Middle Ages define their cultures, beliefs and reasons within the constructs of power, community, and religion. The transition in the beliefs of polytheistic gods to a spiritual connection to one Divinity created the foundations of society and government during these eras. The reemergence of Greek Civilization between 100-750 B. C. E. introduced the writings of Homer.
Influenced by Near Eastern mythology and fables that embedded teachings used to educate the masses on social behaviors and morality, Homer expressed the Greek social value of arete (excellence) through his oral lyricism (a vital characteristic that bonded Greek cultural traditions). His epic tales of the Iliad and the Odyssey encompass the cultural relevancies in literature, human emotion, and the honor and glory that immortalized its heroes. The fictional tales of warring conflict between Mycenean Greeks and the cities of Asia Minor depicted the beliefs and values of Greek culture.
Homer’s lliad and Odyssey are fictional accounts of a time and place (Troy), and the battles depicted human values of glory and victory. These values mirrored societal indoctrination of proper behaviors for men and women that bonded communities and idealized victory through the Olympic Games held in the sanctuary of their supreme god Zeus. The Greek religion encompassed a myriad of gods that played a significant role in human’s existence. The polytheistic beliefs in divine justice supported shared values that strengthened the Greek civilization.
The roles of women during this time in Greek civilization counted as legal citizens both socially and religiously. Security of women required male guardianship under this paternal society. According to Greek mythology, women were a necessary evil as “Zeus supposedly ordered the creation of the first woman, Pandora, as a punishment for men in retaliation against Prometheus, who had stolen fire from Zeus and given it tot humans. ” (Hunt, Martin, Rosenwein, and Smith 61).
Women preserved the domestic family culture and “women’s labor ensured the family’s economic self-sufficiency” to allow men to focus on political affairs (Hunt, Martin, Rosenwein, and Smith 61). In light of the cultural strides demonstrated during the early Greek civilization, the most significant transitions both socially and politically happened during the Golden Age of the Athenian Empire. The Athenian “Golden Age” Empire from 468-431 B. C. E. held communal values supported in literature and community events.
This time gave rise to a radical democracy that shifted political power from the elites of society to the participation of all adult male citizens. The strength and authority of Athenian culture came from its naval power and military success. Majority rule supported protection of individuals and public policy promoting diversity in thought. Innovations in city-state’s social and religious customs contrasted old Greek traditional customs including the practice of religion and women’s conduct, creating tensions among peoples.
Politically women’s roles diminished in contrast to traditional Greek customs but gained religious prestige by performing religious cult rituals. The sanction of paternalism deepened the seclusion of women to the home and created hierarchies within the classes due to wealth and foreigner status. The tension initiated the evaluation of personal morality and its effect on peoples’ fears that their gods would become angry. Culturally, religious practice turned to public slaughter of large animals as a community event.
This practice asserted people’s connection to the divine world with the benefit of banqueting on the kill. Another religious shift was the presence of hero and mystery cults that centered on rituals and the superstition of Oracle prophesies. New ways of thinking, inspired by the famous philosopher Socrates, sought reason to “discover universal, objective standards that justified individual ethics,” (Hunt, Martin, Rosenwein, and Smith 97). Socrates’ follower, Plato, provoked his readers to question beliefs about justice and politics and outlined an ideal society in his work the Republic.
Plato promoted life beyond the reach of human senses and introduced the idea of “Forms (or Ideas)” that described the abstract realities of ethical reasoning. His philosophy called followers to reflect on his theories of “justice, goodness, beauty, and [an] equality (that existed] on their own in a higher realm beyond the daily realm” (Hunt, Martin, Rosenwein, and Smith 113, 115). Concepts of duality of the mind (soul) and body as the “ultimate reality” spurred rhetorical debate by questioning democracy, which began a shift in political thinking that set the tone for political discord.
Within this political debate, innovations of thought and power structures created the path of a new republic and the rise of Rome. Roman traditionalism, rooted in mas maiorum (way of the elders), was the unwritten code of virtues and principals of behavior emphasizing faithfulness and respect. The Roman republic gradually established itself as an Imperial stronghold between 44 B. C. E -14 C. E. under Augustus’ monarchal rule. Roman standards to gain the image of respect and power promoted victorious achievements.
Augustus advocated his Res Gestas [My Accomplishments] through philanthropic means supporting infrastructure and propagandizing coinage that reflected his personal messages. Unlike the practice of other ancient city-states, an essential distinction supporting the growth and strength of Roman life during this time was the freeing of slaves. Freedoms of debate through oratory skill transitioned to praise of the emperor only. The high-risk of public of descent through political criticism encouraged the public to positively promote the transformed political system.
This reflected in literature through the works of Virgil in his masterpiece of Rome, the Aeneid, which propagandized the strength of Roman power and virtues of truthfulness, piety, and loyalty. (Homer 980) Like the innovations of intellectual thought during the Athenian Empire and the divine justice of the Athenian Empire, the divine mission of the Roman Empire was the system of law and order to retain peace and order in society. Jewish monotheism under oppression of the kingdoms of the Near East believed that God would end the evil powers that ruled the world.
Jesus of Nazareth’s followers broke away from Jewish law and taught that God’s kingdom was coming and preached spiritual salvation. The Roman governor, Pontius Pilot, ordered Jesus’ execution for fear of a Jewish revolt, which forged Jesus’ followers to establish the new religion of Christianity. (p. 192). Christianity’s impact was its philosophical emphasis on morality and respect for authority while diminishing superstitious practices of polytheism.
Its impact did little for the status of women and women’s role in society as they remained as tools of procreattion to protect the empire’s strength with steady population growth. The foundation of safety and prosperity to individuals and communities was religion and Christianity became a state religion in 391 banning polytheistic practices. Attacks on the Roman Empire by bands of Visigoths from Eastern Germanic territories initiated a subdivided imperial rule between 284-600 B. C. E. that held social and financial consequences to the Empire and brought strength of Christianization to the Empire.
The divergence of Eastern and Western Rome brought in Middle Ages between 600-750 and introduced Islam as a new religion and empire. The Islamic influence patterned the beginnings of successful empires through unification in language, community, and religion. Prophet Muhammad’s unifying principal of One God and in what is now know as the Five Pillars of Islam: Shahada (profession of faith), zakat (tithing), fasting (Ramadan), salat (prayer), and hajj (pilgrimage to the holy land of Mecca), consolidated Arab nomadic tribes and welcomed Jewish and Christian followers nto Islamic faith. Islamic forces brought unification to a weakened Eastern Roman Empire, and Christians and Jews welcomed this transition as they integrated into the new Islamic Empire free to practice in their respective faiths under the Pact of Umar.
Similar to previous cultural and religious traditions, Islam retained the patriarchal continuum for cultural stability. The beliefs and reasons behind the constructs of the rise and fall of empires throughout the history of early Greece to the beginnings of the Middle Ages follow similar patterns of power. ommunity, and religion. Polytheistic gods influencing the hearts and minds of humans transitioned to an individual and spiritual connection to the Divine, which supported structures of society, politics, and challenged intellects to form reason by questioning ethics and morality from era to era. The inherited values from culture to culture transform into legacies that mark their passage in defeat and victory.