One reasonable answer would be that knowledge is power. However, in the case of these two historical civilizations–understanding how they compare/contrast holds an additional value of the root origin variations between the East/West that still endures today.
The Han Dynasty and Roman Empire were powerful and culturally influential societies.
The Han would lay the foundation for China and much of the Eastern Asian culture and the Romans would inspire Western development. Empire commonalities include massive geographical size, expansion conquests, and cultural integration to create remarkable realms, but stark contrasts within their respective society, government, and religion led to dissimilar domains.
How did each civilization come to power?
In what ways are they similar/different?
The Han Dynasty would rise to power within China to reunite the country. The Han unification would utilize advanced technology, high public works, and a Mandate from God.
The Han combined a centralized bureaucracy, favorable economics, peace, and religion as a source of empire fusion. The Han Dynasty would create the political and social structure for China and most of East Asia’s culture lasting nearly 2,000 years and “since this period, the core Chinese people has referred itself as the ‘Han people’” (The Heritage of World Civilizations, 218).
How does the rise of the Roman Empire compare to the Han?
The Roman empire would rise from a humble village setting but would grow to include all of Italy. The empire would expand as “they conquered…the entire Mediterranean coastline…most of the Near East and…much of continental Europe” (The Heritage of World Civilizations, 166).
Like the Han, Romans expanded through superior technology, exceptional civic works but their mandate did not come from God, their decree came from military might. The empire grew multi-cultural as the kingdom expanded through both force and influence. The Roman culture inspired both the intellectual and artistic development throughout the West.
Both empires were under imperial rule, but the Han maintained Legalist and bureaucratic elements (from the Qin) while incorporating Confucianism. These features would create a state order and a government hierarchy consisting of ethical and intelligent men. The bureaucratic structure strengthened through the consistent use of a civil service examination (Carpenter, Lecture).
The Romans were under emperor rule too, but nobility was not a mandate. Instead, nobility was won or lost by reputation. The Roman class system centered around relationships, to include: friends, military, and clientage which offered an opportunity to climb the social ladder unlike the more rigid Han system (Carpenter, Lecture). Like the Hans, the empire had a state religion, but it was not consistent. The Roman faith was subject to frequent emperor guided change.
The Romans also possessed superior civic works, art, intellectualism, and technology. Furthermore, the Romans would rely upon inclusion into their modern civility by granting citizenship as a method to integrate the populace gained through empire expansion.
Both the Han Dynasty and Roman Empire shared a wish to expand and to integrate multi-cultures into their regime.
Yet, stark contrasts are clear as each employed different social, religious, and governing ideologies. Each dynasty would leave a lasting cultural impact.
The Han would shape the development of East Asia as the Romans would yield influence on Western civilization.
Why does it matter today?
Understanding the fundamental origins of Western and Eastern development reveals building blocks to the modern day world. The East was heavily influenced by thousands of years of Chinese stability, traditions, and social structure that would lead to a relatively homogenous society.
In comparison, the Western development would lack the stability of the East. Thus, the West would rise from an evolution of tribalistic conflict, which would lead to a lack of long-standing traditions and an ever-changing social structure.
In summation, the West lacks a history of homogeny compared to the Eastern World.
In closing, it is said that those that fail to understand history are doomed to repeat it. This is true. Many problems of today stem from historical rifts that often seem to periodically imitate past disputes. Thus, knowledge of history is crucial to ending the recycling of the old struggle into the new.
Remember, no matter how much you learn, there will always remain thousands of years of stories left undiscovered because–history is cool.
Craig, Albert M., William A. Graham, Donald Kagan, Steven Ozment, and
Frank M. Turner. The Heritage of World Civilizations.Pearson Education Inc.
Tenth Edition, 2016. pp. 166, 218.
Carpenter. “Ancient Rome Village to Empire.” Lecture.
Carpenter. “The Chinese Empire–Qin Through Yuan Dynasties.” Lecture.