Geography and economic activity often determine the future of any civilization. Here, one is forced to admit that most of the obvious differences among the ancient civilization can be drawn based on their geographical location and, of course, their economic history (Wells, 561). Let us take the example of Roman and Mesopotamian civilizations. Roman civilization is centered on a powerful city situated on the Capitoline Hills. In the beginning of Rome’s history, most of the people were either farmers or small-scale traders.
When Rome expanded into central and southern Italy at the beginning of the Punic Wars, its policy-makers were faced with this fundamental question, “How do we protect our trade interests? ” The answer was expansionism. Rome acquired territories in the East either by conquest or forced capitulation of kingdoms (for example, Bithynia and Pergamum). Rome’s economic interests led to the expansion of the Roman Republic. When this republic was becoming larger and larger, the need for a more despotic, efficient form of government was becoming a reality.
From 88 B. C. to 31 B. C. , the Republic became an avenue of power struggle between powerful public officials. (Such necessity was never a probabilistic tendency, rather a deterministic one) Rome, in 100 B. C. was not yet a center of trade and commerce. As such, only by expansion can Rome protect its economic interests (Wells, 585). The Mesopotamian civilization is situated on the so-called ‘Fertile Crescent’ or the junction of the Tigris-Euphrates Rivers. Its geographical location was suited for trade and commerce.
In fact, it was the center of trade in the Middle East, controlling the flow of goods from the ‘Far East’ to the Pillars of Hercules (Toynbee, 266). Hence, most of the city-states founded on the Fertile Crescent were prosperous and relatively peaceful. Wars usually occurred as a means of settling disputes among rulers of city-states. Expansionism was never an important issue. Unlike Rome, most of the city-states preferred to negotiate rather than engage in costly wars. For example, when Uruk defeated a powerful city-state in 1560 B. C.
, it was faced with an important fundamental question, “Is it necessary to occupy the city-state? ” The answer was an obvious no. Occupation only entailed increased cost and resentment from the local population. It was more rational to keep the city under constant political surveillance than to actually occupy it. Only at the time of Sargon that was political view radically altered. 2. What do surviving works (art or architecture) tell us about culture? Compare pagan art to Christian art and Greek art to Roman art. Art and architecture define the ideology and prevailing beliefs of particular historical periods (Zaide, 419).
Historical periods here do not simply refer to space and time, rather to actual events conforming to specific ideologies (Zaide, 420). Art and architecture also define the way of life of particular groups of people located in specific milieu. Hence, one may argue that works of art generally reflect the exterior and interior tendencies of people; that is, works of art define the psychology and behavior of peoples. For example, the painting ‘The Night watch” (by Rembrandt) reflects the ideological resistance of the Dutch nation against Spanish imperialism.
Christian art is essentially different from pagan art in two respects. First, Christian art rests on the twin principles of equality (not to be confused with the ‘equality’ espoused by the French Revolution) and simplicity (Zaide, 549). Early Christian art depicted the symbolic reign of Christ on earth; this is symbolic of the simplicity of Christian life. During the reign of Constantine the Great, Christian art (although still rests on the concept of simplicity) became the emblem of imperial authority and the Divine Trinity (note that early Christian art only depicted the image of Christ).
Constantine the Great ordered the construction of great basilicas to proclaim this new interpretation of Christian art. Second, Christian art centered on a single set of ideology. Christian art and philosophy centered on the nature of the Divine Trinity, the simplicity of Christian life, and the majesty of the Roman Church. Pagan art was a ‘hot spot’ of eastern, Greek, and Roman religious philosophy. Pagan art was simply the result of the mixture of pagan philosophies. Roman art is different from Greek art in two respects. First, Roman art was generally a modification of Greek art. The invention of concrete during the 1st century A.
D. greatly advanced Roman art and architecture. For example, the simple amphitheatre of the Greeks was transformed into a colosseum. Concrete allowed the construction of more complex structures. Second, Greek art was essentially religious in character (this is assertion is debatable for some historians). Roman art and architecture was a mixture of religious and political philosophies. Works Cited Toynbee, Arnold. A History of the World. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1964. Wells, Herbert. An Outline of History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947. Zaide, Gregorio. History of Art. Manila: Manila Publishing Company.
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