Political and Social Legacies of the Persian Empire Compared to Han China

Political and Social Legacies of the Persian Empire Compared to Han China
The Han Dynasty based off its empire ruling policies
with a mixture of the philosophies Confucianism and
Through the leadership of kings and emperors, huge public work projects, economic foundations of
agriculture and trade, complex government structures, and religions, the similarities between the Han Dynasty
and the Achaemenid Empire are more salient than the discrepancies. All these contributing factors have been
seen through these and many other civilizations throughout the world as they strive to survive and maintain
their authority. To this day we still see similarities between societies, but due to relatively close time period
and similar idealogy of men, there are more correlations between these two great empires.
Government Structure
Civil Law
An Imperial law was enforced on the Achaemenid Empire;,
a local civil code that must be followed by the people of
all the vast cultural backgrounds of the enormous empire.
Imperial Spies were also in use, who helped keep the
empire in unification, and to make sure no one of
different cultural backgrounds rebel.
Han China
The Han Dynasty established a code of law based on principles of the
Legalist philosophy, which states that regardless of political and or
socio-economic status, all people must abide under the authority of the
"...Han Wudi work strenuously to increase the authority and the prestige
of the central government. He built an enormous bureaucracy to
administer his empire, and relied on Legalist principles of government"
(Traditions and Encounter 159).
Land Division
To maintain the vast empire, "more than seventy distinct ethnic groups, including peoples
who lived in widely scattered regions, spoke many different languages..."(134 Traditions and
Encounters) Darius governed the empire through dividing the land into 23
stratapies.Moreover, a political seat of power was put in the capital of Persepolis, where
the area was a flourishing cultural center almost like cosmopolitan.
Each Stratapy had contingent of military officers and
tax collectors who served as checks on the satrap's
power and independence.
Han China
Towards the end of the Han of the former Han Dynasty, Emperor Wang Mang passed a
land distribution reform that would allow people with low economic status to own land.
However, this was done poorly, which once again pronounced the everlasting issue of the
gap between rich and poor, and then chaos among the groups. This badly executed
decision on behalf of the government led to the end of the former Han Dynsasty
"Despite his [Wang Mang] good intentions, this socialist emperor attempted to
impose his policy without adequate preparation and communication. The result was
confusion: landlords resisted a policy that threatened their holdings, and even the
peasants found its application inconsistent and unsatisfactory" (Traditions and
Enounters 165).
Responsibilities of Civilians
Civilians must follow the imperial law and pay their tax to their satarpy's tax collector. As for
personal belief, they were free to have their own religion until the reign of Xerxes. When Cyrus was
in power, he accepted gifts as taxes, but as Darius came to rule, he unified coinage as well as law.
"Though often lavish, the gifts did not provide a consisitent and reliable source of income for rulers
who needed to finance a large bureacracy and army" (T&A page 134) He improved the empire
Persians took action as officials, and the lower
class citizens were led to take administrative duty.
Han China
Being a civilian in China, there was a strong sense of unity and responsibility within the
culture. People had responsibilities to do their profession/job to keep the economy going,
but also, Chinese citizens had the responsibility to report any suspected or seen activity that
goes against the law. Submitting under a Legalistic principles based society required
people to report criminal acts for nobody escaped punishment for their wrong doings.
The Legalist government of Han China "...established the principle of
collective responsibility before the law. They expected all member of the
a family or community to observe other closely, forestall any illegal
activity, and report any infractions" (Traditions and Encounters 155).
Social Organization and Norms
Han Dynasty
The social hierarchy of the Han Dynasty goes as: Emperor,
Wealthy Land Owners, Merchants/Artisans/Craftsmen,
Peasants and Slaves, and then finally the women of the lower
The first tier of the Social Structure was the Emperor. Farmers and peasants come next in the second tier of the Han
dynasty’s social hierarchy. Their social status can be considered above the laborers but well below those of the
wealthier landowners. In the next tier were merchants, artisans, and craftsmen who were responsible making useful
items such as swords and knives as well as creating luxury goods for the wealthier class. Women of the higher class
were expected to marry a man, take care of the house and watch after and raise the children. Women of the lower
class might marry and take over the family business or become a servant in the house that of a higher class women.
Achaemenid Empire
Persians, like other Iranian groups, formed a tribal
confederacy, with each of the tribes being a distinct,
defined part of Persia.
. “They organized themselves by clans rather than by states or formal political institutions” (132, Traditions and Encounters). Their social formation
does not seem to be much different from their Indo-European ancestors, being a basic patriarchal system, “When the Medes and Persians migrated
to Iran their social structure was similar to that of the Aryans in India” (139, Traditions and Encounters).There seems to have been a firm oligarchic
system in place in which the heads of tribes would make all large decisions regarding the general conduct of the society,“Called for a new class of
educated bureaucrats who to a large extent undermined the positions of the old warrior elite” (140, Traditions and Encounters). These Elders
belonged to an upper level of the society, the “ruling class”, whose members held the chief positions by the right of birth. “The bulk of Persian society
consisted of individuals who were free but did not enjoy the privileges of clan leaders and important bureaucrats” (140, Traditions and Encounters).
“Members of the free classes participated in religious observances conducted at local temples, and they had the right to share” (140, Traditions and
For more information on the Achaemenid
empire's rise and downfall and the social classes,
China (Han Dynasty
Former Han
Han Wudi
Started imperial university to prepare young men to
serve for the government. It relied on Confucianism
yet he ran the state through legalism.
"Yet Han Wudi recognized that the success of his efforts at bureaucratic
centralization would depend on a corps of educated officeholders. THe
imperial university took Confucianism" Traditions and Encounters page
Early Han
Liu Bang
Divided empire into districts governed by officials. Furthermore, he
restored order in China and established himself as hed of a new dynasty.
He also was the ruler who left a principal political legacy of a tradition of
centralized rule, handed down from the Qin dynasty.
"They recliamed lands from family members, absorbed those lands into
the imperial domain, and entrusted political responsibilities to an
administrative bureaucracy.... the Han dynasty left as its principal political
legacy a tradition of centralized imperial rule" Traditions and Encounters
page 159
Former Han (Decline)
Wang Mang
A "socialist" emperor who gained the throne as civilians thought he can rule better than the
Han leaders. In 9ce he claimed the mandate of heaven and so power was passed to him. He
limitied the amount of land one family can own, and ordered officials to break up land and
redistribute to peasants. This was done poorly, resulting in a break out of chaos and
confusion. Poor harvest and famine was brought upon China.
Persia-The Achaemenid Empire
King Cyrus
Within 20 years, he ruled an entire empire stretching
from India to the borders of Egypt through his
exceptional conquering of lands.
"Yet Cyrus proved to be a tough, wily leader, and an outstanding military
strategist. His conquests laid the foundation of the first Persian empire,
also known as the Achaemenid empire because its rulers claimed descent
from Cyrus's Achaemenid clan."Traditions And Encounters Chapter 7
Page 133
Darius extended the empire both east and west into Northwestern India and as far
as the Indus river. He then divided the empire into 23 satrapies, each with it's
cotingent of military officers and tex collectors. Additionally, he unified coinage
and laws. He ruled through cultural tolerance to keep peace within the vast
"Darius also sought to prove administrative efficiency
by regularizing tax levies and standarizing laws" -Traditions
and Encounters Chapter 7 Page 134
Stopped the policy of cultural toleration which caused
rebellion to arise amoung the people of
Mesopotamia and Egypt, leading to the Persian Wars.
"Darius's successor, Xerxes(reigned 486-465 BCE) had more difficult relations
with subject peoples. THe burden of Persian rule became particularly heavy in
Mesopotamia and Egypt-regions with sophisticated cultural traditions and
long histories of independence..." -Traditions and Encounters Chapter 7 Page
Economic Foundations
Han China
Ancient Chinese society's economy was primarily based on their agricultural surplus. This
was specifically true in the time of the Han Dynasty when "Shang Yang encouraged peasant
cultivators to migrate to the sparsely populated state. By granting them private plots and
allowing them to enjoy generous profits, his policy dramatically boosted agricultural
Having concentrated on agriculture, China was able to focus on other things such as professions. One of
these being the merchant profession. Merchants enabled the Chinese to further multiply the their economy by
trading with other people near and far such as the Xiongnu, although, "...they could not satisfy their needs and
desire through peaceful trade.." nonetheless they traded with them. Silk was particularly treasured by other
nations of the world. "...the industry specifically thrived after the establishments of long-distance trade relations
with western lands in the second century B.C.E."
Due to the geologic barriers surrounding the nation of China, contact
between trade societies was not simple. But the establishment of the
silk road enabled the access to better communications with these
Ancient Persia
Ancient Persia like its counterpart also had agriculture, for
they had under ground canals to take their water to their
crops. "Agriculture was the foundation of classical Persian
Ancient Persia was very active in trade. The King of Persia, Darius, established roads inside
empire boundaries to facilitate trade within the nation (for example the Royal Road). King
Darius also established roads outside empire to make trade with other societies, such as
Egypt, easier. Also, "...these roads... helped the empire to intergrate the empire's various
regipns into a larger economy."
In order for the Persian economy to further increase, King
"Darius followed the example of the Lydian king Croesus
and issued standardized coinsa move that forstered
Public Works/ Infrastructure
Han China
A large amount of trade was done along the Silk Road. Massive
caravans were involved which travelled between the capital of the
empire and the western countries. "The Silk Roads also encouraged
cultural diffusion."
Liu Bang received the foundations from the Qin for
building public works including roads, canals, and the
Great Wall.
Who Built It
The peasants in Han China did the majority of public works. “Besides taxes, the peasants owed
the government a month worth of labor or military service every year” Han's emperors
enforced labor to construct roads and dig canals as well as irrigation ditches. "Slaves watered
the plants by using hidden pumps that drew water from the Euphrates RIver". The emperors
also made sure to expand the Great Wall. Furthermore, China’s vast armies were filled with
“Government sent Chinese farmers to settle newly colonized areas”. This
was a process known as assimilation that brought conquered people into
a part of Chinese culture. The Chinese government used this method as
a way to unify the empire.
Cultural diffusion often times occurs along with trade, which grew rapidly over the
development of the Persian Empire. People travelled over land on the Royal Road,
and by water through the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea. New Roads were
built that connected Persia to northern India, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and
Courier Service
"The road was 1,677 miles in length". 111 Postal
Stations were created approximately every 20 miles
along the Royal Road.
Who Built It
The slaves in ancient Persia were behind the building of public works. People could be slaves if either they were civilians who rebelled against the government, or, more commonly, prisoners of war who were captured. Many were domestic slaves, working for common people and performing in households. The slaves owned by the government, however, did large-scale
labor such as the building of roads, palaces, irrigation systems, and city walls.
The Han Dynasty of Ancient China and the Achaemenid Empire of Ancient Persia have noticeable
resemblences yet also have diverse differences. The similarities are most prominent within the use of slaves
on public works, vigorous trade and agriculture in both empires, and leaders of the state unifying the
empire. However the two empires differ remarkably, for example, the difference in cultural unification,
where China imposed the same philosophy on the whole nation, whereas early rulers of the Achaemenid
ruled through religious and cultural tolerance.
Together these three principles were the foundation of
educations in the Han Dynasty . They were used to teach people
that wanted to join government office so that they would be
Han China
Confucianism was estavlished by the sage confucius. More
than a religion, it was a philosophy to contemplate life in a
wiseful point of view. Confcucianism toaught manners and
"Confucius emphasized several qualities in particular.
One of them he called ren, by which he meant an
attitude of kindness and benevolence or a sense of
"Another quality of central importance was li, a sense
of propriety, which called for individuals to behave in
conventionally appropriate fashion..."
"...another quality was xiao, filial piety, which
reflected the high significance of family in Chinese
Legalism was founded by one of the disciples of Confucius. Once again, it is
seen that this branch is not a religions, but rather it is a philosophy for
legalism is based off of the Confucian principle Li. Legalism philosophy
included that everyone, regardless of socio-economic status or political status
is equal
Daoism was founded by one of Confucius' many disciples as well. Daosim is once again not
considered a religion but rather a philosophy of China for it is based of the Confucian
principle of Ren. Daosim is a philosophy with a "hippy" feeling to it since daoism shuns all
government structure/ organizations and focuses more on harmony with nature and
Ancient Persia
The Achaemenid empire before the Persian War started off as a
vast multicultural empire because of the way of ruling of Cyrus
and Darius, who knew cultural tolerance would subside rebellion.
This way, all people will have freedom of
religion, and can keep their own, true
"The earliest Persian religion centered on cluts that celebrated outstanding natural
elements and geographic features such as the sun, the moon, water, and
especially fire" (Page 142 Traditions and Encounters) religious thinkers sought to
fit their ideas into the complex, cosmopolitian society, and as a result, created
Scriptures are left in the holy book of the Avesta,
which are preserved religious texts under the
Zarathustra on the contrary to chinese beliefs such as in
confucianism, believed the material world was a blessing, and
allowed people to enjoy wealth, sexual pleasure and social prestige.
His teachings can be sumed up in the simple
formula of "good words, good thoughts, good