The Roman and Han Dynasties

The Roman and Han Dynasties: Comparison and Contrast

The Roman and the Han Empires are two renowned classical domains from 31 B.C.E to 220 B.C.E (Bentley, Ziegler & Salter, 2013). These two empires have numerous differences and similarities of which we will look examine. These range from political and administrative structures, economic and social variations, expansion, gender relations and religious activity to mention but a few.

The empire’s origins

The two empires had different backgrounds. The Han Dynasty developed directly from formerly dynastic activity in traditional China such as the imperial traditions of Zhou and Qin dynasties. Rome’s origin in politics had more to do with the control of the patrician landlords and the importance of certain democratic elements during the years of Republic years both of which were superseded by the Empire (Scheidel, 2009).

Integration of the empires

Regarding infrastructure, both empires wanted to facilitate easier communication to link portions of the empires. They built large roads to interlink the empire, promote economic activities and access to resources and the easier movement of the military. In Rome, there was the invention of concrete that was used to create marvels such as the aqueducts whereas in China the iconic Great Wall was built (Bentley et al., 2013). Both empires also worked towards political integration though they used different mechanisms. The Han dynasty furthered Confucianism to enhance social and political order which meant inculcating certain ideals in the elite and other classes (Scheidel, 2009). In Rome, more emphasis was on codes of laws since there was a comprehensive legal system which was more rudimentary compared with the Chinese. The Romans did not assert the divinity of the emperors such as China but did surpass them regarding royal monuments, grand processions and more emphasis placed on the majesty of the emperor.

Administrative and political structures

Both empires were led by an emperor who possessed sufficient power and authority. Both had well-organized bureaucracy systems based on ideas and laws (Scheidel, 2009). They were usually revered and considered to be semi-divine. They imposed their rule with the help of other institutions such as the armies. Both focused on territorial expansion. Bureaucracy in Han’s dynasty was more complex than that in Rome as it relied on the middle class and elites to govern the provinces. The Roman Empire has a democratic government where the people were given power (Scheidel, 2013). The army in both empires was tasked with sustaining and helping to create the political structure in the face of foes. The Romans often tried to choose their best general whereas the Chinese selected an individual who could control the court and the royal family. Threats to the empires led to conquests and battles which resulted in further expansion.

Economic structures

Both empires had similar intentions to exploit their massive resources in their territories. This, in turn, helped them expand their dominance (Scheidel, 2015). In both empires, the land was equated to wealth meaning agriculture was the base of the empires. They also had engineering activities which encompassed road construction, canals, sewage systems, amphitheaters and domes among others such as the Great Wall of China and aqueducts in Rome. Revenue was collected based on a certain percentage of the harvest annually (Scheidel, 2015). In the Roman Empire, the labor was reliant on slavery whereas in the Han’s Dynasty this was not the case as there was a large peasant population, making continuous expansion less needed.

Social and gender relations

In both domains, women were subordinated to men at all life stages. They also used weddings as a way of endorsing political unions with foreign supremacies. Fathers were usually revered in both empires. In China, more emphasis was put on family ancestors which known as patriarchy whereas in Rome; the focus was more on the family (Scheidel, 2013). In the Roman Empire, there was a body of educated men who interpreted the law, and there were established institutions for settling disputes, but China did not have such an advanced court system (Scheidel, 2013). In China, the imperial family’s’ women played a crucial role in politics especially in matters determining succession.

Religious activity and policies

Earlier on, both empires fixated on themes and rituals that fostered royalty to the domain, but neither of them was spiritual. Both empires in times of the imperial disorder embraced foreign religions such as Buddhism in China and Christianity in Rome (Scheidel, 2013). In Rome, Christianity was dominant though it did not save the empire and even contributed to its weakness. Later on in China Buddhism was integrated into Daoism and Confucianism which helped sustain the national culture in times of political turmoil (Bentley et al., 213).

Language policy

The Chinese language acted as unifying factor across the empire far more than Latin did in Rome. Chinese was never subordinate to any other language as Latin was to Greek for a long time. In the Roman Empire, Latin was supplanted as the primary speaking tongue by other languages such as Catalan and Spanish (Scheidel, 2009).


Bentley, J., Ziegler, H., & Salter, H. S. (2013). Traditions & Encounters: A Brief Global History. McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Scheidel, W. (2009). Rome and China: comparative perspectives on ancient world empires. Oxford University Press.

Scheidel, W. (2013). Comparing Comparisons: Ancient East and West.

Scheidel, W. (2015). State revenue and expenditure in the Han and Roman empires. State Power in Ancient China and Rome, 150-180.

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