Classical Empires arose in all cultures, once they had reached a certain level of technology and development. The most famous examples in history are the Persian Empires, the Greek empires of Alexander and his successors, the Roman Republic and Empire, the Mauryan and Guptan Empires in India, and the Chin and Han Dynasties in China. Other classical empires arose in Africa and the Americas, but little is known about these because they lacked a written language or because records were destroyed. They shared similar institutions, policies, histories, and fates. Empires are easier to create than maintain because empires are built on war. Classic empires always began in agriculturally rich areas, and had little need to worry about food. This allowed large populations. The location of their states began on the periphery of more civilized and developed states, but they went on to conquer older civilizations. Their conquests always shifted the focus of civilization and spread its culture. Most classic empires had a society with a strong warrior class and superbly organized and led militaries; their reputations for war and successes in battle served them well. Additionally, classic empires had governmental structures geared for war and were centrally governed. Usually one man made most of the decisions. Once classic empires were established, they had to maintain their conquests. And it is harder to maintain than create.
Running empires required the standardization of policies, institutions, weights, measures, laws, and coins. This involved blending the best of the old, new, and foreign traditions and customs. Frequently, this meant road building, suppression of piracy, the building of a bureaucracy, and the construction of buildings to support an empire. The empire was ruled from one large and impressive city, glorified by the rulers. One result was the spread of trade and ideas, and the standardization of diverse cultures into one imperial culture with common institutions. But during the empire, class distinctions were sharpened between rulers, ruled, and slaves. Commerce flourished but was generally limited to two types of commodities – foodstuffs and luxuries. Nevertheless, culturally, classic empires were extremely tolerant – loyalty to the empire was most cherished and state philosophies and ideas were taught to all subjects.
Subjects were to pay taxes and not revolt; they were allowed a measure of self-government. Foreign loyalty to the conquering power was rewarded with admission to the imperial ruling class. And, revolts were punished severely. As historians and texts prove, these conditions made it difficult and taxing to govern such a large state. The ends of classic empires usually occurred in similar manners. The old empire became weak, lazy, and decayed. Old institutions and policies no longer governed well or were even remembered. Frequently, classical empires grew too large to easily maintain. While most empires’ decay began from within, they were destroyed by barbarians, who posed a constant threat to the settled empires. Often barbarians simply walked into the old empires, took the land, and settled. Often few people realized or even cared that the old state was dead. But the imperial culture created during the reign of classical empires always survived and was passed down to later generations. This culture became the basis for all modern cultural traditions.