During these three hundred years a more western branch of the Aryans, the Romans, had gradually forced their way to supremacy. It was not until about B. C. 200 that Rome broke down the power of Carthage, got control of the western Mediterranean, and then suddenly stretched out her hand over its eastern half. In less than two centuries more she had completed the conquest of the Balkans, Asia Minor, and Egypt, and the Mediterranean had become a Roman lake.

The city of Rome may go back to B. C. 1000, and the legends and history of the Republic afford an outline of facts since about B. C. 500, but it was only after establishing contact with the civilization and language of Greece that the Romans really found literary expression. Their tongue had not the elasticity and harmony of the Greek, nor had it the wealth of vocabulary, the abstract terms; it was more fitted, by its terseness, clearness, and gravity, to be the medium of the legislator and administrator. Under the influence of foreign conquest and of Greek civilization, Rome, however, quickly evolved a literature of her own, an echo of the superior and riper one produced by the people she had conquered; it tinged with glory the last years of the Republic and the early ones of the Empire, the age of Augustus. Virgil produced a highly polished, if not convincing, imitation of Homer. Lucretius philosophized a crude materialistic universe in moderate hexameters. Cicero, with better success and some native quality, modeled himself on Demosthenes; while the historians alone equaled their Greek masters, and in the statesmanlike instinct and poisoned irony of Tacitus revealed a worthy rival of Thucydides.

Latin and Greek were the two common languages of the Mediterranean just as the unwieldy Republic of Rome was turning to imperialism. The Greek universities, Athens, Pergamon, and Alexandria, dictated the fashions of intellectualism, and gave preeminence to a decadent and subtilized criticism and philosophy perversely derived from the Greek masters of the golden age. But a third influence was on the point of making itself felt in the newly organized Mediterranean political system—that of the Jews.

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