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The Decline of Empires
Han, Gupta, Rome
The Big Picture
• There was no one reason for the decline of
any of the Period 2 empires.
– Not just barbarians!
• There was a combination of factors.
Decline of Han c. 100 – 220 CE
• Confucianism less influential
• Central government’s control decreased
– Weak emperors
– Corrupt bureaucrats
• Local landlords (elites) gained power
– Decadent living at expense of commoners
– Hurt peasants (taxed more heavily)
• Led to Civil unrest (Yellow Turbins)
– Daoist leaders rebelled against corrupt bureaucrats promising golden
age brought by divine magic. Failed, but weakened the Han.
• Plague
– 2nd century C.E. = Likely killed about half the population in the empire.
• Nomadic invaders.
– Xiongnu most prominent.
A word about nomads
• Great horsemen
– Huge military advantage
• Influential in spreading:
– Ideas
– Technology
– Disease
• And yes, they did do some invading.
Consequences of Han decline
• Three Kingdoms Period
– 400 years of chaos (like warring states period)
• Confucianism continues
– Tradition strongly established in Han.
• Daoism increases influence.
• Buddhism spreads to China along Silk Road.
• New faiths popular during unstable times.
– Religious syncretism.
• Later dynasties revived strong bureaucracy and
Decline of Gupta (India) c. 5th century
to 600 C.E.
• India always more local/region (except for
– Gupta never strong central authority.
• Hun invaders overthrew Gupta
Consequences of Gupta decline
• Regionalism continued
• Hun invaders become Hindu, incorporated
into warrior caste.
– Hun leaders ruled regional territories
• Culture/religion (Hinduism) remained intact.
Decline of Rome 180 – 476 C.E.
• In-fighting over who will be emperor
– No succession laws
– Army involved
– 22 emperors between 235-284, almost all murdered violently
• Decadence of Roman emperors and elites
– Their pleasure more important than common good.
• Birthrates declined in favor of pleasure-seeking.
• Plague (after 180 C.E.)
– Population in Rome went from 1 million to 250,000.
– Few soldiers (for defense)
• Actually tried using Germanic soldiers in Roman armies.
– Economy destroyed
• Huge empire overextended. A weakened Roman Empire cannot defend
• Invasions by Germanic tribes (nomads)
Consequences of Rome decline
• Introduction of new religion, Christianity, for
majority (unlike Gupta or Hun collapse).
• Empire divided, east and west (happened
before collapse).
Western Collapse
• Western Roman Empire completely collapsed
– Medieval Europe
• Feudalism
– Complete decline in centralized government.
– Christian church became Western Europe identity
• Increased power and influence
• Papal authority
• Catholicism
Eastern Roman Empire lives on
• East
– Became Byzantine Empire
– Much less decline
– Christianity was religious identity
• Eastern Orthodox
– Other Roman traditions continue
• Centralized bureaucracy
• Laws (Justinian’s Code)