Comparing/Contrasting Rome to Han China

Imperial Rome to Han
Similarities & Differences
Using your SPECTS
The Basics:
 Han = 206 BCE – 220
 Roman Empire 27 BCE –
476 CE
 Both lasted approx 400
 Both had populations of
50 million
 Similar size territory
 Rome had a large “inland” sea (Mediterranean) for ease of
trade and travel. Well constructed roads made land travel
and communication possible.
 China was a land based empire. River travel, canals, roads
had to be built and maintained for transportation and
 Territorial size of both was approx. 2.5 million at their peak
 Territorial size of Rome was ultimately restricted by deserts
(N. Africa/Middle East) and European mountains (Alps)
 Han’s territorial size was limited by the Tibetan Plateau,
western deserts (Gobi, Taklimakan), mountains (Himalayas,
Tian Shan)
 Han built off precedents
of many previous
dynasties Shang, Xhou,
 Rome built an empire
“more from scratch”;
some based on Greeks
 Imperialism
 Both were imperialistic but Rome far more so
 Militarism
 Both were threatened by nomadic invaders. Conquered
territories under imperial control.
 Rome paid it’s soldiers with conquered land and captured
wealth. Resulted in greater incentive to use military.
Constantly sought to expand. Local leaders often remained
in control under Roman supervision.
 Both economies were based on agriculture
 Land was highly valued
 Governments imposed taxes for revenue
 Both standardized weights and measures, monopolized key resources
i.e. salt, iron
 China relied on peasants to do labor
 Rome relied on slave labor (captives from war) up to 1/3 of pop.
 Wealth more concentrated in small landowning population. Forced
peasants to live in urban areas. Need for slave labor on latifundia.
 Road building important to both. Roman roads were marvels of
engineering. Facilitated trade, travel, military travel
 Roman aqueducts, for irrigation, water delivery
 Roman construction/architecture = monumental, grandeur
 Chinese construction/architecture = practical, defensive,
 China
 Confucianism,
Mandate of Heaven,
Civil Service Exam
(some social
mobility), emphasize
homogeneous culture
Ritual ancestor
gentleman class
(Junzi), Ren, Li,
Less centralized, built by overlaying
Roman law over local rulers and laws
Rome prided itself on establishing
peace and rule of law through
Venerated emperors “cult of worship”
 China
Focused on homogeneous culture building
largely through Confucianism, promoting
ethnically Han language, sending out
bureaucratic officials to enforce
 Rome
Looser, more diverse, cosmopolitan
More local autonomy, local leadership, greater
diversity of language
Roman citizenship granted common rights
 Patriarchal
Eldest male/father most respected,
China: family was model of gov’t
organization i.e. emperor was “father” –
Confucian ideology
Rome – emperor is not viewed as father
figure; he is a god
 Paterfamilias
 Outside religion moves into each region
 China = Buddhism in later Han
 Rome = Christianity
 In both places the new religion is not officially
welcomed. Through syncretism both gain mass
conversions and official acceptance
 Both are salvation religions i.e. seek to eternal life,
heaven, nirvana etc…
Decline of Empires
Rome and China
Threatened by outside invasions of nomadic
(aka barbarian) forces related to the Huns
Both are weakened from overexpansion =
borders are too long/too expensive to
Weakness signals to citizens decay
China “right to rebel”
Rome - loss of support for Roman empire
Differences in Decline
 Rome = civilization and institutions
Loss of Latin language = rise of
Loss of Roman numerals and measures
Loss of basis for legal culture
 China
Although government falls, language,
culture, institutions will remain or be

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