Classical Civilization

IN the Mediterranean:

Greece and Rome

  In this chapter, we are going to discuss about the civilization in the Mediterranean: Greece and Rome. The influences of Greece and Rome on the other regions and ages, Not only the cultural, political and economical developments, philosophy and religion of Mediterranean, but also the influences on the other regions and ages will be discussed in this chapter. 


One theme related to this chapter is state building, expansion, and conflict. There was a variety of political structures and forms of governance but both Greece and Rome emphasized aristocratic rule and democratic elements. The forms of government ranged from monarchies to oligarchies to aristocratically democracies.

Greek politics were mainly localized and at times there was an aristocratic government and other times tyranny. Greece usually democratic, was based on  the rule of the vote of the people.  Rome being a republic, was based on the rule of the best of the society.

Another theme is development and interaction of cultures. Greece and Rome did not develop a significant world religion. Both their religions came from a set of gods and goddesses who were seen as regulating human life. It had an of-this-world approach containing lessons that illustrated human passions and weaknesses.

Different models of philosophy developed by philosophers such as Aristotle, and Cicero. The philosophers emphasized the importance of moderation and balance in human behavior. Socrates encouraged his followers to question conventional wisdom.

Cyrus the Great :

By 550 B.C.E Cyrus the Great,  established a massive Persian Empire across the northern Middle East and into northwestern India.


Pericles :

Pericles, one of the most famous Greek political figures, dominated Athenian politics in the 5th century B.C.E. He was an aristocrat, but he was part of a democratic political structure in which each citizen could participate in city-state assemblies to select officials and pass laws. He tried to restrain the aggressive views of the Athenian democrats, who urged even further expansion of the empire to garner more wealth and build the economy. However, Pericles could not prevent the war between Athens and Sparta, which depleted both sides.


Alexander the Great :

Alexander the Great was an Emperor of Macedonian Empire. He extended the Greek Empire begun by his father through the Middle East, across Persia to the border of India, and southward through Egypt. 

Hellenistic period :

Greek art, education, and culture merged with other Middle Eastern forms during the Hellenistic period. There was little political activity, but trade flourished and important scientific centers were established in such cities as Alexandria in Egypt. Hellenistic period eventually saw the consolidation of Greek civilization, as well as some important new cultural developments.


Punic Wars :

A series of wars (264 to 146 B.C.E.) over the dominance of the Mediterranean between Rome and the Phoenician city of Carthage which is located on the northern coast of Africa. The general of Carthage, Hannibal, was eventually unable to defeat the Roman. After the war, Romans proceeded to seize the entire western Mediterranean along with Greece and Egypt. 

Julius Caesar :

The politics of the Roman republic grew unstable. Generals sought greater power while the poor of the city rebelled. Eventually, Julius Caesar was chosen as dictator of the Roman republic. This led to the effective end of the traditional institutions of the Roman state.

Diocletian and Constantine :

Diocletian and Constantine were the powerful emperors who tried to recover Roman Empire, which suffered a slow but decisive fall that lasted over 250 years. Constantine, in 313, adopted Christianity in an attempt to unite the empire in new ways. But western half of the empire, most effective government became local, as the imperial administration could no longer guarantee order or provide a system of justice.

Greek city-states :

Mediterranean civilization was built on earlier cultures along the eastern Mediterranean and within the Greek islands. It took firm shape with the rise of the Greek city-states after 800 B.C.E. There states began as monarchies but then developed diverse political forms, commercial economy. 

Senate :

 Senate is the most important legislative body in Rome. It is composed mainly of aristocrats.

Consuls :

 Consuls shared primary executive power of Rome.

Cicero :

Cicero was a Roman writer and an active Senator. He dealt with political ethics, the duties of citizens, the importance of incorruptible service, and key political skills such as oratory.

Socrates :

Socrates was a philosopher of Athens. He encouraged his pupils to question conventional wisdom, because the he thought the human duty was “the improvement of the soul.” 

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” 

"There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance"

Plato :

Plato was one of the pupils of Socrates. He suggested that human reason could approach an understanding of the three perfect forms – the absolutely True, Good, and Beautiful – which he believed characterized nature. 

Aristotle :

Aristotle was a philosopher, who stressed the importance of moderation and balance in human behavior as opposed to the instability of much political life and the excesses of the gods.

Stoics :

An ethical system that emphasized an inner moral independence, to be cultivated by strict discipline of the body and by personal bravery. 

Sophocles : 

The Athenian dramatist who insightfully portrayed the psychological flaws of his hero Oedipus that modern psychology long used the term Oedipus complex to refer to a potentially unhealthy relationship between a man and his mother 

Iliad :

Attributed to the poet Homer which was a Greek literature containing a strong epic tradition. It was written by Homer who lived in the 8th century B.C.E.

Doric, Ionic, Corinthian :

Three embellishments for the tops of columns supporting their massive buildings which the Greeks devised 

Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.E.) :

Greek's victory and immediately after the Persians tried to attack Athens by sea, but the Athenian soldiers had hurried back to defend their city. 

King Xerxes (486 – 465 B.C.E.) :

Had amassed an army and fleet that outnumbered Greek forces by two to one; after being defeated by Themistocles, he fled 

Themistocles :

The Athenian leader who realized that the huge Persian navy could not move fast so if it could be led into a narrow strait, where its numbers did not count, it could be defeated

Battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.E.) :

Athenian's victory by leading the Persian army into a narrow strait where its numbers did not count, and the Persians were defeated then.

Zoroastrianism :

Animist religion that saw material existence as battle between forces of good and evil; stressed the importance of moral choice 

Olympic Games :

One of the pan-Hellenic rituals observed by all Greek city-states; involved athletic competitions and ritual celebrations. Two leading city-states were the Sparta and Athens. The first represented a strong military aristocracy dominating a slave population; the other was a more diverse commercial state, also including the extensive use of slaves justly proud of its artistic and intellectual leadership. 

Peloponnesian Wars (431 – 404 B.C.E.) :

Wars from 431 to 404 B.C.E. Between Athens and Sparta for dominance in southern Greece; resulted in Spartan victory but failure to achieve political unification of Greece 

Philip II of Macedon (359 – 336 B.C.E.) :

Won the crucial battle in 338 B.C.E. And then his son Alexander extended the Macedonian Empire through the Middle East, across Persia to the border of India

Alexandria :

A city in Egypt which was founded by Alexander the Great, where there was little political activity under the autocratic Hellenistic kings, trade flourished, and important scientific centers 

Roman Republic (510 – 47 B.C.E.) :

The balanced constitution of Rome that featured an aristocratic Senate. The new Roman republic gradually extended its influence over the rest of the Italian peninsula, among other things conquering the Greek colonies in the south.

Carthage :

Originally a Phoenician colony in northern Africa; became a major port and commercial power in the western Mediterranean

Hannibal  :

 Great Carthaginian general during Second Punic War; successfully invaded Italy but failed to conquer Rome 

Augustus Caesar :

(63 B.C.E. - 14 C.E.) Caesar's grand nephew who seized power in 27 B.C., following another period of rivarly after Julius Caesar's assasination,and established the basic structures of the Roman Empire. The reign of Augustus initiated an era of relative peace called the Roman peace. By this, the Mediterranean world remained in peace for two centuries.

 Polis :

Politics being very important in classical Mediterranean civilization, from the Greek city states through the early part of the Roman empire. The word politics we use today is from the Greek word for city-state, polis, which correctly suggests that intense political interests were part of life in a city-state in both Greece and Rome.

Tyranny :

 In this time period, being ruled by individual strong men was more common, and our word "tyranny" comes from this experience in classical Greece. Many tyrants were effective rulers, particularly in promoting public works and protecting the common people against the abuses of the aristocracy.

Direct democracy :

Democracy (the word being derived from the Greek demos, "the people") was another important political alternative in classical Mediterranean society. In 5th century Athens, the major decisions of the state were made by general assemblies in which all citizens could participate, although usually only a minority attended. This was called direct democracy.  

 Aristocracy :

Aristocracy, comes from the Greek terms meaning "rule of the best," suggests where many Greeks-particularly, of course, aristocrats themselves-thought real political virtue lay. For example, Sparta was governed by a singularly militaristic aristocracy, intent on retaining power over a large slave population. On Greek city-states, although less bent on disciplining their elites for rigorous military service, also featured aristocratic assemblies.

 Twelve Tables :

The Early Roman republic introduced its first code of law, the Twelve tables, by 450 B.C.E. These early Roman laws were intended, among other things, to some common legal principles. The Roman Empire carried these legal interests still further, in the belief that law should evolve to meet changing conditions without, however, fluctuating wildly.

"Mystery" religions :

So called "Mystery" religions, often imported from the Middle East, periodically swept through Greece and Rome, providing secret rituals and fellowship and a greater sense of contact with unfathomable divine powers. Even more than in China, a considerable division arose between upper class and popular belief.


Herodotus :

The historian and traveler who lived (484-425 B.C.E.) and talked enthusiastically about customs very different from his own, though he was also capable of believing wild exaggerations about how some people lived. He was called the "Father of History" and wrote Histories, an account of the Persian Wars

Pythagoras :

Pythagoras is a Greek mathematician who created basic theorems for geometry, for us to understand it more easily. His basic theorems were featured as impressive among other achievements, I'm sure you've heard his name several times when listening to your math teacher talking about the Pythagorean theorem.

Galen :

Galen is one of the scientists during the Hellenistic period who made important empirical contributions, especially in the studies of anatomy. The medical treatises by Galen were not imporved on, in the Western world, for many centuries.


Euclid :

Euclid is a mathematician in the Hellenistic period who produced what was long the world's most widely used compendium of geometry.

Ptolemy :

Ptolemy produced an elaborate theory of the sun's motion around a stationary earth, and this new Hellenistic theory contradicted much earlier Middle Eastern astronomy, which had recognized the earth's rotation; nonetheless, it was Ptolemy's theory that was long taken as fixed wisdom in Western thought.


Born in ca. 612 B.C.E., Sappho was a poet and an artist in the early Greek, who emphasized the beauty of realistic portrayals of human from and poets and play wrights which were used to the Gods as foils for inquiries into the human condition.


(70-19 B.C.E.) Virgil was one of the poets in Roman history, and he worked in the epic form, seeking to link Roman history and mythology with the Greek forerunner. Roman writers like him made significant contributions to poetry and to definitions of the poetic form that would long be used in Western literature.


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