The foundations of an ancient empire are shaped by many characteristics originating in a civilization’s social, philosophical, and theological values. Collectively these will bring about an empire that has aspects which will classify them in distinctive ways. The aspects that will be compared between Persia and Rome are the motives for expansion, methods of expansion, the administration, the impact on those conquered and the original empire, and the reasons for the decline of each empire. When combined, these aspects predispose the individual overall shape of ancient Rome and Persia.
Both empires began with conquering larger rulers and creating vast empires which had never been seen before, but as they grew, their ideologies on diversification differed because of the characteristics of their empires. The Persians mainly decided to let those which they conquered remain culturally unaltered allowing for more acceptance and acknowledgement of their ruling entity. On the other hand, the Romans aggressively attempted to Romanize the conquered, creating unease and tension.
Ancient Persia started by taking over weakening rulers in their territories. The Persians were originally based in what is current day Iran as organized peoples under the control of early Mesopotamian rulers. The Medes were an early civilization that ruled the area where the Persians lived with a strong hand. During the sixth center B.C.E. the Babylonian and Assyrian empires weakened through small time wars and disagreements which allowed for an already restless new man to lead the first revolt. This man overthrew the ruling empire and became the new ruler; this man was known as Cyrus (Stearns, Herodotus and the Persian Empire, 40). Cyrus was a man of humble beginnings; he came from a mountain village and was known as “Cyrus the Sheppard” (Bentley and Ziegler, 161). Once the Persians overthrew their Mede rulers they mounted a massive expansionary campaign. In what was one of the fastest expansions in ancient times, Cyrus went from being King of the tribes to King of the empire in all of twenty years (Bentley and Ziegler, 161).
The Persians relished and perfected an offensive approach to expansion. Cyrus instigated the wars that the Persians were part of in order to gain more power and wealth. The Persians method of expansion was war. Persia was effective in this strategy because they came out of nowhere fast. Before Cyrus there had not been a leader who had the guts to stand up to the Medes. Even though Harpagus was behind the entire plan, he saw that Cyrus has what it would take to overthrow the Mede ruler Astyges and successfully punish him for his harsh ruling (Stearns, Herodotus and the Persian Empire, 38-39). The Persians ruled only a small portion of land and were mainly tribesman before they removed the Medes from power. Within twenty years of overthrowing their conquerors, the Persians ruled from Egypt to Central Asia (Bentley and Ziegler and Ziegler, 161). Why this worked so well was because before anyone really realized what was happening, the Persians had already attacked and were moving on to the next victim. Loose alliances and slow communication also aided Cyrus in his venture of expansion as many smaller empires did not have the resources or man power to slow the Persian powerhouse.
Upon conquering the Medes Cyrus established himself as King of the Persians (Bentley and Ziegler, 161). He established this ideology of rule for the rest of the empire, along with the idea of hereditary rule. There was a centralized power in the King and his capital, but in order to run all the regions of the empire easier, the King appointed governors which were called satraps. These governors ran day-to-day tax collection and dealt with the people within their domain making sure that everything ran smoothly in a cog and wheel fashion. In addition to the satraps the King appointed local people to most of the administrative positions below the satraps, this way the Persians were not pushing rule solely by Persians (Bentley and Ziegler, 163). Having the satraps lessened the attempt of independence as well as having an administration made up of locals helped keep revolts down. The impact of expansion on the core Persian Empire was generally looked at and received in a positive manner. Increasing populations created more cities and more job opportunities allowed many Persians the luxury of making more money as the empire grew.
The bulk of the empire was still mostly farmers, however. One of the largest influences on the core empire was Zoroastrianism. This was advocated by both Cyrus and Darius, Darius used it in order to claim divine right to kingship. This new religion spread very quickly through high-ranking Persians (Bentley and Ziegler, 174). Zoroastrianism preached for people to enjoy this life but to live well for the afterlife (Stearns, Zoroastrianism: The Major Persian Religion, 43-45). This allowed people to have fun in this life and still be able to have eternal bliss; when people are having fun and happy they are less likely to challenge their rulers. Cyrus and Darius both tolerated ethnic and theological diversity. They did not try to force Persian culture on the conquered people. It seemed as though the Persians just wanted to have the right to tax and have control of the land and its riches. The Seleucids, Parthians, and Sasanids also advocated this policy. Although this policy worked quite well in allowing for fluid execution of ruling, when Xerxes came to rule he abolished it.
Furthermore he belligerently promoted the Persian way of life and tried to make his values the standard in conquered lands (Bentley and Ziegler, 164). In return for his valiant efforts, Xerxes sparked the end of the Persian Empire. With the new rulers intolerability towards others culture ways many people in the conquered empire began to revolt, one being the Greeks. Eventually the Greeks were united by Alexander the Great and took over the Persian Empire. Shortly after Greece gained independence from Persia the Seleucids, Parthians, and Sasanids became rulers. By this point in time the great Persian Empire was relatively weak and continued to decline as time went on. Islam also played a key role in the destruction of Persia as its popularity increased dramatically at the end. Nomadic Arab warriors invaded during the last weakened days of Persia and brought with them the influential religion of Islam.
When the last King was killed by Arab warriors it brought to an end the physical empire of Persia (Bentley and Ziegler, 168). Much like the beginning of Persia, the Romans came from simple beginnings. Early Romans were mostly small farmers and sheepherders that occupied much of the Italian peninsula. The Etruscans were the original rulers of the peninsula and ruled the vast majority of Romans. When the Romans dethroned the last of the Etruscan rulers the beginning of the Roman Empire was in full movement (Bentley and Ziegler, 262). While the Romans may have come from humble beginnings, once they took over they let everyone know what being Roman was all about. Once the city-state of Rome was formed it faced threats from disgruntled Etruscans as well as people in the surrounding areas along their borders. Rome became the empire it was because of the threats they faced upon which they went out and conquered all those that portrayed a threat to the way of Roman life (Bentley and Ziegler, 263).
When Hannibal attacked Rome the Roman armies attacked him and took over Carthage. This pattern of defensive expansion: defend, attack the attacker, Romanize, and build, became the regular for the Romans. Although the Romans did not fully instigate any of their battles, they most definitely responded to external threats, whenever they say one or thought that they saw one they would go after it and squish it like a bug. In return for this “everyone is coming for us” ideology the Romans expanded, but it would also play a role in the downfall later on. Similar to Persia, the Romans expansion caught on like a wild fire which eventually brought Rome to an immensely power and true force to be reckoned with. Like Persia, the Romans used war to expand their empire. They were successful using the same overall method but the reason it was so successful for them was because of their army.
Unlike most countries, the Romans had professional soldiers. What this meant was that instead of employing farmers and others who’s first job was of always working on a farm, soldiers were paid to be soldiers. They lived, ate and breathed military, in camps and everyday life; they would run drills, exercise and study. Being around each other and their weapons helped them become more familiarized with each of them which better prepared them for what they might experience in war (Stearns, The Roman Military and the Empire, 136). Metallurgy was another advantage to the Roman war machine as they were outfitted with iron weapons which could easily destroy any army with bronze weapons and leather armor. With the advantages in military technology and battle field tactics the Romans had the upper hand in almost any conflict which also allowed for great expansion.
The Roman government was originally a Republic with a senate making major decisions and not just one central king. There were two elected consuls who were the executive branch but they were not much different than the people who worked in the civilization (Stearns, Leadership in the Roman Republic, 129). This type of government worked well for Rome when they were smaller but as Rome grew and controlled more and more land it also became less and less republican morphing into more of an oligarchy.
With an ever expanding empire there were many strains on the different classes. When an attempt to lessen the strains was made by the Gracchi brothers they were murdered. While it was beginning to look bleak, it only got worse when Julius Caesar names himself King of the empire. From that point on Rome was run as a monarchy that was cloaked behind a Republic so that the people of Rome would not take notice to the devious diabolic works going on behind the scenes (Bentley and Ziegler, 267).
Dissimilar to the Persians, the Romans pressed their ideology of the Rome way upon all those who they conquered. They wanted to Romanize everyone. Conquered lands had to provide land to Roman citizens and soldiers. Like getting an immunization shot, by injecting Romans into conquered cultures they were more easily infused with Roman ideals. This was the way the Romans decided to try and suppress revolts, if everyone was the same they wouldn’t want to be different and a part of something else.
In Rome men had the majority of rights, including the right to vote while women had very little rights. Some conquered people were granted Roman citizenship in an attempt to quiet a revolt by allowing more lower class people the ability to vote on items. Roman law had very strict laws depicting how women could act when married and what would happen if they divorced their husbands (Stearns, Women and the Law in Rome: Legal Codes, 143). Just through some of the Romans legal codes it can easily be seen how they attempted to control much of one’s life and how much being Roman meant to some.
The impact of the empires expansion and growth was not what ultimately led to its demise but chipped away continuously until the end. The fall of Rome can also be attributed to economic depression, civil wars, disease, nomadic invaders, and the rise of Christianity. All of the wars left Rome in ruins and threw it into an economic depression. The war with Carthage alone destroyed the Roman farmer. The empire of Rome had gotten to a point where the outskirts of it were not fully under their control so were more subject to revolt and corruption. Also with the end of the Republic came downfall too; it was too difficult to run that much land without centralizing power and with one man at the wheel the vision at the end of the rainbow can become skewed.
This further allowed the poor to get poorer and the rich to get richer which sparked many civil wars throughout the rest of Rome’s rule (Bentley and Ziegler, 264 and 266). Vast trading and less than adequate sanitation and hygiene lead to the spread of many diseases which took an immense toll on the empires civilization. Invading vandals and Visigoths from the North continued to drain resources: men, money, and time (Stearns, The Fall of Rome, 146). Christianity led to civil unrest as the government attempted to subdue it and outspoken missionaries stirred the ever more unsettling population. Ultimately when everything was finally in full motion it pushed the Roman Empire over the edge of extinction.
Although the ways of expansion in ancient Rome and Persia were similar in their military expansion, the motives and methods led to different toleration of conquered people. In Persia they did not try to change anyone culturally but instead allowed them to live as they were under the Persian protective and governing body. Not until Xerxes attempted to press Persian culture did the empire begin to crumble due to civil unrest. On the other hand, when Rome conquered people they immediately tried to enforce Roman ways upon them.
Ultimately it is when rulers attempt to force people to become who they are not that led to revolts and made the empires weak from the inside out which allowed for more problems to exist and amplify leading to the fall of each one. These actions can be seen throughout history from the wars between Indians and British, to Americas Revolution, and what is currently happening in Iraq now. They history never repeats itself but it seems as though there is a similarity between much of it.
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