There are a lot of Rome fans out there who are going to be upset by how many crazy important things I skip. Every year I have run-ins with my Latin students who are scandalized that I don’t think it’s particularly important that we understand the inner-workings of the Senate and patron-client relations.
For today, I’m going to focus on the few people and events in Roman history that you’ve probably heard of and thought, “Damn. I really should know more about Julius Caesar than just his pizza and salad empire.”
Alexander the Great was from a place called Macedonia just north of Greece. They were a military society, kind of like Sparta, and they had just successfully conquered Greece – weak from the Peloponnesian War. But Alexander’s dad Phillip still wanted to make sure he learned culture in addition to military strategy. So he did what any rich parent does, he hires a tutor. And not just any tutor, he hires freakin’ Aristotle to tutor his son.
Short answer: No one. They were not a united civilization but just a bunch of city-states all loosely connected by ethnicity and culture.
Greek civilization was dominated by the environment. They settled on a rocky and mountainous landscape that made unity beyond city-states very difficult. But because they were basically surrounded by water, when they ran out of room on the mainland they would set up colonies all around the Mediterranean. And it was these colonies that got them in trouble with the Persians.
The poster child for empire building is Persia. The Classical Era begins at 600 BCE because this is around when the Persian Empire was formed. (For context the Roman Republic gets established 91 years later but it will be another 500 years before it officially becomes the Roman Empire.) And the Persians do such a good job of developing methods for maintaining control of their empire that essentially every other empire in human history is going to in some way copy them.