Western Civilization Final Essay
The essay below will answer these questions.
- Multiple factors such as social factors, economic factors, political factors, and intellectual factors contributed in the development of Western Civilization from its origins in ancient Mesopotamia to the emergence of early Modern Europe. Which of those factor served as the primary catalytic for the development? How did they relate?
- What made civilization uniquely and distinctively Western? When does it become uniquely 'western'?
- How did those factors in first question affect the development of western civilization from the time that the world was created to the end of the Middle Ages and the emergence of modernity?
BY: Might LERT
There are many factors that is contributed to the development of Western Civilization from its origins in ancient Mesopotamia to the emergence of early Modern Europe. One thing I like to note is that I don’t think the Mesopotamia are considered one of the western civilization, even though we covered that in our class. For me I don’t consider anything before the Greek to be western. There are many reason, one of them is because those civilizations such as Babylonian, Egyptian, etc. are not on the continent of Europe. This might be a very strange reason but for me I just feel like the West are the European. Therefore when thinking about the Babylonian I just think they are not really western, I would said those civilization such as: the Egyptian, Persian, Sumerian and other civilizations that we covered before the Greek, they are not fully western but they are half western. And they are also half eastern. This might seem incorrect to say that such a civilization is half west and half east. However, if you really think about it, this would make a little more sense than saying that the origin of western civilization are in Mesopotamia. The correct way to say that first question would be from the time of ancient Mesopotamia to the emergence of early Modern Europe. Another reason why I said this is because when I take class about the Eastern civilization such as China, Japan, Korea, etc. the class also start from the Mesopotamia. Therefore the Mesopotamia would be the origin of both east and west; but at the same it is neither similar to eastern nor western civilization. But it has a lot of impact on both eastern and western civilization. Therefore the really correct way to call it is by saying that it influenced the western civilization a lot. In the beginning of this course we face some of the hardest questions I ever known: What is ‘Western’? What is ‘Civilization’? Those question will define how we understand this class and answer this question. Now, after addressing that issue I will go on with the question about multiple factors contributed to the development of Western Civilization. Among those these we can identify social factors, economic factors, political factors, and intellectual factors. But to identify the primary catalytic for the development is not an easy thing to do. And each of these factors impact on the development are very close to each other it is like saying 99.9% from the intellectual and 99.89% from the political factor. It is very hard to distinguish. The easy way to answer this question is just by saying that all of those factors served as the primary catalytic for the development. And that answer would not be wrong, in fact, sometime it might be the right answer. Obviously, all of those factors are related to each other in so many ways. As a result, it is correct to say that all of those factors: social factors, economic factors, political factors, and intellectual factors served as the primary catalytic for the development. In the same time it is also correct to say that political factors is the primary, or say that intellectual factors is the primary, or even said that both social factors and economic factors are the primary, or even say that all of them is the primary. Which one is it? Is it or of them? Is it one of those factors? Or, it is two of those factors? Or, maybe three of those? The answer also depend on the way you define the word “primary” if you are the person who said that there are only one “primary” then the answer would have to be only one of those factors. But if you said everything can be primary then the answer can be anything. There could be hundreds of primary factors, or everything in the world can be the primary factors.
We start this class with the Ancient Mesopotamia, after all, there are hundreds of class that started with the Ancient Mesopotamia. As I stated earlier, the Ancient Mesopotamia have many influence on the Western and many other civilizations too. Most of the people would agree that the first civilization started in the Ancient Mesopotamia. I would also agree with them because from the discovery we made and the evidence we have it would make a lot of sense to say that the first civilization started in the Ancient Mesopotamia. Again this answer also depend on how the word “civilization” is defined. Some people who define this word differently would argued that the first civilization are not in Ancient Mesopotamia. However let’s just agree with the majority and define the word civilization in the same way most of the people do. In Ancient Mesopotamia we found culture, religion, the development of writing, and the first empire. Again the “empire” is also depend on how you define it. Many scientific discovery, development, and invention were made during the time of Ancient Mesopotamia. We can clearly see that the development of writing changes the world and how we live. Communication was changed, the spread of information, ideas, imaginations are all made possible by the invention of writing. This would be consider as one of those intellectual factors contributing to the development of Western Civilization. The world without writing would be very different without the development of writing. The effect would be indescribable. Imagine that if this essay never existed. We all know that writing in the early days are not as good as today but that is where it all started: Ancient Mesopotamia. We can also see other development in economy, social, political. As I stated this is the time of Sargon and his empire, which is the first empire of the world. From there we see many empires follow Sargon. This would obviously be one of those political factors that contributed to the development of western civilizations. We all know that there will be many empires in Europe after this. We also discover The Myth of Creation and The Epic of Gilgamesh in this time period. And these are all related to each other. For instance, with the intellectual factors such as writing it is closely related with the political factors, if you can read and write you have the power. People can spread their information and idea with writings, this mean they can spread their political thought too. We will later see that with the invention of printing the political ideas was spreading like never before and it will be one of those factors contributing to the changes and development of our world.
Ancient Greece at that time was very different from today, the Ancient Greece has a huge influence to Western Civilization that I cannot even talk about all of those influence here. Even more, as I argued earlier that I believe that Western Civilization start from the Greece. However, I want to make it clear that I am not saying that I believe that we can distinctively see the development of civilization emerging as being distinctively and uniquely 'western' with the period of the Greeks, my answer to that question is different. Here, I am just saying that this is where the Western Civilization started, but I am not saying that it emerging to become unique and distinctively here yet. The Greeks is where we can find all of the philosopher and the emergence of many new philosophy and thoughts. The Greeks ask many questions about life that we still cannot answer today. The philosophy and ideas of the Greeks will heavily influence the other Western Civilization that come after. We can see that the Greeks create many intellectual factors contributing to the development, they value education and philosophy. The Ancient Greece also spread with Alexander the Great to as far as Northern India. With their empire the Greeks spread their culture and their language. This is another big influence that they left behind long after their empire is gone. Greek become a very important language for a very long time. Many scholar such as Augustine still have to learn Greek language and it was still widely used in the scholastic world up to the renaissance period. There is a big relationship here: the reason Greek is such an important language is because there are many great works from Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and many other Greek philosopher and scientist. Their works are considered as the foundation of western science and philosophy. Greece today were not as great as the Ancient Greece, consequently today not that much people know Greek language and it is not that important anymore, but we can see a big similarity with English language in the present time. Although the British Empire were not the biggest in the world anymore their influence still last very long. The Greeks also have many influential myth, poems, and epics. Homer is one of those who live behind many poems and he is consider to be the greatest of ancient Greek epic poets. His works such as Iliad and the Odyssey, and other works had a great impact on western literature. The Ancient Greeks heavily influence Roman and other civilizations that come after them. There are so many things that the Greeks did that I cannot write them all here, but their impact was tremendous.
The Roman Republic start from a single city Rome until it take over the whole Italian peninsula then after the victory over Carthage, Rome keep on expanding. It also take over Greece and Macedonian. Later Roman Republic become Roman Empire and it continue to expand. The Roman Empire would last very long, especially if you Byzantine Empire as Roman Empire then Roman Empire will last about two thousand years. As Virgil wrote in his poem that the Roman Empire will never end, certainly, it will never end if we still count the Roman Catholic, or the Holy Roman Empire as the continuation of the Roman Empire. We also talk about this in class and how the Roman Empire will leave a long lasting impact. If you think about it, the Roman Empire last really long that their culture and influence will become entrenched in Europe and will be the root of the Western culture in the next age. The Roman also improve science and medical field greatly. They build roads, walls, aqueducts, and many other great technologies. The important thing is that there was a long period of peace in the Roman Empire opening the way for educations, trades, and Christianity to grow and prosper. In fact, many people thing that the Roman Empire was such a good thing that when it fall they said that there come another age which is barbaric, backward, and they call it the Dark age. However, the decline of Rome take quite some time that we can hardly tell when did it really start to decline. In the period of Rome there is another major event, which is Jesus Christ and the rise of Christianity. The rise of Christianity was large contributed to Roman Empire. With the roads of the Roman Empire and the transportation, Christianity was able to spread quickly. The spread was also largely assisted by the standardization such as language, law, currency, and many other things throughout that vast Roman Empire. Surprisingly, even the persecution help the number of Christian to grow more and more. Finally, Roman Empire itself become Christianize and in 380 A.D. Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.
I also believe that with the Roman Empire we can see the development of civilization emerging as being distinctively and uniquely 'western.' The Roman Empire take control over a large part of Europe and the Roman culture start to sink into the Europe and become the European culture. After all, Roman are European too. But it is Roman that made Europe become what it is today, they make western become “western’. Keeping in mind that with the Roman Empire, Christianity grow in Europe; the Celt, Franks and other Germanic tribe was Christianized and they stay Christian even after Rome is gone. But don’t forget about the Greek, as I said earlier the Greek did leave behind a long lasting culture and when we talked about the Roman culture we have to remember that it was largely influenced by the Greek culture and it has many similarity. Even the poem that Virgil wrote called “Aeneid” is create from the foundation of Homer epic poem, “Iliad.” This is why some people just called it Greco-Roman culture, which help explain thing a lot. That is why we should not forget about the great social factor and intellectual factor that the Greeks contributed to the development of Western Civilization. Therefore, Greeks influence Rome and us at the same time. Coming back to the idea Western Civilizations relationship with Rome, the influence of Rome is so much that we can even see it in our daily life. For example, many of the English words come from Latin. Not only English but many other language such as French, Spanish, Portuguese, etc. derived from Latin, which was spread as the Roman conquered Europe. There are many other great example that we can find if we just take time to think about it. Western culture would be totally different without the Roman Empire.
Another reasons why the Ancient Roman was the time when we can see the emerging of distinctively and uniquely 'western' is because in that time we can find the rise of Christianity. Imagine if there are no such thing as Christmas and you still have to go to class on December 25th, what would life be like? Well, in reality most of the people still go to school on Christmas Day, and it many country there no such thing as Christmas. That’s how life would be like without Christmas, it would not be “western.” Not only Christmas would be ruined without Christianity, but many other things would be impossible. Without Jesus Christ everything would be ruined, and all of our lives would be mess up. Most of people agree that Jesus Christ is the most influential person in human history. Not just “Western Civilization” wouldn’t be what it is today but this world would not be what it is today. Our world would be worst. I bet that slavery would still be legal if Jesus Christ was never born. And there would be like one billion slave instead of twenty millions that we have today. Why does Jesus Christ have so many impact on social, intellectual, political, and economic? Because He is GOD. That is why I said he is the most influential person in human history and human life. We wouldn’t be here writing this essay if He didn’t created this world in the first place. However, in this essay I will only look at how Jesus and Christianity influence the “western civilization.”
I also wanted to mention Saint Augustine, he is one of the important theologian and he laid a lot of idea that will influence the Western Theology, clearly his idea will define the character of the western civilizations, we will later see how many people in the future will used his idea as a reference or as an argument. Rome keep on declining it is hard to clearly see when but I would said it started declining at 410A.D. with the sack of Rome by the Visigoth. After that the Franks, Goth, Vandal and other Germanic tribe that Rome considered barbarian would become more and more powerful. This is also easy to see why we consider it Dark after the fall of Rome, because now all those barbarian is in power. However, those barbaric tribe was Christianize already so the Roman Catholic Church still remain after the fall of Rome. In 476A.D. Odoacer deposes Romulus Augustulus, the last Roman Emperor and that is the end of the Western Roman Empire, and the start of the Medieval Europe.
After Rome fall, we can see the emergence of the Christendom, with all of these Germanic tribe controlling Europe. At that time we also have the rise of Islam and how it expand into Spain. However, the Islam were stopped at Battle of Tours in 732A.D. this is one of the biggest event in the political factor and how we define the West today. If the Islam were never stopped then today French, England, and German would be part of the Muslim world, they probably be like one of those Muslim country. This world would have been very different. This also support the idea of Christendom as a fight against the Muslim. Another important figure after that is Charlemagne he was the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. With him we also see the Carolingian Renaissance which is very important intellectual development. There were many development in the liberal art and science field, there is also standardization of language and culture. And the Latin Christina culture were unified. After Charlemagne died his empire was break up with the Treaty of Verdun in 843 A.D. we can start seeing modern French and Germany on the maps. This is also another notable political factor, because we all know that hundreds of years later the French and German will fight many times, if they never did split then maybe they would never fight and maybe together they might be able to beat England, but too bad because they split and now none of them ever beat England. Therefore, this treaty is a very important factor in developing modern Europe.
After that in the 12th century we have what the 12th century renaissance, there are many development and we can find many great people. Such as: Thierry of Chartres; Peter Abelard, Peter Lombard, Adelard of Bath, Hugh of St. Victor, and many other smart people that is not listed here. One thing that I wanted to mention is that many of these people works are based on theology and during that time a lot of work is based on the Bible and the idea of God. This is why Christianity is the important factors in the development. We can also see the rise of university during this time. And it is again related to Christianity. For in the rise of the University, student were at first given special privileges by considering them clergy. Furthermore, education is those time were contributed a lot to Cathedral school and monastery school. We could even said that without Christianity there would be no modern education, no university, no hospital, and no pyramid governing structure, which was developed by the Mendicants. For that reason, Christianity is a very important factor in the development of the Western Civilization. Then, is it this factor that served as the primary catalytic for the development?
Another important role in the development is the Investiture Controversy, throughout the middle age we see the conflict between the Pope and the Emperor in the struggle for power. This is again a political factor and also a religious factor. There are many things that effects Western Civilization with this struggle between Pope and Emperor. There are a lot of great works coming out of these struggle such as: Marsilius of Padua, “The Defender of Peace.” The struggle not only give us some good works to read but also effect the development of Western in many other ways, however I won’t talk too much about it because there is another that I think is even more important event, that is the Black Death and the Great Northern Famine. The Black Plague killed one third of the European population. That in itself already change the course of history and obviously had a lot of effect on the future. Many thing resulted from the Black Plague, namely: Apocalypticism, Anticlericalism, Anti-Semitism, etc. It would take many years for Europe to recover. And with the recovery comes the Italian Renaissance.
The Italian Renaissance is super important, I don’t even have to explain it, everyone already know that without the Renaissance, Western is not what it is. It is a big contribution to the intellectual factors. However, this essay is getting long so I won’t go into much details, besides we all already know the effects that the Renaissance has to Europe and the world. The easiest way to put it is that, the Humanists start to think that life is precious. It is surprising that it took many years for people to figure out and see the value of human. That is a big step, because when we realize that human is human, then everything changes. Another thing I wanted to put in here to make this intellectual factors even greater is Gutenberg and his invention of movable type printing, the impact is unbelievable. It effects everything: the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and etc. It is one of the invention that make modernity possible. It was the major revolution in communication. Ideas now can spread faster than ever, the impact is even bigger that the internet, printing caused many things to happen. It is by printing that “The 95 Theses” of Martin Luther was able to spread and lead to the Reformation. Since I already mentioned the Reformation, let’s just start talking about it. The Reformation leave long lasting impact, now we have the Protestant and the Catholic Church. And it did impact Europe a lot, this is where the Christendom fall apart. Many religious wars resulted and also many persecutions. In the end modernity emerge and the monarchs gained more power, for example we can see the King of England becoming the head of the Church. But the reformation was needed because the Catholic was incorrect in many of their theological belief. And with the Reformation, Western Civilization is what it is now.
In conclusion, I have introduced many factors and talked about them. Those factors included social factors, economic factors, political factors, and intellectual factors, and many more that is the parts of those factors. For example science, literature would be part of the intellectual factors. And clearly there are some overlapping and relationships. As I already mentioned it is hard to choose a factor to be the primary catalytic. But the truth is intellectual factors is the one it is the one that served as the primary catalytic for the development. It all started with our mind and our brain. It is when we start to think that the world started to change. Yes, other factors are important in making Western what it is. But, what is “Western Civilization,” it is the ideal civilizations being civilized.” When we think of Western, we think of sciences and technologies. We thinks of arts and poetry. We think of civil rights and freedom. It is the place where people started thinking and they start realizing, people become enlightened. When we think about “Western” we think of Isaac Newton, Galileo, and many more scientist that shaped the world with their discovery. That is what make “Western” unique and difference. I’m not saying that European are not savages but at least they for most of the time they are not cannibal like those Papua New Guinea tribes. Therefore, the intellectual factors must be the primary catalytic. It is with Gutenberg and his printing revolution that make the Reformation possible. We could said that the political factors and all of those wars are the catalytic factors, but wars is everywhere and that would make Europe no difference. But it is with the intellectual factors, which is the scientific discovery and improvement that come from those wars that make the European weapons become far more superior. And later, they were able to conquer the world with it. Which is a bad thing that they did but that is what make Western Civilization what it is, it is “Western” who colonize this world and now we all have to speak English. Or you could said that it is the economy factors and trading that make Columbus discovered America. But without intellectual factor such as navigation and mapping Columbus wouldn’t make it very far. It is the “brain” that started everything. And it is the “intellectual factor” that catalyzed the development. Not that others civilizations are not thinking, instead they think different and their intellectual factors make them what they are and make the “Western Civilization” what it is. Because all Civilizations are unique and distinct.
thanks for reading