Our Cultural Origins: Rome, Athens and Jerusalem

Photos: The Roman she-wolf (Avenches), the Parthenon (Athens) and the Wailing Wall (Jerusalem)

This is below a brief commentary, an overview of the document I have created and outlined above. Indeed, it is not so easy to make a simple summary of an entire civilization: the latter is never in itself either uniform, nor monolithic, since it evolves in space and time. Nevertheless, it is possible to draw certain principles and characteristics specific to each of these three civilizations on which we are all mainly dependent. So there are in main lines: 

1. Rome:

The Romans, these are among others order, organization, military and political force, and formalism that we find until in Latin epigraphy generally very stereotypical. This is what the square symbolizes which expresses in the end this practical, realistic and powerful Roman character. Square are for example the military camps and the insulae of the cities. It is the typical architectural organization of a city with its streets at right angles (in cardo and decumanus: the urban fabric with this famous checkerboard plan).

Moreover, the colour red also symbolizes the tireless wars that the Romans fought and which gave them military supremacy throughout the Mediterranean basin thanks to a professional and disciplined army, thanks also to the use of iron, because they always knew also how to exploit their military victories to their advantage. Indeed, they knew how to create a vast empire and create the PAX ROMANA, the famous Roman peace and thus reduce the Mediterranean Sea into an inner sea, the MARE NOSTRUM, our sea.

The Romans were strongly inspired by rhe Greeks in the field of mythology, literature, theatre, epic and lyric poetry, but still preferred comedy to tragedy. Their speakers almost surpassed the Greeks, since we remember, for example, Cicero or Julius Caesar even more often than Demosthenes...

They even adopted the Greek cult while modifying it: they have for goddess Roma, the personification of the Roman Empire and Augustus is honored as a god. The art of the mosaic of religious inspiration finds its development there.

The realistic character of the Romans is also found in the sculptures with this particular attention to detail and this realism of faces. The wealthy class has a taste for art objects, jewellery, goldsmithery and glassworks, pottery decorated with reliefs (sigillata), as well as for engraving on gems and medals (coins and medallions).

This realism still stands out even in the political ideal which has for goal the territorial expansion and the influence of the Roman culture. Thanks to its officials who manage the conquered lands, Rome establishes cities which are centers of political control, as well as commercial, financial and cultural centers. It creates a model of society based on social differences between free men and slaves.

Lucretius, Cicero and Seneca represent the corpus of Roman philosophy: they don't worry themselves so much about theories on the origin and constitution of the universe: their contributions were fundamentally through ethics, morality and the philosophy of behaviour. In poetry, after Lucretius, Catullus and Horace, Ovid was more didactic and individualistic.

The culminating period of Rome is indeed that of the 12 Caesars (from Julius Caesar to the emperor Domitian, as Suetonius wrote): therefore, it takes place at the beginning of our era. The reigns of Trajan and his successor Hadrian (117-138) correspond to the maximum expansion of the Roman Empire. During this period is also initiated gradually this artistic and literary revival in its content, and this renewal of mores also, both breathed by the nascent Christianity.

The legacy of the Romans:

Roman law, for example, continues to govern our laws, the Latin language also continues to interfere in our lives, it which is the basis of most of our European languages (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Rumanian, etc.). We owe to the Romans our calendar (called Julian), as well as our alphabet and numbers... Roman! Our institutions are strongly inspired by them. Without forgetting that many of our habits and customs of daily and religious life today still keep the trace of Rome.

The Romans gave us their practical sense. In architecture, for example, they use a fast and economical construction process, brick, with the frequent and bold use of arches, vaults and domes. It emerges all the temples, amphitheaters, circuses, forums and basilicas which we know. The aqueducts also with the use of water for its public use: thermae, fountains and sewers. Advanced heating system: the hypocaust. They invented the arches, the crane, the pulley and construction machinery. Vitruvius, the theorist of Roman architecture (1st century BC) inspired Palladio in the 16th century.

The practical sense of the Romans is also found in trade: they label foods on the amphorae for example; and even until the world of literature: Virgil combines the two Greek epics (Iliad and Odyssey) into one (the Aeneid).

Very down-to-earth, the Romans feel attracted by the campaign and the rustic world, more than for city life and the maritime world in general. It may even explain why the early Christians of Rome abandoned the anchor, as a Christian symbol, precisely because they had so little taste for sea...

The Romans, practical men by excellence, have been able to create an impressing road network all around the Mediterranean forming an infrastructure that we still reuse nowadays quite largely.

It is worth noting to finish the contribution of scientific medicine (from the end of the 3rd century BC) promoted to tell the truth by professional doctors coming from the Hellenistic world.

The legacy of the Romans is the Greco Roman culture. From the Roman Empire also arose Christianity.

2. Athens:

The Greeks, for their part, are as well a group of city states (polis) and colonies independent of one another (Athens, Sparta, Thebes; Syracuse and Magna Graecia, Marseille, etc.), as the development of encyclopedic culture (as its literal translation clearly indicates, it is circular education which embraces a entire circle, that is a complete education). The Greeks, therefore, are, among other things, the thirst for knowledge and the desire to know wisdom, which is what the circle in general represents well. In Europe also they are the first thinkers and philosophers (see the famous 7 wise men), the first poets and playwrights, the first historians and scientists. The Greeks are indeed the first ones among the Indo European peoples to have left a lasting, uniform mark of quality at international level.

The colour green is there to show the start, the green light of this artistic and intellectual research that has been initiated in Europe and this natural growth of the creative principles of our society. Freedom and democracy are the most important contributions of Greek culture to political thought. Greece allowed freedom of thought and expression, both political and philosophical, to a limited number of citizens, but allowed it. Let us not forget that women and slaves did not count politically, which is why Greek regimes were more like aristocracies. Nevertheless, Athens was certainly the most liberal of all the Greek cities, even if one can wonder however why they put to death Socrates, if there was between citizens a total freedom of expression and thought.

The Greeks being generally reflexive and philosophical, art is synonymous with proportion, balance and perfection. In education likewise the sense of utility is not important, it is not essential, but rather beauty in its ideal sense, desired or wished image.

Art objects were appreciated. The sculptures in human forms are idealized and follow a canon, often of completely naked people, representing the Greek ideal. Art is therefore characterized by the search for beauty and perfection. Phidias became known not only for his sculptures, but also for having been in charge of all the construction projects of the Acropolis of Athens.

Nor is it necessary to stress the importance of the sea for the Greeks: they are shipbuilders, not road builders. Their maritime vocabulary is highly developed for this purpose, their fleets too. Moreover bronze remains the main metal used. The thirst for discoveries, as well as the practical necessities, push them to travel far away, both in the imagination and in reality: and this, from the adventures of Ulysses to the conquest of the Middle East by Alexander the Great (maximal territorial expansion in 323 BC, unifying for a very short time the West to the East).

The 5th and 4th centuries BC are the key period of the ancient Greece whose climax is well located in the Pericles Century (time which did not actually last a century, but only half a century at most, from 479 to 429 BC) with Athens which will remain forever this Greece of Greece.

The legacy of the Greeks:

The English language abounds in expressions and words from the Greek language and mythology: an amphitryon (an host), a boeotian (a philistine), the Achilles heel (a vulnerable point), rich like Croesus (extremely rich), etc. The Greek language, derived from the Phoenician, will give birth to Latin, Cyrillic and Coptic among others.

In addition, we have the stone columns of Ancient Greece and their styles, copied by the Romans: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. The taste for body exercise remains very current, as well as the Olympic games that we owe them! Their ceramics too which is better preserved than their gold and silver treasures, than the temples statues, etc.

The love of the Greeks for music also served as emulation for their scientific research. We use their mathematics (dear to Pythagoras, Thales of Miletus, Archimedes, Euclid and Democritus with his famous notion of the atom); we also use their length measurement systems. We keep the basics of geometry and arithmetic (Pythagoras), of astronomy (where Aristarchus of Samos determined that the Sun is the center of universe), as well as the basics of medicine (with Hippocrates and his famous oath) and of history itself (with Herodotus rightly considered as the father of history).

The legacy of the Greeks is therefore considerable on many levels.

Let us not forget first of all the principles of democracy and social organization (with Cleisthenes, Ephialtes and Pericles).

Moreover, we keep their temples, their heroes and their legends. The theatre remains marked by the figures of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. If they are penetrated by the feeling of the sacred, the border between religion and superstition is often indecisive for them. In a general way we can say that polytheism tends to degenerate much more into superstition than to raise the moral level of the crowd.

Nevertheless, the free Greeks are considered the fathers of philosophy and the first scientists, because they tried to give a rational explanation to the natural phenomena without resorting to religion or magic. In philosophy they set as their goal the rational interpretation of the universe and nature (with Socrates and Plato, his follower, and Aristotle, follower of Plato). We now speak about Platonic and Aristotelian philosophies. As Plato with his Academy, Aristotle also had an enormous influence as founder of the High School of Athens, the Peripatetic School, he who liked teaching by wandering: he is the founding father of logic and biology.

Let us not forget either, finally, the importance of art in Hellenistic period (from 323 BC to the Roman conquest) with artistic centers such as Alexandria (in Egypt), Antioch (in Syria), Halicarnassus, Ephesus and Pergamon (in Asia Minor) and the works from that period which remain still famous nowadays: the Milo's Venus or the winged Victory of Samothrace or the temple's altar of Zeus in Pergamon. Moreover, Philostratus (3rd-2nd centuries BC) later introduced Andrea Mantegna (during the Italian Quattrocento) and Rubens (in the 16th-17th centuries BC) to the work of the forgotten Greek painters, from Apelles to Zeuxis.

Thus Greece had above all an intellectual radiance: her moral, intellectual and literary influence received a new increase with the arrival of the Romans. She kept her games and Athens her schools. The trip to Greece was always the complement to a good Roman education. Emperor Hadrian especially was held for the restorer of Greece whose unfortunate decline led to, finally and fortunately, the foundation of Constantinople.

3. Jerusalem:

The Hebrews, also called Israelites or Jews according to the historical period concerned, remain a people apart. They really enjoy a particular situation, forming this fascinating and intriguing nation of Israel, since their moral laws depend directly on God. They draw from divine revelation as well their divine laws (Exodus 20), as their priestly laws (Leviticus) and their civil laws (Deuteronomy). 

The Torah for the Jews is an absolute reference, because their whole society revolves around it: it is the basis of their education (teaching the rabbis for the most intelligent students and reading the Torah for all in the synagogues); it is the basis of their justice, the source of their comments (like the Midrash or the Talmud) and also source of artistic inspiration (songs and dances in particular), even the reason for being of the cabalistic research...

The star of David symbolically manifests well the unified monarchy of Israel in the 10th century BC, this kingdom of David and Solomon, highlight of Hebraic history, which lasted only 80 years, the time to leave us for the moment more literary than archaeological traces. Nevertheless, the stele of Merenptah (circa 1210 BC) attests to the presence of a population called Israel in Canaan, as well as the stele of Tel Dan demonstrates the existence of King David and his house.

Thanks to written Hebrew, a Semitic language resurrected by the voluntarism of the pioneers who built towns and villages, the Jews survived the Diaspora (dispersion outside the Land of Israel), preserving their language and customs, in the face of the multiple persecutions and pogroms (antisemitic acts of violence) they had to endure, not to mention the Holocaust. Despite their geographical dispersion and without territorial community (since the year 70 until this famous May 14th, 1948, date of the creation of the State of Israel in a single day), they nevertheless form a singular whole: that is why it is possible to speak of Hebraic civilization.

The colour yellow shows the light, the faith, the interior and precious life for man and for humanity: it is indeed the light of divine revelation, this wisdom from above much more precious than silver or gold. The Jewish people always carry messages, testimonies and a prophetic call: moreover, it is also the only democracy all over the Middle East.

The legacy of the Hebrews:

The archaeological legacy of the Hebrews seems less notorious than their spiritual legacy, even if its importance is currently growing with the increasing pace of archaeological excavations made in Israel.

What they have transmitted to us above all is the Torah that will form the Pentateuch of the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, the Book of Books, this priceless book. Deuteronomy, for example, already existed a long time before Roman law; it served as basis for civil governments, including the so-called democratic ones.

Let us not forget either the whole Judeo Christian tradition, dear to the West. Judaism is source of Christian iconography, just as Europe inherited its most important festivals, such as Easter. God first spoke to his people through the Law, then presented himself to his people in the living person of the Messiah, before his message of life spread through his Spirit throughout the Mediterranean basin and finally to the ends of the earth.

Moreover, it should be noted that Christianity saved classical culture, called Greco Roman, and that it preserved culture in general, not only throughout the Middle Ages, but also during the Enlightenment and even to this day with the strengthening of both individual and political freedoms.

Good traders because they were nomads, forced to constantly adapt because they were also persecuted, Jews are excellent in many fields. Just look, for example, at the list of Nobel Prizes: according to calculations, almost a fifth or even a quarter of the prizes awarded are to people of Jewish origin, among which we mention only to Albert Einstein (sciences) and to Ludwig Wittgenstein (philosophy). However, their tenacity can turn into intransigence and their election in pride sometimes, if not quite often, to believe they are the best.

Especially due to her spiritual influence, Jerusalem is therefore the crossroads of civilizations. She alone gathers all three world monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Jews also know that, in the future, she will even bring together on her soil all the nations of the world, during the various annual feasts, as they were blessed by a common ancestor, Abraham, if they add faith to his testimony. What affects Israel thus has an impact worldwide, given the international vocation of Jerusalem: this will be even more obvious during the next 3rd World War, for example, when all nations will come to fight against Israel in the famous Battle of Armageddon (as well as a thousand years later, during the 4th and last World War, as the Holy Scripture reveals, Jerusalem will also be at the centre of the world conflict for the second time).


Thus, it is worth not forgetting our cultural origins, since they are the basis of our reason for being both individual and community. They really help us to understand our present and our future, if we base ourselves on a good knowledge of our past.

Europe especially (as also the United States of America, which has been shaped historically and in large part by Europe) needs to reconnect with its own roots. Its cultural origins rest principally on these three pillars: Rome, Athens and Jerusalem which represent the Roman, Greek and Hebraic civilizations. The Romans gave us above all their laws (the famous Roman law), their practical sense and their political organization; the Greeks, their thirst to know the wisdom and the philosophy, the freedom and the democracy; the Hebrews finally transmitted to us their spirituality and liberating knowledge of the one true God. To lose that background is to lose a lot of our identity. It will be difficult to replace.

Culturally ours,

Olivier Perret

To Read Other Articles?


Common references to the three civilizations:

Archaelogy and History (in Spanish), in https://www.historiayarqueologia.com 

History Review (in Spanish) in https://revistadehistoria.es 

1) ROME:

Virgile, The Aeneid (free book available in Spanish in: https://www.ataun.net/BIBLIOTECAGRATUITA/Clásicos%20en%20Español/Virgilio/La%20Eneida.pdf . More information in: https://www.historiayarqueologia.com/2017/10/50-libros-de-historia-de-grecia-y-roma.html, published by Historia y Arqueología in www.historiayarqueologia.com 

Pierre Grimal, La civilisation romaine, in: https://assets.espapdf.com/b/Pierre%20Grimal/La%20civilizacion%20romana%20(3988)/La%20civilizacion%20romana%20-%20Pierre%20Grimal.pdf (also in Spanish) which cites an abundant bibliography

Jérôme Carcopino, La vie quotidienne à Rome à l'apogée de l'Empire, Librairie Hachette, Paris (Réf. 23.2154.5)

Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution, 2ème ed. Oxford, 1962. French translation from R. Stuveras, Paris 1967


Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey in: https://www.traduccionliteraria.org/biblib/H/H102.pdf (Ilíada p. 79-383 - Odisea p. 384-617)

Ch. Seignobos: Historia de la civilización antigua: Oriente, Grecia y Roma: in https://cdigital.dgb.uanl.mx/la/1020131965/1020131965.PDF 

Robert Flacelière, La vie quotidiene en Grèce au siècle de Périclès, Librairie Hachette, Paris 1959 et 1980 (Ref. 23.0866.6)

César Vidal, Por qué soy cristiano, Collection Planeta Testimonio, Barcelone, 2008 (p.214: Greek democracy, an experiment which failed in Greece in the 5th century BC; p.197-205: Christianity preserved culture)

Music: Música en la Antigua Grecia, in https://revistadehistoria.es/musica-en-la-antigua-grecia/  (Pablo Eugenio Rodríguez Vázquez, 2017.05.15)


Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, Verkleinerte Ausgabe, Stuttgart 1984

The Torah, in https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torah 

Choice of Bibles, translations and languages, in https://www.biblegateway.com/?language=es 

Daniel Robs, La vie quotidienne en Palestine au temps de Jésus, Librairie Hachette, Paris (Réf. 23.0854.02)

Marek Dospèl, Who Tells the Truth-the Bible or Archaeology? The struggle for the true history of ancient Israel, in https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/archaeology-today/biblical-archaeology-topics/truth-bible-or-archaeology/(15.05.2017)

Biblical archaeology, in https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/ 

Informations and news too, in https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/1.787712 

César Vidal, El Talmud, Alianza Editorial 978-84-206-3786-0, in https://www.cesarvidal.com 

Ibid. Jesús y los manuscritos del Mar Muerto, Booket 978-84-08-07042-9

Ibid. Textos para la historia del pueblo judío, Ediciones Cátedra 978-84-376-1360-4

Ibid. Diccionario histórico del cristianismo, Editorial Verbo Divino 978-84-8169-102-3

Ibid. Diccionario de las tres religiones monoteístas (judaísmo, cristianismo e islam), Alianza Editorial 978-84-206-0618-7

Ibid. Los primeros cristianos, Editorial Planeta 978-84-08-08865-3

Video: Hebrew as the World's Oldest Alphabet, in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYQZIoo2Xl4    

Some comments...

Finalement j'ai lu ton sommaire au sujet de l'antiquité très bien recherché et écrit! On a besoin le passée pour donner direction et significance au futur. Ç'est essentiel. (Lia Eichele, Canada - 2018.02.18)

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