Iranian civilization

  • In the middle of the 6th century BC, a powerful empire – Achaemenid empire-arose in Iran (Persia). The founder of this empire was Cyrus with his capital at Pasargadae.
  • He was succeeded by Darius I (522 BC – 486 BC). The empire reached its greatest extent under him and covered entire Iran, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Asia minor and north-western India. He built a new capital at Persepolis.
  • Darius I and his successors were involved in wars with the Greek states. They were defeated by Greeks. Alexander dealt the empire a final blow during the reign of Darius III.
  • In the 3rd century AD, a new and powerful empire – Sassanid empire – arose in Iran. This empire which was founded by Ardashir in 226 AD held sway in Iran up to the middle of the 7th century AD.
  • The Arabs, who emerged as a strong power after the rise of Islam, conquered Iran in 651 AD.
  • The Achaemenids had introduced the use of money (coins of gold and silver) on a large scale throughout the empire.
  • Iran in ancient times produced a number of famous sailors and explorers. One of them, Scylax, undertook a voyage from the mouth of Indus to Egypt on orders of Darius.
  • The main religion of the ancient Iranians was Zoroastrianism. This religion was founded by Zarathustra or Zoroaster (628 BC – 551 BC) as the Greeks called him in 7th century BC. The teachings of Zarathustra are recorded in the Zend Avesta, the holy book of Parsis. Zarathustra said that the world consists of two forces, good and evil. The god, Ahura Mazda represents the forces of good, and Ahirman, the forces of evil. The sun and the fire came to be worshipped as visible symbols of Ahura Mazda, who represents light. Both Judaism and Christianity indebted to Zoroastrianism.
  • During the Achaemenid empire the official language was Aramaic. Sassanids revived old Persian and made it the official language of their empire. But a new script called Pahlavi had also developed. The best-known ancient literature of Iran is the Zend Avesta, which contains the work of Zarathustra.

Greek Civilizations

Ancient Greece was called Hellas. The was at its strongest in 500 – 400 BC, after Greece colonized Cyprus, parts of Italy, the Ukraine and the South of France. This era was known as the Golden Age. Some city-states, such as Athens and Sparta, became great centres of learning, art and politics. Many famous thinkers lived in Athens during this period, including Aristotle, Plato, Socrates and Aristophanes. The ancient Greeks also created the idea of democracy: its citizens were encouraged to debate to debate and then vote to on issues. The Golden Age ended in wars between city-states, which paved the way for King Philip of Macedonia to invade Greece, followed later by his son Alexander.

  • The early Greeks lived in tribes, each composed of a number of families under a leader. A group of tribes had a king. The main occupations of Greeks were agriculture and herding.
  • The early Greeks had many gods whom they imagined to be like human beings, though more powerful and immortal. Zeus was the god of the sky and hence caused thunder. Poseidon, god of the sea, raised storms that sank ships. Apollo, the sun god, could reveal the future. Athena, was the goddess of victory and patroness of the arts. Dionysus was the god of wine and there were many others. The Greeks thought their gods lived on Mount Olympus.
  • Around 800 BC, groups of Greek villages began joining into larger units to form city-states. At the highest point in a city-state, an acropolis or citadel was built for defence and city spread out around the acropolis. Such cities were Sparta, Athens, Macedonia, Corinth, Thebes and others. Sparta and Athens were two most important city-states.
  • Spartans were fine soldiers. The Spartans’ concern with militarism and war was so much so that the word ‘spartan’ is often used to mean militaristic. In spite of that, they contributed little else to Greek culture.
  • The city-state of Athens developed along lines quite different from Sparta. The territories it ruled had been occupied gradually and peacefully, and militarism had not developed. Athens had excellent harbours and mineral deposits. Athenians built a prosperous trade and culture. Pericles (469 BC – 429 BC) was the most important ruler of Athens.
  • The Battle of Marathon (1190 BC): The Greek defeated the Iranian (Persian) king Darius I at Marathon near Athens.
  • The Peloponnesian war, between Sparta and Athens from 431 BC to 404 BC, ended in tragedy for Athens.
  • Philip of Macedonia conquered most of states in the years following Athens’ defeat. Then his son, Alexander set out, at the age of 20, to conquer the world. During the 13 years (336 BC – 323 BC), he compelled all Greece to accept his leadership and conquered the Achaemenid empire. This brought him to India border where he defeated king Porus on the Jhelum in 326 BC. He sailed down the Indus and then returned to Mesopotamia where he died of fever in 323 BC at the age of 32.
  • Alexander’s conquests brought many important changes to the world. Trade between Europe and Asia was developed. Many new cities were built.
  • In the 2nd century BC, the Roman empire started expanding eastward. As a result of Roman attacks, almost the entire territory of the Greeks and their empire became a part of the Roman empire.
Contributions of Greek Civilization
  • It is obvious of Greece that the world has never forgotten the glory of Athens at the time of Pericles.
  • The Olympic games were first held in 776 BC by the Greeks in honour of God Zeus at Mount Olympus (Olympia) in Greece, hence the name, and they continued till 394 AD. From 394 AD these games started degenerating and by 580 AD they altogether vanished. They were banned by the Roman Emperor Theodosius as Pagan manifestations.
  • It was the French Baron, Pierre de Coubertin, who (nearly over 1500 years after the last ancient Olympics) revived these games in 1894 and the modern series of the Olympic games started in 1896 at Athens and since then they are being held every four year.
  • Homer‘s ‘Iliad‘ and ‘Odyssey‘ are among the best epics of the world. The Iliad is the story of seize and destruction of the city of Troy, as the western coast of Asia Minor. The Odyssey describes the adventures and home coming of a Greek hero, Odysseus, from Troy.
  • The founder of Greek tragedy was Aeschylus, author of ‘Prometheus Bound’. Sophocles is considered the greatest Greek tragedians. His famous plays are ‘Oedipus Rex’, ‘Antigone’ and ‘Electra’.
  • Aristophanes, is considered as the master of Greek comedy.
  • Greece produced some of the world’s earliest great historians e.g., Herodotus (known as ‘the father of History’), Thucydides, Plutarch
  • The most famous philosophers of Greece were Socrates, Plato (disciple of Socrates and author of ‘Republic’), and Aristotle (disciple of Plato). Aristotle was both philosopher and scientist. He made important contribution to philosophy, medicine, biology and astronomy. He believed in the principle of the Golden Mean, that is, neither extreme luxury nor self-denial.
  • The Greek made many contributions to mathematics, especially to geometry. It is seen in the work of Euclid and Pythagoras.
  • In medicine, Hippocrates laid the foundation of modern medicine. He is known as the ‘father of medicine’.
  • Apart from medicine, philosophy and mathematics, Greeks also produced prominent astronomers. The most important astronomers were: Aristarchus, Ptolemy, Hipparchus, Eratosthenes Ptolemy’s belief that the earth was the centre of the universe was accepted as truth until the 16th century. Eratosthenes prepared a fairly accurate map of the globe and was the first to suggest that one could reach India from Europe by sailing west.
  • The temple of Athena, the Parthenon, is the best example of Greek architecture. Myron and Phidias are two best-known sculptors of ancient Greece. It was Phidias whom Pericles appointed to supervise the construction of the Acropolis in Athens.

Roman civilization

The Roman empire was formed in 31 BC under the leadership of Caesar Augustus, who ruled over every aspect of Roman life. Caesar Augustus brought peace, prosperity, and culture. The empire expanded so much that by the 2nd century AD that Rome had colonies which stretched from the Middle East to Spain, and from Great Britain to North Africa. The sheer size of the empire brought problems. There was not enough money to pay for an army spread across the world., which made the empire vulnerable to enemies. In AD 476, constant attacks by German barbarians eventually defeated the army lead to the fall of the Roman empire. The influence of Ancient Rome is staggering: Roman roads still cross Europe, the Roman legal system is still the model for countries in Europe and Latin America. Its language is the basis of many languages spoken today.

  • The centre of the Roman Civilization was Italy was, the peninsula that projects into the Mediterranean Sea in the west of Greece. The city of Rome is located on the bank of river Tiber. The river runs through the central part of the Peninsula (Italy).
  • The city of Rome was founded about 1000 BC by Romulus in the district of Latium. The language of the ancient Romans, Latin, gets its name from ‘Latium’.
  • The early Romans had a king, an assembly and a senate.
  • Towards the end of the 6th century BC, the king was overthrown and a republic was established. Under the Republic, the Romans conquered other parts of the peninsula, and by 265 BC they got control of all of Italy. The political system of the Roman republic consisted of two consuls, the senate & the assembly.
  • The Romans were involved in a series of wars with Carthage, the capital city of ancient Carthaginian civilizations located on the north coast of Africa. The danger of Carthaginian occupation of Sicily led the Romans to attack The wars that followed, known as the Punic Wars, lasted from 264 BC to 146 BC. The Carthaginians were defeated in this war.
  • By the beginning of the 1st century BC, the Roman had conquered Greece and Asia Minor, and established a protectorate over Egypt.
  • Rivalry for power grew between two generals, Pompey & Julius Caesar. War between them followed and Pompey was murdered by his enemies in Egypt. Caesar remained in Egypt for some time, attracted by the captivating beauty of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. On his return to Rome, in 46 BC, he made himself dictator. However, on the charge that Caesar intended to become king, he was assassinated in 44 BC, in a senate meeting.
  • After the assassination of Caesar, power conceded into the hands of Mark Antony and Lapidus, Caesar’s friends and Octavian, Caesar’s grand-nephew. The leaders of the conspiracy, Brutus and Cassius, fled and organised a large army, but they were captured and slain.
  • In 37 BC, Octavian became the most powerful man in the Roman empire. He ruled for 44 years under the title of Augustus Imperator, meaning ‘holy victorious-general’. He also called himself Princeps, ‘first citizen of the state’. The period of Roman history beginning with his rule up to AD 284 is called ‘the Principate’. His rule and the period following it were peaceful and are known in history as Pax Romana, which means ‘Roman Peace’.
  • In AD 284, Diocletian became ruler. From this time on, Roman civilization declined more rapidly. In AD 330, one of Diocletian’s successor, Constantine, built a new capital called Constantinople, on the site of ancient Byzantium. Not long after, the Roman empire was divided into two empires: Eastern and Western. The Eastern part, called as Byzantine empire, continued for a thousand years more, while The Western part soon broke into many pieces
  • The final blew to the Roman empire was at the hands of northern invaders, German tribes. By AD 476, the Roman empire, once powerful, was no more.
  • The Roman worshipped as many gods & goddesses as the Greeks. According to their belief, Jupiter sent rain for the corps; Mars helped them in war; Mercury carried their messages; Neptune, the god of sea; Vesta guarded their homes; Juno protected their women.
Contributions of Roman Civilization
  • Roman laws and principles of governance are Rome’s greatest contribution to the world.
  • Rome’s system of road linking was complete and so advanced that it connected all parts of empire, and people could say ‘All roads lead to Rome’.
  • The Roman developed their own alphabet. In western Europe, the Latin language became the language of all educated people. Latin words are still widely used in science, and Latin is the basis of several European languages, especially French, Spanish & Italian.
  • Famous Roman Philosophers: Lucretius, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius and Seneca were famous Roman philosophers.
  • Famous Roman Poets: Horace (Odes; Collection of four books) & Virgil (Aeneid; a Latin epic poem) were famous Roman poets.
  • Famous Roman Historian: Tacitus (Annals’& ‘Histories’) was one of the greatest Roman historians. Gaius Plinius Secundus, called as Pliny the Elder, was another famous Roman historian.
  • Inventions: Romans invented concrete that could firmly cement bricks and stones together. They also introduced two important architectural improvements: the arch and domes (or cupolas)
  • Fights between gladiators or between a gladiator and a wild animal was a popular amusement among Romans. Romans built amphitheatres and special arenas for fighting contests of animals. The ruins of the Colosseum, one of the greatest arenas, can be seen in Rome.