The Ancient World

Start Free Trial

Using historical examples, analyze the role of geography on Greece and political geography on Rome.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ancient Greek civilization took advantage of its proximity to the sea. In Greece (and the wider Aegean), local, regional, and international trade existed in the Bronze Age. This is supported by the fact that pottery and precious metals have been found far from where they were produced; presumably, they were transported through the trade network that existed between Egypt, Asia Minor, the Greek mainland, and outlying islands.

From 600 BCE, trade was facilitated by specialized merchant ships and permanent trading places called emporia. These trading locations were established at Al Mina (in modern-day Turkey), Ischia-Pithekoussai (off the coast of modern-day Naples), Naucratis in Egypt, and Gravisca in Etruria. The port of Piraeus in Athens became the most important trading centre in the Mediterranean. This network of trading systems facilitated the economic success of Ancient Greece and spread the influence of Greek art and culture throughout the Mediterranean.

The physical geography of Greece also impacted ancient Greek civilization, in that it lead to the development of individual communities. Mountainous areas separating various regions of Greece (coupled with island geography) prevented the formation of large political societies, making city-states the form of politics in antiquity. The Minoan civilization was the earliest known civilization in Europe, and the first advanced civilization was Mycenaean Greece. These Bronze-Age civilizations existed on the large island of Crete and the Greek mainland—respectively—where settlements were more easily unified.

Conversely to Greece (which largely depended on trade and sea travel), ancient Rome expanded through conquest to become one of the largest empires of the ancient world. During the period of the Roman Empire, geography was perceived in terms of military strategy and political ideology. In the first century BCE, Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, proclaimed that he had "subjected the world to the empire of Rome." According to a disk map of the world (designed by Ionian geographers), which was referenced in Augustus's time, the Roman Empire occupied one-seventh of the earth. While, in reality, the Romans were far from controlling the entire world, this perceived global domination became the symbol of Roman political and military force.

Imperial proliferation of this "global sphere" was thus utilized for political propaganda; Roman coinage containing this map traveled across the empire through commercial exchange—which extended well beyond its boundaries (as far off as India, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam). The coins were encoded with political messages about the wealth and force of the Roman Empire, which helped to shape the perception of its political, cultural, social, and ethnic boundaries.

Another geographical element worth noting is the construction of the roads in the Roman Empire. The idiom "all roads lead to Rome" has been dated back to as early as the twelfth century. Ancient Rome's system of roads radiated from the capital and resembled spokes of a wheel; the late Empire had 113 provinces, all of which were interconnected by 372 roads spanning over 250,000 miles in total.

Roman roads were not merely for transport, however; they were a means of asserting authority and control. All roads in the Roman Empire were constructed by the military. Building these roads required complex engineering in order to design the shortest routes possible. This allowed for rapid trade, cultural exchange, and (of course) the deployment of troops. As a demonstration of Rome's authority, many significant roads began and ended with triumphal arches, which were named after whoever funded them.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team