Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires

Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires

Paperback Oxford Studies in Early Empires

By (author) Walter Scheidel

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  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
  • Format: Paperback | 256 pages
  • Dimensions: 155mm x 231mm x 18mm | 363g
  • Publication date: 10 March 2011
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0199758352
  • ISBN 13: 9780199758357
  • Sales rank: 442,353

Product description

Transcending ethnic, linguistic, and religious boundaries, early empires shaped thousands of years of world history. Yet despite the global prominence of empire, individual cases are often studied in isolation. This series seeks to change the terms of the debate by promoting cross-cultural, comparative, and transdisciplinary perspectives on imperial state formation prior to the European colonial expansion. Two thousand years ago, up to one-half of the human species was contained within two political systems, the Roman empire in western Eurasia (centered on the Mediterranean Sea) and the Han empire in eastern Eurasia (centered on the great North China Plain). Both empires were broadly comparable in terms of size and population, and even largely coextensive in chronological terms (221 BCE to 220 CE for the Qin/Han empire, c. 200 BCE to 395 CE for the unified Roman empire). At the most basic level of resolution, the circumstances of their creation are not very different. In the East, the Shang and Western Zhou periods created a shared cultural framework for the Warring States, with the gradual consolidation of numerous small polities into a handful of large kingdoms which were finally united by the westernmost marcher state of Qin. In the Mediterranean, we can observe comparable political fragmentation and gradual expansion of a unifying civilization, Greek in this case, followed by the gradual formation of a handful of major warring states (the Hellenistic kingdoms in the east, Rome-Italy, Syracuse and Carthage in the west), and likewise eventual unification by the westernmost marcher state, the Roman-led Italian confederation. Subsequent destabilization occurred again in strikingly similar ways: both empires came to be divided into two halves, one that contained the original core but was more exposed to the main barbarian periphery (the west in the Roman case, the north in China), and a traditionalist half in the east (Rome) and south (China). These processes of initial convergence and subsequent divergence in Eurasian state formation have never been the object of systematic comparative analysis. This volume, which brings together experts in the history of the ancient Mediterranean and early China, makes a first step in this direction, by presenting a series of comparative case studies on clearly defined aspects of state formation in early eastern and western Eurasia, focusing on the process of initial developmental convergence. It includes a general introduction that makes the case for a comparative approach; a broad sketch of the character of state formation in western and eastern Eurasia during the final millennium of antiquity; and six thematically connected case studies of particularly salient aspects of this process.

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Author information

Walter Scheidel is Professor of Classics and, by courtesy, History at Stanford University.

Review quote

an admirable demonstration of the great potential that lies in comparative analysis of the Greco-Roman world and Ancient China. Hyun Jin Kim, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Table of contents

CONTRIBUTORS ; CHRONOLOGY ; INTRODUCTION ; 1. From the "Great Convergence" to the "First Great Divergence" ; 2. War, State Formation, and the Evolution of Military Institutions in Ancient China and Rome ; 3. Law and Punishment in the Formation of Empire ; 4. Eunuchs, Women, and Imperial Courts ; 5. Commanding and Consuming the World ; 6. Gift Circulation and Charity in the Han and Roman Empires ; 7. The Monetary Systems of the Han and Roman Empires ; BIBLIOGRAPHY ; INDEX