The Shadow of Rome
The extension of loose Roman hegemony over Greece produced immediate benefits for the Athenians. The Roman Senate, appreciative of the Athenians' long opposition to the Macedonians, granted to the city the islands of Delos, Skyros, Lemnos and Imbros. Piraeus was made a free port in a deliberate attempt to undermine the prosperity of the port of Rhodes. Athenians went out to settle on Delos. They expelled the existing inhabitants and developed the island as a prosperous trading centre.
However, when the Athenians tried to annex the port of Oropos, which the Boeotians also claimed, the city was fined five hundred talents. The Romans intended to discourage initiatives of that sort. Yet even this worked, in the long run, to the advantage of the Athenians. In 155 B.C. a deputation, consisting of the heads of the three leading philosophical schools, the Academy, the Lyceum and the Stoa, was sent to Rome to plead their case. Their knowledge and eloquence proved a revelation to upper class Romans, who reduced the fine to one hundred talents. Although proud of their martial superiority, the Romans were made acutely aware of their intellectual and cultural inferiority, and saw a way to put that right. Wealthy and well-born men began to send their sons to Athens to complete their education, while the adoption of Stoicism among educated Romans became fashionable. Thus was laid the foundation of that cultural victory of the Greeks over the Romans which was to bear so much fruit much later.
In 146 B.C. the Roman general Mummius defeated the army of the Achaean League and sacked Corinth. Direct Roman rule was extended over much of Greece, although Athens still remained nominally independent. Under Roman influence, however, Athenian democracy was seriously compromised by constitutional changes. The practices of choosing officials by lot, and of publicly examining their accounts on leaving office, were abolished.
Sulla and the Devastation of Athens and Attica
At this time the Athenians seemed to have acquired a special talent for political incompetence. They contrived to position themselves consistently on the losing side in the succession of revolts and civil wars which led to the end of the Roman republic and the establishment of imperial rule.
In 88 B.C., led by Athenion, an Aristotelian philosopher, the Athenians chose to throw in their lot with King ╠ithridates VI of Pontus in his revolt against Rome, after he promised to restore the democracy. In the name of this 'democracy' Athenion seized the opportunity to impose a most unphilosophical reign of terr´r upon the city, persecuting all those who had been friendly to the Romans, and arbitrarily confiscating the wealth of some of the richer citizens. When his rule became insupportable he was overthrown by another philosopher-tyrant, the epicurean Aristion.
The consequences of their ill-considered support of the revolt became all too apparent in 86 B.C., when the city was besieged by Sulla. The Long Walls, the fortifications of Piraeus, the arsenal and most of the town were all destroyed in the siege. Unwilling to suffer the same defeat as Philip V, this man of many contradictions, who claimed to admire Greek culture and collected Greek books, cut down the trees in the Academy and the Lyceum in order to build his siege engines. Mounds of stone and earth were heaped up outside the Dipylon Gate from which his forces could fire down on the fortifications and destroy them. These siege operations destroyed many of the monuments in the Keramikos, which afterwards fell into disuse as a burial ground. The Pompeion, and the Themistokleian Walls in the neighbourhood of the Dipylon Gate were also destroyed, and there was considerable damage to the buildings in the agora. When Sulla's army broke into the lower city, Aristion and his followers retreated to the Acropolis, burning the Odeion of Pericles as they did so, in order to prevent the timbers in its roof from being appropriated for the building of siege engines. When lack of water forced a surrender, a bloody massacre took place. The city was plundered of precious metals and statues, and also of such priceless relics as Aristotle's personal library. The Long Walls and the fortifications of Piraeus were never to rise again.
Something of the immense loss of works of art at this time was made evident in 1959 when workmen came upon a unique collection of statues which had been stored in a stoa in Piraeus, presumably for shipment to Rome by Sulla, and then forgotten. If they really were forgotten, they must have constituted only a small part of the treasures looted at that time.
Considerably impoverished, the Athenians were forced to sell the island of Salamis to raise cash. Yet foreigners, particularly Romans, continued to flock to the city, both as tourists and as students. ┴ Roman financier, Titus Pomponius quickly established himself as a noted benefactor, for which he was awarded the name 'Atticus'. He several times saved the city from debt and food shortages, the latter out of his own pocket. Foreign dignitaries continued to befriend the city. Ariobazarnes ╔╔, king of Cappadocia, rebuilt the Pompeion. Appius Claudius Pulcher, govemor of Cilicia, built a magnificent ceremonial entrance to the sanctuary of Eleusis. In 51 Cicero had the house of Epicurus restored. Also in the middle of the first century B.C. Pompey took it upon himself to rebuild much of the city of Piraeus.
It is thus perhaps hardly surprising that when war broke out in 49 between Pompey and Julius Caesar, the ill-fated Athenians chose to support Pompey. Fortunately, the victorious Julius Caesar forgave them. He even endowed a new forum, now known as the Roman agora, on the site of the original marketplace in 44, a project unfinished at the time of his assassination.
After Caesar's death, his murderers, Brutus and Cassius, fled to Athens to seek support. After their defeat, Caesar's avenger, Octavian, visited the city, and attended lectures and athletics competitions.
ę John L. Tomkinson