Christian life between letter of Pliny and the Edict of Milan.

Prior to some of the great persecutions, there was not unrelenting persecution of the Christians.  Pliny, a Roman statesman, observed the Christians, and saw nothing wrong with the way they gathered and prayed.  They were not disrupting society, and they were causing no harm to one another.  They were not worshiping the Roman gods, but they were not committing any form of crime in the practice of Christianity.  Pliny is famous for writing a letter to the emperor Trajan, requesting answers.  Should these Christians be sought out and destroyed? Trajan replied with a policy that was less severe, but still had severe aspects.  He said that Christians will not be sought out, however if they are turned in with valid merit, then they would be punished for this.  This gave the Christians some relief, but they still had to be very cautious in day to day life.

Following this, there were several prosecutions that occurred.  Many innocent Christians were slaughtered.  The most significant of these was the Great Persecution (303-305 AD) under the emperor Diocletian.  The Christians were required to sacrifice to the emperor under pain of death.  There were many Christian martyrs during this persecution, but there were also people who conformed to the commands of the emperor, and lost their faith.

As you can imagine, the faithful Christians lived a life of fear, and they spent their days and nights watching for Roman prosecutors.

The Christians were relieved from this when the emperor Constantine came into reign.  He believed that he owed his success in the battle of Milvian bridge (312 AD) to the Christian God.  He returned property to the Christian people, which later leads to the Edict of Milan (313).  Toleration is extended to Christians and they are made whole.  The Christians were finally able to live without fear of being prosecuted.

Teachings of Christianity vs. the Values of Earlier civilizations.

Christianity and it’s teachings presented radically different views than the religions that were valued by civilizations before Christianity came. The religions of the Greeks and Romans had significant impact on western civilization, however, neither of those, or any other similar religion, had come anywhere close to the impact that Christianity had and still has on the modern world.  There are many distinct differences and ideas that set Christianity apart from the other religions.

The origins, the teachings, the levels of authority, the laws, and every other aspect of Christianity is different than the religious views that came before it.  The origins of Christianity track way back to the beginning of time in the Old Testament, but until the birth of Christ, this was regarded as the Jewish religion.  The Greeks believed that their religion originated with the god Cronos, and from him came a subordination of gods.  This is one of the chief differences, the christian view, is that there is one sovereign God, all powerful.  The Greeks however, have a system of gods, and each can potentially be defeated.  The Greek gods were brought into existence by bearing one another.  Christianity itself, really began in the New Testament, and it’s teachings changed mankind.

In the New Testament, God became man, to save the world from its wicked love for sin.  Christ came to earth as a Savior, to save mankind.  He performed many miracles, not to show off his ability, but to offer mankind examples.  He died on the cross so that mankind could be cleansed of their sins.  His teachings are basic and understandable.  In parables he provides example of the principles he teaches and offers them in a different context.  The Greek and Roman gods did not have this same sort of spiritual relationship with their followers.  They did not lay out their common principles in a way in which mankind could understand them.

Christianity provided truth for all those who sought it.  Christ, through his disciples, laid down the instruction to living a good spiritual life, and taught man how to avoid sin.  This distinct truth was not provided to the Greeks and Romans from their religions, there was a sense of mystery.

Man’s unique good according to Seneca, and Trajan’s Column.

According to Seneca, what is man’s unique good? How should a good man conduct himself?  Seneca (4 BC-65 AD) was a Roman Stoic philosopher.  In his letters to Lucilius, he portrays the unique good of man that separates him form all other beings.  Human reason, according to Seneca, is the characteristic of man that separates mankind from animals.  Human reason is man’s unique good, therefore for a good man to conduct himself he must exercise this exclusive quality.   To live a good life, man must exercise and expand his ability to reason.  This is the real value of man in his opinion, therefore man must pursue that value.

Trajan’s column.  Among the many unique pieces of Roman art, Trajan’s column, has been one of the surviving architectural monuments.  The construction of this triumphal column began in 106 AD was completed in 113 AD.  The piece of art honors the Roman Emperor Trajan’s victory in the Dacian wars.  The depictions on this piece are extremely detailed, and well preserved. Every scene on the column demonstrates in detail the Romans in war with the Dacians, and their victory.  The detail of these depictions is very helpful to historians because they tell the stories of Roman life during the Dacian wars.

The figure that currently sits on top is a statue of St. Peter that was installed by a renaissance pope in 1588.  During the lifetime of the emperor, there was a bronze eagle on top which was replaced by a bronze statue of Trajan after his death.

Trajan’s column is, in my opinion, one of the best examples of the artistic architectural talent of the Romans Trajans Column


The Augustan settlement and Important Events in the Life of Julius Caesar.

1. What was the Augustan Settlement? How did Augustus balance his perceived need for absolute power with his concern to lend the impression that the republic had been restored and the old ways were being observed? 
Augustus, known as Octavian at the time, saw imbalance in the rising Roman empire.  He needed to take absolute power so that he could make accomplishments as dictator.  Up to this time, there had been many civil wars caused by single individuals attempting to take absolute power, and thus wars were caused by retaliation of the Roman people.  Octavian resented the idea of another civil war, so he attempted to give up some his privileges up to the consul, however they were given back to him and he was given the title “Augustus.”  He still had concerns that the Romans would fear having one person with absolute power over their city.  He attained their trust by restoring old rituals, as ritual was very important to the Roman people.  Augustus introduced social laws that prevented adultery, and in his progress, he proved himself an effective dictator of the Roman people.

He took a different approach than people who attempted to achieve dictatorship before him, and he thought on behalf of the city.

2. Use your reading and the video lesson to summarize important events in the life of Julius Caesar. 
Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.) was an important figure in western civilization.  In 60 B.C., the first Triumvirate was formed, it was an alliance between Caesar, Pompey (106-48 B.C.), and Crassus (115-53 B.C.).  This was a secret arrangement, not yet known by the Roman public.  The purpose of this alliance was to combine their individual power (each of the three had significant power), to get things that each of them wanted, fro instance, Caesar wanted consulship followed by military command.  Caesar receives command in Gaul.  In 53 B.C., Triumvirate collapses, due to the death of Crassus and the death of Caesar’s daughter who was married to Pompey.  This leaves Caesar and Pompey, Caesar’s Gallic wars are a success which arouses jealousy in Pompey.  The senate takes the side of Pompey as the lesser of the evils, and he is ordered to return to Rome, this he refuses.  He maintains his army, and illegally crosses the Rubicon river, this march on Rome develops into a civil war against Pompey’s forces, and Caesar is victorious.

Caesar was made dictator for life in 48 B.C., and established the Roman empire, granting citizenship, establishing colonies for veterans, and making building and further military plans.  He is feared by some of the key senators and in 48 B.C. he was assassinated.

Changes Resulting from the Struggle of the Orders.

What specific changes occurred in Roman society as a result of the Struggle of the Orders?

The Struggle of the Orders was an event taking place from 494-287 B.C.. the Plebeians (commoners) and Patricians (aristocrats), were the two groups of people who constituted the Roman population. However, the Plebeians were very much taken advantage of by the Patricians, however this changed with the Struggle of the Orders.

Prior to the Struggle of the Orders, the Plebeians were liable to enslavement if they were unable to pay their debts, they were deprived of political rights, and they were just oppressed by the Patricians.  The Plebeians saw that they were taken advantage of, and since most of the city was Plebeian people, they decided they could secede from the city and gain concessions from the Patricians who would need them back.  By stepping away, the Patricians underwent problems caused by lack of men to perform common labor.  The Patricians had no choice but to submit to the requests of the Plebeians.

One of the first concessions was the twelve tables of Roman law, which put the law on stone in a place that citizens could access it (mid 5th century B.C.).  This would publicize the law and give the individual an opportunity to know and understand the judicial standards of their city.  Prior to this concession, the law was not known to the public and this gave the Patricians an opportunity to take advantage of the Plebeians.

They won the power to elect Tribunes, which were ancient Rome officials who would protect their interests.  By the end of the Struggle of the Orders, the Plebeians were allowed to participate in lawful affairs as much as the Patricians.  Intermarriage between the two parties was allowed, and the act of debt slavery was abolished altogether.  However, while this huge transformation occurred, aristocratic families still dominated Rome, and saw themselves as above the Plebeians, they did so into the 4th century A.D.

Ancient liberty vs. Modern liberty, and the basic idea of Epicureanism.

1. What is the difference between the liberty of the ancients and the liberty of the moderns? What would moderns find lacking in ancient liberty?  The modern idea of liberty is based mainly on the right of the individual.  Every individual can make choices for themselves and on their own terms.  The ancients had a different idea of liberty, rather than individual rights, the city had rights.  The city made choices and acted on behalf of its citizens.  Many of the ancients were devoted to their cities, as if their city was a parent to them.  This is dramatically different from what we see today.

Modern individuals would find several things lacking in ancient liberty.  The main point they would find lacking is that individual rights were ignored. the cities were smaller, however they were deprived of freedom of speech, and freedom of religion, and many other rights that most modern day people associate with the idea of liberty.

2. Based on the Principal Doctrines, explain the basic ideas of Epicureanism.
The Epicureans were a group of philosophy founded by the Greek philosopher Epicurus.  These people sought after things in life that would give them lasting pleasure, and ultimate purpose.  They did not engage in gluttonous behaviors, that would give them pains the next day, they searched and engaged in the things that would bring them life-long pleasure.  The invested themselves in friendships, expansion of knowledge and sober-reasoning, things that would give them long-term fulfillment.

They believed that the universe was pointless and that there were no gods, and if there were, they didn’t care.  They believed that the universe was entirely material, and that there was no immaterial realm.  They did however, believe in free will and common sense.

Can we learn anything from Medea about the Greeks’ attitudes toward foreigners and women?

The Greek tragedy Madea, written by Euripides, in 431 B.C., gives us unique insight into Greek drama, and also the era from which this play was written.  This is an astonishing work, that is easy to follow because it translates well to the English language.  In this play, the character Medea, is betrayed by her husband Jason and thus her life turns to despair.  The pain done to her heart, changed her as a person.

Euripides was somewhat of a skeptic.  He used his plays as a means of criticizing issues and institutions he disagreed with in Greek society.  demonstrating societal issues through plays is a powerful way to make a criticism, and provides example to the audience of the error(s) in their society.

What does Medea tell us about the Greeks’ attitudes towards foreigners and women?  We can see from the text that male citizens of a polis have more respect, and are treated better than the rest of the population; the women and foreigners.  The foreigners are looked down upon and marrying a foreigner was perceived as shameful.

Madea gives us an example of the low treatment of women.  She is taken for granted, and her husband, Jason, leaves her and their family to marry Glauke, daughter of Creon, king of Corinth.  He did this for himself, to earn a higher, more respected position in society.  He did not have the respect for his original wife, Madea, to honor his promises to her.  This initiated the process of Madea being driven mad.  And finally her broken heart and the anger it inspired in her, resulted in her murdering the king and princess or Corinth, and her own children.

Athenian democracy and Peloponnesian war.

Why was the Peloponnesian War fought? What was its long-term significance?  Greece was divided into independent city-states, these city states were independent from one another.  The two most significant city-states were Athens and Sparta.  After the Persian wars, that resulted in the weakening of Greece, Athens unified with other city-states and formed the Delian league to protect Greece from any further Persian attacks.  Athens, having a strong navy, supplied ships, while the other city-states contributed money.  However, after time had passed, there appeared to be no threat on Greece, and it appeared that this money was being used in the beautification of Athens.  When confronted, Athens argued that it was only fair as the Persians had destroyed their city, that they should take contributions to rebuild it.  It later appeared that Athens would not allow any of the city-states to leave the Delian league.

Thucydides, the great Greek historian said the following “The growth of the power of Athens and the alarm that inspired in Sparta, made war inevitable.”  Sparta and her allies formed the Peloponnesian league, and in 431 B.C., they invade Athens.  Athenians turn to their strength; naval confrontation.  However in 430 B.C., plague breaks out and kills a majority of the Athenian population.  There is a truce from 421-415 B.C., war starts again with Athens’ expedition so Sicily, however, they were unsuccessful.  Sparta had taken up arms again, Athens routed but the Peloponnesian war continued.  Finally, in 404 B.C., Sparta is victorious.  The Delian league is dissolved and Athens has to submit herself to Sparta.

How was Athenian government organized? How much citizen involvement in government was there?  Athenian government had four groups of authority.  The first, the assembly.  the assembly consisted of all Athenian citizens.  To be an Athenian citizen, one must come from two Athenian parents, and it is presumed that they must be male.  The second group of authority was the council of 500, this council consisted of 500 citizens chosen at random.  The council of 500 decided what matters should be presented to the assembly.  The third group was the  law court, the law court consisted of of 600 citizens chosen annually, this was the group from which the jurors were drawn, there were no professional lawyers, just 501 jurors.  Lastly, the Magistrates, about 1,000 citizens elected to fill political offices, these offices were available to most Athenian citizens.

Aristotle’s Main Points in His Ethics.

Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist.  Aristotle produced many individual works, one in particular of great significance, was his Ethics.  He called this the Nicomachean Ethics, because his father and his son both had the name Nicomachus.  In his ethics, he conveys several ideas that are foundational in western civilization.

According to Aristotle, the end goal of man is to achieve happiness.  Every action an individual takes part in, is in order to achieve something that is good.  The ultimate good, is happiness.  There can be many actions leading up to this ultimate good, but that is what the individual is striving for.  What Aristotle means by happiness may be different than what the modern day person would perceive happiness as.  By happiness, Aristotle means eudaimonia, which is the feeling of fulfillment, of contentedness, and blessedness.

How does the individual find eudaimonia? Well, to have eudaimonia, you possess a feeling of fulfillment.  To feel content and fulfilled, you must know the purpose of your existence.  Humans are separated from every other creature because they possess human reason, and the ability to think rationally.  So to find eudaimonia, the individual must exercise human reason through virtuous acts, to fulfill their existence.

What are virtues? Doing good unto others, and in turn receiving good.  Virtue is found in habitually doing the right thing.  To be virtuous, one must be disciplined in participating in the act of individual virtues.  Happiness is a virtue and in time it brings pleasure and develops your potential excellence.

Happiness is its own end, other ends have further ends but happiness is an ultimate end.

Western Civilization 1, Week 4 Writing Assignment.

1. What was the disagreement Socrates had with the Sophists?  The Sophists were a group of Greek teachers who believed there was no absolute truth.  They believed that truth is relative.  They mainly taught rhetoric, however, while the Sophists taught people to be persuasive through use of rhetoric, they did not place significance in the idea they were trying to persuade.  The famous philosopher, Socrates disagreed with what the Sophists were doing.  They believed that there was no absolute good, and no absolute bad, that each individual must determine good or bad for him or her self.  Socrates was in search of the absolute truth; e.g. what is justice? They did not look for the truth, because they had no absolute truth, Socrates disagreed with this.

2. What was Plato’s point in his allegory of the cave?  Plato wrote his philosophy in the form of dialogues, almost like plays.  One of the most famous of these, was his allegory of the cave.  He paints a mental image of men who are blind to reality, who only see the lower materialistic world.

Plato believed there was a higher world and a lower world.  The lower world is that of objects; the world we live in and perceive.  The higher world is that of the forms that are the models and guidelines of the material objects we see.  The forms are not something we can perceive.  For instance, there are many different kinds of cups, but they are all based on one idea we have of what a cup should be.  In his allegory of the cave, he demonstrates that men are ignorant to the higher world of the forms, and that they are satisfied with the past present and future of the material world.  He believed that the highest form of contemplation was to contemplate the unchanging.  The group of men in the cave that he created a mental image of, refused to challenge this thought, and let themselves settle with what changed.