Sulla and the Invention of Roman Athens

In: Mnemosyne
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  • 1 Groningen University, Dept. of Ancient History
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In 86 BC Sulla sacked Athens. The siege left deep marks in the cityscape and in the literary sources. This article traces a diachronic development in the ancient reception of the sack of Athens in Greek literature, from the first century BC through the second century AD. In earlier authors the siege is presented primarily in a military context, while in later authors the emphasis shifts onto Sulla’s destruction of cultural capital. His treatment of Athens comes to be understood as irrational and excessive. I argue that this latter depiction is an anchoring device that roots the new perception of the city during the Empire in the Republican past. In the first two centuries AD Athens increasingly came to be seen as the symbol of Greek culture. Plutarch and Pausanias react to this growing Athenocentrism by retrojecting an image of Athens as cultural symbol onto the first century BC.

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