World Empires: Han Dynasty and the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great

The reign of the Han Dynasty lasted for 400 years, and it is considered to be the golden age in the Chinese history. Alexander the Great had conquered most of the known world at that time. Both rulers succeeded in creating the largest empires of the ancient world. However, owing to its highly centralized state, Han Dynasty was more stable. The policy of ease and rest only supported the state regime. Despite the social division, citizens still participated in the political life of the country. Confucianism revived education. The opening of the Silk Road provided more opportunities for the development of the trade market. Numerous cultural achievements and rare military campaigns made the Han Empire thrive and prosper for a long time. The aim of this essay is to compare and contrast the Han Dynasty and the Greek empire of Alexander the Great in terms of political, legal, religious, commercial, social, and cultural impact on people.

Regarding the political impact, the Han Dynasty was greater and highly centralized. The emperor Lui Bang divided the country into administrative areas. Each part was ruled by an official; it made the governing more effective and easier. People could participate in the political life of their country. In contrast, Alexander’s empire was not a single state but rather a collection of city-states functioning as separate nations. Each state had its own government, law and customs, but with a common Greek language. Some of the states were democracies (Athens), whereas others were monarchies (Sparta). Consequently, Greek citizens participated only in the political life of their state.

The emperor of the Han Dynasty proclaimed that the enforcement of the law codes would no longer be severe. He called this period the period of rest and ease for people. Han philosophy of governance foresaw that the emperor and the government were responsible for people’s level of life and labor productivity. The main aim of the emperor was to take care of his citizens’ welfare. Meanwhile, Alexander the Great punished his citizens severely if they did not obey certain codes of rules. Similarly, taxation supported the government and military service in both empires. Chinese armies invaded parts of Northern Korea and Vietnam. However, to maintain peace, the Han court used a mutually beneficial system. Non-Chinese states remained autonomous if they symbolically accepted Han supremacy. Likewise, Alexander the Great inherited one of the greatest army in the world. The phalanx and the cavalry were trained together to coordinate their movements. The cavalry was divided into smaller units – platoons. However, Alexander forced non-Greek states to accept Greek language and culture. In both empires, the choice of its commanders was based on personal merit.

Religion of the two empires influenced the way the emperors governed the country. Greek worshiped twelve Olympic gods, whereas there were also local faiths (lesser gods and goddesses, demigods). Confucianism was the official religion of the Han Empire. Correspondingly, religion revived the learning and concealed the authoritarian policy of the regimes.

Concerning the commerce of the two empires, typical Greek and Chinese cities were the centers of the trade. However, the opening of the Silk Road was the main economic achievement of the Han Dynasty. This event encouraged diplomatic missions to various rulers in Central Asia. For instance, it opened new trade routes for merchants. China supplied silk to the Mediterranean in the West, to the Yellow Sea and the China Sea in the East, and to the ancint Roman Empire. Trade and economic prosperity led to constant cultural exchange.

The empire’s social impacts were revealed through social pyramids. In China, the emperor, governors, and kings were at the top. Nobles, scholars, and state officials rose to the topmost levels. Farmers and artisans were in the middle of the social pyramid. Although the agriculture was honored and respected, the peasants were overtaxed and very often became dependant on the rich. At the end of the social division were soldiers and slaves. On the contrary, soldiers in the Greek Empire possessed a special status.

The gap between the rich and the poor was remarkable in the Han Dynasty as well as in Alexander’s empire. The inheritance law was the major cause of this problem. Poor peasants could not pay their taxes and had to borrow money from the rich aristocratic landlords who did not pay taxes. Consequently, the rich became richer, whereas the poor grew poorer. However, in the Greek Empire, there was a difference between citizenship and the other two types of residences. Citizens had more opportunities and advantages, while foreigners and slaves did not have political rights. There was a difference between high-status and low-status occupations (Skelton and Dell 74).

Moreover, in both empires, there existed inequality between men and women. Women did not have the same political rights as men. They did not vote or attend political assemblies and even public events. They could not inherit or own property. Women were not engaged in business. Dressmakers, weavers, and midwives were typical and most common professions for women. They had more authority than children and slaves. Their main task was household work. Even wealthy women suffered from isolation. Unlike the Han emperors, Alexander introduced so-called “policy of fusion.” He encouraged marriages between Greeks and non-Greeks. The mass marriages aimed at uniting eastern and western subjects.

Cultural life flourished during the period of the Han Dynasty and the reign of Alexander the Great. Owing to one of the greatest inventions of the Han Dynasty – paper, books became cheaper to produce, which led to the development of education. Sima Qian, who is known as a Grand Historian, wrote The Records of the Grand Historian during that time. It is the epoch-making work, which covers a period of more than two thousand years. This detailed chronicle describes the time of the legendary Xia to the Emperor Wu. This work is valuable, because the author examined artifacts and official records. He spoke with real witnesses of the past events. Moreover, he indicated future historical sites (“Han dynasty”). Another historian Ban Biao began the History of the Former Han Dynasty. His son and daughter completed this piece of art. Chinese calligraphy was constantly developing at that time. The Han Dynasty was known by the first dictionary, which contained nine thousand characters with explanations. The Han Dynasty was famous for the first bibliography. Besides, arts also flourished, and a system of dances was introduced. Entertainment included musicians, jugglers, and acrobats. A new form of drama appeared. Actors were performing heroic deeds of celebrated warriors. Agricultural implements became more developed and more efficient. Plow, wheelbarrow, and waterwheel made it possible to carry heavier weights. Steel began to be produced from irons of different carbon contents.

In contrast, a blend of the cultures is a definite term for Alexander’s empire. He adopted Persian styles and customs. Besides, he combined Egyptiaan, Indian, Persian, and Greek cultures. This combined knowledge led to great discoveries in philosophy, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and technology. Mathematicians made great advances in the area of geometry. New methods of gathering and discoveries in astrology made people’s lives easier. Alexander shared the Greek philosophy; its culture was spread among non-Greek conquered communities. This period is called Hellenistic Age (Skelton and Dell 112). On the one hand, Hellenism describes the influence of Greece on the East and the rest of the world. On the other hand, the Greek community was influenced by Persians. Alexandria became the important learning center with a featured library of major collections. During the campaigns, Alexander with the group of scientists analyzed the information from botany, zoology, biology, meteorology, and topography about the areas which he conquered. Aristotle’s studies encouraged him to record the given information as scientifically as possible. Owing to high regard for knowledge, many documents were translated into Greek. Consequently, Greeks became more aware of the achievements of the other civilizations. Eastern knowledge was spread to the West.

In conclusion, the empire of the Han Dynasty was more stable than the Greek empire of Alexander the Great. Moreover, the Han Dynasty remained influential throughout the Chinese History. Even short interruptions of Wang Mang strengthened the empire. Today, the Chinese refer themselves to as Han people. The Han Dynasty managed to succeed owing to appropriate political system – the division of the state into administrative areas. The emperors governed the country according to Confucianism, lenient policy that disposed the people. Expansion of the trade, revival of learning and many cultural achievements strengthened the state. Rare military campaigns and care for their citizens played the leading role. Due to the sense of unity in political, social, and cultural aspects, the Han empire existed for a long time.

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Alexander the Great was the most successful military commander of the ancient history. He had conquered nearly all the Persian Empire. However, instead of governing his vast empire, he wanted to continue his military campaigns. Alexander was the favorite subject for painters and sculptors. He even had his personal historian, whose aim was to immortalize Alexander by writing about him. It seems as if Alexander wanted to become a hero, a descendant of Achilles. Alexander’s attention was focused on the army, not on the empire itself. He longed for more and more territories. Accountants, clerks, and administrators managed the military funds. Cooks and mess staff fed the army. Engineers, technicians, and mechanics created the equipment and the artillery that the army used. Merchants set little markets to supply the wealthy soldiers with goods. Even artists and athletes entertained the army. As a result, everyone worked on the welfare of the army. Alexander the Great was motivated by ambition and curiosity that would not be ever satisfied. He followed Aristotle’s philosophy, where he described the ideal philosopher king. He was eager to create a common world and universal brotherhood. He considered people as citizens of the world. Alexander made a cultural fusion, where the Greek culture took the leading role. These ideas were utopian, because every community with its own culture cannot ignore the national symbols, language as well as political and social structures. As a result, the Greek Empire lasted only for a short time after the death of Alexander the Great.

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