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Overview of Ancient Civilizations and Forms of Social Cohesion

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The following set of research papers outlines the different elements of civilization as well as some of the leaders that fostered unity and social cohesion in the ancient world. These examples are brought to you by Ultius, the trusted provider of content solutions for consumers around the world. If you enjoy this post, consider working with one of our freelance writers.

Elements of Civilization: Cuneiform, Demokratia & Hoplite Phalanx

Throughout history, various civilizations utilized primitive systems in order to accomplish large scale goals that contributed to society as a whole. Early Sumerian and Greek people were essentially pioneers that initiated primitive forms of communication, military defense and political order that would later evolve into more complex and functional platforms for development. The basic and one of the earliest forms of written language, cuneiform (read more about the cultural origins of this script), revolutionized communication by using clay tablets and pictography. Similarly, the hoplite phalanx system was a major breakthrough for how soldiers fought battles together in unity. Finally, Demokratia (or pure democracy) was a noble attempt at equality and order by giving citizens the power to participate in lawmaking and other executive decisions of a group of people under common law. Albeit these three methods were not perfect by any means, all three concepts were early foundations for the evolution and implementation of much more advanced means that we utilize to this day for important functions of civilizations.

Cuneiform: A Milestone in Writing

As cuneiform was one of the earliest forms of written writing, it is the most applicable to the theme of being a revolutionary starting point of a widely utilized system.  By 3000 BCE, cuneiform was used on clay tablets. With thousands of different images, this system utilized pictography so symbolize different objects. As time went on, the symbols adopted more abstract meanings and required less symbols. Despite being replaced by alphabetic writing, this primitive system was a precursor to mature forms of writing like we have today. If it was not for basic cuneiform, other methods like beads on a string may have been used. However, in the course of the last 5000 years, basic forms of writing that could be saved and archived have been adopted in every language and civilization. Thus, since cuneiform, a basic written form of writing, has evolved over the past 5000 years, it is the most important and applicable example because it served as a primitive, but fundamental platform for experimentation.


Another relevant example is one of the earliest forms of modern day democracy, Demokratia. Around 500 BCE, Greek city states adopted this system because it was a pure democracy in which all citizens (excluding women and slaves) participated in the decision making process if they wanted to. However, despite being excellent in theory, emergent problems such as scaling and accountability made this system inefficient after a certain point. Nonetheless, the democratic system has evolved into what the United States and many other nations utilize today. It is obviously not the same infrastructure or method as 500 BCE, but it still implements the principle of empowering common people. Just like cuneiform was a breakthrough for recording written expressions, Demokratia was a fundamental breakthrough in the development of a fair system for empowering and ruling citizens. It has only taken some time for the system to be perfected adopted to fit the needs of large groups of people.


Finally, the hoplite phalanx system is the least applicable example because technology eventually out dated it. By 800 BCE, Greek soldiers protected their city states in groups by fighting side by side with spears and shields as if one coherent military group. The basic concept of grouping men together within one city state and fighting alongside a methodological order represents the basic roots of military science. The Romans adopted this system as well and carried it through the domination of one quarter of the world. Unfortunately, as technology advanced the hoplite phalanx became an inappropriate means of combat. The basic foundation of defending a group of people through an organized means of uniform and weapons does represent a milestone in the development. Therefore, in comparison to cuneiform and Demokratia, hoplite phalanx did serve as a foundation of military science that was carried on until today. However, since phalanx was phased out within roughly 1000 years, it does not deserve as much merit as cuneiform and Demokratia.

As we recall, primitive means of accomplishing large scale goals were not always perfect in ancient times, but they sometimes forged a pathway for the evolution and advancement in a similar direction. For example, cuneiform emerged as a simple form of writing on a clay tablet utilizing pictography. Over time it evolved into being a different form, yet with the same general foundation. Similarly, Demokratia emerged as a means of empowering people and political stability. It also served as an important foundation for the democracy that we have today. Finally, hoplite phalanx served the purpose of being a primitive form of military science of soldiers fighting side by side. It later evolved into a much more organized and disciplined aspect of any civilization. Therefore, all three concepts served as a developmental and experimental platform from which it could be built upon for later generations. The core development of communication, military defense and political order all had their roots with their primitive predecessors.

Establishing Unity and Cohesion: Plato, Augustus and Charlemagne

Throughout history, there have been many prominent figures of unity and social cohesion. Unity, for our intents and purposes, can be used to describe political, social or academic cohesion in which a stable infrastructure is developed where future generations can build off of it. Unity is also usually attributed to a single or group of individuals that mark a turning point in history on behalf a large number of people, whether it be a nation, empire or scholars. A prime example of an individual attributed to the development of a unified state was the Roman emperor Augustus who restored the traditional Roman Republic. Another similar example is Charlemagne, the French (and later Roman) emperor who unified most of Western Europe. Finally, another example, albeit in an academic context, was Plato, who unified his teachings under his Academy and laid the foundation for Western philosophy. Although Plato’s development of his philosophy academy represents a more obscure example of unity, both Augustus and Charlemagne epitomized the theme of achieving social cohesion and political unity by using new models of ruling.

Emperor Augustus

For instance, the Roman Emperor Augustus is the best example of attaining social cohesion and political unity. In his rule from 27 BC to AD 14, Augustus was successful in unifying the Roman Republic under the control of the senate without the use of an authoritative dictator style regime. His journey to sole rule began with his inheritance into the throne after his uncle Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. From there, he joined a coalition with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus known as the Second Triumvirate. Unfortunately, the three person ruling body posed challenges as the leaders used their military forces to fight one another for more control. This resulted in Mark Antony committing suicide after he lost at the Battle of Actium and Lepidus being driven away from his political position as a leader.

In taking power, Augustus did not however take reigns as a self-proclaimed God. Instead, he utilized his military background to control the Senate and boasted his personal financial success to control the empire with a wave of approval. Indeed, he led military campaigns to annex more territories to the empire while making positive domestic contributions like roads and effective use of diplomacy. Therefore, Augustus successfully used his political and military power to build a Roman Republic that was focused on peace directly after a period of intense civil turmoil. His actions once he took power epitomized the theme of achieving social and political unity. His personal relationships and wealth gave him the society’s approval while his military power gave him authority over the senate.

Charlemagne of France

Similarly, Charlemagne of France accomplished a similar level of social and political unity within Western Europe. Initially, he was the ruling King of the Franks from 768 AD up until the Pope granted him the throne to the Roman empire in 800 AD. He was most well known for using his vast military campaigns to unite most of Western Europe under one common ruler. Before his ascent to rule, he co-ruled the Frank kingdom with his brother, Carloman. After years and hostile situations in which war nearly broke out, Carloman died. This left rule up to Charlemagne. The ruler then led campaigns through Italy, Bavaria, Eastern Europe and other territories. His other campaigns through Austrasia, Swabia and Saxony leg to his eventual rule over all of Western Europe. During his rule, Charlemagne practiced not only military campaigns, but local reforms as well. His economic reforms of a silver currency system and control of trading goods did much for Europe as well. Similarly to Augustus, Charlemagne used his military expertise to annex territories and then upheld his authority through domestic reforms and stability. Therefore, the theme of unity was almost analogous to that of Augustus. 


Finally, the example of Plato illustrates unity in an academic context. During his life from circa 428 BC to 348 BC, Plato unified his philosophical school of through his prestigious academy. Indeed, his apprenticeship with Socrates and mentorship towards Aristotle placed him in a lineage of very notable philosophers and intellectuals of his time. After his travels, he returned to Greece to find one of the earliest academies geared towards math and science. The individuals that were schooled in his academy and the work that they produced would be the foundation of Western philosophy for years to come. Of his work, Plato’s Republic was very influential because it expressed views on the government and how society is structured. Thus, while Plato did not utilize military means, the theme of unity was still present through the development of his academy. His academy and work unified intellectual thought and study into a comprehensive manner. Since his work was carried on by future generations, Plato’s legacy was still characterized by the theme of unity. 

As we have seen, the theme of social and political unity was a common theme among Augustus, Charlemagne and Plato. Both Augustus and Charlemagne utilized military power and overcame direct opposition before bringing their empires together into one unified state. Once under their rule, both empires enjoyed relative success and progressed forward in terms of domestic reform and political stability. For the case of Plato, however, the theme of unity did not apply in a political sense. Instead, Plato’s unity was based on the premise of creating an academy that would collect and work on scholarly fields. While the theme of political unity did not apply, the generalized concept of building an infrastructure of stability that future generations could carry on did wholly apply. 

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