Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem: Where Western Civilization Began
From logic and science to democracy and universal rights, these three cities created the West.
By: Onar Åm | August 19, 2020 | 512 Words
Did you know that “democracy” comes from Greek and means people’s rule? Also, did you know that “republic” comes from the Latin “res publica,” meaning public interest? Many words and ideas that our civilization is built on come from only three cities in the Mediterranean: Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem.
Logic and Reason
When we try to make sense of the world, we use logic and reason. It was the ancient Greek philosophers of Athens that invented these concepts and studied them. Logic and philosophy come from the Greek “logos,” meaning idea or word, and “philosophia,” meaning love of wisdom.
Later, Greece was conquered by Rome, but the Romans admired the Greeks so much that they adopted the culture’s philosophy. Romans valued thinking and used the word “rationare” for making a logical argument. This became the word reason.
If you think logically about the world in a systematic way, you are doing science, which comes from the Latin word “scientia,” meaning knowledge. Latin was the language of the Romans.
It was the Greeks that invented democracy, and the Romans built on their idea to create a republic. When the American Founding Fathers created the Constitution, they modeled it on the insights from Rome and Athens.
In addition to Rome and Athens, one more city has shaped our civilization: Jerusalem, the city that gave rise to Christianity.
Christianity brought some new ideas, namely what the Roman Christians called “imago Dei.” It is the notion that all humans have a divine nature because they are created in the image of God. Because of this, all people are equal in the eyes of God.
Christians promoted the radical idea that all people, regardless of race, nationality, gender, or social status, belonged in communion with God. They had a Greek word for this: “katholikos,” meaning of the whole. The Latin word for this is “universalis” – or universal in English.
Much later, the philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries formulated the idea of universal rights. We find these ideas of the image of God and universal rights in the Declaration of Independence, which states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
The Greeks and Romans didn’t have this concept, and so slavery was an accepted practice in the Roman Empire and ancient Greece, just like in the rest of the world at that time.
America and other colonies also had slavery in the beginning, but due to the idea of universal rights, Christians in Britain and America started a movement to end it.
The ideas from these three ancient cities have not only shaped the West but have changed the whole world. Science and reason brought us cars, electricity, and space travel. Christianity worked to end slavery across the globe and brought us universal rights. And it all began in Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem.