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BY S. BUTLER MURRAY, JR
Syrian* fribriuments have’ been divided into two great classes; those built before Romandominion, and those succeeding it. But it by no means follows that the advent of Roman political power meant the advent of Roman artistic supremacy. Pompey’s campaign was too hurried to be lasting even in its military results: and later we find Antony attempting to plunder Palmyra as an alien and hostile city.
The effect of Roman conquest upon the conquered territory was political reorganization. Laws and government they imposed, but religion and the arts they took unto themselves from the conquered people. It was as if the Roman obeyed literally the comman.
As Butler has said in speaking of the region of the South “What we call the ‘Roman architecture’ was not an art that wa s brought from overseas and transplanted in new soil, but represented the mere extension of the art of one portion of Syria to another portion from Greek Syria to Semitic Syria a process which Rome, with her wonderful power for organization and amalgamation accomplished as doubtless no otherpower could have done.”
It would be absurd enough to speak of Rome introducing forms of her art upon another, when she had received them from the common parent ; but a worse field than Syria for such a transplanting could scarcely be imagined. As Diehl has said in speaking of Syria “In spite of the profound influence exerted by Greek civilization, in spite of the long duration of Roman domination, the country had always remained ‘fort particulariste’ Assuredly the great cities, such as Antioch, had become, quickly enough, capitals of Hellenism but, beneath this veneer of Hellenism, there persisted, above all in the country, the characteristic traits of the Semitic race, so deeply impressed on their souls that Syrian Christianity took its special character from them.”
Negative criticism in itself is worthless. Therefore it has not been sufficient to show that the Syrian monuments are not Roman : the attempt has also been made to recognize those elements that are Oriental, and particularly to notice original features, such as the arched intercolumniation, which show that this Hellenism in Syria was not the last effort of a decadence, but a living growth, possessing in itself the power for further and greater development.
Attention has already been called to the fact that the Syrian architecture shows a quite different spirit from that shown in the monuments at Rome. And, as the consideration of the individual monuments will show, this is a Greek rather than Roman spirit. There are very few monuments that do not show some native or Oriental influence. This is strongest in the Hauran, owing to the
power of the Naba-taeans, and there, in one period, that of the temples at Si, its strength amounts to an almost complete eclipse
of Greek tradition.
greater handicap has been the lack of any systematic treatment of the development of Roman architecture. However, the latter can only be of use after there has been a clear recognition of the relations of the Imperial architecture to those of the countries that came under the Roman sway.