Glencoe World History: Modern Times, California Edition
The Legacy of the Ancient World
The belief systems of the first civilizations, which were based on law codes and religious beliefs, shaped Western civilization.
Section 1 The First Civilizations
The first civilizations rose from the river valleys of Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, and China. These early civilizations introduced key belief systems through law codes and religious beliefs that have influenced Western thought. It was in Mesopotamia—between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers—where the Sumerians established city-states, most of which would fall under the rule of Hammurabi. In addition to creating an empire, this ruler left his mark on Western society in a collection of laws known as the Code of Hammurabi. Along the rich banks of the Nile River, Egyptian civilization flourished. The divinity of the pharaoh and religious belief contributed to the long life of Egyptian civilization, which was divided into the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. The banks of the Jordan River provided nourishment for the Israelites, the founders of the kingdom of Israel. Unlike the Sumerians and Egyptians, who worshipped many gods, the Israelites were monotheistic. From these people, the key beliefs of Judaism developed, and their spirituality became the pillar of Western civilization. Civilizations also arose in India and China. Hinduism became a conservative force in Indian society that has lasted to this day. Chinese civilization was greatly influenced by Confucianism, which remains an influence today.
Section 2 The Civilization of the Greeks
The polis, or Greek city-state, was central to Greek life. Not only did the polis serve as a town or village, but it was the center for political, social, and religious activities. It was, in a sense, a community. Athens and Sparta emerged as the most powerful city-states, and they became models for Western government. The concept of citizenship was developed and democracy was defined by the Greeks. The citizens ran the city-states, chose officials, passed laws, voted, and held public office. In exchange for these rights, Greek citizens were required to serve in government and fight as soldiers. Greek philosophy led to the study of history, political science, science, and mathematics. Greek thinkers called philosophers developed ideas that are still relevant today. The most famous philosophers—Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle—contributed to Western society in a number of ways, including their commitment to rational inquiry.
Section 3 Rome and the Rise of Christianity
As Rome shifted from a republic to an empire, it created a system of laws and government that proved invaluable to Western civilization. Romans established the Law of Nations, treating all people the same under the law. This is a core principle of modern justice. The Romans also influenced Western culture, sharing their language and learning with future generations and building upon the heritage of the Greeks. The Romans tolerated other religions as long as they did not threaten order or public morals. However, when Jesus of Nazareth preached of God's love and forgiveness, Roman authorities took notice because they thought he was a political rebel, and they crucified him. Jesus' life and his disciples' report of his resurrection led to a new religion called Christianity. The religion attracted many followers because it gave meaning to people's lives, appealed to their emotions, and promised happiness after death. The religion also gave people the chance to be a part of a caring group and provided women with new roles. At first, the Roman government persecuted Christians. Eventually, the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion.
Section 4 New Patterns of Civilization
Between the sixth and sixteenth centuries, new systems of rule, religious doctrines, and intellectual movements emerged. In the Arabian Peninsula around the seventh century, a new religion took shape. The prophet Muhammad spread this new faith throughout the Middle East, reuniting a once-broken empire. Islam and the Arab state became one. Meanwhile, in Europe, faith and government were also entwined. When Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, the birth of European civilization took place as Roman legacy, German tradition, and the Christian Church united under one ruler. Although feudalism thrived among chaos, powerful European kings eventually came to power. This power was checked by the Magna Carta. The signing of this document won rights mainly for nobles. However, these rights were later extended to commoners. During the twelfth century, many great strides were made in government, including the Magna Carta, the development of English common law, and the creation of Parliament. Each of these concepts is crucial to the legal system of the United States. As their names imply, the High and Late Middle Ages traced a series of highs and lows for European agriculture, commerce, religion, and political stability. The High Middle Ages saw new farming practices, the growth of cities and trade, a growing population, and flourishing universities. The Black Death arrived in the Late Middle Ages, killing millions and ending this time of relative prosperity. Europeans who survived engaged in an intellectual movement known as the Renaissance, which was based on the rebirth of Greek and Roman culture. This movement encouraged excellence in worldly pursuits and new ways of thinking. These new ideas influenced a young monk named Martin Luther. His challenge to the Catholic Church led to the Protestant Reformation, resulting in a religious divide between Catholics and Protestants that would prove to be a bloody battle.