When one thinks of the most powerful empire ever to thrive on earth, the Roman Empire always come to mind. The Romans are famous for their colossal military forces, notorious leaders, and unique culture and architecture. The ideas were not all born in the Roman Empire but rather copied and modified from Greek ideals. In the areas of philosophy, music, and art the Romans were influenced heavily by the Greeks. While never coming up with any original ideas or producing any philosophers on the level of Aristotle and Plato, the Romans did an impeccable job of incorporating Greek ideas into their culture and expanding them.
The great philosophic figures in history come from all over. Every culture has individuals leading the field of philosophy by asking questions about the purpose of life. The Romans are not an exception. They too had members of society, asking these questions and influencing others to live more intentionally. The Roman philosophers wanted to come up with ideas that were unique and groundbreaking.
‘The Romans never produced no systems of philosophic thought comparable to those of Plato and Aristotle. However, they preserved the writings of Hellenic and Hellenistic thinkers. Educated Romans admired Aristotle and absorbed the works of the Epicureans and the Stoics’ (Fiero, 143). The Romans failed to create any kind of new thought or way of life but instead, they turned to their ancestors from Greece.
Roman Stoics followed much of the same thinking that came from earlier Stoics. They believed that there was a force in the universe that controlled everything.
They believed in a divine power that was beyond mankind. There was also a very unemotional feeling around the Roman culture. This was emphasized by the Stoics. ‘In the vast, impersonal world of the Empire, many Romans cultivated the attitude of rational detachment popular among the Stoics’ (Fiero, 143). These people were convinced that emotional attachment of any kind was a weakness. It would ultimately come back to hurt them so they decided to deny emotional attachment. This Greek idea eventually bled into the Roman Stoics leading them to believe that happiness in life comes from self-control and denial of emotions.
Roman music is somewhat of a mystery to us. There is not tons of samples and documentation of the music that was made in this era. For this reason, it is unknown what, if any, contribution the Romans made in the field of music. However, from the little number of musical resources that are available from the Roman era, it is clear that they stole many of the Greek sounds. ‘Passages from the writings of Roman historians suggest that Roman music theory was adopted from that of the Greeks, as were most Roman instruments’ (Fiero, 164). The assumption then can be made that Roman music sounds very similar to the music of the Greeks. Much of their music was most likely balanced and had a numerical order to it.
After all, if they were used Greek instruments, it is only logical to think that Roman music was similar in writing to that of the Greeks. ‘Pythagoras, for example, tried to show that the order of the universe could be understood by observing proportion (both geometric and numerical)’ (Fiero, 114). This parallel between the Greeks and Romans also plays back into their philosophic views. Because of the classical Greek idea that balanced art was vital to evolution and progress, and the fact that Romans copied this idea into their music, it most likely played into their ideas about reality. While living these, unemotional lives, denying weakness, Romans were also listening to and seeing art that was naturally balanced and had an order to it. The idea of organization and balance is one of the most basic and fundamental thoughts that the Romans followed.
Another very similar area to music is art. The physical art such as sculptures, paintings, and buildings all show parallels between ancient Greece and Rome. Christianity was a very controversial topic and when it finally allowed, the Romans had a heyday using Greek letters and symbols to represent God. ‘Followers of Jesus adopted the sign of the fish because the Greek word for fish is an acrostic combination of the first letters of the Greek words ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior’ (Fiero, 204). Another very popular idea that Romans took from the Greeks that is still used today is the representation that Alpha and Omega have of Christ. The Romans adopted the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet to symbolize the endlessness of God. While these symbols were first used as religious symbols, they quickly made their mark in the Roman artistic world. ‘On the six-century sarcophagus of the Archbishop Theodorus of Ravenna, the chi and rho and the alpha and omega have been made into an insignia that resembles both a crucifix and pastoral cross’ (Fiero, 204). The Romans took their time with their art and wanted to make it very meaningful. The archbishop’s coffin is an excellent example of Greek culture influencing Roman art.
Overall, the Roman admiration of Greek art, music, and philosophy is obvious. In the area of philosophy, the Romans took many of the ideas of early Stoics and continued them on. In music, they used many of the same instruments and song structures of the Greeks having very similar sounds. Greek letters, designs, and symbols were also intricately incorporated into Roman art. By looking at the attention to detail and little similarities between the two great societies, the admiration of the Greeks by the Romans is realized on a huge scale. The list goes on of areas of Roman society that was influenced by Greek culture. While never coming up with any original ideas or producing any philosophers on the level of Aristotle and Plato, the Romans did an impeccable job of incorporating Greek ideas into their culture and expanding them.