Over the course of
History there has been an abundance of major events and influential people that
have shaped Western Civilization as we experience it today. While some
historical events impacted only a few continents or a small population, others
have left their mark on every culture and inspired lasting change and new ways
of thinking. Five major events that ripple through society to this day include
the intellectual and scientific innovations of ancient Greek civilizations, the
formulation of a body of law in the Roman Republic, advances in technology and
social upheaval during the Middle Ages, the depression in the fourteenth
century, and the beginnings of the global system.

            Twenty-four centuries ago Greek philosophers laid the
foundation for intellectual thought and sciences in Western culture. The
leading thinkers in Greece such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle began to
search for explanations outside of mythology and instead looked to empirical thinking
and reason. I think that this is significant because it led Plato to establish
the Academy in Athens which was the first institute of higher learning in the
Western world (Levack, 3.3.3) where he taught and held open discussions.
Ancient Greek philosophers taught people how to think and their works are still
studied in college and Universities around the world today. Greeks were also
the first to begin asking questions about the natural world and were therefore
the founders of scientific thought (Levack, 3.3.3) which was easily one of the
greatest breakthroughs in the human thought process. Greek thinkers studied the
Earth, space, mathematics and even created the first maps (cartography). Today,
many symbols used in physics and mathematics are derived from the Greek
alphabet and the idea that the Earth is a globe came from the great mind of
Aristotle. Greek ideas eventually spread and were built upon throughout all
Western civilization and can still be seen today.

            I believe that the formulation of Roman Law was one of
the most significant events in early history as well. Corpus Juris Civilus was the legal code written in the sixth
century C.E. by Roman emperor Justinian (Levack, 5.1.3) that laid the
foundation for legal systems throughout Europe and the legal culture of the
West as we know it today. The Romans attempted to create an empire based on law
so that all people would be treated fairly and be subject to the same rules in
society. They set precedents and rules to ensure the impartial administration
of justice regardless of class and monetary means. Without the notion of equal
protection under the law for all people modern lawmaking processes wouldn’t be
what they are.  The first body of written
law was called The Law of Twelve Tables; the
laws were inscribed on bronze tablets and posted which allowed plebeians to
know and understand the law and give them the ability to protect themselves
from abuses of power by the patricians (Levack, 5.1.3). Roman Law is
significant because there are many principles that are still recognized and
used today such as the right to personal property, the right to vote, and the
presumption of innocence until proven guilty. There are also many legal terms
that are still in use that have Latin origins. Some common terms are:
affidavit, quid pro quo, habeas corpus, and mens rea.

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            The technological
developments during the Middle Ages that led to the second agricultural revolution
also had lasting impacts on Western civilization. Technological innovations
during this period such as water and windmills, metal horseshoes, the carruca,
and the three-field system allowed farmers to begin planting beans and
vegetables and have successful harvests which led to a dramatic increase in
population (Levack, 10.1.1). Some of these technologies and processes are still
in use today such as the mills that allow people to harness energy from natural
forces to aid in farming. The dramatic population growth during this period because
of the agricultural revolution led to many people migrating to other countries
in search of sufficient land on which to make a living. This was the first time
in history that there was a mass immigration (Levack, 10.1.1). This migration
led to up to 40% more land being cultivated throughout Europe. I think that
this period is significant because the results of the technological developments
that led to mass migration allowed for the growth of cites which in turn facilitated
a boom in international commercial trade.

            The fourth event of significance that interested me is
the great depression of the fourteenth century. I feel like this is significant
because of how much economic and social turmoil resulted from the sharp drop in
population and the interrupted trade route between Europe and Asia such as
bankrupt businesses, rebellion among workers, and the collapse of banks
(Levack, 11.3). When the banks began to collapse it seemed to create a domino
effect throughout all of Europe which aided in the massive decline in commerce.
There was also major political instability and widespread religious turmoil.
The workers’ rebellions that resulted from the massive economic downturn and
general social discontent had a lasting impact on Western civilization,
especially following the Ciompi revolt which was the first time that workers
demanded political rights (Levack, 11.3.2). Although the Ciompi were defeated
many other revolts followed on their heels – both by peasant and urban workers.
These rebellions were a direct result of the depressed economic climate and were
precedent-setting as it was the first time the lower class began to question
and rebel against the existing economic and social order.

            The final event that I found to be interesting and of
great significance was the beginnings of the global system. The European
voyages that took place during the 15th and 16th
centuries jumpstarted a global economic relationship that has experienced
continuous growth ever since its onset. The global system that we are familiar
with today is merely an extension of the one that first appeared in the 16th
century (Levack, 13.4). I feel like this is significant because if the global
system had not developed the way that it did then we would still be dependent on
our own resources and our cultural understanding wouldn’t be what it is today. Although
globalization unfortunately contributed to the spread of diseases that wiped
out entire populations the benefits have been extraordinary. The exchange of
animals such as horses, sheep, and cattle changed the way of life of the native
people of America (Levack, 13.4.2) and the potato became a staple in the European
diet after its introduction and once again the population begin to thrive.  That growth in population caused a migration
of people from Europe to the Americas and a new nation took root. The contact
with other cultures that resulted from the new global economy changed people of
the West as they came to understand, appreciate, and even adopt new ways of
life. Languages, information, and technology began to spread and the world as
we know it today took shape.

            Ancient civilizations have contributed to modern society
in almost every way that one can imagine. The complex studies of the great
Greek thinkers, the justice system developed and implemented by Romans, the
advances in technology and the great depression of the Middle Ages, and the
global encounters of European voyagers are only a few periods in time and events
in history that affect the way we think, speak, and interact with each other
today. Studying the past aids in our understanding of our own identities and
the world around us. We inherit history, we make history, and one day we will
become a part of it. Without history, there is only ignorance. 

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