Slide Show #8
Postimperial Worlds:
The Problems of Empires,
from 200 to 700 CE
Review Questions
WHY DID Teotihuacán rise and decline as an imperial state?
WHY DID the Roman Empire collapse in the west but survive in
the east?
WHY WAS China better adapted for long-term survival than
Rome and India?
WHAT WERE the bases for Ethiopia’s prosperity?
WHY WERE the Arabs able to conquer such a vast empire so
HOW DID the Muslims treat conquered peoples?
HOW DID states in Korea, Tibet, and Japan develop?
Causes of Expansion 200-400 CE
 Population pressure, need for food
 Needs of elites: ritual objects, weapons, etc.
 Lack of exports to pay for goods
Methods of Expansion
 Trade and conquest (or at least dominance)
 Spread of artistic imagery into the Maya world
Decline and Final Collapse 400-750 CE
 Signs of internal divisions: larger residential compounds
 New building ceases
 Fire wrecks city (ca. 750 CE), many people flee city
Detail of Mayan Vase
Color scheme of red on a gold background is characteristic of ceramics from Tikal, while bird-like
symbols with forked, blood-sucking tongues on the bottom row are similar to glyphs from Teohituacán.
The Maya and Teotihuacán
The Maya city of Tikal rises over the forest of the Petén in Yucatan. Gaudily painted in their day, the
pyramids warned off enemies, invited trade, celebrated kings. The small stones lining the plaza bear
images and records of the deeds of rulers. The great temple in the middle ground was built as a tomb for
King Jasaw Chan K’awiil (682–734), who restored the city’s fortunes, after a period of defeat.
Roman Decline & Collapse
Causes of Decline: 200-500 CE
 Sprawling size, long vulnerable land frontier
 Unruly military: ambitious, restless, prone to revolt
 Hostile relations with Persia & Parthian empire in East
 Christianity -- subversive to elites?
 Germanic peoples threaten Western frontier
 Migrants enter the empire--pushed by war, hunger, plague, cold
 From the Chinese border to Europe: Huns, Xiongnu
 Nomadic by custom or circumstances?
 Visigoth victories, sacking of Rome, 410
Emperor Constantine moves capital to Asia Minor, 323 CE
 Problems defending the Western Empire: commerce suffers
 Regional priorities--German kingdoms arise in imperial territories
 Collapse of Roman political control
 Roman language, culture, symbols used by barbarian leaders
The Western Roman Empire
Emperor Marcus Aurelius
The philosopher at war. The
Meditations of the Emperor Marcus
Aurelius (r. 161–180) were written in
military camps while he was
campaigning against the barbarians
on the empire’s northern frontiers.
His statue atop the Capitol at Rome
has always symbolized dynamism
and power.
Roman Mercenary
The late Roman Empire increasingly relied on immigrant mercenaries for its defense. The Vandal Stilicho
(right) was one of the best, defending “all within the sun’s fiery orbit” in trust for the emperors of Rome. He
married an emperor’s niece and maneuvered to make his son, Eucherius, also shown here, emperor. His
daughter married an emperor. But, falsely accused of treachery, he loyally gave himself up for execution in
408 C.E.
“A Parthian shot” from the tactics Parthian-mounted archers used in defending their homeland in what is
now Iran and Iraq against the Romans. Retreating, or pretending to retreat, they turned in their saddles to
shoot at their pursuers. Steppelander armies copied or developed this technique on their own. This 2,000year-old Chinese design shows a Turkic warrior wielding a double-curve bow, constructed to be compact
but with high tensile strength for use on horseback.
Huge rock carvings were traditional media of propaganda for Persian kings. None celebrates a more
spectacular victory than that of Shapur I (r. 241–272) at the battle of Edessa in 260 C.E., when he took the
Roman Emperor Valerian captive. The sculptor captured Valerian by showing him bending the knee in
submission, while his cloak billows in the wind. The realism of the art enhances its symbolic significance,
suggested by Shapur’s huge crown, bulging physique, and imperious gestures.
Rome’s Legacy
Roman culture blends with Germanic culture and Christianity
 Roman cultural values became a basis of a new European culture
 Roman influences spread around the globe with European empires
Various Western European leaders try to reconstitute Rome:
 Charlemagne, Otto I, Napoleon, Hitler
 Current attempt to create a European Union is more peaceful
Post-Roman Europe/Mediterranean Region
Imperial China, Strengths & Weaknesses
uncertain succession of leadership
feuding imperial factions/ reliance on eunuchs
warlords divide northern China
Collapse of Han Dynasty, 220 CE
roughly circular empire eases military movements
Chinese culture emulated by barbarians
strong internal economy
Chinese influence on neighboring states: Silla, Koguryo, Paekche,
Japan, Tibet, Funan, Indochina
Recovery of imperial China under Sui amd Tang dynasties
Emperor Tang Taizong streamlines administration, expands rule
Introduction, spread of Buddhist ideas
Empress Wu maneuvers way to throne (690), reigns effectively
Threats to China and India
Gupta India: Problems and Potential
Candra Gupta restores unity 320 CE
Huns from Asia infiltrate India, 415 CE
 Aided by Indian cultural pessimism (Kaliyouga idea)
 Kalidasa’s plays focus on morally corrupt state
 Caste system promotes inequality/social divisions
 Decline of empire--move to a multitude of small states
On the Frontiers of Empires
Ethiopia: Western border of Indian Ocean trade networks 340-530
 Good ports on the sea, defensible highlands inland
 Capital city: Axum, funneled trade goods from Africa
 Ivory, obsidian, rhino horn, wild animals
 Imported trade goods from China, Greece
 Greek & native languages: cosmopolitan community
 Main economic strength: agriculture: wheat, wine, coffee
 Highly refined ivory, metalwork, stone buildings
Byzantium: former eastern frontier of Roman Empire
 Constantinople- capital: key strategic point between Europe & Asia
 Justinan develops new law code, tries to reunifiy Roman empire
Ethiopian monuments
Stela of Axum. Until the rulers of
Ethiopia adopted Christianity in the
mid–fourth century, they invested
huge amounts of capital and labor to
create gigantic stelae—still the
biggest structures made of single
blocks of stone anywhere in the
world. The largest examples—which
reach well over 100 feet high—stood
on ground long used for burials and
probably marked important tombs.
They have the skyscraper-like form
of towering buildings. This art form
climaxed in the early fourth century,
just before Ethiopian priorities
switched to church building, and the
last stelae were left to topple or
perhaps were never even hoisted
into position.
New Forms of Empire
Arabia: early Islam and new form of empire ca 600-700 CE
From tribal warfare to unification under monotheistic Islam
Charismatic leadership replaces kinship ties
 Role of the Quran as source of teaching---divine revelation
How the Arabs took advantage of Persian/Rome conflicts
Dar al-Islam (House of Islam)--the Muslim world: 700-900 CE
 widespread equality of opportunity for all classes
 Freedom of religious worship, with payment of extra taxes
 Gradual division of leadership as empire expands to Africa
 Use of Sharia (Muslim law) to adjudicate and rule
 The Caliph as secular & religious authority
 Division of Muslims into Shia and Sunni sects
Hagia Sophia: Christian Church to Islamic Mosque
The minarets of the mosque of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul conceal the building’s origins as the greatest
Christian church of its day, built at the command of the Emperor Justinian to defy time and display the
largest dome in the world at the time. The dome collapsed some 20 years after its completion. So the
emperor had it rebuilt on an even more ambitious scale. Daring perforations around the base of the dome—
over 100 feet wide and nearly 200 feet high—bathed the sanctuary in light
The Quran
The earliest known Arabic texts, from the fourth century C.E. onward, are inscribed in stone. Yet
the earliest versions of the Quran, which date from the eighth century are in a rounded script
designed to be written with a brush. This form of written Arabic is known as Kufic—from the town
of Kufa in Iraq, where it supposedly originated.
Dar al-Islam: “the house of Islam”
In the Shadow of China
Japan: 600-800s
Tibet: from nomadic pastoralists to agriculture
Uses China as a model for architecture, written language
Battle for control of Japan by Chinese, Korean, Japanese elites
State rule: Confucianism, but emperor is a divine human
Religion: Buddhism mixed with Shinto
Fujiwara family establishes control around 850
Barley as staple crop, combined with yak husbandry
Growth of military strength--horse warriors
Reign of Songsten Gampo 627-650, begins era of expansion to Nepal,
Central Asia, western China
Korea: Development of Koguryo state ca. 300-700
 Silla, Paekche states in the south also expands
 Prosperity based on agricultural development, iron
 “sacred bone” (royal family rank) vs. “true bone” (elite family rank)
 Unification of Korean peninsula after 653
Tibetan Capital, Lhasa
The Potala Palace, towering above the valley of Lhasa, stands on the site of the palace of the kings of Tibet
in the seventh and eighth centuries. The present construction dates from the mid 1600s.
Korean crown. Before Buddhism
became rooted there in the sixth
century C.E., Korean rulers were
buried with fabulous treasures. This
crown, with antler-like ornaments, is
from one of the many royal burial
mounds of the kingdom of Silla. It
shows the influence of Chinese and
Central Asian goldsmiths’ work.
Rather than the fall or collapse of empires,
these are transformations into new entities with
many cultural values that continue on. In the
cases of Japan, China, and Rome these are
continuities to our own time.