The Search for the Just Society

Edward J. Dodson


Begin with an overview of the important points raised in Lesson One. Ask questions of the students to determine what they retained. Make the following key points:

  • Groups were initially almost wholly cooperative because of kinship relationships and small size.
  • With increased population comes division of labor and the appearance of hierarchies.
  • With settlement and the domestication of animals and foodcrops, the hunter-protectors maintain their status by becoming a warrior subgroup and eventually sharing domination over producers with the knowledge-bearers (priests, etc.).
  • INSIGHT: Many warrior-dominated societies are matriarcal, meaning that children become member's of the family of the mother. The reason for this is the loss of so many young men in battle.


Introduce the first era of empire-building. This discussion need not be detailed. Mention the Egyptians and Phoenicians and that the early empires emerged in the Eastern Mediterranean. Several key points to raise include:

  • Egypt and other early empires were still very tribal in nature, yet functioned under strict hierarchies with the kings viewed as both leader of the State and the accepted religion.
  • Stress the continuity between the actions of these empires and smaller tribal societies toward other groups (i.e., the shifting balance between cooperation and conflict within and between groups).
  • The empire-builders were also monument builders, which required a large labor pool, provided by a combination of slaves and landless peasants.
  • Introduce Greece as the first Western empire, which arose out of an alliance of the Greek city-states in the 7th century B.C. The Greeks united to fight off invasions by the numerically superior Persians. Sparta was organized as a militaristic state under an extremely autocratic regime. Athens, its wealth and power coming out of commerce and trade with other Mediterranean peoples, had a more open society and its socio-political institutions evolved based on the principle of a hierarchy of talent. However, only 10% of the population of Athens had full rights of citizenship. A landed aristocracy gradually arose that acquired large tracts of land formerly owned by peasant farmers who lost their land because of mortgage debt. Many peasant farmers then fell into virtual slavery.
  • The Greek empire fell into decline as the landed aristocracy and military drained the population of much of the wealth produced.
  • Macedonia (north of Greece) defeated the Greeks and under Alexander the Great the Greek city-states were brought into Alexander's empire. Alexander also conquered Egypt and much of the Mediterranean. The City of Alexandria at the mouth of the Nile was built because of his desire to create a new center of Greek culture in Egypt.
  • Discuss the rise of Rome, first as a coalition of several tribes of the Italian peninsula who defeated the Etruscans and absorbed them into a larger alliance.
  • In its early stage, Rome was governed by two kings with veto power over one another.
  • Under the Roman republic, members of the Senate were chosen from the Patrician (aristocratic) class; eventually a separate representative body was created composed of merchants and soldiers, who were called Plebeians.
  • Soldiers were rewarded with grants of landed estates in conquered territories, and Romans were encourged to establish Roman centers wherever the empire spread
  • Decline came as Roman citizens stopped producing for themselves and depended on the goods produced by their colonial subjects to support an increasingly corrupt society.


As the Roman emperors were converted to Christianity, the powers of the Roman state were used to enforce adoption of the new state religion -- Christianity.

The Church hierarchy became extremely dogmatic and intolerant, captured by and became a tool of the Roman state. In effect, the Church in Rome discarded the teachings of Christ and became little more than a mechanism to maintain control over the population, substituting doctrines attributed to one god rather than many.


As the Roman empire aged, fewer and fewer Roman citizens led the armies. Most of the soldiers were German mercenaries and the Caesars Romanized Germans.

The first sacking of Rome, then, was not an overthrow of the Roman empire but an effort on the part of Germanic Romans to consolidate power.

The eastern provinces, centered in Constantinople, remained more Roman than Rome and more Orthodox in relgion than the Roman Church. When Rome was sacked, the center of the empire shifted to the east.

Justinian attempted to reunite the empire and managed to push the Germanic tribes out of Rome. However, his army was not strong enough to hold the western territories. The Germanic tribes were weakened, which opened the door for other tribes to continue the invasion.

The result was a long series of tribal wars that eventually brought Charlemagne to power in the 8th century, who forged his conquered territories into the new Holy Roman empire, but without the administrative and legal structure that had made Rome such a powerful empire at its zenith.


The eastern empire continued on until the 11th century when it was eventually overrun by Moslem Turks. Warfare in Europe gradually weakened the Frankish and Germanic princes. Another powerful group -- the Mongols -- emerged out of the steppes of Central Asia, pushing other tribes westward into Europe and renewing the tribal wars over territory.

Fortified castles were built by minor lords to protect the agricultural settlements from the semi-nomadic tribes. This became the basis for the manor system and feudalism.

Feudalism revolved around fixed relationships between the manor lord and the peasant producers. The lord administered justice and housed whatever surplus was accumulated -- in trust for the whole community should there be crop failure, etc.


The Moslems captured and occupied Jerusalem in the 10th century. Thus, a call came from Rome and Constantinople for Christian nobles to raise armies and free the Holy Land.

Between the 10th and 12th centuries a series of armies under English, French and Germanic princes fought the Moslems, without lasting success.

What the Crusades did do was introduce the European princes to the luxuries of the Moslem world, stimulating trade and the conversion of land held in common under feudalism to systems of private titles. In this way, the lords could lease or sell land for hard currency and buy goods from the East.

The Crusades also stimulated the growth of Venice, Genoa and other Italian ports, whose merchants initally supplied the European armies and later expanded trade with the Moslem world.

Explain that the semi-nomadic and most warlike tribes lived off the land (and their conquests). The need to be mobile meant a lifestyle that gave little importance to the accumulation of property.



Lesson 1 * Lesson 2 * Lesson 3 * Lesson 4
Lesson 5 * Lesson 6 * Lesson 7 * Lesson 8