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Influences On Western Culture From Ancient Times To Early Renaissance

Western civilization is said to have emerged in ancient Greece. At least it was Greece, where some basic principles of the West have been first formulated, including democracy and local self government and the rule of philosophic thinking in spite of mythological one of ancient East. However, ancient Greeks seem to be more dreamers, than active doers, their activity has been limited more with learning, rather than action and they were conservators, satisfied with their life, being hardly interested in the rest of the world.

Greeks lacked passion and will to change anything, and even their gods often appear to be more comic figures, than sacred ones . In contrast to Greeks, Romans showed themselves to be much more pragmatic and purposeful. Philosopher has never in fact been their ideal, their ideal was a warrior and a ruler, sometimes a politician, a person involved in action, changing the world around as it may seem fit to him. Having started from a small rural community, Romans did bring a greater part of the known world to their influence.

However, it was not only Rome, which influenced the world, it was the world, which influenced Rome. At the times of republic, the philosophers of Greece were the order of the day. Later, at the times of the Empire, Romans accepted much of the religious cults of the conquered peoples. The high point of such religious sensibility was extraordinary fast spread of Christianity. Old gods could no longer satisfy people’s needs, and even despite of severe repressions against Christians in the first decades A. D. , Rome had to adopt the new religion as an official one.

Such conversion showed, that the old spirit of the world ultimate secular empire became outdate, and that Rome is already about to collapse. The first ages after occupation of Rome by the barbarians are often called “dark ages”, however, they were not so “dark”, as it is usually considered. When the horrible hordes of the Guns were pushed away from Europe and other barbaric people have more or less settled on one and same place, they just continued to lead their traditional way of life, which existed already in Roman times.

The first trends of feudalism appeared already in the IV century in the Empire, the barbaric kings were direct heirs of tribal leaders, and many of the old Roman cities retained their institutions, because destroying them was of little interest to the barbarians, who were interested only in material wealth. Knowledge and wisdom of the ancients has been saved in the churches and monasteries, which often represented power on the empty lands. The power of the emperors has been substituted by the authority of the Popes, who have long strived for influence with the secular rulers.

In contrast to earlier times, St. Augustine created a doctrine of sinful City of Earth and the divine City of God, which supported the superiority of the Church before the Kings. Much worse was the spiritual trauma, suffered by the people of early Middle Ages as a result of the fall of Rome. In spite of spreading their culture and lifestyle as Romans did, they began to conserve their traditions and the word “new” was now a synonym of “unreliable”.

The first independent cultural phenomenon after Rome was the co-called Carolingian Renaissance – a short attempt to renew some sort of an Empire and enlightenment by Charles the Great about 800 A. D. , however, this attempt failed soon after Charles’s death . The true high point of the Medieval culture was the Gothic style, which changed Roman style after the crusades, when affected by eastern cultural tradition. Gothic cathedral can be called a true symbol of Middle Ages.

It is here, where scholastic doctrines, proving the existence of God were created and chiseled by Thomas Aquinas and William Occam. Even though later the Gothic style has been called barbaric (the word “gothic” originates from the word “Goth” – a synonym of barbarian), it can be easily noticed, that Renaissance of the XV century has been prepared by the culture of late Middle Ages.


1. Oswald Spengler (1991) The Decline of the West. Oxford University Press 2. Christopher Dawson (1954) Medieval Essays New York: Sheed and Ward.

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