Amy Chua’s thesis in Day of Empire is that the biggest contributing factor of the demise of hyperpowers throughout history is the loss of tolerance by the ruling entity. She believes that when the hyperpowers begin to decline they begin to blame everything on the outsiders. Sometimes this is caused by a regime change or a ruler’s search for a scapegoat. Her theory states that this intolerance causes social unrest and rebellion by the oppressed groups.
The Persian Empire ruled from 559 to 330 B.C.E. Around 2000 B.C.E. the Aryans conquered modern day Persia. The Achaemenid Empire began with Cyrus the Great and he became a king beneath Astyages in ancient Persia. In 550 B.C.E. Cyrus took complete control over the Median kingdom. By 539 B.C.E. Cyrus the Great had conquered both the Lydian and Babylonian kingdoms. After conquering a kingdom he would “decapitate” the leader (not by beheading them but by replacing the existing leader with one of his choosing). Cyrus interfered very little with those beneath the leader which kept them happy and prevented them from revolting. Cyrus almost always honored his subject’s religion by allowing them to worship in peace and not destroy their places of worship.
Cyrus the Great ended his reign in 530 B.C.E. Darius the Great ruled from 522-486 B.C.E. Darius expanded the Persian Empire into India. When not occupied by military endeavors Darius was a great administrator, he built extravagant capitals, introduced a standard currency, and extended the road network. Darius also organized a navy comprised of the Greeks and the Egyptians. Alexander the Great took the throne in 336 B.C.E. immediately following his father’s assassination. Alexander continued to follow his predecessors and employ tolerance for tactical reasons. By 324 B.C.E. Greece was the most powerful empire in the world making Alexander the Great the most powerful man in the world at that time.
The Persian Empire was the first empire to master the strategic use of tolerance in order to further their ability to reign over a larger group of people for a longer period of time. The standard set by Cyrus the Great of religious tolerance helped to set the later leaders of the Persian Empire on the right track towards tolerance. When Cyrus ruled the empire the areas that he ruled were some of the most prosperous in the world. They were economically supplied by the roads and trade routes built by the Persians under Darius’ rule. This economic prosperity was prevalent throughout the Achmaenid reign. With regards to the political effects of the empire there were not many.
Throughout all of the leaders they did not meddle with the local governments very much, instead replacing the highest leader with one of their own and leaving the rest relatively unchanged. This allowed the lives of the local people to be relatively unchanged which kept them content with their new leader. The replaced leaders were often given a life of luxury to prevent them from organizing a revolt. The social effects on the subjects of the all the leaders from Cyrus to Alexander were left much the same. When looking before and after at the most powerful and richest families in the local communities remained much the same.
Rome turned conquered nations into provinces of the Roman Empire much like the Achmaenid Empire. They also left local governments mostly the same. Unlike any other empire the Romans put no limit on the level of power that a person from a non-Roman nation could have. Rome looked at the past to learn from the future and in the past they saw intolerance leading to a nation’s downfall. Rome’s tolerance was just viewed as a way to facilitate the enlargement of their empire. One of the things that allowed Rome to expand so greatly is that everyone around the world wanted to be a Roman. One thing that encouraged this was that almost any male could become a Roman and wear a toga and fulfill their dreams.
Trajan is considered to be the first king of Rome’s golden age. He expanded the borders to the Persian Gulf. He also implemented a program that lent money to farmers in the interest of supporting deprived children. Hadrian was the second of the golden age ruled from 117 to 138. He ended the military conquests to add focus to the defense and embellishment of the empire. He built many new temples, capitals, and aqueducts. Antoninus Pius who ruled from 138-161 preferred to use his skills as a diplomat and threats of force to prevent potential wars.
Economically the men accepted as Roman even if not born in Rome benefitted from the light taxes and their ability to do business and trade. The Romans had such a large amount of roads for their time that trade was very easy. Also helping this economically was the light taxes preventing people from losing too much money. Socially there were quite a few changes. However, these changes were not forced by the Romans but chosen by the people. They wanted to be Roman, it was a great honor. Politically there were not many changes despite quite a few regime changes there was not much political change in the Roman Empire. They left many of the local governments intact just putting people loyal to the nation in charge.
Qin Shi Huangdi was the first emperor to unify China in 221 C.E. He created a standard currency and a written script. He also built the Great Wall of China. He was an oppressive emperor which led to a dynasty change after his death. Taizong was the second ruler of the Tang Dynasty but is considered the first real emperor of Tang China. He is revered because of his tolerance and kindness which allowed China to flourish. With the protection of the silk road provided by the Tang Dynasty many foreign goods came into China.
The Chinese were surprised by the quality and elegance of foreign goods and were hooked and needed them. Despite their acceptance of foreign goods and the government’s acceptance of foreigners there was still a lot of xenophobia in China. Empress Wu was the unofficial ruler of China who used her husband as a puppet. She “ruled” from 649-683. In 690 she officially ruled China and became the first woman to ever have the mandate of heaven. She created a class of bureaucrats selected by merit instead of family. In 712 the Tang dynasty was restored by the Li family.
Economically China for the most part benefitted from unification. Some of the lower classes did not benefit instead their situation got worse. The people who were fortunate enough to benefit, benefitted greatly as they had access to slaves and foreign goods which were of high value in China at that time. Socially there was more of a spread between the classes and although the rich loved their foreign goods, they did not love the people who brought them. Merchants were viewed as a very low social class because they had been in contact with many foreigners and China was still fearful of foreigners. Politically there was much change as prior to the reunification of China; China was split into regional nations throughout the land. These people were usually very war-like and defensive of their land.
Genghis Khan was the first leader to unite the Mongols. He started out as a reject from one tribe but survived and went to a different tribe where he convinced the leaders to conquer more tribes and control Mongolia. He was second in command to this growing nation of Mongolia. He then decided to make his move and take over. He succeeded in doing so and continued on his conquest. He was a brilliant tactician and very good politically. He was able to conquer using his skills as a commander. After that he used his skills as an orator and leader to control local governments. Part of his success was due to his respect of other nations’ religions and their government. In a world where religious persecution was everywhere Genghis Khan saw this as an opportunity to take over the persecuted lands and proclaim religious freedom which kept them loyal.
When Genghis Khan died he appointed his third son as the heir to his throne. He began to waste the empire’s surplus of money and sent his army on impossible missions. Although he failed at expanding he managed to keep most of the empire together. After Ogodei died Genghis Khan’s grandsons took over and began to expand more. Mongke was made Great Khan in 1251. They continued to expand and took over China. They not only gave them religious freedom but they embraced Chinese culture. Mongol rule over China was brought to an end in 1368. When the end began with the Mongols they either changed their cultural identity and showed intolerance towards rival groups or blamed their problems on being too open to other cultures.
Economically things improved dramatically for almost all of the conquered peoples. For example in China when under Mongol rule the Chinese ports became some of the largest ports in the ancient world. Socially many things changed, the Mongols were united and had to adapt to being a community and not warring with each other. The religious groups that were persecuted were able to live in relative peace as there was no persecution by the government. The persecutors had to learn that they could no longer persecute other religious groups. Politically much changed for the Mongols themselves who had to adapt to a single ruler who did not necessarily share their beliefs. To the groups conquered by the Mongols the political leaders did not change much if at all but the laws changed as the Mongols now made the laws.
As Chua stated in the beginning the downfall of the empires was involved with the intolerance of the ruling entity. When empires begin to fall the rulers and the ruled began to become intolerant and blame all their problems on the foreigners, religious groups, or the conquered. The Mongols thought they had become too Chinese. The Chinese thought too many foreign goods had come in to the empire. The Romans began to blame their problems on the reliance on foreign military power, and The Achmaenids blamed their problems on the foreigners they had allowed to live peacefully.
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