Early Greek civilization consisted of many small, independent city-states, but it gradually spread throughout the Mediterranean world. During the Age of Pericles, Athenian culture and democracy flourished. However, the Peloponnesian War left Greece severely weakened. Under Alexander the Great, Macedonia spread Greek culture throughout Southwest Asia. Rome became the seat of power of a great empire that included the entire Mediterranean and much of Europe. As conquerors, Romans showed flexibility toward most non-Roman religions, but Christianity at first was an exception. Eventually, Christianity was declared the empire's official religion. Power shifted to Constantinople, the empire's new eastern capital, as Rome declined.
Section 1 Ancient Greece
Mycenae, the first Greek state, was one of a number of early Greek civilizations. After its collapse, Greece entered a period known as the Dark Age. At the end of this period, Homer wrote his famous epic poems. As Greece recovered, the independent city-state, or polis, became the focus of Greek life. Sparta became an oligarchy and was a military state in which the lives of all its inhabitants were rigidly organized around military preparedness. Although power was at first in the hands of the aristocracy, Athens after a war with the Persians developed into a democracy. After Sparta and Athens were weakened by the Peloponnesian War, Macedonia rose to power. Alexander the Great created a unified empire and invaded Persia. Greece was known for its art and architecture and the development of drama. Philosophers devoted themselves to rational thought as a means of understanding the nature of the universe. During the Hellenistic Era, Greek culture expanded into Southwest Asia and beyond.
Section 2 Rome and the Rise of Christianity
Rome began as a small village. In the late sixth century, the Romans overthrew the Etruscans, established a republic, and over the next four hundred years became masters of the Mediterranean. A time of civil wars was followed by the rise of emperors. During the Pax Romana, peace and prosperity returned. Patricians in the Roman Senate dominated the early republic, but plebeians gradually gained political influence. Rome developed universal standards of justice that have influenced many societies. Slavery was commonplace, although slaves occasionally revolted. The Romans imitated Greek culture in some respects, but they also excelled in architecture and literature. Christianity began as a religious movement within Judaism that caught on quickly following Jesus' death. At first the Romans viewed Christianity as a threat to the state, but under Theodosius the Great it became the empire's official religion. By that time, conflict and internal problems almost brought the empire to an end. Diocletian and Constantine restored at least temporary stability, in part by dividing the empire into four units, each with its own ruler. The empire remained divided into eastern and western parts. The Greek city of Byzantium became the capital of the eastern part, while invading Germanic tribes brought an end to the Western Roman Empire.