The Early Roman Art

Our sketch and illustrations of Etruscan art must serve to give some idea of the surroundings and culture with which the Romans were in contact in early days. The great power and wealth of the Greek states of Italy must not be overlooked in the matter of influence, nor the fact that during nearly five hundred years of Roman history (750—275 B.C.) they were of much greater importance in Italian history than Rome itself ; but they were not geographically or otherwise in direct relations with this state, and their influence must be conceived rather as indirect through the Etruscans and the Samnites, as explained for these peoples.

The main apparent fact in early Roman character is its practical, honest, and logical nature ; averse to luxury, and antagonistic in its strictly political and military tendencies to the more artistic and highly developed peoples of the Peninsula. Roman art was mainly conspicuous by its absence in early centuries of the monarchy and republic ; if we conceive the word ” art” as relating to the decorative and luxurious sides of domestic or of national life. Statues and temples of the gods there were, arms and weapons for the soldier, implements and tools for the farmer, houses and clothes and utensils for rich and poor; and most of these things, according to the practice of all ancient nations, must have had some fitting artistic setting forth and decorative treatment—and yet rigid economy, stern discipline, legal exactitude, steadfast fortitude, domestic simplicity, and national self-restraint were the points of character most obvious in the Romans. There was no nation in Italy so slightly endowed with purely artistic tastes and capacity, and none so gifted with the practical and common sense virtues.

It was this character which ensured the Romans an ultimate triumph over all other states of Italy in the various contentions and rivalries of many centuries. They rose first as a small civic community to an ascendency over their own Latin tribe and territory (750—650 B.C.). This territory did not begin to expand outside of Latium till the times of Philip of Macedon and of Alexander the Great (after 350 B.C.). In the Samnite and Etruscan wars, which then began, they rapidly became masters of all Italy between the Northern Apennines and the Greek colonies of the South 290 B.C.). These latter were also absorbed into their political system after the wars with the Macedonian Pyrrhus (275 B.C.).

It is at this time that we begin to form somewhat more definite ideas of what Roman art now was by remembering what Roman art became. The Romans were the only conquerors of antiquity who gave to the vanquished the rights and privileges of the victors. Wisdom and common sense were partners of their generosity here. Their steps in this direction were never, however, taken rapidly or suddenly. Their allies and friends, cities or individuals, were given the preference. There was a graded series of rights and privileges for both individuals and cities, ranging between full Roman rights and none at all. But the steps were always being ascended in rising order, the area, and amount of Roman privilege were always widening and increasing and in Italy itself the Roman citizenship was the right of every freeman soon after B.C. 100. The system of soldier-farmer colonies was another element in the Romanizing process. Roman soldiers were not paid mercenaries in the time of the monarchy or of the early republic. They were citizen-farmers, some or many of whom were given new lands on the boundaries and lines of the new frontier whenever conquests had been made. This was another cause and explanation of the amalgamation which took place between the conquered peoples and the conquerors. All these explanations are essential to a philosophic account of the manner in which the Roman art became the Italian and the Italian art be-came the Roman. Thus we see that the knowledge of Etruscan art is in reality not only a means of imagining what the early Roman art was, but it is also a means of knowing what the Roman art became, viz: that of Italy at large.