Monday, September 10, 2007

Summary of Lecture Two

[NOTE: There will be no class on September 13, in accordance with the college calendar.]

As the matrix out of which the first phase of medieval art arose, the Roman Empire merits special attention. The "afterglow" of the Roman Empire was indeed tremendows. We need only think of the "Byzanatines" as we term them), in their own eyes, the "Romaioi/" In the West the Holy Roman Empire maintained an existence of a sort for a milkennium, from 800 to 1806.

Rome played an inspirational role in the earlier history of the United States, as seen in the Capitol in Washington, housing as it does the US Senate. At one time knowledge of Latin was de rigueur for an educated person, and the values inculcated by Cicero and Vergil were taken very seriously.

All this has changed with the popular culture of recent decades, where the Romans are portrayed, in tabloid fashion as self-indulgent and cruel. Serious scholars debate the question :"Was Rome doomed" and "Are we destined to suffer the same fate (see books by Paul Kennedy and Cullen Murphy).

The murder of Julius Caesar in 44 started things off. In the ensuinc turmoil, Octavian aka Augustus (Julius' great nephew) emerged victorious in 30 BCE. Mindful of the fate of his great uncle Augustuus avoided any monarchical trappeings, but assembled enormous power with the acquiescence of a supine Senate. Augustus conrrolled the legions, a superb fighting forcel, and that was all that mattered.

We examined the Gemma Augustea in Vienna as a document of Augustus' claims, and more generally as an exemplar of the "Roman language of art." We noted the personifcation of Roma.

The peace brought by Augustus and his successor (not to speak of heavy taxes) yielded many public works: roads and acqueducts, temples and basilicas. These were funded either by the public fisc or by wealthy patrons.

In the view of many historians the palmy days ended in 180, when Marcus Aurelius was succeeded by his dissolute son Commodus. Septimius Severus attempted a restoration, but things went to dogs agin under his son Caracalla (note the superb bust of the latter at the end of the new Greco-Roman galleries at the Met).

In 384 Diocletian put things back together again with his Tetrarchic system. This did not last, though, and Constantine brought things back together. With his Edict of Milan of 313 Costantine end3d the persecution of Christiany, signifying by later acts his personal sympathy. He fopunded Constantinople in 330. (The Arch of Constantine marks, though contestably, the start of medieval art.)

Justinian (527-565) sought to restore the Roman Empire in the West. He also was a prodigious builder and law reformer (the Code Justinian). Yet in the 630s the expansion of Islam largely nullified Justinian's efforts.

Finally, Charlemagne created his own version of empire in Western Europe (coronation of 800).

No comments: