The Second Sophistic: A Cultural Phenomenon in the Roman Empire

By Graham Anderson | Go to book overview

Introduction: Roman Empire and Greek Renaissance

In the year 26 AD, in the reign of the second Roman Emperor Tiberius, a debate took place in the Roman Senate about which Greek city should have the honour of erecting a statue of the Emperor. Among various candidates rejected was Ilium, the traditional site of Troy; the successful candidate was Smyrna, on the basis of past services to Rome itself. Over a century later, there was an outcry when the Greek millionaire Herodes Atticus was allowed by Hadrian to provide a public water-supply for 'Troy': Roman officials in Asia protested at the questionable priority of spending so much on a project of merely sentimental value. But Herodes had his way, and the water-supply was provided with the aid of substantial funds donated by his father. 1

These two cases offer an interesting contrast: the first takes place at a time when we hear little of the Greek-speaking Eastern Mediterranean in terms of cultural self-consciousness. The second takes place during what historians are increasingly inclined to call 'the period of the Second Sophistic', after a change of attitude by emperors and the Roman world generally towards the whole Greek ambience of the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond. Sophists themselves we should provisionally characterise at this point, though no definition is likely to be ideal: we are dealing with established public speakers who offered a predominantly rhetorical form of higher education, with a distinct emphasis on its more ostentatious forms. But before we discuss 'the Second Sophistic' and what it implied, we should set the scene by looking briefly at some aspects of the Greek world under Roman rule.

The Greek world in historical times had consisted of a welter

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