Chapter 4 Reading Guide: Classical Civilization in the Mediterranean: Greece and Rome

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Chapter 4 Reading Guide: Classical Civilization in the Mediterranean: Greece and Rome

Chapter Summary. The classical civilizations that sprang up on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea from about 800 B.C.E. until the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 C.E. rivaled their counterparts in India and China in richness and impact. Centered first in the peninsula of Greece, then in Rome, the new Mediterranean culture did not merely constitute a westward push of civilization from its earlier bases in the Middle East and along the Nile. They also represent the formation of new institutions and values that would reverberate in the later history of the Middle East and Europe alike. For most Americans, classical Mediterranean culture constitutes “our own” classical past. We can clearly recognize the connections and our own debt without adhering to the notion that the Mediterranean world somehow dominated the classical period. Greco-Roman history is one of the three major classical civilizations, more dynamic than its Chinese and Indian counterparts in some respects but noticeably less successful in others. Classical Mediterranean civilization is complicated by the fact that it passed through two centers during its centuries of vigor. Roman interests were not identical to those of Greece, although the Romans carefully preserved most Greek achievements. For several centuries, the Persian Empire far surpassed Greece in significance, certainly in the Middle East but also in the eastern Mediterranean more generally. The Empire established significant traditions still visible in present day Iran and generated one of the significant religions in world history, in Zoroastrianism.

One of the more famous events at modern Olympic Games is the marathon, a run of 26 miles. Why is a marathon 26 miles?

Why did Persia invade Greece?

How does the expression “brains over brawn” apply to the final Greek victory over Persia at sea?

Who was Alexander the Great’s teacher?

What impact did Alexander the Great have on Greek culture?
Identify the period when Greek culture spread and blended with other cultures (syncretism) the most.
Where did the Mediterranean culture begin and where did its center later move to?

Identify the specific architectural similarities between the buildings below.

Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. The White House, Washington D.C.

The Pantheon, Rome The Parthenon, Athens, Greece

Why do those similarities exist?

Use the double bubble map below to diagram similarities and differences between Greece and Rome during the classical period.



The persian tradition

What Middle Eastern civilization inherited many of Mesopotamia’s achievements? Who was its founder?

What were 3 key characteristics of Persian political institutions?

What was Zoroastrianism? What present day religion(s) does Zoroastrianism resemble in some aspects? Identify the similarities.

What famous pseudo-Greek (i.e. “sort of” Greek) conquered the Persians?

What modern day country exists at the heart of the old Persian Empire? (HINT: It sounds like “Aryan” for a good reason.)

patterns of greek and roman history


What do the Greeks and Aryans have in common?

IMPORTANT: What sort of political units did the Greeks have? What led the Greeks to have this type of political unit rather than a unified empire?

In what area of the Mediterranean did the Greeks focus their trade and colonization efforts?

What two Greek city-states were at the heart of the Peloponnesian Wars and what did those wars lead to?
Examine the architecture of the famous Treasury of Petra in the picture below. What elements does it share with the buildings above? How do you think this building came to have those characteristics? (HINT: map on p. 86)


What new Mediterranean power conquered and absorbed Greek culture?

What did the Romans do in 509 BCE that would inspire American colonists and thinkers in the late 1700’s? What was established at this time?
Who was Rome’s opponent during the Punic Wars?

What role did Julius Caesar play in bringing about the end of the republic?

When Augustus seized power this began a new period in Roman history as Rome is now referred to as the what?

How many years did this new political structure last? (Use your timeline on p. 82)

Compare the 1st half of this new Roman political structure’s history to the 2nd half. In general, what is the key difference between them?

What was the final catastrophe that marked the end Rome? How is this similar to the end of Han China and Gupta India?

Besides that final reason for the fall of Rome, what were some other factors in its decline?

What new religion was adopted in Rome in 313 CE?

GREEK AND ROMAN political institutions

Describe the common political obligations and customs of citizens in Greece and Rome.

Mr. Troxell has the ultimate authority in the school. However, Mrs. Schmid runs her classroom and establishes assignments and sets standards for her AP students to meet. How is this analogous (similar or symbolic of) to the power relationship of the Roman emperor and city-states around the empire?

How were Greece and Rome’s political cultures and institutions distinctive from China’s? List three differences.

How were Greece and Rome’s political forms similar to India’s?

What type of government did Greece and Rome (at least while a republic) avoid?

Today the word “tyrant” is associated with a ruler who abuses his power and his people’s freedom and rights. How were tyrants different in classical Greece?


Fill in the chart below using just the first two paragraphs on page 89 in this section. Describe the common political, economic, and social characteristics shared by Greece & Rome, India, and China.

Point of Comparison

Greece & Rome



Political –

Economic –


Record social hierarchy differences between the 3 classical civilizations. Focus on content in paragraphs 3 (“Within this common …”), 4, 5, & 6. Address the following 3 areas: who was at the top & bottom of each social class, mobility, and what held each system together. You may write outside the triangles if needed.

GREECE (pg. 88)

Where did the Western concept of democracy come from specifically and from what word is it derived?

How is “direct democracy” different from present day democracy in the United States?

What people were not considered citizens in Athens?

What was the most common form of government in the Mediterranean world?

Read the short passage by Pericles on pp. 90 and assess the validity of this statement: “Athenian democracy and the principles espoused by Pericles are echoed in present day Western democracies such as the United States.” Your answer MUST follow this format: “While Athenian democracy and principles were similar to modern Western democracies in that ________________________________, (cite several similarities), there were significant differences such as ______________________________ (cite several dissimilarities).


Roman citizens would gather to vote in assemblies but they would not vote on laws. What were they voting on?

What was the most powerful lawmaking body in the Roman Republic?

The United States has a President who serves as the executive (enforcing) authority. What did Rome have?

Rome had an unusual practice of handing total power to one individual during emergencies so quick and decisive decisions could be made for the good of the country. What was this person called? What meaning does that same term have in today’s political world?

What happened to the Senate when the Roman Republic transformed into the Roman Empire? Where did its power go?

Describe Rome’s attitude to toward various religions. (NOTE: if you are a Christian and familiar with the Roman Empire’s treatment of early Christians please keep in mind that was the EXCEPTION rather than the rule. Don’t let your biases lead you astray.)

The Chinese, starting with the Han, created an elaborate bureaucracy as a form of political control and to manage government affairs. The Romans did not. What did the Romans emphasize instead? (HINT: it’s another legacy of Rome to the West.)

What was the primary reason behind Rome’s decision to build roads and harbors, types of public works?
How did Rome attempt to prevent disorder, especially among the lower classes?

If Rome was generally tolerant of other religions, why were Christians singled out for persecution?

What was the single greatest accomplishment of the Roman Empire that has yet to be repeated? (NOTE: to really appreciate this, look at the map on page 87 and keep in mind that ALL of the orange, light orange, and green COMBINED was the Roman Empire.)

religion and culture

How did Rome and Greece differ from India and China in the area of religion? (keep in mind that for something to be significant it needs to spread and influence other areas)

What allowed Christianity to spread within the Roman Empire?
What was lacking from the Greco-Roman religion that lower class people desired?

During what sort of times or events did people turn to religion more often than other times? (NOTE: this is human nature and explains why so many criminals become Christians or Muslims while in prison and especially when they are about to be executed.)

Read the quote below about the ruler of the Greek gods, Zeus (Jupiter to Romans), and then explain why the Greeks and Romans had to invent separate ethical systems for people on which to model their behavior whereas Hindus, Confucianists, Daoists, Buddhists, Jews, and Christians did not.
Zeus did indeed bring order out of Chaos, but one of his failings was that he did not look kindly upon the people, those creatures that populated the lands over which he reigned. Many were not beautiful, and Zeus had contempt for anyone who was not beautiful. And of course they were not immortal, as the Olympian gods were, and they complained about the lack of good food and the everlasting cold nights. Zeus ignored their complaints, while he and the other gods feasted endlessly on steaming hot game from the surrounding forests, and had great crackling fires in every room of their palaces where they lived in the cold winter.

Greek Creation Myths” by Daphne Elliott

“Don’t believe everything you hear.” What famous Greek does this expression best personify? Why?

Your text states that “the Greeks were not outstanding empirical scientists.” Look up the word empirical and explain what the Greeks were not doing (usually) that students who study the scientific method are taught to do in school today.

In what academic areas did Greeks produce important achievements?
What theory of Ptolemy’s was wrong but dominated Western teachings until the Renaissance?
In what area did Romans excel in particular?
Explain what these movie posters have to do with Greek contributions to drama?

If an ancient Greek and Roman were to see the White House or Lincoln Memorial today and were told they represent “classical” architecture, they both would say “wrong”. Why?

What was Rome’s architectural achievement?

economy and Society IN THE MEDITERRANEAN

Upon what 3 aspects were the economies of Greece and Rome based?

What part of Greek and Roman society is most left out of our conception of that time period? (HINT: we’re focused on cities and their products like art, politics, etc.)

How did agriculture and geography encourage the Greeks and later Romans to become traders with connections around the Mediterranean Sea?

Who were the Greeks & Romans trading with beyond the Mediterranean?

What trading problem did they encounter with these far away peoples? (NOTE: Get used to it. This problem will be an ongoing problem in the West until the Industrial Revolution.)

Once again, rank the status of merchants in the classical civilizations we’ve studied. Record the name of each civilization below based on the degree of status it awarded merchants within its social structure. (Mediterranean = Greece & Rome)

Cite several examples of how slaves were used in the Mediterranean. Be sure to note the use of Greek slaves by Romans.

How did slavery encourage the expansion of militaries and conquests?

Use the quote below and your text to explain why the Greeks and Romans did not pursue advances in technology, leaving the West at a trade disadvantage with the East for centuries. (HINT: people without jobs/food get angry, they may riot, they may . . . NOTE: Glass was one of the few Western exports besides exotic animals and precious metals sent to the East over the Silk Road.)

When a mechanical engineer found a better way to move heavy columns, the Emperor Vespasian (d. AD 79) gave him a reward but refused to adopt the technology. Said the emperor “You must let me feed my poor commons” (“commons” meaning ordinary laborers/slaves). A similar but less heartwarming story is also told about the Emperor Tiberius (d. AD 37), who supposedly met the inventor of plastic (“unbreakable glass”). Tiberius had the man beheaded, lest, he said, “gold be reduced to the value of mud.”

Innovation and incentives by Suzanne Scotchmer

Describe the economic role of women in Greece and Rome.

Cite one example of how women were unfairly treated in comparison to men in Rome.

Cite one example of how later Roman law made the treatment of women better, although still unequal.

How did the treatment of women in Greece and Rome compare to China?


When did Rome begin to decline?

Describe geographically the fall of Rome.

Should Americans look to classical Greece and Rome as their classical past? Why does the text caution against doing this?

Global Connections: GREECE, ROME, AND THE World

How were the Greeks like the Chinese in their view of others?

How were the Greeks unlike the Chinese in travel and trade?


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