Ancient Rome’s Governmental and Political Authoritative
Advances over Ancient China
Word Count: 1,596
23 November 2010
Ancient Rome and China are known to be two of the strongest civilizations in history. From their religion, culture, warfare, economies and technology, each empire has played a large role in providing the foundations and innovations of succeeding legacies. Government and political authorities played the largest role in constructing the Roman and Chinese empires ultimately allowing them to succeed over their conquered territory. The leaders and rulers that emerged from each civilization proceeded to excel and drive forward their followers to prosperity. Although both empires succeeded greatly, the Roman Empire ultimately flourished compared to the Chinese empire through its strategical advancements in the creation of a separated and balanced government and strong political authority.
The Roman Empire supported a fair balance within the governmental entity through the employment of three sovereign elements. These three branches of government consisted of the Senate, Consuls, and people, which allowed for the first execution of separating political powers. The senate held a small portion of legislative of power but decisions made within the body of government were forced to filter through this advisory council. The senate is not only fiscally responsible, but also must respect the decisions of the people and ultimately has no power without their support.1 The consul is the most powerful and has the strongest administrative support among all three foundations. Often known as the supreme masters, it is their duty to bring forth the foreign ambassadors, matters of deliberation or proposals to the senate and exercise the punishments upon vote of the majority.2 The consuls must take into notion the view of the public and respect of the senate, for their whole support and authority relies upon them. The third part of this
construction consists of the people and their role in monetary collections, constructions, and being the ultimate decisions in the passing of laws and court decisions with the senate and consul. As Shuckburg states, for the people are the “sole fountain of honor and punishment”3, thus giving the people the decision of outcome and laying much power within their hands. Due to the weighted supremacy within the people, the Roman’s governmental system portrays strong evidence of the first democratic system. This type of political unit and justice system was used as a method of curtailing the power of either political unit by relying on all entities to form a decision or change.
Chinese government featured a less intricate system than the Romans, in which they relied upon a single power of higher being. This power often fell into the hands of an emperor of China during his reign and was commonly referred to as a monarchy. Shi Huangdi created the first Chinese empire around 220 BCE, which formed imperial China, including the short-lived Qin Dynasty, which later transformed into the Han Dynasty.4 The creation and ruling of these empires was largely different from the Roman Empire in that it was based on a dictatorship, rather than democratic characteristics. The dynasties employed autocratic kingship, military organization, centralized administration, and standardized legal codes5, which helped strengthen the empire as a whole, but definitive power resided in a common ruler giving a less organized administrative system. The downfall of this system was that government relied on ruling families and inherited dynasties for control over the empire, leaving almost no limits to their power. This form of ruling
exacerbated the absence of a proper court system, governmental body, and fair justice system leading to a skewed form of parallel structure.
Although the Chinese civilization revolutionized the imperial empire around 200 BCE, their advances in political systems had no comparison against the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire was the first civilization to employ the political expansion of their government to include a separation of powers in the form of a Senate, Consul, and people. This democratic form of government was much more prosperous in not only their empire, but also the creation of the Imperial empire and innovations for future advancements. Political authority and control of these two empires assisted in furthering their success.
The Romans relied heavily on strong political authorities and prosperous warfare for the success of their empire. The conquering of nearby civilizations through warfare and eventually extending the empire over the entire Mediterranean area, primarily triggered Rome’s growth. The importance and honor of warfare can be seen on Trajan’s column in Rome, which depicts the connection between political authority and military victory for the Roman Empire. The carvings show men with swords and shields in the midst of war, leading to the significance that militarism acted in the expansion of the empire with several rulers. Julius Caesar and Augustus played the largest roles in creating and shaping the Roman Imperial Empire through their use of political and warfare tactics.
Julius Caesar’s reign over the Romans set the cornerstone of the evolution from a republic to an Empire, along with the reformation of the government and society. Caesar’s militaristic campaigns and the conquering of many battles also
assisted in shaping the Roman Empire and adding to its expansion. He spurred the start and victories over many wars, including Umbria, Picenum, Rubicon, Egypt and vast victory over Pompey.6 His creation of projects for betterment of the society included many tasks such as the creation of the temple of mars, libraries of Greek and Latin Books, and reducing the civil code.7 By leading the republic through many victories and civilized advancements, Caesar initiated the start of a new Roman Empire.
Augustus, also known as Octavian, used Caesar’s foundation to advance the empire as Rome’s first and influential emperor in 27 BC. He initiated many reforms that affected the government and political entities through the creation of his image of power. Augustus’ reformation included organization of the senate, rebuilding of the capital, theatre of Pompey, and many temples.8 He also succeeded in expanding the empire to govern those of Egpyt, Spain, Gaul, and many other surrounding areas.9 His accomplishments produced a successful Roman Empire for his time and fed as examples for the future to build on.
Political authorities had difficulty in creating a strong and centralized Chinese empire due to the changing of Dynasties. The Qin dynasty was focused mainly around the emperor having absolute power, which ultimately impeded on the advancement and success of their dynasty. Upon creation of the Han Dynasty and rulers Han Wudi, Wu Ti, and Wang Mang, the Chinese empire began to prosper in advancements throughout the government and civilization by taking leads from Confucianism. The Han dynasty promoted the empire’s influence of expanding
across central Asia as well as increased cultural productivity.10 This included advancements within the government, court systems, military campaigns and an ever-growing economy. However, these rapid expansions and changing of dynasties and principles within the empire commonly led to a series of small downfalls. The empire continually saw these prosperous periods of advancement, but ultimately led to a stasis and downfall due to the changing of emperors and discontent among the citizens. After going through several periods of success and hope for the Chinese civilization, the Han Dynasty met its downfall due to the compounding of these issues around 220 CE.
The Roman’s integration of a series of strong political authorities and powerful army allowed themselves to create a very successful empire. The citizens also played a large role through their use of support of the leaders and monuments throughout the city supporting war and expansion. Caesar and Augustus turned the empire around by promoting new governmental techniques, prosperous warfare and expansion, and the reformation of many civilization landmarks. The Chinese saw several political authorities that assisted in progressing their empire. Although warfare was not an important aspect, the emperors led through Confucianism leading to bursts of major expansion in Asia and improvements to the government. However, the changing of dynasties hindered the expansions as the emperors pushed for different advancements during each period, leading to their ultimate downfall.
The Roman and Chinese empires both exhibited vast amount of growth during the Imperial era. Governmental reforms and strong political authorities paved the way for centuries of prosperous outcomes in each empire at varying degree. The Roman’s creation of a three-sovereign governmental system of a senate, consul, and people, allowed the employment of a democratic form of government. This led to equalization within the courts, fairness among civilization, and rested a large majority in the people’s hands by requiring their responses on changes. The Roman’s organized authoritative system showed to be a much more successful structure than the Chinese governed through a monarchy. Ruling by a single power and dynasties without the creation of a proper court or balanced government system, the Chinese Empire limited it’s growth and expansion greatly. Caesar and Augustus brought countless improvements upon the Roman Empire through militaristic victories, expansion, rebuilding of historical landmarks, and ultimately transforming the Roman republic into a successful empire. The Chinese also experienced an increase of expansion and advances within their empire through the leadership at the turn of the Imperial era. Although the Qin and Han dynasties saw many emperors with differing visions, the empire exhibited many progressions in the economy, government and other social expansions until their final downfall. Rome’s use of a resilient centralized government and political authorities allowed them to succeed as one of the strongest empires during the Imperial era and forming foundations that many future systems came to rely on.
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Wiesner, M.E. “Han and Rome: Asserting Imperial Authority.” In Discovering the Global Past. 2001. 78.