As those of us who have studied Mediterranean antiquity know, there was a great emphasis (much greater than in 21st-century America!) on collectivism; community was of the utmost importance. The "group" took precedence over "self". But I fear that many scholars who have acknowledged this fact often forget that individualism was certainly on the rise during the era consonant with early Christianity. I was reading a portion of a book today that I found quite interesting. The author was claiming that one can tell, by simply looking at ancient architecture, that individualism was pushing full-throttle ahead in those days. Here's a snippet:
"A change came with the new philosophy and the new politics of the Macedonian era. The older Greek City-states had been large, wealthy, and independent; magnificent buildings and sumptuous festivals were as natural to them as to the greater autonomous municipalities in all ages. But in the Macedonian period the individual cities sank to be parts of a larger whole, items in a dominant state, subjects of military monarchies. The use of public buildings, the splendour of public festivals in individual cities, declined. Instead, the claims of the individual citizen, neglected too much by the City-states but noted by the newer philosophy, found consideration even in town-planning. A more definite, more symmetrical, often more rigidly 'chess-board' pattern was introduced for the towns which now began to be founded in many countries round and east of the Aegean. Ornamental edifices and broad streets were still indeed included, but in the house-blocks round them due space and place were left for the dwellings of common men. For a while the Greeks turned their minds to those details of daily life which in their greater age they had somewhat ignored."
- F. Haverfield, Ancient Town-Planning (New York, NY: Oxford Clarendon Press, 1913), 11.