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An Empire Across Three Continents : World History NCERT Notes For UPSC

Jan 24, 2023

Empire Across Three Continents

Two powerful empires ruled over most of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The two empires were those of Rome and Iran. Rome dominated the Mediterranean and all the regions around that sea in both directions, north and south. 

Dive deep into this blog to understand more about the Rome and Iran empires and elevate your UPSC CSE exam preparation

The Early Empire

  • The Roman Empire can broadly be divided into two phases, ‘early’ and ‘late’, divided by the third century as a sort of historical watershed between them.
  • The Roman Empire was a mosaic of territories and cultures that were chiefly bound together by a common system of government.
  • Many languages were spoken in the empire, but for the purposes of administration Latin and Greek were the most widely used.
  • The regime established by Augustus, the first emperor, in 27 BCE was called the ‘Principate’
  • Augustus was the sole ruler and the only real source of authority.
  • He was called the ‘leading citizen’ to pacify the Senate, the body which had controlled Rome when it was a republic.
  • Next to the emperor and the Senate, the other key institution was the Army.
  • Romans had a paid professional army where soldiers had to put in a minimum of 25 years of service. 
  • The army was the largest single organised body in the empire.
  • The Senate hated and feared the army, because it was a source of unpredictable violence.
  • At its peak in the second century, the Roman Empire stretched from Scotland to the borders of Armenia, and from the Sahara to the Euphrates

The Third-Century Crisis

  • From the 230s, the empire found itself fighting on several fronts simultaneously.
  • In Iran, a new and more aggressive dynasty, the ‘Sasanians’, rapidly expanded. 
  • In a famous rock inscription cut in three languages, Shapur I, the Iranian ruler, claimed he had annihilated a Roman army and even captured the eastern capital of Antioch.
  • A whole series of Germanic tribes or tribal confederacies forced the Romans to abandon much of the territory beyond the Danube.

Gender, Literacy, Culture

  • Gender: By the late Republic (the first century BCE), the typical form of marriage was one where the wife did not transfer to her husband’s authority but retained full rights in the property of her natal family.
  • Roman women enjoyed considerable legal rights in owning and managing property.
  • Literacy: Rates of casual literacy varied greatly between different parts of the empire.
  • Literacy was more widespread among certain categories such as soldiers, army officers and estate managers in Egypt.
  • In Pompeii, there is strong evidence of widespread casual literacy. Walls on the main streets of Pompeii often carried advertisements and graffitiing.
  • Cultural Diversity: It was reflected in many ways and at many levels: 
  • In the vast diversity of religious cults and local deities.
  • The plurality of languages that were spoken. 
  • The styles of dress and costume, the food people ate, their forms of social organisation (tribal/non-tribal), even their patterns of settlement. 

Economic Expansion

  • The empire had a substantial economic infrastructure of harbours, mines, quarries, brickyards, olive oil factories, etc.
  • Liquids like wine and olive oil were transported in containers called ‘Amphorae’.
  • Spanish olive oil was a vast commercial enterprise that reached its peak in the years 140-160, mainly carried in a container called Dressel 20.
  • The empire included many regions that had a reputation for exceptional fertility
  • Campania in Italy, Sicily, the Fayum in Egypt, Galilee, Byzacium (Tunisia), southern Gaul (called Gallia Narbonensis), and Baetica (southern Spain) were among the most densely settled or wealthiest parts of the empire.

Controlling Workers

  • Slavery was an institution deeply rooted in the ancient world. The upper class was often brutal towards slaves, whereas ordinary people showed compassion.
  • Unlike hired workers, slaves had to be fed and maintained throughout the year, which increased the cost of holding this kind of labour.
  • The Roman agricultural writers paid a great deal of attention to the management of labour and to make supervision of labours easier, workers were sometimes grouped into gangs or smaller teams. 
  • A law of 398 referred to workers being branded so they could be recognised if and when they run away and try to hide.
  • Parents sometimes sold their children into servitude for periods of 25 years.

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Social Hierarchies

  • The leading social groups of the early empire as follows:
  • Senators;  
  • leading members of the equestrian class
  • the respectable section of the people, those attached to the great houses
  • the unkempt lower class (plebs sordida), addicted to the circus and theatrical displays; and 
  • the slaves.
  • By the late empire, early part of the fourth century, the first two groups had merged into a unified and expanded aristocracy
  • Roman aristocracy was enormously wealthy but, in many ways, less powerful than the purely military elites.
  • The ‘middle’ class consisted of persons connected with imperial service in the bureaucracy and army and also the more prosperous merchants and farmers.
  • The lower classes known collectively as Humiliores, comprised a rural labour force of which many were employed on the large estates, workers in industrial and mining establishments and migrant workers. 
  • Thousands of slaves were found all over the western empire. 
  • The late Roman bureaucracy, both the higher and middle echelons, was an affluent group because it drew the bulk of its salary in gold.

Late Antiquity

  • Constantine’s chief innovations were in the monetary sphere, where he introduced a new denomination, the solidus, a coin of 4½ gm of pure gold that outlasted the Roman Empire.
  • Solidi were minted on a very large scale and their circulation ran into millions.
  • Records show considerable investment in rural establishments, including industrial installations like oil presses, glass factories, screw presses and multiple water-mills.

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