Greece - History
Athens during the years of the Romans
Roman Period16-09-2012 16:05The years following the Roman victory over Corinthians at the battle of Corinth (146 BC) till the reestablishment of the city of Byzantium are called Roman Period. Although some people think of the Roman Years as not so good for Greeks, comparing to the previous centuries when progress at all levels (economy, arts, education, philosophy etc) was succeeded, the truth is that during that period Greeks proved how sophisticated and civilized they were, that they managed to influence their conqueror in many ways.
Athens maintained the glamour of the Classical and Hellenistic years with the brilliant monuments, the famous schools, the villas and the gardens till 86 BC, when Roman general Sullas besieged the city. The walls of Piraeus were ruined, many monuments were destroyed, while important sculptures were stolen. However, the glorious past had an impact on many Romans, emperors and rich individuals, as well as kings of other countries, who began to pay mythical amounts of money for the repair of the destroyed monuments, the construction of buildings of common utility etc.
Augustus was the first who chose to act with the past as a guide for the future. During the period of his activity, the landscape of the Athenian Agora (Ancient Market) changed dramatically: all commercial activities were relocated to the new marketplace, the so-called Roman Agora, while, thanks to the donations of Roman benefactors, Agora was adorned with buildings and artworks, which transformed the old marketplace to an arts centre and recreation grounds.
The 2nd century AD signals the last great peak of the Ancient Athenian Agora. Athens in the mid-2nd century AD is a provincial town, which, however, manages to keep alive part of its former radiance. For a short interlude, during Hadrian’s reign, the city is the centre of the Panhellenion institution, a cultural and religious union of the Greeks.
With the end of the Antonine period the city gradually falls into decline, a process that lasts until 267, when it pillaged by the Heruli. This barbarian tribe overcame with ease the resistance of the Athenians who defended Valerian’s walls, built in 254. Under the leadership of the historian Publius Herennius Dexippus, the surviving Athenians hid in the woods.
Following the trail of the devastation, the view has been proposed that the Heruli entered in two groups. The first one crossed Dipylon, were a fierce battle was fought and damages were caused, and followed the Panathenaic Way to the centre of the Agora. The destruction in the south part of the Agora and the north feet of Areios Pagos could have been caused by a group entering through the Gates of Piraeus and approaching the Agora from its southwest edge. Perhaps a third wave launched an attack from Pnyka and the area of the Gate of St Demetrius. This group reached as far as the south slope of the Acropolis, where yet more destruction was visited.
The Athenians must have hid somewhere close to the Acropolis, for no damages were caused there. They counterattacked the Heruli, forcing them to retreat. Dexippus own work preserves testimonies of the devastation, where there is an extensive description of the battle. Otherwise, references are made to the obviously non-historical decision of the Heruli not to burn books, on the rationale that the Athenians’ intellectual pursuits would render them unfit for battle in the future.
Following this raid, Athens is demoted to a provincial country town, simply echoing its former grandeur.
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