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CHAPTER 22. Romans and Others

Erich S.Gruen

Subject Roman History » Roman Republic
History » Nations and Peoples
Religion » Judaism

Key-Topics identity, other, republic(s)

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405102179.2006.00025.x


Romans had a penchant for stressing their special values, qualities, and character. The assertions of leaders and the writings of intellectuals regularly affirmed their distinctiveness. A contrast with other peoples loomed large in the development of a self-perception. The history of Rome had, after all, taken shape in a setting that involved confrontations with other cultures right from the start. Etruscans and Greeks had a significant presence in the Italian peninsula in the formative years of the young city. Territorial expansion within Italy brought encounters with Sabines, Samnites, Oscans, and others even before Romans moved abroad. Exposure to Phoenician culture in North Africa, to Gauls in northern Italy, to mixed ethnic groups in Sicily, Sardinia, and Spain, preceded (and overlapped with) the great era of engagement with the Greek world of the east. The importance of differentiating Roman features took on greater urgency. Cato the Elder gave voice to a celebrated antithesis: “the words of the Greeks issue from their lips; those of the Romans come from the heart” (Plut. Cat. Mai. 12.5). Cicero later sharpened the contrast, juxtaposing Greek levitas with Roman gravitas (Cic. Sest. 141). In assessing those who dwelled further east, the Roman orator could become progressively more caustic. He ascribed to the Greeks themselves slurs against Asians that he gleefully transmitted ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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