Explain the concepts of Pax Sinica and Pax Romana. How did Han and Roman Leaders promote long periods of peace and prosperity in eastern and western Afro-Eurasia, respectively?

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mrkirschner | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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A bad peace is even worse than war.-Tacitus

The Pax Sinica was a period of Chinese history between 221 B.C. and 200 A.D. with relative peace and economic prosperity. The period saw five different dynasties rule, with the Tang Dynasty being considered the golden age. The period saw the unification of China under one rule for the first time and brought an end to centuries of warring between the states. During the Pax Sinica, trade with the West was opened through the construction of the Silk Road, but ironically, China became culturally homogenous at the same time.

The Pax Romana was a period of Roman peace and prosperity that began with the rule of Augustus Caesar in 31 BC and ended with the death of Marcus Aurelius in 250 A.D. The period is marked by an end to expansionism and a growth in commerce and trade. The Pax Romana is a seen as a move away from Rome’s militaristic origins to a more keen interest in culture and the arts. The diffusion of Roman culture throughout Europe was an important factor in the period of Roman peace.

There were a number of factors that contributed to the periods of peace in Rome and China. The striking success of both empires relied on strong, authoritarian leadership through emperors that understood the destructive nature of warfare on the economies of combatants. An important method that emperors utilized was a successful policy of food control. In Europe and China, a bureaucratic system of food storage and distribution was perfected which ensured that citizens would always be fed. Having a healthy and happy populace gives leadership a certain amount of legitimacy that is not always present in times of warfare.

Early in the reign of Augustus Caesar he was faced with a population that did not understand peace. His challenge was to convince the patricians that ending the expansion of the borders would be more profitable than taking more lands. He achieved this through a campaign of propaganda that extolled the virtues of the pax. Caesar would celebrate peace with elaborate ceremonies and even had the word ‘pax’ stamped on coins. Monuments were built to celebrate peace and he even had an altar built to pray for continued harmony in the empire. Augustus named the altar after himself, which was another important item. By making himself appear divine, emperors could further substantiate their claims as the sole rulers of Rome. The emperors were portrayed as extensions of the gods during this period of Roman history.

The Chinese legitimized the authority of the emperor in much the same way. Through the Mandate of Heaven, the Chinese believed that their ruler was granted the ability to rule from the gods. The ruler had to provide for the people for this mandate to endure, which prevented the emperor from tyrannous acts. In this way, the emperors of China focused more on domestic improvement than expanding the empire. The idea that rulers were afforded complete authority made the governance of these empires very efficient and beneficial, assuming that the leaders were adequate leaders.

The regimes of China and Rome also promoted peace by improving the infrastructure of their states. The investment in infrastructure was meant to improve the lives of the citizens while connecting various parts of the empire. In this way, trade and culture were facilitated. The periods of peace for both kingdoms saw a unification of culture to even the most distant parts of the empire.

Both empires saw the expansion of their road networks within their borders as well as the beneficial, Silk Road, that connected East and West. The policy of extended communication and transportation networks was an important strategy. The expansion of roads allowed for domestic and international trade that brought great wealth to both empires. The wealth was reinvested in projects that improved and protected the kingdoms. Today tourists visit these investments and marvel at the achievement of these empires. The Romans built the aqueducts while the Chinese finished the Great Wall.

Speaking of the Great Wall, the transformation of both militaries to a defensive force was key to the success of both powers. China and Rome both transformed their armies from conquering forces to a military of defense. The focus becomes protecting the frontiers of your empire and keeping the peace along the major trade towns and routes that the empires had invested in. The leftover troops can be used for some of the domestic improvements mentioned earlier.

The move to a defensive military coincided in both empires with an emphasis on the ideals of law and order. The Romans wrote a system of laws known as the Twelve Tables as the basis of their judicial system, while the Chinese maintained law and order through the doctrines of legalism.

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