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How would you order the Civ 5 civilizations in their historical importance order?

Discussion in 'World History' started by Genghis Khaiser, Dec 19, 2013.

  1. haroon

    haroon Deity

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    Kyriakos, can we say the terms of nation itself appear as a new term? I mean not until nation state been introduce, from that time we always try to understand history using the concept of nation (while backthen things are quite difference), in the medieval time for example there only a central power mostly a city like Baghdad for example in Abbassid terms.
     
  2. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    It's easiest of all to say, "a bunch of people were born, had sex, and died; not much really happened until 1977 when Star Wars came out". For some reason, people don't much seem to like that version of history. Reductionism and simplification purely for their own sake isn't enough of a justification.

    The term "civilization" is commonly used, true enough. It's nigh impossible to escape it in common discourse. And since historical persons framed their own experience in terms of "civilizations" sometimes - the 'ummah, the Aryan Nation, the Latin Peoples, yada yada - it's not unreasonable to discuss "civilizations" in those terms: as things that individuals believed to exist. Individual humans stabbed, screwed, and succumbed because of their differing beliefs in what these things were; that alone makes them worth looking into, like any other layer of identity. That does not mean that we should accept that those things actually exist, any more than studying the history of the Egyptians should convince us of the veracity of Osiris.

    The latter is, in effect, what we have here. "Civilizations" seem to be bizarre and inconsistent amalgams of random stuff from the past. They appear to have been created purely as a score-card so that individual posters can feel some sort of sense of accomplishment due to the things that dead people did or did not do a long time ago. These accomplishments, of course, are not credited to the individual, but to the "civilization", whether that makes sense or not. (Usually "not".) Of all the "civilizations" that we discuss, it's pretty much impossible to point to any of them actually doing something as a civilization except when that civilization is congruent with a state at some point in its history. And in that case, why not just refer to states?

    Or take your own example, of cramming a bunch of medieval polities into the umbrella "Islamic Civilization". We already have a perfectly good category of analysis to discuss Islam and the similarities and differences in how Islam worked in various places at various times with various people: it's called "religion". There's no need to bring "civilization" into it, especially when that term is loaded with so many misleading connotations. Start talking about those states in terms of an "Islamic Civilization" and we'll get people actually thinking that every musulman is a slave to the hive mind, and that all Islamic states were and are part of a giant unified conspiracy to conquer the world.

    If "civilizations" are to have any meaning at all, they can't be used the way they're being used in this thread. None of this hive-mind or score-card stuff.
     
  3. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    While score-cards can be cool in the context of a game, hive-mind was not really alluded to in this thread (from when it got taken here, anyway).

    It is obvious that not all people in a civilization are of the same traits, either positively or negatively, cause in the end no two people would be either. However the idea of a civilization (which as a term in Greek is utterly linked to urban culture, a Politismos) can and to a degree inevitably always links individuals who are part of it in some manner. So the island of Samos in the sixth century BC, the Cycladic islands before even 1500 BC, Athens and other notable city-states in the classical era, Ptolemaic Alexandria and so many other geographical areas, indeed can very realistically be said to be part of the same civilization.

    Today, due to a number of events which led to how things are or can be generalised as being, following the fest of ww2 there has been a very notable erosion of individual, so-called "national" culture, by a common denominator of a facet of english culture, itself eroded by and large in the US. Obviously this is more true for western countries, and since it is not math it cannot be (in my view) less generalised. But having an erosion of particular civilizations and a resulting chaotic amalgam of those, does not seem to be stable in the long run. I would guess that the future will bring another turn of this progression.
     
  4. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    "Can and to a degree inevitably always" is a mishmash of contradictory words that makes this entire sentence utterly meaningless. That is a Bad Thing, especially when the sentence in question is the most important one in the entire post.
     
  5. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    I was aware of that, although it is not as central to the paragraph in my view. I mean that it can, and provided the parameters are near to what they always seem to be, it will, inevitably, always have this result :)
     
  6. True_Candyman

    True_Candyman Emperor

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    I am gunna limit myself to a top 5 here:

    1) Assyria - I could have put Babylon here too really, or any other Mesopotamian civilization. But my preference goes to Assyria since they were such an influence in the region for such a long time. A huge swath of European, Asian, North African and Middle Eastern culture, technology and inheritance is owed to the doings of Assyria and it's fellows in Mesopotamia. Additional shout out to them as more likely builders of the hanging gardens than Babylon. Just seriously go away and read about everything these guys do. They make Greece look puny and unsophisticated.

    2) China - It's actually kind of ridiculous how much China has done over the years and it is the only civilization in the game that has genuinely stood the test of time (sort of). Technologically and culturally it has been a regional leader for centuries, if not millennia. Then it's worldwide impact is astounding. European colonisation would never have taken off without China's insatiable demand for silver, Europeans can really be seen as middle men in the colonial enterprise, with China reaping the rewards, at least in the early centuries before slavery took off. And in case that weren't enough, they are on the rise again.

    3) Arabia - The rise of Islam, countless scientific discoveries in maths, astronomy, medicine etc, extensive philosophy, military conquest and longevity. The Arabians just had it all for the centuries surrounding the advent of the 2nd millenium AD. They have contributed so much to their own time and through time to today.

    4) India - I only put this here with a huge cringe on my face for the injustice this civ does to the incredible history that a number of civilizations it represents have contributed to history. Culturally huge spawning a huge number of languages and religions that have spread world wide. Traditionally there has been immensely wealthy mercantile links between India and much of Eurasia and Africa. Thoroughly deserves some decent representation in Civ 6 without reliance on mughal on modern India, there are much greater periods that could be used.

    5) Spain - The second colonial european power to emerge behind portugal, and really the first empire to sprout of of colonialism. The other northern european empires that followed built upon their foundations. It's role in the fall of Rome and the expulsion of Islam from western Europe also had huge regional and global implications. It's often overlooked given it's had a few centuries of marginality, but it's achievements in its colonial and imperial endeavors put the northern empires to shame given the resources and time-frame it accomplished them in.
     
  7. Teproc

    Teproc King

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    Well yes, civilizations are hard to define. We are working in a context here, and that is the civilizations that are included in the game. Now you might say that some of these shouldn't be considered as such, or that the whole idea of a civilization is flawed, but that's not really what the point of this thread is. The point of this thread, to me at least, is to pointlessly rank civs and have pointless discussions about which is superior (think of the top 10 tv shows or movie lists tat come out at year end).

    I see this little exercise as mostly entertainment with the added benefit of geting to discover a few things. For example I know nothing about the Songhai, Siam and Indonesia (as a pre-colonial country, I do know about the way the modern country is astonishingly ignored by Western powers), and some posts have had some interesting info in there about them. I don't think anyone here is claiming to actually have a definitive and objective lists of the most influential civs in the history of the world, because such a claim would be nonsensical and ridiculous.
     
  8. Teproc

    Teproc King

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    China "reaped the rewards" of colonization ? Man, the 19th century was a rough time for China, even before the Opium wars, so I'm not entirely sure I see your point here.
     
  9. Teproc

    Teproc King

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    I'll speak up for my country by the way, because to me the greatest French achievment hasn't really been mentioned all that much so far. The French Revolution and the Declaration of Human Rights were hugely influential in the rise of Nation-States all over Europe. Granted, that influence is shared with the American War of Indepence which raised similar ideas, albeit in a very different fashion (religion would be the big difference, as well as the obsession we had with destroying anything that stood between the state and the people), but look at what happened in 1848 in Europe : that originated in France. The birth of the Italian and German nation-states is very closely related to France's involvment in these countries (in a hilarious fashion as far as Germany goes). The Napoleonic conquests are important not because they were impressive in a military sense, but because they left a mark culturally all over the continent.
     
  10. True_Candyman

    True_Candyman Emperor

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    Then i think you need to read what i wrote again, because i said at least in the first few centuries, before slavery took off. Not to say that slavery had an impact on China's gains specifically or above everything else, just that it coincides. It is quite well established that China gained considerably from trade with Spain for new world silver though. And this Chinese trade providing silks etc. was one of the driving factors behind Spain's continued colonial drive.

    But this is just my opinion of course. There's not quantitative way to ascribe a rank of importance to a civilization, so i took the thread for what it was, like you say, as a bit of fun and a comparison of opinions and ideas :goodjob:

    As for your France segment, the french revolution itself i wouldn't say was particularly important outside of france. It was the product of a larger movement affecting Europe: The Enlightenment. France had a big role in this, as did Britain, as did Central Europe. America was a little late to the party since it was founded as a direct consequence of the ideals of enlightenment. It wasn't particularly a french thing though there were some particularly notable french people involved. I wouldn't say that France particularly can claim such honours over and above other western european counterparts.
     
  11. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Super Moderator

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    The OP and other early posts rank Greece and Rome much too high, I think. Their influence on western civilisation is important, but not the be-all and end-all. They are certainly not the cradle of western civilisation. I would say, as a rough rule of thumb, that modern western civilisation has three major roots, not one: the classical cultures of Greece and Rome, the Middle Eastern cultures of Judaism and Christianity, and the northern cultures of Germany, Scandinavia, etc. As far as our values go, I think that the Middle Eastern influence is more important; surely the moral world of the Bible, even the Old Testament, feels more familiar to us than (say) the Nicomachean Ethics does. Classical culture had, for example, no concept of charity or caring for the disadvantaged, which was tremendously important to Judaism and remains very important today. Also, note that on this forum we are communicating in a Germanic language, not a classical one, even those of us from the same part of the world as the classical civilisations. I also suspect that most of us are wearing clothes (those of us who are wearing clothes) that ultimately descend from those of northern Europe, not those of the classical Mediterranean. In everyday life we are more Nordic than classical.

    Greece and Rome just got great PR in the Renaissance, and later, in nineteenth-century public schools. Ultimately, I suppose, they loom as so significant because they left such a vast literary legacy - the only great literary legacy of any pre-Christian European cultures. But although that is genuine significance, it tends to make their significance seem greater than it really was.
     
  12. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    I do not agree. First of all, why claim that Greece had "no notion of caring for the disadvantaged"? This is just easy to prove as false, merely refering you to the judicial works of Lysias, the most famous of the orators who wrote 'apologies' for the people summoned to court in Athens. One of his speeches which is entirely preserved is titled "Yper adynatou" which literary means "In favor of the weak". It was written in the classical era, for a common athenian citizen who exactly wanted to present his case as that of a very weak person financially, and also health-wise. Your claim is (uncharacteristically for you, i want to add) strangely ill-founded :/
     
  13. PhilBowles

    PhilBowles Deity

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    Except that this thread wasn't titled "which civs were the greatest in their time", in which case I'd largely agree, but "which were of the most historical importance" looked at from the perspective of the modern world. It's precisely because their works have survived that they genuinely are more significant in the development of modern civilization than cultures whose works didn't. There would have been no Renaissance, and no medieval explosion of Arab learning, without the Greek texts.

    Also, the single most significant achievement of the Roman empire has seemingly been neglected since I brought it up, though it was the reason I gave them the number 1 slot in my list: without Rome, Christianity would have remained a minor provincial religion in Judea. Instead its effect on the development of Europe and surrounding regions is incalculable, and ultimately provided a major spur for Portuguese and Spanish colonialism (Portugal's earliest exploration was driven by a desire to find and ally with the mythical Prester John). You can't claim that that was not an achievement of genuine significance.

    EDIT: Actually, of course, without Rome there would have been no Christianity at all, since it was the figurehead's martyrdom that defined the religion, and Roman authorities who had him executed, and the entire narrative is set against a Roman backdrop.

    Perhaps he's referring to the notorious Spartan practice of leaving disabled children to die of exposure, which was not commonplace anywhere else in Greece?
     
  14. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Super Moderator

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    When I said "caring" I meant giving, i.e. donations to the poor to help them survive. As far as I can tell, wealthy people in the classical world typically donated to the city rather than to the poor in particular. It was only after Christianity became established that xenodocheia, hostels, hospitals, and so on for the poor became widespread in the classical world, and this is because Christianity inherited the idea from Judaism. The Jewish scriptures are full of concern for widows and orphans, and provision for them in the Law, in a way that you don't usually find in the classical world. Yes, the fact that Athens gave pensions to the disabled in Lysias' day might be something of a counter-example to this, but I would say that it was on account of disability rather than poverty (and Lysias' disabled man still had to work a trade as best he could!). Perhaps more importantly, I think that this kind of provision was made out of necessity - you don't find in classical works, even in Lysias' Oration 24, the ideal of giving to the poor as a virtue or of the poor as morally significant in their poverty. But you do find this ideal constantly in the Bible, and the modern concept of charity as a virtue in its own right comes from that.
     
  15. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    I have to doubt he only had that in mind, cause i doubt he thinks Sparta in that era=Every Greek civilization of that era and so on. Moreover charity is not ever a trait of a civilization, but merely a virtue in it, or a trait of individual members of it. Christian nations did not really excell in being charitable, not any more than Athens against the Melians, or any number of emperors involded in the countless Byzantine civil wars. The latter were in a "christian" culture, the former in a non-christian culture. It is not binary, obviously, given that charity is a parameter which can exist anywhere, regardless of any ideas of prevelance or even supposed state-backed urge for beyond naming it as a virtue.
     
  16. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    Hm, well the latter echoes Nietzsche's negative view of christianity as fostering "negative values", but this again is binary so largely (not entirely) an over-generalisation. I do not have any reason to think that the jewish culture of the time was any more charitable than other cultures. For starters it was a poor kingdom under constant threat, so charity as a primary virtue could only make sense as a negative value (ie if you are so desperate that you think nothing can help you, then you may come to think that helping others may result in you being helped by some god). But it is not really "charity" in the modern sense if you do something out of the specific calculation that supposedly you will be later rewarded for it.
     
  17. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Super Moderator

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    I still disagree! What elements of modern civilisation are based on the classical world? Roman law, perhaps; though that's really more Byzantine. I think that the idea of Greece and Rome have been much more important and influential than the actuality of those civilisations.

    Rome was certainly important for the spread of Christianity, but it was by no means essential to it. People often forget that just as Christianity was spreading west into the Roman empire, it was also spreading east into Persia and the border kingdoms. In the early Middle Ages, Persian Christianity covered a far wider area than the Catholic/Orthodox churches did, and it founded churches in India, China, and apparently even Indonesia. Indeed the Prester John you mention was supposed to be a Nestorian Christian potentate somewhere in Asia, not an orthodox (i.e. Roman-derived) Christian (medieval Europeans were a bit hazy about how Asia and Africa related to each other). Now of course if Christianity had never spread west, and had spread only in these eastward ways, it would have developed into a very different character from what it actually did, and it would have had a much smaller global impact than it did (because these churches ultimately waned as Islam become more significant in most of these regions). But then, if there hadn't been a Roman empire, what would there have been in its place? And is it unreasonable to assume that Christianity would have spread there without the Roman empire? After all, the empire spent the best part of three centuries trying to stop Christianity from spreading within it. And remember, medieval and modern Europe inherited Christianity not directly from the Romans but from the barbarian peoples who settled in the remnants of the empire - although they later converted to the form of Christianity that the empire had developed (i.e. Nicene Christianity rather than the Arianism they all originally favoured).
     
  18. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Roman law, the rediscovery of which in the Renaissance period was incremental in the foundation of the first university (Bologna), played a significant part, indeed. I'm somewhat doubtful on how Byzantine law (which was, ofcourse, based on that same Roman law) could have played any significant part outside the sphere of the Eastern Roman empire. And besides law (which includes the not insignifant distinction between private and public law), the idea of the republic (not to mention the idea of democracy) is entirely classic in origin. Census-based taxation might be another example. And then ofcourse there's the military (command structure, standing army), which was the main basis for maintaining public roads. Architecture, engineering, plumbing. The influence of classic art can hardly be overestimated. Literature, philosophy. Imagine a world where all those things still had to be discovered! (Concrete actually had to be rediscovered in the 19th century.) Lastly, the church based its organization, language, dress and buildings (basilica) directly from Roman example.

    This is somewhat contradictory: originally Christianity spread to Roman cities and towns (which were the backbone of the empire); only when it had been established there, did it spread beyond the empire. The barbarian (Arian) elite, when they established their kingdoms, were already faced with an indigenous Christianity and made no attempt at changing their creed.

    What law codes these kings instituted - how ever 'barbaric' they might have been in nature - did little to alter the state of society left after Roman collapse. In both cases - law and religion - authority had become much more limited, ofcourse. But I don't think there's much evidence of Byzantine law replacing Roman law (Byzantine law, as it developed following the West's collapse, that is).

    As to the empire spending "the best part of three centuries trying to stop Christianity from spreading within it": there were persecutions, yes, but it never became a systematic attempt to suppress Christianity. Until Constantine's equality edict Christianity's fate vacillated, but it was not in danger of being eliminated; the whole idea of systematic religious persecution only gained ground after Christianity became the state religion, and that persecution proved farreaching indeed.
     
  19. PhilBowles

    PhilBowles Deity

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    See my edit - there would be no Christianity without the Roman empire. The messianic faith developed out of a desire for liberation from it, Jesus was reportedly born while his parent(s) travelled to take part in a Roman census, he was ultimately sentenced and executed by Roman authorities (and had he not been he would just have been another self-proclaimed prophet in all likelihood, quickly forgotten or at best added to the Jewish canon as a footnote). Part of the appeal of conversion among the European tribes might well have been the sense that Roman power was tied to their religion, a common belief in the period, and had there not been a large military machine backing it, the religion may have fizzled out.

    And while "might have beens" are interesting to contemplate, as I see it that's also beside the point of the thread. Might Christianity - had it been founded - have spread as effectively without Roman assistance? Possibly. But in reality it didn't. You might as well argue that China gets no credit for any of its inventions because someone else would have come up with them eventually. While it may have spread eastwards, Christianity had no world-changing impacts in the East - Christian history is inextricably tied to Europe, and that's where the Romans took it.
     
  20. schlaufuchs

    schlaufuchs La Femme Moderne

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    Thank you for your kind words, but as Dachs said, why can't we just throw it out, or when we talk about it, talk about it in the specific context of others writing about it. I mean nobody (or nobody reputable, at least), still puts forward those pictures of skull sizes comparing "Hiberno-Iberic" and "African" as though they were separate species, so why do we still do this? As Dachs noted, if we wanted to talk about the Islamic-worshipping peoples, why don't we refer to them as the Islamic-worshipping peoples, rather than creating some vaguely defined, multi-national, multi-ethic group. Generally you won't find historians to day even going this reductionist as, again, any deductions which can be made from such a broadly defined label are going to be simplistic and coming with more caveats than they're worth.

    This definition is very problematic, as I'm sure you know and opens a myriad problems from the word go. This is what I mean when I say that if you define your term too narrowly all you get is a highly biased elite-centric, Eurasiocentric, agricultural-centric definition of human existence. This excludes: The Mongols for a fair chunk of their heyday, the Zulu, the Celtic peoples. The Cherokee language wasn't codified into a formal alphabet until the 19th century. Did they suddenly leap into being as a fully fledged civilization the instant that happened?

    Of course let's not forget that this is highly elite-centric as well. If you make the system of writing the defining characteristic of civilization, then should you really define the western world in the medieval period as civilized? When so few of its people could actually write. Of course it's urbanocentric as well. Does Europe cease to be civilized in the periods between the 6th century and the 12th(ish) century? What about between the mid 14th and the 15th or 16th? At which point does it become civilized? Going off this definition, you could argue that the Catholic Church was the greatest civilization in Europe. It fits the definition.

    At then, of course, there's the worst aspect of civilization, which are its connotations. Civilization defines itself as a set of ideals which all peoples necessarily strive towards. It's an inevitability, a perfection of human existence (which, hey, guess what, perfectly and succinctly describes western Europe¹ while leaving out pretty much everybody else in some form or another. The problem is that a) this is a terribly biased, old-fashioned and extremely Whiggish way of looking at things. Humanity doesn't have an end-goal, and even if it did, "civilization", meaning settled, agricultural, writing peoples certainly isn't it. Remember that the archaeological record implies that the steppe peoples adopted their specific blend of nomadism after settlement and agriculture began in that region. There is no singular definition of human existence or the human ideal because humans are complex and history by definition (or postmodern history, at least) begins with the understanding that context matters and no two peoples, events, political or social realities are never exactly alike.

    Of course this is leaving out the underlying reality of the term civilization, which was really just a way for historians of the 19th century to measure their own genitalia in an onanistic, self-congratulatory way. The definition of civilization applies succinctly to Western Europe¹ because these historians were trying to form a dichotomy. A dichotomy between them, perfect, wonderful, peak, beautiful ideal 19th century Europe¹ (and all the past societies they most identified with, namely Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia and the others, the "barbarians" (that is, all the peoples they didn't like or who they viewed as lesser humans). It's a disgusting dichotomy, especially in this postmodern day and age, and it's the primary reason I don't like the term. No matter how you choose to apply the term, that connotation is going to worm its way in. It will never be an inclusive term because it was originally designed as a tool of exclusion; designed by Western Europeans¹, for Western Europeans¹.

    ¹Wealthy, Educated, White, Male Western Europe

    Yes, I suppose it does seem rather ironic that a member of the Civilization Fanatics Forum and a longtime player of the Civilization brand of games would be complaining so one-sidedly about the pertinacity of the term "civilization". Basically I do this by not holding the Civilization franchise up to historical standards. It's an artistic product first, and a highly abstracted one at that. It's a game which, I think, isn't really supposed to be thought about too closely on a historical level. It's a game which is to be appreciated more for its systems and rules than for its historicity, which makes it quite a bit like, say, the Age of Empires series or Impressions City Builder brand of games.
     

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