The Birth of Western Civilization

Introduction

There were many different Empires around the Mediterranean during the Classical period. What is the Birth Of Western Civilization? Each Empire was built and eventually destroyed. However, only one civilization manage to survive for nearly two millennia. We will see what factors, including tactics and technology help one particular civilization dominate the others.

The Birth of Western Civilization
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The Birth of Western Civilization In Athens

Furthermore, we will discuss how many civilizations used past historical events to their advantage. We will explore and analyze how the Mediterranean Sea has been surrounded by many different Kingdoms and Empires. The mighty Roman Empire once surrounded the Mediterranean Sea; they once called the Roman Lake, the mighty Pharaohs of Egypt, the powerful Persian Empire, and Alexander’s Empire controlled the Eastern half of the Mediterranean Sea under their military might.

The basis for any strong army is discipline and monetary compensation, or lands. Any civilization needed money to expand and rule. In addition, I believe the need for resources ignites military conflicts. The need for lands for crops, the need for armies to defend your lands, and the need to pay upkeep for the loyalty of armies equals military and territorial expansion.

Egypt was at one point a powerful Empire one the East. The Egyptians first settle in Egypt possibly because the Nile Delta created an Ideal location to cultivate the fields, and it would be unwise to mention the Annual flood of the Nile River; which makes the lands extremely fertile.

The Egyptians developed into very powerful Nations, first, they settled in the area then they created civilization; they had scribes (record keepers), priests, and artists, and leaders, which were the Pharaohs. After this point is where many civilizations start their Empire building you are either the conqueror or you become the conquered?

When you establish a flourishing culture and have fertile lands; the populations will grow and you will need lands to cultivate and a “Real State”. Moreover, other surrounding nations will try to conquer you to take your wealth or will feel that you are too strong and react to fear and attract; either way consequently on the nation will expand. Egypt reached its largest architectural expansion under Pharaoh Ramses II; which built large Temples, obelisk, and the famous Abu Simbel, which still stands today (Egypt, Greece, Rome Charles Freeman).

The Achaemenid Empire

The Achaemenid Empire was also known as the Persian Empire was first established by King Cyrus the Great; his Empire stood supreme for several centuries.  The Persian Empire is considered a successive state of the once-great Median Empire. Like many early civilizations, the Persians went from nomadic and uncivilized people to a great-civilized Empire. The Persians, or Parsa, were at one point a client state of the Median Empire and had to answer to the Median King (Ancient Persia by Josef Wiesehofer Pg. 5).

The Achaemenid Empire
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The Achaemenid Empire 550 BC-329 BC

As previously stated, when great people were suppressed by another nation the time comes when they would reveal and create their Empire; in my opinion.  When a strong line of Achaemenid leaders rose, they overthrew the Medians, defeated them, absorbed their culture, and established their Empire, which was greater and larger than ever before seen at that time. All this was possible due to bravery and the unification of the Parsa people against a common enemy. Under Cyrus the Great the Persian Empire absorbed the Median Empire, the Lydian Empire, and the Babylonian State.

The Persian Empire was an absolute monarchy, which made it difficult to govern, consequently had much civil war. (Ancient Persia by Josef Wiesehofer Pg. 5)  During king Xerxes’s reign, the Persians had territories in Greece and Thrace as well as complete control of Asia Minor.  To the West of the Great Persian Empire were the sophisticated Greek city-states, which often defied Persian supremacy. (The Oxford History of Greece & the Hellenistic World by John Boardman, Jasper Griffin, and Olwyn Murray (Mar 2002).

The Birth of Democracy

Greeks founded democracy and the legendary Phalanx formation, Greece was the birthplace of the Mighty Alexander the Great. (Egypt, Greece, Rome Charles Freeman) Greece first develops in serape city-states. The famous cities such as; Athens, Sparta, and Corinth flourished in the 4th century B.C. The Greeks had a system of city-states where each Greek city ruled itself independently.

They flourished in the arts and philosophy; with famous philosophers such as Homer and Aristotle. (Men in Arms) As stated above, the need for lands created the need for armies, which in any civilization creates tension. However, the Greek troops were used mostly for defenses and policing. Moreover, the fear of breaking traditions was always a factor in technological advances; many technological advances did not occur sooner due to fear of change.

The Greeks always considered the Persians as barbarians, even though many Persian rulers were very well educated and had influence over many Greek political decisions. (Ancient Persia) Moreover, the Greeks were always under the watchful eyes of the Persians, especially since the Persians never subdued the Greeks. They often fought and both had victories and defeats. However, as with many Empires, the time was going to come when the Greeks were going to rise and take over the Persian Empire.

The Rise Of Alexander The Great

The Greeks after many centuries of military oppression unified themselves under Macedonian King Phillip. which naturally, I believe, focused on military restructuration and military innovation, adding heavy cavalry and siege equipment to his army. (Men in Arms) Phillip first focused on unifying the Greeks city States and then focused on the Persians as a common enemy. However, he was assassinated before starting his conquest of Persia; Alexander, son of Phillip, to control Phillip’s great professional army and March into Persia.

Alexander the Great
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Alexander the Great Image by WorldHistory.Org

The advantage that the Greeks had over the Persians was the Macedonian Phalanx spearman; with very long spears, approximately 12-14 feet, and shields to form a massive wall of spears. For instance, The Battle of Gaugamela was a key illustration of the effectiveness of the Phalanx over the Persian Armies. The Persian armies were formed mostly of infantrymen with bows and chariots. For example, the Chariots were most effective on flat terrain and the Infantrymen such as the Immortals were good at firing missiles but not effective against the massive wall of Macedonian Spears.

Therefore, Alexander with his Strategy of going straight to the Persian King Darius III managed to defeat the massive Persian army and consequently conquered the entire Persian Empire. (Egypt, Greece, Rome Charles Freeman)  Alexander the Great created a massive Empire, integrating the entire Persian Empire as well as almost all of Greece, the Balkans, and parts of Thrace.

Alexander, as previously seen in other great nations wanted conquest; he tried to expand deeply into the Indus, lands of uneven terrain and difficult to maneuver. Before alexander could go back to Greece and start structuring his newly conquered Empire he died. Shortly after Alexander died his great, Empire was broken into many different Kingdome, ruled by his top Generals; including Seleucus, Ptolemy and Antigonus. Alexander’s successor states were rapidly at war with each other (Egypt, Greece, and Rome Charles Freeman).

However, under all this chaos to the western half of the Mediterranean, the Republic of Rome was rising. Italy was first formed of many city sates resembling Greece; the Romans were first ruled by the Etruscans monarchs, who suppress the Romans and force their will and Royal authority upon them. However, as seen before the story repeats itself. The Romans unified against a common enemy, under Brutus overthrowing the Etruscans king, and form their government (Decline and Fall of Roman Empire).

However, unlike all of the previous nations, they form the first ancient republic; different than Greek democracy. The Romans had three classes the plebian on the bottom, the Equestrian the “Middle” class, and on top the Patricians; who control much of the Roman agricultural lands. (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chp1)

Roman Expansion

The Romans, I believe, expanded out of necessity or self-defense.  For instance, the Punic wars were fought for commercial dominance over the Mediterranean Sea. Moreover, the form of government of the Romans gave too much authority to a single man over the military.  I believe it is difficult to determine what made the Romans different than their counterparts; especially when they were several times at the brink of extinction. However, it is clear to say that the Romans had many brilliant generals such as; Sulla, Gaius Marius, Julius Caesar, and under Augustus general Agrippa.

Roman Expansion
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All these intelligent and determined generals made the Roman army an unstoppable force. First, Marius’ reforms made the army much large and accessible to a much large population and added much interest in becoming a soldier with the pension plan.  Moreover, with the creation of the legion-type formation, the Romans had an advantage over the phalanx, Missile Weapons, and Hannibal’s mighty elephants. For instance, when Julius Caesar conquered what is now France, this gave an extraordinary sense of invincibility to the state and the Army. (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) Nonetheless, many factors influence Roman military dominance; for instance, the Romans defeated Hannibal out of military genius rather than military superiority.

In contrast, Rome conquered Greece out of military superiority rather than complete generalship. The Romans had flexible and maneuverable units able to take on the massive spear wall of the Greeks and flexible enough to maneuver against a giant but unstable elephants (Men in Arms Pg29). For example, when General Scipio faced Hannibal he managed to open gaps between his lines while the elephants were charging and when elephants were deep between his lines he massacre them with javelins.

On the other hand, when fighting against Phillip V of Macedon the Roman troops were able to outflank the already engage phalanx. While for the Phalanx, it was almost impossible to turn and face the Romans while being engaged from the front. Resulting in the military supremacy of Rome over all Phalanxes based armies such as the Seleucid Empire, Ptolemaic empire, and Greek city-states (Men in Arms Pg. 14-30).

Conclusion

The result of many wars and many internal strive the creation of the mighty Roman Empire was in development. When Julius Caesar was assassinated, on his will he adopted and left his State to his grandnephew Octavian. (Decline and fall) In addition, Octavian (Augustus) took advantage of Caesar’s prestigious name to pursue his political ambitions; with his General Agrippa, he defeated his enemies secured the Empire. From this point forward, the concept of Empire building had dramatically changed. After the Roman Empire history completely changed, no other nation after Rome was technologically advanced, stable, or lasted as long in ancient times. Rome reigned supreme until the 15th century with the fall of Constantinople.

Bibliography

Men in Arms: Preston-Roland-Wise

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Thomas F. Madden

Egypt, Greece, and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean by Charles Freeman

Ancient Persia by Josef Wiesehofer

The Oxford History of Greece & the Hellenistic World by John Boardman, Jasper Griffin, and Oswyn Murray (Mar 2002)

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