One Trick Ponies? Western Civilizations and Eastern Civilizations, a comparative view

Through sheer military might, pragmatism and some good stoic thinking, Rome managed to dominate the Mediterranean for centuries. The Greeks were an amalgamation of city states and philosophers that could campaign and do battle quite good, but were too fractured to be a complete and dominating power.

Compare this to some of the dynasties in Ancient China, and a completely different picture emerges. The Chinese had wise sages in men like Confucius, and a storied military culture as seen in classic tomes like The Art of War. Chinese science, medicine and academics were also leaving an imprint on the “Middle Kingdom” while emperors and military leaders waged war, drafted policy and built their infrastructure. Even Ancient Egypt is viewed as somewhat of a “one trick pony”; a civilization and culture focused around agriculture and thriving in the Nile while not being too militaristic like Rome, or as forward thinking and advancing as Greece. It seems many cultures and civilizations associated with the Western World are treated as “one trick ponies” and many in the Eastern tradition are given a more comprehensive treatment.

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At least the glories of Rome aren’t peddled as cheap restaurants and gaudy attractions…

The Eastern tradition is more than China. Tibet is depicted as a society of proud “warrior monks”, with devout Buddhists who also defended their mountain kingdom. This approach seems to extend past the Eastern tradition too. Mohenjo-Dharo (located in modern day Pakistan) and other ancient Indian civilizations are seen as advanced beyond their time (and they were, I mean indoor plumbing thousands of years before Christ?!), and Meso-American civilizations are noted for their fierce warrior societies and advanced cities, astronomy, and agriculture.

The way one looks at and studies history will limit their ability to not only conduct useful studies, but also enjoy the reading and researching. Why would I study Roman medical advancements if everyone is telling me they were only good at military campaigns and engineering? Why would I look to Ancient Greece for political examples when they were all high minded philosophers not rooted in reality? These questions are rhetorical, as Galen, a Roman physician was highly advanced, and certain Greek city-states were known for practicalities and implementing new and effective political systems.

Where does this one sided approach come from? I think it has to do with languages and sources, and not so much explicit bias. Many historians and writers were educated in Western institutions and have access to books, articles and sources written in various European languages. Many ancient sources have been translated into modern day languages, allowing for folks to carve whole careers and write multiple books on the subject of pottery in one or two isolated villages. For early Western civilizations and empires, it is able to be so narrow and specific simply because we can be. One can delve into extreme depth just looking at Roman legions or Egyptian Pharaohs. The same ability does not exist for many other civilizations though.

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Oh, damn…

While many sources exist for say, Han China, they are not as thoroughly studied in the West outside of specialized circles the way something like the Byzantine Empire is. Even though, in my opinion, all history is worth studying, we are limited by what we can read and write about. Because of this, a lot of the written work on China and other areas is a highly topical approach; a mile long but only an inch deep. We hear about Confucius, learn about The Art of War, and marvel at terracotta warriors, but never delve below the surface. Fortunately, there is almost continuous research being done on many of these interesting ancient empires and civilizations.

This article is the first in a series that will look at different civilizations throughout history and how they are perceived and taught in the modern day. This is an exciting approach for me! I’ve only done off articles, and this is my first comprehensive article series. Please leave me feedback and criticism, if you’re so inclined!

The following articles will be released in the next week:

Rome And Her Legions: Army And Pragmatism Or Advancement and Practicalities?

Classical Greece: Philosophy And Engineering Or Politics And Empire?

Ancient China: Myriads Of Wonder Or Cycles Of Entropy?

Ancient Egypt: Kings By The Nile or Bronze Age Gods?

The Middle East, Japan and Genghis Khan: Outliers or Honesty?

Modern Day Media Depictions: Bias, Clickbait Or Just The Usual Suspects?

I will go live with these articles over the next couple of days, with my intention of publishing them all by the end of next week. My usual publishing alternated between different ideas in the “Steel” and “Stylus” category, but with such a big topic, I have to focus on this alone to truly give it justice. And even then, I doubt my skills alone can even breach this! Either way, stay tuned.

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One thought on “One Trick Ponies? Western Civilizations and Eastern Civilizations, a comparative view

  1. Pingback: Quick Hits: Lucky or Skilled? – Steel and Stylus

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