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Nature Awareness, Requirement 1

Describe the customs of two or three Indo-European cultures regarding the land and natural resources, and compare and contrast these practices with the prevailing modern attitudes. (minimum 300 words)

Terms for "conservation", "recycling" and "preservation" are things that moderns have come up with. This is not because the ancient world did not respect the land, but they did not see resources as generally limited in the way that we do today.

The land and resources within it were generally considered vitally important, but not as land itself. Rather, it was considered important as an extension of the owner of the land. In his book, The Western Way of War, Hanson makes a compelling argument that land was valuable and fought over not because it was important to the livelihood of the Greeks, but because it was their land. This is a completely different picture than we usually think of when we discuss Pagans in the ancient world, who we expect to hold the land sacred. The Greeks held the land as ownership.

In Rome, resources were particularly managed by the Law of the Twelve Tables, which discussed (at length) the idea of transfer of resources from one field to the next. Fritz Graf describes these laws in Magic in the Ancient World. Particularly outlawed was the transference of resources by magical means. A person accused of stealing crops by magic (i.e. transferring them from one field to the next magically) was committing a great crime. This is because there was a limited amount of crops that the land could support, and the working of magic against the land was seen as threatening ownership of that land. Interestingly, Graf points out that weather magic was always allowed, since it did not focus on the ownership of the land, even though it does focus on the resources the land can produce.

The idea of "preservation" in the ancient world is one where the land and the resources are not "preserved", but "reserved" for the use of a single person. If forests were saved, it was because they were reserved for game-hunting, ship-building, or religious service. The wildness of the land appears to have had little value to our ancestors.

In our modern outlook on land and its resources, we tend to see these things as precious and sacred because they hold an intrinsic value to us. The land, particularly wild, untamed land, holds a definite and certain appeal as worthy of "conservation" and "preservation." We are able to see how recycling and reusing items can benefit us, something that our ancestors had a very limited concept of. The ideas of conservation and preservation would seem foreign to them, I think, and the idea of saving a space of wilderness that allowed no hunting, no logging, and no religious service (much like a state park today) would be lost on them in many ways.

To us, we seek to hold these areas apart because they are valuable as natural spaces. The ancients would have seen them as valuable strictly for their ability to provide, or as an owned parcel of land.

The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece. Victor Davis Hanson
Magic in the Ancient World. Fritz Graf


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