Term Paper: Western Civilization From Prehistory

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[. . .] The British, French, and other empires spread across the globe. And although neither country was in the strict sense "ruled by a monarch," the idea behind the concept remained the same. Territorial expansion was a means toward achieving glory and immortality.

Of course, things have changed in the more than two thousand years since Alexander's time. In recent centuries, the way of the warrior has lost something of its old luster, and would-be conquerors have found it increasingly essential to justify their ambitions by other means. So, in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries we have the concept of the White Man's burden, and the idea of the Western Powers bringing enlightenment and civilization to the benighted races of the Earth. Still more recently, however, even these "noble" ideas have lost their moral weight. Man as he stands at the beginning of the Third Millennium tends to see the cultures and societies of his fellow man as being equally of value. Each has its good points to offer to the world. Each has its own contributions to make. By the same token, all human beings, no matter where they might live, and no matter what religion they might practice, or customs they might follow, are entitled to pursue their lives as they see fit. Force is never justified because no one way is right.

Still, Alexander remains great in the eyes of contemporary historians. Even in the light of modern values and re-evaluations, his accomplishments still rank him as one of the most important figures of all time. Alexander the Great ultimately ruled an empire that extended from Greece to India, and from the Persia to Egypt. It was a vast realm that included many different peoples and societies. As a result of Alexander's conquests these people were brought together into a single community, and though, his empire did not long outlive him, the fusion of peoples and ideas that he made possible continues to influence us to this day. Prior to Alexander's appearance on the world scene, the Western world was broadly divided into two major sections. First, in the far west, there was the Greek World of which Macedon was at the northern edge. Second, there was the sprawling Persian Empire that included all of the ancient Middle East and also Egypt and those parts of the Indian Subcontinent that border modern-day Iran. These two regions had been since very early times largely distinct. Asia, or the Persian Empire, was for the most part, a land of autocratic kings, and highly centralized and authoritarian regimes. Religion was central to daily life, and cities were often dominated by huge temples and their associated priesthoods. Life was exceedingly traditional and changed little over time. In Mesopotamia, as in Egypt, the people had worshipped the same gods and followed similar customs for millennia. Art and architecture tended to be relatively static and stylized. However, the peoples of the Middle East had a long and very ancient history of powerful states, and in comparison to Greece and Macedon were rich in resources. The fertile valleys of the Tigris, the Euphrates, and the Nile produced vast surpluses of grain and supported large populations. There were also metals and minerals of various kinds, and a wealth of skilled craftsmen. History had been long recorded in these lands where writing had first been invented.

In contrast, the Greek World was, at this time, something of a geographic backwater. Rugged mountains divided the region into a host of small, warring, city states. Small farms and vineyards clung to the hillsides, and the Greek People were forced to turn to the sea for much of their livelihood. Yet this less productive environment, and the compartmentalized political situation that it produced, was also strangely enervating. The few centuries before Alexander saw an amazing burst of creativity such as has been rarely witnessed in all of human history. Greek art and architecture shed the strict confines of the ancient canons as bold pioneers worked out the mathematical laws of harmony and proportion. Artists and artisans produced works that mirrored the appearance of the real world. They captured ideas and emotion is their creations. And just as their artists explored new directions, so too did the Greek's thinkers and philosophers. Men such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle developed the basic forms of logical thought and reasoned argument that we still use today. Hippocrates and others explored the natural world with scientific eyes, and together with the rational ideas of the philosophers laid the groundwork for modern science and technology. While many of the material results of their work lay far in the future, they nevertheless began what would become a profound transformation of human society.

It was Alexander's Empire that brought together all these disparate ideas and peoples. In the centuries that followed, the East would become "Hellenized," adopting many aspects of Greek thought and culture. The enormous economic and human resources of Asia would be placed at the disposal of the new philosophies and ways of thinking. Art, architecture, technology, and literature - indeed, virtually every aspect of human culture would benefit from this exciting and stimulating exchange of ideas and talents. The city that Alexander founded, Alexandria, would become the seat of the greatest library in the Ancient World, and a sort of university of the enlarged Greek World. As a result of Alexander's conquests, the religious ideas of Persia, Greece, Egypt, and Judea would mingle together and eventually bring forth new world religions. Furthermore, Alexander the Great's conquest of the known world would create an example for others to follow. And with the establishment of the Roman Empire, it would lead to the development of the concept of a world state, of a society governed by universal laws, a world united and at peace. We still may not have achieved this ancient dream, but we're working on it.

Clearly, Alexander is one of the few individuals in history who truly deserves the title "Great." While many of his accomplishments were clearly unintentional, they would never have happened without him. Alexander left a legacy of conquest and military expansion, but he also cultivated a respect for alien cultures that made his empire a melting pot. His empire, and its successor states forged a new world that benefited all the people, and not just the rulers' treasuries. While historians have seen different things in Alexander down through the centuries, they are all correct in admiring his achievements. And just as Alexander understood the need to understand other peoples and their cultures, so too must historians realize that the world is ever-changing, and that the historians of today do not look at the world around us with the same eyes as their predecessors. People are people and all respond to the circumstances and expectations of the time in which they live. Alexander was no less a great man when his most glorious accomplishment was the creation of an unbeatable army, and no more to be despised when his endless subjugation of other peoples led to the development of a more dynamic and united world. History is in the eye of the beholder.

Section Three: The World of the Romans

Question # 3:

Why was Julius Caesar assassinated? Did his actions appear to you to be tyrannical? After his death, his murderers made no plans for government, think that the Republic, once freed of the dictator, would be restored automatically. Do you consider this to be a naive idea? Why or why not? Why is Caesar such a controversial and interesting figure? Do you see ay parallels between him and Alexander the Great?

Julius Caesar was assassinated because his killers believed that he was trying to destroy the Roman Republic. To destroy the Republic was to destroy the old Roman way of life, and with it, the old Roman virtues of thrift, modesty, self-reliance and hard work. Julius Caesar was only the latest and most brilliant in a line of over-mighty consuls who had brought Rome to the brink of out-and-out dictatorship. Sulla and Marius, and before them, the Brothers Gracchi had all disturbed the traditional order of Roman society. But far more than any patrician or plebian conspiracy, what had really changed Rome was its empire. The ideal Roman Republic, if it had ever really existed, had existed centuries before, back in the days when the Romans had first expelled the Etruscan kings. Rome then was a small city and ruled only its own hinterlands. It was not a great power in the world, or even Italy. In fact, four and a half centuries before Caesar Rome was little more than a poor, backward city state on the fringes of civilization. The Etruscans were the leading nation in the Italian Peninsula, and the Roman people were, of necessity, frugal and industrious. Within the confines of such a small society, there was no one who was extremely wealthy, nor inordinately powerful. A close-knit tribal society, the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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