Historical Background Relationship and Contribution of 12 Periods in Western Civilization Essay

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¶ … society as if it were essentially autonomous: There were the Egyptians, and the Greeks, and then the Romans, and so forth. But while, of course, there are core practices, habits, and beliefs -- and historical moments -- that set off these and other societies from each other, there are many key connections as well. Societies borrow from each other all the time; indeed, one might argue that the level of "borrowing" from one culture to the next arises to the level of grand larceny.

When one thinks about it, though, there is every reason for societies to borrow from each other in the same way that one generation learns from its predecessor, and passes on what it has learned. Some of what different societies passed along to each other took the form of technological advancements, so that European architects took the technology of the Romanesque building and developed it into the Gothic style, thereby being able to build taller, more delicate structures. Europeans who traveled east during the Crusades came into contact with the sophisticated developments in math and science of the Arabs and brought them back to Europe where this knowledge helped to spark the Renaissance.

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These scientific advancements would in turn lead to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, which would fundamentally change the entire world, shifting us not only from the labor of humans and animals to machines and loosening the grip of tradition across all cultures, allowing for further changes in politics, art, and the very concept of the human condition. People would begin to live longer and experience in the cities that were themselves in part a result of the Industrial Revolution a wider horizon than those in any previous society would have had the possibility even to imagine.


TOPIC: Essay on Historical Background Relationship and Contribution of 12 Periods in Western Civilization Assignment

Mesopotamia is considered to be the cradle of civilization. It was in all likelihood home to the first cities and the first domestication of both plants and animals (Dlott, 2007). During the Sumerian period (when the Sumerians and Akkadians dominated the Middle Eastern region from approximately 3100 BC to t539, when Babylon fell), in what is now the territory of Iraq, many of the most important aspects of modern society were developed, including mathematics, writing systems, legal systems, and medicine). In 539 BC. During this period, of course, there were a number of peaks and valleys within the civilization, but the establishment of many of the basics of modern culture was established within that time period (law, medicine, formal writing, mathematics, etc.) Pollock, 1999).

Because there is no substantial documentation of previous civilizations, it is hard to make connections between Mesopotamia and whatever came before. However, it is logically clear that previous societies were hunter-gathers (Dalling, 2006). Once these nomads settled down and began to plant crops, they began to require the structure of modern cities. With a steady food supply, mortality (and especially infant mortality) began to fall, and so people stayed in this new Eden (Museum, 2009).


Humans may have settled in the area that is now Egypt (around the fertile Nile Valley) as long as 10,000 years ago (8,000 BC). They called their country Kemet, which referred to the rich black soil in the valley (Bard, 2000). Like the Mesopotamians, they were farmers and also fished in the river. In 3150 BC, the entire area of Upper and Lower Egypt was unified under a single king and began to develop a shared culture, which in turn led to an increasingly complex political and economic system (Dodson, 2004).

The kingdom of Egypt lasted until is was annexed by Rome in about 31 BC. During the height of its civilization, Egyptians -- dependent for life on being able to predict the rise and fall of the Nile -- developed sophisticated writing systems, advanced mathematics, and a well-established division of labor. The Egyptians also seemed to have created a more sophisticated social and legal system than Sumer and a complex calendar system (James, 2005).

The Egyptions, who had a relatively sophisticated medical system, also developed a complex relationship with death. They mummified bodies so that people could be whole in the after life (Mummies and Mummification, 2003) and even briefly experimented (for the first time in human history) with monotheism (Aldred, 1991). The learning, artistry, and culture of Ancient Egypt would pass in turn first to the Greeks, and then to Rome (Siliotto, 1998).


Ancient Greece took the Ionian peninsula, a rocky land west of modern Turkey. They were a seafaring people who incorporated much of the knowledge and technology of older cultures, especially that of Egypt, but also of Phoenicia and Babylon) (Freeman, 1996). The Greeks spread their society farther and farther, especially through trade routes that the Romans would later take over (Hansen, 2006). Because the empire was so far-flung, there was actually no single Greek culture but a number of related ones. The complex relationship among the different subcultures gave rise to the political organization of democracy (Rhodes, 2004).

The Greeks developed the basis of modern. One scholar noted: "Western philosophy is just a series of footnotes in Plato" (Philosophy - "Series of Footnotes to Plato," 2009). Greek drama still influences contemporary theater (Gutzwiller, 2007). Greece synthesized all of the most sophisticated aspects of Far Eastern and Near Eastern civilizations and in turn passed these on to later societies. The Roman poet and orator Horace described this influence of Greece on philosophy, architecture, medicine, politics, literature, and education. 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).


The great empire of Rome began as an agrarian-based society called the Etruscans who settled on the Italian peninsula. The Romans borrowed heavily from all past cultures and used this knowledge and know-how to build a geographically huge empire through well-honed organizational skills. After conquering Greece, the Romans moved on to take Spain (Iberia) and Britannia (England) and became lords of the Mediterranean. The Greek Empire extended from Britain to modern Germany, from India through Northern Africa to the headwaters of the Nile (Scarre, 1995). The huge size of the empire made it subject to political upheaval (Elton, 1996).

Most of the culture of Ancient Rome was inspired, if not outright copied, from Ancient Greece. The size of the Roman Empire required it to develop both a well-disciplined army that not only conquered people across Europe but then established Roman law and culture in each new colony (Goldsworthy, 2003). Rome took Greek and Egyptian technologies to new levels. Much of Roman learning and technology would be lost after the fall of Rome and not recovered until the Renaissance.

Roman houses had indoor plumbing, including flush toilets, and a sophisticated system of aqueducts that brought water to the cities and irrigate crops. Roman cities were cleaner and better organized would be for centuries (Bird, 2007). But even in the Dark Ages there were be glimmers of Roman cultural, religious, and technological achievements -- including the basis for most modern European languages (thinkquest.org, 1999).


The Byzantine Empire was essentially the Eastern half of the Roman Empire that split off in the fourth century AD due to a variety of political, religious, and cultural factor. The empire was centered between the Adriatic and Black Seas, and so occupied a strategic trading area. As Rome lost power and influence, Byzantium rose to fill much of its political role in Europe (Harris, 2007). At the time it was happening, there was no clear distinction between Rome and Byzantium as they divided. In fact in 324 AD the official capital of the Roman Empire shifted to Byzantium. It was called Constantinople (after Emperor Constantine). (the city is now called Istanbul.) Citizens of Constantinople carried on with the technology and social structure of Rome, including the practice of Christianity (Adena, 2008).

The Byzantine Empire lasted for a millennium and its influence allowed for the continuation of Greco-Roman cultural heritage and learning, keeping these traditions alive as most of Europe fell into the Dark Ages. The magnificence of the Byzantine Empire ended at last with the Fall of Constantinople to the Muslim Ottoman Turks in the 15th century (Halson, 2002).

Until its fall, the Byzantine Empire provided a sanctuary for Western learning and culture. If it had not been as strong as it was, Byzantium would not have been able to withstand the emerging power of the Islamic empire. Primarily because it was such an important trading locus, the economy of the empire blossomed. These same trade routes (like the Silk Road) also spread the culture, art, and learning of Constantinople across Eurasia as well as North Africa. The wealth of Byzantium also helped to fund the Crusades, one of the effects of which was to revitalize Europe (Laiou, 2002). Byzantine leaders tended to be very skilled diplomats, which helped them establish a series of treaties with their neighbors. These extended the power… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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