Chapter 4 Classical Civilizations in the Mediterranean and Middle East Chapter Outline Summary

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Classical Civilizations in the Mediterranean and Middle East
Chapter Outline Summary


Persian Defeat at Marathon and Thermopylae

Legend of Pheidippides

Persian defeat at Marathon 490 B.C.E.

Ran 26 miles to bring news to Athens, dropped dead

Modern Olympic Games race named for feat

Commemorates military victory and civic love

Persian king Xerxes amassed army 2-1

Athenians retreated to island, watched their city burn

Themistocles, Athenian leader, tricks Persians to sea battle

Battle at Thermopylae in narrow channel

Persians defeated

Defeat highlights two major civilizations in eastern Mediterranean and Middle East

Persian Empire, durable presence in region around Iran

Greek city-states culture spread in Hellenistic world

Impact of classic civilizations of Mediterranean region between 800 B.C.E. and 476 C.E.

Centered first in Greek peninsula, then Rome

Limited control over Middle Eastern civilizations

Westward push

Institutions, values affect on Europe, later Middle East, Americans


Discern leading features of Greco-Roman culture

Compare with other classical civilizations

Recognize western legacy without misapprehending world impact

Distinguish between Greek and Roman legacies

Romans preserved Greek achievements

Not identical

Greeks: interested in science

Romans: interested in engineering

Greeks: formed city-states, poor at empire

Romans: excellent at empire

Greeks: stronger impact in eastern Mediterranean

Romans: law and language greater impact in Europe

Shared Greco-Roman legacy:

Political ideas

Religion and artistic styles

Economic structures

Persian Empire surpassed Greece for several centuries

Impact in Middle East, eastern Mediterranean

Interaction with Greek culture a result of Hellenistic world

I. The Persian Empire: A New Perspective in the Middle East

550 b.c.e., Cyrus the Great

The Persian Empire: northern Middle East into northwest India

Conquered peoples retained culture such as cuneiform

Advanced iron technology

Enormous impact

A. Political Styles and Innovations


Toleration of diversity


Little power sharing

Darius (successor to Cyrus)

Centralization of laws, tax collection

Unified infrastructure

Paved roads

Connecting Indian border with Mediterranean and Egypt

Movement for commerce and troops

Regularly spaced inns, rest and change of horses

Postal service

Growth of new trans-regional trade

Centralized bureaucracy

Control of officials in distant regions of empire

Oversight of tax collection


Zoroaster (630—550 B.C.E.

Revised Sumerian polytheism

Introduced monotheism

Banned intoxicants and animal sacrifice


Life a battle between two divine forces: good and evil

Individual salvation a free choice of God over evil

Last judgment

The righteous gain heaven, “House of Song”

The evil gain eternal pain

Spread widely among emperors and population alike

Enormous effect on Judaism, Christianity, Islam

Small groups of Zoroastrians survive today

Distinctive painting and architecture, spread beyond borders


Long period of peace, prosperity in Middle East

Conquests included North Africa and Indian River valley

At height, empire of 14 million people

Persia proper (present day Iran) 4 million people

Persian language and culture survived Hellenistic period

Persian states persisted in east

II. Patterns of Greek and Roman History

River valley civilizations spread to Greek islands

Greeks Indo-European people

By 2000 B.C.E., Crete showed influence of Egypt

By 1400 B.C.E., Mycenae on Greek peninsula

Influenced by Crete

Memorialized by Homer, Trojan War

Waves of invaders

Destroyed by 800 B.C.E.

A. Stages of Greek Development

800 B.C.E.—600 B.C.E.

Mountainous terrain

Rapid rise of city-states

Tyranny of one

Aristocratic council

Extensive trade

Common cultural forms

Common written language, derived from Phoenician alphabet

Shared celebrations

Olympic Games

Two leading city-states

Sparta: military aristocracy, slave population

Athens: commercial, use of slaves, proud of artistic, intellectual leadership

500 and 449 B.C.E.

Sparta, Athens, smaller states together defeated Persian invasion

During and after this period, high point of Greek, especially Athenian, culture

Period of colonization

Eastern Mediterranean

Southern Italy

5th Century B.C.E.

Rule of Pericles in Athens


Democratic political structure

Citizens assemblies

Elected officials

Passed laws

Pericles ruled by negotiation, influence

Constrained further expansion

Could not prevent war between Athens and Sparta

431–404 b.c.e.

Peloponnesian Wars

338 B.C.E.

Philip II of Macedon conquered Greek city-states

Son, Alexander the Great extended Macedonian Empire

Middle East, Persia, into India, through Egypt

Alexander died at age 33 after 13 years of conquest

Successor states ruled regionally

Hellenistic period

Extended, consolidated Greek art and culture

Blended with Middle Eastern forms

Trade flourished

Scientific centers flourished like at Alexandria

B. Rome

Represents final stage of classical Mediterranean civilization

1st century C.E., Rome subjugated Greece and Hellenistic kingdoms

Origin of Roman state

Local monarchy in central Italy around 800 B.C.E.

509 B.C.E., aristocrats drove out monarchy

Established Roman Republic


Regional conquests


Punic Wars 264 to 146 B.C.E.



Rome seized western Mediterranean, including Greece and Egypt

Political instability

Ambitious generals

Rebellion of the poor

45 B.C.E. Julius Caesar defeated adversaries in civil war, ends Republic

27 B.C.E. Augustus Caesar triumphed, instituted structure of Roman Empire

200 years of peace, prosperity to Mediterranean world and up into Europe

180 C.E. marks beginning of slow fall for next 250 years

Invaders overturned the government in Rome in 476 C.E.

Manifestation of decline

Trade levels fell

Birth rate fell

Government less effective

Two strong emperors: Diocletian and Constantine

313 C.E. Constantine tried to unite empire under Christianity

In west government local

Empire unable to supply order or justice

Armies filled with non-Romans

Inability to defend against influx of invaders

Similar timing, experience as Gupta India and Han China


Mediterranean civilization built on earlier cultures

Took firm shape in Greek city-states

Introduced diverse political forms

Commercially based economy


Decline of city-states

Macedonian conquest

Formation of Hellenistic world from Middle East to Egypt

Roman Republic

Distinguished by political virtue, stability

Embarked on conquests

Replaced Republic with Empire

Empire Controlled


Western, southeastern Europe

North Africa

200 years of peace, prosperity, glory

III. Greek and Roman Political Institutions

Politics extremely important

“Politics” derived from “polis” the Greek word for city-state

Athenian and Roman concept of “the good life”

Political participation

Discussing affairs of state

Geo-political influence

City-states surrounded by several hundred square miles

Relatively small

Intense local identification, sense of ownership

Concern for rights and obligations

Civic military duty

Even under Empire

Local city-states relatively autonomous

Pride in Roman citizenship

Concept of active citizenship unique to Mediterranean civilization

No unifying set political institutions to rival imperial China

Diverse political forms, comparatively more similar with India

Later societies, reflected on diverse Mediterranean political forms

Monarchy not preferred

Rule by “tyrants” common

“Tyranny” a Greek term

Effective rulers

Promoted public works

Protected common people from abusive aristocracy

Hellenistic kings adopted these attributes

Roman generals adopted these attributes

A. Greece

Democracy (derived from Greek demos, “the people”)

Alternative political form

5th century B.C.E. Athens

Rejected aristocratic rule and tyrants

Direct democracy

General assemblies

All citizens members

Those present made all major decisions of state

Met every 10 days

Executive officers, judges

Chosen for brief terms

Subject to review by assembly

Chosen by lot

Women had no political rights

Half of adult males not citizens



Not like today

Did elicit widespread political participation and devotion

Embodied democratic principles consistent with today

Pericles led Athens during period of highest glory

Weakness of direct democracy apparent during Peloponnesian Wars

Majoritarian politics

Pursuit of reckless policy for private ends

Aristocratic assembly the most common political structure

Deliberations established guidelines for state policy

Check on executive power

Sparta an example

Military aristocracy

Imposed rigorous military service on elites

Power over large slave population

Pericles in Athens was an aristocrat

“Aristocracy” derives from Greek “rule of the best”

Belief in class capable of political virtue

B. Rome

Roman Republic

Constitutional attempt to reconcile political forms

Reliance on principle of aristocracy

Citizen assemblies

Elect magistrates

No legislative action


Represent interests of common people


Legislative body

Composed mainly of aristocrats

Executive offices

Composed of senators

Two Consuls

Shared primary executive power


Appointed during crises

Ideal of public service

Cultivated in Senate

Eloquent public speaking

Interest in the general good

Classical Mediterranean political theory

Aristocratic political culture

Political participation

Political ethics

Duties of citizens

Importance of incorruptible service

Political skills like oratory

Cicero, senator and author of political theory

Contrast with Confucianism

Greater emphasis on participation in deliberative bodies

Greater emphasis on analysis of political forms

Roman Empire

Retained strong local autonomy

Outright overthrow of distant rule, exceptional

Example, dissolution of Jewish state in 63 C.E.

Response to major local rebellion

General tolerance for local customs and religions

Preserved Senate, though more as form than content

Strong, well-organized army

Codified, equitable law

Roman Law

Greek precedent

8th century B.C.E. Athens

Balance between property rights and needs of the poor

Access to law courts, administered by fellow citizens

Roman precedent

450 B.C.E., Twelve Tables

Restraint on upper-class arbitrary action

Shared legal principles between wealthy and commoners

Roman Law of Roman Empire

Principle of rule of law not of individuals

Steadily took over role of fathers, landholders in some instances

Principle that law should be flexible to circumstance without varying widely

Principle that common sense should prevail

Principle of law as primary regulator of social life

Expansion of citizenship

Roman-appointed judges

Uniform laws

Unified property and commercial law

Principle that officials are subject to the law

Principle that law should be fair and reasoned

Government functions

Concentration on system of courts and the military

Securing supplies of grain

Public works

Roads, harbors for military transport and commerce

Stadiums, public baths

City of Rome

Over 1 million inhabitants

“Bread and circuses” policy

Gladiators and other entertainments

Cheap food

Colonies of Romans also given theaters, stadiums, baths, etc.

Particularly important for Romans stationed far away such as in England

Official religion

Religious festivals

Reinforced loyalty to state

Other religions tolerated as long as not in conflict with state loyalty

Attacks on Christians


Result of Christian refusal to pay respects to state

Chief political legacies of Mediterranean world


Fervent political interests

Intense loyalty to the state

Diversity of political systems

Preference for aristocratic rule

Importance of law

Unusually elaborate and uniform set of legal principles

Sheer accomplishment of Roman Empire

Unifying a region never before or since bound together

There was attention to careful legal procedures

There was no clear definition of individual rights

With the exception of first 200 years of Roman Empire, war not uncommon

Sometimes, emphasis on duty to state could lead to a totalitarian framework

Sparta such an example

IV. Religion and Culture

Greeks and Romans did not create world religion

India, Persia, some extent China, did

Christianity developed arose during Roman Empire

Spread eased by Roman infrastructure and peace

Religion itself not a product of Greco-Roman culture

Would become influenced by Greco-Roman world

Of historical importance only after Empire began its decline

Greco-Roman religion

Spirits of nature as gods and goddesses involved in human affairs

Greek and Roman pantheons differently named, but much the same

Pantheon reflected natural phenomena, occupations, literature, history

Political importance of ceremonies to the gods

Foretelling future

Bringing good harvests, etc.

A. Religious Values

Greco-Roman religion this-world, human orientation

Stories like soap operas

Engendered literary tradition

Common heritage with India

Gods and goddesses

Expression of human passions and foibles

Symbols of inquiry into human nature

Focus on manipulating human affairs and meanings

Different from Indian interest in higher planes of spirituality

Lack of spirituality divided Greco-Roman population

Ordinary people drawn to mystery religions coming out of Middle East

Provided greater solace in times of difficulty

Sense of contact with the divine

Upper-classes dissatisfied with lack of ethical content

Established moral philosophies

Moral systems such as Aristotle’s in Greece, Cicero’s in Rome

Focus on personal moderation, balance in human behavior

Stoics emphasized inner moral independence, discipline, and bravery

Various moral systems were major contributions

Developed independently from religion

Later blended with Christianity

B. Philosophy and Science

Classical philosophy and political theory

Emphasized powers of human thought

Socrates in Athens (b. 469 B.C.E.)

Question conventional wisdom

Chief duty: improvement of the soul

Athenian government thought he was undermining loyalty

Gave Socrates choice of suicide or exile

Socrates chose suicide

Legacy: rational inquiry demands skeptical questioning

Greek interest in rationality

Some similarity with Confucianism

Greater emphasis on questioning and abstract speculations

Carry over into inquiry concerning physical nature

No radically new scientific findings from Greece or Rome

Focus on rational order

Speculations concerning universal structure

Mathematical constructs

Greek, Hellenistic work in geometry impressive

Theorems of Pythagoras

Hellenistic scientific advancement, especially from Middle East and Egypt


Galen on medical treatment

Euclid on geometry

Ptolemy on sun’s rotation around the earth

Contradicted Middle Eastern knowledge

Became standard Western belief for extended period

Roman science

Taught Greek and Hellenistic science at school

Roman engineering unique achievements




Art and literature conveyors of Greco-Roman values

Religion inspired art

Human-centered qualities themes

Realistic portrayals

Beauty of the human form

Gods as foils for explorations into human nature

Sappho, female Greek poet around 600 B.C.E.

Dance and music vital to festivals but precise styles not well preserved

Drama central role in culture

Comedies and tragedies

Emphasis on tragedies

Human reason, balance precarious virtues

Humans easily ensnared in emotion and uncontrollable consequences

Sophocles’ Oedipus, term still used as a psychological condition

Epic tradition

Iliad, Odyssey attributed to Homer in the 8th century B.C.E.

Virgil used epic form to link Roman and Greek histories and myths

Rome contributed to poetic form

Demonstration of richness of Latin language

Dramas performed for thousands of people

Visual arts


Example: Phidias in 5th century B.C.E. Athens

Romans continued heroic-realist tradition


Greeks invented “classical” architecture

Monumental construction

Square or rectangular

Columned porticos

Doric, Ionic, Corinthian columns

Filled with sculptures

Roman engineering

Grander scale


Uses in Rome:

Public everyday spaces: temples, baths, marketplaces

Private homes: villas around courtyards

Structures for popular entertainments: chariot races, gladiators

Roman style blended with Christianity during the later empire

Greeks also pursued ceramics

Romans also pursued painting

V. Economy and Society in the Mediterranean

Politics and formal culture urban phenomena

Majority of Greeks and Romans were farmers

Local rituals and festivals

Tied to concerns like harvest

Concerns for an afterlife

Free farmers owned their land

Substantial population in Greece and Rome

Constant tension with large landholders

Attempts to appropriate land

Force free farmers into tenancy

Issue of free farming

Shaped politics between tyrants and aristocrats

Shaped politics between democrats and aristocrats

Decline of Roman Republic

Result of too many farmers’ dependency on large landowners

Lost ability to vote freely

A. Agriculture and Trade

Greek and much Italian soil unsuitable for grain though grain necessary

Shifted production to olives and grapes

For cooking and wine

Forced conversion to market economy

Capital investment needed

Adequate sales needed to purchase life’s necessities

Reason so many farmers went into debt

Gave advantage to large landholders

Production to scale

Greater access to capital

Commercial agriculture chief reason to establish empire

Greeks, especially Athens, established colonies to gain access to grain production

Traded olive oil, wine, manufactured products, silver

Rome, sought its granary in Sicily and then North Africa

Heavy grain cultivation in North Africa led to soil depletion

Accounts for later reduced agricultural fertility

Trade key concern

Private merchants transported goods

Governments invested in regulatory practices and infrastructure

Luxury items from craftsworkers embellished upper-class lifestyles

Desired luxury items from India and China

Western disadvantage as their products were cruder

Exported animal skins, exotic African animals, precious metals

Status of merchants

Higher than China

Less than India

In Greece, merchants usually foreign

In Rome, clearly recognized but not fully accepted as patricians

B. Slavery

Slaves key ingredient of classical economy


Justified in Aristotle’s philosophy


Silver mines, especially brutal condition


Agricultural work



Tutoring children of elites

Cultured Greeks highly valued


Agricultural work

Steady spread from final years of Republic


Slaves necessary

Slaves come from conquered territories

Increased need for military expansion


Greek improvements



Roman improvements

Engineering urban living, troop movements, etc.

Little interest in agricultural or manufacture improvements

Upper-class interests in politics and art

Slave labor inhibited need for efficiency


Tight patriarchal family structure

Women had vital economic functions in farming and agricultural households

Upper class Roman women influential in housholds

In law and culture, women inferior

Female infanticide practiced

Potential drain on family economy

Husbands had considerable rights over wives

Roman law modified traditional family controls

Many Greek and Roman women active in business

Women could control urban property, even if only a minority share


Few can be made as the classical Mediterranean world was diverse

Many people lived as farmers in the manner of their ancestors

Tempting to remember only urban achievements

These exerted the greatest influence on later ages

Ordinary life had its own influence

Posed own challenge, opportunity for new movements like Christianity

VI. Toward the Fall of Rome

Fall not like Han China

No disruption, revival pattern of civilization

Fall not like Gupta India

No central religion to link civilizations

Further complications

Collapse not uniform across territory

No single civilization rose to claim mantle of Greco-Roman world

No across-the-board maintenance of institutions or values

Greco-Roman world would live on but selectively

A. A Complex Legacy

600 years of Persia, Greece, Hellenistic period

600 years of Rome

Greek legacy

Political ideas

Art and philosophy

Not polities

Not religion

Complication in North American appropriation of Greco-Roman world

Self-conscious roots in US Constitution and theory of framers

Public buildings copied from classical models

Western education steeped in Greco-Roman history

However no straight line between worlds

Greater direct line with Middle Eastern legacy

Many revivals and modifications before Greek science impacted Europe

Democracy did not spread out of Greece

Complication regarding Persia

Hellenistic conquest mutual cultural exchange

Greek forms introduced in Persia

Persian bureaucracy, centralization copied by Hellenistic kings

Zoroastrianism gained wider range of influence

Judaism, Christianity, Islam influenced

No tidy homogenization

Later Persian kings reasserted Persian ways

Middle East point of exchange between merchants and cultures

Global Connections

A. Persia, Greece, Rome, and the World


Fostered trade

Roads facilitated commerce


Developed contacts more slowly, with more prejudices

Similar to China in attitude to non-Greeks

Non-Greeks “barbarians”

Sparta closed to foreigners

Greeks traders, colonists

Traveled to Egypt to learn science

Herodotus (484—425 B.C.E.) widely traveled historian

Alexander the Great extended Greek culture and contacts

Empire not lasting but interest in contacts remained


Varied world connections beyond borders

Germanic and Celtic peoples introduced to Roman styles

Trade with Africa in northeast

Expeditions to India for commercial outreach

Most ties within vast empire but not exclusively

Outreach affected trading patterns and missionary work even in decline

Chapter Summary

The First Marathon. In 490 b.c.e. a Greek soldier named Pheidippides ran to bring the Athenians the news of the defeat of the Persian army at Greek hands, at Marathon. This was the first “marathon,” later to become a lasting feature of the modern Olympics. The Persian attack on Greece followed a revolt of the Greek city-states on the western edge of the Persian Empire. Xerxes, the Persian king, assembled an army and fleet that should have made his victory sure. However, Themistocles, leading the Athenian forces, used his knowledge of the coastline to lure the Persians into the narrow waters off Thermopylae. The Persian fleet was defeated and Xerxes took flight. The two civilizations that confronted each other at Thermopylae developed along different lines. The Greek civilization, initially covering an area dwarfed by the Persian Empire, was later spread by the conquests of Alexander to western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. This Hellenistic culture was to have an enduring influence.
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.
The Persian Empire: A New Perspective in the Middle East. The Persians developed different political and cultural values than the Greeks. They influenced many historical currents, including modern Iran. About 550 b.c.e., Cyrus the Great established a Persian empire as successor to the Mesopotamian states of the past. The Persians allowed traditional cultures to continue, and advanced iron technology.

Political Styles and Innovations. Persian politics featured several emphases. The first was wide tolerance. The Persian Empire embraced a host of languages and cultures, and the early Persian rulers were careful to grant considerable latitude for this diversity. Second, however, was a strong authoritarian streak aimed at centralizing law, and tax collection. Third, Persian rulers invested in infrastructure to facilitate communication, commerce, and the movement of troops. They built expansive roads dotted with inns, and established the first postal system. These achievements would help connect the Middle East to trade routes coming from central and eastern Asia, a vital step in the growth of new trans-regional commercial connections. The religious leader Zoroaster introduced a religion emphasizing the importance of choosing between the divine forces of good and evil; a last judgment decided whether one deserved eternal heaven or eternal pain. The religion retained a wide hold for a considerable period of time and its ideas and beliefs strongly affected Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Persian rulers expanded the empire and provided much of the Middle East with a long period of peace and prosperity. Although ultimately conquered by Alexander, Persian language and culture remained influential. After the Hellenistic period, a series of Persian empires arose in the northeastern part of the Middle East, competing with Roman holdings and later states. Persian art would affect not only the region, but also India and the wider Middle East.

Patterns of Greek and Roman History. Even as Persia developed, a new civilization took shape to the west, building on a number of earlier precedents. The island of Crete showed the results of Egyptian influence by 2000 B.C.E. An early kingdom in southern Greece, strongly influenced by Crete, developed by 1400 B.C.E. around the city of Mycenae. This was the kingdom later memorialized in Homer’s epics about the Trojan War. Mycenae was then toppled by a subsequent wave of Indo-European invaders, whose incursions destroyed civilization on the peninsula until about 800 B.C.E.

Stages in Greek Development. The rapid rise of civilization in Greece was based on the creation of strong city-states ruled by either a tyranny of one ruler or an aristocratic council. Trade developed rapidly, as did common cultural forms, shared festivals such as the Olympic Games, and a written language derived from the Phoenician alphabet. Sparta and Athens came to be the two leading city-states. The first represented a strong military aristocracy; the other was a more diverse commercial state, justly proud of its artistic and intellectual leadership. Between 500 and 449 B.C.E., the two states cooperated, along with smaller states, to defeat the huge Persian invasion. It was during and immediately after this period that Greek and particularly Athenian culture reached its highest point. The addition of colonies in the eastern Mediterranean and southern Italy, created a larger zone of Greek civilization. Political decline soon set in, as Athens and Sparta vied for control of Greece during the bitter Peloponnesian Wars (431–404 B.C.E.). Ambitious kings from Macedonia, soon conquered the cities. Philip II of Macedon and then his son Alexander extended the Macedonian Empire through the Middle East, across Persia to the border of India, and southward through Egypt. Although Alexander the Great’s empire was short-lived, successor regional kingdoms oversaw the consolidation of Greek civilization over much of the eastern Mediterranean in what became known as the Hellenistic period, named as such because of the influence of the Hellenes, as the Greeks were known.

Rome. The rise of Rome formed the final phase of classical Mediterranean civilization, for by the first century B.C.E. Rome had subjugated Greece and the Hellenistic kingdoms alike. Originating in central Italy around 800 B.C.E., Roman aristocrats drove out the monarchy around 509 B.C.E., and established a republic. Gradually the republic extended its influence. During the three Punic Wars, from 264 to 146 B.C.E., Rome defeated Hannibal and destroyed the Phoenician city of Carthage. The Romans proceeded to seize the entire western Mediterranean along with Greece and Egypt. The politics of the Roman republic grew increasingly unstable. Civil wars between two generals led to a victory by Julius Caesar, in 45 B.C.E., and the effective end of the traditional institutions of the Roman state. Augustus Caesar, seized power in 27 B.C.E. and established the basic structures of the Roman Empire. For 200 years, the empire brought peace and prosperity to virtually the entire Mediterranean world. The emperors also moved northward, conquering France and southern Britain and pushing into Germany. Then the empire suffered a slow but decisive fall that lasted over 250 years, until invading peoples from the north finally overturned the government in Rome in 476 C.E. Economic deterioration, population loss, the need for non-Roman troops, less effective emperors, and the inability of the state to provide protection and justice all contributed to Rome’s decline. Some strong later emperors, particularly Diocletian and Constantine, attempted to reverse the tide. Constantine, in 313, adopted Christianity in an attempt to unite the empire in new ways. However, particularly in the west, most effective government became local. The invasion of nomadic peoples from the north marked the end of the classical period of Mediterranean civilization—a civilization that, like its counterparts in Gupta India and Han China during the same approximate period, could no longer defend itself.

In sum, the Mediterranean civilization was built on earlier cultures along the eastern Mediterranean and within the Greek islands, taking firm shape with the rise of the Greek city-states after 800 B.C.E. These states began as monarchies but then evolved into more complex and diverse political forms. They also developed a more varied commercial economy, moving away from a purely grain-growing agriculture; this spurred the formation of a number of colonial outposts around the eastern Mediterranean and in Italy. The decline of the city-states ushered in the Macedonian conquest and the formation of a wider Hellenistic culture that established deep roots in the Middle East and Egypt. Then Rome, initially a minor regional state distinguished by political virtue and stability, embarked on its great conquests, which would bring it control of the Mediterranean with important extensions into western and southeastern Europe plus the whole of north Africa. Rome’s expansion ultimately overwhelmed its own republic, but the successor empire developed important political institutions of its own and resulted in two centuries of peace and glory.

Greek and Roman Political Institutions. Politics were very important from the Greek city-states through the early part of the Roman Empire. Indeed, our word politics comes from the Greek word for city-state, polis. Mediterranean civilization developed a distinctive concept of active citizenship. Even under the Roman Empire, political engagement remained strong, whether expressed in local city-states or as Roman citizens. While Confucian China shared an intense interest in politics, Greece and Rome did not develop a cohesive set of political institutions like China’s. The great diversity of political forms in Mediterranean civilization is more in keeping with India, where various political forms—including participation in governing councils—ran strong. Later societies, in reflecting on classical Mediterranean civilization, selected from a number of political precedents. Monarchy was not a preferred form; rule by individual strongmen advocating public benefits was more common. Our word tyranny comes from this experience in classical Greece. Some of the Roman generals who seized power in the later days of the republic had similar characteristics, as did the Hellenistic kings who succeeded Alexander.

Greece. Democracy (the word is derived from the Greek demos, “the people”) was another important political alternative in classical Mediterranean society. Athens took the lead in democratic development, depending upon a popular assembly of citizens as sovereign authority. The assembly met every 10 days and, those who showed up, voted on important matters of state. Most officials were chosen by lot and were responsible to the assembly. Athenian direct democracy was both more extensive and less inclusive by modern standards. Many adults—women, slaves, and foreigners—were excluded from political rights. One drawback to direct democracy became evident during the Peloponnesian Wars: lower-class citizens, eager for government jobs and the spoils of war, often encouraged actions that weakened the state. The most widely preferred political framework centered on the existence of aristocratic assemblies. Even in Athens, aristocrats like Pericles had excessive importance. The word aristocracy, which comes from Greek terms meaning “rule of the best,” suggests where many Greeks—particularly, of course, aristocrats themselves—thought real political virtue lay.

Rome. The constitution of the Roman republic tried to reconcile the various elements suggested by the Greek political experience, with primary reliance on the principle of aristocracy. Citizen assemblies elected magistrates to represent the interests of the common people. Aristocrats held most executive offices and comprised the Senate, Rome’s primary legislative body. Two consuls shared primary executive power; and in times of crisis, the Senate could choose a dictator to hold temporary emergency powers. The Roman Senate came closest to realizing the aristocratic ideal of public service. Classical Mediterranean political theorists examined various political forms as well as public virtues. Some of this political writing resembled Confucianism, although there was less emphasis on hierarchy and obedience or bureaucratic virtues, and more on participation in deliberative bodies that would make laws and judge the actions of executive officers. The Roman Empire developed organizational capacities to scale, including its vast hierarchy of the Roman army. That said, considerable local autonomy of custom, authority, and religion prevailed in many regions. Only in rare cases, such as the forced dissolution of the independent Jewish state in 63 C.E. after a major local rebellion, did the Romans take over distant areas completely. Greek and Roman republican leaders had already developed an understanding of the importance of codified, equitable law, however, the idea of fair and reasoned law, to which officers of the state should themselves be subject, was a key political achievement of the Roman Empire. Greeks and Romans were less innovative in the functions they ascribed to government, concentrating primarily on their law courts and military forces. The Roman Empire also pursued a policy of “bread and circuses” designed to prevent popular disorder. They secured vital supplies of grain and undertook vast public works to make cities livable. Even Roman colonies were given theaters, public baths, and stadiums, providing solace in strange lands like England or Palestine. Rome had an official religion and festivals but other religious practices were tolerated so long as they did not conflict with loyalty to the state. Even the later Roman emperors only attacked Christianity, and then irregularly, because of the Christians’ refusal to place the state first in their devotion. It is true that the emphasis on duties to the state could, as with Sparta, lead to a totalitarian framework, and that, with the exception of the first 200 years of the Roman Empire, warfare was more the rule than the exception. Neither the Greek nor the Roman concept of citizenship involved a clear definition of individual rights. The chief political legacies of the classical Mediterranean world include: localism, fervent political interests, an intense loyalty to the state, a diversity of political systems, a preference for aristocratic rule, and the importance of law. The sheer accomplishment of the Roman Empire, which united a region never before or since brought together, still stands as one of the great political monuments of world history.

Religion and Culture. The Greeks and Romans did not create a significant, world-class religion; in this they differed from India and Persia and to some extent from China. Christianity, which was to become one of the major world religions, arose during— but was not the product of— the Roman Empire. The characteristic Greco-Roman religion was derived from a belief in the spirits of nature elevated into a complex set of gods and goddesses who were seen as regulating human life. Greeks and Romans had different names for their pantheon, but the objects of worship were essentially the same. Regular ceremonies to the gods had real political importance, and many individuals sought the gods’ aid in foretelling the future or in ensuring a good harvest or good health.

Religious Values. The classical Mediterranean religion of human-like gods engendered an important literary tradition, as was the case in India. Tales of the gods’ foibles and passions provoked a serious inquiry into human nature. Unlike the Indians, the Greeks and Romans were less interested in how their gods could elevate them toward higher planes of spirituality. Lacking spiritual passion, the dominant religion failed to satisfy many ordinary workers and peasants, who, gravitated to “mystery” religions, often imported from the Middle East. The lack of ethical content in the Greco-Roman religion left many upper-class people dissatisfied too. Thinkers, such as Aristotle and Cicero, developed independent moral philosophies stressing moderation and balance in human behavior. Other ethical systems were devised, particularly during the Hellenistic period. Stoics emphasized an inner moral independence. These ethical systems were major contributions in their own right; they would also be blended with later religious thought, under Christianity.

Philosophy and Science. Mediterranean philosophy emphasized the powers of human thought. In Athens, Socrates (born in 469 B.C.E.) encouraged his pupils to question conventional wisdom; the Athenian government, thinking that he was undermining political loyalty, gave him the choice of suicide or exile; Socrates chose the former. The Socratic principle of rational inquiry by means of skeptical questioning became a recurrent strand in classical Greek thinking and in its heritage to later societies. The Greeks were not outstanding empirical scientists, but their interest in rationality carried over to an inquiry into the underlying order of physical nature. Pythagoras and Euclid contributed major achievements to geometry, while Galen’s contributions to anatomy were a standard for centuries. Less fortunately Ptolemy, contradicting much earlier Middle Eastern astronomy, produced an elaborate theory of the sun’s motion around a stationary earth that was long taken as fixed wisdom in Western thought. Roman intellectuals added little to Greek and Hellenistic science, preferring to preserve it as school curriculum. The Romans expressed their genius in their engineering achievements such as great roads, harbors, aqueducts, and elaborate arches.

The gods and goddesses of Greece and Rome inspired all manner of artistic expression, but drama had a central role in Greek culture. The Greek division of drama into comedy and tragedy remains a Western tradition. The Athenian dramatist Sophocles used tragedy to demonstrate the fragility of human virtues. Greek literature included a strong epic tradition, beginning with the Iliad and the Odyssey, attributed to Homer. Roman authors, particularly the poet Vergil, also worked in the epic form, seeking to link Roman history and mythology with the Greek forerunner. Roman definitions of the poetic form that would long be used in Western literature. In the visual arts, the emphasis of classical Mediterranean civilization was sculpture and architecture. The Greeks also excelled at ceramics whereas the Romans were skilled painters. Greek sculptors like Phidias developed unprecedented skill rendering simultaneously realistic yet beautiful images of the human form; Roman sculptors continued the Greek heroic-realistic tradition. Greek and Roman architects emphasized monumental construction of public buildings—temples, baths, marketplaces, theaters—in three building styles devised by the Greeks: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. Roman engineering allowed greater size, as well as new forms such as the free-standing stadium. Under the empire, the Romans learned how to add domes. All art was public: temples and markets were for daily use; dramas were public rituals for all citizens; Romans enjoyed monumental athletic performances such as chariot races. The elements of classical art—the great monuments if nothing more—were part of daily urban life and the pursuit of pleasure. Roman styles were also blended with Christianity during the later empire providing another lasting expression.

Economy and Society in the Mediterranean. Politics and formal culture in Greece and Rome were mainly affairs of the cities—meaning that they were of intense concern only to a minority of the population. Most people were farmers, tied to the soil and often to local rituals and festivals that were different from urban forms. Political tensions between tyrants and aristocrats or democrats and aristocrats in Greece were largely due to the conflicts between large estate holders and debt-ridden small free farmers trying to maintain their independence. The Roman republic declined in part because too many farmers became dependent on the protection of large landlords, and so no longer could vote freely.

Agriculture and Trade. Both Greece and Rome suffered from the fact that their soil was poor for grain cultivation. The turn to commercial farming of olives and grapes, led to a substantial market basis and territorial expansion. Both developments exacerbated the tensions at home between landowners and small farmers. The estate holders were better equipped to invest the capital needed for production and distribution to grain-growing areas. In both cases, empire became the obvious answer to feeding a growing population. Roman heavy cultivation of grain in north Africa resulted in a soil depletion that helps account for the region’s reduced agricultural fertility in later centuries. Extensive trade developed, with the state supervising grain trade. There was some trade also beyond the borders of Mediterranean civilization itself, for goods from India and China. In this trade, the Mediterranean peoples found themselves at some disadvantage as they did not produce goods of equal value. Merchants remained in an ambiguous position; their status was higher than in Confucian China, but less firm than in India.

Slavery. Slavery was of major importance. Aristotle justified it; Greeks depended on it in their silver mines, commercial operations, and households. Spartans used slave labor for agricultural production. The need for slaves was intimately connected with imperial pursuits as slaves were among the spoils of war. The spread of slavery in the Roman Empire contributed to the decline of free farmers and to Roman militarism. Commercialized agriculture required the influx of labor and independent farmers could not compete with free labor. For both Greece and Rome, the dominance of slavery led to stagnant technology in manufacturing and agriculture. Upper-class intellectual and political pursuits further dissuaded attention to technology. The Greeks did, however, advance shipbuilding and navigation, and the Romans were consummate engineers.

Tight patriarchal families were the norm in both cultures. However, women had a vital function in farming and artisan economies and, among the upper classes in Rome, women could command considerable authority in their households. Legally, women were held inferior. This was mitigated somewhat by the developments of Roman law under the Empire. If divorced because of adultery, a Roman woman lost a third of her property and had to wear a special garment that set her apart like a prostitute. On the other hand, the oppression of women was probably less severe in this civilization than in China. Many Greek and Roman women were active in business and controlled a portion, even if only the minority, of all urban property.

Most people in Greece and Rome continued to work largely as their ancestors had done, untouched by the doings of the great or the bustle of the cities except when wars engulfed their lands. We are tempted exclusively to remember the urban achievements, for they exerted the greatest influence on later ages that recalled the glories of Greece and Rome. However, the habits and attitudes of ordinary farmers and artisans developed during the great days of the Greek and Roman empires, should not be overlooked; their separation from much of the official culture posed both a challenge and opportunity for new cultural movements such as Christianity.

Toward the Fall of Rome. The fragmentary collapse of Rome left its own impact on world civilization. Unlike China, classical civilization in the Mediterranean region was not simply disrupted only to revive. Unlike India, there was no central religion, to serve as a link between the classical period and what followed. The fall of Rome was not uniform and no single civilization ultimately rose to claim the mantle of Greece and Rome. At the same time, there was no across-the-board maintenance of the classical Mediterranean institutions and values in any of the civilizations that later claimed a relationship to the Greek and Roman past. Greece and Rome would live on, in more than idle memory, but their heritage was unquestionably more complex and more selective than proved to be the case for India or China.

A Complex Legacy. The classical Greek and Hellenistic political legacy was in the form of ideas; unlike the Chinese, they did not develop enduring political institutions, although Rome copies some Greek structures. The most enduring legacy came in art and philosophy. Partly because they did not generate a major religion, Greek and Roman contributions to a durable popular culture were more limited than was true in China or India. Although the Western educational tradition long focused on the legacy of Greco-Roman civilization, they were inferior to China and India in many political and scientific achievements. Their legacy is not only a result of their achievement, but also because the West consciously adopted many of its features. Moreover, Alexander’s conquest of Persia brought a complex mixture of reciprocal influences, blurring the line between Greek and Middle Eastern culture. Hellenistic kings imitated Persian centralization and bureaucracy. Cultural exchange also gave Zoroastrian influences a wider range. This furthered the influence these religious ideas would have on Mediterranean religions, including Judaism, and later, Christianity and Islam. Later, more purely Persian kingdoms arose as the Hellenistic states declined. Under Hellenism and Persia alike, the Middle East enhanced its role as a point of exchange among many different merchants and cultures.

GLOBAL CONNECTIONS: Persia, Greece, Rome, and the World. Persian roads and institutions facilitated commerce and cultural exchange from Asia to the Mediterranean. Like the Chinese, the Greeks thought other peoples were inferior barbarians. But, although city-states like Sparta rejected outside influences, most Greeks were a trading and expansionist people. Some, like Herodotus, studied other cultures. Alexander extended Greek outreach beyond the Mediterranean world to as far as western India. Though his system did not last, the interest in setting up stronger links between the eastern Mediterranean and Asia remained an important concern. Most Roman attention, in trade as well as politics, focused on creating ties within the vast territories of the empire, but significant influence extended outside its borders into Europe, Africa, and India. Some of these connections would affect trading patterns and missionary religious outreach even as the empire began to decline.

Cyrus the Great: (c. 576 or 590–529 b.c.e.); founded Persian Empire by 550 b.c.e.; successor state to Mesopotamian empires.
Zoroastrianism: Persian religion that saw material existence as a battle between the forces of good and evil; stressed the importance of moral choice; a last judgment decided the eternal fate of each person.
Hellenism: culture derived from the Greek civilization that flourished between 800 and 400 b.c.e.
Hellenistic culture: culture associated with the spread of Greek influence and intermixture with other cultures as a result of Macedonian conquests.
Iliad and Odyssey: Greek epic poems attributed to Homer; defined relations of gods and humans that shaped Greek mythology.
Polis: city-state form of government typical of Greek political organization from 800 to 400 b.c.e.
Socrates: Athenian philosopher of late 5th century b.c.e.; condemned to death for “corrupting” minds of Athenian young; usually seen as the father of western philosophy.
Direct democracy: literally, rule of the people—in Athens it meant all free male citizens; all decisions emanated from the popular assembly without intermediation of elected representatives.
Pericles: Athenian political leader during 5th century b.c.e.; guided development of Athenian Empire.
Olympic games: one of the pan-Hellenic rituals observed by all Greek citystates; involved athletic competitions and ritual celebrations.
Persian Wars: 5th century b.c.e. wars between the Persian Empire and Greek city-states; Greek victories allowed Greek civilization to define identity.
Peloponnesian War: war from 431 to 404 b.c.e. between Athens and Sparta for domination in Greece; the Spartans won but failed to achieve political unification in Greece.
Macedon: kingdom of northern Greece; originally loosely organized under kings; became centralized under Philip II; conquered Greek city-states.
Philip II: ruled Macedon from 359 to 336 b.c.e.; founder of centralized kingdom; conquered Greece.
Alexander the Great: (r. 336–323 b.c.e.); son and successor of Philip II; conquered Persian Empire and advanced to borders of India; attempted to combine Greek and Persian culture.
Alexandria: Egyptian city; founded 334 b.c.e.; one of many “Alexandrias” founded by Alexander the Great.
Socrates: (b. 465 b.c.e.); Athenian philosopher; usually seen as the father of western philosophy.
Aristotle: Greek philosopher; teacher of Alexander; taught that knowledge was based upon observation of phenomena in material world.
Stoics: Hellenistic philosophers; they emphasized inner moral independence cultivated by strict discipline of the body and personal bravery.
Sophocles: Greek writer of tragedies; author of Oedipus Rex.
Doric, Ionic, Corinthian: three distinct styles of Hellenic architecture; listed in order of increasing ornate quality.
Consuls: two chief executives of the Roman republic; elected annually by the assembly dominated by the aristocracy.
Carthage: founded by the Phoenicians in Tunisia; became a major empire in the western Mediterranean; fought the Punic wars with Rome for Mediterranean dominance; defeated and destroyed by the Romans.
Punic Wars: three wars (264–146 b.c.e.) between Rome and the Carthaginians; saw the transformation of Rome from a land to a sea power.
Hannibal: Carthaginian general during the second Punic War; invaded Italy but failed to conquer Rome.
Republic: the balanced political system of Rome from circa 510 to 47 b.c.e.; featured an aristocratic senate, a panel of magistrates, and popular assemblies.
Julius Caesar: general responsible for the conquest of Gaul; brought army back to Rome and overthrew republic; assassinated in conservative senators.
Octavian: later took name of Augustus; Julius Caesar’s grandnephew and adopted son; defeated conservative senators after Caesar’s assassination; became first Roman emperor.
Cicero: conservative senator and Stoic philosopher; one of the great orators of his day.
Vergil: a great Roman epic poet during the Golden Age of Latin literature; author of the Aeneid.
Directory: cms -> lib04 -> NJ01001118 -> Centricity -> Domain -> 179
179 -> Chapter 24 Industrialization and Imperialism: The Making of the European Global Order
179 -> Chapter 21 The Muslim Empires Chapter Outline Summary
179 -> Chapter 5 The Classical Period: Directions, Diversities, and Declines by 500
179 -> -
179 -> Chapter 21 Section 1 a new Kind of Revolution
179 -> Part VI the newest stage of world history: 1914–present
179 -> Absolute Monarch Facebook Project
179 -> African Civilizations and the Spread of Islam Chapter Outline Summary I. African Societies: Diversity and Similarities
179 -> Part I from Hunting and Gathering to Civilizations, 5 million–1000 B. C. E.: Origins
179 -> The Reforms of Tsar Alexander II carl Peter Watts examines a set of reforms which held out the prospect of modernising Russia but whose failure paved the way for revolution

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