Opinions on Debatable Issues #31
Western civilization describes the modern or contemporary society that mainly comprises Western Europe and North America. Many of the elements of western civilization are based on Greek and Roman cultures, including democracy, infrastructure, medicine, philosophy, science, and countless more. However, the question of who, Greeks or Romans, contributed more to the world we live in today is not an easy one to answer. Though many ideas originated from the Greeks, Romans had more practical values in shaping western civilization.
The Romans were the greatest builders of the ancient western world. Its legacy is dominant in many of today’s important infrastructures. For example, according to History, Thomas Jefferson started a Roman revival in the United States in the 18th century. One of the impacts was it was that the United States capitol and majority state capitals have Roman features.
Romans were also the father of many legal and governmental structures. They invented the Presumption of innocence, which is the idea of “innocent until proven guilty”, according to Historyteacher.net. Basing their laws on the concept of JUSTICE and the RIGHTS OF THE INDIVIDUAL, Romans gave birth to the rule of democracy. Also, the US’s three branches mirrored the Roman empire’s. “The Executive Branch (President) is similar to the elected consuls of Rome. The Legislative Branch (Congress) is similar to the Roman assemblies (like the Senate). Finally, the Judicial Branch is similar to the Praetors of Rome.” This shows direct corrolation between today’s western countries and Roman Empire.
In addition, Romans created the modern calendar and spread Latin, across the west, eventually giving rise to French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Romanian. More than 9 million native speakers of Romance languages are found today, according to Ethnologue Languages of the World. Along with languages, Christianity flourished after Rome declared it to be its official religion. Most importantly, the clash between the Christian church or different Christian sects and the Roman monarchy led to the fundamental ideas of separation and limitation of power that we see present in most democratic nations.
Without Romans, Greek culture would not have flourished and been so widespread and influential as it is today. Many of the ideas Romans indeed helped promulgate originated from greek civilization. But Romans were more important in contributing to today’s western civilization by both reviving the wisdom of the Greeks and building upon them to further advance humanity. According to HistoryTen, Boethius was a Roman scholar, a Christian philosopher, and a statesman. “He translated the logic of Aristotle in Greek into Latin and the complete works of Plato with additional commentary, notes, and glosses”. Without Romans like him, few people would have known the valuable philosophies. It would be safe to say that Romans were the Bo Le of the Greeks. Bo Le is a Chinese historical figure that is a great house trainer. His ability to train a gifted horse into an actual unparallel one is often used to describe any person or entity that is wise enough to recognize talent or potential and to make it to its fullest extent. Similarly, without Romans appreciating, embracing, and spreading Greek civilization, the world would not have flourished in Greek principles.
After Romans conquered Greece, educated Romans studied the Greek language. The mixing of the elements of Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman culture made Greek and Roman literature thrive. It would be inaccurate to say that Romans were merely the carrier of greek civilization because Romans added their own culture and knowledge into the great work of the past. One example is infrastructure. According to Khan Academy, Greeks created many grandiose buildings that look fancy externally but have limited space inside like the ancient Greek Temple in Paestum. Romans improved this flaw by experimentation and exploitation of concrete, arches, and vaulting to create impressive interiors while maintaining the stunning external view.
Some argue that Romans would have nothing to accept and build upon if there were no Greeks, so Greeks are more important. However, anyone can say I have a great idea or a great practice, but without making great influence with that idea or practice, there is little practical value of them. The idea of gender equality and racial equality, for instance, would not have been today’s norm without people like Martin Luther King or Sojourner Truth. Without Rome advancing Greek ideas, they will not have been an integral part of western civilization. The person that comes up with an idea first does not mean that person makes more contributions. Without Greeks, the idea of democracy, or at least the end of the monarchy will be an inevitable result. For instance, The 1911 Revolution, also known as the Chinese Revolution, ended China’s last imperial dynasty. It was not inspired by Western culture and was based on Ming Dynasty’s ideologies. I know this is not a western example, but it shows that people will always overthrow an abusive system, with or without greek. Thus, the original idea is not as important as Roman’s singular, unprecedented revival and spread of those principles.
In short, Romans’ willingness to learn and embrace new ideas and the ability to synthesize and build upon previous works from lots of cultures rather than just Greek, makes them more important than Greece to the formation of the western civilization.
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