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Midterm Western Civ

Topics: Ancient Rome, Roman Empire / Pages: 7 (1616 words) / Published: Feb 4th, 2014
The Greco-Roman tradition is our own. To understand ourselves we need to understand the forces that shaped the ancient Greeks and Romans. They are both similiar and different when it comes to development and their traditions. I will discuss the ways in which the society, military, and political forces have caused these two cultures to develop. The Greek's society is unique in the way it developed. It developed around the poleis. A city usually formed around a hill that also encompasses the surrounding rural area. While not unique in their progression of civilization what happened afterwards is. The Greeks never got along with each other. Therefore they never became a unified country. The Greeks would therefore each have their own identity based on what city state they were from. This could cause problems as far as unification is concerned, but most Greeks were happier being considered Athenians, Spartans, or Thebans than Greeks. This tradition was never carried on by other societies. So this style of civilization ends where it began, however Athens did make strides to control other city-states in Greece with its creation of the Delian League. Originally, it was created to push back the advance of Persia, in their bid to control Greece. After the Persians were thwarted Athens continued to control the Greek states in the league creating a pseudo-empire over these other states. The Greek states were never formally united until Alexander the Great brought all of Greece under his control. The Greeks left behind a tradition of resisting unification and being independent. The Romans differ greatly from the civilization they borrowed much of their culture from. The Romans started out as a city in the center of Italy. The only thing that is same between the two societies is the city starting out on a hill and being its own independent state. From the early parts of Roman history they started conquering the areas around them. Their first territory to conquer outside their peninsula was Carthage. It doesn't seem at first they wanted to conquer Carthage. Some believe at first it was an act of defense, trying to protect themselves from the closest power. In doing so, the Romans set up a tradition of conquest and imperialism. This was only the first of many conquests for the Romans. They continued on, conquering Greece, Egypt, and Gaul. The difference between Greece and Rome in this aspect is a desire to expand. Rome wanted to expand their boundaries whereas the Greeks were happy in their own city states. Additionally, the Romans assimilated these other cultures into their own. Making conquered people citizens of Rome and giving them the same rights as other plebeians in their society. This created a large citizen base from which to pull soldiers and also created a large mixing of culture. The military of the Greeks was revolutionary in the way they fought and executed their strategies. Their claim to fame is the hoplite. A lightly armored warrior who was a member of their phalanx formation. First, the hoplite was a heavily armored infantry unit that wore armor on his chest, shins, head, and arms. They were called hoplites because of the shield they carried called a hoplon. The phalanx was a unit of hoplites ten men by ten men. It usually had additional support from light infantry and cavalry but was mostly self sufficient. This revolution in military strategy helped the Greeks to push back the vastly superior Persian forces not once but twice. Had the Greeks fallen to Persia then it would have been the end of Hellenic culture and would've altered the way in which the world developed forever after. Athens specifically found a silver mine in Attica, and used it to finance the creation of their navy. This is important because it was the pivotal creation to stop the second advance of Persia. The Athenian fleet smashed the Persians and stopped their advance by cutting off an important supply line to the army. This is just another example of how the Greek's military prowess protected the developement of western ideas and culture. The Roman's military power is derived not from protection from invasion but from a proactive effort to stop invasions before they happened or to expand. Historians are not sure of the exact motives behind Roman conquest but these are the two motives to which they can attribute it to. Their first military triumph came in 146 B.C.E. after the Punic wars. Up until that time Rome's expansion was only in a bid to control the entire Italien peninsula. After the Punic wars Rome acquired control of Spain, Sicily and Macedonia. With conquest of Macedonia the Romans had a flooding of Greek ideas and culture into their borders. The significance of their first conquests was bringing the enlightened Greek culture into Rome and allowed it to continue proliferating even after the fall from power of Greece. It brought ideas such as Stoicism, Epicureanism, as well as art, and religion. After the slave revolts, the Gracchi brothers were elevated to power due to their military prowess. This was to be the new trend in Rome. Military leaders, who used their army to gain powerful places in Roman politics. The Gracchi brothers removed the land ownership laws required to join the military which allowed urban poor and country dwellers to join the army. The new armies were more loyal to their personal commanders than to the state. This set the stage for Caeser to rise to power. First, Pompey conquered Syria and Palestine as Caesar used to his resources to conquer Gaul. Soon after Caesar marched into Rome causing Pompey to flee and traveled on to Egypt and Asia Minor and conquered them with little resistance. Caesar gained power soon and made many reforms such as, giving citizenship to the provincials in Gaul and Spain. This removed many distinctions throughout the empire and spread the culture of Rome throughout. Rome's military prowess elevated it to the grandest empire of the next 1000 years, but more then anything it spread the culture that might have been lost otherwise. The Greeks political ideas are the most innovative of any other society. While each city state had its own system of government I will discuss the most prolific. First, Athens had the worlds first democracy. Athens started out as an aristocracy until the sixth century B.C.E. It was not until they elected Solon as the sole leader of Athens and he reorganized the government and set the stage for Athenian democracy. He allowed for greater political involvement by the lower classes and set up appeals if a citizen did not like the decisions of the Areopagus. The next important figure was Peisistratid who strengthened the demos and gave them a taste of self governing. After the death Peisistratos the demos did not want to return to an oligarchy and it was the first historical overthrow of the government by the people. Cleisthenes was the man they rallied behind. He served under Peisistratos and made many reforms to limit the power of the aristocracy. He divided the population into voting tribes and worked to eliminate regional identities. Slowly but surely Athens became a democracy with participation by the citizens of Athens. Another important state was Sparta. Sparta was a dual monarchy. Each with its own royal family and their own lines of succession. Neither monarch was more powerful than the other. All males thirty years and older were members of the citizen assembly. This "apella" voted yes or no on matters proposed by the "gerousia" or elder council. Spartan policy was mostly centered around the helots being subjugated by the Spartans. The legacy left by the Greek city-states set the stage for governments forever after. With their revolutionary ideology, they pioneered systems of government never thought possible in the ancient world. The Romans had their own unique style of government. Rome started out as a monarchy but slowly evolved into a republic. It was very similiar to a Spartan style of ruling with two kings called consuls. Additionally, there was a council called the Senate where voting was done about funds. The consuls were elected by the military council called the "comitia centuriata". This differed from the Athenian council because it met in small groups rather than one large group. Much like both Sparta and Athens were the social classes of "plebeians" and the "patricians". Plebeians being the lower class and patricians as the upper aristocratic class. Plebeian rebellions caused the Senate to make concessions to them and they added a third branch, the "tribunes". The tribunes were plebeians who were elected and helped create legislation that favored their class. As you can see Roman society borrowed and added on to the Greek governments that came before them. They both developed from a city-state, and therefore had the same struggles against different powers to remain independent. Many of their political features were similiar including their voting bodies of citizens, their dual kingship, and concessions to the lower classes. We can see how Greeks influenced the Roman style of government. After the fall of Rome and Greece their styles were forgotten for hundreds of years. Their traditions were written down and were able to travel through the centuries until modern time where they would be used as the basis for recent governments. The social forces shaping both Greek and Roman society were similiar. They both developed on peninsulas in the Mediterranean Sea, they both had pressures from existing civilizations on them and they both developed uniquely and triumphed under great resistence. They needed a strong society, military and government to survive in the hostile world in which they existed.

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