The Historians' History of the World: England to 1485

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Outlook Company
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Dec 31, 1904
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686
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English
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The history of Greek civilisation forms the centre of the history of antiquity. In the East, advanced civilisations with settled states had existed for thousands of years; and as the populations of Western Asia and of Egypt gradually came into closer political relations, these civilisations, in spite of all local differences in customs, religion, and habits of thought, gradually grew together into a uniform sphere of culture. This development reached its culmination in the rise of the great Persian universal monarchy, the “kingdom of the lands,” i.e. “of the world.” But from the very beginning these oriental civilisations are so completely dominated by the effort to maintain what has been won that all progress beyond this point is prevented. And although we can distinguish an individual, active, and progressive intellectual movement among many nations,—as in Egypt, among the Iranians and Indians, while among the Babylonians and Phœnicians nothing of the sort is thus far known,—nevertheless the forces that represent tradition are in the end everywhere victorious over it and force it to bow to their yoke. Hence, all oriental civilisations culminate in the creation of a theological system which governs all the relations and the whole field of thought of man, and is everywhere recognised as having existed from all eternity and as being inviolable to all future time.

With the cessation of political life and the establishment of the universal monarchy, the nationality and the distinctive civilisation of the separate districts are restricted to religion, which has become theology. The development of oriental civilisation then subsides in the competition of these religions and the unavoidable coalescence consequent thereupon. This is true even of that nation which experienced the richest intellectual development, and did the most important work of all oriental peoples—the Israelites. When the great political storms from which the universal monarchy arose have spent their rage, Israel, the nation, has developed into Judaism; and under the Persian rule and with the help of the kingdom it organises itself as a church which seeks to put an end to all free individual movement, upon which the greatness of ancient Israel rests.

It was just the same with the ruling nation, the Persians, however vigorous their entrance into history under Cyrus. The Persian kingdom is, indeed, a civilised state, but the civilisations that it includes lack the highest that a civilisation can offer: an energetic, independent life, a combination of the firm institutions and permanent attainments of the past with the free, progressive, and creative movement of individuality. So the East, after the Persian period, was unable of its own force to create anything new. It stagnated, and, had it not received new elements from without, had it been left permanently to itself, would perhaps in the course of centuries have altered its external form again and again, but would hardly have produced anything new or have progressed a step beyond what had already been attained.

But when Cyrus and Darius founded the Persian kingdom, the East no longer stood alone. The nations and kingdoms of the East came into communication with the coast of the Mediterranean very early—not later than the beginning of the second millennium B.C.; and under their influence, about 1500 B.C., a civilisation arose among the Greeks bordering the Ægean. We call it the Mycenæan, and in spite of its formal dependence upon the East it could, in the field of art (where alone we have an exact knowledge of it), take an independent and equal place beside the great civilisations of the East.
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