Western Civilization: World History

Published 09 Mar 2017

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The geographical framework played a big role towards the development of early civilizations. Most of the benefits can be attributed to rivers, which supported agriculture. This paper aims at analyzing the effect of geographical framework on development of early civilization, problems faced by such civilizations, and the success of the Roman empire in conquering other territories.
Geographic framework in which the earliest Western civilizations emerged and developed.

According to Burstein & Walter (21-42), most of the early civilizations took place along rivers, due to the availability of water to irrigate their crops. Some of the first civilizations started around the Middle East, evolving to become huge cities where trade flourished. This is because the water that helped grow crops, enabled the people to exchange them for what they did not produce, thereby making such places centers of trading. In India, separation from Asia by mountain ranges, linked it to the Middle east. However, just like most of the early civilizations, agricultural production in India began along river Indus and Ganges. The settlement of people along this region led to development of unique Indian culture, that included the Sanskrit, and Caste system among others. Tigris-Euphrates civilization developed along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and further evolution led to the development of cuneiform, the first human writing known. Further development also led to religious beliefs, tightly organized states and astronomical sciences. The development of this civilization is attributed to the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, which facilitated agriculture.

Role of climate and geography in shaping Western civilization.

Most historians have an agreement that early civilizations relied on rivers for their development. According to Carol and Leslie (36-43), such early civilizations include Egyptian civilization, that took place along the Nile river. Another is the Babylonian, Sumerian and Phoenician civilization, that took place along the Tigris-Euphrates rivers, among other civilizations. These civilizations emerged because the presence of a source of water presented them with an opportunity to grow grains and other crops, that could be traded with neighbors’ products, in order to acquire the commodities that they did not produce.

According to Reilly (33-54), with time, the water from the rivers was used for irrigation, and people gradually moved to settle along river banks, which led to cooperation among people living there, in maintaining the systems of irrigation. These people lived as communities and established patterns of living, which gradually led to development to full civilizations, from previous societies, with common cultures. The availability of water for irrigation made long distance trade possible, and with time, societies could acquire tools and weapons, which were used to expand geographical borders, through conquering foreign lands.

Other places which had unfavorable climate, such as Europe and Asia, made people living in those places adapt to pastoralism. According to Sealey (43-48), they too could exchange their animals and products with other societies, and acquire foodstuffs and other commodities, that they did not produce. Countries with natural seaports had benefits over the rest, since during the ancient civilization there were many wars. Countries with access to seaports could get supplies, and benefited from trade. Such countries attracted huge populations through migration, and evolved to be commerce centers.

The major similarity is that most of these civilizations had, occurred due to presence of rivers, which facilitated agriculture. The practice of agriculture enabled these communities to trade and acquire other commodities that they did not produce. The rivers also attracted people, who came and settled, thereby sharing culture and thus develop. The difference is some societies developed without presence of rivers, such as deserts, and these relied on pastoralism.

Common problems faced by the societies of the ancient Near East, the Mediterranean, and Western Europe before 750 CE?
There were several problems that the societies in ancient civilizations faced. According to Reilly (42-57), one of the problems was the maintenance of big armies, that would be used for defense against external attacks. These armies incurred high costs in terms of training and equipping them, and this cost was largely felt by peasants. This was because the wealthy land owners were able to evade bureaucracy, and the cost that was associated with it.

Another problem that faced most of these societies, was frequent attacks by barbarians. These barbarians attacked frontiers and made such societies politically unstable. They distracted development efforts, since these societies had to finance defense as a primary concern, leaving little resources for anything else. They also affected long distance trade, which reduced the amounts of commodities that could be exchanged by different societies.

Another common problem with these societies was that, there was no equality, between various social classes. Every social class had its place in society, and responsibilities were done depending on the social class. This led to discrimination and exploitation of the lower social classes, by the wealthy land owners. Women were also restricted from certain responsibilities, especially those related to leadership. In Greece, Helots, who were the lower social group, were forced to work for Spartans and handed over their harvests to them.

A successful State in solving these problems.

Athens was the most successful State, in solving these problems. There was a land problem in Athens, and the landless threatened to cause a rebellion. According to Roupp (66-73), this problem was addressed by Solon, the archon in 594 B.C. Solon, who had the responsibility of ensuring reconciliation between the lower and upper classes, spearheaded reforms, that were inspired from, Hesiod, a leader who had lived many years earlier. Solon first canceled all debts and forbade future ones, though he rejected the idea of redistributing land. His long term goal was stimulating industry and trade, so that employment levels would rise. In order to achieve this goal, he granted citizenship to artisans from foreign countries, to Greece and required parents to teach their children a profession, so that they could be independent. He also encouraged production and exporting of certain commodities as olive oil. This helped the economy to grow.

In relation to the problem that existed between lower and upper social classes, Cleisthenes, an Athenian leader who came to be in power later, helped solve this problem by disregarding noble-dominated tribes, and creating other tribes. These new tribes contained citizens of all classes, which helped bridge the gap between higher and lower social classes.

Reasons for the Roman empire success as compared to other states.

There are several reasons that made the Roman empire so successful in conquering and ruling such vast territories. The first reason is their military might; they had a system of fighting which was referred to as the legion. According to Kearney (33-39), this was a system of fighting which gathered the soldiers in formations of several lines. This was very effective, since if the enemies crossed one line, there would be more waiting to tackle them. They carefully orchestrated every activity, and there was an efficient signal system that was used between the legions. These formations were so well designed that they increased fear for enemies. The soldiers along the legion would place their shields together, which acted as a wall of defense.

They also trained their soldiers using a technique, that made the officers appear more dangerous to the soldiers than the enemy. This ensured that the soldiers always followed instructions given by their superiors. According to Mennell (91-105), they also used a psychological warfare technique, where the scared soldiers in the battle field were the first to be killed. This was done through attacking the backside of any soldier who turned backwards, as this was the most vulnerable part. The third factor is that they trained the soldiers using techniques, that made them have no doubts that they were the best, and this made them brave during battle. This was reinforced by the fact that they were well rested, fed, and professionally trained, on a day by day basis.

Afterward, the Romans would develop laws that other societies wanted to emulate. For instance ‘social wars’ were developed where Rome fought with its former allies, and these cities eventually wanted Roman law to be used in governance. According to Gabaccia (15-22), this made Rome conquer these cities before allowing them to be governed using the Roman law. The Roman government levied high rates of tax, most of which were apportioned to the army. This army protected owners of land, and since it repulsed any attacks from the east and north, the owners of the land were happy.

At around 376 AD, the barbarians occupied Danude and Rhine, and did not pay tax, which led to a shortfall in amounts of tax collected. This marked the beginning of the fall of the Roman empire, and by 476 AD, the Roman army could not effectively protect the people, which made them to arrange with Barbarian kings for their protection.


The presence of rivers has been seen to have huge impacts on the development of early civilizations. Rivers helped in irrigation, and the crops harvested would be consumed, with the surplus used in exchange with neighboring communities. It has also been established that security was a major focus, for communities that lived during the early civilization. A lot of resources were spent on the army, to deter attacks by barbarians. The biggest disappointment, however, was the discrimination of the lower classes, and women in society. This is a trend that goes on, even today, and needs to be discouraged.


  • Burstein & Walter, Donlan, Ancient Greece: a political, social, and cultural history. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Carol, Dougherty & Leslie Kurke, Cultural poetics in Archaic Greece: cult, performance, politics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
  • Gabaccia, Douglas, A long Atlantic in a wider world. Journal of Atlantic Studies. Retrieved on October 21, 2008 from , 2004.
  • Kearney, Milo, The Indian Ocean in World History. London: Routledge, 2004.
  • Mennell, Stephen, The course of human history: Economic growth, social process and civilization. Retrieved on October 21, 2008 from , 1996.
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