Comparing Empires: Roman and Chinese
Consolidating the Roman and Chinese Empires 1. both empires defined themselves in universal terms 2. both invested heavily in public works 3. both claimed supernatural sanctions a. deceased Roman emperors as gods (imperial cult) i. persecution of Christians for nonparticipation in cult b. Chinese emperor as Son of Heaven i. rule by Mandate of Heaven ii. dependent on just rule iii. heavy ritual duties to maintain relationship between earth and heaven iv. moral government spelled out by writings of Confucius and his followers The Han Dynasty was heir to the Qin state that had unified China in 221 BCE. The first ruler of the Qin established the title of “emperor.” The power of a Chinese emperor was absolute; however, he was subject to various checks on his authority by both high officials and imperial family members. The Romans practiced emperor worship solely in the case of dead emperors. In addition, only certain emperors were accorded divine honors, and always after death. In other parts of the Empire, however, local customs merged with Roman ones. In Egypt, for instance, emperor worship was practiced more widely. This was because the Roman office of emperor combined with the Egyptian notion as Pharaohas-sun-god. Chinese emperors were not considered divine beings. The emperor was called the “Son of Heaven” and was responsible for conducting sacrifices to both Heaven and Earth. The word “Heaven” referred more or less to what we would call “nature”: the succession of day and night, and the motions of the stars and planets. During the first millennium BCE, the concept of the “Mandate of Heaven” was applied. If an emperor oppressed the people, Heaven could withdraw a dynasty’s right to govern.
Relationships with societies they governed a. Romans were always a minority in empire i. gradual expansion of Roman citizenship; was granted to nearly all free people of empire in 212 c.e. ii. did not imply cultural assimilation iii. some Roman culture was attractive to western Europeans iv. Greek culture continued to dominate eastern empire b. ethnic Chinese had much larger cultural heartland i. active assimilation of “barbarians” Social Classes The Roman elite were a landed gentry living on the income provided by their estates. They dominated society and staffed the government of the Empire. Roman society placed a great value on loyalty both to family and to the state. A member of the elite was constantly exhorted to be mindful of his father’s and grandfather’s achievements and, if possible, to exceed them. At a Roman funeral, ancestors’ masks were displayed and their deeds described and praised. Individuals could win honor
only in the context of public service. During the second and first centuries BCE, most of the magistrates and members of the Senate came from the same core of noble families who controlled it. Early Chinese thinkers divided society into four social classes: the literate elite who served as government bureaucrats, farmers, merchants, and craftsmen. The vast majority of the population was farmers. During the Han, social prestige and political power became closely associated with Confucian values and learning. The Confucian classics became the standard for public and private behavior. Filial piety—the respect and obedience owed to parents by their children—was at the core of the Confucian value system. These values remained unchallenged until the early twentieth century. The Han was a large empire and required a bureaucracy to govern it. Official posts were filled in a variety of ways. Although people in government service could recommend relatives for office, it was also possible for those who didn’t come from official families to obtain posts. In Confucian terms, the ideals governing class was based on merit rather than birth or wealth.
Society and law The essence of Roman society was relationships governed by laws and courts. Many institutions were set up to settle...
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