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World History Class » Period 1 » CC Rome and Han China

CC Rome and Han China

Prompt:  Compare the Classical civilizations of Rome and Han China.


Similarities of the Classical Rome and Han China (some applies to Classical India – Mauryan/Gupta)

  • agricultural-based economies – dependent on a free peasantry
  • patriarchal family structures – valued male authority (like the river valley civilizations)
  • obedience, respect for superiors, piety, duty/honor
  • complex governments – because they were so large, these three civilizations had to invent new ways to keep their lands together politically; each was still unique
  • expanding trade base – systems were complex; trade routes connected them by land and sea
  • Social hierarchy with substantial distance between the elites and the majority
  • Ideologies developed that explained and justified hierarchy
  • Tightly knit family unit with the male as superior
  • Conflict over who owned the land and how the land was to be used
  • Expanded into territories that brought a variety of characteristics but they also brought cultural unity to those territories
  • Central government relied on local officials to regulate society
  • Civil service staffed by educated members of the middle class
  • Built roads to promote commerce, help military move, etc.
  • Majority lived in the country but advantages of the empire were enjoyed by those in the urban centers
  • Built walls/forts to protect against invaders which led to economic problems keeping up with the costs
  • Government lost loyalty of the people as they were asked for more money to pay for the military
  • Overrun by people who were so deeply influenced by their own cultures that they maintained their own cultures to the best of their ability
  • Becomes the center of artistic and scientific energy because of the wealth flowing into the capital and the fact that people have freedom and confidence to pursue goals because the military will keep the peace (Rome, Athens, Gupta India, and Han China)

Differences of the 3 Classical Empires

  • Groups at the top reflected different values systems (priests in India, the bureaucrats in China, and the aristocrats in Greece and Rome)
  • Status of merchants varied
  • Opportunities for mobility varied
    • India’s caste system had the most limitations – created at birth
    • China’s bureaucratic system allowed some poor to advance through the government
    • Importance of acquired wealth gave some non-aristocrats important economic and political opportunities; idea of citizens holding basic political rights across class lines was unusual
  • Greece and Rome left much of the management to the local authorities; military force played a role; clear legal statements defined rights
  • China and India, also, used military force, but in India, Hinduism helped justify and sustain the hierarchy by promising rewards through reincarnation; Chinese Confucianism urged general cultural values of obedience and self-restraint
  • Social unrest still arose
  • Chinese government was revived later
  • No Roman equivalent to Confucianism—no ideology of political organization and social conduct that could survive the ending of the Roman state
  • Chinese believed the individual was deeply embedded in the larger social group, respect for authority remained important (family served as the model for the organization of society and the state);
  • Romans were more aware of the right of individuals, so citizens were more willing to want and ask for more from the government
  • Chinese believed their emperor was divine and mandated by heaven, so there was a basis to revive the position of emperor in their society and Buddhism was more easily submissive with traditional Chinese values and beliefs
  • Roman emperors were chosen by army or the Senate and Christianity supported the idea that emperors were not chosen by God
  • Women were considerably freer and less oppressed than Chinese women


Similarities of the falls

§  Attacks by nomadic groups

o    attacks from the Huns – nomadic people of Asia that began to migrate south and west during this time period (probably caused by drought and lack of pasture and the invention and use of the stirrup facilitating their attacks on all three established civilizations

o    both Roman and Han capitals overrun

§  deterioration of political institutions – all three empires were riddled by political corruption during their latter days, and all three suffered under weak-willed rulers; moral decay also characterized the years prior to their respective falls; nepotism

§  protection/maintenance of borders – all empires found that their borders had grown so large that their military had trouble guarding them (Great Wall did not keep out the Huns—they went around it)

§  diseases that followed the trade routes may have killed ½ of the populations of each of the empires

§  failed to solve financial difficulties – landowners grew rich/powerful and avoided paying taxes

§  tax issues

o    Roman – tax revolts by upper class and church exempt

o    Han – official exempt; difficult to collect from peasants

o    Gupta – not enough taxes to pay for military defense

Differences between the falls

§  Gupta’s dependence on alliances with regional princes broke down, exhibiting the tendency toward political fragmentation on the Indian subcontinent

§  western Roman Empire totally collapsed; China’s system took some time to recover; India’s system was not based on political unity (Hinduism remained)

§  After

o    Europe dissolved into various political systems involving kings, with little authority, nobles, knights, vassals, city-states in Italy, and small territories ruled by princes, bishops, or the pope

o    China was once again under a single emperor

o    China still governed by a merit-based bureaucracy

o    China’s Confucianism still ordered the society

·         Economy

o    The Chinese economy was based more completely on crop agriculture; cities and commerce played a lesser role in China than in the West.

o    The increasingly heavy tax burden on the peasantry provoked chronic banditry and rebellions (the Yellow Turbans, 184 CE

o    Farmers chose to work for large landowners to avoid taxes (beginnings of manorialism/feudalism)

·         Common culture (Chinese script, Confucianism, assimilation) prevented as drastic a collapse as in Rome

·         Demography - whereas major migrations primarily of Germanic tribes changed the demographic make-up of the Roman empire, China assimilated nomadic invaders

Effect of the falls

§  Surge in the Great Religions – Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam expanded as the great empire declines; political and economic instability, plus the impact of devastating epidemic prompted individuals to seek new spiritual answers

§  Gupta fall had the least impact, partly because political unity wasn’t the rule anyway, and partly because the traditions of Hinduism and the caste system (the glue that held the area together) continued after the empire fell.

§  Han dynasty – loss of the dynasty meant loss of centralized government resulting in disorder from the loss of authority;  Chinese society very hierarchical; dynastic cycles that followed the dictates of the Mandate of Heaven were well defined in China, and the Confucian traditions continued to give coherence to Chinese society

§  Roman Empire was the most devastated

·         Roman civilization depended on the ability of the government and military to control the area

·         Christianity emerged in Europe too late to provide an unifying factor

·         Area fragmented into small parts and developed unique characteristics

§  political disunity in the Middle East forged the way for the appearance of a new religion in the 7th century; by 600 CE Islam began expanding

§  trade was disrupted but survived, keeping intact the trend toward increased long-distance contact; trade on the Indian Ocean increased as conflict and decline of political authority affected overland trade

§  urban centers decrease in importance

§  importance of religion increased as political authority decreased; in the west, religion, particularly Christianity, was left to slowly develop authority; Buddhism spread into China as competition to Confucian traditions

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