For centuries the Greeks had been in the habit of assembling at Corinth every three years for the celebration of the Isthmian games, in honor of Poseidon, god of the sea. Here, as at Olympia, there were races, wrestling and boxing matches, and contests in verse and song; and as usual the prizes were simple crowns of olive leaves, which were considered far more precious than silver or gold.
In 196 B.C. not only were the Greeks present at this celebration, but there were also many Romans who wished to witness the games. The Greeks were then particularly happy because the War of the Two Leagues seemed to be ended, and the country was at peace.
In the midst of the festival, Quintius Flamininus, the Roman consul, mounted the orator’s block, and proclaimed that the Roman army had just won a great victory over the revolted King of Macedon, and that the Greek states were now indeed free.
These tidings were received with such a tumult of joyful cries, it is said, that a flock of birds that were flying overhead fell to the earth, stunned by the shock of cheers which rent the air.
This joy, however, did not last very long, for the newwon freedom of Greece existed in name only. As soon as the Romans had completed the conquest of Macedon under its last ruler, Perseus, they prepared to annex Greece also.
Their first move was to accuse the Achaeans of sending aid to Macedon. Under this pretext, one thousand leading citizens were seized, and sent to Rome to be tried.
Here they were kept in exile for many a year, longing to go home, and fuming against their detention. When they were finally allowed to return, they were so imbittered, that, as the Romans had foreseen, they soon stirred up a revolt among the Achaeans.
Aemilius Paulus, the conqueror of Macedon, then marched into Greece, and swept over the whole country. He took the city of Corinth, and burned it to the ground, after carrying off many of its most precious works of art to adorn his triumph.
Such was the ignorance of the Romans at that time, however, about all matters of art, that the sailors who were to carry these treasures to Rome were warned by the consul to be careful, as they would have to replace any article they had damaged or lost.
The Romans then placed garrisons in the principal Greek towns, and the country became a mere province of Rome, under the name of Achaia.
Thus ends the political independence of ancient Greece, which, though so small, was yet the most famous country the world has ever known, the country from which later nations learned their best lessons in art, philosophy, and literature.