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Comparing the Ancient Empires of Rome and China

The ancient civilization of Rome was far superior to ancient China in many ways, government and leadership being the two most important ways. Rome’s government was more detailed and left no room for error. It was well thought out and the structure was very defined all though out Roman history, while the Chinese government changed every time a new ruler came to power. Rome also produced better leaders like Caesar and Augustus. China’s government lacked the essential parts needed to make a great government and leaders; neither was as great as Rome’s.

The structure of the Roman government was far better than China’s government because the Chinese lacked many things the Roman government had. The Roman government was made up of the Senate, Emperor, the Consul and Proconsul, the assemblies, priests, and other Roman officials. The Senate was originally a board of elders who advised the king. Later it became comprised of ex-office holders and its decrees developed the force of law. Often it was understood that a measure had to be approved by the Senate before it could be voted on in the Assembly. The Emperor was like a president. A dictator was put in control over the state only for extreme emergencies. The dictator could only hold office for up to six months and while in charge he had absolute power. This allowed the ruler to deal with whatever emergencies were at hand without having to waste time and go through the government to get stuff done. The Consul, chief executive officer, could only (theoretically) hold office for one year, and couldn’t be consul for another 10 years.

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Eventually, proconsuls were created, men who were given some of the powers of a consul, especially for commands far from Rome, such as being governors of provinces. The assemblies were the gathering of people to vote on laws and such. The priests also played an important role in the Roman government. There was a Pontifex Maximus, and 9 other pontiffs which were like the high priest and other priests. The other Roman officials included Tribunes had the power to veto, Censor had the power to remove unworthy people from the senate, Questors financial people, and Aediles supervised public works. There were many more jobs and positions in the Roman government and they all contributed to the success of Rome.

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The Chinese government was not as detailed as the Roman government. “The Chinese started with the idea that all power should come from above, from the center, from a single supreme ruler.”(Pye 183) This ruler was called the emperor but was more like a dictator. “Democracy was out of the question in China as it was around 200 BCE in other civilizations.”(Frank) The Chinese never had a permanent senate but during some dynasties, there were courts, as the Court of Imperial Clansmen, that dealt with family, state and society matters. There were priests and such but they all answered to the emperor instead of answering to the people like in the Roman government.

Roman leadership was far more advanced than Chinese leadership in many ways. The Romans has leaders like Julius Caesar, Augustus (formally Octavian), and Justinian. Once these leaders found a system that worked for Rome they stayed with that system. While that Chinese change their form of government every time a new leader emerged. The leaders of Rome moulded, shaped and made Rome a very successful and prosperous state.

Julius Caesar was a great general for the army and a dictator from 61-44 B.C. He was a great military leader and won many battles. He is better known for his death. The Senate feared that he would disband them but didn’t want to do anything because the people loved him. A group of conspirators assassinated him in 44 B.C. His adopted relative Octavian, whose name is changed to Augustus, would become Rome’s first emperor.

Augustus, Rome’s first emperor from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D, uncanny political abilities and his meticulous attention to detail provided a stable government that brought peace and prosperity to the Roman Empire for the next two hundred years. He wrote the Deeds of the Divine Augustus when he was seventy-six. This essentially stated all the things he did in his life and showed how future emperors should lead. During his reign, many images of power were built. The temples of Mars, Jupiter Subduer and Thunderer, Apollo, divine Julius, the senate-house, the theatre of Marcellus, and many more things.

Justinian was the last great emperor of Rome. He was in power from 527 -565 A.D. He was known as a strong ruler and an excellent administrator. One of his most valuable contributions to modern society was his code of Roman law. He had the best legal scholars of the empire take all the Roman laws on the books from the time of Augustus and condense them into a uniform code of laws. Justinian taxed the people heavily to pay for his wars and for the construction of magnificent buildings in Constantinople, but his taxation was justified in the publics’ eyes.

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The Chinese leadership during this time was less organized. Each time a new leader came into power everything would completely change. It was not like the Roman governments which said pretty much the same. The Chinese government was influenced by Confucianism and Taoism. The Han Dynasty was probably the most successful of all the Chinese Dynasties, but not as successful as Rome.

Resulting from the chaos left over by the Qin Dynasty came to the Han Dynasty. It built on the strengths of the earlier dynasties and removed the faults. Taxes were reduced and economic recovery was widely promoted. Examinations were used to identify potential candidates for official posts and gifted scholars, while the teachings of Confucius were promoted and encouraged. At the height of its power at around 140-87 B.C. under Emperor Wu Ti, the Han Dynasty began to expand ferociously. However, the royal treasury was feeling the strain of these expansionist policies. The peasants and merchants were feeling the strain too.

Men, horses, armour, and supplies were needed for war and the royal treasury was draining. Taxes were raised as a result. The common people protested as the rapidly growing population aggravated the situation. This aggravated state caused a period of discontentment similar to that of the former dynasties. China would never really advance. China would have a prosperous time and then everything would eventually revert back to chaos.

Confucsism was the main part of Chinese leadership but the problem was that none of the leaders listened to Confucsis until after his death. Confucianism dealt with moral virtues and values such as piety and respect. The keynotes of Confucian ethics are love, goodness and humanity. One who possesses all these virtues becomes a chün-Tzu (a perfect gentleman). The Confucian golden rule was “do not do to others what you do not want to be done to yourself.” Politically, Confucius advocated a government in which the leader is benevolent and honourable where the subjects are respectful and obedient. The ruler should cultivate moral perfection in order to set a good example to the people. In education Confucius upheld the theory, unheard of in his time, that in education, there is no class distinction.

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Taoism played a role in Chinese leadership but it hurt China rather than helping. Taoism encouraged its followers not to stick to a strict system of society but instead to follow the “Tao” way. Taoism was also mixed with a bit of alchemy in the form of elixirs and pills. When opium was introduced to China people would get addicted and refused to work. This was just another factor that made China far from superior to Rome.

Rome’s government was far more detailed and thought out and their leadership was better trained. China had a few good leaders, but none were as great as Roman leaders, and the one person they should have followed from the beginning, Confucsis, they didn’t follow till after his death. The Chinese government left too much power in the emperor’s hands. This is why the government changed from emperor to emperor. The Roman government did the exact opposite it put more power in the people which enabled the government last longer. Over all Rome was a better empire.



Works Cited

Albert M. Craig ,William A. Graham ,Sonald Kagan ,Steven Ozment ,and Frank M. Turner, The Heritage of World Civilizations. Combined 5th ed. New Jersey:Prentice-Hall, 2000.

Cerf, Bennett A.,and Donald S. Klopfer. Plutarch: The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. New York: Random,1955.

Frank E Smitha, Antiquity: conflict attitude and changing religions, 1998, <>.

Hsieh, Pao Chao.The Government of China. New York: Octagon,1966.

Pye, Lucian W., and Mary W. Pye.Asian Power and Politics. Cambridge: Harvard UP,1985

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Comparing the Ancient Empires of Rome and China. (2021, Feb 18). Retrieved February 7, 2023, from