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The Ancient World


History and Culture

  • The intellectual and religious foundations of the modern Western outlook were laid in the Mediterranean basin between 800 B.C.E. and 400 B.C.E.
  • Hebrew religion was founded on the idea of one God, the creator of all things, all-powerful and just—a concept that was revolutionary in its time.
  • By 63 B.C.E., Palestine was absorbed by the Roman Empire.
  • The modern state of Israel was created in 1948.
  • Minoans flourished on Crete; Myceneans flourished on the Greek mainland.
  • The Greek concept of the gods represents the blind forces of the universe that man cannot control and are not always thought of as connected to morality.
  • The Greek city-states were united by a common Greek heritage—culture, religion, and a sense of “Greeknesss”—but differed in terms of custom, dialect, and politics.
  • The city-states were constantly at war for more territory.
  • At the beginning of the fifth century B.C.E., Athens was a direct democracy.
  • The Peloponnesian War lasted from 431-404 B.C.E. Athens capitulated to Sparta.
  • Most women in the ancient world were prohibited from owning property, holding office, or voting; a woman’s primary duty was to produce male heirs.
  • In the last half of the fifth century B.C.E., there was a critical reevaluation of accepted ideas in every phase of thought and action that stemmed from innovations in education led by the Sophists.
  • Protagoras expressed a supreme confidence in human intelligence and a secular view of humanity’s position in the universe when he said, “Man is the measure of all things.”
  • In the last quarter of the fifth century B.C.E., there were two new developments: the flowering of Athenian rhetoric and the revolution in philosophy brought about by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle that laid the foundation for later Western philosophy.
  • Socrates developed the dialectic method: a search for truth through questions and answers.
  • Greek culture spread though the known world in the wake of the conquests of Alexander the Great.
  • By the middle of the third century B.C.E., Rome dominated Italy, and victory in the Punic Wars against Carthage turned Rome into a world power.
  • By the end of the first century B.C.E., the Roman Empire stretched from the Straits of Gibraltar to Mesopotamia and the frontiers of Palestine and as far north as Britain, and created the concept of the world-state.
  • The Romans brought peace, orderly government, a talent for practical affairs, and a belief that the strongest authority was “the custom of predecessors” to conquered territories.
  • Augustus, the first Roman emperor, brought the empire under one authority and ushered in a long age of peace and reconstruction with his victory at Actium against Mark Antony.
  • In the third and fourth centuries C.E., the empire disintegrated under constant invasions from people from the north.
  • Through the Hellenistic contact with non-Greek people, Judaism flourished in Alexandria.
  • The philosophies of Cynicism, Skepticism, Epicureanism, and Stoicism influenced Roman culture.
  • Thomas Aquinas’s “neoplatonism” synthesized Christian doctrine with Platonic teachings.
  • Eventually, Christianity would emerge victorious over the ancient world’s disparate religious practices and beliefs.


  • Hebrews left a religious literature founded on the idea of one God, creator of all things, all powerful and just—a revolutionary concept.
  • Early Greek culture produced a body of oral epic poetry; raw material for Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
  • The great characters of the Homeric epics served as models of conduct for later generations of Greeks.
  • The Olympian gods retained the attributes set down by Homer.
  • Latin literature began with a translation of the Odyssey; with the exception of satire, the literary model was always Greek.
  • Virgil based the Aeneid on Homer and glorified the beginnings of Rome as a world power.
  • Satire, exemplified by Petronius’s Satyricon, painted a sardonic portrait of the nouveau riche for whom religion had lost its importance to money.