The Art of the Middle East Including Persia, Mesopotamia and Palestine

By Leonard Woolley | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
GRAECO-ROMAN ART IN THE MIDDLE EAST

In Chapter I it was pointed out how unstable the conditions of the Middle East had always been, how by internecine warfare and by the incursion of enemies from without not only did the mastery of any one area change from time to time but the population of a region might be radically altered in character and in race. Notwithstanding these convulsions, however, the art of the several countries and peoples often persisted true to type; in studying those arts we have seen that while they were enriched, or modified, by foreign influences yet they retain the recognisable stamp of their origin and at each stage of their development can still be called by the name of their originators. But with the conquests of Alexander the Great this continuity breaks down.

The Greeks were firmly convinced of the superiority of their civilisation to that of peoples whom they termed 'barbarians'. Alexander himself was ready enough to assimilate whatever he found good in the conquered lands, but he aimed quite definitely at the Hellenisation of the East, a potent instrument for which was the foundation of Macedonian soldier-colonies throughout his new empire; and although he wished to establish a partnership between Greece and Asia there was no question but that Greece was to be senior partner. The war-lords who succeeded him were less statesmanlike, but carried out the same policy by more autocratic methods, imposing Greek culture upon peoples for the most part only too anxious to gratify the desires of their masters: proselytism advanced by rapid strides, and when Rome took over the Middle East Hellenisation was an accomplished fact.

Hellenisation

The Roman occupation did nothing to upset this. Apart from their genuine admiration for Greek culture the Romans recognised that for the administration to accept and utilise Hellenism was to follow the line of least resistance. As the countries grew prosperous under Roman rule and increasing wealth found a natural outlet in new buildings, the Graeco-Roman style was adopted automatically, so that 1 from the Hellespont to the borders of the Negeb, from the Mediterranean to the eastern frontiers of Mesopotamia, towns and cities proliferated whose grandiose architecture and sculptured monuments

Roman occupation

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