Western Civilization Mesopotamia Historical and Literature Review

Excerpt from Literature Review :

Prior to the solidification of society in the major cities of Greece, the period called the Greek Dark Ages (c. 1100-750 BC) shows that there was a great deal of trade and cultural influence between Greece, Egypt, and the Assyrian/Babylonian cultures, This was a time in which the alphabetic script was brought to Greece, and the basis of culture and technology developed. Because of the influences of the other major civilizations of the time, Greece was able to jump start its own civilization and take what they learned and rather quickly advance into a Classical period of development (Hall, 2007).

Contribution(s) to Western Civilization -- Ancient Greece is still considered the basic foundation for modern European culture. Contrary to popular belief, there was really no one "Greek culture" in ancient times. Instead, Greece consisted of several hundred City States (Poleis)- mostly engendered by the geography of the country. There were times, of course, when the presence of an external threat constituted reason for treaties between city-states in order to ward off the enemy, but it is also important to note how weakened the individual city-states became when they fought lengthy wars with each other (e.g. Sparta and Athens). Also, most Greek city-states were petty kingdoms and rather tyrannical, and it was not until the 6th Century that citizen assemblies and a greater respect for the bearers of the armed forces became. This, of course, gave rise to democracy (for White male free men) in Athens, which did begin a lengthy tradition once rediscovered during the Renaissance period in Europe (Rhodes, 2004).

Greek philosophy still remains the cornerstone of modern philosophical thought, and focused on the dual roles of reason and inquiry forming clear lines from Greece to Rome to the secular sciences of the contemporary world. One scholar noted, "Western philosophy is just a series of footnotes in Plato" (Philosophy - "Series of Footnotes to Plato," 2009). Similar was literature, for the Greek playwright Aeschylus changed the genre forever when he introduced the idea of dialog and interacting characters -- drama, into literary plays (Gutzwiller, 2007). Greece synthesized the best parts of the oriental civilizations and gave rise to philosophy, architecture, medicine, politics, literature, education, and via Rome, still into modernity. In fact, the influence of Greece was so great on Rome, the Roman poet Horace even said, "Captive Greece took captive her fierce conqueror and instilled her arts in rustic Latium" (Horace).


Historical and Geographic Background -- Rome grew out of an agrarian-based civilization called the Etruscans and was based on and around the Italian peninsula, surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. The Romans were not so much innovators as organizers and conquerors. Through military and political conquest they overtook the Greek Empire, moved West towards Spain (Iberia) and Britannia (England) and through the Punic Wars with Carthage became masters of the Mediterranean. By the 5th century BC until the 5th century AD, Rome controlled the largest, most comprehensive Empire in the Ancient World -- stretching from Britain up to modern Germany and East almost to India, south through Northern Africa to the headwaters of the Nile (Scarre, 1995). However, for a variety of reasons, political instability, lack of solid military and political base- attacking by various mitigating peoples, the western part of the empire broke up into independent kingdoms and transferred whatever political hegemony was left to the Eastern Empire of Byzantium (Elton, 1996).

Relationship to Previous Periods - Most of the culture of Ancient Rome was inspired, copied in many cases, from Ancient Greece and then "modified" to fit Roman sentiments and political/cultural views. It is likely the city of Rome was founded in the 8th century BC and that Greek traders and artisans settled and mingled with the Etruscans, eventually allowing Rome to subsume the Greek Empire, although never as clearly as we see today since Greece continued to govern its own city states but was still under the overall control of Rome (Ibid.). It appears that over the period of two centuries, roughly 509 BC to 281 BC, the Roman tribes subdued the Etruscans, and then finally the Greek colonies in the southern part of the Italian Peninsula. This then allowed them to successfully dominate the Phoenician colony of Carthage in Three Punic Wars, once completed, and resulted in Rome's domination of the Mediterranean (Hooker, 1996).

Contribution(s) to Western Civilization
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-- Rome's eventual conquest was a result of a number of factors that allowed the culture and civilization to both prosper, and eventually decline. For example, the city of Rome was the largest urban area of its time, with a population that exceeded one million people -- the largest city in the world until London of the 19th century. This mega-urban area allowed for a huge hierarchical structure that was able to devote the time and effort necessary to govern provinces far away, and to keep track of the needs and contributions of the same (Flower, 2003). Of course, this would not have been possible without a well-funded and well trained military that could not only subdue and conquer, but establish and maintain rule. Military leadership and tactics evolved over the history of Rome, but were characterized by a leaner, more flexible, organization that was able to utilize technology and organization that was unheard of in the Ancient World (Goldsworthy, 2003). Rome expanded a number of Greek and Egyptian technologies, some of which are in use today. Many were lost until the later Middle Ages and Renaissance, giving rise to the middle period sometimes called the "dark ages." Rome contributed to modern sensibilities of law and politics, science and government, and one of the first lengthy treatises on architecture. Her aqueducts and baths used advanced concepts of hydrology, and in the later years even utilized cement. The Romans made major advances in sanitation, which set the standard for urban planning in the Renaissance. Roman towns were famous for their public baths, which were used for both hygienic and social purposes. Because of the crowded urban atmosphere, many Roman houses had indoor plumbing, flush toilets, and a complex sewer system that predated sanitation technology by several hundred years (Bird, 2007). However, it is the set of cultural, religious, and technological achievements of Ancient Rome that were passed onto other civilizations, including the basis for most modern European-based language (thinkquest.org, 1999).


Historical and Geographic Background -- Byzantium was essentially the eastern side of the Roman Empire, resulting from a political, cultural, and religious schism that occurred in the 2nd century AD. The city itself is located in a very strategic area between the Adriatic and Black Seas, and was a major trading area in the Ancient World, founded by Greek traders. It was the strategic location of the city that allowed trade, commerce, and ultimately political hegemony to allow the transfer of power from West to East when it became apparent that Rome could no longer appropriately manage its political domain (Harris, 2007).

Relationship to Previous Periods -- The distinction between Rome and Byzantium is really a modern concept; their thought was that it simply was the logical inheritor of Rome when the culture of the Italian peninsula began to decay. In 324 AD the official capital of the Roman Empire was, however, moved to Byzantium and now called Constantinople (after Emperor Constantine) or "New Rome." Thus, the legacy of Byzantium was a continuation of Rome with the addition of evolving technologies and, most important, Christianity (Adena, 2008).In essence, Byzantium was a viable and powerful 1,000-year empire -- exuding influence in the political, cultural, economic, and military areas of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world. It was a way for the Greco-Roman cultural heritage to maintain hegemony during a period in which much of Western Europe was in turmoil. Many scholars believe that without Byzantium, much of the long traditions of Western Europe would have been lost to the Islamic or invading Mongol Empires. Eventually, however, as the powers in the West rose, Byzantium's power decreased, culminating in the Fall of Constantinople to the Muslim Ottoman Turks in the 15th century (Halson, 2002).

Contribution(s) to Western Civilization -- Byzantium was the only stable, long-term state in Europe that protected and isolated Western Europe from the emerging and powerful Islamic empire. It was the most advanced economy in Europe and the Mediterranean until the Renaissance, and established a trading network that extended across most of Eurasia and North Africa, and was the primary locus of the famous Silk Road. Up until the 7th century, Byzantium was the most complex and powerful economy in the world -- which was important not just in a fiscal way, but the dissemination of culture throughout the known world, from Europe, through the Mideast, into Asia, and back. It is also likely that without the Byzantium trade routes and economic stimuli, there would not have been enough funding for the Crusades, which resulted in the redevelopment and revitalization of Europe (Laiou, 2002). Byzantium was constantly…

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Historical and Geographic Background -- The Islamic Golden Age is also known as the Caliphate of Islam or the Islamic Renaissance and refers to a system of government and political, cultural and religious authority derived from the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, roughly in the early 5th century A.D. The high point of this revival of art and culture is somewhat of a sliding scale, varying between the 8th-13, or even15th centuries (Kraemer, 1992). The geographic area was centered around the Saudi Arabian peninsula, with the first capital in Media, a city in west central Saudi Arabia. At the height of their power, the Caliphate controlled all of the present day Middle East, all of northern Africa and into Spain, and as far East as the Indus Valley, making it one of the largest unitary states in history, and most notably one of the few states to ever extend direct rule over three continents (Kennedy, 2001).

Relationship to Previous Periods -- From the time of the disintegration of the great Middle Eastern Empires (Babylonia, Assyria, Egypt, etc.), the Arab world was not unified and remained a series of nomadic tribes under the nominal control of various warlords. Part of the Mohammidian tradition was the understanding that real incentives were needed to increase agricultural production. As a result, Islam is more than a religion -- it is a social transformation that allowed for a greater degree of economic stability, thus allowing various tribes to coalesce into a nation, united under religion. For example, one religious leader expressed it as "All Muslims are partners in three things: water, herbage, and fire" (Chaudry, 2003). The Golden Age was a period in which the Roman Empire had transferred most of its political power to Constantinople and the population of Europe

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