Understanding Ancient Societies with the History and Classical Studies Programs

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History and classics fans who study abroad in Rome have definitely chosen an ideal location from which to explore the wonders of ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. On the one hand, students have access to lectures and seminars led by expert faculty – and on the other hand they have the city of Rome, full of exceptional primary sources and inspiring artifacts! The combination of theoretical and hands-on learning is something most history majors can only dream of.

Of course, the study of history is about more than examining the past. Through our analysis of societies long vanished, we develop a keener understanding of our current world – how the political, cultural, and ideological legacies of the ancients influence contemporary civilization.

And we’ve inherited an astonishing number of ideas, practices and inventions from ancient Greeks and Romans. Here’s a look at a few of the most important:

Writing and Theater

It was the ancient Greeks who popularized creative writing. Where once the practice of putting pen to paper was primarily restricted to priests and scribes, Greeks made writing available to the common people. And some exceptional results followed, including works by Plato, Homer, and Aesop.

Ancient Greece also produced several of the world’s most well-studied playwrights, including Sophocles and Euripides. So it’s not surprising that the Greeks would showcase their native talent by inventing public theater. They became its greatest practitioners, celebrating their most prolific authors with dramatic festivals and competitions. And if we’re focusing on contributions to the Western literary tradition, we must give a nod to ancient Rome – where the alphabet as we know it was born!

The Modern Western Calendar

Did you know that we inherited our twelve month calendar system from the ancient Romans? The names they invented for each month are still in use today – but it’s unlikely that study abroad or degree-seeking historians know the significance of each name. Take a look at a few examples of probable etymologies:

  • January = “Janus,” god of the beginning of times
  • February = “Februa,” a Roman festival
  • March = “Mars,” the god of war
  • April = “Aperire,” meaning to open, like the blossoming of spring
  • May = “Maia,” goddess of fertility
  • June = “Juno,” goddess of women and marriage
  • July = “Julius” as in Caesar himself

Highways and Architecture

Most people think of asphalt highways as a modern invention – they are such iconic symbols of industrialization and urban expansion. But in reality, we owe the concept to ancient Rome. In fact, their highways were so well made and resilient, some are still in use today. Students of history attending John Cabot’s university in Italy may already be familiar with the famous “Via Appia” – a functional relic of ancient Rome’s roadway expertise. And when it comes to architecture, there are few motifs more recognizable – and widely copied – than Greek columns and pediments. From parliament buildings in Australia and the Pushkin Palace, to the Capitol Building in Washington and the Lincoln Memorial – the aesthetic influence of Greece lives on, all over the globe. Students studying History or Classical Studies at John Cabot University’s  have the opportunity to learn all about ancient Rome and Greece, the gradual evolution of modern Europe and America across the centuries, and much more.

What’s your favorite invention from the ancient Greek and Roman world?

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