Art of Living

Three philosophers go to Rome…

Back in 155 BCE three Greek philosophers went to Rome on an embassy. And the world hasn’t been the same since

Philosophy as a Way of Life
5 min readMar 18, 2022

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image: artist rendition of Republican Rome, pinterest.com/pin/rome-reconstruction

Three Greek philosophers went on an embassy to Rome in 155 BCE and changed the way the Romans looked at philosophy itself. Or at least, so goes the story that we get from several ancient sources, including Pliny the Elder, Plutarch, and especially Cicero.

Here is what happened. Rome fought two major sets of wars that definitely established it as the reigning power throughout the Mediterranean: the Punic Wars (264–146 BCE) and the so-called Macedonian Wars (214–148 BCE). The latter conflicts crippled two of the empires established after the death of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian and the Seleucid ones. Athens, which had never recovered from the defeat against Sparta during the Peloponnesian War, allied itself with Rome, but suffered significant losses during the Macedonian Wars.

In part to recoup some such losses, the Athenians raided the city of Oropus, which was also allied with Rome. That was not a wise move, as the Oropians appealed to the Romans and were awarded the sum of 500 talents in compensation, to be paid, of course, by Athens.

The Athenians then sent an embassy of three diplomats to Rome itself, to plead their case and have the fine reduced or voided. The surprise, for the Romans, was that the embassy was headed by three philosophers: Carneades of Cyrene, an Academic Skeptic; Critolaus of Phaselis, a Peripatetic; and Diogenes the Babylonian, a Stoic.

This was the first time that philosophers entered Rome in such an important official role, as philosophy was not exactly highly regarded by the very pragmatic Romans. For the Greeks, however, this was nothing new and actually made a lot of sense: a diplomat needs excellent oratorical skills, and who better than a philosopher to carry out the task of persuasion. (Modern departments of philosophy take notice!)

To make things more interesting, the three philosophers employed their spare time, when they were not arguing in front of the Senate, giving public lectures on various subjects in the style of their respective philosophies. And it was a pair of such…

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Philosophy as a Way of Life

by Massimo Pigliucci. Practical philosophy, science, pseudoscience & good reasoning. Complete index of articles at https://massimopigliucci.org/essays/