Chapter 1 - The Origins of Sustainability 

Part 1 - The Ancients and Nature

ancient roman columns silloetted against a blue skyJust like the rise and fall of civilizations, the environment experiences a similar pattern of prosperous times followed by depletion and changes in the natural environment. Civilizations such as the Greeks, Romans, and Israelites all benefitted from the thriving and fertile land around them, however just as these civilizations have vanished, so too has much of the fertile, prosperous land that they lived on and around.

The study of these ancient civilizations helps to uncover human opinions on the natural environment, how the environment influenced the development of civilizations, and how civilizations had an impact on the environment, and perhaps even how these factors have influenced attitudes and outlooks today. These interrelationships form the basis of ecology.

The influence and relationship between nature and humankind was recognized early in civilization, with writers such as Hippocrates observing and noting the “effect of climate on human health, temperament, and intelligence and remarked that civilizations arose in lands of moderate or warm climate with light rainfall, where water supply was a major challenge” (Hughes, 1975). However, just as the environment has had an effect on civilizations past and present, so too has humankind had a substantial effect on nature and its processes. Civilizations were only able to be resilient as long as they struck a balance with nature. Many civilizations failed to do so, leading to not only the demise of their empire, but also a demise of the land around them.


sound optimized for headphones icon


Suggested Reading

  1. Ecology in Ancient Civilizations. J. Donald Hughes (1975) University of New Mexico Press, 181 pages.

  2. Hughes, J. Donald and Thirgood, J. V.(1982) Deforestation, Erosion, and Forest Management in Ancient Greece and Rome. Journal of Forest History, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 60-75