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The Greeks and Romans were the basis of western civilization. Their political, philosophical, and religious customs still resonate and prevail in modern times. Great political leaders like Pericles of Athens, and Augustus, the first Emperor or Princep of Rome each held great power and had many followers. Philosophers of western civilization included the Greek Philosophers Plato and Aristotle, and Roman historians like Tacitus took down life accounts of Emperor Augustus. Religious hierarchies existed in both Greek and Roman cultures where they worshipped a Pantheon of Gods, and later in Roman history, a monotheistic religion called Christianity. The Greeks and Romans are considered the cradle of western civilization, and their ideals stood the test of time.
Philosophers in Greece were more upper class, thus having more time to attend to be able to think freely and philosophize about the ideas of what life is. Early Greek philosophers were more concerned about the development of rational thought about the nature of universe and the place of divine forces that inhabit Greek society. A prominent group of philosophers in the fifth century, the Sophists, argued that understanding the universe was beyond the reach of the mind. They also stressed the importance and teaching of rhetoric, or the art of persuasion. Having good rhetoric was essential to winning debates and swaying an audience in your favor, valuable in a democratic Athens. The Socratic method was conceptualized around this time. It employed a question-and-answer technique to lead pupils to see things for themselves using their own reason. One of Socrates disciples was Plato, who is considered the greatest philosopher of Western Civilization. He was fascinated with the question of reality: How do we know what is real? The Romans in contrast, were more historians and built upon the ideals of Greek philosophy.
Politics played an important role in both Greek and Roman societies. They were unique for their time because democracy was created in Ancient Greece, an idea that later formed the basis of Western Civilization politics. Democracy was the form of government in Athens. Power was in the hands of the people: male citizens voted in the assemblies and served as jurors in the courts. Lower-class citizens were now eligible for public offices formerly closed to them. Nevertheless, although the Athenians developed a system of government, aristocrats continued to hold the most important offices, and many people, including women, slaves, and foreigners residing in Athens, were not given the same political rights. Roman ideals on politics were based around the Senate or upper class men, and the Emperor. The basis of democracy was founded in Athens in fifth century B.C.E. The polis (or city-state) was essential to citizens of it, and it was the focus of where citizens could assemble for political, social, and religious activities. The central part of the polis was the agora, an open space that served both as a place citizens could assemble and as a market. As such, the community of the polis consisted of citizens with political rights (adults males), citizens with no political rights like women and non-citizens (slaves and resident aliens). All citizens of a polis possessed basic rights, but these were coupled with responsibilities. Contrary to Greek politics, Romans had a more monarchist society. The Roman Senatorial class was the highest upper class of society as dictated by Emperor Augustus, followed by the equestrians, and the rest were the masses. The Senatorial class was the voice of the people, but ultimately the power was laid in the Emperor’s hands whom had the capability of issuing decrees and leading military conquests to expand the empire.
Social and religious hierarchies were an important aspect of Greco-Roman life. Family was the basis of both societies, and religion played an important role. The Greek-City states of Athens were above all, a male community, only adult male citizens took part in public life. There was an exclusion of women, slaves, and foreign residents that roughly made up 85 percent of the population in Attica. Of the 150,000 citizens in Athens, about 43,000 were adult males who exercised political power. Resident foreigners, who numbered about 35,000 received the protection of the laws but were also subject to some of the responsibilities of citizens, primarily military service and the funding of festivals. The remaining social group was slaves and totaled in population around 100,000. Most slaves in Athens worked in the home as cooks and maids and toiled in the fields. Some were owned by the state and worked on public construction projects.
In the early Roman republic, monotheism was prevalent and instituted a religion of different gods and goddesses that they each worshipped. Athens for example, their chosen Goddess was Athena, the Goddess of love. These Greek religious ideals carried over to Rome by way of Hellenistic Greece and the official state religion of Rome was the basis of these Greek Gods and Goddesses, but with Roman names.
Social life in Greece and Rome both excluded women from participating outside of the household. In Greek society, a women’s primary responsibility was to take care of the household and bear healthy children. They could not go outside of the home and rarely if they did, accompanied by a male guardian. Later on in the Late Roman Empire, upper class women had more freedom and were allowed to buy and own property, dispose of it, and attend events at the amphitheater and races. This is a huge contrast, in that women had considerable more freedom in the late Roman society, but Greek women were more bound to their husband.
One of Rome’s chief gifts to the Mediterranean world of its day and to their succeeding generations was the development of Roman law. The Twelve Tables of 450 B.C.E. was the first codification of Roman Law. Civil law derived from the Twelve Tables proved inadequate for later Roman needs, however, and gave way to corrections and additions by the praetors. The praetors were knowledgeable in law, but they also relied on Roman jurists for advice in preparing their edicts. The Romans came to view their law of nations as derived from or identical to this law of nature, thus giving Roman jurists a philosophical justification for systematizing Roman law according to their basic principles. The influence of Greek philosophy, primarily Stoicism, led Romans in the late Republic to develop the idea of the law of nature – or universal divine law derived from right reason.
To conclude, Roman and Greek societies were the dominating powers of the Mediterranean Sea and beyond. There philosophical ideas of Socrates, is still taught to this day in philosophy and logic classes in a university. The democratic form that was borne of Athens formed the ideals of a fair society where citizens can have a say in how their city was run. Social and religious customs, although not as prevalent in modern times, still resonate with the ideas of what a family should consist of. Women were more constrained to their households, but have considerable more freedom today now. And worshipping of multiple Gods and Goddesses paved the way towards mystery religions or cults, one being Christianity which soon became the dominating political and religious structure after the fall of the Roman Empire.
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