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Athens vs. Rome | Munk Debates

SEASON TWO - EPISODE #51

Athens vs. Rome

Be it resolved, Athens not Rome had the bigger impact on Western Civilization.

Guests
Ian Morris
Barry Strauss

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.

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Guests

Ian Morris

"The Greek city states civilization seems to be distinctively different and to have created ideas and ways of doing things that have just mattered a lot more for Europe and have been much more important setting Europe apart from other regions of the world."

Ian Morris

"The Greek city states civilization seems to be distinctively different and to have created ideas and ways of doing things that have just mattered a lot more for Europe and have been much more important setting Europe apart from other regions of the world."

Ian Morris teaches at Stanford University, where he has won the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, and is also a Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics’ IDEAS institute. He is a historian and archaeologist, and has excavated in Britain, Greece, and Sicily. He studies long-term global history, asking how the patterns of the past might reveal the future. He has published fourteen books, including the prize-winning Why the West Rules—For Now, published in Canada by McClelland and Stewart. His latest book is tentatively titled Fog in the Channel: Britain, Europe and the Wider World Since 6000 BC. His writings have appeared in The Globe and Mail, the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the London Sunday Times. He has spoken at the World Economic Forum in Davos, delivered the Tanner Lectures in Human Values at Princeton University, and has served as the Australian Army’s Keogh Professor of Future Land Warfare and on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Max Planck Institute. His research has been funded by the Carnegie and Guggenheim Foundations, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Geographic Society, and he is a Fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society for the Arts. He is currently writing a book called In the Beginning: A New History of the Ancient World, to be published by Princeton University Press.

Barry Strauss

"Romans are influential not because they were nice, but because they were effective and it's not an accident that they've had such a remarkable effect on the history of Europe."

Barry Strauss

"Romans are influential not because they were nice, but because they were effective and it's not an accident that they've had such a remarkable effect on the history of Europe."

Barry Strauss (Bryce and Edith M. Bowmar Professor in Humanistic Studies, Cornell University) is a military historian with a focus on ancient Greece and Rome. His books have been translated into seventeen languages. In March 2022 he will publish The War that Made the Roman Empire: Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavian at Actium. His Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine (2018), has been hailed as a “superb summation of four centuries of Roman history, a masterpiece of compression,” (The Wall Street Journal). His Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece—and Western Civilization was named one of the best books of 2004 by the Washington Post. His Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar and the Genius of Leadership was named one of the best books of 2012 by Bloomberg. He is Corliss Page Dean Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is an Honorary Citizen of Salamis, Greece.

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