The Roots and Origins of the Western Civilization

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Abstract

In this essay, we are going to explore the ancient Western civilization and the surprisingly monumental leap to worldwide supremacy. So many luxuries and ways of life that we enjoy today are due to the rich history and ingenuity of those who have come before us. The West began and has held on to innovations that will indeed aid in writing the next portion in Western advancement. But what was the leading factor which caused the West to become such an influential part of society throughout the centuries? With never-ending thesis’s on the up-rise and downfall of world powers, both present, and past, the West has possessed major influences globally and is stated to be the forerunner in scientific studies, medicine, governmental democracy, marketing, consumerism, and work ethics as a whole.

There has been an increase in the western population which has/is impacting cultures throughout the world — western-specific traits such as culinary, fashion, religion(s), medical and governmental stances have made a global impression more-so than any other civilization to date. Do you agree that the Western civilizations have a clear lineage that focuses on the majority of these attributes; competition/innovation, science, property rights, personal freedoms, and free-market economy?

According to flowofhistory.com, “When we study the Middle Ages, we tend to focus on Western Europe since it is the homeland of Western Civilization.” (Butler, 2007) But apart from Europe, there were other civilizations that contributed to the West’s leadership and the impact that was held throughout the earlier centuries. All of the below attributes we will read about are in response to the essay question and in regard to the lineage of attributes that began in ancient times. While most of these attributes discussed are not textbook identical to practices today, we can venture to state that they began core principals that have carried throughout the centuries.

Science

Greece potentially may be the greatest known innovators of astronomy and philosophy with science and math being their greatest contributions in the early days of civilization. Two key points of the ancient Greeks and their philosophies were analysis and motive. These two factors highlighted rationality and defended the idea of the unbiased and rational reason for the standard world. We read on ancientgreece.com, “Some of the first astronomical models were developed by ancient Greeks trying to describe the planetary movement, the Earth’s axis, and the heliocentric system—a model that places the Sun at the center of the solar system.” (Vesko, 2009). With Greece’s claim to fame concerning science, math, and philosophy, they opened the door for future centuries of discovered advancements by taking the first step of exploration. Medicine Advancement: In addition to science and math the Greeks also lay claim to modern medicine. The Greek physician, Hippocrates, built a medical school while writing several medical essays, and is highly acclaimed as the father of modern medicine due to his, “…systematic and empirical investigation of diseases and remedies. The Hippocratic oath, a medical standard for doctors, is named after him.” (Vesko, 2009). Thanks to the ancient Greeks, we now have the means of medical explorations and have found many cures for diseases and are still uncovering information.

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Property Rights

As ancient civilization tradition would have it, one of their major beliefs was the fact that they should serve and protect their private property. There stood very deep respect and almost a worship for their property and family alike. Every family possessed a holy enclosure which protected their consecrated flame and their hearth. Families managed their own matters and we read again on ancientgreece.com, “Even the marking of property boundaries was a religious ceremony. Thus the men of the early ages . . . arrived . . . by virtue of their belief, at the conception of the right of property; this right from which all civilization springs, since by it man improves the soil, and becomes improved himself.” Possessing this religious belief made it all the harder to resettle property among family members but it did however provide a sturdy blockade to the increase in the size of government. “Every transfer of property needed to be authorized by religion. If a man could not, or could only with difficulty, dispose of land, for a still stronger reason he could not be deprived of it against his will.” (Vesko, 2008). The distribution of property for public use was not practiced among the ancient civilizations and repossession of property was only practiced in the case of an exile situation.

Personal Freedoms

In respect of personal freedoms, we understand throughout our studies of early civilizations that there has been (and always will be) those who advocate for tyranny. But during the Age of Enlightenment (16th century) the voices of tyranny advocates grew increasingly thin and the foundation of liberty won. However, in the early days, the struggle for liberty seemed never-ending. According to Ludwig von Mises and his online article, How Liberty Defined Western Civilization, he states, “The idea of liberty is and has always been peculiar to the West.” Mises goes on to say, “The writings of Greek philosophers and historians transmitted it to the Romans and later to modern Europe and America. It became the essential concern of all Western plans for the establishment of the good society,” (Ludwig von Mises, 2007) So while personal freedoms were enjoyed by some, it never truly made it out of a small area in the ancient times.

Free Market

Ancient Rome inquired about a robust trade system in early civilization. According to ancient.eu, we read that “Regional, inter-regional and international trade was a common feature of the Roman world. A mix of state control and a free-market approach ensured goods and produced in one location could be exported far and wide.” (Cartwright, 2007). Items such as olive oil and wine were shipped abroad in mass numbers while Rome received imports of precious metals, spices, and marble. When Rome’s trade grew increasingly successful they expanded into an even more innovative economy and followed the continued formation of trading an excess of agricultural supplies, and experienced a large census movement and population growth in their urban areas. Along with the expansion of territory, and technology advances, the growth of coinage increased rapidly in order to feed a city that was growing at a rapid rate, while also maintaining the need to supply efficiently for their growing army.

Religion

It can be argued that Western Civilization was also heavily influenced by the Christian faith & spread because of the Christian faith. Based on both the scriptures you read in this course, as well as your study of the civilizations, consider how biblical truth was reconciled with the above attributes. For a brief and basic background, we read on khanacademy.org, “Christianity developed in the province of Judea out of Jewish tradition in the first century CE, spread through the Roman Empire, and eventually became its official religion.” (Schroeder, 2017). My answer to the essay question is yes, the Western Civilization was indeed heavily influenced by Christianity and the spread of the Christian faith. Going back even further to the book of Romans, we read Paul’s writings in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (KJV) God established His word and His will and the simple fact alone that God walked this earth, spreading the gospel, there was the influence and spread from the very beginning.

Jumping back to ancient Rome, Christianity started as a small unstructured group, but eventually gained followers all throughout the Roman empire and beyond. Do you believe the West still has the lead and control of these (Christian faith & spread) in the present day? The Byzantine Empire made an impact on many different civilizations and cultures, mostly due in part to its role in shaping Christian conservatism (Orthodoxy). The present-day Orthodox Church happens to be the 2nd greatest Christian church in the world today. Orthodoxy is at the center of Christian history and present-day societies such as Serbia, Bulgaria, Russia, Greece, and other various countries. Religious structures in regions from Russia to Egypt have blatantly apparent Byzantine fingerprints because art and literature thrived during the Byzantine Renaissance (867-1056). We read in our text, The Earth and its People: A Global History that, “The Byzantine emperors established Christianity as their official religion. They also represented a continuation of Roman imperial rule and tradition that was largely absent in the kingdoms that succeeded in Rome in the west. Whereas only provincial forms of Roman law survived in the west, Byzantium inherited imperial law intact. Combining the imperial role with political oversight over the Christian church, the emperors made a comfortable transition into the role of all-powerful Christian monarchs. (Bulliet, 2019).

During this period, both writers and artists alike fostered a realistic style and elaborate methods from ancient Rome and Greek art and joined these two styles together, while mixing them also with a Christian theme. To answer the question, I do not believe that the West still possesses the leading role in Christianity and the spread of it. Our present-day ‘west’ (Americas) holds the lead according to worldatlas.com, “with an estimated 230 million Christians living in the country.” (Sawe, 2018). Brazil comes in second while Mexico is third.

References

  1. Yurtoğlu, N. (2018). http://www.historystudies.net/dergi//birinci-dunya-savasinda-bir-asayis- sorunu-sebinkarahisar-ermeni-isyani20181092a4a8f.pdf. History Studies International Journal of History, 10(7), 241-264. doi:10.9737/hist.2018.658
  2. Vesko. (2009). Greek Achievements. Retrieved March 15, 2019, from http://www.ancientgreece.com/essay/v/greek_achievements/ Tho. (2017, May 03).
  3. How Liberty Defined Western Civilization | Ludwig von Mises. Retrieved March 14, 2019, from https://mises.org/wire/how-liberty-defined-western-civilization Cartwright, M. (n.d.).
  4. Trade in the Roman World. Retrieved March 16, 2019, from https://www.ancient.eu/article/638/trade-in-the-roman-world/
  5. Christianity in the Roman Empire. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2019, from https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/world-history/ancient-medieval/christianity/a/roman-culture
  6. BibleGateway. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2019, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/? search=Romans 1:16&version=KJV Bulliet, R. (2019).
  7. The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History. 7th ed. [ebook] Boston: Engage, p.270. Available at: https://cengage.vitalsource.com/#/books/9780357159378/cfi/302!/ 4/2@100:0.00 [Accessed 15 Mar. 2019].
  8. Sawe, B. E. (2016, September 08). How Many Christians Are In The World? Retrieved March 16, 2019, from https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/which-countries-have-the-most- christians-around-the-world.html
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