Wealth accumulation has long been a factor for the demise of many empires. Between the years of 600 BCE to 1500 CE, many civilizations rose and fell; the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Chinese all had their share of prosperity displayed in elaborate works of art and science. At the same time, religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Confucianism preached about a spiritual life unattached from material value. Heads of government were more concerned about the stability of their domain while religious leaders emphasized the need for charity and goodwill from the rich. Additionally, differences in the merchant class’ position in society also reflected a civilization’s value of wealth accumulation.
Many state leaders of the period were concerned with wealth accumulation as a device to undermine the economic stability of their empire, as shown by Documents 2 and 7. In the Mauryan Empire, Chanakya advocated regulations for commercial activity such as fixed prices and government management of merchant transactions in the Arthashastra (Doc 2). As an advisor to the emperor, Chanakya illustrates a state official’s concern with the lack of commercial regulation, which he believed would lead to economic and social instability within the government. The same thought is reflected approximately 1450 years later in the edict of Ganapatideva (Doc. 7), which decreed that royal officials would only tax shipwrecked goods instead of the whole cargo. Both documents show how the growth of interregional trade and trade of luxury goods were crucial to the harmony within an empire, hence rulers’ attempts to control wealth accumulation to avoid the disruption of that peace. A future example of efforts to restrict wealth accumulation in hopes of promoting stability would be tariffs and taxes set during Industrialization aimed at encouraging the purchase domestic goods over foreign competition in a time of imperialization.
Proselytizing religions often appealed to peoples of the period due to their worldly nature and oftentimes rejection of material goods, which is shown in Documents 4 and 5. An account of the life of Melania the Younger authored by Gerontius (Doc 4) shows how a Christian saint had donated their wealth to the church because of a realization that wealth came from the devil. Gerontius, a Christian monk, most likely used this story to urge fellow Christians to renounce their wealth and donating it to the church like Melania had done. Similarly, the Qur’an promised that if followers fulfilled the duty of charity, God would grant them wisdom and the action itself would atone for bad deeds. (Doc. 5).
The position of merchants in society also reflected the importance of material wealth in differing empires, as depicted by Documents 1, 3 and 6. In the Chronicle of Zuo (Doc 1), Zi Chan’s refusal to confiscate the jade ring conveys his wish to maintain a positive alliance with the state of Lu. The Warring States period had heightened competition...