Comparing Ancient Rome and Han China
Ancient Rome and Han China were both empires that impacted the entire world during
their reign and after. Everything that went on in these empires, from the government to the arts,
strongly affects Western civilization to this day. Each empire has many unique things to show,
but the empires were also very similar– they were both able to create unique government
systems, economic systems, art, and more. These accomplishments prove why these two empires
stand out from other ancient civilizations in many ways.
Politically, Ancient Rome and Han China were pretty different. Although both had
Emperors that were mainly in power, Rome scattered political power throughout the higher class,
while the Chinese had dynasties. In Rome, the real center of power was the Senate. The Senate
made decisions as a group, and had the power to elect other political officials. They did not
always use their power completely fairly, though, and they would exercise their power in corrupt
ways. For example, officials in the Senate would nominate their sons for public offices. Han
China was similar in this specific way– their dynasties were basically a way to pass power down
through the generations of a specific family. Another political similarity between the two
empires was that religion and politics were hand in hand. Romans were polytheists, and their
beliefs influenced their laws. In the same way, the Han emperors had mainly Legalist views, and
so those beliefs impacted their decisions.
The economies of Rome and Han China depended on similar markets, but they are
actually very different when looked at closely. The economies of both empires were strongly
dependent on agriculture and trade. The Romans built many complex trade routes, and the
Chinese were located right along a huge trade center that they built up– the Silk Road. Both
empires also had many farms, and made a majority of their money from agriculture that was sold
to trading merchants. A difference between the two economies was how the workers were
viewed. The Romans treated their merchant class with lots of respect, and Roman merchants
were actually part of an elite class, called the Equites. On the other hand, Chinese merchants
were thought to be a part of the lower class, and were not respected in most of the same ways as
the Romans. Because the economic situation of Han China was not as stable as Rome’s, the
Chinese merchants were more often blamed for the state of the Chinese economy because of
their big role in it. Overall, both economies relied on very similar things. The big difference had
to do with how the people at the center of the economy were treated.
In both empires, there was a stigma around having classes within the family. Each empire
had classes outside of all familial relations, which were very different from each other, but
family was very important to both civilizations. The oldest man in each household was treated
with utmost respect, and women were expected to cook, clean, and take care of the children.
They had to listen to the men and do anything they were told to. In both societies, women were
deprived of the basic rights that males automatically had. Outside of families, classes varied
between the two civilizations. The one similarity was that both empires used slaves as a huge
part of their economy, and slaves made up the lowest class. Other than that, Rome used the class
system as a way to benefit everyone. Their patron/client system helped interlace classes so that
their empire wasn’t separated in the same way as Han China’s. Han China’s class system was
much more separated. They had one emperor, who was mostly in charge, and the royal line got
passed down from family member to family member. The class systems weren’t woven together
in the way that Rome’s were, and in all of these ways, the civilizations had very different social
Ancient Rome and Han China were very different when it came to cultural,
technological, and artistic achievements. Both civilizations told stories through their art, but they
used very different mediums and techniques. Romans were very focused on fine visual art, like
sculpture, pottery, and glass making. The Chinese expressed themselves through literary art.
There are many writings that depict what went on in Han China, but also works that are fictional
and religious. Technologically, the Romans were very focused on architecture. The Chinese,
conversely, were very focused on philosophical and astronomical studies.
Overall, the Han Chinese and Ancient Romans shared similarities– most centered around
family, politics, and somewhat around the economy. They also had many differences, including
different systems of power and contrasting artistic choices. Both Ancient Rome and Han China
had large impacts on the world back then, and their decisions and ways of living life still
influence our society as a whole to this day.