You are on page 1of 9

Edwin Ropp

Ms. Morris
6th period
December 7, 2014
Influences of Greek and Roman Cultures on Modern Society

Both Greek and Roman cultures have had a great impact on modern society. These two
ancient cultures have influenced the western world with many of the amenities that are used and
appreciated today. The accomplishments of the Greeks and Romans are still used by architects,
engineers, government leaders, and authors who look back to these two civilizations to find
inspiration for their own work. Although both the Greeks and Romans have influenced modern
society, the Greeks have had a more lasting impact.
One way these two cultures influenced modern society is through their architecture. The
Greek word arete means excellence and reaching one's full potential (Art and Architecture).
The Greeks incorporated this concept into their architecture style. When they built temples to
their mythological gods, they wanted them to be the best in order to please that god. This idea
carries over into modern society. Todays architects strive to reach their full potential, or arete, in
order to please their clients, communities, and themselves. Many of the architectural structures
that the Greeks developed are still being built today. The Greeks most well-known architectural
structures are their temples. These massive buildings were supported by columns, provided
stable foundations, and had correct water drainage in order to withstand the elements over many

centuries (Cartwright). Todays architects borrow many of these elements as part of modern
construction. For example, columns have become a staple of many houses and for religious and
government buildings. Usually the Greek temples had a pronaos (front porch) and an
opisthodomos (back porch) to create symmetry and harmony (Hemingway). Western architects
have incorporated these two elements into the houses people live in today. Other structures that
the Greeks built were theatres and stadiums. The theatres, or amphitheaters, were open-air with a
semi-circle of seats surrounding the stage. The seats closest to the stage were the lowest with the
seats after them slowly rising (Cartwright). This engineering marvel is still in use in modern
theatres because of the way it projects the voices of the people on stage towards the audience.
Stadiums were originally built by the Greeks to house the Olympics with its spectators, judges,
and athletes. They were built with rows that allowed easy access into and out of the row. The
ancient Greeks stadiums could be huge with Olympias stadium able to house up to 45,000
people at a time (Cartwright). Modern stadiums have expanded on the idea of the original
Olympic stadium and can now host sporting events with upwards of 100,000 spectators. Even
today, Greek architecture is being replicated in part or, as in the case of Nashvilles Parthenon, is
an exact replica.
Just like the Greeks, the Romans made important contributions of architecture to modern
society, and many of these contributions are also being used today. Through their use of roads
and bridges, Romans brought order to many of the people they conquered. Roads allowed
travelers a path to follow and trade to flourish. Bridges connected the roads across rivers and
streams, which were once unpassable, allowing travel from city to city (Szasz). An example of a
Roman bridge, which is still being used today, is the Puente Alcantara which reaches 164 feet at
its highest point, is 600 feet long and has spans of 92 to 98 feet wide (Szasz). Bridges and roads

are vital to the structure of modern society. Without them, people would be less mobile because
travel would be more difficult. Although used by the Greeks, the arch, which the Romans used to
an extent that nobody else had, was incorporated in many of the architectural structures that they
built. Longer bridges were made possible because of the arch which was able to support a lot of
weight while also being sturdy enough to prevent the whole bridge from falling down even if
part of the structure collapsed (Szasz). The arch was also used in the building of aqueducts which
brought fresh water to towns sometimes from miles away and for indoor sewer systems which
carried water away from the city (Roman Aqueducts, Aqueducts in Rome). Aqueducts allowed
people more free time because they did not have to travel great distances to get water. They were
also able to live in more sanitary conditions. The aqueduct was the precursor to the plumbing that
is used today. Another structure the Romans built were the forums. Forums were the center of a
town and were often a combination of a city hall, the court of law, a marketplace, and a church
(Szasz). People would come to the forums to express their opinions, to socialize, and to buy
needed supplies. In modern society, forums have become the downtown areas of the city.
In architecture, the Romans modeled many of their buildings and structures after the
Greeks. They used the ideas of the Greeks architectural structures to develop their own
architectural style. The Greeks came up with the basic ideas and the Romans took these ideas
and, in some cases, made them better. For example, the Romans use of the arch in bridges would
not be possible without the Greeks columns. Todays architects also incorporate the Greeks
architectural style such as columns and porches into modern houses. Cities still build many of the
Greek architectural structures such as theatres and stadiums. Modern society, like the Romans, is
still using the architectural ideas that the Greeks developed many centuries ago.

Another way these two cultures influenced modern society is with their forms of
government. Greece was the cradle of democracy. The Athenian leader Cleisthenes introduced a
system of government called demokratia which means ruled by the people. This system was
divided into three institutions. The first institution was the Ekklesia which was the sovereign
assembly that created the laws by majority vote, decided foreign policy, and held in check the
conduct of public officials. The second institution was the Boule which was a group of five
hundred men, fifty from each of the ten Athenian tribes, chosen by a lottery to serve on a council
for one year. The council met daily to deal with the everyday duties such as managing
government workers, the army and navy, and meeting with ambassadors and diplomats from
other city-states. The main responsibility for the Boule though was to decide what issues were
deemed important enough to go on to the Ekklesia. The third and last institution was the
Dikasteria, which was the court system. Every day, five hundred male jurors over the age of
thirty were chosen from a pool of names. These men decided on the outcome of court cases
brought to them by the people of Athens (Ancient Greek Democracy). In America, the legislative
branch is based on the Ekklesia and the Boule institutions. The judicial branch is set up similar to
the Dikasteria institution. Many modern day governments are democracies.
The Romans established a form of government called a republic. A republic is a type of
government where citizens elect representatives to vote on their behalf (The Roman Republic).
The rich Romans were tired of being ruled by the Etruscan kings, so they decided to overthrow
them. They knew that they could not do this by themselves, so they enlisted the help of the poor
people by promising them more power in the new government. After overthrowing the Etruscan
kings, the rich people did not want to share power with the poor people like they said they
would. The poor people went on strike and refused to work until they were again promised that

they would be represented in the same way as the rich people. Eventually, the poor people were
able to elect their own representatives to the Roman Senate, so both the rich and poor had a voice
(Carr). After the Roman Republic was formed, the Senate became the most powerful governing
body in Rome (The Roman Republic). Today in the United States, each state elects two
representatives to represent them in the Senate as the citizens of Rome elected a representative
from their class to represent their interests. In much the same way the Roman Senate advised the
Roman consuls, the United States Senate advises the executive branch.
The founding fathers of the United States were heavily influenced by both the Greek and
Roman systems of government. They took the best of both systems and incorporated them into
the United States Constitution. However, the United States government is based more on the
Greek-influenced idea of democracy. A democracy allows everyone the right to vote which is
very important in a modern democratic society. The United States has three branches of
government much like the Greeks set up their system. The legislative branch was based on the
Greek institutions of Ekklesia and Boule, and the judicial branch was based on the Greek
institution of Dikasteria. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle argued that the dikasteria
contributed most to the strength of democracy (Ancient Greek Democracy). The United
States court system, which is based on the Dikasteria, is important to democracy because it
gives all United States citizens due process.
These two cultures also influenced modern society is through the arts. The Greeks are
well known for the literature they wrote. They wrote many different works such as an epic,
lyrical poetry, tragedy, comedy, and history about different subjects (A History of Ancient Greece
GREEK LITERATURE). The Iliad and The Odyssey, written by Homer, are two of the most
famous Greek epics written and are still read today. Another area in which the Greeks had

influence in the arts is theatre. Modern day theatres are set up much like the ancient Greek
theatres with an orchestra area in the front, a stage, and a backstage. Modern drama and tragedy
evolved from a Greek religious ceremony, dithyramb (Ancient Greek Theatre - Theatre Facts).
Sculptures were another form of Greek art. Greek sculptors liked to focus on what they thought
of as the beauty of the human body. The most famous Greek sculpture is the Venus de Milo
(Art and Architecture). All subsequent art is a footnote to Greek art.
Roman culture also contributed to modern art but in a different way than the Greeks. The
Romans saw the arts as recreation that was to be enjoyed after work was done. For this reason,
the Romans did not contribute much of their own art but rather improved on Greek art. In
theatre, they enjoyed comedy more than tragedy (Romans and the Roman World). One of the
great Roman playwrights, Plautus, wrote comedies that are still playable on the modern stage.
His plays, while portraying Roman life, were presented with Greek plots, form, setting, and dress
(Plautus). The Romans expanded upon the literature of the Greeks. One of ancient Romes
greatest poets was Virgil who wrote the epic The Aeneid which is a continuation of Homers The
Odyssey and The Iliad (Ancient Rome Vergil). The Romans did not create new forms of art.
They were transmitters more often than innovators, a reputation they themselves neither
disputed nor disparaged (Romans and the Roman World).
The Greeks were the first and main influence of the arts to modern society. The Greeks
saw all aspects of the arts as an important part of their society. While the Romans used the arts
for enjoyment, they were mainly imitators of Greek art rather than inventors of new styles.
Modern society still sees the arts as important. The influence of the Greek arts can still be seen
today through the education system with students reading Greek literature, theatre with people
going to movies and plays for entertainment, and museums with people viewing art.

The Greeks and Romans both contributed to modern society with their architecture,
government, and arts. However, the Greeks had a more lasting impact with their contributions
they made in these areas. As the Roman culture developed, it borrowed many aspects from the
Greek culture. The Romans saw the impressive achievements of the Greeks and decided that they
could use and refine many of the Greeks accomplishments. Therefore, the Greeks have had a
more lasting impact on modern society.

Works Cited

"Ancient Greek Democracy." History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2010. Web. 27 Nov. 2014.
"Ancient Greek Theatre - Theatre Facts." Theatre Facts. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
"Ancient Rome - Vergil." Ancient Literature. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
"Art and Architecture." Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.
Carr, Karen. "The Roman Republic." History For Kids. N.p., 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
Cartwright, Mark. "Greek Architecture." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History
Encyclopedia Limited, 6 Jan. 2013. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.
Hemingway, Colette. "Architecture in Ancient Greece." Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Architecture in Ancient Greece Oct. 2003. Web. 23 Nov.
2014.
"A History of Ancient Greece GREEK LITERATURE." History-World. World History Center,
n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.
"Plautus." Encyclopdia Britannica. Encyclopdia Britannica Online. Encyclopdia Britannica
Inc., 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
"Roman Aqueducts, Aqueducts in Rome." Rome.info. Rome.info, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2014.
"The Roman Republic." Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.
Romans and the Roman World. 412 A Brief History of Roman History, Classical Drama and
Theatre. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.

Szasz, Colin. "The Influence of Roman Engineering and Architecture." The Influence of Roman
Engineering and Architecture. McGill University, School of Architecture, n.d. Web. 26
Nov. 2014.