Copper was first discovered and used in Middle East.

Iron was first discovered in Egypt.

What were the factors that allowed the development of ancient Greek and Roman civilizations (the father of European development)?

What were the factors that triggered industrial revolution?

Or, is it a coincidence that Europe is more developed now?

  • 1
    -1 you are talking about meta-causes
    – o0'.
    Apr 22, 2012 at 11:39
  • Related question: history.stackexchange.com/questions/1030/…
    – Opt
    Apr 23, 2012 at 15:24
  • Related question: history.stackexchange.com/questions/651/… May 2, 2012 at 14:48
  • 1
    you realize the east was more advanced first right? most of the "new" processes were already age old practice in China. Not to mention most historians would argue that Europeans past the Roman empire learned more from Islam than the original Greek and Latin.
    – Alexandre
    Aug 21, 2015 at 22:41
  • This question invites complicated theories and has no definite answer. Aug 22, 2015 at 13:16

6 Answers 6


Greek and Roman civilizations allowed individuals to profit from their work, and not just the king. Individuals were also protected, for the most part, from arbitrary whims of a despotic ruler. This led to innovation through scientific inquiry and open debate of ideas. This kind of openness and freedom was typically restricted in other societies, such as in Achaemenid Empire, where everyone was considered to be a slave of the king.

  • This article supports your thesis. bleacherreport.com/articles/…
    – Tom Au
    Apr 20, 2012 at 13:20
  • But much of the Persian Empire was free, they may not have used a new government type, but it is easy to say the Roman Empire and the Persian Empire had the same type of government. an Absolute Ruler supported by bureaucrats. and remember that democracy was really only in Athens, not the rest of Greece, and even then that was for a short period of time.
    – Alexandre
    Aug 21, 2015 at 22:46
  • 2
    The practice of slavery in Achaemenid Persia was generally banned. If you wanted to live anywhere in the classical period, it was Persia and not Greece where in fact slaves outnumbered non slaves 3:1.
    – Seph
    Aug 9, 2016 at 12:59

I want to start by saying that there are as many theories for this as there are theorists. However, I'm fairly well conviced of mine...

Europe was a technological and cultural backwater compared to the near east, India, and China until roughly the time the printing press became popularized (the mid 1400s).

What separates societies is the tools and techniques they are able to employ and develop, and this all revolves around the disimination of information within the society. In other words, information is power. With their new printing presses, European societies could now produce literally an order of magnitude more information than societies stuck using manual copying to reprint things. While Euorpeans might not individually be any smarter than anyone else, a European now had access to far more information than anyone else, which effectively made them way more powerful.

One good example of this is the "discovery" of the New World. It has been often remarked that Scandanavians had not only discovered but colonized North America centuries before Columbus, and nobody seemed to think it was a big deal at the time. The thing is, without a printing press this was something almost nobody outside of Iceland even knew had happened.

Cut to 1492, after the printing press. Now when explorers working for Spain "discover" a whole new world, the information spreads to every corner of Europe within a few years. Every learned and/or ambitious man in that part of the world now knows this information. The printing press is what made Columbus' "discovery" more important than Leif Erikson's.

  • 2
    @Saqib - Is that some kind of complaint, or simply a disagreement with my thesis? I don't think its very productive really to just talk about other coincident effects. IMHO everything traces back to the printing press.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 20, 2012 at 14:03
  • Then the next obvious question should be, why Europeans were able to invent printing presses while Asians/Africans weren't? Thousands of questions can be asked in this way.
    – user806
    Apr 20, 2012 at 14:07
  • 2
    @Saqib - China's the example to look at here. The Chinese actually sort of invented it. The problem was it wasn't particularly practical there because they don't have an alphabet. It didn't help that they didn't figure out the movable-type portion (again, perhaps a more obvious innovation when you have an alphabet). For everyone else, I believe it was mostly an issue of luck. The Europeans developed it first, and everyone else had to spend the next few hundred years trying to play catch-up.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 20, 2012 at 14:10
  • 4
    @Saqib - At some level, coincidences do happen. For example, there's a reason Silicon Valley became what it is today rather than say somewhere in Germany. However, the fact that it happened specifically in the southern suburbs of San Francisco rather than in say Fresno had to do with a founder of the initial seed tech company happening to decide to set up shop in San Jose (because he happened to grow up there), and him happening to be someone who belived in bringing in the smartest guys in the country, and also being a huge jerk they couldn't work with for very long. Coincidence.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 20, 2012 at 14:21
  • 1
    @Saqib - On a certian level, his is the ancient civiliation equivalent of my argument. In the ancient world the fastest form of transport was boat. Thus a "littoral" area would have enjoyed an information advantage over its neighbors.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 20, 2012 at 14:29

While the metals you mentioned were invented elsewhere, the horse riding and the wheel were most likely invented by Proto-Indo-Europeans and spread from there over the world. Thus if you select different set of inventions you may come to a different conclusion.

Among other factors Indo-Europeans had advanced languages which used vowels do distinguish between words unlike the middle-Eastern civilizations. This allowed for greater number of the words in the language and more possibilities for derivation, inflection and word-building. Even at the time when there was no writing, Indo-Europeans had the most advanced poetry in the world. This poetic tradition later contributed to the creation of Greek literature.

Advanced literature and the art of rhetoric allowed for creating philosophical and scientific texts as well as developing advanced legal systems and laws.

  • I have an issue with the writing thing. Semitic langauges have the unusual feature that vowles are regular and predictable. Thus they don't really need them in their alphabets like Indo-European languages do.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 23, 2012 at 14:24
  • The wheel was discovered multiple times throughout the world. South American Incas knew about it (although they only used it in children's toys, apparently). Ancient Egypt had chariots (although both horses and wheels were introduced from elsewhere). Jun 10, 2015 at 17:06
  • you can't invent metals..... though it is interesting you pick up on language since thinking about it, the Indians did the same thing the greeks did, minus the legal systems idea. But you don't really need "advanced" writing. the America's show complex societies form without the need of literature.
    – Alexandre
    Aug 21, 2015 at 22:51
  • I don't get what you mean for Indians minus the legal systems idea. Ramayana for instance, was written in 4th century and a part of it has a treatise about how justice, called 'dharma' should be by a just king.
    – shirish
    Jan 9, 2017 at 23:44

Religion is the primary answer.

Religious beliefs held back technological advances as anything that did not conform to what religion stated was considered heresy and punished. This stifled the challenge to established ways of thought.

Islam and Muslim states were far more technologically advanced than most of Europe and particularly Britain which was considered a technological backwater, so what changed?

Much of Europe and particularly Britain had far more liberal views on religion, particularly once catholicism was ousted (which was still very prevalent in places like Spain, the other economic superpower at the time). This allowed a far greater freedom of thought that fostered imagination and invention which ultimately led to the industrial revolution which catapulted Britain into a world super-power.

Obviously this is very much a brief synopsis, but if you do your research you'll find that religion is the key influence for Europe and particularly Britain rising and the previously powerful Islamic and Muslim kingdoms receding.

  • And chinese are way less religious than europe. Still europeans are richer.
    – user4951
    Feb 4, 2013 at 12:50
  • @JimThio now, before the major ages of European exploration, overall Europe was a worldwide backwater compared to the east. China had processes that they were using since the fifth century that Europe only rediscovered in the industrial revolution....
    – Alexandre
    Aug 21, 2015 at 22:37

All of these answer are flawed, because they're trying to deal with Europe as if the answer lay with the Renaissances. Romans and Greeks made many of the advancements that the Chinese were also making. It is not who had more technology, East or West, but what it was used for. Europe has seen empires rise and fall, but there has never been a truly united Europe since the fall of Rome. However, there has always been China in one way, shape or form.

Because of that, we can add in this side note: What we know about how advancement in technology has came about to being improved, is too many ways to list, but history can show us that a main drive to improvement is war. Many of the things we now use is proof of that, such as radar, rockets, jets, and microwave ovens, just to name a few.

Back to my main point. China never really had outward enemies to give them the need to advance their weapons to better aid them in battle. They never really were forced into breaking with their old ways because they were perfect as is. This isn't to suggest the Chinese stopped trying to improve themselves, just that the motivation was limited, by both an oppressive state and a lacking of will to break with old ways.

Europeans have for the most part of nearly a millennium, tried to wipe one another out. They have seen the rise of kingdoms like Britain, France, and Spain which for most part tried to gain more or less domination over the others. This really kicked off during the Renaissance with the old knowledge of the Romans and Greeks being taken back from the East Roman Empire after it lost to the turks and a few key imports such as gunpowder from the East, and a weakening of Catholicism with the rise of Protestantism. Plus, many states in Europe started to encourage innovation by rewarding their men of Science, over burning them at the stake for heresy.

To summarize,

  1. European dark ages were a jump backward, but this also led to it rise, multiple kingdoms in Europe never united again (or never for very long); this led to an increase in wars, where kingdoms needed to one up each other in order to dominate

  2. Renaissances led to breaking old ways of Europe as men of knowledge started to disprove many old myths both religious and secular

  3. Weakening of central authority, aka the church, English civil war(both)

  4. Birth of a group of free thinking people who didn't have to dance around rings of the church and the kings

  5. Printing press (@TED gave very good reasons as to why this is)

Nations of Europe advanced themselves to beat others. I'm saying war gave us everything we have, and is very likely to take everything from us one day.


Many civilizations arose because they were the "optimum size" (for their time), and then fell when they ceased to be the optimum size.

It's interesting that the early civilizations started in peninsulas. Such places had good water transportation, and one land connection.

This basically describes Babylon, between the Tigris and Eurphrates Rivers, and the part of Egypt between the Nile and the Red Sea. India is one large (too large) peninsula, as was "China" (the part between the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers).

Greece and Rome rose when they did because they were peninsulas that were optimum size for their time. Similar things could be said about England (an island), as well as Spain and France (peninsulas) in their time. The purpose of the Erie Canal was to turn the eastern United States into one large "peninsula between the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, and the Atlantic Ocean.

The rise of the BRICs is occurring now because they are optimum size for OUR time. India and China, as large peninsulas, are now coming into their own. Russia and Brazil, although larger (than Chine ex the Himalays, etc.) may be similarly regarded. The only other country in the world of comparable size (more than 1 million square miles and more than 100 million people), is the United States.

  • So what's the difference between European civilization and Egypt or other peninsulae at the time? Why namely Greek civilization prospered?
    – Anixx
    Apr 20, 2012 at 13:48
  • 1
    @Anixx: "Egypt didn't become a "full" peninsula until the building of the Suez Canal. And that was millennia later.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 20, 2012 at 13:51
  • 1
    I actually used to see this theory thrown around a lot more 20+ years ago than I do now. I think its main weakness is that it doesn't explain everything, which is what Tom's trying to point out. He picked kind of a bad example though. Egypt was actually always a bit of a technological backwater. By near east standards they were way slow to get both writing and metal working.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 20, 2012 at 15:28
  • I know Tom likes the Peninsula Theory from other answers, and while I don't always agree with it I don't think it deserves to be downvoted without cause. +1 for sticking to his guns.
    – MichaelF
    Apr 21, 2012 at 12:19
  • On a reread I'm upvoting this, not because I subscribe to this theory, but because it is a legit scholarly theory you will hear on occasion.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 24, 2015 at 13:48