Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires (Oxford Studies in Early Empires)
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Transcending ethnic, linguistic, and religious boundaries, early empires shaped thousands of years of world history. Yet despite the global prominence of empire, individual cases are often studied in isolation. This series seeks to change the terms of the debate by promoting cross-cultural, comparative, and transdisciplinary perspectives on imperial state formation prior to the European colonial expansion.
Two thousand years ago, up to one-half of the human species was contained within two political systems, the Roman empire in western Eurasia (centered on the Mediterranean Sea) and the Han empire in eastern Eurasia (centered on the great North China Plain). Both empires were broadly comparable in terms of size and population, and even largely coextensive in chronological terms (221 BCE to 220 CE for the Qin/Han empire, c. 200 BCE to 395 CE for the unified Roman empire). At the most basic level of resolution, the circumstances of their creation are not very different. In the East, the Shang and Western Zhou periods created a shared cultural framework for the Warring States, with the gradual consolidation of numerous small polities into a handful of large kingdoms which were finally united by the westernmost marcher state of Qin. In the Mediterranean, we can observe comparable political fragmentation and gradual expansion of a unifying civilization, Greek in this case, followed by the gradual formation of a handful of major warring states (the Hellenistic kingdoms in the east, Rome-Italy, Syracuse and Carthage in the west), and likewise eventual unification by the westernmost marcher state, the Roman-led Italian confederation. Subsequent destabilization occurred again in strikingly similar ways: both empires came to be divided into two halves, one that contained the original core but was more exposed to the main barbarian periphery (the west in the Roman case, the north in China), and a traditionalist half in the east (Rome) and south (China).
These processes of initial convergence and subsequent divergence in Eurasian state formation have never been the object of systematic comparative analysis. This volume, which brings together experts in the history of the ancient Mediterranean and early China, makes a first step in this direction, by presenting a series of comparative case studies on clearly defined aspects of state formation in early eastern and western Eurasia, focusing on the process of initial developmental convergence. It includes a general introduction that makes the case for a comparative approach; a broad sketch of the character of state formation in western and eastern Eurasia during the final millennium of antiquity; and six thematically connected case studies of particularly salient aspects of this process.
great reservoir of talent, and it supplied the commanders who brought the empire back from the brink of disaster. Even emperors themselves in the third century often came from humble backgrounds and had risen to prominence in the army through their military talents, which the military crisis had afforded them ample scope to display. These developments inaugurated a lasting split within the empire between the holders of social and cultural power, that is, members of the senatorial class, on the
1970: 79–80, 82. Eberhard 1971: 117–20. Tsai 2002: 223; Anderson 1990: 83–97. Tsai 2002: 223–24. Eunuchs, Women, and Imperial Courts alliances with women in the pursuit of inﬂuence and power. However, since the development of the role played by Roman eunuchs is slightly different from what we ﬁnd in Chinese historiography, it is important to start by considering the history and structure of female power in Rome in general, as well as the precursors to the court eunuchs, the freedmen. 4.1.
Roman emperor or the imperial elite. (Due to the easy accessibility of accounts of these activities, I will not recapitulate the major elements.26) However, there are a few differences that clearly relate to the varying structures of the two empires and the deﬁning hallmarks of political authority. First, public benevolence and charity in the Roman Empire, like that in the Greek world that formed its eastern half, was deﬁned by its urban frame. Veyne’s “euergetism” was inseparable from the city,
evidence that will be presented in the following sections. At the same time, this should not be taken to imply that the state was completely unsuccessful in imposing the principle of freely interchangeable mixed-quality coins of uniform face value: textual references to a unit called pen—1,000 coins in a large basket or pot—have been validated by the discovery, in Shaanxi Province, of a pot that contained exactly 1,000 coins of various weights and sizes. Of them, 997 were banliang coins of Qin:
spring] was coins.”107 While there is currently no sign of these tiny gold ingots in the archaeological record,108 the fact that the other denominations did in fact circulate in later periods raises the possibility that at least as far as jin-sized gold is concerned, this claim reﬂects conditions at a later stage, most likely in the Han period.109 Gilded cowries and imitation cowries made entirely of gold have been unearthed at early sites.110 Given the monetary use of bronze cowries in the Zhou