Western Europe
People and Culture of Western Europe

Impact of Ancient Civilizations on the Modern Day World

Section from Greek Manuscript of Politics by Aristotle
Section from Greek Manuscript of Politics by Aristotle

The ancient Greeks established the very blueprint of Western civilization—our societies, institutions, art, and culture. It is widely referred to as the cradle of Western Civilization and the birthplace of Democracy, largely due to the impact of its cultural and political achievements during the 5th and 4th centuries BCE on the rest of the then known European Continent.

Today, we can see the impact of ancient Greece most clearly in our own system of government. Athens had an established system of government as well as an organized judicial system very similar to modern government in the United States. The Athenian justice system decided not only criminal and property cases, but it also decided whether or not laws were legal. The earliest democracy in the world can be traced back to Athens. It began in 510 BCE. The very word Democracy comes from a Greek word meaning government by the people. The Greek suffix kratia or kratos means “power” or “rule,” and the Greek word demos means “people.” The Greeks even had leaders, called strategoi, who acted much like our President acts today. The strategoi were elected by the Greek Assembly and controlled the navy and army and basically ran the government.

The impact of ancient Rome can also be seen in our modern system of government. Beginning as early as 509 BCE, Rome was a republic ruled by wealthy landowners and elders, who were called Senators, and by the people. Today, the United States would be considered a democratic republic.

Study Tip IconThe English language has its roots in several languages, including Greek, Latin, and older forms of English, German, and French. Learning to recognize common roots and affixes (prefixes and suffixes) will help you build your vocabulary and improve your ability to make educated guesses about unknown words you encounter in reading and test-taking situations. If you are unsure of a word, break it down into its component parts. Now that you know the parts of the word democracy, you can determine other words with similar components. Look at the chart below for a few examples.


Demos + cracy

Rule by the people


Auto + cracy

Rule by one (ex:dictator)


Theo + cracy

Rule by God (ex: Saudi Arabia)


Bureau + cracy

Literally means rule by an office

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