|Identify and discuss the most lasting contribution of each of the four major cultures we have studied to the development of Western Civilization.
Four cultures of our civilization – ancient Middle Eastern, classical Greek and Roman, Medieval, and Renaissance – can claim to have greatly influenced the development of Western Civilization in multiply ways. However, selecting the single most lasting contribution of each culture took a great deal of thought, some research and, honestly, personal bias and opinion. Some contributions were positive and some negative.
Ancient Middle East
Positive contributions were made by the ancient Middle East and its variety of sub-cultures. Sumeria, Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia were active in shaping the foundation of our Western Culture. Cuneiform writing and the creation of hieroglyphs were possibly the greatest accomplishments passed on from the area (primarily Sumeria and Egypt). Without the ability to create written documents, history recedes into tradition or culture and is lost to future generations. This is the greatest and most lasting contribution of the ancient Middle Eastern cultures. Without it we would not clearly have the governing laws we have since “documentation of one of the earliest known set of laws (Hammurabi's)” (Brooks, 2007) was the beginning of our legal system.
Classical Greek and Roman
It would be impossible to ignore the fact that democracy evolved from classical Greece. Although the improvements to the theater arts, the contributions in the fields of mathematics and science, the revolutionizing of architecture and the invention of philosophy rank highly in contributions which affect our modern western society, the rule by the majority of citizens is the most lasting contribution.
Our political system is “profoundly influenced by ideas from ancient Greece and Rome” (Ancient Greece and Rome and Their Influence on the Modern Western Civilization, n.d.). Today we value and rely upon citizen participation with limited government intervention. In the United States, the founders of our country had studied Greek and Roman history and it was their model. Our idea of separate city-states is derived from the need in ancient Greece to create them due to the mountainous terrain which separated communities. In addition, our idea of three separate ruling bodies comes from Athens with their Assembly, Council of 500 and People’s Court. When combined with the Roman Republic (elected officials responsible to voters), we can see how our government became the marriage of a democracy with a republic.
Western culture can thank the Medieval culture for our emphasis on education. The religious communities of the Medieval period created universities in Western Europe. Although they were church inspired, the universities often included a school of law, studies in the sciences and other wide ranging subjects. The results of the high standards of education may be seen in the architectural and engineering creations of beautiful cathedrals and other buildings. The church based educational centers promoted the study of the sciences in order to motivate students to become nurses, doctors and surgeons (The Middle Ages, 2009). Emphasis on education is the most lasting contribution from Medieval culture.
Standing among the beautiful artistic creations of the Renaissance culture is one reality that has had the greatest and longest lasting influence on Western culture. The encouragement to challenge the old and produce new values was the single most important factor which allowed the Reformation to take place. The Italian Renaissance “created a climate of passion and intellectualism … necessary to challenge old values” (Italian Renaissance, n.d.). Without this freedom, the Reformation in the release from the influence of the corrupted ideals of the Church would not have happened. The split in Christianity resulting from the challenge to the Papacy during the Reformation remains a great source of freedom and conflict today and was the most lasting influential occurrence of the Renaissance/Reformation periods upon today’s Western cultures.
Ancient Greece and Rome and Their Influence on the Modern Western Civilization, (n.d.). Retrieved May 2012 from http://teachergenius.teachtci.com/ancient-greece-and-rome-and-their-influence-on-modern-western-civilization-2/
Brooks, Kay, How the Ancient Middle Eastern Civilizations Contributed to Western Culture, (May, 2007). Retrieved May 2012 from http://voices.yahoo.com/how-ancient-middle-eastern-civilizations-contributed-351440.html
Italian Renaissance, (n.d.). Retrieved May 2012 from http://www.sparknotes.com/history/european/renaissance1/context.html
The Middle Ages, (July 13, 2009). Retrieved May 2012 from http://www.churchinhistory.org/pages/middleages/middleages.htm