Classical Society: The Emergence of Culture


Classical societies have paved a path for mankind to advance past the Ancient period and is responsible for many of the ideals humans have today.

The classical societies have been described by historians to be more complex and sophisticated than the preceded ancient societies due to the following reasons; the emergence of city states, colonization of foreign and enemy lands, long distance trade and integration of cultures, establishment of the republic, and urbanization. These key factors help historians to see how the transformation between ancient, classical, and post-classical societies occurred. Without them as a society mankind may not have advanced as far in these past few centuries.

The Birth of the City State

Through the emergence of fortified sites or city states there is an increase in populations and the establishment of commercial centers. These commercial centers provide the native people of the city with a source of trade, entertainment, and in the Grecian city states a sense of national identity. Over time these city states took on a more urban character and extended their authority to the surrounding regions outside of the fortified compounds of the citadels. City states soon began to levy taxes and section off areas of farm land to support their ever growing populations, by 800 BCE these city states became the major centers of commerce and socialization in classical society.

The People are Given a Voice

Before the establishment of city states, ancient societies had kingdoms and kings; yet monarchy still existed during the classical period and conquest of the known world by Alexander the Great. With the coming of the Republic, classical societies instated a constitution that would entrust responsibility to council members who had power over the military and the cities. These council members were elected by the people and a form of democracy is born through election of these government officials. The elections into the senate could help a man of a lower class to be able to future himself and his decedents through the political system of the Republic. A plebian could go from being a conscript in the Concilium Plebis or a tribunal member part of the Comitia Populi Tributa to an aedile who would supervise public places and games in the city of Rome[i] This gave the lower classes of Roman society a voice in the senate where before they were looked down upon as little more than slave labor. When faced with a military problem the Republic appointed a dictator who would provide strong leadership during times of crisis. These leaders were called by the name of magister populi or master of the people. These dictators were in office for six months and there could be only one dictator at a time.

The Start of Cross-Cultural Exchange

During times of war, these dictators, kings, and emperors would send troops out across the known world to vanquish their enemy and sometimes conquer neighboring civilizations that stood in the path of war. The conquering army would leave behind troops at each captured town and city during their travels to reach enemy lands, these troops served as a means of colonization and outposts for the expanding empire. There was very little or no resistance from the conquered civilization and because of this the colonization of enemy land was easier for the larger armies that could spare some of their troops to act as outposts. With the colonization of invading troops there is a beginning of cross-cultural exchange between the conquered and conquering cultures. Religions, traditions, and biological exchanges occur, new races are formed and old races are redefined as they had been during the ancient time period. This is one aspect of human life that will never change.

The Silk Road

Culture was also integrated through the establishment of long distance trade. During the ancient world traders would spend years trekking across the Iranian Plateau through the Khyber Pass and across the Indus River without seeing another civilization. With the introduction of the Silk Road, traders could take less time to trek across the known world. There were many cities established along the trade routes which made it easier for traders and travelers alike to travel such great distances. Traders also established satellite routes to different parts of the known worlds as far south as Africa and as far north as Russia. These satellite routes helped to provide peoples in the Steppes with the goods from other parts of East Asia as well as part of the culture. This is evident still today in the architecture and culture of the Russian people. The Silk Road also helped to pave the way for the Roman army to conquer much of the known world.

Stuck in the Past

Without the emergence of city states and urbanization there would not be the commercial centers that exist today. Without the establishment of the republic mankind would still be in a monarchical society. Without colonization of foreign and enemy lands, long distance trade and integration of cultures there would be no knowledge of geography or appreciation of other cultures. These factors helped to bring the ancient world into the classical period and set the wheel in motion for human society to flourish. Without these, human society would not have followed along the path that it has.


  1. [i] Barbra F McManus, Roman Cursus Honorum, July 2003