Classical Empires

Classical Empires
Han Dynasty, Roman Empire and Guptan
Characteristics of Empires
Greek, Roman and Chinese Traditions
Han and Roman Empires
Reasons for Decline
(1000 BCE - 600 CE)
During this era, world history was shaped by the
rise of several large civilizations that grew from
areas where the earlier civilizations thrived.
kept more accurate records, so historical
information about them is much more abundant
provide many direct links to today's world, so that
we may refer to them as root societies—ones that
modern societies have grown from
expansionist—deliberately conquering lands
around them to create large empires
Common Features of Classical Civilizations
Each civ developed their own beliefs, lifestyles,
political institutions, and social structures…
however, there were important similarities:
• Patriarchal family structures - Like the river valley
societies earlier, the classical civilizations valued
male authority within families, as well as in most
other areas of life.
• Agricultural-based economies - Despite more
sophisticated and complex job specialization, the
most common occupation in all areas was farming—
therefore most lived where?
• Complex governments
• Expanding trade base
Characteristics of Classical Empires
• Powerful military
• Effective government bureaucracy
• Control large territory-multiethnic and
• Uniform currency and weights and measures
• Service of citizens (civic duty)
• Advancement of military technology
• Uniform legal codes
• Public works
• Lavish public monuments
• Patronize the arts and scholarship
• Slavery? …everywhere… but…
Greco-Roman Traditions
• Active participation in politics
– Greek city-state, Roman republic
• Aristocracy
– Republic
– “philosopher kings”
• Rule by law
– codified, movement towards equitable law
• Polytheism (though Christianity makes
extensive gains during the late Roman
• Slave Labor
East Asian Traditions
• Ancestor Worship
• Dynastic Cycle (will be discussed later)
• Legalism and Confucianism
– Reinforced social hierarchy and male
• Meritocracy
– Established by Qin; merit (hard work)
enabled (limited) upward social mobility
Han and Roman Empire
• Highly stratified societies
• Patriarchal families —Confucianism, pater
• Agricultural base —free peasants-small
farms or tenant farmers, heavy dependency
on slavery and latifundias (estates)
• Educated civil service —Confucian trained
scholar bureaucrats, civic responsibility
• Highly centralized state
Han and Roman continued
• Multicultural empires —most
conquered assimilated, citizenship
offered to best, extension of Roman law
• Extensive road systems and urban
• Subordinated women
• Powerful armies maintain the empire
Direct Comparisons
1. Well organized bureaucracy
founded on Confucian ideals
and education
2. Emphasis on family, ancestors:
3. Reliance on gentry as support:
good marriages afforded
women more rights
4. Engineering: roads, canals, the
Great Wall
5. Inventions: wheelbarrow,
gunpowder, printing press,
compass, paper, paper
currency (all before 1000 ce)
6. Religion: Confucianism,
Daoism, native gods,
introduction of Buddhism
1. Well organized bureaucracy
founded on Roman law and
classical learning
2. Emphasis on family: pater
3. Reliance on patricians: women
gained power and property
rights within families
4. Engineering: roads, aqueducts,
amphitheatres, domes, sewage
systems, central heating
5. Inventions: concrete, the arch
(probably Etruscan), insulae
(apartment buildings)
6. Religion: Emperor as god,
paganism, mystery religions,
introduction of Christianity
Decline of Empires
Han and Roman
• Empires too big —costly to defend the
• Burden of taxes on the poor,
– some flee to evade taxes, as maintaining the
empire grows more costly
– taxes go up, few new sources of revenue,
religious groups and nobility exempt
• Slavery in Rome (supply and demand???)
Hurts working class Romans
Oppressive  less productive,
fewer new sources,
less technological development
Decline (Continued)
• Administrative problems
 succession —corruption, weak emperors
 failing bureaucracies —corruption of
examination system, lack of civic responsibility
 In Rome —bread and circuses to forestall
• Eroding economies —decline in trade
when roads not repaired or safe
Decline (Continued)
• Religion —Christianity a factor in
Rome, but Buddhism is not
• Plagues—hit both hard, especially in
cities of Roman empire
• Pressure from nomads —Huns,
Xiongnu, Germanic
Why did the west fall harder?
• Han Chinese more multiethnic —a true nation that can
endure beyond the dynasty; In Roman empire most live
outside Italy
• State and society not bound together with the same glue
— In China, Confucianism offers both order for family,
society and state —not true of Romans
• Rome employed a mercenary army- loyalty issues!
• Better assimilation of “barbarians” by China, Germanic
tribes dismembered Roman empire, while nomads
absorbed by Chinese
• Common language —Roman (vulgate Latin) never
replaced Greek in much of the empire
• Dynastic Cycles
Why western Roman empire and not eastern?
• Deep, engrained civilization in the east —Greeks and
• East less impacted by nomadic invasion —maybe
because many enduring cities, large populations
• Tribes on eastern borders were disorganized and
• After separation of empire, east no longer has to
send any help to West
• When west cut from wealth of East, the tax base