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What Is The Greatest Ancient Civilization?

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What is the greatest ancient civilization?  

370 members have voted

  1. 1. What is the greatest ancient civilization?

    • Greece
      178
    • Carthage
      3
    • Rome
      65
    • Mongol
      5
    • Babylon
      3
    • Egypt
      7
    • Asyria
      0
    • Persia
      5
    • Phoenicia
      3
    • Chinese
      14


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I voted Babylon, since they were the first to have written laws, and amazingly liberal laws. They had incredibly advanced sciences as well.

I also like the Aztecs, though, and I'm disappointed they weren't on the list.

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I voted Babylon, since they were the first to have written laws, and amazingly liberal laws. They had incredibly advanced sciences as well.

I also like the Aztecs, though, and I'm disappointed they weren't on the list.

What do you like about the Aztecs?

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I voted Babylon, since they were the first to have written laws, and amazingly liberal laws.
Since the first written law were invented by the Sumerians (esp. the Code of Lipit-Ishtar), would that change your opinion.

You may be correct in judging Hammurabinical law to be liberal, but I kind think liberals stink so I don't know if that was supposed to be a complement or an insult about the laws. Some examples of Babylonian liberalism:

1. If any one ensnare another, putting a ban upon him, but he can not prove it, then he that ensnared him shall be put to death.

3. If any one bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death.

6. If any one steal the property of a temple or of the court, he shall be put to death, and also the one who receives the stolen thing from him shall be put to death.

7. If any one buy from the son or the slave of another man, without witnesses or a contract, silver or gold, a male or female slave, an ox or a sheep, an ass or anything, or if he take it in charge, he is considered a thief and shall be put to death.

8. If any one steal cattle or sheep, or an ass, or a pig or a goat, if it belong to a god or to the court, the thief shall pay thirtyfold therefor; if they belonged to a freed man of the king he shall pay tenfold; if the thief has nothing with which to pay he shall be put to death.

10. If the purchaser does not bring the merchant and the witnesses before whom he bought the article, but its owner bring witnesses who identify it, then the buyer is the thief and shall be put to death, and the owner receives the lost article.

11. If the owner do not bring witnesses to identify the lost article, he is an evil-doer, he has traduced, and shall be put to death.

15. If any one take a male or female slave of the court, or a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates, he shall be put to death.

16. If any one receive into his house a runaway male or female slave of the court, or of a freedman, and does not bring it out at the public proclamation of the major domus, the master of the house shall be put to death.

19. If he hold the slaves in his house, and they are caught there, he shall be put to death.

22. If any one is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death.

26. If a chieftain or a man (common soldier), who has been ordered to go upon the king's highway for war does not go, but hires a mercenary, if he withholds the compensation, then shall this officer or man be put to death, and he who represented him shall take possession of his house.

33. If a ... or a ... enter himself as withdrawn from the "Way of the King," and send a mercenary as substitute, but withdraw him, then the ... or ... shall be put to death.

34. If a ... or a ... harm the property of a captain, injure the captain, or take away from the captain a gift presented to him by the king, then the ... or ... shall be put to death.

109. If conspirators meet in the house of a tavern-keeper, and these conspirators are not captured and delivered to the court, the tavern-keeper shall be put to death.

110. If a "sister of a god" open a tavern, or enter a tavern to drink, then shall this woman be burned to death.

130. If a man violate the wife (betrothed or child-wife) of another man, who has never known a man, and still lives in her father's house, and sleep with her and be surprised, this man shall be put to death, but the wife is blameless.

132. If the "finger is pointed" at a man's wife about another man, but she is not caught sleeping with the other man, she shall jump into the river for her husband.

133. If a man is taken prisoner in war, and there is a sustenance in his house, but his wife leave house and court, and go to another house: because this wife did not keep her court, and went to another house, she shall be judicially condemned and thrown into the water.

192. If a son of a paramour or a prostitute say to his adoptive father or mother: "You are not my father, or my mother," his tongue shall be cut off.

193. If the son of a paramour or a prostitute desire his father's house, and desert his adoptive father and adoptive mother, and goes to his father's house, then shall his eye be put out.

194. If a man give his child to a nurse and the child die in her hands, but the nurse unbeknown to the father and mother nurse another child, then they shall convict her of having nursed another child without the knowledge of the father and mother and her breasts shall be cut off.

195. If a son strike his father, his hands shall be hewn off.

etc.

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I like the Aztecs' sense of honor, bravery, community, and investigation--all of which were nearly as present in Greek culture. And were the famous practices of ritualistic murder which the Greeks almost certainly shared as well, though Aztecs admittedly had it on a much larger scale. All the same, their knowledge of mathematics and astronomy were comparable to that of the Europeans when they invaded. They had massive religious and political structures, and an even stronger agriculture and population basis. At the time of the conquest, Tenochtitlan was the largest city in the world--larger than Paris. They simply had the foible to have very few natural ores that were necessary to have wide-spread access to metal, and thus to develop advanced weapons. My bet is that the one and only reason the Europeans ever obtained a foothold on the Americas was because of disease, and I often wonder what would have become of the Aztecs had they been immune.

As for the Sumerians, I know nothing about them. I have read in a few places that the Babylonians were the first to have codified laws--if this is distinct from written laws, I'm not aware. Perhaps by being "codified" that implies that the government could not reject them at its convenience, meaning they are significant in their invention of the Rule of Law. Which is itself a very impressive contribution to the history of humanity.

As for liberalism, the American revolutionaries were liberals, as were the French revolutionaries. They did not adhere to traditional dogmas for their own sake. Compared to other laws and practices at the time of the Babylon, women in Babylonians society were amazingly free and protected by law. So were children and those not of the ruling class. Hammurabi was not simply preserving tyrannical authority but looking after the freedom and rights of his citizens. In that sense, he was liberal. Today's left-wing/Democrat is not the ideal of liberalism.

Certainly there are laws that we consider, some 4,000 years later, to be cruel and barbaric. Athens had them as well. Socrates was murdered, in essence, for asking questions. We still consider Greece to have had a relatively liberal society because of it's relatively greater freedom of expression and its inchoate system of democracy.

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The Greeks have to win this poll since, thanks to Zeno, they will live on forever!

Edited by ggdwill

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It is hard to say which is the "greatest." If you mean which was most influential to our current Western culture, then the Greeks and Romans are certainly at the top of the list.

But if you mean military power, or extent of territory, or technological, social, architectural achievement however other civilizations particularly the Chinese rank equally with the Greco-Romans.

We are simply biased in favor of the Greco-Roman civilizations because they are what heavily influenced out own societal structure. China was far in advance of the west in many respects, but eventually became too introverted and bureaucratic, meaning its influence and power lessened even as western power grew. If China had continued its technological expansion and sea explorations, we might have had much more of a respect for their accomplishments in the west.

Other civilizations, like the Ancient Egyptians, simply fell too early to be an appreciable influence.

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But if you mean military power, or extent of territory, or technological, social, architectural achievement however other civilizations particularly the Chinese rank equally with the Greco-Romans.

Could you provide some evidence, or at the very least some examples of how the Chinese rank equally with the Greeks and Romans. It is my understanding that Chinese armies were mostly peasant armies, which lacked the training and discipline one would associate with a major military power. It was, after all, Alexander the Great who demolished army after army of peasant armies, to say nothing of the Persian Wars. So what made these Chinese armies special that they could face down a disciplined, heavily armed, highly trained, and highly motivated force such as the Greek and Roman armies?

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I am not sure where I talked about who would win between a theoretical military confrontation between the Chinese and the Greeks/Romans.

My point was more that "best" is a rather subjective and multi-faceted determination when talking of ancient cultures, because it is the Greco-Roman tradition which led to our current Western Civilization. Obviously there were political, military and social advantages to the Greeks and Romans versus their enemies such as Persia. Still, the problem is that the civilizations listed in the poll are too spread out geographically and chronologically to make mere military power or social structure at a certain time relevant as the only factor. You have to analyze the civilization in comparison to others existing at the time, in its part of the world. And when you do so, the strong points of other civilizations, even the non-western ones, become evident.

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The Chinese were advanced, certainly, but the problem is that they had very little (no?) formalized science of things. They would have a good tradition of herbs and healing but no science of medicine, a discovery of gunpowder but no chemistry, three thousand years of complete historical record but no science of history, much interest in philosophy but no formalized philosophy, etc. This may be traced to the fact that they were on the other side of the world an thus isolated from the civilizations that fueled Western civ: Old Egypt, Sumeria, Babylon, Greece, Rome. So they did very well having to do everything from scratch, but the fact remains that they were nowhere near as advanced as the West. They achieved sophistication without achieving formalization, if it can be put that way.

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I'm bumping this thread, since it's pertinent to a discussion I'm having in another thread about Chinese civilization versus the West.

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It is hard to say which is the "greatest." If you mean which was most influential to our current Western culture, then the Greeks and Romans are certainly at the top of the list.

But if you mean military power, or extent of territory, or technological, social, architectural achievement however other civilizations particularly the Chinese rank equally with the Greco-Romans.

We are simply biased in favor of the Greco-Roman civilizations because they are what heavily influenced out own societal structure. China was far in advance of the west in many respects, but eventually became too introverted and bureaucratic, meaning its influence and power lessened even as western power grew. If China had continued its technological expansion and sea explorations, we might have had much more of a respect for their accomplishments in the west.

Other civilizations, like the Ancient Egyptians, simply fell too early to be an appreciable influence.

Exactly. It really depends on how you define "the greatest". And also most of us on this forum would be biased in favor of Greco-Roman civilizations simply because we grew up in a western culture. If you go by the rationale: Western culture is the dominant culture current --> Greco-Roman culture had the most influence on the Western culture --> Greco-Roman culture was the greatest culture, then sure, I agree that Greeks and Romans were the greatest.

To me personally, China has the longest continuous culture that extends all the way to modern day, with recorded history that dates back 3,500 years and artifacts that dates back 4,500 years. It has by far the largest territory of all the ancient civilizations listed, albeit its size varies throughout its history. It has by far the greatest cultural influence within its geographical area.

Chinese mathematics has been consistently denied or ignored since the 16th century because of the Western dominance in areas of math and sciences. However, several existing Chinese mathematic texts, the most famous of which being the Chou Pei Suan Ching, proves that Chinese was the first civilization to develop and apply some of the most basic mathematic principles in the world. For instance, the Chou Pei Suan Ching contains one of the earliest recorded proofs of the Pythagorean theorem, roughly 350 years before Pythagoras developed it.

On top of that China is also the first civilization to develop technologies such as the compass, movable print, gun powder, paper, and paper money. The first recorded astronomical observations of comets, eclipses, and supernovas were made in China. The list could go on and on and on.

The point is by virtue of the fact that the Chinese civilization has existed continuously for so long (in contrast to civilizations like Babylonian, Sumerian, Aztec, and even Greek and Rome - although comparable to India), and the fact that it is still in existence today, it's hard to quantify all of its cultural achievements and influences. Even today it's still the single civilization with the largest sheer population (which I suppose may or may not be a criteria of being "great").

China gets number one on my vote.

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Thanks Moebius. The greatness of the achievements of the Chinese is awesome to behold, and I have great admiration for much of what they have done. What I'm not convinced of is that they were on a par with the Greeks. The most important ideas are ideas that can give rise to bigger long range advances, and I think this is where the Greeks shone most. Their philosophy, science, math and art were theoretically sounder.

I'll put it another way, without the Greeks no modern world. We'd have no air planes, or Internet, or motor cars, or modern medicine, or freedom.

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Thanks Moebius. The greatness of the achievements of the Chinese is awesome to behold, and I have great admiration for much of what they have done. What I'm not convinced of is that they were on a par with the Greeks. The most important ideas are ideas that can give rise to bigger long range advances, and I think this is where the Greeks shone most. Their philosophy, science, math and art were theoretically sounder.

I'll put it another way, without the Greeks no modern world. We'd have no air planes, or Internet, or motor cars, or modern medicine, or freedom.

Again, this comes down to how you define "greatness". I agree that the Greeks probably had the greatest impact on Western culture, and Western culture had the greatest impact on the modern world as is.

What I disagree with though is that without Greeks there would be no modern world. We would simply have a different modern world. I also disagree that there would be no cars, air planes, or internet without Greek culture. Technological development existed both before and after the Greeks. I don't see why that would cease without Greek culture. It's possible that we would have gotten those things at a later date, but it's also possible that we would get it earlier. It's virtually impossible to predict.

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Who's #1? Greece in quality. Rome in quantity. Eqypt lasted a long time -- but didn't seem to go anywhere.

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Moebius: Rome essentially lasted for two thousand years. It was very politically and militarily powerful -- and even culturally influential -- for most of that time. Maybe they alone -- in the person of Byzantium -- are responsible for the Green Menace being partially defeated. This was Aristotle and Cicero battling for Western civilization.

Of course -- they could have done a lot better. Too much Jeruselem, not enough Athens...

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So by quantity you mean the empire's longevity? Because there are several civilizations that lasted far longer...

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It seems like most of the Greeks were influenced by earlier Chinese thinkers in physics and philosophy (from what I've read), and then the Greeks surpassed them later on. This question depends on time periods and other factors, but I am voting Greece too.

I think not. The pre-Socratics were heavily influenced by the Egyptians (for and foemost) and by the Babylonians. The Greeks did not have much direct contact with the Far East. Thales learned to philosophize in Egypt and he improved on Egyptian mathematics.

Bob Kolker

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Moebius: Rome essentially lasted for two thousand years. It was very politically and militarily powerful -- and even culturally influential -- for most of that time. Maybe they alone -- in the person of Byzantium -- are responsible for the Green Menace being partially defeated. This was Aristotle and Cicero battling for Western civilization.

Of course -- they could have done a lot better. Too much Jerusalem, not enough Athens...

Athens was in its glory from about 450 b.c.e. and declined rapidly after the time of Alexander. Athens suffered from the Spartan Wars and from plague (Pericles perished during that plague) and an abortive war against Syracusa. Three pro-Spartan coups did not help either. The political fallout from Alexander caused Aristotle to get out of town rapidly in 323 b.c.e and he died the following year. The intellectual glory of Athens shifted to Alexandria after the time of Ptolemy Soter. There is a tendency to glorify Athens far beyond the historical facts. The Ionian tradition which existed before Socrates turned out to be scientifically more sound than what followed. For example Aristarchus proposed a heliocentric system which Aristotle and other Greek thinkers (including Archimedes) rejected.

Athens was overrated politically (5/6 of its inhabitants were politically marginalized). After Aristotle left it went downhill pretty fast. Athens went on an imperialistic course and after Alcibiades convinced the Athenians to try to conquer Syracusa (that was a disaster) it was downhill militarily for them. They never recovered. Athens overreached politically and militarily and paid a price. When Athens was content to have a commercial fleet of ships and encouraged trade of all sorts (material and intellectual) she prospered. When she went on the imperialistic course she suffered.

Now, as to Rome. The Romes were ueber practical. They had little time or sympathy for intellectual frippery (as they would have characterized it). They did leave the brain work to their Greek slaves (who unlike black slaves in the Americas) enjoyed some privileges and some status. Rome's greatest failure was to find political stability. Rome enjoyed its most prosperous and stable time during the reign of Caesar Augustus and following on during the Pax Romana. However they never figured out how to transfer power peacefully and that ultimately did them in. They also overreached and achieved an unmanageable size. When they ran out of countries and territories to loot they went down the chute.

Their greatest legacies were law and order (when they could prevail) and of course Roman engineering (the aqueducts and water tunnels and roads show their excellence as builders). Admiring Roman engineering helps me get in touch with My Inner Fascist. Whatever else was wrong with the Romans, they did get the chariots and wagons to run on time and they had the best toilets of antiquity. And every major sports stadium in the modern world has the design and form of the Coliseum in its fiber and being. Ave Imperium Romanum!

Bob Kolker

Edited by Robert J. Kolker

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Carthage, they killed babies.

Aside from the human sacrifices to promote good crops, the Carthageneans also practiced infanticide, thus getting rid of sickly children. Most of the Great Cultures of ancient times practiced infanticide. Sparta, Athens, Rome, The Aztecs. There was less surplus wealth produced then so there was not so much available to keep sick children around.

Bob Kolker

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Aside from the human sacrifices to promote good crops, the Carthageneans also practiced infanticide, thus getting rid of sickly children. Most of the Great Cultures of ancient times practiced infanticide. Sparta, Athens, Rome, The Aztecs. There was less surplus wealth produced then so there was not so much available to keep sick children around.

Bob Kolker

Wonderful stuff.

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Thanks Moebius. The greatness of the achievements of the Chinese is awesome to behold, and I have great admiration for much of what they have done. What I'm not convinced of is that they were on a par with the Greeks. The most important ideas are ideas that can give rise to bigger long range advances, and I think this is where the Greeks shone most. Their philosophy, science, math and art were theoretically sounder.

I'll put it another way, without the Greeks no modern world. We'd have no air planes, or Internet, or motor cars, or modern medicine, or freedom.

Read -The Genius of China- by Robert Temple. In ancient times the Chinese developed the positional notation for numbers along with the zero (the Greeks did not). They had seismometers and natural gas pipelines (made of bamboo), the Greeks did not. They had the compass (the Greeks did not) and the Chinese mariner Cheng He sailed the seas in ships with five masts, four hundred feet in length one hundred feet in the beam and powered by wind, not rowers, before the Europeans. The Chinese invented explosives (gun powder), the Greeks did not. And the Chinese mathematicians got pi to 8 decimal places before Archimedes. What the Chinese missed was making the connection between the axiomatic method and the the empirical method complete. The Europeans did that. The Greeks erred on the side of being too theoretical and the Chinese erred on the side of being too empirical. The Chinese were too holistic in their thinking and not reductionist enough. The Europeans finally got it right about the time of the Renaissance. Neither the Greeks nor the Chinese did.

Bob Kolker

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Rome brought us the republican form of government and Greece brought us systematic philosophy, science, and man glorifying art. Do you honestly think calculating pi to the eighth decimal point, discovering the Pythagorean theorem prior to Pythagoras, or building natural gas pipelines from bamboo are at all important compared to these?

Find me the philosophical truth of an Aristotle, the oratory and politics of a Cicero, the tragedies of a Sophocles, or the love of liberty of a Cato or Brutus in this supposedly 'greater' civilization and I will take this praise of Chinese civilization seriously.

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