What Makes Something “Great”?

In History, we refer to a lot of things as ‘great’. But this is a rather arbitrary term, as there’s no physical way to measure somethings ‘greatness’. What I’m hoping to do in the next 3 minutes is look at people and events we refer to as great, and show you what the common factors between them are.

The obvious place to start is the Great War, otherwise known as World War One. This was a groundbreaking war for a variety of reasons. The first is the sheer magnitude of the event. Between August 1914 and November 1918, over 59 million troops were mobilised, over 8 million people were killed, and more than 29 million were injured.

The Great War had a global impact on politics and society. The Russian Empire, which had stood for hundreds of years, collapsed and was replaced with the Stalin regime. Moreover, the German and Austro-Hungarian empires fell. The division of the Middle East caused political issues that still exist today, and in Eastern Europe, people found themselves in new nations, where politics was unstable.

The Great War influenced culture as well, as it became more commonplace for women to work in jobs normally only given to men. As a result of the war, psychologists like Freud began to experiment with the effects of talking therapy as a way to combat mental health issues, which has obviously had a huge impact on the way mental illnesses are viewed and treated today. Overall, the Great War can be considered great because of the fact that the effect it had on society, culture, and politics was spread globally.

Alexander the Great is said to have ‘single-handedly changed the nature of the ancient world in little more than a decade.’. Alexander III of Macedon was born in Pella in 356 BC, and was educated by Aristotle. He’s most well known for his expansion of Greek control. He conquered the Persian Empire without facing defeat, and became known as the great king of Persia by the time he was 25. Over the next eight years,, Alexander led his army a further 11,000 miles, founding over 70 cities and creating an empire that stretched across three continents and covered around two million square miles. His expansion meant he had a huge impact on society. Ancient Greek became a commonly spoken language in the places he conquered, which not only increased the ease of trading and commerce, but also meant there was a more widespread appreciation for  Greek art, drama and philosophy. So like the Great War, what made Alexander so great was that his influence was in multiple areas (imperial and cultural), and was also widespread.

Peter the Great was the Tsar of Russia from 1682–1725. It’s often said that his reign was a turning point in Russian History. He travelled a lot in  Europe, and actually visited London in January 1698. As a result of his travels, he reintroduced art forms that had been forbidden by the medieval Russian Orthodox Church—such as portraiture, instrumental music, and dramatic productions. But he also had huge political influence; He reformed the government structure, the system of courts, and he put the Orthodox Church under the state control, which was a huge political change since they previously had held a huge amount of power.  He massively increased the size of the Russian Empire as well, which meant the influence he had was very widespread.  So, the reason Peter is considered great is because of his influence on culture and politics which took place on a very large scale.

From all of this, I think it can be said that for something to be considered ‘great’, it must have a large political and cultural effect on more than just a nationwide scale.