Culture of Ancient East

THEME: Culture of Ancient East.


1. The peculiarities of Eastern and Western cultural traditions.


2. The Mesopotamian Art.


3. The problem of man in the Egyptian .


4. The concepts of life and death, community, the sense of life in the Ancient Indian culture.


5. The artifacts of the Ancient Chinese culture. The harmony of man with the nature.

Culture of Ancient East.

Ancient Egyptian Art: An Introduction

If you'd like to know more about the art of ancient Egypt that appears on tomb and temple walls but don't know where to start, this page will help. Here you'll find examples of well-known images with an explanation of what they are depicting.




The Funerary Scene



Of all the images associated with ancient Egypt, the funerary scene is probably the one that is most frequently duplicated in books and art prints. This scene depicts what occurs after a person has died. Beginning with the upper left-hand corner, the deceased appears before a panel of 14 judges to make an accounting for his deeds during life. The ankh, the key of life, appears in the hands of some of the judges.


Next, below, the jackal god Anubis who represents the underworld and mummification leads the deceased before the scale. In his hand, Anubis holds the ankh.


Anubis then weighs the heart of the deceased (left tray) against the feather of Ma'at, goddess of truth and justice (right tray). In some drawings, the full goddess Ma'at, not just her feather, is shown seated on the tray. Note that Ma'at's head, crowned by the feather, also appears atop the fulcrum of the scale. If the heart of the deceased outweighs the feather, then the deceased has a heart which has been made heavy with evil deeds. In that event, Ammit the god with the crocodile head and hippopotamous legs will devour the heart, condemning the deceased to oblivion for eternity. But if the feather outweighs the heart, then the deceased has led a righteous life and may be presented before Osiris to join the afterlife. Thoth, the ibis-headed god of wisdom stands at the ready to record the outcome.


The deceased is then led to Osiris by Horus, the god with the falcon head. Note the ankh in Horus' hand. Horus represents the personification of the Pharaoh during life, and his father Osiris represents the personification of the Pharaoh after death.


Osiris, lord of the underworld, sits on his throne, represented as a mummy. On his head is the white crown of Lower Egypt (the north). He holds the symbols of Egyptian kingship in his hands: the shepherd's crook to symbolize his role as shepherd of mankind, and the flail, to represent his ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. Behind him stand his wife Isis and her sister Nephthys. Isis is the one in red, and Nephthys is the one in green. Together, Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys welcome the deceased to the underworld.





Musicians And Dancers



When Amenhotep IV (also known as Akhenaten) was Pharaoh, he decreed that artists should create images showing everyday life. Up until then, art was very focused on scenes showing topics related to death and the afterlife. Concerned that future generations would believe that the Egyptians were obsessed with death, he commissioned artwork that showed everyday activities such as making music and dancing.


On the heads of the musicians, you'll see cones made of perfumed wax. As the heat from the room and the women's bodies melts the wax, it releases its scent into their hair.\


The above picture of the three musicians comes from a tomb relief of a man named Nakht who lived under the reign of Tuthmoses IV, around 1401-1391 BCE. Nakht was a scribe and a temple star watcher. The picture of the dancers comes from a tomb in Thebes of an official named Nebamen who lived under the reign of Amenhotep III, around 1550-1307 BCE.




The Tree Of Life


On the Tree Of Life, the birds represent the various stages of human life. Starting in the lower right-hand corner and proceeding counter-clockwise:

The light gray bird symbolizes infancy.

The red bird symbolizes childhood.

The green bird symbolizes youth.

The blue bird symbolizes adulthood.

The orange bird symbolizes old age.


In ancient Egypt, the direction east was considered the direction of life, because the sun rose in the east. West was considered the direction of death, of entering the underworld, because the sun set in the west. They believed that during the night, the sun traveled through the underworld to make its way back to the east so it could rise in the east again on the next day.


On the tree of life, note that the birds representing the first four phases of life all face to the east, but the bird representing old age faces to the west, anticipating the approach of death.





Ma'at And Isis

This picture depicts the goddesses Ma'at and Isis. Ma'at, the goddess of truth and justice, is the winged goddess who is kneeling. Isis is the goddess seated on the throne.


According to legend, Isis was the wife of Osiris and mother of Horus; therefore, the queen of the gods. The identifying characteristics that indicate the seated goddess is Isis include the horned headdress and the vulture on her head. Although sometimes Hathor is also depicted with a horned headdress, only Isis has both the horned headdress and the vulture.


Why the vulture? The ancient Egyptians respected the vulture for its commitment to motherhood, and another goddess (Nekhebet) who was portrayed as a vulture is also said to have suckled the royal children, including the pharaoh. So it's natural that Nekhebet would be incorporated into a portrait of the mother of Horus.


Notice that Isis is holding the ankh, the key of life.


In this particular illustration, because Isis is seated on the throne and facing the goddess of justice, Isis is most likely serving as a metaphor for the queen.


Did you think the winged goddess in this picture was Isis? Contrary to what many people believe, not all winged goddess images are Isis. Here's how you can tell it's Ma'at instead of Isis: she has an ostrich feather headdress. Whenever you see a feather headdress like this, the goddess being depicted is Ma'at.





Hathor And Queen Neferari

In this picture, the goddess Hathor (the one with the horned headdress) is leading Queen Neferari by the hand. Like Isis in the picture above, Hathor is wearing a horned headdress. But instead of including a vulture in the headdress, she wears the cobra-shaped symbol.


How do we know that the woman in the dress is Neferari? From the cartouches next to her, which portray the name Neferari in hieroglyphics.



Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt, civilization that thrived along the Nile River in northeastern Africa for more than 3,000 years, from about 3300 bc to 30 bc. It was the longest-lived civilization of the ancient world. Geographically, the term ancient Egypt indicates the territory where the ancient Egyptians lived in the valley and delta of the Nile. Culturally, it refers to the ways ancient Egyptians spoke, worshiped, understood the nature of the physical world, organized their government, made their livings, entertained themselves, and related to others who were not Egyptian.

The Nile River, which formed the focus of ancient Egyptian civilization, originates in the highlands of East Africa and flows northward throughout the length of what are now Sudan and Egypt. Northwest of modern-day Cairo, it branches out to form a broad delta, through which it empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Because of seasonal rains farther south in Africa, the Nile overflowed its banks in Egypt every year. When the floodwaters receded, a rich black soil covered the floodplain. This natural phenomenon and its effects on the environment enabled the ancient Egyptians to develop a successful economy based on agriculture.

Other natural factors combined to give rise to a great civilization in the Nile region. In Egypt’s relatively cloudless sky the Sun almost always shone, consistently providing heat and light. The Nile served as a water highway for the people, a constant source of life-giving water, and the sustainer of all plants and animals. In addition, natural barriers provided good protection from other peoples. The desert to the west, the seas to the north and east, and the Nile’s rapids, or cataracts, to the south prevented frequent hostile attacks.

In this setting a sophisticated and creative society came into being. That society was the only one in the area to endure for thousands of years. Each of its rivals rose to power but ultimately faded from importance. It was in this land that two of the Seven Wonders of the World were found: the pyramids at Giza and the lighthouse at Alexandria. The ancient Egyptians produced a vast body of written records, including ethical and moralistic treatises, instructional texts, religious and magical scrolls, evocative love poetry, epic stories, and ribald tales. They possessed a sophisticated understanding of mathematics and the principles of architecture, enabling them to introduce to the world large stone buildings before 2500 bc. Their enduring images—sculpted, painted, and drawn—captivate viewers even today.

The ancient Egyptians processed thin flat sheets from the papyrus, a plant that grew along the Nile, and on these paperlike sheets they wrote their texts. Their earliest script, now known as hieroglyphs, began as a type of picture writing in which the symbols took the form of recognizable images. They originated many basic concepts in arithmetic and geometry, as well as the study of medicine and dentistry. They devised a calendar on the basis of their observations of the Sun and the stars.

Although the ancient Egyptians worshiped many gods, Egypt is also often recognized as the origin of the first recorded monotheist (worshiper of one god), the king who called himself Akhenaton. Egypt also developed one of the first religions to have a concept of the afterlife. No culture before or since paid as much attention to preparations for what was to come after death. Both royalty and private individuals built, decorated, and furnished tombs, which the ancient Egyptians understood to represent their eternal existence.

Politically, Egypt was a major power in the ancient world. Its kings governed the land through an elaborate bureaucratic administration. At certain periods, ancient Egypt’s influence extended even farther south and west in Africa as well as east into Asia.

Great pyramids, hieroglyphs, elaborately decorated underground burial chambers, sprawling temple complexes, and statues combining human and animal forms are only a few of the many remnants that survive from ancient Egypt. These relics of an extinct world raised numerous questions during the centuries after the civilization died out and still fascinate people today. Many questions were answered in the early 19th century, when a young French scholar, Jean François Champollion, deciphered the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone and reconstructed the ancient Egyptian language. While more questions have been answered since that time, much remains to be investigated. Scholars still debate, for instance, whether writing first emerged in ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia. And while written documents attest to at least 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian civilization, archaeological evidence suggests a much longer span.




According to inscriptions and documents found by archaeologists, the Egyptians called their country Kemet, meaning “the Black Land,” a reference to the dark, fertile soil that remained after the Nile floodwaters had receded. They also used another term, Deshret, or “the Red Land,” a designation for the desert sands that burned under the blazing Sun. In addition, they used the term Lower Egypt to refer to the northern delta area and the term Upper Egypt to refer to the communities along the river all the way south to Aswān.

The abundance of the Nile and the Egyptians’ careful management of the necessary dikes and irrigation systems guaranteed a flourishing agricultural society. The variety of plants that grew and were cultivated could be used for many purposes, including food, clothing, and shelter. The river was also the source of fish, and a fishing industry was established early on. Mud from the river’s banks was the raw material for a well-established pottery industry as well as for the bricks used in construction. To navigate the Nile, the Egyptians learned to build all sorts of boats. The land provided a wide variety of minerals, including several types of stone, semiprecious gems, salts, and metals such as gold, copper, and—to a much lesser extent—silver. The Egyptians quarried, mined, and processed these resources. Trade with other countries provided products not found in Egypt.







Beginnings of Civilization

Ongoing excavation in Egypt continually reshapes the views of scholars about the origins of Egyptian civilization. In the late 20th century archaeologists discovered evidence of human habitation before 8000 bc in an area in the southwestern corner of Egypt, near the border with Sudan. Nomadic peoples may have been attracted to that area because of the hospitable climate and environment. Now exceptionally dry, that area once had grassy plains and temporary lakes that resulted from seasonal rains. The people who settled there must have realized the benefits of a more sedentary life. Scientific analysis of the remains of their culture indicates that by 6000 bc they were herding cattle and constructing large buildings.

The descendants of these people may well have begun Egyptian civilization in the Nile Valley. About 2,000 years later, when the climate changed and the southwestern area became more arid, it is possible that they chose to migrate eastward to the Nile. Some of the distinctive characteristics of their society, such the structures they built and the emphasis they placed on cattle, support this theory. By 4000 bc there were settlements in Upper Egypt, at locations such as Hierakonpolis (ancient Nekhen), Naqada, and Abydos.

Such a theory, however, explains only part of the picture of the early Egyptian civilization. A culture known as Badarian is represented as early as 5000 bc in Upper Egyptian settlements. Moreover, in Lower Egypt, Neolithic settlements in the Al Fayyūm area date from more than 1,000 years earlier. Several sites in that area show evidence of agriculture by around 5000 bc. Merimde, at the Nile Delta’s western border, may have been almost as old, and a settlement at Buto appears to date from around 4500 bc. The style and decoration of the pottery found at these sites differ from those of pottery found in Upper Egypt. The northern type eventually fell out of use. Other differences between the peoples in Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt include the nature of their architecture and the arrangements for burial of the dead, the latter perhaps signifying differing religious beliefs.



Unification and Early Dynastic Period

By 3500 bc, the settlement of Hierakonpolis, located on the west bank of the Nile between Luxor and Aswān, had become a central site of Predynastic culture—that is, the culture that existed before the time of the first Egyptian dynasties, or families of rulers. Hierakonpolis soon became a large and important administrative and economic center. Its religious rituals took place in a structure that is now seen as a primitive form of later Egyptian temples. A large brick tomb, constructed underground, apparently was the burial site of an early local ruler. Some of its decorations and images, such as a scene of the ruler smiting his enemies, are the same as those used in the times of the Egyptian kings. Many elements of the culture at Hierakonpolis, including the division into social classes, were typical of other settlements along the Nile. The archaeological evidence makes it clear that the culture of Upper Egypt, not that developing in Lower Egypt, was exerting influence and perhaps some control over an expanding geographic area.

It is possible that a center such as Hierakonpolis or Abydos, also in Upper Egypt, began to exert control over other settlements and that the unification of ancient Egypt was in reality the gradual growth of one center’s influence. Several king lists, or lists of rulers, some of which were prepared after 1550 bc and are quite complete, as well as histories dating to the Classical Age (500-323 bc), indicate that a ruler named Menes was Egypt’s first monarch. He reigned around 3100 bc. However, some of these documents refer to earlier rulers or even to a series of demigods (mythical beings who were partly divine and partly human). This information, as well as the archaeological evidence, implies that rival small kingdoms existed in the late Predynastic period, just before 3000 bc. Eventually one of their rulers established control over Upper Egypt and then perhaps became powerful enough to exert dominance over both the north and the south.

No one knows which, if any, of the rulers whose names are preserved from this period can be identified with Menes. Perhaps it is Aha or Narmer, whose names are recorded on some of the oldest artifacts. An image of Narmer appears on his Palette, a large ceremonial slate slab that dates to around 3100 bc and was found at Hierakonpolis. On it Narmer wears two crowns: on one side, the white crown of Upper Egypt; on the other side, the red crown of Lower Egypt. He is the first individual to be depicted with the royal headgear of both Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. Other insignia and images later associated with the Egyptian monarch also appear on the palette, and Narmer is shown triumphant over enemies, including, in a symbolic manner, the delta. The scene on the palette is sometimes interpreted as ritual imagery, but it may have some historical truth. Excavations in the late 20th century at the Upper Egyptian site of Abydos, where the early kings were buried, may provide some support for the historical interpretation. A small ivory label found in the tomb of Narmer has a carved scene that appears also to represent that king’s victory over the delta. Moreover, the same expedition uncovered a structure dating from around 3250 bc. In that structure were found a scepter, wine jars from the nearby land of Canaan, and more labels, some of which were records of products from the delta. This material supports the idea that Upper Egypt came to dominate Lower Egypt even earlier than 3100 bc and controlled trade with the east.

The Egyptian priest Manetho, who lived in the 3rd century bc, recorded the royal history by organizing the country’s rulers into 30 dynasties, roughly corresponding to families. Some Egyptologists (people who study ancient Egypt) now suggest altering his list of dynasties by adding at the beginning a Dynasty 0, which may have lasted about 150 years, from about 3100 to about 2920 bc. During this period, Egyptian unification appears to have taken place, the structure of the Egyptian state seems to have been formed, and writing first appeared. The 1st and 2nd dynasties, which cover a time span of about 300 years, from around 2920 to around 2650 bc, brought the further development of a complex society, the rise of the state, and Egypt’s emergence as a power in the ancient world.



Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period

Fairly early, perhaps during Dynasty 0, the administrative center of Egypt shifted to Memphis, which is located just below the southern tip of the delta. It is not known when Memphis was founded. Memphis was well positioned to be the seat of government of the now unified land. The royal cemetery continued to be located at Abydos, in the south. The last ruler of the 2nd Dynasty, Khasekhemwy, was responsible for the construction of the last royal tomb of this period there. This ruler, who also built a monument at Hierakonpolis, may have constructed a funerary monument at Şaqqārah (Sakkara) as well, thus paving the way for the establishment of the royal cemetery at that northern location. Şaqqārah was to serve as the royal cemetery for much of the Old Kingdom, a period that some scholars believe began with the 3rd Dynasty (about 2649-2575 bc) and others believe began with the 4th Dynasty (about 2575-2467 bc). The Old Kingdom lasted until around 2134 bc and was followed by the First Intermediate Period.

The size of the funerary monuments of Egypt’s royalty still impresses visitors today. These huge burial complexes provide a wealth of information about the society and culture of the people who produced them. Imhotep, the architect for Djoser, second king of the 3rd Dynasty, constructed what appears to be the world’s first monumental stone building for the eternal resting place of a king. Djoser’s Step Pyramid at Şaqqārah is perhaps one of the earliest in a series of burial complexes that culminated in the pyramids at Giza, which date to the 4th Dynasty. The largest of these pyramids, known as the Great Pyramid, was built for King Khufu, the second king of the 4th Dynasty. These construction projects required a huge workforce of several hundred thousand laborers over a period of many years. The successful completion of the pyramids depended on a stable and well-developed economy, a well-established administrative bureaucracy, and immense public support. Moreover, Egypt had to be at peace with its closest foreign neighbors to provide the necessary concentration for this work. Unskilled workers toiled on the projects during the months of the Nile flood, when they could not farm, but craftspeople, artisans, stonemasons, managers, and others worked year-round. Devotion on the part of all the people to the king and his burial project was an important element in the success of the project. The royal office was considered divine, and the ruling king was believed to be a god on Earth, a mediator between humankind and the deities. Working for this god and securing his place among the divinities for all eternity could be interpreted as an expression of the religious devotion of the people.

From the end of the 5th Dynasty in about 2323 bc, the interiors of the pyramids contained texts carved on the walls. This collection of hymns, spells, instructions on how to act in front of the gods, and rituals, now called the Pyramid Texts, is the oldest body of religious literature yet discovered. As time went on, the size and the quality of pyramid construction diminished, in large part as a result of financial strain on the treasury. In addition, the nation had to deal with hostile neighbors, and a change in climate apparently caused serious droughts, references to which are found in texts and scenes.

By the end of the 6th Dynasty in about 2150 bc, the chiefs of the provincial areas, or nomes, were becoming increasingly powerful. Eventually the chiefs, called nomarchs, established hereditary offices and became local rulers, thus paving the way for internal rivalries and hastening the breakdown of the central administration. The First Intermediate Period ensued. It lasted from about 2134 to about 2040 bc and included the next several dynasties. During this period the nomarchs of Herakleopolis, in the northern part of Upper Egypt, rose to power. However, another rising power, based in the south at Thebes, challenged their authority and succeeded in reuniting the land.



Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period

In around 2040 bc, Nebhepetre-Mentuhotep, the ruler based at Thebes, defeated the nomarch of Herakleopolis and once more united the land under central authority. This reign marked the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, which lasted until about 1640 bc. Nebhepetre-Mentuhotep established the 11th Dynasty and governed from Thebes, as did his two successors. The vizier, or chief government minister, under the last ruler came to the throne as Amenemhet I in around 1991 bc, establishing the 12th Dynasty. For political, economic, and strategic reasons, he moved the seat of his administration to a site near Memphis that he called Itjtawy, or “The Seizer of the Two Lands,” thus identifying it with his royal role. However, he continued the Theban emphasis on the deity Amon (Amun), a god of Theban origin who had risen to prominence in the religion and was now worshiped throughout Egypt. Amenemhet I built a fortress in the delta to guard against incursions from the east. He built similar structures in Nubia, a land to the south over which he was able to extend Egypt’s control. The independent nomarchs retained their status but recognized the central government under the king. “The Story of Sinuhe,” which was written during the Middle Kingdom, purportedly documents the travels of an Egyptian nobleman who apparently had to flee the country. It also implies that trouble existed within the palace to the extent that perhaps Amenemhet I was assassinated. Amenemhet’s successors managed to continue to control Nubia and maintained diplomatic relations with powers in Asia.

Amenemhet I began the practice of making his son a coregent, or joint ruler. As a result, his son, Senwosret I, who had become coregent in about 1971 bc, made a smooth transition to the throne in about 1962 bc. Literature and art flourished during this period, perhaps in part because of the relative peace and order that the kings of the 12th Dynasty maintained. Toward the end of the dynasty, Senwosret III finally completed the gradual process of bringing the once independent families of the nomarchs totally under royal control. The last ruler of the dynasty, Sobekneferu, was one of the few women to rule as king. During the 12th Dynasty the royal burial complexes were modeled on those of the Old Kingdom in concept, if not scale and precision. But they were no longer located at either Giza or Şaqqārah. Instead, they were situated farther south at sites such as Dahshur, Mazghuna, and Lisht.

The 13th Dynasty lasted about 150 years, beginning around 1783 bc. The transition seems to have been smooth, but the large number of recorded rulers, about 70, most of whom had brief reigns, indicates that there were problems. It may be that the bureaucracy that had served the 12th Dynasty so well became the source of rival royal families that could not sustain central power. Eventually the fortresses at the borders could not be maintained, and Nubia overtook the fortresses in the south. Immigrants from the Middle East began to occupy areas of the Nile Delta after 1800 bc. A rival dynasty, the 14th, established itself in the western delta.

The Second Intermediate Period began in around 1640 bc with the establishment of yet another competing dynasty, the 15th. That dynasty was not of Egyptian origin. The Egyptians referred to the Semitic peoples from Asia who established the dynasty as Heka-khasut, meaning “Rulers of Foreign Lands.” These peoples are often known as Hyksos, the Greek term based on that Egyptian phrase. The 15th Dynasty rapidly became dominant, eclipsing the other two, but another rival and related dynasty, the 16th, emerged at the same time. The Hyksos controlled the north from their delta capital of Avaris. They soon made a strategic alliance with the kingdom of Kush in Nubia. The 17th Dynasty, centered in Thebes, was a rival Egyptian line of kings. Eventually the Egyptians rose up to expel the foreigners. The last two rulers of the 17th Dynasty, Seqenenre-Tao and Kamose, paved the way for Kamose’s brother Ahmose to triumph over the Hyksos and their Nubian allies, thus ushering in a new dynasty—the 18th—and the New Kingdom.



New Kingdom, Third Intermediate Period, and Late Period

The first king of the 18th Dynasty, Ahmose I, completed the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt, which his brother Kamose had begun. Once again, the south united a fractured land, giving rise to the New Kingdom (about 1550-1070 bc). During Ahmose’s reign, which lasted from about 1550 to 1525 bc, the central government was reestablished, the economy improved, and Egypt’s borders were extended to the south and east. His reign set the stage for the continuing expansionist activities of the kings who followed. During the 18th Dynasty, Egyptians began using the term pharaoh (literally “great house,” a reference to the palace) to refer to their king. At its zenith, Egypt under the 18th Dynasty controlled an area that extended south into what is now Sudan and east into the Middle East. Much of this imperial expansion is credited to Thutmose III, the dynasty’s fifth king, who extended Egyptian control farther than had any other ruler. Thutmose III began his reign as a coregent in 1479 bc but ruled alone after the death of Hatshepsut, his stepmother, who ruled from 1473 to 1458 bc. As a daughter of a pharaoh (Thutmose I) and the wife of one (Thutmose II), Hatshepsut took full control of the throne as the ruling pharaoh during her reign. The relationship between her and Thutmose III apparently was one of mutual coexistence. However, late in his reign as sole king, Thutmose III began removing Hatshepsut’s name and images from all painted or carved surfaces, thus expunging her memory for posterity.

Amenhotep III, the ninth king of the 18th Dynasty, had a long and fairly peaceful reign of almost 40 years (1391-1353 bc). It was marked by unprecedented wealth, cultural creativity, internal strength, and prominence in the ancient world. The king built a magnificent pleasure palace at Thebes, constructed and decorated huge temples throughout the land, and encouraged a flowering of the arts. The influence and power of the priesthood of Amun also increased in Egypt at this time, but the stature of the ruler remained supreme. In fact, Amenhotep III emphasized his own divinity with a focus on divine birth, as seen in reliefs on the walls of Luxor Temple (portions of which he built) at Thebes and in statues bearing his divine name.

Amenhotep IV, the son and successor of Amenhotep III, reigned for less than 20 years (1353-1335 bc). However, his reign represented a focal point in history. He introduced the concept of a single supreme deity, Aton (Aten), the disk of the sun, radically changing the belief systems that had been in place in Egypt for more than 1,000 years. The somewhat monotheistic religion that he developed was the first yet known. In addition, there are indications that the new religion focused even more on the divinity of the king than ever before. Along with the religious changes came modifications in other areas, such as art, language, and architecture. Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaton (“The one who is beneficial to Aton”). He abandoned Thebes and built a new capital at Akhetaton, between Thebes and Memphis. The new capital had innovative plans and structures. For example, temples had no roofs, to let the sunlight in. The art used to decorate its walls displayed a more natural style, and texts composed there used a unique hybrid grammar. Akhenaton's revolution, sometimes known as the Amarna period (after the site of modern excavations of Akhetaton), was short-lived, however, and his successors quickly restored the traditional beliefs. Tutankhamun, who some scholars think may have been the king’s son by a minor wife, married the princess Ankhesenamun and succeeded to the throne. He is known to history not so much for reestablishing order after this chaotic period as for the discovery of his nearly intact tomb, filled with magnificent treasures.

The last pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, Horemheb, was a general under his predecessors. He reigned from 1319 to 1307 bc and set the precedent for the military pharaohs who ruled during the 19th Dynasty, which lasted from 1307 to 1196 bc. The ability to command troops became critical for Egypt’s survival, since rival powers in Asia and elsewhere created difficulties in the coming years. Ramses II, the third king of the 19th Dynasty, ruled for about 67 years, from 1290 to 1224 bc. He battled the Hittites from Asia Minor. The conflict, which at best was a draw, resulted in the first recorded peace treaty. Ramses III, of the 20th Dynasty, was the last of the military pharaohs. He ruled from 1194 to 1163 bc. He had to contend with incursions by both the Libyans from the west and invaders from the Aegean region, known as the Sea Peoples. The remaining kings of the 20th Dynasty were less able to maintain Egypt’s place in the ancient world. During their reigns, as well as those of the kings of the 21st Dynasty, Egypt’s position was eclipsed.

During this period of decline, internal problems arose in the form of a struggle for power between the pharaoh and the priesthood. By the beginning of the 21st Dynasty in 1070 bc, Egypt was in another period of transition, the Third Intermediate Period, which lasted until 712 bc. Rival centers were established. Smendes, the first king of the 21st Dynasty, ruled only in the north near Memphis, while a line of high priests at Thebes controlled the south. The 22nd Dynasty (945-712 bc), centered at Bubastis in the western delta, clearly reflected an earlier Libyan presence in Egypt. Its first king, Sheshonk I, who ruled from 945 to 924 bc, even bore the title of Great Chief of the Meshwesh Libyans. Sheshonk I and his successors were able to reunite the country internally, but rival factions arose again with the 23rd Dynasty (828-725 bc). At the same time, the kingdom of Kush in Nubia had been gaining strength, wealth, and power. Soon it controlled much of Egypt, and the Kushites established the 25th Dynasty (770-657 bc). In the north, the 24th Dynasty (724-712 bc) ruled at Sais in the western delta, but it survived for only 12 years.

War with the Assyrians brought about the end of Nubian domination (see Assyria). In the 7th century bc, Psamtik I, ruling at first from Sais, reunited the land in 664 bc, ushering in the 26th Dynasty and the Late Period. His reign and those of his successors brought a revival of the traditions of the past and the recapturing of some of Egypt’s former reputation. Unfortunately, the respite lasted only a short time, for in 525 bc the Persians occupied the country (see Persia). The Persian kings were regarded as the 27th Dynasty. The Egyptians were able to regain control in 404 bc, but their last native dynasties ruled under conditions of internal discord and continual external conflicts. The Persians regained control of Egypt in 343 bc. Then, just 11 years later, in 332 bc, Macedonian king Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and annexed it to his Hellenistic empire. When he died in 323 bc, his friend and general Ptolemy became satrap, or governor, of Egypt. In 305 bc he took the title of king of Egypt, thus founding the Ptolemaic dynasty of pharaohs. This line of Hellenistic rulers held power for almost 300 years. Cleopatra VII, the last of them, committed suicide after the Romans defeated her forces at the Battle of Actium in 31 bc. The next year, Egypt was made part of the Roman Empire. For the history of Egypt since the Roman conquest, See also Egypt: History.








The population of ancient Egypt varied greatly during its history. Some scholars estimate that only a few hundred thousand people lived in Egypt during the Predynastic period (about 5000-3000 bc). Others believe, based on archaeological evidence and reevaluations of how many people the floodplains could support at the time, that the area had a much higher population. In any case, the population had probably risen to close to 2 million during the Old Kingdom (about 2575-2134 bc). It increased during the Middle Kingdom (about 2040-1640 bc), and by the New Kingdom (about 1550-1070 bc) the population had grown to between 3 and 4 million. This figure almost doubled under Hellenistic rule (332-30 bc), with perhaps as many as 7 million people inhabiting the country at the time it was annexed to the Roman Empire.

Egypt’s increasing population could only have been sustained if the land and the economy could support it. As agricultural techniques became increasingly more efficient, the Egyptians developed systems to deal with fluctuations in the height of the annual flood of the Nile. Early on, they also learned the value of maintaining order both at home and externally, for peaceful conditions helped promote a good economy. Moreover, by the Middle Kingdom, they had learned to reclaim previously unused and unusable land for agricultural purposes. Each period brought growth in the populations of existing cities and the founding of new cities. As Egypt extended its borders and took control of external areas, populations began to shift. In the New Kingdom, captives, slaves, and immigrants entered the country. During the periods when foreign rulers controlled Egypt, such as the Second Intermediate Period (about 1640-1550 bc) and the Third Intermediate Period (1070-712 bc), people from those rulers’ home areas added to the growing melting pot in Egypt.

Egyptian society was confined almost exclusively to the Nile Valley and Delta. Most settlements were located on or close to the banks of the Nile. Since ancient Egypt was an agricultural society, its densest population was on the floodplains. Only a small fraction of the population lived in cities and towns. Major cities contained most of the urban population, and the ranks of major cities changed over time. Centers such as Memphis, Thebes, and certain provincial capitals, however, maintained their importance for extremely long periods of time. A major city generally had a densely populated center, and the density of population decreased as distance from the center increased.



Social Structure

For all their numbers and quality, the architectural monuments, statues, jewelry, and elaborate burial places of ancient Egypt reveal only a small part of Egyptian society. Much of what the early excavators uncovered and much of what appears in museums and popular publications today relates only to the ruling elite, the highest of several levels of society in ancient Egypt. Different social classes existed even in the earliest cities. Scholars who study mummies and their burials have noticed class differences in terms of the type and quantity of grave goods, the quality of a tomb’s construction and decoration, the technique of preservation used on the mummy, and the physical condition of the body. Some cemeteries had areas that were restricted for certain classes of burial. Apparently several levels of mummification existed. The way a mummy was preserved and wrapped, its age, the types of disease the person may have had, and the condition of the teeth also indicate the existence of different social strata.

Urban archaeology, or the examination of town sites, also establishes the existence of different social classes. The sizes of houses differed among the various classes. Some towns even zoned different areas for residential and commercial use.

For much of its existence, ancient Egyptian society probably had at least three social levels. Each of these had further subdivisions. At the highest level were the royalty and high administrative officials. Within this level, but considered a bit lower, were the provincial nobility and officials. The second level, a sort of middle class, consisted of many lower-level members of the bureaucracy, certain priests, very high-ranking scribes, officers of the army, wealthy landowners, and exceptional artisans. The lowest class was the largest. In it were low-ranking bureaucrats, scribes, craftspeople, priests, and farmers. Within this level, but even lower, were servants, serfs, and laborers. Slaves, mostly captured enemies and their families, made up the lowest rung of the social ladder.

Class distinctions are also indicated in “The Satire on Trades,” a Middle Kingdom text that extols the roles and life of a scribe while eschewing most other professions. Since some offices were hereditary, it was difficult for individuals to be socially mobile, or to rise to a higher class. Nevertheless, biographical texts that the elite often had inscribed on the walls of their tomb chapels sometimes recount an individual’s rise in the administration during the course of a career.



Way of Life

In ancient Egypt the family was important. Its importance is demonstrated in part through the many references to the family in a variety of texts and documents, numerous depictions of it in statues and paintings, and the large number of familial relationships among the gods and goddesses. A representation of an elite family, with a father, a mother, and children, usually portrays the father as the largest figure, and therefore the most important. The mother, who is generally smaller, stands or sits beside him, and the two often embrace or hold hands. Children, if at all present, are much smaller and off to the side. Representations of royalty are more formal, depicting the pharaoh and his wife or, rarely, the pharaoh and his son. During the reign of Akhenaton, however, the pharaoh and his wife appear with their daughters.

As the head of the household, the father worked outside the home. His wife ran the domestic operations. In wealthy families, the wife’s authority extended over a staff of servants, while in poorer ones, she participated directly in chores such as preparing food and making clothes. In the lowest classes women sometimes worked outside the home, but depictions limit such work mainly to farm labor in the fields. The role of women as mothers was essential. Although unequal to men in other areas, in the eyes of the law, women were treated the same and could, for example, own property, conduct business, and file lawsuits.

Children were expected to care properly for and support their parents during old age. They were also responsible for giving their parents a proper burial and for maintaining a mortuary cult, both of which were considered necessary for ensuring the afterlife of their parents. Contact between the living and the dead took place through ancestor cults within the home and through visits to a funerary chapel. Apparently, it was believed that those in one domain could provide benefit or cause harm for those in the other, as illustrated in the “Letters to the Dead.” In such correspondence the living sought assistance from departed relatives for various problems and situations. (For more information about the Egyptians’ belief in the afterlife, see the Religion and the Afterlife section of this article.)

Pharaohs sometimes had more than one wife, a practice that was adopted apparently to guarantee an heir. However, one spouse was the general rule in ancient Egypt, at least in the earlier periods. Straying from a marriage was not condoned. By the time of the Old Kingdom, adultery was considered an impure act, and it became one of the few acceptable reasons for divorce. Couples who established households together generally remained together, and sometimes they had written contracts specifying particular financial arrangements. These contracts were similar in many ways to today’s prenuptial agreements.

The houses of the ancient Egyptians varied in style, shape, and size, depending on factors such as the wealth of the owner and the location of the house. Houses in cities tended to be smaller, taller, and more clustered together than were rural residences. The residences on the estates of the elite were large and might contain more than two dozen rooms. The dwellings of professionals or craftspeople in the same occupation were sometimes located in the same area in a city.

The Egyptians used many types of wooden furniture, including tables, chairs, stools, chests, and beds. They wore linen garments, woven from flax, and occasionally crafted some clothing from animal skins. They ate a variety of fruits (grapes, figs, and dates, for example), vegetables (tubers, leaves, and seeds), and grains (wheat and barley). Occasionally they also dined on fish, fowl, or game, and they drank water, beer, wine, and milk. For the most part they used pottery dishes and vessels, but wealthier people used ware made from stone, copper, bronze, gold, or—less commonly—silver. For sport, the ancient Egyptians apparently went fishing and hunted birds. They also enjoyed boating, listening to music, watching dance performances, and playing board games.



Education and Writing

Education and writing were interdependent in ancient Egypt. Literacy was the first step in attaining knowledge. However, reading and writing were limited to a small number of people, primarily the elite, the scribes, and those entering the upper levels of the bureaucracy. Children of royalty and the wealthy were educated at the palace. Children of other people learned in temple schools, through apprenticeships, or at home. Boys received a formal education, but girls had to learn to read and write at home.

Teachers were strict. The harshness of their methods can perhaps be inferred from the Egyptian verb seba, which means both “to teach” and “to beat.” Scribes learned first how to read, write, and compose letters. Those studying to become scribes had to recopy and memorize model letters as well as other types of texts, such as literary works. Some schoolboy copies with the instructor’s corrections of his pupil’s work still survive today. Instructional papyri (scrolls made of papyrus) in subjects such as mathematics and medicine have been discovered. All types of manuscripts tended to be stored in a “house of life,” a repository found in most temples. These repositories were somewhat similar to modern libraries.

Learned people in ancient Egypt studied mathematics and medicine. In mathematics they developed basic concepts in arithmetic and geometry. The ancient Egyptians understood the idea of fractions and knew how to add them. Egyptian scholars wrote some of the earliest known medical texts. These texts deal with topics such as internal medicine, surgery, pharmaceutical remedies, dentistry, and veterinary medicine.

Scribes were essential to all aspects of ancient Egyptian civilization. They kept all records and wrote all correspondence. They copied and edited all religious and literary texts. They even compiled economic reports.

The Egyptians used several scripts to record their language. Around 3300 to 3200 bc, a formal script known as hieroglyphs came into being. The word hieroglyphs comes from the Greek term hieroglyphikos, meaning “sacred carving.” In this script, symbols called glyphs were used originally to denote objects and concepts. Eventually the symbols came to represent primarily sounds. Hieroglyphs took the form of recognizable images drawn from the Egyptian environment. Some of the earliest examples of writing in Egypt appear to be names and also the number and origin of certain commodities. Generally, in the time of the pharaohs, the Egyptians used hieroglyphs to carve or paint monumental and religious texts on the walls of tombs, palaces, and temples, as well as on the surfaces of statues and stelae (carved stone slabs, sometimes painted wooden slabs). Hieroglyphs were the longest-lived system of writing, being used until the end of the 4th century ad.

A second script, called hieratic, was based on hieroglyphs but was simplified and more abbreviated. The hieratic script was adapted to the more rapid writing necessary to prepare letters and legal and administrative documents. For the most part, these documents were written in ink on papyri, as were literary, instructional, funerary, and mythological texts. The hieratic script was used until a more cursive script, called demotic, or “popular,” supplanted it in the 7th century bc. The demotic script was used at first to keep the more mundane records of daily life, but later it was used for everything, including monumental inscriptions. It survived hieroglyphs by a century. The last script the Egyptians developed was the Coptic alphabet, which dates to the early 2nd century ad. The term Coptic is derived from the Greek word for Egypt. Unlike its predecessors, which were partially alphabetical and recorded only the sounds of consonants, the Coptic script was a true alphabet and included vowels. It used the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet plus 6 additional characters derived from demotic for sounds that did not exist in Greek. See also Coptic Language; Egyptian Language.

The Egyptians created a calendar at a very early stage, based on their observations of the movements of the Sun and the stars. They used their calendar for many purposes, including the recording of historical events and royal decrees and the scheduling of festivals and other activities. Perhaps representing one of the first attempts at making a calendar are the remnants of stone circles from around 8000 bc in the southwestern corner of modern Egypt. These stone circles may have been used to map the movement of the heavenly bodies. The Egyptians probably created a calendar because it was so important for their survival to know when the Nile’s flood would come. They divided each day into 24 hours, 12 for the daytime and 12 for the night. A period of ten days made up a week, and one month included three such weeks, or 30 days. A year comprised 12 months and was divided into three seasons of four months each. To the 360 days of the 12 months in a year, the Egyptians added 5 more days, which they referred to as the birthdays of several gods. Thus, an Egyptian year totaled 365 days, remarkably close to the 365¼ days it takes the Earth to go around the Sun. There was no concept of leap year (accounting for the extra ¼ day a year), so the calendar fell behind by one day every four years.



Religion and the Afterlife

Excavations of ancient settlements have uncovered traces of religious practices and beliefs in Egypt from as early as 6000 bc. Some sites near the modern border between Egypt and Sudan include areas that were devoted to rituals and festivals, as well as sections for burials. Little is known about the early religious practices and beliefs. Graves of cattle have been found, indicating some degree of veneration of those animals. Human graves dating to Predynastic times include artifacts, weapons, vessels, and other materials. The inclusion of these objects in graves indicates a belief in some type of afterlife during which the items would be put to use.

By the time Egypt was unified, the early religious practices had developed into a formal religion involving the worship of many gods and goddesses. The environment played a significant role in shaping the nature of the deities the Egyptians worshiped. Their gods and goddesses took the form of humans, animals, or combinations of humans and animals. These forms represented the forces of nature and the elements of the Egyptians’ physical world. By picturing the natural powers as recognizable entities and creating mythological stories about them, the Egyptians tried to reach an understanding of the complicated interactions within their universe.

The deities of ancient Egypt can be organized into several groups, but the boundaries are not fixed, and some deities may belong to several groups. Some of the divinities associated with aspects of the Sun were Ra, Horus, Atum, and Khepri. Those identified with the Moon were Thoth and Khonsu. Geb was associated with the Earth. Nut was the goddess of the sky. Shu and Tefnut were identified with the air and moisture. Osiris and Isis were the rulers of the underworld. Many of these deities were also part of myths of creation, of which there are several versions. Each story has a primary deity, such as Amun, Ptah, Atum, or Khnum, as well as several lesser divinities. Amon and Ra became combined into a composite form, Amon-Ra. As king of the gods, Amon-Ra was revered on a national basis. A few other deities also attained this status. Most, however, had a local origin and were worshiped only in the provincial area where they originated. The concept of order and balance, Maat, had as its counterpart Seth, who personified chaos and disorder. A large group, including Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, Selket, Anubis, and Thoth, fell into the class of funerary deities, who figured prominently in funerary rituals. In addition, on a more individual level, there were local, personal, and household gods, and even patron deities for certain professions. Deities of foreign origin were sometimes included among the Egyptian gods. See also Egyptian Mythology.

Statues and other images of the deities represented the abstract powers of the gods in concrete form. The ancient Egyptians believed that their gods occasionally resided in the statues. They maintained that the essence of a god could inhabit a statue and then a ritual could complete the process of animating the image. Such a ritual would include recitation of sacred text and all sorts of attention paid to the statue, such as cleansing, dressing, feeding, and anointing.

In the temple the king was in theory the high priest. In practice, his participation in temple rituals occurred primarily on specific festivals, while the priests performed the daily obligations at other times. Ordinary people had immediate access to their personal gods, but they could not enter the temple at will. However, many Egyptians served as lay priests in the temple when they were not working in the fields. During their service as lay priests, they could enter certain areas of the temple. On some holidays, such as the Feast of the Valley, a portable shrine housing the image of a deity was paraded around outside the confines of the temple at Thebes. The people could then express their piety.

Religion permeated life in ancient Egypt. Many of the daily activities of the people related in some way to their beliefs. The afterlife and preparations for it are a good example. To achieve eternal life after death, an individual had to do many things while he or she existed in this world. One of the most important was to live a just and moral life. In addition, some practical preparations were necessary, including making and furnishing a tomb, providing appropriate tomb decorations and texts, and establishing a mortuary cult to guarantee perpetual care and offerings. After death, the individual had to be carefully preserved as a mummy. Mummification was a process performed by an embalmer, who would carefully remove the internal organs, subject the body to different ointments and resins, dry it out with salts, and then wrap it with linen. Amulets, or charms, were often interspersed among the layers of linen, and other amulets might be placed in the coffin along with the mummy. Magical texts were sometimes written on the wrappings themselves, and they could also be written on papyri or inscribed on the walls of the coffin or of the tomb. These texts served as protection and as a guide for the deceased on the way to and in the afterlife.




The ancient Egyptians produced a large body of creative works in areas such as music, literature, painting, sculpture, drama, and architecture. Often the purpose of their artistic output was not recreation or cultural enrichment, but the communication of some sort of message or theme. See also Egyptian Art and Architecture.

Religion, which was extremely important in Egyptian thought, society, and life, had a great influence on the arts. For example, biographical texts that appear on the walls of funerary chapels make up an interesting body of literature. Their main purpose was to reaffirm the accomplishments and moral character of the deceased, so that he or she would pass successfully to the afterlife. On another level, these texts indirectly provide information about the activities of the pharaoh, since they often refer to the deceased's role in relation to the ruler.

Paintings, carvings, and other representations of figures in two dimensions appear on the walls of temples, tombs, coffins, and sarcophagi, as well as on papyri, textiles, and cartonnage (form-fitting coffins made of a papier-mâché-like substance). By convention, the artists portrayed the most characteristic features of the individual in one harmonious image. The resulting representations could then function on many levels simultaneously. For example, the typical depiction of a tomb owner was meant to portray that individual outside the limits of both time and space—an image for eternity. This representation might also relate to the hieroglyphs that accompany it, and it may even be an integral part of the text.

Sculptures served a variety of purposes. Carved statues of deities were worshiped in temples. The actual worship took place after appropriate rituals were completed. The rituals were believed to animate the image and insure that the deity had taken up residence in the statue. Statues of royal persons and ordinary people were also produced. The ancient Egyptians believed that these statues, too, could serve occasionally as residences for the personality of the individual after death. Sometimes, such a figure represented the final hieroglyph of the individual's name, which would be carved on the side or base of the statue. The ancient Egyptians also placed statues of themselves in temples as a demonstration of their piety. They also put figurines in human form, called shabtis, in tombs to be substitutes for the tomb owner when he or she was called to perform labor in the afterlife. Other statues placed in tombs were meant to be residences for an aspect of the deceased's personality in case of damage to the mummy.

The pyramids are the best-known examples of Egyptian architecture. These huge tombs have four triangular sides that meet in a point at the top. To the ancient Egyptians they might have represented the primeval mound that was the origin of life in their creation myths or they might have represented the solidified rays of the Sun. The Egyptians built more than 100 pyramids as final resting places for their rulers.

Egyptian temples were rectangular in shape and intended to be oriented in an east-west direction, that is, in line with the rising and setting of the Sun. In temple architecture, a huge gateway called a pylon stood at the entrance to the temple area and led into an open court. The pylon often took the form of the hieroglyph for the word horizon, a character in which the disk of the sun appears over a design representing the physical horizon. When the Sun rose in the morning and passed over the entrance to the temple, the resulting image reproduced the hieroglyph, symbolizing that the gateway was indeed the horizon. To the Egyptians, the temple, a structure built by humans, could be a cosmic environment fit for the gods.

Carved and brightly painted scenes adorned the walls of temples and tombs. Some of the representations showed the interaction of the kings and gods. Others depicted symbolic scenes that related to the cosmos or the afterlife. Painted decoration was also used on household items such as pottery vessels and furniture, and it was often applied to the interior walls of houses.

The ancient Egyptians wrote various kinds of literature. These included epic stories about wandering heroes, tales of pharaohs and magicians, wisdom literature that advised proper behavior (selections from which are the ancestors of some biblical proverbs), and comic stories about their deities. They wrote political propaganda, satire, and what may have been the world's first fairy tale. They also crafted love poetry that is beautifully evocative and meant to express the feelings of two individuals toward each other. Their dramas were primarily associated with religious literature and rituals. Performances apparently accompanied some burials. In addition, performers reenacted, in the temple, battles between the gods Horus and Seth that related to the royal succession.

No written music survives from ancient Egypt, but musical instruments were included in several burials, and musicians accompanying ritual dancers are often depicted on the walls of tombs and some temples. Some scenes of musicians and dancers represent entertainment at parties, while others portray religious activity. Musical instruments used in ancient Egypt include trumpets, flutes, harps, and various percussion instruments.

Many types of artifacts from ancient Egypt were not created for religious purposes. For example, in the category of minor arts, the Egyptians manufactured exquisite jewelry, cosmetic dishes, utensils, dishes, containers, furniture, and other objects. The beauty of these items seems to have been dictated by the ability of the artisan and the desire and perhaps wealth of the purchaser. Faience, an inexpensive nonclay ceramic material with a glaze made from quartz, was used in pottery, tiles, jewelry, and amulets.

Works of art were generally unsigned, but the names of particular artists are known because many texts record a title, such as line draftsman (one who draws the outlines of images to be painted or sculpted), sculptor, architect, or musician, before the name of a particular person. Two of the most important architects known are Imhotep, who designed Djoser's Step Pyramid, and Senenmut, who conceived the mortuary temple for the female pharaoh Hatshepsut. The royal temples, palaces, and tombs were state-sponsored projects involving several hundred anonymous artisans. Carving the reliefs on the walls of most structures was apparently a group effort, but certain areas of the decoration may reveal the distinctive style of a particular artist. The royal workshops often set the standards for statues, reliefs, and paintings created for others among the elite.




In ancient Egypt, the king was the supreme ruler of the country and was also the highest-level spiritual leader, representing humankind’s link to the gods. Under him in the government were the vizier, or chief minister, and many bureaucratic officials. Below him in the religious leadership were the high priest, other priests, and the lower ranks of the temple bureaucracy.

The Egyptian kings realized early on that they had to organize an efficient system of government. It was clear that first and foremost they had to create an administration to oversee and control activity associated with the annual flood of the Nile. The system had to be under royal control in order to guarantee the fair and proper distribution of the water and fertile land. This royal direction set the standard for other enterprises and industries. With such a system of administration in place, the king could also plan, implement, and complete state-sponsored building projects, such as the national temples and royal burial complexes. He could arrange for and undertake expeditions, for military purposes and for mining, quarrying, and trade, to countries at or beyond Egypt's borders. Without proper control of an ever-increasing bureaucracy or with poor management at any level of the system, problems could develop quickly. For example, papyri record work stoppages and laborer complaints resulting from inadequate food rations and clothing distribution.

The king was the commander in chief of Egypt’s army and navy, and he decided when and how the country's borders were to be protected or expanded. Texts record both naval and land battles. Often, several divisions of troops composed of infantry, archers, and cavalry participated in battles. A hierarchy existed within the ranks. It consisted of different levels of officers and administrators for the different units of soldiers and sailors. At certain times the Egyptians hired mercenaries, or warriors who were recruited for pay, from outside the borders of Egypt.

Among the domains that the government managed were the economy, the administration, both religious (the temples) and nonreligious (secular), and the adjudication of many types of disputes and other legal issues. At the head of each division was a high official, under whom were middle-level and low-level officials. Each department ultimately answered to the king.

Ordinarily, the office of king passed from father to son. On occasion, this rule was broken, as when no male heir survived. For example, in 1319 bc, at the end of the 18th Dynasty, a nonroyal general, Horemheb, became pharaoh, as the king came to be called during the 18th Dynasty. Another military figure, Ramses I, also not of royal blood, succeeded him to the throne and began the 19th Dynasty. Rarely did a woman rule, but as the 6th, 12th, and 19th dynasties ended, a female ruler took control as sole monarch. The female pharaoh Hatshepsut, of the 18th Dynasty, came to the throne in a different manner. Not long after her husband, Thutmose II, died in 1479 bc, she proclaimed herself pharaoh and ruled as senior monarch with Thutmose III, the designated male heir (and son of a minor royal wife), as her junior partner.

The Egyptians believed that the office of king was divine. They considered the reigning king a god, by virtue of his coronation and related rituals of office. At his death, his burial and the associated ceremonies ensured that he would remain a god forever and would be identified with both Re, the sun god, and Osiris, the ruler of the realm of the dead. As the ruling monarch, the king was identified with the god Horus, a sky deity believed to be the son of Osiris, who avenged Osiris’s murder and then succeeded him to the throne. He was referred to as the Lord of the Two Lands and the King of Upper and Lower Egypt. (Lower Egypt referred to the Nile Delta area, while Upper Egypt referred to the Nile Valley to the south.) In inscribed, painted, and carved texts, these titles often come before the king's coronation name, one of the five names he possessed. Another of his names was his personal name, which generally followed his coronation name. These two names appear enclosed within an oval “rope,” known today as a cartouche. The other three names conferred on a pharaoh related to his divinity. The modern term pharaoh comes from the ancient Egyptian phrase per aa, which literally means "great house." Although it originally was a designation of the royal palace, it came to indicate the king himself beginning with the 18th Dynasty.

Under the king as head of state was the office of vizier, or chief minister. The vizier ran all aspects of the government on behalf of the king. He controlled the courts, the treasury, and the administration. However, at any time the king could exert his own control over any aspect of government. It is uncertain whether more than one vizier held office at a time in the earlier periods, but later texts clearly indicate two official viziers, one for Upper Egypt and one for Lower Egypt. Government officials could often rise in rank, as indicated in their tomb biographies, but many offices were hereditary. Lesser administrators controlled provincial areas now referred to as nomes, and these offices traditionally were passed on within families. While government service clearly occupied a major portion of the time of high officials, these men also administered their own land. In addition, many local administrators served part-time in the priesthood.




Ancient Egypt’s economy was based on agriculture, and the rich bounty of its farmers depended on the Nile. In addition, the river’s waters and marshes were a source of fish and fowl, important parts of the ancient Egyptians' diet. The fertile soil left by the Nile’s yearly receding floodwaters provided the means for growing a wide variety of grains, vegetables, and fruits. Two of the most important crops, emmer (a type of wheat) and barley, were used to make bread and beer, the staples of the diet. After the crops were harvested, the same fields served as grazing areas for herds of cattle, sheep, and other animals, which in turn served as sources of meat and dairy products.

Farming the fields, tending livestock, hunting wildlife, and similar agrarian activities were the main duties of the majority of Egypt's lower classes. These people used simple tools, such as hoes, sickles, threshers, winnowing fans, forks, and baskets. Laborers tilled the soil by their own efforts or used plows drawn by cattle or oxen. In addition to this agrarian work, the Egyptians developed associated industries, such as beer and wine making, textile production, leather tanning, woodworking, pottery making, and baking. A portion of the crops and animal products that the farmers produced served as the raw materials for some of these industries. A portion of all the goods produced was used for bartering in the marketplace, as there was no monetary system. Taxes consumed a large share of the total production.

Much of the land was under the control of the throne or the temple, but private ownership also existed. Farmers who did not own land could lease private land, working the fields and keeping part of what they produced. Because so much depended on the Nile’s annual flood, the Egyptians sought to control as much of it as they could by constructing dikes, maintaining high walls, and digging irrigation channels. They also developed a simple mechanism to lift small amounts of water out of the channels and onto the fields. That device, called a shadoof, consists of a bucket set at one end of a counterweighted pole. It is still used today.

Despite all their efforts to control the annual flood, the ancient Egyptians could not prevent problems. An inundation that was too high could result in damaging floodwaters. One that was too low might not provide sufficient water for irrigation.

The ancient Egyptians had other natural resources besides the Nile. The country was rich in a wide variety of minerals, which the people learned to exploit early. They mined gold and copper and established a metalworking industry that produced jewelry, vessels, statues, weapons, and tools, among other objects. They learned to make bronze in around 1500 bc, but evidence for iron smelting does not appear before the 6th century bc. They quarried many types of stone, including limestone, calcite, granite, and diorite. The stoneworkers used bronze tools and hard pounding stones in the quarrying process. Stone quarrying provided the raw material for architectural projects, statues, sarcophagi, and vessels. Minerals such as galena, natron, and feldspar were also mined, as were carnelian, malachite, amethyst, and other semiprecious gemstones. Some of these minerals were used for jewelry and decorative purposes, and others were used for cosmetic and funerary preparations. The demand for various types of wood for furniture, coffins, statues, and architectural components exceeded what was available in Egypt. As a result, wood, along with oils and certain manufactured items, was among the materials for which the Egyptians traded their emmer, gold, natron, produce, and other natural resources. The Egyptians carried on trade with the Nubians and with many of the peoples of southwestern Asia, including those of Canaan, Syria, and Mesopotamia.




As one of the world's earliest major and long-lived civilizations, ancient Egypt left a legacy of important innovations, discoveries, and contributions that have affected humankind over the millennia. The ancient Egyptian religion survived for thousands of years. Over that time, revisions were made to religious texts, the powers of certain gods waxed and waned, some deities were combined, and some even fell completely out of favor. Yet out of that ancient religion survived a basic belief in a good and moral life on earth as a major means of attaining an afterlife, a concept that is reflected in most modern religions. The brief period of religious reform associated with the pharaoh Akhenaton, known today as the Amarna period, introduced the world to a belief in a single god. Akhenaton's doctrines may have been the impetus for the monotheistic religion developed by the Hebrews that surfaced in the Middle East shortly thereafter. It, in turn, gave rise to Christianity.

Literacy may have been limited to a small percentage of the population, but the large quantity of written material that survives indicates the importance of the written word to the ancient Egyptians. Their hieroglyphs may well represent humankind's earliest attempt to write. The ancient Egyptians developed the use of writing on papyrus, the product of a native plant of the same name that they processed. Many of their documents were used for teaching purposes, and they produced manuals with model letters for apprentice scribes.

Some of the mathematical texts taught the finer points of arithmetic, geometry, and even word problems, and are not unlike modern primers. These and other texts indicate that the ancient Egyptians understood and could add fractions and could even find the area of a trapezoidal pyramid. Without the advanced mathematics they originated, the ancient Egyptians would not have been able to build the pyramids and other large structures.

Medical papyri taught physicians how to deal with both internal medicine and surgery, and there were texts devoted to pharmaceutical remedies, dental procedures, and veterinary medicine. These papyri represent some of the earliest known texts on these subjects.

Religious texts recorded and preserved the major tenets of Egyptian beliefs. Literary papyri cover a broad range of genres, from epics, love poetry, and wisdom literature (selections from which are the ancestors of some biblical proverbs) to political propaganda, satire, comic stories, and drama (perhaps the first recorded examples). What may have been the world's first fairy tale came from ancient Egypt. Oral communication helped spread the literature, and some myths appeared in later Roman stories. Collections of assorted texts were deposited in early examples of libraries, known as houses of life.

The ancient Greeks credited the Egyptians with many early discoveries in the fields of philosophy, art, and science. It is clear also that the Greeks benefited from and were influenced by the achievements of the Egyptians in sculpture and architecture. For example, early Greek statues of youths, called kouroi, are clearly modeled on Egyptian statuary, and Greek fluted columns are undeniably similar to columns constructed in Egypt centuries earlier. The association of certain Greek gods with Egyptian deities underscores the connection between the two civilizations. For example, Imhotep, the ancient Egyptian architect and sage who was deified (elevated to the rank of a god) long after his death, was associated primarily with medicine in the Hellenistic period and was often identified with Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine.

The influence of the ancient Egyptians is even seen today. The obelisk, an architectural feature of many temples, is still used, as can be seen in the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. Other features of Egyptian architecture, such as the temple pylon, figured relief, and columns, have been used in the last few centuries in the construction of structures such as museums, mausoleums, office buildings, and government buildings.

The ancient Egyptians were masters of the arts of stoneworking and metalworking and the production of faience and glass. Their products were used throughout the ancient world. Their understanding of astronomy was very advanced, and this knowledge was passed on to the generations that followed. Based on their observations of the Sun and the stars they developed a calendar. Eventually they produced a version of the zodiac.

Ancient Egypt and modern Egypt are separated by a long period of time, a different language, and distinct concepts and beliefs. Nevertheless, scholars have suggested that the roots of some Arabic folktales may stretch back to ancient Egypt. Some modern Egyptian phrases and proverbs may also have originated in the ancient language. Certain ancient religious concepts and imagery survive in the Coptic Church, a Christian church that still exists in Egypt today. These concepts and imagery include the Virgin suckling the infant Jesus, based on ancient Egyptian images of Isis and her son Horus; the crux ansata, a Coptic cross derived from the ankh, the ancient Egyptian word for life; and an association of the four evangelists with the four sons of Horus.




Interest in learning about ancient Egypt goes very far back in time, but serious research by scholars in a field of study known as Egyptology began only in more modern times. Scholars in the late 18th century realized that the monuments and the sites they came from had to be recorded properly in order to reconstruct the history and civilization of ancient Egypt. The decipherment of the ancient Egyptian language by Jean François Champollion in 1822 added to the sources of knowledge and created the field of Egyptian philology (study of written texts) and linguistics. Today, experts in a variety of specialized fields contribute to the study of Egyptology. They include archaeologists, art historians, philologists, medical and dental specialists, anthropologists, paleopathologists (scientists who study diseases in dead bodies from ancient times), paleobotanists (scientists who study the plant life of ancient times), computer specialists, geologists, and epigraphers (scholars who copy, study, and translate ancient inscriptions). Dating methods such as carbon dating, thermoluminescence, and dendrochronology (the study of tree rings) are used to determine the approximate age of objects. Some types of archaeology do not necessitate the excavation of entire areas to uncover sites. New noninvasive methods that use remote sensing devices can locate potential sites, pinpointing archaeological fixtures below the surface. Scientists today use sophisticated scans, computer imaging, X-ray analysis, bone studies, and DNA testing to learn about ancient diseases and nutrition. Conservators use the most up-to-date techniques to preserve monuments in the field and in museums. In the late 20th century, discoveries in the harbor of Alexandria opened the field to underwater archaeology. Photographic advances, such as the video recorder and digitizing camera, have also been used to record monuments and artifacts. Sophisticated computer programs have simplified the compiling of databases, have aided epigraphers, and have become invaluable in archaeological reconstructions and surveys. All of this information aids scholars in interpreting the messages left by the silent monuments of Egypt's past, and enables them to communicate the wonders of this once grand civilization to the rest of humankind.

Ancient Greece




Ancient Greece, the civilization that thrived around the Mediterranean Sea from the 3rd millennium to the 1st century bc, is known for advances in philosophy, architecture, drama, government, and science. The term “ancient Greece” refers to both where Greeks lived and how they lived long ago. Geographically, it indicates the heartland of Greek communities on the north coast and nearby islands of the Mediterranean Sea. Culturally, it refers to the ways ancient Greeks spoke, worshiped, understood the nature of the physical world, organized their governments, made their livings, entertained themselves, and related to others who were not Greek.

The most famous period of ancient Greek civilization is called the Classical Age, which lasted from about 480 to 323 bc. During this period, ancient Greeks reached their highest prosperity and produced amazing cultural accomplishments. Unlike most other peoples of the time, Greeks of the Classical Age usually were not ruled by kings. Greek communities treasured the freedom to govern themselves, although they argued about the best way to do that and often warred against each other. What Greek communities shared were their traditions of language, religion, customs, and international festivals, such as the ancient Olympic Games.

The city-states of ancient Greece fell to Roman conquerors in 146 bc. When Rome split in the 4th century ad, Greece became part of its eastern half, the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottomans in 1453.

Long after ancient Greece lost its political and military power, its cultural accomplishments deeply influenced thinkers, writers, and artists, especially those in ancient Rome, medieval Arabia, and Renaissance Europe. People worldwide still enjoy ancient Greek plays, study the ideas of ancient Greek philosophers, and incorporate elements of ancient Greek architecture into the designs of new buildings. Modern democratic nations owe their fundamental political principles to ancient Greece, where democracy originated. Because of the lasting influence of its ideas, ancient Greece is known as the cradle of Western civilization. In fact, Greeks invented the idea of the West as a distinct region; it was where they lived, west of the powerful civilizations of Egypt, Babylonia, and Phoenicia.




The heartland of ancient Greece consisted of the mountainous Balkan Peninsula and southern Italian Peninsula, as well as dozens of rugged islands in the northern Mediterranean region. Important settlements were located on the southern Balkan Peninsula; on the Peloponnesus, a large peninsula connected to the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula by the Isthmus (地峡) of Corinth; and on the large islands of Crete (Kríti), south of the Peloponnesus, and Sicily, south of the Italian Peninsula.

Mountains acted like walls separating communities. The Pindus Mountains, which run down the middle of the Balkan Peninsula, were the dominant range, with an average height of 2,650 m (8,700 ft) above sea level. The mountains were once heavily wooded, but early Greeks steadily deforested the slopes for fuel, housing, and ships. Most fields that were level enough for farming and raising animals were small, supporting communities of only a few hundred inhabitants. Some locations, such as Sicily and Thessaly, had broader plains that supported larger communities. A few cities, such as Athens, Corinth, and Syracuse, grew to have 100,000 or more inhabitants because they had more farmland, deposits of valuable natural resources, and excellent ports. Both the Italian and Balkan peninsulas have jagged coastlines.

The Mediterranean Sea, which connected Greeks with each other and with the rest of the world, includes the Aegean Sea, an arm that extends between the Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor, and the Ionian Sea, which lies between the Balkan and Italian peninsulas. In the world of the ancient Greeks, the seas were more efficient travel routes than roads, which were no more than dirt trails. Ships could go much faster and carry much more cargo than wagons bumping over rough terrain. Access to the sea was so important that most Greek communities were within 60 km (40 mi) of the coast. Cities that controlled good harbors grew prosperous from the trade that flowed to them and from the fees they could charge ship-owners and merchants. Eventually, ancient Greeks inhabited about 700 communities clustered around the Mediterranean Sea. The settlements reached from the Iberian Peninsula (now occupied mostly by Spain) in the west to the Mediterranean coast of the Middle East in the east, extending southward to the northern coast of Africa.




People probably first entered the Greek heartland about 50,000 years ago in the Stone Age. They wandered in from southwest Asia and from Africa, hunting herds of game animals. About 10,000 years ago, people in the Middle East began farming the land, and knowledge of this new technology slowly spread with migrants into ancient Greece. By 7000 bc, increasing numbers of people were migrating from Asia Minor to start new farming communities in the Greek heartland, eventually establishing large settlements on the Balkan Peninsula, the Aegean Islands, and the large island of Crete. These Stone Age peoples made their tools and weapons from stone, bone, leather, and wood. Their technological skills greatly accelerated around 3000 bc when they learned from Middle Eastern peoples how to work with metals and use the wheel for transport. The period from about 3000 to 1200 bc is known as the Greek Bronze Age because bronze, a mixture of copper and tin, was the most commonly used metal.



Minoan Period (2200?-1400? bc)

Settlers had begun sailing from Asia Minor to Crete about 6000 bc because the island offered large plains for farming and sheltered ports for fishing and sea trade. By 2200 bc, settlers had created a “palace society,” named for its several huge buildings that served as royal residences and administrative centers. Each palace was surrounded by many houses for ordinary people, but there were no defensive walls; smaller towns existed in the countryside. The palaces were probably independent, with no single ruler imposing unity over the island. This culture is named Minoan for King Minos, a legendary ruler in Greek mythology who kept a half-bull, half-human monster, the Minotaur, in a labyrinth in his palace at Knossos (Knosós). Formerly, scholars thought the Minoans were not related to the Greeks, but the most recent linguistic research on Cretan language indicates they were.

The Minoans were the first great culture of Aegean civilization. They mastered metallurgy (冶金术) and other technologies, and knew how to write. They decorated their buildings with brilliantly colored frescoes (壁画) and celebrated at lively festivals. Innovative agriculture and international trade brought Minoans prosperity rivaling that of their eastern neighbors, such as the Hittite Kingdom in Asia Minor. Farmers made their labor efficient by simultaneously growing olives, grapes, and grain, which each required intense work at different seasons. This combination of crops provided a healthy diet, which helped the population grow, and enabled the Minoans to produce olive oil and wine for trade. The rulers controlled the economy through a redistributive system, so called because farmers and craft workers sent their products to the palaces, which then redistributed goods according to what the rulers decided everyone needed.

Despite recurring earthquakes, the Minoans prospered until about 1400 bc. Their lack of an effective defense, however, made them vulnerable to Mycenaean attacks, probably over the control of Mediterranean trade routes.



Mycenaean Period (1550?-1000? bc)

The first culture of Aegean civilization on the Greek mainland is named Mycenaean for the palace at Mycenae on the Peloponnesus. Scholars call the Mycenaeans the “earliest Greeks” because they are the first people known to have spoken Greek.

Mycenaean culture developed later than Minoan. The ancestors of the Mycenaean people wandered onto the mainland from the north and the east from about 4000 to 2000 bc, mixing with the people already there, and by about 1400 bc the Mycenaeans had become very prosperous. Excavations of Mycenaean graves have revealed that they buried their dead with gold jewelry, bronze swords, and silver cups. Like the Minoans, the Mycenaeans lived in independent communities clustered around palaces and ruled by kings. The palace at Pílos (Pylos) on the west coast of the Peloponnesus boasted glorious wall paintings, storerooms of food, and a royal bathroom with a built-in tub and intricate plumbing. The Mycenaeans’ wealth also came from agriculture and international trade, and they had a redistributive economy. However, Mycenaeans differed significantly from Minoans in their religion and royal architecture. For example, unlike Minoans, they featured men much more prominently than women in religious leadership positions, and they built their palaces around megarons, soaring throne rooms with huge hearths (炉膛).

The Mycenaeans had a warrior culture that enabled them to conquer the Minoans by about 1400 bc, but the Mycenaeans’ eagerness to fight also contributed to their downfall. By 1200 bc Mycenaeans were warring with each other and embarking on overseas raids for treasure, riding into battle on expensive two-wheeled chariots. Although archaeological evidence is inconclusive, the destruction of the city of Troy in Asia Minor sometime between 1230 bc and 1180 bc may correspond to the legendary story of the Trojan War. The story, told centuries later by Homer in the Iliad, describes a famous battle in which a Greek army sacked and burned Troy. Egyptian and Hittite records show that foreign invasions by seafaring peoples became a plague beginning about 1200 bc. Many of these raiders were Mycenaeans displaced by war at home. The turmoil around the eastern Mediterranean continued until about 1000 bc and was so severe that it ended not only the Mycenaean culture but also the Hittite and Egyptian kingdoms. With the collapse of Mycenaean culture, Greeks also lost their knowledge of writing. Later Greeks thought that an invading force of Dorians, a group identified by their dialect of Greek, had toppled the Mycenaeans. However, modern archaeological evidence suggests that general civil war was the reason for the Mycenaeans’ collapse.



The Greek Dark Age (1000?-750? bc)

The wars caused Greece’s economy to collapse and its population to fall suddenly, which created poverty and political confusion that lasted for more than 200 years. This period traditionally is called the Greek Dark Age (1000?-750? bc), partly due to a lack of written evidence that limits our knowledge of it, but also due to the harsh living conditions then. Greeks had lost the distinguishing marks of civilization: cities, great palaces and temples, a vigorous economy, and knowledge of writing. The Mycenaean kings were replaced by petty chiefs, who had limited power and wealth. Artists stopped drawing people and animals on pots, restricting their decoration to geometric designs. Archaeology shows that during the early Dark Age, Greeks cultivated much less land, had many fewer settlements, and did much less international trade than they had during the period of Aegean civilization. Settlements shrank to as few as 20 people.

Recovery took a long time. The earliest revivals of trading and agriculture occurred in a few locations about 900 bc. An innovation in metallurgy helped Greece escape its Dark Age. Fighting at the end of the Mycenaean period had interrupted the international trade in tin, which was needed to make bronze weapons and tools. To fill the gap, eastern Mediterranean metal workers invented a new technology to smelt iron ore. Greeks learned this skill from eastern traders and began mining their own iron ore, which was common in their heartland. Generally harder than bronze, iron eventually replaced it in most uses, especially for agricultural tools, swords, and spear points. The lower cost of iron implements meant more people could afford them. Plentiful tools helped increase food production and thus restore the population and prosperity. Technological innovation paved the way for the political and cultural innovations of the Archaic period.




The disappearance of Mycenaean kingdoms left a political vacuum in Greece. The poverty and depopulation of the Dark Age forced people to cooperate to defend themselves, and gradually Greeks formed the idea that political power also should be shared. By about 750 bc, Greeks had organized themselves into independent city-states (poleis). Centuries later, the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 bc) insisted that the forces of nature had created the city-state and that anyone who existed outside the community of a city-state must be either a beast or a god. Some modern historians argue that older cities ruled by monarchs (君主)on the island of Cyprus and in Phoenicia influenced Greek city-states. Regardless, Greeks developed a unique system.



The Archaic Age (750-480 bc)

The period from about 750 to 480 bc traditionally is called the Archaic Age because it was considered archaic, or old-fashioned, in comparison with the Classical Period that followed. However, Greeks during this period produced startling innovations: the self-governing city-state, imaginative types of art and architecture, and the poetry of Homer. Breaking the Mediterranean tradition of royal rule, Greeks struggled to create new kinds of political organization for their growing communities. The main goal was to avoid strong central political authority, although sometimes tyrants temporarily seized sole power of city-states. The Greeks tried to share rule, sometimes within a limited group (oligarchy寡头集团) and sometimes among the entire male population (a form of democracy). In a few areas, they also devised the league (ethnos)—a loose alliance of geographically separate, small groups who agreed to share laws and defense—as a new form of political organization.

The city-state was generally a form of shared social and political organization based on the concept of citizenship, which guaranteed a shared identity, rights, and responsibilities to a city-state’s free men and women. Citizenship sharply divided free men and women from slaves and foreigners. Citizenship made free men, regardless of their social status or wealth, political partners who shared equal privileges and duties under the rule of law. In some city-states, all free adult male citizens, including the poor, shared in government by voting in a political assembly, where laws and policies of the community were decided. Women also had a set of privileges and protections under the law, but equality did not extend to them, as they could not vote, and their sexual behavior and control of property were governed by stricter regulations than for men.

City-states typically consisted of an urban center with houses and public buildings surrounded by fields for farming and grazing. Citizens also lived in the countryside in villages or on farms. The most prosperous city-states controlled fine harbors, which brought revenues from trade and cultural interaction with others. Each city-state had centrally located temples to worship the particular gods protecting it, with the most important sanctuary (圣堂)located on the highest spot (acropolis). The urban center also featured an open gathering place (agora) for daily markets and conversation, and a defensive wall of stone and earth that protected the city. When enemies invaded, residents in the countryside took cover inside the walls of the city.

As the economy improved in the Archaic Age, the population grew rapidly, creating a shortage of good land and natural resources. The search for new farmland and metal ore drove Greeks to settle far from their homeland, sometimes living in others' settlements, sometimes establishing trading posts, and sometimes founding colonies as new city-states. By 500 bc, Greeks had founded numerous colonies in present-day southern France, Spain, southern Italy, North Africa, and along the coast of the Black Sea. Generally only men joined colonizing expeditions, often intermarrying with local peoples when they settled in new areas. New city-states were founded by all three traditional divisions of Greeks, distinguished by the different dialects of Greek they spoke: the Dorians, the Ionians, and the Aeolians.



The Classical Age (480-323 bc)




Athenian Empire (480-359 bc)

By 500 bc Sparta had become the most powerful city-state. It had the most fearsome army, which was composed of superbly disciplined hoplite fighters (infantry with bronze body armor, shields, spears, and swords who fought shoulder-to-shoulder in a block called a phalanx). A pair of kings shared power in Sparta with a council of elders in an oligarchy, which means “government by a few.” The large city-state of Athens had established an early form of democracy by 600 bc, but a prominent general, Pisistratus, seized power as a tyrant from 546 to 527 BC. His son Hippias succeeded him and ruled until Athenian leaders forced him to resign in 510 BC . Fearing the oligarchic Spartans would attack their recovering democracy, the Athenians sought protection from King Darius I of Persia. However, the Athenians soon abandoned their alliance with Darius to help Ionian Greeks on the coast of Asia Minor rebel from Persian control. The Athenians’ behavior sparked the Persian Wars (490-479 bc). The enormous Persian kingdom far outstripped the Greek city-states in every category of material resources, from money to soldiers.

In 490 bc Darius sent a fleet to capture Athens, expecting it to surrender. Instead, in the Battle of Marathon, outnumbered Athenian hoplites charged the Persian forces and to everyone’s astonishment drove them away. A messenger ran more than 32 km (20 mi) from Marathon to Athens to announce the news, a run memorialized in modern marathon races.

Darius’s son, Xerxes I, led an immense invasion of Greece in 480 bc to avenge the Marathon defeat. So huge was his army, the Greeks claimed, it required seven days and seven nights of continuous marching for it to cross a pontoon bridge (浮桥) between Asia Minor and mainland Greece. Some city-states in northern and central Greece surrendered, but Sparta led an alliance of 31 city-states against the Persians. A small detachment of Greek soldiers led by Spartan king Leonidas I gave their lives to temporarily block Xerxes’ army at a narrow pass called Thermopylae.

By the time the invading Persians reached Athens, the residents had evacuated (疏散), and the Persians burned an empty city. Athens was prepared to fight with its navy, built up from the earnings of a rich discovery of silver a few years before. The Athenian general Themistocles defeated the Persian navy in the Battle of Salamís by luring Persian ships into a narrow channel, where the Greeks’ heavier ships began to ram and sink them. In 479 bc the Greeks completed their triumph by defeating the Persian infantry at Plataea, relying on superior tactics and armor. This string of unexpected Greek victories in the Persian Wars preserved the Greeks’ independence and gave them so much self-confidence that they felt superior.

Athens and Sparta did not share the joy of victory for long. Athens used its wartime fleet to become an aggressive military power rivaling Sparta. Both sides acquired allies to strengthen their positions. Sparta maintained its alliance with other city-states on the Peloponnesus. Athens allied with city-states in northern Greece, the Aegean Islands, and the west coast of Asia Minor, which were most exposed to Persian retaliation (报复). Members of the Athens-led alliance, known today as the Delian League because its treasury was originally located on the island of Delos, swore a solemn oath never to desert the coalition (联合).

The Delian League brought Athens unprecedented power and income. In time, more and more league members found it easier to pay their dues (应付款) in cash rather than furnish their own warships and crews, and they let Athens build and man the league’s ships. Poorer Athenians welcomed this arrangement because it gave them paying jobs as oarsmen (Greek warships were rowed so they could ram other ships in battle). As naval strength became the city-state’s principal source of military might, oarsmen gained greater political influence in Athenian democracy. Since Sparta and its allies had far less naval power, they could not match Athens on the sea, where it gained money and goods by trading with other states or raiding them.

The Delian League became an Athenian empire as league members became more dependent on their lead city. Eventually, the allies had almost no navies of their own, and therefore they had no power to resist Athenian orders, Athenian demands for increased dues, or the ban on leaving the alliance. Athens’s demands of its allies generated resentment. From the Athenian point of view, however, the empire met its goals: expelling Persian garrisons (驻军) from the Aegean and supporting Athenian prosperity and culture with spoils (掠夺物) of war and with allies’ dues.

Pericles, an Athenian from a distinguished family, became the era’s leading politician in the 450s bc by promoting Athenian dominance within the Delian League and expansionist goals outside the league. He supported far-flung (远距离) naval expeditions to territories in Phoenicia and the Black Sea region and engaged the navy in a confrontation with Sparta, which were ventures that benefited his power base, the fleet’s oarsmen. Eventually, he overreached (弄巧成拙) by advising war on too many fronts at once while generating resistance among allies by making harsh demands of them. To devote its resources to maintaining the empire, Athens signed a peace treaty with Sparta, but the rivals continued to distrust each other.

In 431 bc tensions erupted when Athens pressured Corinth and Megara, crucial Spartan allies who were rivals with Athens for seagoing trade. Sparta came to the defense of its allies, and the fighting escalated into the Peloponnesian War (431-404 bc), named for the location of Sparta and most of the city-states allied with it. Sparta feared Athens would use its navy to cripple Spartan control over its allies. Pericles refused to let the Athenians yield to any Spartan demands for concessions (让步) because he believed Athens could exploit its superior wealth to win a long war.

Pericles’s strategy was to make periodic surprise naval raids on Spartan positions while retreating behind Athens’s walls whenever Sparta’s superior infantry attacked. The Athenians launched some successful attacks, but Pericles’s plan required sacrifice: the Athenians had to stay behind their city wall while Spartan troops ravaged Athens’s countryside. Pericles’s strategy might have worked except for a terrible epidemic that struck Athens’s population, packed inside its wall. The epidemic, which started in 430 bc, killed thousands over several years, including Pericles himself.

Without Pericles’s strong direction, leaders after him introduced increasingly risky strategies. Their harsh demands for money from Athens’s allies caused rebellions. Several times Athenian leaders refused Spartan offers for peace. In 415 bc Athens launched an overly ambitious campaign against Sparta’s allies in Sicily, far to the west, and the invasion force suffered a catastrophic defeat at Syracuse in 413 bc.

With Persian monetary support, Sparta built a navy and launched the final phase of the war by establishing an infantry base in Athenian territory for year-round raiding. Athens continued to fight for ten years, despite the devastation of its agriculture and the loss of income from its silver mines. Finally, in 404, incompetent Athenian admirals (舰队司令) lost the fleet and the war.

The war ended the Delian League, and Sparta installed a brutal puppet government in Athens. This puppet regime, called the Thirty Tyrants, was a group of Athenian oligarchs, organized into a council, who ruthlessly overturned democratic laws and institutions and executed opposition leaders. Rival Spartan leaders failed to support the Tyrants, however, and Athenian rebels restored democracy in Athens in 403 bc, less than a year after the Tyrants had been installed. Athens rebuilt its strength, competing with Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes for leadership. None was strong enough to dominate, however, and they drove each other to exhaustion by constant warfare in the first half of the 4th century bc. The interstate rivalry created dangerous instability in Greece.



Macedonian Supremacy (359-323 bc)

Two Macedonian kings, Philip II (ruled 359-336 bc) and his son Alexander the Great (ruled 336-323 bc), filled the power vacuum in Greece by turning their formerly weak kingdom into an international superpower. The mountainous kingdom of Macedonia, north of the central Greek heartland, eventually became the leader of Greece and conqueror of the Persian Empire.

Macedonia’s success sprang from a nationalistic pride and superior leadership. Macedonians spoke a separate language from Greek, and Macedonia never embraced the city-state form of government. Commoners in Macedonia did not consider themselves Greek, and most Greeks regarded their northern neighbors as barbarians. However, Macedonian nobles learned Greek and identified themselves as Greek. Macedonia emerged as a powerful force when Philip II equipped his infantry with 4-m-long (14-ft-long) thrusting spears. Fighting shoulder to shoulder in phalanx (方阵) formation, Philip’s army became a lethal (致命的) porcupine (箭猪) that could skewer (刺破) opposing troops before they could get close. Using diplomacy, bribery, and war, Philip forced the Greek city-states to acknowledge him as their leader in 338 bc. This change marked the end of the Greek city-states as independent actors in international politics, though they did remain the basic economic and social units of Greece.

Philip’s goal was to lead a united Macedonian and Greek army to conquer the Persian Empire as revenge for its invasion in 480 bc. Philip was murdered by a Macedonian noble in 336 bc (possibly as part of a palace plot), but Alexander, who succeeded him, continued to pursue his father’s goal. Alexander led the most astonishing military campaign in ancient history by conquering all the lands from present-day Turkey to Egypt to Afghanistan while still in his twenties. His greatness consisted of his ability to motivate his men to follow him into hostile, unknown regions. His feats made him think he was superhuman, and he demanded that the Greeks worship him as a god.

Alexander's goals were the conquest and administration of the known world and the exploration and colonization of new territory beyond. By including non-Macedonians in his administration and founding colonies of Greeks wherever he went, he brought the Greek and Middle Eastern worlds into closer contact than ever before in trade, shared scientific knowledge, and cultural traditions. When an illness killed him in 323 bc, however, he had no son to continue his empire and his generals tore it apart, each trying to secure his own power.




The Greek city-states tried to reclaim their independence when Alexander died, but his Macedonian generals proved too strong, although no general had the charisma (超凡魅力) or the strength to reunite the empire.



Hellenistic Greece (323-31 bc)

The Hellenistic (“Greek-like”希腊化) Period gets its name from the greater knowledge of Greek language and culture brought to the Middle East through Alexander’s conquests and from the kingdoms established by his generals after his death. Antigonus I (382?-301 bc) founded a kingdom including parts of Asia Minor, the Middle East, Macedonia, and Greece; Seleucus I (358?-281 bc) established rule over Babylonia and over land as far east as India; and Ptolemy I (367?-283? bc) took Egypt.

Referred to as "successor kings" (the Diadochi), these rulers had to create their own form of kingship because they did not inherit their positions legitimately. They were self-proclaimed monarchs with no special claim to any particular territory. They ruled with unlimited authority in theory, but in practice they needed the Greek city-states to support them with money and soldiers. Therefore, they usually let city-states keep their internal freedom so long as they followed the kings’ foreign policies. Whenever possible, the kings incorporated local traditions into their rule. For the Seleucids, this meant combining Macedonian with Middle Eastern royal customs; for the Ptolemaics, Macedonian with Egyptian. Still, Greeks and Macedonians ranked higher than the local populations, who became second-class subjects.

The kings frequently fought each other over territory. The Ptolemaic and Seleucid armies, for example, periodically engaged in a violent tug-of-war over the region along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean known as the Levant, which had been a crossroads of trade for thousands of years. These struggles left openings for smaller, regional kingdoms to establish themselves. The most famous was the kingdom of the Attalids in Asia Minor, which held power from about 250 to 133 bc, with the wealthy city of Pergamum as its capital. In Bactria, a region of Central Asia, Greek leaders broke from the Seleucid kingdom in about 250 bc and formed one of their own, which flourished on the trade in luxury goods between India and China and the Mediterranean world.

In the Hellenistic kingdoms, foreigners—kings and queens of Greek and Macedonian descent—had unrestricted rule over local populations. This kind of rule disturbed Greeks, who remembered their history of freedom. Therefore, in the 2nd century bc when the kingdoms had been weakened by war, some mainland Greeks appealed for help from the region’s growing superpower, Rome.

The Romans had already taken over the areas in Italy and the western Mediterranean where Greeks had lived for centuries and saw the appeal for help as a chance to increase their power further. They intervened against the kingdoms and told the Greeks they were once again free, but the Romans meant that the city-states were free to govern themselves so long as they did what Rome wanted. The Greeks rebelled and a Roman army destroyed the city of Corinth in 146 bc. Thereafter Roman governors presided over mainland Greece. Within about a hundred years, Rome conquered the remaining Hellenistic kingdoms and their Greek cities. Egypt, under Queen Cleopatra, was the last to fall, in 31 bc.



Roman Greece (31 bc-ad 395)

All the areas where Greeks lived were already Roman provinces by the time Augustus (63 bc-ad 14) established the Roman Empire in 27 bc. Greek cities generally retained their traditional political organization, while Roman colonies in mainland Greece founded by Augustus and his predecessor, Julius Caesar, mimicked the political system of Rome. Greeks resented the Romans, who taxed the Greeks and forced them to relocate from areas where Rome wished to establish colonies.

In time, however, Greece became reconciled to Roman rule. Emperors increasingly honored leading Greeks by choosing them for the Roman senate and presenting lavish gifts to the cities, such as a panhellenic festival created by the emperor Hadrian in ad 131. This attention increased tourism to Greece’s famous sites and religious shrines. Students from abroad flocked to its distinguished universities, especially in Athens. The peace created by the empire gave people more time for cultural activities, and Roman interest in Greek culture peaked in the 2nd century ad. Greek writers such as Plutarch and Lucian wrote new types of imaginative literature, including in-depth biography, social satire, and science fiction.

Greece’s reputation as a cultural center changed its economy. Many people moved from the country to the cities to work in the tourist industry. Places that attracted tourists prospered. The Greeks’ prosperity ended when civil war, earthquakes, and epidemic disease crippled the empire in the 3rd century ad. Germanic raiders, the Heruli, plundered Greece from 267 to 270, severely damaging Athens. The emperors Diocletian (ruled 284-305) and Constantine the Great (ruled 306-337) restored order, but the Roman Empire remained unstable. In 330 Constantine created a new capital for the Roman Empire. The new capital, named Constantinople, was built on the site of Byzantium (modern İstanbul), a Greek city reduced to a village in 195 after it had supported a failed rebellion.



Byzantine Greece (395-1453)

In 395 the Roman Empire split in two because protecting its vast territory against Germanic and Persian raiders became impossible for a single ruler. The dividing line fell between present-day Italy and mainland Greece. The Greeks in the west dwindled away, suffering along with their non-Greek neighbors as Germanic invaders gradually took over that part of the empire. In the eastern half, called the Byzantine Empire, Greeks maintained their language and culture. Christianity became their faith, after Constantine’s religious conversion in 312.

The Byzantine emperors found it difficult to defend mainland Greece. Around 395 the Visigoths under King Alaric I sacked Corinth, Árgos, and Sparta. Archaeology shows that the region recovered some prosperity in the 5th and 6th centuries, and the thriving population spent money to construct many churches. This interlude ended with Slav invasions beginning in 582. When these disorganized raiders settled in Greece, the economy faltered. There was not complete collapse, but the absence of copper coins and fine pottery in archaeological excavations shows that times were hard from the 7th century onward. Only a few cities remained strong, such as Pátrai (Patras) and Thessaloníki. Most communities withered as inhabitants withdrew in small bands to seek refuge in hilltop fortresses. Northerners continued to move in, adopting the cultural traditions they found in place. Romanized and Christianized, these newcomers joined the locals as part of the population of Byzantine Greece. Weakened by successive invasions by the Seljuk Turks and the Crusaders, and unable to muster a strong defense, the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottomans in 1453.




Five main forms of government existed in ancient Greece over the several thousand years of its history. The distinguishing factor among them was whether they depended on a strong central authority or on shared authority. Monarchy, chiefdom, and tyranny belong in the first category, oligarchy and democracy in the second.

Monarchs governed the Minoans and Mycenaeans. Sometimes called “princes” to indicate that they ruled a limited local territory instead of a widespread kingdom, these rulers combined political and religious functions. In addition to controlling defense, economics, and law, they also oversaw the worship of the gods. The rulers surrounded themselves with many servants and officials in their palace complexes. The monarchs lived more luxurious lives than their subjects because they controlled the surpluses produced by farmers and craft workers. The monarchs instituted minutely detailed accounting systems to keep track of everything under their control. They even had scribes record the number of broken chariot wheels in their storerooms.

Chiefdoms, the weakest form of central authority, prevailed during the Greek Dark Age. Chiefs had a higher status and more wealth than their followers, but could only govern successfully as long as their followers agreed to cooperate. Chiefdoms became unstable if followers became too ambitious. Chiefs tried to secure their leadership with displays of status, such as the imported Middle Eastern jewelry found in the grave of a chief and his wife who were buried about 950 bc on the island of Euboea (Évvoia).

Tyrants were sole rulers who took over city-states, generally during the Archaic or Classical periods, and established dynasties for their families. The most long-lived tyrannies existed in Corinth and city-states on Sicily, but even these tended to last no more than a couple of generations. The masses generally supported tyranny because tyrants benefited them with public employment, but the rich hated the system because it cost them power and money.

In city-states with an oligarchy, government was shared by a limited group of people (oligoi). Some oligarchic city-states had only a handful of leaders sharing authority; others had several hundred. Some city-states had an aristocracy (rule by the best, the aristoi), a type of oligarchy in which leaders were selected only from privileged families. The justification for oligarchy was that pure equality for citizens was morally inequitable because people were not the same. The idea was that some were more capable, more devoted, and more intelligent and thus deserved to rule the masses. The most famous oligarchic city-state was Sparta. It had a dual kingship and an assembly composed of all free men over 30, referred to as “equals,” but neither the kings nor the equals came to hold real power. The 28-member Council of Elders and five elected officials held the reins of government, drafting laws that the assembly was expected to approve without debate.

Democracy gave an equal vote to every man who was liable for military service. In the most famous democracy, Athens, this included every freeborn male over 18 years old. Athenian democracy shared authority by choosing most government officials from the citizenry through a lottery and imposing term limits. Only the most sensitive positions in military and financial affairs were filled by election. Various other city-states also had democracies, but little evidence exists about them.




Throughout its long history ancient Greece’s economy depended on agriculture and trade. Farmers worked small plots, rotating crops to try to preserve the land’s fertility and terracing rocky hillsides to create as much crop area as possible. Unpredictable rainfall posed the greatest hazard to successful farming. Farmers grew mostly barley and wheat, which were staple foods. The scarcity of good grazing land forced them to raise more small animals—such as sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens—than cattle. The best cash crops were grapes for wine and olives for oil, which were used in cooking and also as the base for soap and perfumes. Agricultural commodities were traded abroad. They were shipped in elongated clay storage jars called amphorae, which had spikes on the end for sticking them into a beach for loading and unloading.

Besides grain, oil, and wine, trade centered on natural resources such as metals and timber, luxury goods from jewels to spices, and craft products from painted vases to bronze mirrors. The Greeks traded ideas as well as goods across the water, acquiring an alphabet, architecture, and religious ideas from Egyptian and Middle Eastern civilizations such as Babylonia and Phoenicia. Traders plied the Mediterranean Sea from the Iberian Peninsula to Egypt looking for products that they could sell for high profits at home. Prized goods included such natural resources as iron for tools, silver for coinage, clay for pottery, marble for statues, and timber for houses and ships. These essential raw materials were relatively scarce, found only in isolated pockets. By the 6th century bc, Greeks in western Asia Minor had adopted the use of coins as money to make commerce easier between strangers, although barter never disappeared. Coinage gradually spread throughout the Mediterranean world as others realized the convenience of currency.

Most craft production took place in small shops employing a handful of workers. The largest known from the Classical period had 120 slaves manufacturing shields. Slaves worked side by side with owners and free laborers in craft shops and on farms. Paid labor was at least as important as slave labor in the Greek economy.




The distinguishing features of ancient Greek society were the division between free and slave, the differing roles of men and women, the relative lack of status distinctions based on birth, and the importance of religion. Most surviving evidence about ancient Greeks comes from the Classical and Hellenistic city-states, but the same general pattern seems to have been true of earlier Greek civilization. Athens and Sparta, which had different systems, are by far the best-known city-state societies. Despite the relatively huge scale of Athens compared with most city-states, its way of life was more common in the Greek world than was Sparta’s special system.



Social Structure

Only free people could be citizens entitled to the full protection of the law in a city-state. Compared with ancient Rome, Greece rarely linked social hierarchy (ranking people by importance) to political power. In most city-states, social prominence did not convey special legal or political rights. For example, being born into a distinguished family generally brought no special privileges. Sometimes particular families controlled public religious functions, such as the worship of an important god, but this monopoly ordinarily did not give its holders extra power in the government.

In Athens, the population was divided into four classes based on wealth, with some political offices reserved for members of the higher levels, although people could change classes if they made more money. In Sparta, all men carried the title of “equal” if they finished their education. However, the Spartan “kings,” who served as the state’s dual military and religious leaders, came from two families.

Slaves had no power or status. They had no right to a family of their own, could not own property, and had no legal or political rights. The Greek philosopher Aristotle referred to them as “living tools,” and no free Greek is known to have ever advocated the abolition of slavery. By 600 bc chattel slavery (treating slaves as property) had become widespread in Greece. By the 5th century bc slaves accounted for as much as one-third of the total population in some city-states. People became slaves after being captured in war or seized by raiders, who then sold them. Children born to slaves became slaves themselves. Greeks took many slaves from non-Greek populations, but they also enslaved other Greeks in war. Greek slaves outside Sparta almost never revolted on a large scale because they were of too many different nationalities and too scattered to organize.

Most families owned slaves as household servants and laborers; even relatively poor people might own one or two slaves. Owners could beat and kill their slaves without penalty. However, hurting good workers made no economic sense because the master would be harming part of his property. To encourage slaves to work hard, owners sometimes promised freedom at a future date. Unlike in Rome, freed slaves in Greece did not become citizens. Instead, former slaves mixed into the population of metics—non-citizens, including people from foreign lands or other states, officially allowed to live in a city-state.

City-states and gods also legally owned slaves (the gods’ slaves were generally managed by the gods’ earthly intermediaries, temple priests). These public slaves enjoyed a measure of independence, living on their own and performing specialized tasks. In Athens, for example, public slaves were trained to look for counterfeit coinage. Temple slaves worked as servants of the sanctuary’s deity. Sparta had a special category of slaves called helots, Greek war captives owned by the state but assigned to Spartan families. Helots raised food and performed household chores so that Spartan women could devote their time to raising strong children and men could devote their time to training as hoplite warriors. The helots lived harsh lives and often revolted. Spartans annually sent out a secret band of young men to murder any helots who looked likely to provoke rebellion.



Way of Life

The way of life in Greek city-states remained mostly the same for a long time. People in the urban center lived in low apartment buildings or single-family homes, depending on their wealth. Dwellings, public buildings, and temples were situated around the agora, where people gathered for conversation and to buy food and crafts at daily markets. Citizens also lived in small villages or farmhouses scattered around the city-state’s countryside. In Athens, more people lived outside the city’s wall than inside.

Houses were simple, containing bedrooms, storage rooms, and a kitchen around a small inner courtyard, but no bathrooms. Waste was dumped in a pit outside the door and then collected for disposal in the countryside. Most families were nuclear, meaning a household consisted of a single set of parents and their children, but generally no other relatives. Fathers were responsible for supporting the family by work or by investments in land and commerce. Mothers were responsible for managing the household’s supplies and overseeing the slaves, who fetched water in jugs from public fountains, cooked, cleaned, and looked after babies. Fathers kept a separate room for entertaining guests, because male visitors were not permitted in rooms where women and children spent most of their time. Wealthy men would frequently have friends over for a symposium, a dinner and drinking party. Light came from olive oil lamps, heat from smoky charcoal braziers. Furniture was simple and sparse, usually consisting of wooden chairs, tables, and beds.

Food was simple, too. The poor mainly ate barley porridge flavored with onions, vegetables, and a bit of cheese or olive oil. Few people ate meat regularly, except for the free distributions of roasted pieces from animal sacrifices at state festivals. Bakeries sold fresh bread daily, and small stands offered snacks. Wine diluted with water was the favorite beverage.

The style of Greek clothing changed little over time. Men and women both wore loose tunics, of somewhat different shapes to fit their body types. The tunics often had colorful designs and were worn cinched with a belt. In cold weather, people wore cloaks and hats, and leather boots replaced the sandals worn in warm temperatures. Women wore jewelry and cosmetics, especially powdered lead to give themselves a pale complexion. Men sported beards until Alexander the Great started a vogue for shaving.

Medicine was limited. Hippocrates, the most famous physician of ancient times, helped separate superstition from medical treatment in the 5th century bc. Doctors knew of herbal remedies to treat injuries and reduce pain, and they could do some surgery. But they had no cures for infections, and even well-conditioned people could die quickly from disease at any age.

Men kept fit by exercising daily to be ready for military service. Before mercenaries became common in the Hellenistic period, Greek armies consisted of citizen militias manned by ordinary citizens. Every city-state had at least one gymnasium, a combination exercise building, running track, bathing facility, lecture hall, and park, open only to males. Men who lived in the city went there for physical training, ball games, gambling, and relaxation. Women entertained themselves by visiting friends and attending public festivals.

City-state festivals provided the most exciting entertainment. Gods were honored with competitions in music, dance, drama, and poetry. Athens boasted of holding a festival nearly every other day. The huge Panhellenic festivals held at Olympia, Delphi, Nemea, and Isthmia attracted spectators and professional contestants from throughout the Greek world. Athletes and musicians who won competitions became rich and famous. The most spectacular and expensive competition was chariot racing, which required excellent horses.

Although only men had the right to participate in city-state politics, women were citizens legally, socially, and religiously. Female citizens could own property and could go to court over property disputes. Nonetheless, ancient Greek society was paternalistic, with men acting as “fathers” to regulate the lives of women and safeguard their interests (as defined by men). All women were expected to have male guardians to protect them physically and legally. Women's important religious duties included control over cults reserved exclusively for them and paid service as publicly supported priestesses. Teenage women generally married men in their 20s.

Sparta had a distinctive way of life designed to produce a vigorous military. There, girls could exercise in the open so they could become strong and bear healthy children. Boys left home at age seven to live in public barracks and to begin about 12 years of rigorous physical and moral training under the strict guidance of older men. To make them tough, boys were sometimes required to steal food if they wanted to eat, but they were beaten if they got caught. They were never allowed to talk back, even in the face of humiliating insults and jokes at their expense. When they married, they were not allowed to live with their brides until they turned 30. Any boy who failed the training lost his political rights and endured constant public humiliation.




Traditional Greek religion was pagan polytheism, meaning that it included many gods and other supernatural beings. Greeks inherited many of their ideas about the gods from the Middle East. Their basic belief remained constant: People must honor the gods to thank them for blessings received and to receive blessings in return.

Greeks considered the gods human-like in form and emotions. The gods did not love all human beings; rather, they protected and benefited people and states who paid them honor and avoided offending them. People pleased the gods by sacrificing animals and other foods, decorating their sanctuaries with art, offering prayers, and holding festivals. The gods became angry when people performed sacrifices improperly, violated the sanctity of a temple, or broke their sworn word. Greeks believed that angry gods inflicted punishments such as famine, earthquake, epidemics, or defeat in war.

Greeks also believed that the vast difference in power between people and gods made the divinities’ natures and purposes hard to understand, but traditional stories about the gods provided hints. Some people did not believe all the mythological tales of monsters and divine love affairs with mortals, but everyone respected the myths as lessons about the gods’ awesome might, their inscrutability, and the precariousness of human life. For more direct information people could go to oracles, temples where the gods were believed to answer questions or deliver cures by various means. The priests at an oracle relayed a god’s message, or the visitor could gain clues in a dream as to what the gods wanted. Seers at oracles told prophecies about the future. Pilgrims from beyond the Greek city-states flocked to major oracles, such as at Delphi, to ask for divine advice about marriage, children, money matters, and even foreign policy. The responses were always riddles, because gods were too complex to reply clearly to mere human beings.

As Greek religion evolved, 12 gods emerged as the most important. These gods were believed to assemble for banquets atop Mount Olympus, Greece’s highest peak. Their leader was Zeus, god of the sky. The other gods were Hera, Zeus’s wife and the goddess of marriage; Aphrodite, goddess of love; Apollo, god of the sun; Ares, god of war; Artemis, goddess of nature; Athena, goddess of wisdom and war; Demeter, goddess of grain and the harvest; Dionysus, god of wine and vegetation; Hephaestus, god of fire; Hermes, messenger of the gods; and Poseidon, god of the sea. (see Greek Mythology)

City-states built temples to honor the gods protecting their territory and people. Both Athens and Sparta honored Athena, but with different rituals and prayers. A temple was a house for a god and was not open to worshipers. Only priests and priestesses entered to take care of the god’s statue. The priests and priestesses were guardians only of ritual, not of correct religious thinking. Greek religion had no scripture or uniform set of beliefs and practices. Sacrifices of foods and animals, the main public religious activity, took place outside the front of the temple, where worshipers could gather to affirm their community’s ties to the divine.

Greek religion also had a personal aspect. Particularly important to individuals were so-called mystery cults. Through initiation into special knowledge provided by a god, worshipers could hope for protection in everyday life and a better chance of happiness in the afterlife. Otherwise, the dead could expect only miserable nothingness. The mystery cult of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, headquartered in the Athenian suburb of Eleusis, attracted initiates from all parts of the Greek-speaking world (see Eleusinian Mysteries). Initiates had to purify themselves of wrongdoing to win entry. This religious emphasis on right conduct became more pronounced in the Hellenistic period as eastern cults, such as that of the Egyptian goddess Isis, won Greek converts.

Christianity took root among Greeks after emerging from Palestine in the 1st century ad. The New Testament of the Bible was written in Greek, as was a great deal of later Christian literature. Since Christians frequently disagreed with one another about doctrine and ritual, the Byzantine emperors continually tried to enforce uniformity on believers, sometimes by force. The Hellenistic eastern church in Constantinople also developed bitter disputes with the popes in Rome, culminating in the Great Schism, the division of the Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholic Church in 1054.




Except at Sparta, education remained private for most of Greek history. During the Hellenistic period, some other city-states established public schools. Only wealthy families could afford to pay teachers. Their sons learned to read, write, and quote famous literature. They were taught to sing or play a musical instrument, and they trained for athletics and military service. Greek sons were studying not for jobs but to become effective citizens. Daughters of wealthy families learned to read, write, and do simple arithmetic so they could manage a household, but they rarely received education past childhood.

A small number of boys continued school beyond childhood. As teenagers, they studied philosophy as a guide to living a moral life, and rhetoric as a tool for making persuasive speeches in court and the political assembly. Especially in democracies of the Classical period, this training in persuasive public speaking was crucial for an ambitious young man. The better speeches a man gave, the more influence and status he could attain. A significant part of a wealthy teenager’s education involved a mentor relationship with an elder. The boy learned by observing his mentor talking politics in the agora, helping him perform his public duties, working out with him in a gymnasium, and attending symposia with him. Sometimes this led to an intimate physical relationship, which was socially acceptable in some city-states but not in others. The richest pupils continued their education at a university in a large city. These universities were organized by famous teachers. Athens had the best universities, including the Lyceum and the Academy.

Poorer children received no formal education. They learned a trade to help support their families and might learn to read and do some mathematics from their parents, enough to help them work as carpenters, stone masons, or merchants. Most poor people were illiterate, unable to do much more than sign their names. Difficulty in reading did not stop people from getting information. They would find someone to read aloud any writing they needed to understand. Greeks were very comfortable absorbing information by ear; even literate people usually read out loud. Greeks were very fond of songs, poems, speeches, stories, plays, and lively conversation, all of which formed part of an informal education.




Applying enormous creativity to the inspiration that they took from Egypt and the Middle East, Greek thinkers, artists, and authors produced brilliant works that remain famous to this day. Above all, Greeks were curious and open to innovation, so long as it did not threaten to anger the gods or cause social unrest. Artists in vase painting and sculpture and authors of literature introduced fascinating changes to traditional models.

Philosophy and science developed because the most powerful Greek thinkers were skeptical about appearances, insisting that hard work was needed to discover the underlying reasons for things in nature and people's real motives. They also thought there was beauty in the search for truth, whether moral or scientific. This belief encouraged them to persevere despite difficulties. Scientific investigation, for example, was limited by a lack of technology. Scientists and doctors could only wonder about things too small to see with the naked eye, and they could not do experiments that required measurements of very small amounts of time or distance. Therefore, they had no choice but to make ideas and theory more important than practical applications.



Philosophy and Science

The first Greek philosophers were interested in theoretical science. They lived in the Ionia region of western Asia Minor and learned from earlier Middle Eastern thinkers, especially those from Babylonia. The Greek philosophers Thales and Anaximander, who lived in the 6th century bc, reached the revolutionary conclusion that the physical world was governed by laws of nature, not by the whims of the gods. Pythagoras, who also lived in the 6th century bc, taught that numbers explained the world and started the study of mathematics in Greece. These philosophers called the universe cosmos, meaning “a beautiful thing,” because it had order based on scientific rules, not mythology. Therefore, the philosophers believed in logic. Their insistence that people produce evidence for their beliefs opened the way to modern science and philosophy.

Philosophers called Sophists upset many people in the 5th century bc by teaching relativism, the belief that there is no universal truth or right and wrong. The most famous Sophist was Protagoras, who said, “Man is the measure of all things.” Socrates (469-399 bc) insisted that the Sophists were wrong and that well-informed people would never do wrong on purpose. His pupil Plato (428-347 bc) became Greece's most famous philosopher. Plato’s complicated works argued universal truths did exist and that the human soul made the body unimportant. Plato founded an academy in Athens that remained in business until ad 529. His pupil Aristotle (384-322 bc) turned away from theoretical philosophy to teach about practical ethics, self-control, logic, and science. Alexander the Great (whom Aristotle once tutored) sent him information on plants and animals encountered on the march to India. Aristotle's works became so influential that they determined the course of Western scientific thought until modern times.

Hellenistic philosophers concentrated on ethics, helping people achieve tranquility in a period of change when things seemed out of their control. In the 3rd century bc, Epicurus taught that people should not be afraid because everything, including our bodies, consists of microscopic atoms that dissolve painlessly at death. Zeno of Citium, who also lived in the 3rd century bc, founded Stoicism, which taught that life was ruled by fate but that people should still live morally to be in harmony with nature.

The Golden Age of Greek science came in the Hellenistic period, with the greatest advances in mathematics. The geometry theories published by Euclid about 300 bc still endure. Archimedes (287-212 bc) calculated the value of pi (the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter) and invented fluid mechanics. Aristarchus, early in the 3rd century bc, argued that the earth revolved around the sun, while Eratosthenes accurately calculated the circumference of the earth. Also in the 3rd century bc, Ctesibius invented machines operated by air and water pressure; Hero later built a rotating sphere powered by steam. These inventions did not lead to practical uses because the technology did not yet exist to produce the pipes, fittings, and screws needed to build powerful machines. Military technology vaulted ahead with the invention of huge catapults and wheeled towers to batter down city walls. Finally, medical scientists made many discoveries, such as the significance of the pulse and the nervous system.



Sculpture, Pottery, and Architecture

Greek sculpture and architecture originally followed Egyptian and Middle Eastern models. Statues of the Archaic Period stood stiffly, staring forward, and temples were rectangular boxes on platforms with columns. Later architecture retained this basic plan, although buildings became much bigger. The style of sculpture and pottery, however, changed dramatically over time.

Sculpture was always painted in bright colors, but over time its poses became more lively and lifelike. By the Classical period, Greeks were carving statues in motion and in more relaxed stances. Their spirited movement and calm expressions suggested the era's confident energy. Statues of gods could be 12 m (40 ft) high and covered with gold and ivory, such as Phidias's Athena in the Parthenon temple at Athens. The female nude became popular. Praxiteles's naked Aphrodite of Cnidus became so renowned that the king of Bithynia offered to pay off the city's entire public debt if he could have the statue. Cnidus refused.

Hellenistic artists began showing emotion in their statues. A 3rd-century bc sculpture from Pergamum showed a defeated Gaul escaping slavery by stabbing himself after having killed his wife. New subjects departed from traditional notions of beauty by representing drunkards, battered boxers, and elderly people with wrinkles.

Greeks painted pottery and turned an everyday item into art. Mycenaean vases featured lively designs of sea creatures and dizzying whorls. Dark Age potters stopped drawing animals, using only geometric patterns. Artists of the Archaic Age, inspired by Middle Eastern pots, reintroduced beasts and people on Greek vases. From then on, vase painters portrayed mythological and everyday scenes with increasing realism. When they switched in the late 6th century bc from black on red painting to red on black, they could add tiny details that made their pictures come alive.

Greek large-scale architecture began with the Minoan and Mycenaean palaces. These multistory buildings had many rooms centered around courtyards. Balconies provided space for viewing festivals in the open areas below. Architects in the later city-states designed public structures, such as stoas, government buildings, and temples. Stoas were sheltered walkways placed around the agora to provide shade for conversation. Temples were the largest buildings in the city-state. Athens's Parthenon became Greece's most famous building for its size, many columns, and elaborate sculptural decoration. Hellenistic kings outdid the Athenians by erecting huge temples. The temple of Artemis at Ephesus is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. See also Greek Art and Architecture.



Literature and Dramas

Greek literature began in the Mycenaean Period as stories told aloud. Mycenaeans used their pictorial script (Linear B) only for accounting. Fighting from 1200 to 1000 bc destroyed Greek knowledge of writing, until they adopted an alphabet from Phoenicia in the 8th century bc to record the exciting poetry of Homer. His epics The Iliad and The Odyssey became Greece's most famous literature. The epics told about the Trojan War and the suffering it caused its heroes and its victims. People loved the stories for their fabulous descriptions of action and for their lessons about the effects of anger and mercy. Hesiod, a poet of the 8th century bc, also became a lasting favorite with his long stories of how the world began and how justice was the proper guide for life in business and farming. Somewhat later, lyric poets spun short tales of passion and emotion that people loved to sing.

Great literary innovations in drama were produced in Athens in the 5th century bc. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were the most famous authors of tragedies. They based their plays on myths that presented moral issues, especially the danger of hubris (arrogant overconfidence). Their plots often involved fierce conflicts in families or dangerous interactions between gods and humans. The story of Oedipus, who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother, was one of the most famous tragedies. See also Greek Literature.

Plays were performed outdoors at festivals honoring the god Dionysus in a competition sponsored by the city-state. Thousands of people packed the theater. Each author presented three tragedies, followed by a semicomic play featuring satyrs (mythical half-man, half-animal beings). Actors wore colorful costumes and masks; a chorus danced and sang as part of each play.

Comedies also were performed in these competitions. These plays displayed remarkable freedom of speech in criticizing public policy and making fun of politicians. Their plots could be fantastic, for example having a character fly up on a dung beetle to ask the gods for peace. Their language featured jokes, puns, and obscenities. The most famous comic playwright was Aristophanes, who wrote some comedies with powerful women as main characters. Greek comedy in the 4th century bc changed from political commentary to social satire. Authors such as Menander produced comedies that provided insights into human weaknesses and the complications of everyday life.

Greeks began writing about history in the 5th century bc. Herodotus and Thucydides wrote long works that stressed eyewitness evidence, the multiple causes of events, and judgments about people's motives. Thucydides, followed by Aristotle, developed political science by analyzing how states operated. Hellenistic Greek writers made history more personal and began composing biographies.




The enduring legacy of ancient Greece lies in the brilliance of its ideas and the depth of its literature and art. The greatest ancient evidence of their value is that the Romans, who conquered the Greeks in war, were themselves overcome by admiration for Greek cultural achievements. The first Roman literature, for example, was Homer's Odyssey translated into Latin. Greek art, architecture, philosophy, and religion also inspired Roman artists and thinkers, who used them as starting points for developing their own style of work. All educated Romans learned to read and speak Greek and studied Greek models in rhetoric. Stoicism became the most popular Roman philosophy of life.

Arab philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists who became the leading thinkers of medieval times studied the works of Aristotle and other Greek sources intensely. During the European Renaissance from the 14th to the 16th centuries, people from many walks of life read Greek literature and history. Writing in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, English playwright William Shakespeare based dramas on ancient Greek biographies. Modern playwrights still find inspiration for new works in Athenian drama. Many modern public buildings, such as the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., imitate Greek temple architecture. Although the founders of the United States rejected Athenian democracy as too direct and radical, they enshrined democratic equality as a basic principle. It was ancient Greeks who proved that democracy could be the foundation of a stable government. Pride in the cultural accomplishments of ancient Greece contributed to a feeling of ethnic unity when the modern nation of Greece was carved out of the Ottoman Empire. That pride still characterizes modern Greece and makes it a fierce defender of the Hellenic heritage.

Reliance on logic, allegiance to democratic principles, unceasing curiosity about what lies beneath the surface of things, a healthy respect for the dangers of arrogant overconfidence, and a love of beauty in stories and art remain incredibly important components of Western civilization. Ancient Greece contributed all of these things.

Ancient Rome





Ancient Rome, the period between the 8th and 1st centuries bc in which Rome grew from a tiny settlement to an emerging empire while developing from monarchy to a republican form of government.

Nearly 3,000 years ago shepherds first built huts on the hills beside the Tiber River in central Italy. These encampments gradually grew and merged to form the city of Rome. Rome’s history is unique in comparison to other large urban centers like London, England, or Paris, France, because it encompasses more than the story of a single city. In ancient times Rome extended its political control over all of Italy and eventually created an empire that stretched from England to North Africa and from the Atlantic Ocean to Arabia. The political history of Rome is marked by three periods. In the first period from 753–509 bc, the city developed from a village to a city ruled by kings. Then, the Romans expelled the kings and established the Roman Republic during the period from 509–27 bc. Following the collapse of the republic, Rome fell under the domination of emperors and flourished for another five centuries as the Roman Empire from 27 bcad 476. This article begins the discussion of ancient Rome’s history with the city’s legendary founder, Romulus, and ends when Augustus becomes the first emperor of imperial Rome, in 27 bc. .

Modern motion pictures and television often portray the ancient Romans as military conquerors as well as ardent pleasure seekers, and there is some truth to those images. Their armies did brutally subjugate the Mediterranean world. Today statues of native leaders such as Vercingetorix in France or Arminius in Germany honor those patriots who battled against Roman domination in Europe, just as Christians honor early disciples martyred by the Romans. The ancient Romans also did enjoy lavish and sometimes even cruel entertainments that included gladiatorial combats, chariot races, and animal hunts in the arena.

Yet these same Romans created a civilization that has shaped subsequent world history for 2,000 years. The remains of vast building projects, including roads and bridges, enormous baths and aqueducts, temples and theaters, as well as entire towns in the North African desert, still mark Rome’s former dominion. Cities throughout Western Europe stand on Roman foundations.

The Romans also had enormous cultural influence. Their language, Latin, gave rise to languages spoken by a billion people in the world today. Many other languages—including Polish, Turkish, and Vietnamese—use the Roman alphabet. The Romans developed a legal system that remains the basis of continental European law, and they brought to portraiture a lifelike style that forms the basis of the realistic tradition in Western art. The founders of the American government looked to the Roman Republic as a model. Modern political institutions also reflect Roman origins: senators, bicameral legislatures, judges, and juries are all adapted from the Roman system. In addition, despite recent modernization, the Roman Catholic Church still uses symbols and ritual derived largely from the ancient Romans.

Contrary to popular image, the Roman state was not continuously at war. Roman armies most often served on the frontiers of the empire while Roman lands nearer the Mediterranean were more peaceful and more culturally and economically interconnected than in any subsequent era. The Romans extended citizenship far beyond the people of Italy to Greeks and Gauls, Spaniards and Syrians, Jews and Arabs, North Africans and Egyptians. The Roman Empire also became the channel through which the cultures and religions of many peoples were combined and transmitted via medieval and Renaissance Europe to the modern world.




The land and environment of Italy provided the Romans with a secure home from which to expand. Italy is a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the sea and protected to the north by the Alps mountain range. The climate is generally temperate, although summers are hot in the south. Rome was part of a region near the Tiber River in central Italy that was called Latium (now part of Lazio). Its Latin-speaking inhabitants originally joined the waves of Indo-European peoples who crossed the Adriatic Sea from the Balkan Peninsula and settled in central Italy about 1000 bc.

To the north, the Etruscans had established a vigorous civilization (see Etruscan Civilization) in the region called Etruria. These people probably originated in Asia Minor and spoke an entirely different language than neighboring Indo-European peoples. In southern Italy and on the large island of Sicily, colonists fleeing from famine and political conflict in Greece founded new cities between 800 and 500 bc. The city of Naples derives its name from the Greek words Nea Polis (New City).

Volcanoes like Mount Etna and Mount Vesuvius dot the western coast of Italy and its offshore islands, leaving sections of Latium, Campania near Naples, and Sicily fertile from the residue of volcanic ash. The mountains were once rich in timber and had meadows where sheep and goats grazed in the warmest months before they were driven to the plains for the winter. There was salt along the Tiber River and large deposits of iron were located in Etruria. North-south land routes allowed for overland trade, and so commerce as well as agriculture, pasturage, and metalwork drove the economy.



Legends of Early Rome

The story of Rome’s founding survives only in primitive myths and meager archaeological remains. An island in the Tiber River afforded the easiest crossing point, and archaeology shows that some Latins established a settlement on the nearby Palatine Hill; perhaps they hoped to rob, or collect tolls, from traders crossing the river on their way from Etruria to southern Italy.

Roman myth created a more glorious tale of the city’s beginnings. These legends trace Rome’s origins to Romulus, a son of the god Mars and also a descendent of the Trojan prince Aeneas, who brought his people to Italy after the city of Troy burned. Romulus and his twin brother Remus were grandsons of King Numitor of the ancient city of Alba Longa in Latium. Numitor was deposed by his brother, who also tried to kill the twins by having them thrown into the Tiber. Instead, the infants washed ashore and were suckled by a she-wolf who became—and remains today—the symbol of Rome. When the brothers grew up, they restored Numitor to his throne and then founded a new city on the Palatine Hill above the river.

There are no contemporary written records of the Roman monarchy, so the stories of the early kings are primarily preserved in the works of historians Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who wrote seven centuries after the time of Romulus. These legends and even some of the kings themselves are probably mythical creations, and the dates that they reigned are either inventions or rough approximations. Nevertheless, such myths often contain bits of historical information that are passed on and transformed through repeated telling.



Legendary Period of Kings (753-509 bc)

The Romans believed that Romulus and Remus founded Rome in 753 bc, and that Romulus erected a wall around the site of the new city. When Remus tried to assert his leadership by scornfully leaping over the inadequate wall, Romulus killed him and became the city’s first king, giving it his name. He then invited his neighbors east of the Tiber River, the Sabines, to a festival and kidnapped the Sabine women—called the “rape of the Sabine women”—to provide the wives necessary for the Roman population to grow. Other legends about Romulus include his mysterious disappearance in a storm cloud, an event that led the Romans to proclaim him a god.

The second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, was a Sabine who was regarded as especially just and devoted to religion. Many of Rome’s religious traditions were later attributed to Numa, including the selection of virgins to be priestesses of the goddess Vesta. He also established a calendar to differentiate between normal working days and those festival days sacred to the gods on which no state business was allowed. His peaceful reign lasted from 715 to 673 bc.

Under Tullus Hostilius (672–641 bc) the Romans waged an aggressive foreign policy and began to expand their lands by the conquest of nearby cities like Alba Longa. When the warlike King Hostilius contracted the plague, the people thought it was a punishment for the neglect of the gods so they named Ancus Marcius, a highly religious grandson of Numa, as the fourth king (640–617 bc). Marcius founded the port of Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber.

A wealthy man from the Etruscan city of Tarquinii, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, came to live in Rome and became such a favorite of King Ancus that he managed to succeed him even though he was considered a foreigner. Tarquinius, who ruled between 616 and 579 bc, was said to have drained the marshes between the hills and paved an area for the market place that became known as the Roman Forum. His successor, Servius Tullius (578–535 bc), organized the Roman army into groups of 100 men called centuries and was said to have built a new wall around the city. The cruel seventh king, Lucius Tarquinus Superbus or Tarquin the Proud (534–510 bc), was expelled in 510 after his son cruelly raped Lucretia, a virtuous Roman matron and the wife of his kinsman Collatinus.

Archaeology shows that there is some truth to these legends. There were huts on the Palatine Hill above the Tiber River by the 8th century bc, and the evidence of both burials and cremations indicate that two different cultures like the Romans and the Sabines had intermingled. The Forum was first covered with a pebble pavement about 575 bc and its draining dates to the period of Etruscan kings. On the other hand, archaeologists believe that the earliest wall around the city was built in the 4th century bc—two centuries after the reign of Servius Tullius. Even if the names, dates, and legends of early Rome remain highly questionable, remnants of Roman material culture help to document significant transformations in Roman life.



Etruscan Influence

The Etruscans had enormous cultural, social, and political influence on early Rome. The origins of this seafaring people remain obscure, but most scholars now believe that the Etruscans brought their language, their religion, and their love of music and dance from the Near East to northern Italy. Their distinctive culture was further shaped in the Italian region of Tuscany, which bears their name.

Tomb paintings provide a record of Etruscan civilization and illustrate their cultural sophistication, intense religious beliefs, and artistic accomplishments. Their skill at urban planning, engineering, and waterworks had a deep influence on the development of Rome. In Rome itself, projects attributed to the Etruscan kings included the building of city walls, the engineering of the Forum, and the construction of the great drain to channel both rainfall and sewage into the Tiber. For centuries the Romans also built and decorated their temples in the Etruscan style. They were in awe of the extraordinary metalwork of Etruscan craftworkers shown in products ranging from iron plows to bronze mirrors, silver bowls, and fine gold jewelry. Elaborate aristocratic tombs in central Italian towns such as Praeneste (now Palestrina) as well as rural drainage trenches cut into rock to preserve topsoil show that Etruscan influences even spread to the countryside around Rome.

Other aspects of Etruscan culture also had a lasting impact on the Romans. The Etruscan cities were controlled by the nobility and ruled by kings. Rods and axes, symbols of civil and military authority, represented royal power to the Etruscans. Later, bundles of rods surrounding an ax, called fasces in Latin, were carried before Roman magistrates in ceremonial processions. Etruscan women possessed a social freedom which scandalized Greek writers, since they were allowed to recline on couches with their husbands at public banquets. Women received greater respect and visibility than in other cultures, and this treatment became an important legacy to the Romans.

The Etruscans had extensive commercial exchanges with the Greeks; for example, Greek pottery reached Etruria, while Etruscan ironwork has been found in Greek sites. The Etruscans also took the alphabet from the Greeks and incorporated the Olympian gods into their own array of deities. Etruscan power reached its peak in the 6th century bc when three successive Etruscan kings ruled at Rome and their control extended from the Po Valley in northern Italy to the Bay of Naples in the south.

The Etruscan cities shared both language and culture and came together for religious festivals, but they were also rivals and sometimes had bitter disputes. This internal turbulence prevented the Etruscans from uniting against common enemies. A generation after the Romans expelled Tarquin the Proud, the last of their Etruscan kings, the Greek colonies of southern Italy and Sicily defeated the Etruscans in a sea battle at Cumae near Naples (474 bc). The Etruscans forever lost their outposts in southern Italy, and their civilization began a slow decline.




From earliest times the family lay at the center of all personal and social relations in Rome and even influenced public and political activities. Religion was the other principal element that shaped early Roman life, and religion and family remained closely intertwined as the twin pillars of Roman society for the five centuries of the Roman Republic.

The Romans held moral values that were typical of a conservative agrarian society with strong family networks. They were hardworking and frugal, self-reliant and cautious, serious about their responsibilities and steadfast in the face of adversity. They particularly valued virtus, the physical and moral courage suitable to a man (vir). The stress on family responsibility was evident in the idea of pietas, the belief that every Roman owed loyalty to family authority and to the gods of Rome. Likewise fides (good faith) made a Roman’s word his or her bond—in both public and private life. The early books of Livy’s History provide many examples of the virtues and values that Romans believed made them different from, and superior to, other peoples.



Family Relationships

Beginning with the era of the kings, the Roman family mirrored the patriarchal nature of the Roman state in the absolute and lifelong power (patria potestas) that the father (paterfamilias) exercised over his wife, children, and slaves. Each father was the priest of the cult of his ancestors and of the hearth gods of the family. Ancestor worship focused on the genius of the family (gens) which was the inner spirit passed on from one generation to another. Their genius bound Romans to their ancestors and their descendents in a single continuous community. The primary purpose of Roman marriage was to produce children, and all legitimate offspring belonged only to the father’s family. In event of divorce, children remained with the father. For centuries a father had the right to abandon an infant at birth. Usually this unwanted child was a deformed boy—or a girl whose family wished to avoid paying a dowry. The law even allowed a father to execute a grown son for treasonous behavior.

Despite the father’s extreme authority, Roman writings provide evidence of warm family feeling. Parents were closely involved with the education of their children; Roman boys would accompany their fathers to the forum to observe public meetings as preparation for citizenship. When members of the Roman nobility died, their sons delivered speeches in praise of the deceased and also their ancestors, while masks of these loved ones were displayed. This custom helped to sustain family pride and cultivate family myths, but as the statesman Cicero later commented, “the history of Rome has been falsified by these speeches for there is much in them that never happened.”

Within the Roman family, there was also much greater intimacy between a husband and wife than in Greece, where men and women saw relatively little of each other. After marriage, a Roman girl left her father’s authority to enter the household of her husband (or father-in-law, if he was still alive). A girl was usually between 14 and 17 years of age at her wedding, while her husband was often in his mid-20s. Young Roman children would not be forced to enter marriage unwillingly, but few could refuse parental arrangements. In early Rome divorce was rare and only happened if the husband desired it; later, divorce became more frequent among the upper classes. A shortage of women resulted from the abandonment of infant girls and deaths during childbirth. Roman women could almost always find husbands, even for second or third marriages. No unmarried women were recorded among the aristocratic class in Republican Rome.

Roman women could attend public and private banquets and enjoyed far more social freedom than their counterparts in Greece. Mothers were in charge of domestic servants and played an important role in child rearing, providing strong moral guidance to sons as well as daughters. According to earliest Roman law, daughters shared equally with sons in the estate of a father who died without a will, and they were usually included in their father’s bequests. The moral strength and loyalty of Roman women became an important theme in literature as wives stood by husbands through civil wars and exile.




The Roman household included slaves who labored beside the family in the fields. The earliest slaves were poor peasants who were reduced to slavery by debt. Slavery had no ethnic or racial basis: birth, conquest, or debt condemned men and women to that condition. Early slaves were thought to be part of the family and were treated reasonably well. Slaves were permitted to keep some private savings (peculium), with which they might eventually purchase their freedom. After emancipation a freed slave became a Roman citizen. Freedmen often remained with families as paid laborers on farms or in households.

It was only much later, in the 2nd century bc, that huge numbers of foreign captives were brought to Rome to work on immense plantations. Romans then began to treat slaves with a cruelty that eventually provoked several terrible slave revolts. One of the most famous leaders of slave uprisings was Spartacus, an army deserter who was sold into slavery as a gladiator. He and his followers defeated Roman forces several times, including a series of battles known as the Third Servile War, or Gladiators’ War, before Spartacus was killed. Despite insurrections, slavery survived as an institution throughout Roman history.



Religious Practices

The earliest Romans were primarily an agricultural people and focused their religion on spirits who, according to their beliefs, presided over nearly every aspect of the natural world, including springs, forests, and rivers. Some of these deities survived over time to become the gods honored with small shrines at crossroads throughout Italy. Early superstitions, such as the magical power of the evil eye, also continued long after the Romans introduced new religious practices. Some taboos, such as those that prohibited the high priest of the god Jupiter from touching a horse or dog, were mysterious even to the Romans themselves and were attributed to the remote past. To these primitive beliefs the Romans added such Etruscan practices as interpreting the will of the gods by the flight of birds (auspices) or by the study of an animal’s liver.

The Etruscans had also adopted gods from the Greek pantheon, or family of gods, and many of these divinities were passed on to the Romans. Zeus, the Greek god of the skies, for example, had a counterpart in the Roman god Jupiter, while Hera, the wife of Zeus and queen of the gods, became the Roman goddess Juno. Other Greek gods with Roman equivalents included Aphrodite, the goddess of love, known to the Romans as Venus, and the Greek god of war, Ares, who was called Mars by the Romans.

The ancients believed that religion held the Roman state together. Kings, and later civil magistrates, were obligated to ensure that the community remained at peace with the gods. Public pageantry emphasized the importance of devotion to the gods and included prayers, festivals, and sacrifices. A certain element of reciprocity existed in religion, as the Romans expected their gods to respond to offerings. The Latin phrase quid pro quo (one thing for another) which described such an exchange is still used today. Gradually, groups of priests and priestesses took responsibility for the worship of specific gods and goddesses. The most notable of these groups were the vestal virgins who served Vesta, the goddess of the hearth.

The Roman calendar was fundamentally a religious document. Some months were named after gods, including January for Janus, who presided over beginnings, and March for Mars, the war god. Other months were merely numbered. The Roman calendar originally began with March, so the seventh month, September, took its name from the Latin word septem for seven. The name of the eighth month, or October, derived from octo for eight, and others followed suit.

The Romans also named the days of the week for gods. The Romance languages continue to use Roman gods for these days, while in English the names of their ancient Germanic counterparts are used. Hence Friday, the day of the goddess of love, Venus, is vendredi in French, but takes its English name from Freia, the German goddess of love. In 45 bc when Julius Caesar acted as the dictator of Rome, he revised the calendar to reflect the solar year, making it 365 days long and adding an extra day every fourth or leap year. See also Calendar: The Roman Calendar

Like the calendar, Roman religion did not remain static. The Romans adopted new gods whose specific powers were needed by the people. At the siege of the Etruscan city of Veii in 396 bc, the Romans tried to entice Juno, the patron goddess of the Veians, to their side. When Veii fell, the Romans claimed that the goddess had deserted the people of that city and so they erected their own temple to Juno in Rome. Further Roman conquests brought other gods into its pantheon. This flexibility in Roman religion mirrored a similarly flexible attitude toward political institutions during the era of the Roman Republic.



Political Institutions

The early Romans were a practical and conservative people whose political organization evolved very slowly; as a result, there was considerable continuity from the time of the monarchy to the republic. The Roman constitution always remained unwritten and was changed less frequently by law than by custom. Just as Roman religion retained inexplicable rituals and taboos, outdated political institutions were rarely abolished. The Romans preferred to retain familiar institutions and procedures while adapting them to the changing circumstances of a growing state. For example, the interrex was originally an official whose name derived from his duty of performing religious ceremonies in the interregnum or period between the reigns of different kings. The interrex survived in the republic as an official who presided over elections when both consuls had died or been killed.

Early Rome was ruled by kings who had wide military and judicial powers and represented the people to their gods. After the death of Romulus, the king was selected by the Senate (derived from the Latin senex, which means “old man”), a governmental body comprised of the heads of noble families. The Senate also advised the king. This institution survived into the republic and became the dominant political force through which the noble, landowning families controlled the religious, political, and economic life of the new aristocratic state. Under senatorial leadership Rome conquered Italy and much of the Mediterranean world.

Under the monarchy, another governmental organization, the Assembly of the People, included all male Roman citizens. Members of the Assembly were divided into 30 clans (curiae). In earliest times the Assembly met to witness the announcement of a new king or a declaration of war. Eventually each clan could cast a single vote to approve wills and adoptions, both of which were important for the transfer of land.



Building Projects

The earliest remnants of buildings at Rome are the postholes of huts built on the Palatine Hill. By the 6th century bc, the Romans had drained the swampy area between the Palatine and Capitoline hills and then paved it. They used this area as the main forum where public meetings, markets, religious ceremonies, and burials were held. The Romans also constructed temples and some houses in the Forum, as well as an impressive drainage system, which is still visible where the main sewer empties into the Tiber River. They built the first bridges across the Tiber during this early period of the kings, although most of the surviving stone bridges are from later periods. Contemporary sources suggest that both Romulus and Servius built walls around the early site of Rome, but archaeology has not yet uncovered any walls constructed before the 4th century bc. By the end of the monarchy, the villages on the hills had added an urban center and a group of public buildings.




The historian Livy (59 bcad 17) described the foundation of the Roman Republic (republic is from the Latin res publica, which means “that which belongs to the people”) as a morality tale. In his account, valiant Roman patriots under the leadership of Lucius Junius Brutus overthrew the cruel foreign tyrant Tarquin in 509 bc. The truth was certainly more complex. The Etruscans faced increasing military threats from the Gauls, a Celtic people to the north, and from the Greeks in the south. The fall of the Etruscan kings was part of a much larger story, but only the heroic Roman version survives.

The Roman aristocrats provided the leadership for the establishment of the Roman Republic, and they continued to dominate it for centuries. During the five centuries of the republic, Rome grew from a small city of 10,000 into a great cosmopolitan metropolis of 1 million whose empire of 15 million subjects encompassed the entire Mediterranean basin. Social and political conflict inevitably arose as the conservative Romans attempted to keep their old values and institutions in place while exercising their authority over subjects of many different nationalities.

The Romans adapted to changing circumstances with a great deal of political struggle but relatively little internal violence. Despite the eventual collapse of the republican system of government in the 1st century bc, it was a remarkable achievement both in its length and scope. Even the collapse of the republic did not lessen Rome’s domination of the Mediterranean world, for its empire remained largely intact for another five centuries under the rule of the emperors.



Political Institutions of the Republic

The Senate and the citizen Assembly survived from the monarchy into the republic. In theory the Senate played only an advisory role, but because it contained mostly former civil officials, called magistrates, it was respected as the repository of Roman wisdom and tradition. The Senate had such great authority (auctoritas) that magistrates consulted it on all-important issues, and it became the dominant force in the areas of religion, foreign policy, and public finance. The Senate did not pass legislation, but its decrees were treated with the greatest respect. See also Thematic Essay: Roman Political and Social Thought

Citizens participated in the Assembly, which could pass laws, elect magistrates, and declare war. Over the centuries the Romans organized these popular assemblies in different ways, but the voting system always favored the rich. For example, one popular assembly, the comitia centuriata, which probably developed in the 6th century bc, consisted of 193 voting blocks, each with a single vote. Citizens were assigned to those 193 “centuries” on the basis of wealth, and the centuries of the richest class had few members, while the one century reserved for the landless had tens of thousands of members, but could only cast a single ballot. No free discussion took place in Roman assemblies, and citizens could only approve or reject proposals presented by a magistrate.

The kings left the early Romans with a fear of domination by a single ruler. As a result, the Romans replaced the kings with magistrates who were collegial, which meant that several officials held the same office simultaneously, and each could check the others. The Assembly of citizens elected these officials annually. The two chief magistrates, called consuls, were invested with the military, judicial, administrative, and even some of the religious powers of the king. They could veto (from the Latin word veto, for “I forbid”) each other’s actions, but they usually agreed to share power. Often one consul served in Rome while the other was in command of the army. A consul could not be removed while in office, although he could be prosecuted for corruption after leaving the position.

As Rome grew, the creation of other magistracies removed some of the administrative burden from the consuls. Beginning in 443 bc, two former consuls were chosen every five years as censors; their primary job was to take the census. These men drew up population and property rolls for the state. The censors also kept a list of senators and could delete names, and in that way expel individuals from the Senate, for financial or moral reasons. Censors were also responsible for awarding public contracts and were held in such esteem that they were the only Roman magistrates to be buried in royal purple.

Praetors formed another group of magistrates. They were originally established in 367 bc as junior consuls, but their chief function was to preside over trials under civil law. Praetors were responsible for the early development of Roman legal procedure. Since praetors also had military authority, they later served as commanders of Rome’s many armies across the Mediterranean world.

The dictator was a temporary magistrate who was appointed by the consuls in an emergency, and the title initially held none of its modern negative associations. The dictator exercised full royal power, free of any veto, but could generally hold office for a maximum of six months. The consuls often appointed a dictator when foreign invaders threatened Rome, and they believed that all power should be vested in one general. The office was especially popular in the early republic; it was used infrequently when Rome no longer had enemies in Italy who threatened the state.

Individuals who reached these high offices had extensive political and military experience. Ambitious young Romans could only embark on a political career after ten years in the Roman army, although in early times this military service might entail just a few months each year. They could then progress through a series of elected offices. Preparatory positions included quaestors, who served as financial supervisors, and aediles, who were responsible for the upkeep of public buildings as well as the presentation of state festivals and games.



Internal Political Conflict

Under the monarchy, the primary social distinction was between landholding nobles, called patricians, and their peasant workers known as the plebs or plebeians. Probably few patricians had great wealth, since popular stories portray patrician generals as returning from the battlefield to plow their fields, but they did hold substantial political power. Since Roman society excluded the plebs from all political offices and priesthoods, their demands for more privileges produced a “struggle between the orders” which lasted for centuries.

In 475 bc, the Etruscans threatened Rome and the newly independent city had to recruit infantry for its army. The need to draw soldiers from the plebs gave these downtrodden people their first opportunity to secure power for themselves. Plebs refused to do military or agricultural work until the Senate agreed to recognize them as a distinct element within the Roman state, with rights to an assembly and their own officials called tribunes. The result was the tribuni plebis, or people’s tribunes, who could veto decrees of the Senate or proposals of magistrates

The plebs were particularly angry at the arbitrary use of unwritten custom by aristocratic officials, so the Senate made an important concession with the publication of a code of Roman law, known as the Law of the Twelve Tables, in 451-450 bc. But the law remained harsh to debtors, and intermarriage between plebeians and patricians was still forbidden. It took further social unrest over the next two centuries to produce additional reforms. Eventually, Rome admitted plebeians to all offices including the consulship and the priesthoods. From 287 bc decrees of the plebeian assembly (plebiscita) had the force of law over the entire state. Thus, the struggle between the orders concluded with the apparent triumph of the plebs.

Roman families forever remained either patrician or plebeian, but the practical importance of the division slowly diminished, since the widening gap between the rich and the poor became more significant. Soon, the popular assembly was organized into “classes” on the basis of wealth. Further class conflict lay primarily in the future, however, and Rome experienced its first extended period of social peace between 287 and 133 bc.



Expansion During the Republic

Roman writers like Livy took patriotic pride in recounting Rome’s rise to domination of the entire Mediterranean world, which they portrayed as part of a divine plan. Rome’s conquests began with the defeat of the Etruscans and Rome’s other Latin neighbors, whose lands were placed under Roman rule. Eventually Rome conquered the communities in the central mountains, the Greek cities of the south, and the Gauls of the Po River valley. And since the winners write history, little is known of how the defeated peoples viewed these wars.



Conquest of Italy (510-264 bc)

Early Rome was a small city, but it had inherited a tradition of expansion from the Etruscans. The drive for expansion and acquisition of new territory was fueled by a growing population, the need for land grants for the plebeians, a competitive ethic among the leading families, and their need for property to give to their sons. Rome was able to expand in part because it was more politically stable than its enemies. Despite the social turmoil of the early republic, the Romans usually settled conflict by compromise as increasingly empowered plebs provided the manpower for Rome’s armies.

The Romans adopted an aggressive military policy, but they were not strong enough to become masters of the Italian peninsula immediately. They fought for nearly a century just to ensure their safety from the Etruscans. They also faced invasion by the Gauls, a people of the Celtic language group who inhabited most of modern-day France and northern Italy. The disastrous sack of Rome by the raiders from Gaul in 390 bc could well have ended the city’s history, even though patriotic fiction has since minimized the event. At that time some Romans argued that they should emigrate; instead, citizens made the momentous decision to rebuild Rome.

During the next century the Romans capitalized on their advantageous geographical position in the center of the peninsula, as the Etruscan cities to the north and Greek cities to the south fought amongst themselves. The Romans made their army more flexible by adopting javelins, using cavalry, and organizing the infantry in small groups (called maniples) which were superior in mountain fighting. These new military methods eventually allowed Rome to conquer all of Italy and achieve the first political unification of the peninsula.

Immediately to the south of Rome was the Latin League, composed of 30 cities that shared their language and religious festivals. During the 5th and 4th centuries bc, Rome increasingly dominated these cities and eventually dissolved the league and made subjects of both the Latins and the Etruscans.

About the same time, Rome expanded further southward and annexed the rich farmland of Campania, a region bordering the Tyrrhenian Sea. Expansion brought Rome into conflict with the mountain peoples of central Italy, the Samnites, who conducted frequent raids against the cities of Campania. The Campanians formed a league centered on the town of Capua and invited Rome to defend them against the Samnites. The Romans fought three bitter campaigns against the Samnites between 343 and 290 bc. Despite some serious losses, Rome ultimately prevailed.

Once the Romans secured dominance over the Etruscans in northern Italy and the Samnites in central Italy, they then began to challenge the Greek cities that still controlled the peninsula south of the Bay of Naples. These cities sought aid against the Romans from King Pyrrhus of Epirus in northern Greece. Pyrrhus had gained a reputation as a brilliant adventurer who had won many battles, although with huge loss of life (thus the term Pyrrhic victories). He invaded Italy, but despite early victories against Roman armies, he was eventually defeated. By 266 bc Rome controlled Italy from the plains of the Po River valley in the northern part of the peninsula to its southernmost tip. The city on the Tiber River had vanquished all enemies within Italy. The next step was to cross a narrow waterway, the Strait of Messina, to the fertile island of Sicily.

The Romans referred to the defeated Latin, Italian, and Greek cities as allies, but they were, in fact, Roman subjects. Rome gave full citizenship to the people of only a few of these cities; most others received more limited privileges such as intermarriage and trading rights. Rome required these cities, known as municipia, to pay taxes and to supply detachments for the Roman army, but otherwise allowed self-government in internal affairs. Rome also established military colonies throughout the peninsula to ensure loyalty and protect the coast from pirates and invaders.

The Romans, in comparison to other ancient peoples, were generous in granting citizenship to freed slaves. They were slower in extending citizenship to newly conquered peoples, although in time they did grant citizenship to their loyal subjects throughout Italy and eventually, after 212 bc, throughout the entire Mediterranean world. That generosity and Rome’s adaptability to new circumstances were, perhaps, the chief reasons for the success of this small city in conquering, and ultimately transforming, so many neighbors.



Conquest of the Mediterranean (264-133 bc)

After its conquest of Italy, Rome next came into conflict with the most dangerous enemy it had ever encountered, Carthage. Merchants from the coast of Phoenicia (modern Lebanon) had established the city of Carthage on North Africa’s Gulf of Tunis about 800 bc. Carthage grew into the greatest military power of the western Mediterranean. Its armies were composed of hired soldiers known as mercenaries and led by generals from hereditary military families. Carthage founded its own colonies, subjugated nearby Africans to gain access to their rich agricultural lands, and controlled trade across the western Mediterranean.

Carthage’s historical importance was based on its confrontations with Rome rather than its culture. The Romans used the adjective Punic to describe the people of Carthage, who were known as Poeni because of their Phoenician descent. Very little Punic writing survives, so knowledge of ancient Carthage comes primarily from descriptions by its Greek and Roman enemies. The cultural or intellectual life in Carthage was limited; the only known book was a manual on agriculture that was later translated for Roman settlers. Rome’s eventual victory in its struggles against Carthage ensured that Greco–Roman rather than Near Eastern civilization would dominate in the western Mediterranean region.

The Carthaginians, like their Phoenician ancestors, were seafarers and traders, and the earliest treaties between Rome and Carthage concerned commercial rights. The city of Carthage controlled the coast of Spain as well as the islands of Malta, Sardinia, and much of Sicily. Rome’s spectacular growth during the 3rd century bc caused concern for its rival, even though Rome’s empire was land-based, while Carthage relied on naval supremacy for dominance.



First Punic War (264-241 bc)

Warfare between Rome and Carthage began in the Sicilian city of Messina. The mercenary soldiers who controlled that city initially invited Carthage to provide military support against King Hiero II of Syracuse, but they then appealed to Rome for aid against the Carthaginians. At the time fighting broke out in 264 bc, Carthage was wealthier than Rome. It also had the greatest navy in the Mediterranean, while the Romans had never fought on the sea. Rome built a navy, but the city’s generals, lacking any experience in the strategy of naval warfare, decided to model sea battles after land battles. The Romans used grappling hooks to hold enemy ships while infantry soldiers boarded them for hand-to-hand combat. This clumsy but practical technique allowed the Romans to defeat the Punic fleet.

The Romans suffered many setbacks, but their tenacity carried them through the war. In 242 bc, a Roman commander boldly attacked a Punic fleet in stormy seas. A triumph resulted, as Roman forces sank 50 Carthaginian ships and captured 70 more. Carthage surrendered, and Rome received Carthaginian possessions in Sicily as well as a payment of 3,200 talents—the equivalent of a year’s pay for 200,000 Roman soldiers. With these naval victories, Rome became the leading power in the western Mediterranean. See also Punic Wars



Second Punic War (218-201 bc)

Carthage, a city of fewer than 500,000 people, struggled to pay the enormous sum owed to Rome after the First Punic War. Officials dispatched Carthage’s leading general, Hamilcar Barca, to Spain, where he attempted to develop colonies that would help pay the war reparations. He successfully conquered much of Spain and developed rich mines there. In 221 bc Hamilcar’s son Hannibal became commander of Carthaginian forces in Spain, and over the next 20 years this young general became the most successful commander ever to face the Romans in battle. When Rome made an alliance with the Spanish city of Saguntum, Hannibal regarded this action as interference in Carthaginian affairs and laid siege to Saguntum. In 218 bc Rome declared war on Carthage for the second time.

The Romans expected to fight the war in Spain, but Hannibal surprised them and invaded Italy first. In one of the great marches of military history, he brought his army with its African war elephants across southern France and through the Alps mountains into northern Italy—all in only five months. He lost one-third of his own troops during the icy crossing, but the Gauls of northern Italy quickly defected to his side, giving him 50,000 men under arms in the spring of 217 bc. This number was still far fewer than the half a million soldiers Rome could theoretically recruit in Italy, but Hannibal’s personal resourcefulness and his military genius sustained the Carthaginian army in Italy for almost 15 years.

After Hannibal demolished a Roman army in a battle at Lake Trasimene (Lago Trasimeno) in 217 bc, the impatient Roman Assembly wanted dramatic action and a quick solution. The consuls were authorized to attack, but Hannibal outsmarted his adversaries, and his cavalry overwhelmed the Roman legions at the Battle of Cannae in 216 bc. According to the Greek historian Polybius, Rome lost nearly 70,000 citizens and allied troops with another 10,000 captured, while fewer than 6,000 Carthaginians fell. It was the greatest defeat ever inflicted on Roman troops and remains a textbook case of the destruction of a larger army by a smaller one.

The terrible losses at Cannae provoked a brief panic in Rome, but the battle proved to be a turning point in the Roman military effort. The rich contributed to the war through voluntary contributions and allowed their slaves to serve as rowers for the fleet. Enlistments rose and even slaves were drafted, so that there were about 240,000 men under arms by 212 bc. Finally, the Assembly allowed the more cautious Senate to control the conduct of the war. Between 214 and 210 bc, Rome regained the great cities of southern Italy (Capua and Tarentum) and Sicily (Syracuse and Agrigentum).

Rome carried its offensive to Spain in 209 bc, when troops led by the young general Publius Cornelius Scipio, cut the Carthaginian supply lines. The following year Scipio defeated Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal, and the Romans drove the Carthaginians out of Spain once and for all. The Carthaginian army under Hannibal was also having trouble in Italy because Carthage had refused to send additional reinforcements and weapons. In 207 bc Hasdrubal crossed over the Pyrenees Mountains from Spain to assist him, but was killed by the Romans in a battle at the Metaurus River in northern Italy.

Roman troops next invaded Africa, and Hannibal was recalled from Italy to defend Carthaginian territory. In 202 bc at the Battle of Zama, Scipio defeated Hannibal and thereafter gained the honorary title Africanus—the conqueror of Africa. He later became known as Scipio Africanus the Elder when his adopted grandson also became a military hero.

Rome assessed Carthage with an enormous fine to be paid over 50 years and, more devastatingly, forced Carthage to relinquish all possessions outside Africa, to restore territory to Rome’s ally King Masinissa of Numidia (present-day Algeria), and to retain only ten ships. Carthage would never again threaten Rome.



Third Punic War (149-146 bc)

Carthage humbly accepted Roman demands, but the conservative Roman senator Marcus Porcius Cato (known as Cato the Elder) was so obsessed with a fear of Carthage that for decades he ended every speech with the statement: “And Carthage must be destroyed.” Rome finally seized on a minor offense to wage another war against Carthage. After a difficult three-year siege, the city fell to a Roman army commanded by Scipio Aemilianus, the grandson of the victor of Zama, who was called Scipio Africanus the Younger.



Invasion of Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean

During the 50 years after Hannibal’s defeat in the Second Punic War, Rome’s involvement in the eastern Mediterranean grew substantially. In the decade following 220 bc, Rome established a protectorate along the coast of Illyria (present-day Albania). This action greatly annoyed King Philip V of Macedonia, who was the dominant power in Greece. In retaliation, he made a treaty with Hannibal during the Second Punic War, but provided the Carthaginian army with little assistance. After Hannibal’s defeat at Zama, Philip’s enemies invited Rome to liberate the Greek cities under Macedonian domination. The Romans invaded Greece in 197 bc and their legions were victorious at Cynoscephalae in the region of Thessaly (Thessalia). Two years later the Roman general Titus Quinctius Flamininus granted freedom to all Greek cities and placed them under Roman protection.

Support of the Greek cities soon drew Rome into conflict with the region’s most powerful king, Antiochus III, whose empire stretched from Asia Minor across Mesopotamia and Iran to India. When Roman ambassadors asked Antiochus to assure the freedom of Greek cities of the Asian coast, he ironically asked about the “freedom” of the cities of Italy under Roman control. Antiochus chose to invade Greece and drew Rome into a war that resulted in his defeat in 189 bc. The Romans forced Antiochus to pay the largest fine recorded from the ancient world—15,000 talents. Antiochus also had to relinquish most of his ships and his war elephants and withdraw his troops from Asia Minor to his capital at Antioch in Syria.

After these victories, Roman commanders became increasingly arrogant and ruthless in their dealings with the Greek world. They intervened in domestic political struggles, almost invariably on the side of the aristocrats, who were usually wealthy landowners. When the Roman general Lucius Aemilius Paullus defeated Macedonia and its Greek allies at Pydna in 168 bc, he took 1,000 noble Greek youths to Rome as hostages and enslaved 150,000 men, women, and children in northwest Greece. Any pretense of Roman concern for Greek freedom was now dead.

The Greeks and Macedonians tried to rebel against Roman rule, but after a hard-fought battle, they failed. In 146 bc, the Roman armies razed the ancient city of Corinth, took its treasures to Rome, and sold its inhabitants into slavery. In a single year Rome had destroyed both Carthage and Corinth. The brutal choice for other territories under Roman rule was clear: obedience or annihilation. At least one king learned the lesson: Attalus III of Pergamum chose to spare his subjects unnecessary pain by bequeathing his entire kingdom to the Roman people when he died in 133 bc.

Rome’s victories over Carthage brought Sicily (in 241 bc), Sardinia (237 bc), Spain (201 bc), and North Africa (146 bc) under its control. As a result of wars in the eastern Mediterranean, Rome also took direct control of Greece (146 bc), Macedonia (146 bc), and western Asia Minor (129 bc). The Romans looked on the Mediterranean as mare nostrum (our sea) since they controlled nearly its entire perimeter after incorporating the coastal area between Italy and Spain as Transalpine Gaul in 121 bc. Some peoples continued to resist domination by Rome, but in peaceful areas like southern Gaul, Roman culture penetrated deeply. Numerous Roman monuments that still survive in the French region of Provence, for example, illustrate this influence. During the 1st century bc, the remainder of the eastern Mediterranean coastline, including Libya, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, fell into Roman hands as did all of Gaul and the Balkans south of the Danube River.

Rome came and conquered, but also learned to administer its conquests effectively. This lesson did not come easily or quickly. The Roman state had virtually no bureaucracy, and the Romans initially preferred not to expand their administrative apparatus. Rome usually established “alliances” with foreign states and cities, but also annexed some areas as provinces when the local political organization was inadequate, as in Spain, or untrustworthy, as in Macedonia. The Roman Senate gave each conquered province an individual charter, and the Roman governor held all of the province’s civil and military authority. The governors were Roman senators who had held the consulship or praetorship, and in peacetime they were usually appointed for one year. Military activity often led to longer terms. Their absolute power led many governors to overlook extortion by tax collectors and to line their own pockets through bribery.



Governing the Conquered Territories

Rome failed to prosecute corrupt bureaucrats effectively since the courts showed a strong bias towards the senatorial class. Attempts at reform were unsuccessful, and the Roman statesman Cato the Elder’s sour prediction that foreign conquest would corrupt Rome itself proved all too true. The historian Sallust, writing during the civil wars of the 1st century bc, dated Rome’s corruption to the destruction of Carthage in 146 bc and the absence of any foreign threat.



Social and Political Life During the Republic

Rome’s military triumphs brought increased prestige to its leading families and to the Senate. In theory, the Senate remained an advisory body, but no one challenged its control of state finances, war, and foreign relations. Roman generals and ambassadors were all senators, and they came into frequent contact with eastern kings. The attitudes of these all-powerful rulers influenced some of the Romans to adopt an arrogance that conservative statesmen like Cato deplored. Scipio Africanus the Elder, for example, wore Greek clothes when he was in Sicily, while the proconsul Titus Flamininus was worshiped as a god in Greece. No matter how often the Romans publicly scorned such attitudes and ideas, senators were frequently affected by them.

Immense wealth also streamed into the hands of senators whose military commands gave them vast booty. The Romans had traditionally deplored excessive luxury and ostentation, and had generally restricted aristocratic competition to service in war or in public life. In 275 bc the Senate actually expelled a former consul for possessing ten pounds of silver tableware. A century later, however, such rigid behavior had become outdated, and wealthy Romans began to imitate the Greeks. They built magnificent homes and imported art as decoration. Romans competed with each other to erect lavish temples and public buildings, as well as to offer sumptuous banquets prepared by Greek chefs. Scipio Africanus the Younger even surrounded himself with an entourage of poets and Greek intellectuals.

The influx of wealth transformed both the men and women of the Roman nobility. Just as eastern kings had influenced Roman senators, so did the cultured and wealthy Greek princesses of the Hellenistic Age influence Roman women. In an attempt to imitate the lavish lifestyles of the Greek nobility, many Roman matrons used legacies from fathers and husbands who had died in battle to obtain items for personal adornment. Some of their purchases were so extravagant that a law was eventually passed limiting finery and confiscating excessive gold jewelry. Conflict developed between the concept of the cosmopolitan woman presiding over a salon served by dozens of slaves and the ideal of the Roman matron weaving at the family loom. Scipio Africanus the Elder’s wife, Aemilia, decorated her chariot with gold and silver, while her daughter Cornelia wore no adornments and proclaimed that her children were her jewels. In a society that respected women’s intellectual accomplishments, Cornelia also published her correspondence.



Rural Populations

A similar antagonism existed between the lifestyles of urban and rural populations of the Roman Republic. The 15 years that Hannibal’s armies had roamed the Italian countryside left a permanent mark on the agriculture of the peninsula. Hannibal’s soldiers took livestock and destroyed farm buildings, while Roman farmers neglected their fields to fight the war. The Romans also used most of the peninsula’s timber to outfit their navy, and the deforestation of the mountains caused increasing problems of erosion. Italian soil had never been enormously fertile, so when cheap grain began to flow into the country from Sicily and other overseas conquests, the Romans turned to herding, and the cultivation of grapevines for wine and olive trees for oil. But herds, trees, and vines all required substantial long-term investments, which many soldiers returning to abandoned fields could not afford.

The wealthy bought property from these impoverished farmers and also occupied huge tracts of public land that the government had seized from conquered Italian cities. These fields were farmed by hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war brought into Italy as slaves. Over time, the Roman landlords became greedy. That greed led to the brutal treatment of the slaves, who responded by launching a series of terrifying revolts. These slave uprisings began in 135 bc with 200,000 slaves under arms in Sicily, and culminated with the rebellion of Spartacus in 73 bc.

The influx of slaves drove many peasants from the countryside to the cities and swelled the size of the urban proletariat, or laboring classes, during the 2nd century bc. Many soldiers had seen the luxuries of Greek cities and willingly gave up their harsh rural lifestyles to work in an urban setting. The spoils of war provided funds for a great deal of construction, so initially jobs were plentiful. Senators commissioned private palaces and public memorials, while the state built roads, aqueducts, and temples. Craftworkers and laborers could easily find work and enjoy the subsidized amusements of Rome and other Italian cities. However, they also became dependent on an expanding urban economy and the generosity of politicians. Since Rome spent all of its income each year, the urban population was vulnerable to an economic downturn and a potentially explosive situation existed in the capital itself.

Although the lure of tribute money and other spoils of war sharpened the taste for military conquest, the army faced severe recruitment problems. Property ownership was a requirement for military service, since soldiers had to provide their own arms, but the growing numbers of landless poor could no longer satisfy these basic qualifications. Even those men who were eligible hesitated to serve long tours of duty overseas when the prospects for rich booty had declined and their lands might be at risk during their absence. Armies of occupation were necessary for an imperial power, but neither Roman citizens nor the increasingly resentful Italians found enrollment attractive.



Italian Subjects

Rome had subdued Italy and then used its Italian subjects to conquer the Mediterranean. Initially Rome had been generous with political rights and had bestowed degrees of citizenship on favored communities and on freed slaves. The Italians were, at first, peaceful and loyal, and by the 2nd century bc had grown culturally and economically closer to the Romans. Most of the Italian people spoke Latin, adopted Roman coinage, and traveled on the superb network of Roman roads that linked the cities of an increasingly urbanized Italy. Italians worked beside the Romans as tax collectors and traders in the provinces, and the profits of empire helped to build the public monuments that adorned Italian towns like Pompeii. When rebels in Asia and North Africa rose to resist their oppressors, Italian merchants were even massacred alongside the Romans.

In the provinces, the Italians were conquerors, but at home in Italy, they were regarded as subjects. They became increasingly resentful that the Romans continued to withhold full political rights from them. The army was more Italian than Roman, yet Italians received a smaller share of the booty. Confiscated Italian land was rented to Romans, and the Italian towns had to endure repeated insults at the hands of arrogant Roman officials who demanded expensive hospitality on their visits. The local Italian aristocracy hoped for change, but as they waited, the intensity of their resentment grew.



New Officeholders

The political victories of the plebeians led to the creation of a new aristocracy of wealthy officeholders, called nobiles by the Romans. The nobiles came from the ranks of both plebs and aristocrats. By the 2nd century bc, a complex interplay of factors including lineage, wealth, landholdings, military reputation, and political achievements determined social status. A wealthy man like Cato, who reached the highest offices but was not an aristocrat, still felt resentment toward aristocratic families like the Scipios.

The expansion of Rome complicated these social divisions by enabling another new interest group, the equites, to reach economic and, eventually, political prominence. Equites could achieve great wealth in trade and business without the controls imposed on senators, who were restricted in their business dealings. Since the wars with Hannibal, the Roman state had become more involved in a variety of economic activities, including shipbuilding, provisioning of armies, road building, management of mines and public works, and, most importantly, tax collection. The equites controlled these services by setting up companies to do business with the state.

The equites soon became notorious for their greed and corruption, taking about one-third of all tax collections as profit. They often used the enormous funds at their disposal to manipulate the grain market in a province or to lend money at interest rates up to 48 percent. Their wealth enabled them to control the governors through bribery and restrain senators through silent partnerships or secret agreements. During the 2nd century bc, these entrepreneurs developed a strong sense of their political as well as economic interests, and by late in the century they were called the equestrian order to parallel the senatorial order.



Changes in Values

In two centuries Rome transformed itself from a small city-state to the ruler of the Mediterranean. A poor agricultural community had become a commercial giant whose conquests poured gold, grain, and slaves into Italy. Rome had permanently altered its economy, society, and culture, as well as the surrounding Italian countryside. Yet, after almost four centuries of successful adaptation, the political institutions of the republic were not sufficiently flexible to accommodate these changes. The Roman elite no longer retained their traditional values as evidenced by laws against electoral bribery and provincial corruption, luxury, and excessive victory processions, called triumphs. Nor did they understand that republican institutions, developed for a city of 10,000, could not administer an empire of millions. For example, Rome had no adequate financial system and relied on annual income from tribute and taxes as operating capital. When income and, thus, expenditures declined, severe economic crises could result. Roman senators were unwilling to address the problems of the army, the noncitizen Italian allies, the urban poor, the exploited provincials, or the brutality of the slave plantations. They responded only to crisis, and they would soon be confronted by the greatest internal crisis in centuries.



Cultural Life During the Republic

The Romans excelled in architecture and engineering long before they could approach the Greeks in the quality of their literature or art. Roman conquests encouraged the spread of their innovations throughout the Mediterranean world.



Architecture and Engineering

True Roman originality appears more often in engineering and construction than in the decorative arts. By 300 bc Appius Claudius Caecus had commissioned work on the paved military road south to Capua, which became known as the Appian Way. He also initiated construction of Rome’s first aqueduct to bring water to the city from nearby hills. These projects later became the models for hundreds of miles of aqueducts and thousands of miles of paved highway built throughout Rome’s empire. In addition, the Romans took the arch from the Etruscans and, on their own, pioneered the use of concrete covered by brick as the basis for most monumental buildings, including baths, amphitheaters, aqueducts, and markets.

The earliest Roman temples followed the Etruscan style and were built with wood decorated with terra-cotta. Roman architects designed and decorated these structures with the idea that they would be viewed from a single perspective. In contrast, Greek temples were intended to be observed from all sides. When the Romans turned to stone buildings in the 3rd century bc, they preserved a similar structure.

The construction boom of the 2nd century bc, spurred by the profits of conquest and the desire of aristocrats for luxury, led to the incorporation of Greek features such as the use of colonnades and marble. The Greek style of colonnaded courtyards, for example, became an important part of Roman villas. In the 2nd century bc the Romans even devised their own characteristic public buildings called basilicas—large covered spaces for politics, law, and commerce. Much later in the 4th century ad, the early Christians adopted the same type of structure for their churches.




Despite the presence of a vibrant Greek culture in southern Italy and Sicily, Roman literature developed quite slowly. Through conquest, Rome began to spread the Latin language, but only official documents like the Twelve Tables, family records, or brief personal identifications were written in Latin before the 3rd century bc. Some Roman aristocrats learned Greek, and the earliest histories by Romans were written in Greek, perhaps to convince the Hellenistic world that Rome was not an entirely barbarous state.

The first literary work in Latin was a translation of the Greek poet Homer’s Odyssey by Lucius Livius Andronicus (284?-204 bc), who was probably born in one of the Greek colonies of southern Italy and brought to Rome as a slave. Livius and others also translated Greek tragedies into Latin. Only fragments exist of these works as well as the epics and tragedies of Quintus Ennius (239-169? bc), who is sometimes called the Father of Latin Literature.

The first works in Latin that survive in their entirety are 20 plays of the earthy writer of comedy, Plautus (254?-184 bc). According to Plautus, his plays were performed at fairs where snake charmers and acrobats competed for the audience’s attention, so he spiced up adapted Greek plays with coarse humor. Not unlike modern television situation comedies, his plays use stereotyped characters (shrewd slaves, pompous soldiers, lovesick young men) in ingenious plots. The English playwright William Shakespeare adapted Plautus’ play Menaechmi as The Comedy of Errors (1592?), while The Braggart Soldier and other plays by Plautus formed the basis for the American musical comedy A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962). Political leaders in the Roman Republic took themselves very seriously, but the works of Plautus show that the Roman masses could laugh at topics like family, chastity, and even the military, as long as the plots of these plays were safely set in Greece.

Terence (195-159 bc), who originally came from Carthage, became Rome’s other great comic poet. He followed Greek models more faithfully than Plautus and wrote comedies in clear and elegant Latin.

The first prose writer was Cato the Elder, whose practical handbook on farming, De Agri Cultura (On Agriculture; 160? bc), is the oldest surviving nonfiction work in Latin. Cato also wrote a history of Rome that he claimed was for the education of his son, but he clearly intended the book to bolster his own reputation and disparage the aristocratic families which he despised. The most accomplished historian to write in Republican Rome was Polybius, a Greek hostage brought to Rome in 167 bc. His history of Rome’s rise to the domination of the Mediterranean, written in Greek, is the best source available for this period. Polybius combined rigorous methodology with a philosophical approach to history that made him unique among historians of Rome.

By the 1st century bc, Roman writers and intellectuals were reading widely in Greek philosophy and literature. The poet Lucretius (94?-55? bc) wrote De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), a long poem that passionately expounded the ideas of the Greek philosopher Epicurus on the mechanical working of the universe. The other great poet of the late republic was Catullus (84?-54? bc). He was much influenced by the elegance and intimacy of Greek poetry from Alexandria, the center for Greek culture and learning in Egypt. He is best known for his cycle of 25 love poems addressed to a mysterious woman whom he calls Lesbia. The love affair recounted in the Lesbia poems was genuine, and these verses convey the poet’s ecstasy and despair with an immediacy that still strikes a responsive cord after 2,000 years.

Among works of Roman prose, the commentaries of Julius Caesar (100-44 bc) on the Gallic War and the Civil War (De Bello Gallico and De Bello Civili) are masterpieces of propaganda. Caesar, a famed military commander and later dictator of Rome, was also a skilled writer who chose to present his conquests with a contrived objectivity and third-person detachment that gave added credibility to his account. Caesar’s former deputy Sallust (86-35? bc) has left short histories—Bellum Jugurthinum (War with Jugurtha) and the Bellum Catilinae (Conspiracy of Catiline). His moralizing approach to history focused on the decay of the aristocracy, and his bare, precise style imitated Cato.

Sallust’s terse writing was in direct contrast to the rich prose of one of Rome’s greatest writers, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 bc), who was also a noted orator, statesman, philosopher, and essayist. Cicero’s speeches and letters are most widely known, but he also wrote essays on the history and practice of oratory. Cicero created a philosophical vocabulary in Latin by translating and adapting Greek philosophical works. Cicero’s works influenced the development of political philosophy, rhetoric, and prose style through the centuries and exceeded the impact of any other Roman writer.




The Romans first learned wall painting from the Etruscans and later were influenced by Greek fresco painting and mosaic work for the decoration of houses. Unfortunately, in this most fragile of all art forms, almost nothing has survived from the Roman Republic. (The only remaining Etruscan painting was preserved in sealed tombs, while nearly all we have of Roman painting was sealed off in ad 79 by the lava flowing from Mount Vesuvius, when it erupted and destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum).

More Roman sculpture has survived from the republic. The earliest artists were Etruscan, and from the 3rd century bc sculpture seen in Rome came primarily from defeated Greek cities. Most Roman marble sculpture continued to be in the Greek style. The outstanding exceptions were Roman portrait-busts, which showed great originality and were far more realistic than their idealized Greek equivalents. The tradition of realistic representation probably originated in the terra-cotta busts of ancestors, which had long been displayed at the funerals of Roman aristocrats.



Civil Wars and Personal Struggles (133-44 bc)

The Romans themselves believed that the century of civil war that destroyed the republic originated in the changes brought about by the success of Roman imperialism. Some like the Roman historian Sallust blamed the gross economic inequalities that had emerged: farmers without land, laborers without jobs as a result of slave labor, and Italian allies without the rights of citizenship. Others like Cato the Elder criticized the corruption of Greek culture and the pride and ambitions of aristocratic families who put personal glory before the common good. Still others like Cicero saw the transformation of the army and urban mobs into instruments of political power as the death knell for traditional senatorial government. There was some truth in all these views as irreconcilable differences among the Romans propelled the state toward civil war.



The Gracchi

The social conflict that eventually destroyed the Roman Republic first erupted with the election of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus as tribune in 133 bc. Gracchus came from a distinguished family background: His father had served twice as consul, and his mother, Cornelia, was the daughter of the famed general Scipio Africanus the Elder. He proposed a land law to limit private occupation of public property to 300 acres and to distribute the excess in 20-acre parcels to the landless. According to Tiberius, the aim of this measure was to reduce the unemployed population of Rome, to make the poor eligible for military service, and to reverse the dangerous trend toward enormous plantations worked by slaves. Those families who had long occupied public land believed they had de facto ownership and would not relinquish it without a struggle. Roman aristocrats attributed his actions to personal ambition, but Gracchus claimed that he intended to protect the peasantry and save the Roman Republic.

When Tiberius bypassed the Senate and brought his legislation directly to the Assembly, another tribune vetoed the proposal. Tiberius had him removed by the assembly, but the Senate retaliated by refusing to provide funds for implementation of the land law. Gracchus then proposed that the government use the treasure of King Attalus of Pergamum, just bequeathed to the Roman people, for that purpose. Tiberius’s actions were legal, but unprecedented in the history of the carefully balanced Roman constitution. His opponents feared Tiberius could become a despot, especially when he began to walk through Rome accompanied by private bodyguards. After he took the unprecedented step of standing for reelection, rioting broke out and a mob led by senators killed Tiberius and some of his followers. For the first time in centuries, violence had entered Roman politics.

In 123 bc Tiberius’s younger brother, Gaius Sempronius Gracchus, was elected tribune and proposed a more radical program of social and political reform. Gaius, a brilliant orator, undermined senatorial domination by encouraging the political aspirations of the equites and by proposing that Rome extend citizenship to the people of Latium and Italians in the surrounding areas. He, too, died as a result of street fighting, and his senatorial opponents executed more than 3,000 of his supporters without trial.

After the deaths of the Gracchi, a new breed of politicians arose called populares. They considered themselves advocates of the people (populus), although they came from the same noble background as their opponents. The supporters of continued senatorial dominance were known as optimates since the nobility called themselves the optimi (best). Although the populares drew their support from the urban poor or the landless rural population, they were senators just like the optimates. Thus, the political rivals of the late republic all held the same social position but promoted different agendas.

The Gracchi were not conscious revolutionaries, but their actions and the senatorial reaction ushered in a series of social conflicts. Neither of the brothers made much permanent improvement in the condition of the urban poor, and the Italians were further embittered when they saw the defeat of proposals, such as the extension of Roman citizenship, that would have addressed their grievances. On the other hand, the Gracchi’s policies made the equites a political force for the first time. Tribunes recovered the inherently revolutionary power of their office that allowed them to act for the plebs and block actions by the Senate and other magistrates, and the popular assemblies again recognized their own power. The moral and political weakness of the Senate was exposed; the nobility could only maintain its dominance through violence. The progressive escalation of these conflicts ended with the destruction of the republic.

A generation after the Gracchi, the military entered political life, setting an even more dangerous precedent. When the North African king Jugurtha, ruler of Numidia, killed Italian traders, bribed Roman officials, and humiliated the Roman army in a drawn-out guerrilla war, the Roman general Gaius Marius won the consulship in 107 bc with a popular mandate to defeat Jugurtha. He recruited a large army by enrolling and providing arms to landless volunteers; thereafter, generals recruited and trained armies based on voluntary enlistments and property qualifications were dropped. After Roman troops led by Marius captured Jugurtha, the people repeatedly reelected Marius consul, expecting him to defeat marauding Germanic peoples in southern Gaul. Marius left a fatal legacy of professional armies whose soldiers were loyal to the general who recruited them and promised them land in return for their political support. Politicians had found a powerful new weapon: a personal army that was no longer loyal to the Senate and the Roman people.

Italian discontent over Rome’s failure to grant them citizenship or otherwise reward them for their military assistance finally erupted in 91 bc in a general revolt known as the Social War. The Italians who had helped conquer the Mediterranean now fought against the Romans. The Italians established their own capital at Corfinium and issued coinage showing the Italian bull goring the Roman wolf. The Italian army fought well, and Rome finally ended the war by agreeing to extend citizenship to all free inhabitants of Italy. Within a generation, Italians appeared in public life, and within two generations they reached the highest offices of the republic.




Lucius Cornelius Sulla was an impoverished Roman aristocrat who had distinguished himself in the Social War and hoped to make his fortune through an overseas command. While Rome fought against the Italians, the cities of Asia rebelled and joined with King Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus (in what is now Turkey) in killing 80,000 Roman and Italian traders and tax collectors. The Senate gave Sulla the potentially lucrative command of the forces that were being sent to defeat these cities. However, Gaius Marius also wanted the post, and his supporters tried to remove Sulla. Sulla responded by marching on the Roman capital in 88 bc to reestablish his right to the position given him by the Senate. He drove Marius and his supporters from the city.

For the next four years Sulla pursued his eastern war, capturing Athens and finally defeating Mithridates. But during this time his Marian enemies again gained control of the government in Rome and declared Sulla an outlaw. After Sulla made peace with Mithridates, he brought his loyal army back to Italy to confront the government.

In 83 bc Sulla landed in southern Italy and marched on Rome. Sulla needed to eliminate all opposition and to secure money and land for his 120,000 soldiers and his greedy followers. He issued proscription lists, which put a bounty on the heads of thousands of Romans whose property could then be confiscated. In less than a decade of civil war 200,000 free Romans and Italians had met violent deaths. The image of a Roman general turning his troops on the capital and murdering his political opponents haunted Rome ever after.

A frightened Senate appointed Sulla dictator, although his term was not limited to six months like constitutional dictators of the past. Then Sulla, rather ironically, tried to protect the Senate against military leaders like himself. He packed the Senate, which had been depleted by wars and executions, with his own supporters and proposed reforms to ensure senatorial authority in the future. As a result of these reforms, consuls had to wait ten years before standing for reelection, and proconsuls could only hold office for a single year. By restricting the term of office, Sulla hoped to prevent officeholders from building up loyal troops and undermining the Senate, as both he and Gaius Marius had done. In 80 bc Sulla relinquished the dictatorship and soon retired to the pleasures of private life. None of his successors who attained such power would relinquish it so quietly.



Political Values in the Late Republic

Patronage remained an important element in the Roman political system. Social changes diminished the traditional patronage of the rich toward the poor and masters toward their freedmen, but it survived in new forms. Popular politicians turned the entire urban population into their followers by distributing food and providing entertainment. The most important new form of patronage developed between generals and their troops. This mutual interdependence became possibly the central element leading to the fall of the republic.

Roman politicians and their families were also linked by a network of personal, financial, and marriage ties that were described by the general term of amicitia (friendship). Such agreements could be public or private, tactical or strategic, honorable or disgraceful.

The struggle to equal or surpass the achievements of ancestors lay at the heart of Roman ambition in public life. The transformation of Roman society brought competition in other arenas, as families vied to amass wealth and display it with increasingly lavish houses, retinues, and banquets. There seemed to be no limits to personal rivalry among powerful men who expected to have books written about them, and who received homage as gods from Rome’s Greek subjects. Yet a savage competition for state office remained the fundamental element in the search for prestige. Electoral office led to military commands which, in turn, brought wealth and power. Every ambitious Roman spent time on the election campaign trail, and handbooks that provided lessons on election strategies still survive. Rising young men like Julius Caesar often borrowed vast sums to promote their political careers. Their debtors could only expect repayment when the politician reached high office. Frequent attempts at electoral reform show that corruption ran rampant. The prizes were too great and the stakes too high. Roman political life of the 1st century bc was not about losing gracefully; it was about winning, or else.




Intense rivalries for power followed Sulla’s resignation, and Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero fought valiantly for 20 years to stabilize the government and preserve the republic. Cicero hoped to bring senators and equites together in an alliance that represented responsible citizens against dangerous fanatics. He had no senatorial ancestors, but his oratorical abilities were quickly recognized. After rhetorical and philosophical studies in Greece, Cicero served as a lawyer and catapulted into prominence with his brilliant prosecution of a corrupt governor of Sicily.

Widespread recognition of Cicero’s abilities brought him the consulship in 63 bc, and while serving in that office, he successfully suppressed an armed rebellion by his rival Catiline, a supporter of Sulla and the political leader who had lost to Cicero in the election. Cicero hoped to bring senators and equites together in an alliance of what he saw as responsible citizens against dangerous demagogues and potential military tyrants. In the end, however, Cicero was a political failure. He excelled as a scholar and a lawyer, but perhaps overvalued words, argument, and reason. He could not persuade senators to put aside their personal interests in the greater interest of the Roman state. Despite his flaws, he fought a heroic battle to preserve what he believed to be Rome’s best interests.



The First Triumvirate

Among the ambitious political hopefuls were two of Sulla’s junior officers, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, known as Pompey, and Marcus Licinius Crassus. These two men remained closely linked for the next three decades. Conservative senators despised both of them. Sulla called Pompey “the Great,” and the 25-year-old Pompey proudly added the title to his name. Pompey’s early cruelty had earned him renown as “teen-age slaughterer,” but even before he held high office, he was a skillful military recruiter and commanded armies with a self-confidence that annoyed and frightened the Senate. Crassus had profited enormously from Sulla’s proscriptions by buying the property of those condemned at bargain prices. Many such shady dealings made him the richest man in Rome. If Crassus was unpopular with senators, he found his natural constituency among the equites, for whom he became a spokesman. He and Pompey were jointly elected consul in 70 bc.

In the succeeding years, Pompey embarked on a military expedition to suppress piracy and to launch another war against King Mithridates VI in Asia. Pompey also reorganized Roman provinces and independent kingdoms in the east, and even conquered Jerusalem. When Pompey returned to Rome in triumph, he voluntarily disbanded his troops, much to the relief of all who feared a repeat of Sulla’s massacres. The Senate then made the mistake of refusing to provide Pompey land for his soldiers and drove him into an alliance with Crassus. The Senate had refused Crassus an adjustment of the equites’ contracts for taxes in Asia, since a famine had reduced the tax collections. Pompey and Crassus found another ambitious politician with a grievance against the Senate, Julius Caesar.

Gaius Julius Caesar was one of the most extraordinary of all ancient Romans. Despite his modern image as a general, Caesar was a sophisticated man who was a poet and scholar as well as the only orator of the time who could rival Cicero. His immense charm brought him the loyalty of men and women, and he could successfully project his personality to a political assembly or an army. His sharp intellect was matched by a strong will that never wavered.

In an age characterized by indecisive politicians, Caesar acted, for better or worse, with resoluteness and consistency. Many of Caesar’s contemporaries shared his ambition, but they lacked his extraordinary grasp of the existing political situation. This latter trait stemmed from a deep understanding of himself, his friends, and his opponents, and made him both a great general and a remarkable man. Despite his aristocratic birth, Caesar always supported the populares. He had a great rapport with the people and gained enormous popularity.

In 61 bc Marcus Porcius Cato (called Cato the Younger to distinguish him from his great-grandfather, the Roman statesman and writer Cato the Elder) led the Senate in rebuffing the three most powerful Romans of the day: Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar. Cato was deeply conservative, and his attempts to curtail the influence of these men drove them to make a three-way political compact called the First Triumvirate. Pompey’s needs were clear enough. His future demanded that he reward his troops with land, and his honor required that the Senate ratify the treaties he had made in the east. Cato, who had the knack of doing the principled thing at the wrong time, infuriated the equites by rebuffing Crassus and thus destroying Cicero’s hope for a compact between equites and the Senate. When Julius Caesar returned from his year as praetor in Spain and hoped to run for the consulship, a senatorial vote on his triumph was intentionally delayed to make him choose between holding a great victory procession or proceeding with the election.

Together, Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar took what the Senate refused them. Once Caesar was elected consul by the Assembly, he proposed the legislation necessary to satisfy Crassus and Pompey. When the Senate denied his efforts, he used Pompey’s veterans to intimidate voters and force these measures through the Assembly. Once the three men had satisfied their immediate goals, however, rivalries led to disputes among them. Caesar, who was deep in debt from his political campaigns, became governor of Gaul in 58 bc after his consulship ended. He hoped to recoup his fortunes through conquest and booty. After Crassus was killed by the Parthians in a military disaster in Syria in 53 bc, the Senate increasingly wooed Pompey as preferable to Caesar.



The Rising Power of Julius Caesar

Caesar first displayed his military brilliance during his long term as governor of Gaul. He did not have the strategic genius of Alexander the Great or Hannibal; instead, his success lay in his ability to appraise a situation realistically, to train his troops, and then to make the necessary logistical preparations. Caesar acted quickly to exploit every opportunity, a characteristic of both his political and military life. He made few errors and could swiftly capitalize on the mistakes of others. In Gaul he developed a battle-hardened army and was well prepared for civil war.

Over the course of a decade, Caesar subdued great portions of Gaul, built roads, captured a million prisoners, and took vast amounts of the region’s wealth. Caesar’s enormous success did little to appease his enemies, who waited for him to leave his command in Gaul before launching the customary prosecutions for corruption. Caesar would not relinquish his armies until he was given immunity, but in the Senate Cato opposed any compromise. Pompey was the other possible military leader who could oppose Caesar, so Cato and the Senate relied on him for support and naively expected Italy to rise up against Caesar. Caesar felt that the optimates in the Senate intended to humiliate him and that he had to fight to preserve his honor. In January of 49 bc, Caesar marched his army across the Rubicon River, the boundary between his Gallic province and Italy. With the words “The die is cast,” he began a civil war.

Pompey withdrew his troops to Greece; Caesar pursued and soon defeated them. Pompey fled to Egypt where he was murdered, and Cato went to Africa, where he lost another battle before committing suicide. In death as in life, Cato haunted Caesar. Cato was honored by sentimental supporters of the republic as “the last of the Romans.” With hindsight, he seems more clearly a man who helped to bring about the destruction of the republic he professed to hold so dear.

Caesar followed Pompey to Egypt where he restored Queen Cleopatra—earlier deposed by her brother Ptolemy XIII—to the Egyptian throne. He soon brought her to Rome as his mistress. Caesar routed the rebellious king of Pontus in Asia Minor, a battle in which the historian Suetonius quoted Caesar as having made the famous statement: “I came; I saw; I conquered.” He then defeated Pompey’s remaining forces in Spain and Africa. He returned to Rome, and in 44 bc he assumed the position of dictator for life that a frightened Senate had offered.

Caesar initiated a legislative whirlwind. Through numerous social and economic measures he attempted to control debt, regulate traffic in Rome, and impose import tariffs to help Italian industry. He started an ambitious building program that included the Forum of Julius to accommodate public business. He also took measures to prevent the flooding of the Tiber River. Caesar’s Julian calendar, with a minor modification by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century AD, remains the calendar in use today. He established many colonies and was generous in his extension of citizenship to cities in Gaul and Spain. Caesar became one of the first leaders to conceive of Rome as an empire rather than merely as a city-state with overseas possessions, although it was left to his great-nephew and political heir to make Caesar’s broad vision a reality.



The End of the Roman Republic

On March 15, 44 bc, Caesar attended a meeting of the Senate. A group of senators, including his one-time protégé Marcus Junius Brutus, fatally stabbed Caesar 23 times. Brutus and his friends were honorable and patriotic, but they were also foolish, and Rome paid dearly for their folly. The assassins expected that Caesar’s murder would take Roman government out of the hands of the generals and restore senatorial domination. It did not happen. For decades the army had been the true source of Roman political power. Caesar’s troops were not appeased by the Senate’s proclamation that Caesar’s death had restored their freedom. They sought to guarantee the privileges Caesar had given them and to exact revenge for their fallen leader.

More than a decade of murder and civil war followed the assassination. Caesar’s deputy Mark Antony quickly seized command of the troops and control of the war chest to pay them. He forced Brutus, Cassius, and the other assassins to flee to Greece. But another, unexpected heir to Caesar’s wealth and name emerged. In his will Caesar had posthumously adopted his 18-year-old grandnephew, Gaius Octavius, who was then a student in Greece.

The youth, although inexperienced, immediately showed the courage and intelligence that would later bring him mastery of the Roman world as the emperor Augustus. He crossed to southern Italy, took the name of Gaius Julius Caesar (known by historians as Octavian) and began to recruit Caesar’s troops to defend his legacy. After he drove Antony’s forces from Italy, he realized that the senators would discard him as soon as they were free of Antony. In 43 bc, Octavian joined forces with Antony and another of Caesar’s former aides, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, to form the Second Triumvirate and march on Rome. They issued death-lists for their opponents and even the great orator Cicero was struck down while fleeing to a waiting ship.

The Second Triumvirate defeated Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi in northern Greece and then embarked on a program to attend to neglected provinces and resettle veterans. Antony took on the administrative reorganization of the wealthy eastern provinces. There, like earlier Roman governors, he gained personal wealth and the loyalty of both his troops and Rome’s dependent kings. Octavian’s task was far less desirable. He had to confiscate land in Italy to give to his armies for resettlement, a process that caused resentment and even rebellion among the local residents. By shrewd maneuvering, however, Octavian won the loyalty of the troops and built a political base among the leading citizens of the Italian towns.

Jealousy and ambition led to mutual suspicion among the the three men. Antony married Octavian’s sister as one attempt at reconciliation; yet Antony also conducted a love affair with Cleopatra and publicly acknowledged his children by her. Octavian played on Roman prejudice against eastern peoples to attack Antony and provoke civil war. In 31 bc he defeated Antony and Cleopatra in a sea battle near Actium, in Greece (see Battle of Actium). The lovers fled to Alexandria where, powerless to stop the advance of Octavian’s armies into Egypt, they committed suicide the next year.

Octavian became the unchallenged master of Rome and the entire Mediterranean. Yet his victory over Antony could no more resolve the conflicts consuming the Roman Republic than had Caesar’s victory over Pompey. Octavian was only 33 years old at the time, and he was fortunate to have another 44 years of rule to address Rome’s problems. He faced the monumental tasks of demobilizing huge armies and safeguarding their future loyalty, ensuring the safety of Rome’s long-neglected European frontiers, and reducing class hostility and civil unrest in the capital. He also had to make the Italians an integral part of Roman social, cultural, and political life, establish an administrative apparatus to govern the empire, and devise a form of monarchy that would avoid any resemblance to ancient Etruscan tyranny or to eastern kingship.

His first step was to repair the bitter wounds of civil war. On January 13 of 27 bc, Octavian, in his own words, “transferred the Republic from my own power to the authority of the Senate and the Roman people.” This statement was a carefully scripted piece of political theater. The Senate awarded Octavian the name of Augustus and mobs demanded that he retain power. In the legal fiction of restoring the republic, Augustus claimed that he held “no more power than the others who were my colleagues in each magistracy.” In fact, he was establishing the imperial monarchy that has become known as the Roman Empire. This empire endured for five centuries. See also Roman Empire.




The republic was a tottering political system well before Augustus solidified his power, but despite its weaknesses republican rule had also led Rome to many positive advancements. The empire built on the important legacies of the republic and helped to preserve its reputation in the minds of future generations.

Under the republic, the Romans had conquered the Mediterranean, but they were increasingly unable to administer it. Jealousy and factionalism among the elite stood in the way of efficient government. After the armies became involved in civil conflict, it was clear that only a single autocratic ruler could solve the social, economic, and political crises of the late republic.

The republic collapsed, but this political change did not disrupt many areas of Roman life. Social organization, the status of citizens, family ties, and cultural and intellectual influences did not change significantly. People living in the provinces even observed an improvement in Roman administration after the fall of the republic. Wealthy Italians felt better accepted in senatorial society, soldiers were better paid, and the urban masses better fed. Only the old nobility, and their intellectual heirs, mourned the loss of freedom.

The Roman Republic became an ideal that remained intact in the minds of historians, poets, and political theorists. The problems of the republic were soon forgotten as people looked back in admiration at its legacy of political freedom and influence. That visionary republic, which had been described by the historian Polybius and defended by Cicero, was later imitated by the city-states of Renaissance Italy and admired in 18th-century republics in France and America.

Another important legacy of the Roman Republic was the growth in power and prestige of the city of Rome. During the 2nd century bc, the population of the capital swelled with eastern slaves and dispossessed peasants. Also, during the 2nd century bc, Rome became the political capital of the Mediterranean world. By the 1st century bc, Rome was becoming a great intellectual and cultural center, which even attracted Greek philosophers and writers. The last decades of the republic saw the development of monumental public complexes in the center of the city, setting a pattern followed later by the emperors.

The Roman Republic was a dynamic and flexible political organism that was a noble system of government for a small city-state. It made Rome a world power, but it was unsuitable for a large and diverse empire. Furthermore, it had become rigid in the hands of a tiny elite by the time Julius Caesar swept it away. Although some institutions such as the Senate and magistrates survived, Caesar’s successor, Augustus, created a new government that allowed Rome and its people to survive, to grow, and to prosper.

Islam and the Caliphate


The rise of Islam was the most significant event in the history of Arabia. Muhammad was born in Mecca about 570 and died in Medina in 632. Mecca became the spiritual center of the new religion. From 632 to 661 Medina was the political center of a united Muslim state under the caliphs (vice regents) who followed Muhammad. Arabian armies conquered Syria, Egypt, and Sassanid Persia. After Egypt fell in 642, the tide of Muslim conquest swept west over the whole of northern Africa and then over the Spanish Peninsula. Upon the removal of the caliphate to Damascus in 658, Arabia became less important. The shift of the center of Islam to Baghdād in 751 resulted in a further decline.


From the 8th to the early 10th century Arabia was merely a province under the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdād. Then the rule of Baghdād was successfully contested by the Qarmatians, a new Muslim sect, who controlled all of Arabia for a time during the 10th century. Toward the end of the 10th century the Qarmatians lost their power to various Bedouin tribes, and Arabia, again completely disunited, was divided among numerous petty governments. From 1075 to 1094, however, Arabia acknowledged the spiritual leadership of the Abbasid caliph at Baghdād. In 1258 the Mongols conquered Baghdād, and from that time on Baghdād had no influence over Arabia. In 1269 Mecca and Al Ḩijāz (the Hejaz) region came under the control of emirs (Muslim princes) from Egypt. When the Ottomans conquered Egypt in 1517, they took control of Al Ḩijāz and thereafter exerted considerable power in the rest of Arabia.