The Ancient World

Start Free Trial

Compare and contrast the Persian and Roman empires.

Quick answer:

Both the Persian and Roman empires covered vast areas and were governed regionally. The Persian empire was an absolute monarchy, while the Roman empire retained the institutions of a Republic, with the emperor theoretically governing through the senate. Both empires expressed their power through monumental architecture, but Roman culture also excelled in literature, particularly during the early empire.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Achaemenid empire of ancient Persia lasted for more than 200 years, and the Roman empire lasted much longer, particularly if one takes account of the Republic (an empire in all but name by the time Julius Caesar came to power) and the continuation of the Eastern empire after the...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

West had fallen. Any comparison between the two must therefore begin with the acknowledgement that both changed considerably over the years, and it is worth trying to pick roughly comparable periods, such as the Persia of Cyrus the Great and the Rome of Augustus.

The Persian empire was openly royal and despotic in a way that Rome was not, with a King of Kings as opposed to an "Imperator" who theoretically governed through the senate. Augustus claimed to have restored the Republic, and later emperors who adopted trappings of royalty were regarded as acting in bad taste. Both empires were so large that they had to be governed on a regional basis, with much authority concentrated in the hands of Persian satraps, and Roman governors and proconsuls.

Satraps and governors had considerable latitude in the administration of religious and social policy, but both empires went through a transition from polytheism to monotheism, with Persia adopting widespread Zoroastrianism by the fifth century BC, while Rome became Christian under Constantine. In cultural terms, the power of both empires was expressed in monumental and magnificent architectural projects, with Augustus's reconstruction of Rome being particularly noteworthy. However, the Roman empire inherited a much more sophisticated literary culture from the Republic, with the early empire in particular producing a golden age of poetry which has no parallel in Achaemenid Persia.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Persian Empire and the Roman Empire were two of the great empires of ancient antiquity, though it should be noted that the Roman Empire was far more long lasting (this is assuming we are strictly speaking about the Achaemenid Empire, the first and most famous of multiple Persian dynasties). Between the conquests of Cyrus (who died in 530 BCE) and the conquests of Alexander (died 323 BCE), you are only looking at a period of approximately two hundred years. Between the rise of Augustus Caesar and the sacking of Rome, you would be looking at a period of, at a minimum, over four hundred years, and you can stretch that timeline even further if you include the history of the Roman Republic. For example, if you began the timeline with the end of the Second Punic War, you would be adding almost another two hundred years.

Both civilizations were known as tremendous road builders, using road networks for the purposes of transportation and internal communications. That being said, it is also worth noting that the Romans also were able to use the Mediterranean Sea as a critical point of internal communications that tied the empire together. (The Persians could not take advantage of the Mediterranean to the same extent, given it was so far flung inland.)

In addition, religiously speaking, it is worth noting that both the Romans and the Persians at one point subscribed to monotheistic religions. While, for much of Roman history, Rome was a polytheistic culture, the empire was converted by Christianity, which eventually became the empire's state religion. Meanwhile, the Persian Empire was associated with Zoroastrianism.

On the other hand, Rome was actually much more geographically centralized as a political power. For much of its history, political power and influence was centered around a single dominant city, Rome, though power was later, during its decline years, bifurcated between Rome and Constantinople. The Persian Empire, on the other hand, actually had multiple capitals, with the Achaemenid court migrating between them. The Roman Empire had no equivalence to that particular power structure.

Approved by eNotes Editorial