratus in a war with Sparta, and here the old Greek spirit of discord betrays itself. When hard pressed by Cleomenes, the Achaean leader applied to the Macedonians, and the result was that Antigonus Doson invaded the country, and at Sellasia inflicted a final and crushing blow on the Spartan power (221 B.C.). The same spirit appears in the Social War, which occurred shortly after this between the Achaeans and the iEtolian league, a similar confederation in northern / Greece, and was fomented by Philip V. of Macedon. Sub-sequently, when the Romans made war on Philip for assist-ing the Carthaginians in the Second Punic War, the consul

Flamininus persuaded both these powers to join in attacking
him. At Cynoscephalae in Thessaly, not far from the scene
of a greater battle, Pharsalia, the power of the Macedonian
monarchy was broken (197 B.C.), and Philip renounced his
supremacy over the Greeks, to whom Flamininus proclaimed
their freedom at the ensuing Isthmian games. The final
overthrow came in the time of Perseus, the son of Philip,
who was defeated at Pydna (168 B.C.), and his dominions,
with the adjacent parts of Greece, were reduced to the form
of a Roman province. The later years of the Achaean
league had been illumined by the leadership of Philopcemen,
" the last of the Greeks," as Plutarch has called him, in
whose time the whole of the Peloponnesus, including even
Sparta, was for a time included in the alliance. But the
days of Greece were numbered, and the only question was
how soon the remainder should bs absorbed by the advancing
tide of Roman conquest. At last a pretext for interference
presented itself, and the reduction of the country to bond-
age was signalized by the pillage and destruction of Corinth
under Mummius (146 B.C.). The entire area southward
of Macedonia and Epirus was constituted the province of
Achaia, the title of which thus perpetuated the name of
the Achaean league. The struggles in which that and the
iEtolian confederation had taken part are an evidence of
the revival of a spirit of patriotism in the breasts of the
Greeks, and we may well lament over the ruin of their in-
dependence ; but the truth must be told that this was not
the feeling of the majority of the population at the time.
The selfishness and cupidity of the Greek aristocracy, such
as those whom we have already noticed at Sparta, had
imposed so heavy burdens on the people that the great
body of them cheerfully acquiesced in the Roman rule.
\ Polybius has preserved to us the saying which expressed
the sentiment of the time : " If we had not been quickly ruined, we should not have been saved." Roman From the time of the Roman conquest the existence of con- Greece was merged in that of a greater political unity, so in1 the *aa^ ^or *;ne nex^ ^our centaries, until the commencement of "West and the barbarian inroads, it can hardly be said to have a his-East. tory of its own. But we must not on this account suppose that the Greeks occupied exactly the same position as the rest of the Roman provincials. In this respect there is a marked difference between the results of the Roman con-quests in the West and the East. The inhabitants of the western portion of the empire were at the time of their sub-jection in a low state of civilization, and destitute of any element of strength in their social and national life. It was natural, therefore, that nations so undeveloped should easily receive the impress of Roman institutions, and should adopt the manners and ideas of their conquerors. The Romans in fact treated them for the most part as inferior beings and did not at first even regard them as absolute proprietors of the lands they cultivated. But in the East the case was different. There the Romans met with a civilization more advanced than their own, which they had already learned to respect, and an elaborate system of civil government and social usages which could not be set aside without under-mining the whole fabric of society. Hence the Greeks, while subjected to the Roman administration, were allowed to retain a great part of their institutions, together with their property and private rights, and, from their superiority to the other conquered peoples, remained the dominant power in the East. Even in Asia the despotism of Rome was much modified by the municipal system of the Greek colonies and by the influence of Greek culture. Thus it came to pass that, while the Western nations were assimi-lated to Rome, in the East the Roman empire became Greek, though the Greek nation in name became Roman. The effects of this are visible at every turn in the subsequent history, and to this cause must be referred many anomalies which are traceable at the present day in the condition of eastern Europe.

It was a part of the Roman policy, in dealing with con- Roman quered countries, to treat them at first with mildness, until rule in they became inured to the yoke, and when this was the case, Greece-and precautionary measures had been adopted to prevent the possibility of successful revolt, to deal with them more harshly and increase their burdens. This was what happened in the case of Greece. For some time the people at large had no reason to regret the change. The fact of their subjection was not impressed too forcibly upon them, and several cities, such as Athens and Sparta, were allowed to rank as allied states. Their taxes were not increased, and they did not at once perceive the difference caused by the money that was levied being taken out of the country instead of being spent in it. This was, however, the most systematically ruinous part of the Roman system. The Government never paid attention to the provinces for their own sake, but regarded them as an instrument for maintain-ing the greatness and power of Rome. The immense sums that were drained from them never returned, but were expended in the maintenance of the Roman army, and in the public games and architectural embellishment of the metropolis. Objects of local usefulness, such as roads, ports, and aqueducts, received no attention from the central authorities, and no money was supplied towards their maintenance. Within a century also, when these evils were beginning to make themselves felt, the Roman rale became very oppressive. Though the custom duties were not unreasonable in their nominal amount, they became exorbitant through the system of farming and subletting, and as a special tribunal existed for the enforcement of the collectors' claims, the farmers exercised a most tyrannical power over the mercantile population of the shores of the Mediterranean. In the wake of these harpies followed the usurers, to meet whose claims proprietors had constantly to sell their posses-sions. The direct weight of the public burdens was further increased by the exemptions enjoyed by Roman citizens in the provinces, and by privileges and monopolies which were granted to merchants and manufacturers; and large sums had to be paid to the Roman governors, both for the main-tenance of their establishments, and to obtain exemption from the quartering of troops. But these more or less authorized exactions bore no proportion to the illegal extor-tions of the proconsuls, who simply pillaged the provincials. No more perfect scheme could have been devised for pro-moting oppression than that under which these officers were appointed. While on the one hand they superintended the financial administration, on the other they exercised the judicial power; and the only tribunal to which they were responsible was that very senate by which they were appointed, and of which they themselves were members. A governor like Verres had it in his power to ruin a pro-vince for several generations, and such instances were not rare. The treatment of Greece in this respect was no ex-ception to the general rule.
The period, however, during which the greatest injury was inflicted on Greece was that of the Mithradatic War (86 B.C.). At the commencement of that struggle many of the leading men and states declared in favour of Mithradates, thinking that under his auspices they might regain their freedom. But the appearance of Sulla with an army soon undeceived them, and they laid down their arms, with the exception of Athens, which was only reduced after an. obstinate defence. When the city was at last taken by storm, the majority of the citizens were put to the sword, their possessions seized by the soldiers, the Piraeus utterly destroyed, and Attica ravaged. In the same campaign Delphi and the other principal shrines were plundered, and an immense amount of property was ruined throughout the-

country. Great injury was also inflicted by the Cilician pirates. The existence of these was a result of the jealousy with which the Roman Government regarded the mainten-ance of armed forces by the provincials, either by land or sea, lest they should be made an instrument of revolt; and since they had no interest in maintaining order, except where their own authority was threatened, the subject nations were so far from profiting by their protection that they were exposed to attack without possessing the power of defending themselves. The confined seas and numerous bays and islands of Greece have always been favourable to piracy, and at this time the evil reached such a height that the welfare of the state was threatened, and Pompey was entrusted with the office of eradicating it; but before this was accomplished many of the wealthiest cities in Greece and Asia Minor had been attacked and pillaged. With the accession of Augustus a brighter era seemed to have dawned; and under the early emperors, who desired to strengthen themselves against the senate, the interests of the provincials were more considered. Greater regularity also was intro-duced into the taxation, by the land and capitation taxes being regulated by a periodical census. But the old evils to a great extent remained, and these were further aggra-vated at a later time by the depreciation of the coinage, which proceeded with fearful rapidity, and caused wide-spread distress among the commercial and labouring classes. Condi- The result of these changes is traceable in the condition tion and an(j character of the Greek people. The conquests of terofC~ Alexander tne Great suddenly threw into circulation the Greeks, accumulated treasures of the Persian empire, and a great part of these passed into the hands of the Greeks, both in Asia and Europe. The facilities thus created for obtaining wealth increased the material prosperity of the Greek race at large, so that in all probability it never was more numer-ous than during the period immediately preceding its sub-jugation by the Romans. Though all calculations respect-ing the numbers of the population in ancient states are necessarily hazardous, yet it seems probable that the Greeks at that time may have amounted to more than seven millions. But with Greece proper the case was different. There the increase of wealth raised the standard of living considerably above what it had been in earlier and more frugal times, so that the less moneyed class were tempted to emigrate in large numbers to seek their fortunes in the great Asiatic cities, and in the service of the Eastern monarchs, where so great openings presented themselves. The decrease of this class produced a larger accumulation of property in the hands of large owners, and greatly aug-mented the number of slaves. Under the Romans the wealth of the country, great as it was, was soon dissipated by fiscal exactions, by plunder in war and the private pillage of officials, and by the confiscation of the possessions of in-dividuals, with a view to which a system of accusations was regularly promoted. The natural result of this, com-bined with the self-indulgent habits which had grown up among the upper classes, was a steady diminution of the population. The first of the Romans who perceived the evils arising from this state of things, and endeavoured to remedy them, was the emperor Hadrian, who had the merit of personally visiting the provinces, and whose tastes natur-ally led him to sympathize with the Greeks. Though much of the money which he expended in the country in the construction of temples and other splendid edifices tended to the gratification of his private fancies, yet a real improvement in the condition of the people was effected by his restoration of the roads which had fallen out of repair, and the erection of baths and aqueducts. He also lightened the taxation, and raised the Greeks to the rights of Roman citizenship, thereby anticipating the edict of Caracalla, by which that privilege was extended to all the free inhabitants
of the empire (212 A.D.). The depopulation of Greece, however, continued; but while in this way the power of the nation was being weakened, and its material resources diminished by the loss of much of the capital that had been invested in the improvement of the country, the actual con-dition of the inhabitants was for the time improved, be-cause the decrease in their numbers had been more rapid than the destruction of property. Possessing the necessaries of life in abundance, and having but little money to spend on anything beyond, they sank into that condition of in-difference and ease in which at last the barbarian nations found them.

It has already been remarked that the character of the Greeks at this period ought not to be judged from the prejudiced statements of Roman writers, nor by reference to the standard of their great forefathers. The introduction of the wealth of Persia had undoubtedly a demoralizing effect on the nation, both in Asia and Europe; but when we consider that throughout a great part of the area that they occupied they were long the dominant class, and had hardly any check to restrain them in the indulgence of their passions, it is rather a matter for wonder that they resisted temptation so far as they did. At least they never sank to such a depth of degradation as the Romans of the imperial times, and in Europe the struggles of the Achaean league show that a value was still set on manly virtues. After this the Greeks became the educators of the Romans, whose upper classes resorted for instruction to the univer-sity of Athens; and if the rhetoric and philosophy which was taught there partook sometimes of the nature of liter-ary trifling, and the instructors themselves were character-ized by vanity and pedantry, they maintained at all events the standard of cultivation in the world at that time. The love of art still prevailed amongst them, and the quiet, studious life of the Greek cities formed in the eyes of many a favourable contrast to the violent struggles and inordinate passions of Borne. But the disbelief in the national religion which had grown up among the educated classes, notwith-standing the maintenance of the temples and their worship, tended to cause a separation between the upper and lower grades of society; and this, together with the isolation pro-duced by the great size of the estates, which withdrew individuals from the scrutiny of their fellow citizens, weakened the force of public opinion, and thus lowered the moral standard. It can hardly be doubted that the consciousness of this, and the feeling of the need of a higher morality, was one main cause of the eagerness with which philosophy continued to be pursued by the Greeks, since in it they hoped to find the groundwork of truth and justice. Thus during a period of six centuries the European Greeks had gradually degenerated, though for the most part from causes external to themselves; they seemed to have become an insignificant and almost commonplace people. Yet the outline of the character was the same, though the colours had faded; and considering the length of the time, and the agencies at work, we may be surprised at finding that the change had not been greater. It remained to be shown that the finer qualities and more vigorous elements were only dormant; and this was brought to light in the latter half of the third century by two influences, which we must now proceed to explain.

The first of these was the invasions of the Goths. These Gothic were the earliest of the barbarians to break through the invasions. Roman frontier, and the defeat and death of the emperor Decius in Moesia (251 A.D.), and the subsequent incursions of the Goths into Thrace and Macedonia, warned the Greeks of the peril that impended over them. Immedi-ately the walls of Athens were repaired, the fortifications across the isthmus of Corinth restored, and vigorous pre-parations made for defence. The invaders soon made their

appearance both by land and sea, and one division, landing at the Piraeus, succeeded in carrying Athens by storm; but an Athenian of rank called Dexippus, afterwards the his-torian of these events, succeeded in assembling a sufficient force to compel them to retire. This reverse was the prelude to their total overthrow, for succours were meanwhile arriv-ing from Italy, by which their separate bands were attacked in detail and destroyed. Some years later, after other inroads, during which many cities of Greece successfully defended themselves, the power of the Goths was broken by the emperor Claudius II. at the great battle of Naissus (269 A.D.). But it was clearly proved at this time that the spirit of the Greeks, which had had no opportunity of dis-playing itself since the siege of Athens by Sulla, was not extinct, and that, if they had been unwarlike in the interval, it was mainly because their masters had denied them the use of arms. It is not to be overlooked that, when the same barbarians subsequently attacked the Western empire, it went down before them, the reason being that the nations of the West had no such distinctive nationality as the Greeks, and no such municipal institutions to rally round. Anyhow the Greek character was benefited by the public spirit thus evoked, and by the activity infused into society by the feeling that every man might be called on to defend his person and property. Chris- The other and far more important influence which re-tianity. generated the Greeks at this time was Christianity. This religion, which had long been working in secret, though in ways which it is almost impossible to trace, now began to produce a marked impression on Greek society. Its power was the greater because it had worked from below upward, and had permeated to a great extent the lower and middle classes. It improved the moral condition of the Greeks by elevating their views of life, by quickening the conscience, and by infusing earnestness into the character ; and it reno-vated their social condition by pointing out to them their duties to one another, by encouraging corporate feeling, and in particular by purifying the domestic relations through its influence on the female sex. At the same time the habit of meeting for the administration of their communities accustomed the Christians to discussion and action in com-mon, and the fact that they formed a powerful corporation independent of the state, which was the reason why they were persecuted by the Boman authorities, was in itself a means of political education. Such an influence, which not merely pervaded every relation of life, but penetrated also to the motives and springs of action, is sufficient of itself to account for the regeneration of the Greeks, which the his-torian traces in its effects at the end of the 3d century.
The scene now changes, and from the land of Hellas our attention is transferred to the city of Constantinople.

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