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A City On Civilizations

1576 words (6 pages) Essay in History

5/12/16 History Reference this

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The purpose of this integration paper is to determine the impact of a city on civilizations. Cities have also been a changing factor during the course of time, and have improved the way we live today. When we compare the different types of cities, we can then determine the similarities and differences in various places and eras.

Why are cities an essential part of civilization? Has urban life been the same in different civilizations over time? Why or why not? What accounts for the similarities and differences in various places and eras? To write a successful essay on these questions, you need to integrate material from each of the following chapters in our textbook: Chapters 3, 6, and 11.

Cities assumed the control and integration functions of the new political, economic, religious, and social systems. All cultural forms eventually became hierarchically organized. Class and caste societies based on political and religious status became the norm, replacing the older ranked societies of farming villages. Urbanization changed the way humans lived by going from a self sufficient village, to having jobs and becoming more industrialized.

People started to leave villages and farms to live in cities.  A cause of this might have been the younger generation not having as much experience to start agriculture on their own, so they would rather obtain jobs in a more urbanized culture to gain the experience and then hopefully be able to maintain their own farm.

The negative impacts that would arise from urbanization are increased costs over what the local working class receives in wages.  Laws were developed on how farms should be maintained, which in some instances would bankrupt farmers, because of high maintenance costs to abide by regulations.  This would cause people to have no choice but to end up as workers to support their household, meaning they might be required to move closer to the city to be near jobs, which would also add to the higher living expenses related to urbanization.

When we think of urbanization, we can also relate it to archaeological traces of classical Athens and Rome, which did reveal some differences between what constitutes a city-state and an imperial capital city.  Reilly explains, big choices such as laws, decisions of war and peace, determination of how much money to collect and what to spend it on were determined by the mass assembly, which consisted of all citizens.  The town council was the one who prepared most of the issues, but the final judge was the assembly.  This seems to be the origin of politics, and development of a democratic society.

Rome on the other hand was the opposite; it was considered a “show place for power,” according to Reilly.  The Greeks were more focused on attention to the quality of harbors and the fertility of the soil and occupied themselves with beauty and fortification, while the Romans concentrated on providing their cities with adequate water, streets, and sewers.  Most of these amenities were mainly for the rich though; everyone else had to figure out their own means of obtaining water, and utilizing sewage, which was mainly just tossing it out the window.

Artwork and pictures also plays a role in the identity of a city, for example, pictures from classical Athens consisted of sculptors that were produced from ideal views, whereas the goal of Roman artifacts and pictures was to produce realistic portraits for decoration and symbolisms of power. 

I found the pictures in the text book and the photos of ancient Athens in the lectures very telling.  The picture of Rome (Reilly p.142-143) shows a congested city and magnificent buildings.  Many of the buildings were built for entertainment purposes and could hold most of the people of Rome.  The buildings and entertainment were enough to blind you from the poorly built and cramped housing.  The photos in the lecture of ancient Athens and the Agora ( showed the importance placed on having a gathering place for all of society’s functions.  Buying and selling commodities, and discussing politics, business and current events.

The enduring architecture, engineering, and writings from the classical period of both civilizations work to reveal drastic differences in the political, social, and economic aspects of life between the cultures.  One is provided with insight into how the different peoples viewed different matters in varying respects.

The enduring architecture of the great city-state of Athens is the primary indication of the participatory nature of the Greek city-state itself.  The remains of the acropolis, the agora, and the amphitheater are signs of a culture whose goal was the “enrichment of human life, [which was made possible] by the polis” (Reilly, 1997, p. 133).  The acropolis, which was the home of the Greek gods provided for religious relief; the agora served as the primary meeting place and market place of the people; and the amphitheater was the principal form of entertainment for Athenians.  Each form of architecture simply emphasizes the importance of citizen participation in every aspect of political, social, and economic Athenian life. 

The engineering systems, water aqueducts, and the remnants of the Coliseum of the Roman imperial capital city are the primary indications of the non-participatory nature of the imperial capital city.  The luxury of the baths, palaces, and efficient sewage systems that were offered to the ruling classes were a far cry from the dirty, crowded, and disease-rampant tenements that characterized the lives of the Roman poor.  Moreover, the emphasis on gladiatorial violence, which took part in the Coliseum and the Circus Maximus, revealed that “when a city’s inhabitants no longer have any control over the life of the city, they must be entertained” (Reilly, 1997, p. 144).  Clearly, Roman citizens had no participation in the running of the city, and thus, were kept entertained through violent “games.”

There is definitely a difference between the city-state of Athens and the imperial capital city of Rome.  Ancient Athens was viewed as a democracy, where power was distributed to a larger population of the city.  Kevin Reilly states, “In terms of technology, comforts, physical layout, and the lives of the inhabitants, Athens was not very far removed from the peasant village” (Reilly p.130).  They led simple lives and had ample leisure time.  The Athenian amphitheatre was where hundreds of plays were watched, and even participated in, by members of the audience.  The Greek tragedies displayed “… human foibles, political policy and the eternal dramas of human life on stage for all to see” (Reilly p.131).  The city-state made possible a relatively peaceful and fulfilling way of life.  The democratic nature of the polis was a key aspect of leading this “good life”.

Although we may underestimate the houses of ancient Athens, they were built similar to each other and provided a decent living.  R.E. Wycherley states, “Classical Greek houses were unpretentious, at least from the outside; they were hardly expected to make much contribution to the architectural beauty of the city…” (How the Greeks Built Cities, R.E. Wycherley 1949).  In contrast, ancient Rome put their efforts into elaborate Coliseums and amphitheatres and made no attempt to build decent housing for the less fortunate.

Ancient Rome was the opposite of life in ancient Athens.  Rome was built with the intention only the wealthy would have a comfortable living.  The great sewer system did not extend to the houses of the poor, thus they were left to live with the stench of excrement.  The housing was cramped and congested which led to epidemic infestation and spontaneous combustion.  Romans were not offered participation in community affairs.  There was also a large separation between rich and poor.  Reilly contends, “Class divisions between rich and poor, powerful and weak, were radically accelerated in the capital city, especially Rome” (Reilly p.141).  The city had many diversions to ease the reality of life.  Romans would watch extravagant circus’s (Circus Maximus) or head to the Coliseum for brutal gladiatorial exhibitions.  Romans were blood thirsty and hungry for entertainment.  This entertainment was the only way for most citizens to forget about their daily lives and the horrible living conditions.  Although the city had many engineering and technological marvels for this period, it was designed for the rich and powerful to enjoy.

The main differences I have noticed between a city-state and an imperial capital city is how it is socially governed.  A city-state is controlled by the citizens, where decisions and laws are voted on by a mass assembly.  An imperial capital city, such as Rome, is controlled by an emperor or dictator, where the only decision made was by him; even though the emperor had a senate, they were only in place to advise the emperor.

Kevin Reilly and the photographic archives both worked to reveal the key difference between the city-state and the imperial capital city of the classical world.  While the city-states were citizen-based and democratic, the imperial capital cities were more entertaining and economically focused.

Overall the social changes that were taking place were not all negative, most societies benefited from urbanization, as far as profits that were being made.  It also leads to a more modernized way of living due to urban growth, and improved opportunities for jobs, housing, and transportation.

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