18 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Eighteen

Greek Trade and Culture

Greek society depended heavily on trade. Who did they trade with and what were the commodities they traded? What was the impact of this trade?

The stony, mountainous terrain of the Greek peninsula does not lend itself to large, open fields of staple grains ancient Greece needed to feed its burgeoning population. It is ideal, however, for vineyards and olive groves, which cannot be grown in the hot, dry climes of the contemporary classical empires. Their nautical skills and abundant access to the sea made ship-borne trade a natural and profitable enterprise. Greek ships bearing coveted wine and olive oil made port at virtually every trading center in the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Black seas. They found ready markets in Egypt, where they found grain, vegetables, textiles, and African slaves. Anatolian and Syrian ports gave them access to greater supplies of grain, as well as the Indian spices and Chinese silks that had traveled west across the Persian Empire. The Black Sea in particular gave them access to more slaves, captured in southern Russia. Colonies along the Italian coast produced an abundance of copper, tin, iron, and zinc.

With no way to grow enough staple crops to feed its people adequately, Greece could not have reached the population levels it enjoyed without imported foodstuffs. Sophisticated Greek shipbuilding gave its trading partners the ability to ship greater quantities of goods, making trading more cost-effective and profitable. Unlike many other cultures, the Greek colonists remained loyal to their gods, culture, and philosophy, and proselytized Greek civilization throughout the classical world.

What were the major cultural contributions of classical Greece? Why are the Greeks still considered the cornerstone of the Western intellectual tradition?

Greek culture and philosophy can summed up in the word “humanism.” They saw everything from a human-centered point of view. Even their gods were more like special humans than superior, wholly different entities. The Greek philosophers were amongst the first thinkers to seek to understand the world from a strictly rational perspective that could be adequately understood and described by human reasoning. It was the foundation of what we now call the “scientific method.” Its emphasis was on observation, examination, reflection, and deductive reasoning. It was during this time that man first began to seek understanding by truly postulating, theorizing, and experimenting with the world around him. Adapting the Phoenician alphabet by adding vowel sounds, they created an extremely versatile writing system that enabled writers to communicate ideas more easily and clearly than any civilization to that time. They were exceptionally good students of other cultures’ understanding of science, astronomy, medicine, mathematics, geometry, and architecture. Although Greeks practiced chattel slavery, unlike many other societies, it was possible for skilled slaves could rise above their condition, gaining their freedom, attaining prominent positions, even be granted citizenship.

Greek philosophy was the foundation of what we now call the “scientific method.” The idea that man could observe and understand himself and the world around him originated with the great Athenian philosophers. They replaced the superstitious idea that the world was governed by capricious, often illogical and vindictive, deities. Although they retained pantheism, they conceived of the gods in human form, rather than humans being the imperfect creation of the gods. The Greek gods were subject to many of the same failings and foibles as humans, and Greek mythology, literature, and drama reflected these themes.

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