About this episode
“All roads lead to Rome,” goes the saying, and many historians agree. They argue that ancient Roman civilization, which grew into a colossal super state lasting two thousand years, is the historical period that has the greatest influence on modern day society. Roman civilization’s impact is vast: a sophisticated approach to law that informs our modern legal system, the Western alphabet, the Romance languages spoken by 800 million people, Christianity as the spiritual home to over 1.2 billion followers today, and systems of governance that guide the constitutional foundation of many countries, including the United States.
Critics of this sweeping view of Rome’s influence respond, “We are all Greeks,” quoting the poet Percy Shelley. They argue that a small city state just a couple thousand square kilometres wide and with a fraction of the Roman empire’s revenues determined the Western world’s destiny. When Athenians came to the conclusion that a random collection of equal citizens makes better decisions than kings and tyrants, a radical new form of self-rule was born, one that inspires and guides much of Western civilization to this day. Perhaps even more importantly Athens bequeathed a framework of scientific inquiry that continues to nurture the creativity and innovation that is a hallmark of Western societies and the source of their enduring strength all these centuries later.