Free essay example on Ancient Civilizations:
Two Ancient Civilizations, the Greek and the Roman, have profoundly influenced the modern cultures that we are part of today. Greece, otherwise known as the birthplace of Western civilization, had a great time span starting from the Early Bronze Age of 3000 BC all the way to the Hellenistic period up to about 30 BC. On the other hand is the civilization of Rome-which name is derived from the Greek word meaning strength and vigor- and rightfully so because the civilization covered a majestic 27 centuries. Both civilizations shared many similarities, especially in the fact that the Greeks heavily influenced the Romans. However, each civilization had its own take on life and the life of its citizens resulting in different social values and cultural practices.
In this world, few people have attached such significance to the essence of physical beauty as the Greeks. No wonder in the Greek arts we can see that beauty and perfection were quite an essential part in the Greek frame of mind. Looking at Greece in the context of its entire civilization, it heavily emphasized both athletic ability and physical beauty.
The Greek adoration for the human physique found many outlets that helped them portray such ideas. Greek art, especially sculpture, gave them the power of almost unlimited expression. By observing many of the sculptures that remain with us today from the times of Ancient Greece, their civilization can be accredited with being the first civilization to centralize the human body as the primary object of artistic expression. The demand for physical beauty in the Greek culture came about mainly from their religious beliefs. The Greek religion composed primarily of Zeus, the father and king of the Gods, as well as many other deities whom were either brothers or sisters of Zeus or his children. The main aspects of the Greek religion did not have much to do with a system of belief but instead the focus was more on taking action to please the gods. What really mattered to the Greek people was to secure the goodwill of the gods so that in return they can benefit from all of their worshipping. The Greeks were not preoccupied with the future life that comes after death, but instead their objective was to secure a good life while they were living it; people living in the now, and not thinking ahead about later. Since the influences of the Gods were so strong and because the gods were seen as perfection in every sense of the word, the Greeks modeled many art forms after their gods.
The Greeks emphasized physical beauty, but this did not include both sexes. It is with the male body that provided inspiration to create fully three-dimensional figures; and with time to advance, the sculptures became more and more realistic to the natural sense. The two subjects that kept the sculptors preoccupied were the statues of the standing nude male and the fully clothed female. A good example of this is the early sculpture of the Anavyssos Kouros in which a nude male is standing upright with his body portrayed, as he would appear in the natural world. As time went on and the art of sculpting advanced tremendously, the Greeks were able to define their work in the belief that every single detail is important. The bronze statue of Poseidon hurling a thunderbolt is a classic example of modeling their ideals of perfection after their beloved gods. In this sculpture, the muscles are more intensified and the action of the statue basically speaks for itself. The evolution of Greek art from representing how things are seen naturally transformed into the emphasis on how things should be. To the Greeks, the ideal rests in physical beauty and striving for perfection.
No less important to the ideas of physical beauty were the Greek emphasis on athletic abilities. As a matter of fact, the idea of physical beauty went hand-in-hand with athletic ability because physical beauty could be achieved through keeping fit and participating in sporting events. Participating in competitive athletics was one of the ways the entire Greek civilization found itself a sense of cultural unity. Though there were probably hundreds of more local athletic festivals within the city-states, four major pan Hellenic games attracted athletes from all over the Greek world. Two of these were the Nemean and Olympic games, both of which are held in honor of the mightiest of the gods Zeus. The other two of the four major games were the Isthmian Games, held in honor for Poseidon and the Pythian games, which were held to worship the Sun God Apollo. It is from these athletic competitions that we have our modern Olympics today; still with many of the same rules that apply like having it take place once every four years. Winning was so important to the competitors that they would pray “either for the wreath or for death”. When the games would come to an end in the fifth and final day, the ultimate prize of the olive wreaths were only awarded to those whom were victorious. There were no consolation prizes for those finishing second or third. The Greeks were so supportive of the victors that their own cities and fellow citizens usually treated them lavishly once they returned home from the games. From the Ancient Olympic games, we can see that athletic ability had no less significance than physical beauty because both ideals were equally emphasized in the Greek culture.
In the other direction, the Romans left a legacy for encouraging its people to be good and dutiful citizens. Instead of looking at things in an idealist approach, the Romans focused their attention more on systematic and practical approaches. It is with the Roman culture that we start to see the effective use of critical thinking and logic in order to accomplish goals expediently. With the time of the Roman Empire, only a practical framework would be suitable because of the stable upper class patricians compared to the continually growing lower class Plebeians. In a situation like this, only a system of law that requires a minimum level of participation is beneficial because it makes each individual feel as though they had to some extent a right to govern. It is quite obvious that the more aristocratic wealthy Romans had richer opportunities and had more ways and means. But the way the Romans set up their structure of law, it made it that all Romans wanted to take part in what is their culture. Due to the introduction of self-governing, just having Roman citizenship meant that there was an obligation to show some public display of participation. In the minds of the individual Roman citizen, being patriotic and partaking in a system that requires each single individual is the ultimate idea of success.
The Republic had a lot of heavy control on the everyday lives of its citizens but to what extent did the state interfere with the private lives? The State issued many different laws and the three main branches were the civil laws there were held in common by all the people in Rome, the Law of the People, and Natural law which basically means that you were naturally born into an existing law; the basic idea that it just exists. Like the Greeks that had all the ideas of athletic competitions and physical beauty, the Romans’ everyday life was constantly being fueled by the political arena surrounding them. Even in modern times, whatever is the ideal to the mainstream of people and their actions towards this has a heavy influence on others. This kind of effect causes something like a chain reaction that makes each citizen not want to be any part of the minority of people that were not active in politics.
The basis for the Roman government was established because the people of Rome believed in an imperium, which meant that there had to be some sort of authority overlooking the people. Since the ideas of patriotism were so widespread, many of the duties that the Roman citizens were urged to partake in was the military. A strong military is greatly required during such times especially when the Roman intent was to set out and deliberately conquer new territory. The Roman Empire had a talent for planning and organizing, which is clearly shown by their extreme military power. The State was able to consolidate their standing army into an equipped striking force that made up of men carrying javelins and swords. The Roman military was able to move around quickly and proficiently, resembling a well-disciplined war machine. All these great achievements could not have been realized unless the people of Rome did not volunteer their time and effort into defending and fighting for the Republic. Many times the men would go into service with the thought that they are being promised post-war benefits and opportunities. The way the system of government works in the Roman Empire, it creates an atmosphere more directed toward simplicity and pragmatic approaches. The basic principle behind the Roman approach to political ideology is that if every single individual plays an active role in government and strive to understand everything that is going on around them, it should result in the general populous being content and satisfied with their lives.
On one end of the spectrum, the Roman idea is the push for their citizens to be good and dutiful. The other side of the thought spectrum, the Greek lived life with their emphasis on physical beauty and superb athletic abilities. The Greeks were very idealistic as a culture and used more theory in their approaches. The Romans are known to be a culture of realists whom look passed theoretical ideas in favor of more logical and systematical methodology. In my opinion, I think it is the Roman approach that has a higher possibility of a successful outcome within the relationship between the State and its people.
The Greek virtues behind athletic ability and physical beauty are quite unique and fascinating because it was a way for the entire community to be united under one universal ideology that attempts for perfection. However, I don’t think that the Greek emphasis on those two aspects produces a system of government that is stable. Instead, the Roman practical approach serves a better ideology that first started out the whole idea of the Republic. The Roman approach is much more beneficial because they have left a groundwork for future civilizations and empires to strive for because even our U.S. Government got its democratic foundation from the Roman emphasis on civic duty. The U.S. Government, with our basic ideas coming from the Roman achievements in politics, is the longest standing written Constitution that exists to this day. It is amazing to think that over the past 200 years that our Government is still standing strong under a written Constitution that is under 4,000 words long. If it were not for the Romans, I don’t think we would be in the status that America is in the world, and so that is why I believe that the approach that Rome took was better.