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Social Structures of Han China and Ancient Rome

By katiecharris Dec 17, 2013 1195 Words
Social Structures of Han China and Ancient Rome

During the classical era, Han China and Ancient Rome were the pioneers for the change and the plethora of improvements that took place in civilized societies. The Han Dynasty consisted of persistent regional riots and rebellions against harsh state demands, and Ancient Rome expanded through the Mediterranean and areas of Hellenistic civilization. Together, these two civilizations introduced many essential changes in human life and provided an arena for the spread of organized civilizations. Although both Han China and Ancient Rome acquired powerful religious systems, Ancient Rome’s social structure was far more structured than Han China’s in regards to treatment of women and social status. Han China and Ancient Rome both demonstrated prosperous, influential religious systems that influenced other religious systems. In Han China, many followed Confucianism as a religion. Confucian teachings emphasized strong rulers and the consolidation of political power. Confucianism was not a religion, but a philosophy. It advocated rule by the highly educated, male elite, and it was primarily an ethical system. Respect for elders, art, music, and elegant calligraphy in the cultivation of scholar-bureaucrats were all important. Other Confucian teachings were Legalism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Confucianism has exerted a pervasive influence on other societies throughout Asia. Confucianism has affected and been incorporated in nearly every aspect of life. Education, government, behavior, and how the people should live their lives are all connected and Confucianism provided a code and a guide to have effective government and education, and lead a happy, successful life. China’s Confucian ideals, technological advancements, and prosperous agrarian state captivated major thinkers in Europe and the United States. The Roman Empire provided an arena for the spread of Christianity and the interaction of numerous diverse cultures. Christianity emerged during the first years of the Roman Empire under Augustus. Originally an offshoot of Judaism, early Christianity had little to do with Roman culture. In the centuries after Jesus' execution, many outside of Judaism converted to the new religion. Perhaps as many as 10 percent of the Roman population were Christian by the fourth century C.E. Christianity spread most rapidly among the poor and disadvantaged classes of the empire. Christianity also won converts from among those seeking a more emotionally satisfying form of religion. Roman stability and communications aided in the spread of the religion. The early political form of Christianity was drawn from the imperial constitution. In Christianity, bishops were governors of local communities and supervised activities from cities in which they resided. Bishops in the most powerful cities gained greater authority. The apostle Paul, who brought Christian beliefs to a wider public, was a critical figure in the dissemination of the new religion. Gradually Christian theologians began to define religious beliefs in terms of Greco-Roman philosophy. Christianity became the most creative intellectual area of later imperial culture. In this sense, Christianity was an important conservator of earlier intellectual traditions. Refusal of Christian communities to participate in state rituals caused some early emperors to persecute individuals and groups. Persecution was only episodic, and eventually the state was able to allot to the Church a legitimate, if subordinate, place in the world. Women enjoyed more freedom and status in Han China than in Ancient Rome, which was a much more structured society for women. Because marriages were arranged with family alliances in Han China, young men had as little say in the choice of their spouses as women. Young brides usually could rely on their powerful relatives to ensure that they were well treated in the new home. Widowed women were permitted to remarry, and all women participated in family ceremonies. Women of upper class families were often tutored in writing, the arts, and music. Although political positions were reserved for men, women could sometimes exert powerful influence from behind the throne. In Ancient Rome, on the other hand, the Roman law stipulated that the husband is the judge of his wife. If she commits a fault, he punishes her; if she has drunk wine, he condemns her; if she has been guilty of adultery, he kills her. If divorced because of adultery, a Roman woman would lose one-third of her property and had to wear a special garment that set her apart like a prostitute. As wives and mothers, many aristocratic Roman women wielded political power, but only through their husbands. Inequality between men and women increased in the empire’s final stages. Roman family structure was very patriarchal.

There was much less lenience in the class structure of Han China than Ancient Rome. In Ancient Rome, there was class conflict between the growing ranks of the poor and the Roman aristocracy. Some political leaders attempted to aggrandize their careers on the basis of this conflict. Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, two tribunes, attempted to introduce land reform and other social legislation in favor of the poor between 133 B.C.E. and 123 B.C.E. Both were killed by aristocratic mandate. After 107 B.C.E., the Roman consul Marius began to use paid volunteers to staff his armies in place of conscripted Roman citizens. The creation of a permanent military force dedicated to its commander threatened the position of the Senate. A second commander, Sulla, drove out Marius and his political allies. A succession of military commanders dominated Roman politics thereafter. A civil war between two of them, Pompey and Julius Caesar, brought the republic to an end. After Caesar took over the government in 49 B.C.E., he introduced various reforms. The result was to destroy the political monopoly of the Roman aristocracy. Traditionalist senators plotted against Caesar and had him assassinated in 44 B.C.E. Caesar's death precipitated a civil war from which Caesar's adopted son, Octavian, emerged the victor. While maintaining the external appearance of the republic, Octavian created an imperial state. For his success, he was granted the name Augustus. The Han class systems were much different. In Han China, rebellion was almost nonexistent. Ordinary farmers held varying amounts of land, and those who worked on the land of others as tenants or did landless labor were even more miserable. Many peasants joined secret societies with colorful names. Merchant classes became wealthier and more numerous, but they found it incredibly difficult to translate their profits into political power or social status. However, even when people were unhappy, they did not complain. Status was often unchangeable, so unlike Ancient Rome, people did not and could not revolt. These great classical civilizations lend themselves to a variety of comparisons to other civilizations during the time. In particular, Confucianism of the Han Dynasty and Christianity of Ancient Roman have spread throughout the world. Because of the Roman Empire, Christianity has spread throughout Europe from Jerusalem to Mesopotamia. Today, it is most influential in North and South America and Europe. Because of the Han Dynasty, Confucianism and Confucian ideas have had an impact on Eastern Asia, especially Japan, Egypt, and Vietnam, and it has even influenced Taoism. Even though both Han China and Ancient Rome acquired incredible religious systems, Ancient Rome’s social structure was far more controlling than Han China’s in regards to treatment of women and social status.

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