Ancient Civilizations of Europe

Research shows that ancient cultures developed in Europe that were capable of constructing monumental structures at around the same time, or even before, they did so in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Archaeological investigations are unveiling a series of gigantic prehistoric religious complexes that date back almost 7,000 years.

The prehistoric people who built these enormous religious centers lived in large communal houses grouped into sizable towns. With an economy based on cows, sheep, goats, and pigs, the monument builders had a high population density, with approximately 40 people per square kilometer.

Neolithic Europe
Neolithic Europe

Excavations of these immense religious circular structures have triggered new evaluations of similar complexes throughout Central Europe, although they’re mostly undated so far. Archaeologists are beginning to suspect that between 4,800 BC and 4,600 BC, literally hundreds of these ancient monumental religious centers were built on a 700-kilometer strip of land in what is now Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bavaria and eastern Germany. The most complex of the excavations so far – in Dresden – is made up of a seemingly sacred inner space surrounded by two stockades, three earth mounds, and four trenches. This monumental prehistoric temple, and the other 150 similar sites, were constructed up to 300 years before the first large-scale monumental structures in the Middle East.

New Theory About the Neolithic Age

The discoveries are likely to revolutionize academic stances on the early Neolithic age in large areas of Europe. The monuments seem to be a phenomenon exclusively associated with the period of consolidation and growth in agricultural and ranching cultures in the center of the continent. It’s possible that this phenomenon was the result of an increase in the size of the nascent tribal or pan-tribal Neolithic groups and the competition between them. After a relatively brief period – perhaps only a hundred or two hundred years – the need or the ability to construct them disappeared. The reason for the collapse of this monumental culture is a complete mystery.

The system of multiple mounds, trenches, and stockades “protecting” the interior does not appear to have been constructed for defensive purposes, but they were probably designed to prevent ordinary members of the tribe from seeing sacred rituals performed in the inner sanctum. It seems that all religious complexes were ritually retired from service at the end of their lives, with the excavated trenches deliberately being filling in. “Our excavations have revealed the degree of monumental vision and sophistication used by these early farming communities to create the first truly large-scale fortification complexes in Europe,” says Harald Staeuble, an archaeologist from the Saxony State Government’s Department of Cultural Heritage, who’s led the archaeological research.

Those who built these huge circular centers were the descendants of emigrants who’d come many centuries earlier from the Pannonian plain, which is in modern-day Hungary and northern Serbia. In one of the colossal village temple complexes – in Eythra, near Leipzig – 200 elongated houses have been found and there must have been 300 people living in a settlement in 15 or 20 very large communal buildings at any given time.

Who these Stone Age peoples worshiped in their large round temples and why these huge religious monuments were abandoned is beginning to become one of the greatest archaeological mysteries. This great temple-building culture doesn’t even have a specific name for now. They may soon get one, but for the moment they’re simply part of a much more long-lasting culture known as Stichbandkeramik in German, or Stroke-ornamented ware culture. Although the existence (mainly through aerial photographs) of a small amount of these earthwork monuments has been known since the 1970s and 1980s, the total geographical extent and the monumental nature of this primitive European civilization hasn’t come to light until now. 150 temples have been discovered so far. A comprehensive publication of excavations at the largest sites, Dresden and Eythra, is scheduled for 2007.

European contemporary history cannot be understood without understanding the histories of the great empires of its past, among them the Greeks and Romans, which conquered many peoples and cultures.

Great Civilizations of Europe

Greece

Ancient Greek civilization developed from the 12th century BC to 146 BC. It went on to span the southern territories of the Balkan peninsula, the islands of the Aegean and Ionian Seas, and the western coast of Asia Minor.

Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece

Due to the relief of the land, it wasn’t a united empire but was made up of independent city-states, which had various wars between them. Among the most important were Athens, Sparta, and Thebes.

Its history can be divided into four distinct periods, which are as follows:

  • Dark Age: from the 12th century BC to the 8th century BC. There are very few records from this era, so it’s difficult to know what happened. It began with the destruction of the Mycenaean civilization, which previously occupied this area.
  • Archaic Age: from the 8th century BC to the 6th century BC. At the beginning of this period, Homer wrote the two most famous Greek works: the Iliad and the Odyssey. They were considered true historical accounts.
  • Classical Age: from the 5th century BC to the 4th century BC. The height of their glory, also known as Golden Age of Athens. There was great cultural development, as important theater writers like Sophocles and Aristophanes rose to prominence. Great buildings like the Parthenon were built. The Greco-Persian Wars also occurred in this century, in which the Greeks defeated the Persians.
  • Hellenistic Age: from the 4th century BC to the 1st century BC. The last period began with the death of the ruler Alexander the Great. In 146 BC, the Romans conquered Greece and annexed it into their empire.

The language spoken in this civilization was Greek, which had different dialects depending on the area. This language was characterized by three genders (masculine, feminine and neutral), and three numbers (singular, dual and plural).

The Greeks built impressive buildings and monuments. Among them, the Parthenon stands out in the Acropolis of Athens. It was built in the 5th century BC. It consists of eight frontal and 17 lateral columns, and each one has a height of 10.93 meters. It’s a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena.

They had a polytheistic religion. They believed that the gods were anthropomorphic, meaning that they had a human form. They also worshiped natural phenomena. According to the Greeks, the gods lived on top of Mount Olympus, a mountain located between Thessaly and Macedonia, which is 2,919 meters high.

Zeus was the most important of all the deities as he was considered the father of all gods and people, as well as the god of heaven and thunder. His wife and sister’s name was Hera.

Italy

The greatest culture that developed in Italy was Ancient Rome. It went on to cover southern and western Europe (including Britain), western Asia and North Africa. According to legend, it was founded by Romulus and Remus in 753 BC.

Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome

They had a monarchy until 509 BC. The king was chosen by the Senate, a group of elders. The last monarch was Lucius Tarquinius Superbus.

After this, the Roman Republic was established, which was governed by consuls. During this time, they conquered Sicily, Iberia, Macedonia and the Seleucid Empire (Middle East). Various revolts and civil wars began to occur in the 1st century BC.

The Roman Empire began in 29 BC. The first emperor was Caesar Augustus, who lived during the height of its glory. Other prominent emperors were Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius.

Emperor Theodosius divided the territory in two in 395 AD. The Western Roman Empire ended in 476, while the Western Empire lasted until 1453 when Constantinople fell.

Roman society was hierarchical. At the top were the patricians and, under them, the Equites. The plebeians were the majority of the population, the poor. Slaves, who were often prisoners of war, had no rights.

They spoke Latin, from which some languages like Spanish, French and Italian are descended. As for religion, they adopted the ancient Greek religion, but they renamed the gods. For example, Zeus became Jupiter.

Christians and Jews were persecuted until 313 when Emperor Constantine I announced tolerance for Christianity in the Empire.

Spain

Until the arrival of the Celts in the 9th century BC, different people, the so-called Iberians, occupied Spain. The Celts originated in the Alps and settled in the north and center of the country, as well as in France.

Iberian Civilization
Iberian Civilization

They mixed with the Iberians, giving rise to the Celtiberians. Meanwhile, the Basques were not invaded, so they remained unmixed.

In 1104 BC, the Phoenicians arrived and founded some cities that remain to this day, like Huelva, Cadiz, and Malaga. They were succeeded by the Greeks, who settled mainly in Catalonia.

In the 3rd century BC, the Carthaginians founded Cartagena. Soon the wars with Rome began. The Romans finally defeated them and conquered the entire territory, which they came to call Hispania.

Hispania underwent a process of Romanization where they adopted this people’s entire culture: Latin replaced other languages, agriculture and livestock were modernized, a major urban network was developed, etc.

After the Romans, the Visigoths arrived in 406 AD, who remained until 711, when the Muslim age began and al-Andalus was created. In 1492, their empire vanished following the Christian Reconquista.

Ancient Civilizations of Europe
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