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Paul Halsall
Modern Western Civilization

Class 2: Roots of Western History


I. Introduction

Before we start on Section 1 -

Chronology and Periodization

What do you think the roots of Western history are?

II. Egypt and Mesopotamia

  1. Egypt - c. 4000 BC
    Longest continuous civilization
    Religion, Architecture, Maths
  2. Mesopotamia - also c. 4000 BC - in Iraq
    Sumeria, Babylonia, Assyria
    -Writing,
    -Numbers - use of base 12 - in time,
    -Astronomy and Astrology
  3. These cultures influence us through two ways
  4. -the Jews and the Greeks

III. The People of Israel

  1. The Jews are the only ancient people still around.
    One does not often meet Hittites or Goths in the street, but the Jews are still here.
  2. They absorbed a lot from Egypt and Mesoptamia
    -eg the creation story
  3. But one massive contribution- Monotheism
    - Belief in one caring God.
    Unity of cult and ethics
  4. Also a belief in history - that we are going somewhere.
    This is a contrast with the more cyclic views of the East, and of the Egyptians.
  5. Jews wrote the Bible: Most read book book in the world -
    and parts are at least 3000 years old.
    The Bible is one of the chief sources of western culture
    These IDEAS pass into Christianity and Islam.

IV. Greece

  1. The other major source of Western IDEAS.
    Ideas more important heritage than details of its history.
    The ideas survive in literature and art:-
  2. From around 750BC.
    Homer: The Iliad and The Odyssey
    The idea of ORDERED COSMOS - vital in Western ideas about science and God.
  3. Invention of writing - for everyone not just the clergy.
  4. Thales of Miletus - asked for the first time what the world was made of - water - SCIENCE
  5. Athens - The People, Democracy, natural art,
  6. Socrates: People as morally autonomous,
  7. Plato - Asked most of the Philosophical Questions
    -how do we know what we know.
  8. Aristotle - Introduces observation into science.
  9. Alexander the Great - c. 300BC. Conquers the whole Eastern Mediterranean. Greek ideas, and the Greek language dominate the area.
  10. Note two things:
    Greeks did not know about the Jews: Jews did know about the Greeks.
    All the discussion so far has been based in the Eastern Mediterranean, away from what we now call the West.

V. Rome - Always a Western city.

  1. From around 300BC it began to grow in importance. Within 300 years it had unified the Mediterranean into one state.
  2. All elites spoke either Greek or Latin.
  3. Intellectually Rome was dominated by Greece, but its genius was in STATECRAFT and LAW.
  4. Roman Law is still the basis of Law, via Napoleon, in most of Europe. US law derives from English Law, but that also is influenced by Rome.
  5. The ideal of Unity and the Universal state has been important in Western history ever since.

VI. Christianity

VI. Breakup of Classical World

  1. The Mediterranean was a united cultural area. It was the breakup of this area that led to the development, amongst others of the "West".
  2. Roman Empire: Invasions from the outside, Economic problems internally. Breaks Up. But it did not die.
    Each part took something from Greece, Rome and Judea
  1. Byzantium
    The Empire in the East continued, based in Constantinople.
    It was Christian and Roman and Greek. It was the most obvious heir to the culture of the Classical world.
    The Byzantine Empire lasts until 1453.
    Its culture still dominates Eastern Europe and Russia, through Orthodoxy.
  2. Islam
    Islam was the religion of Arab townsmen. Led by Mohammad (d. c. 640, Hijira 622). They swept out of the Arabian peninsula.
    Eventually took control of all North Africa, Egypt, Anatolia (under the Turks) and for a time Spain.
    Islam also is an heir to Classical civilization. It also learnt maths from Mesopotamia, Philosophy from the Greeks and Monotheism from the Jews.
    For almost a thousand years Muslims were by all objective standards more advanced than Western Europe.
  3. Latin Christendom
    Finally, what was left, was dominated by Barbarians. France, Spain, Italy, Britain, Germany.
    The least developed of the three cultures that succeeded the classical world.
    It was dominated increasingly also by the Church of Rome. It was a Latin reading and speaking world. i.e "Latin Christendom."
    This area was to become the West.

VII. The Western Middle Ages

A. From around 600 to 1000 AD conditions were fairly bleak.
Around 800 Charlemagne.
Most people lived on the land. Subsistence farming.
No towns larger than say 10,000 - at the most.

B. c.1050 Latin Christendom comes to life.

  1. Politically States begin to pull themselves together,
    England, France, Germany (for a time)
    - Concept of Kingship and what a king should be/do develops.
  2. Crusades - Westerners attack both Byzantium and Islam in order to conquer Jerusalem. They succeed for a time.
    -Architecture develops.
  3. Intellectual Life -
    great writers like St. Thomas Aquinas (13th. C.)
  4. Christianity becomes more like it is today.
    Devotion to Mary. Mass. Development of all the religious orders.
  5. Art and Music - We can now trace direct lines from then to now.
  6. Economically - From around 1050 a Commercial revolution.
    In the earlier period money had largely disappeared. Now it becomes important again and trade starts up in local areas and between far distant areas. Westerners even get as far as China.
  7. In short the West begins to have notion of itself. The notion is called Christendom, but develops into the idea of Europe.
  8. In the Middle Ages we have the origin of a specifically Western civilization, based not on the Mediterranean, but the Western lands of the entire Continent.

VIII. The Renaissance

  1. Period from late 14th, early 15th Century (explain 1300s and 1400s)
    - a new emphasis, spurred by examination of Classical past but also by internal European developments created an artistic and intellectual ferment first in Italy and then in the rest of Europe.
  2. Renaissance thought stressed Classicism, Individualism, Humanism - belief in no limits to human accomplishment (Pico de Mirandola). This, rather than more medieval ideas, was the precursor to modern ways of thinking.
  3. Humanism -
    A. Erasmus of Rotterdam - Version of Bible in Greek attacked superstition
    B. Thomas More - Humanism in England
    C. Calvin - first serious writing in French
    D. Printing Invented - was to lead to great changes as information could be spread much more easily - Johannes Gutenberg d. 1468

IX. Religious Thought: Reformation and Counter-Reformation

  1. The Reformation was another great development at the end of the Middle Ages/Beginning of Early modern period.
  2. Religion united both the intellectual elite and the people. Ways of thinking were not scientific for many - their  pre-occupation was with God and especially Salvation (getting to heaven). The thinkers we shall be examining as creators of the modern world lived in this background.
  3. Importance of Reformation was it split Europe into two ideological camps. This in fact allowed new ideas to develop and have a chance to become widespread.

The Reformation (First half of 16th C.)

  1. Martin Luther (1483-1546)
    Began challenge to Rome in 1517.
    His main concern was with personal salvation
    -Justification (setting right before God), was the most important thing for him.
    -But it is important to note another aspect of the Lutheran Reformation - the very great respect it gave to the state. In effect Lutheranism allowed a separate morality for individuals and the State. This is often seen as a factor in German history.
  2. John Calvin (1509-64)
    Advanced the Reformation in French speaking areas.
    -Most of his thought is implicit in Luther, but Calvin was more rigorous. He had the doctrine of predestination to salvation or damnation. The saved or the Elect were a major part of his thought. (Came from his experience as a preacher - why did some not believe).
    -Mention Calvinist Adherents
    -Note importance of notion of the Elect. It made Calvinists Political in a way Lutherans were not They felt able to reject the state - led to religious wars in short term - but the is also important in revolutionary thought. Calvinists often felt themselves to be justified - gave confidence to Calvinist entrepaneurs.

The Counter Reformation

  1. Catholic Church reformed itself
  2. Council of Trent (1545-63) 18 Years
    This re-established Catholic norms.
    It even cleared up previously undefined areas.
    It was very anti-protestant.
  3. The Jesuits - Shock troops of the Church.
    Insisted on intellectual rigor.
  4. The Index - this was only really important now that there were many books about due to printing

Effects of Renaissance and Reformation

  1. The Counter Reformation made Catholic Countries firm in their Catholicism - and made it impossible, or very hard, for non-believers to live there.
  2. Secondly it was much harder to express new opinions and ideas in Catholic Countries (France was different - the French Church -the Gallican Church - was under royal control - some liberty of thought allowed)
  3. So most of the new ideas that made modern world grew up in Protestant countries and France (Value of diversity of states in Europe)

X. The Thirty Years War and 1648

  1. There were a lot of religious conflicts in Europe for almost a 150 years after Luther. These were major wars that tore countries apart - The Holy Roman Empire was divided, France was rocked by wars between Catholics and Calvinists (1598 Edict of Nantes, Henry IV).
    Religion was not the only factor, often not even the major one. Suffice to say that many states came close to destruction, and one, Poland, disappeared.
  2. There was a large scale general European war from 1618-1648. Thirty Years War
    Treaty of Westphalia 1648. Pope not invited
  3. In Europe - a general feeling that religion should be removed from politics.
    The 18th C. was to be much less religious.
    It is at this point we can start modern history.

XI. Continuity of Old Ideas

  1. There was an entirely different world view for people in late middles ages, plus 15th Century - also note that these ideas persisted a long time - alongside more modern ones - eg look at modern newspaper astrologers.
    It was hard to break out of this view of the world - Great intellects had built it up and it took enormous breadth of knowledge imagination and even hubris to change it.
    The changing of the Scientific world view, was the single most characteristic change that led to a modern world view.
  2. We have been discussing the world that people lived in at the start of the modern era. Many of theses ideas we have been discussing continued amongst some groups long after the revolutions in European life we will be discussing
  3. One of these was the Divine right of Kings. Lead into Absolutism - to be covered in next lecture