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Kara Stankiewicz

Professor Lark

History 134

April 22, 2017

Portfolio Reflection

What can I, as an historian of the ancient world, learn and apply from the history of my

ancient ancestors to my own role in contributing to and acting responsibly for the betterment of

society? To answer this question, I have to think about what significantly influenced an

individual from the ancient world to act responsibly and contribute towards society. The most

important influence was Religion/Morals and Tradition. These three things are most often

incorporated into ones actions and thoughts as well as opinions. There have been no ancient

civilizations that have succeeded without a main religion or set of traditions. Religion, its

traditions, and morals have influenced many people of different historic times.

In many societies, ancient and modern, religion has had a major role in their

development, and the Roman Empire was no different. Roman religion was centered around gods

and they spent a great deal of their time worshipping them. The reign of Augustus involved a

huge expansion in the Roman Empire and was the beginning of a dynasty that would transform

Rome. Augustus used religion as a tool to protect and maintain his position as a ruler and also to

promote his political agenda. Augustus was the heir of Caesar who was a god and he used this

information to convince the Roman people that he was also part-god. As ruler of Rome,

Augustus had to lead by example. He re-established traditional social rules and religious rituals,

sacrificing animals to Romes gods. In 12 AD he made himself Pontifex Maximus, the chief

priest of Rome and head of the Collegium Pontificum, the highest priests in the land (The
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Roman Empire in the First Century). Since the Roman people believed so strongly in the gods,

they followed Augustus rule which lead to peace and prosperity during his reign.

Ashoka the Great was another great influencer that used religion for the benefit of the

society. The Mauryan Empire was greatly affected by Ashoka and his spread of Buddhism,

After a bloody war against Kalinga, in eastern India, Asoka renounced warfare and converted to

Buddhism. He determined that henceforward he would reign in peace (www.timemaps.com).

During his rule he dedicated much time and effort into the spread of Buddhism and after his

death it was carried on as the main religion in some areas. This religion created a standard of

morality and tradition for the societies. It changed the way these societies functioned turning

them from a violent people to a peaceful society.

Another great influencer was Muhammad, an Arabic merchant who started the religion of

Islam. Islam was not only a uniting factor for people across the land, but it also changed the way

people thought and acted. The early message Muhammad brought to the Arabs was one of

sternness and strength: that Allah was one and majestic, all-powerful and demanding of the

faith of his followers. Furthermore, Allah demanded that his followers be compassionate, ethical,

and just in all their dealings (Islam From the Beginning to 1300). This religion brought about a

positive and beneficial change for the people by teaching them to care for each other and to

handle all business with honor and dignity.

We all want to be a positive contributor to society and a large part of that is being able to

practice your own religion. It is important to look back on history to see how these societies

existed and how they functioned. Historical knowledge is no more and no less than carefully

and critically constructed collective memory. As such it can both make us wiser in our public

choices and more richly human in our private lives (Mcneill n.p.). In order to become better as a
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society we must learn from our past so that we do not make the same mistakes. Augustus used

his knowledge of the history of the Roman religion to further himself along and to get the people

behind him as a leader which helped him achieve peace and prosperity for his land. After a

bloody and gruesome war Ashoka decided to convert to Buddhism determined to bring peace

back to his people. In essence, history teaches us to move forward, recognize our mistakes and

learn from them, and ultimately create a better existence for all (Postma n.p.). That is exactly

what Ashoka did when he took what happened during the war and decided to move on from that

to create peace for everyone using his religion. Lastly Muhammad spread the word of his new

religion despite non-believers. History is drawn upon, and not even necessarily cynically, in a

haphazard way which helps paint a picture of what any particular philosopher or politician

hopes the future to be like (Hodges 1). The way Islam came about made many people skeptical,

but ultimately it was the idea behind the religion that drew people to it.

While looking back on all the ancient societies we have studied this semester I found that

religion played a pretty big role in the success of the people. Religion has had a major impact on

societies from ancient times and still does in todays society. As one of the Founding Fathers of

the United States Samuel Adams once said, Religion and good morals are the only solid

foundation of public liberty and happiness. Even our money reads In God We Trust. Religion

is a kind of binding force which maintains the sanity of the people. It helps keep moral values of

society in check and without it we would be a lost society.


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Bibliography

Islam From the Beginning to 1300, 2002, history-world.org/islam2.htm. Accessed 22 Apr. 2017.

Postma, Michael. What Can History Teach Us Today?, ASCD Express, www.ascd.org/ascd-

express/vol6/622-postma.aspx. Accessed 22 Apr. 2017.

McNeill, William H. American Historical Association, https://www.historians.org/about-aha-

and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/archives/why-study-history-(1985). Accessed

22 Apr. 2017.

Hodges, Blair D. Hodges-Final Essay, May 2012, www.academia.edu/1539830/Hodges-

_Final_Essay_On_Rhetorical_Uses_of_History_to_Understand_the_Present. Accessed

22 Apr. 2017.

The Roman Empire in the First Century,

www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/augustus_religion.html. Accessed 22 Apr. 2017.

Time Maps, www.timemaps.com/civilization-the-mauryan-empire. Accessed 22 Apr. 2017.