Athens Falls to Rome: Capturing the Rude Conqueror

altProfessor Ian Worthington from Macquarie University will present a lecture about the fall of Athens to Rome, on Thursday 8 August 2019, at the Greek Centre, as part of the Greek History and Culture Seminars, offered by the Greek Community of Melbourne.

When we think of ancient Athens, the image invariably coming to mind is of the Classical city, with monuments beautifying everywhere; the Agora swarming with people conducting business and discussing political affairs; and a flourishing intellectual, artistic, and literary life, with life anchored in the ideals of freedom, autonomy, and democracy. But in 338 that forever changed when Philip II of Macedonia defeated a Greek army at Chaeronea to impose Macedonian hegemony over Greece. The Greeks then remained under Macedonian rule until the new power of the Mediterranean world, Rome, annexed Macedonia and Greece into its empire.

If we tend to reflect on Classical Athens in its heyday, how did it fare in the Hellenistic and Roman periods? What was going on in the city, and how different was it from its Classical predecessor? There is a tendency to think of Athens doing a disappearing act in these eras, as its democracy was curtailed, the people were forced to suffer periods of autocratic rule, and especially under the Romans enforced building activity turned the city into a provincial one than the “School of Hellas” that Pericles had proudly proclaimed it to be. Even worse (perhaps) was that the Athenians were forced to adopt the imperial cult and watch Athena share her home, the sacred Acropolis, with the goddess Roma.

But this dreary picture of decline and fall belies reality, and my talk is meant to help us appreciate Hellenistic and Roman Athens and to show it was still a vibrant and influential city. A lot was still happening in the city, and its people were always resilient: they fought their Macedonian masters when they could, and later sided with foreign kings against Rome, always in the hope of regaining that most cherished ideal, freedom.

Hellenistic Athens is far from being a postscript to its Classical predecessor, as is usually thought. It is simply different. Its rich and varied history continued, albeit in an altered political and military form, and its Classical self lived on in literature and thought. In fact it was its status as a cultural and intellectual juggernaut that enticed Romans to the city in increasing numbers from the second century, some to visit, others to study. The Romans might have been the ones doing the conquering, but in adapting aspects of Hellenism for their own cultural and political needs, they were the ones who ended up being captured.

Ian Worthington is Professor of Ancient History at Macquarie University, and specializes in Greek history and oratory. He did his BA at Hull (UK), MA at Durham (UK) and PhD at Monash University. He was Curators’ Distinguished Professor of History and Adjunct Professor of Classics at the University of Missouri before moving to Macquarie in 2017.

Worthington has published 7 sole-authored books, 1 co-authored book, 9 edited books and 2 volumes of translations (in the University of Texas Oratory of Classical Greece series), and over 100 articles, book chapters, and essays on Greek history, oratory, epigraphy, and literature. His most recent books are Ptolemy I: King and Pharaoh of Egypt (OUP 2016), By the Spear. Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire (OUP 2014), and Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece (OUP 2013). His most recent edited volumes are the Blackwell Companions to Ancient Macedonia (2010; co-edited with J. Roisman) and Greek Rhetoric (2007). He is also Editor-in-Chief of Brill's New Jacoby, a multi-year project on the fragments of ancient historians and involving 172 scholars in 18 countries. He is currently finishing a book titled Under Macedonia and Rome: “Hellenistic” Athens from Alexander to Hadrian for OUP, and then starting one on Philip V of Macedonia.

He has given invited talks and lectures in many countries as well as national and international radio and TV interviews, appeared in the 2011 BBC TV series Ancient Worlds, and has a ‘Great Courses’ (Teaching Company) course titled The Long Shadow of the Ancient Greek World on DVD and CD, released in 2008.

When: Thursday 8 August 2019, 7.00pm
Where: Greek Centre (Mez, 168 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne)