All empires eventually fall, or at a minimum are radically altered into someone else’s idea of an empire. Two of history’s most fascinating empires, China’s Han dynasty in the east and the Roman Empire in the west, left lasting influences on the world that are still felt today. Why, then, were they “cancelled”?
Driving Question: Why did the Roman Empire and the Han dynasty fall?
- The falls of the Roman Empire and the Han dynasty give us some important evidence about the lifecycles of empires. There are several aspects of running any empire that can go wrong, including economic issues; overexpansion; internal political tension; and a loss of collective identity or sense of belonging to the empire. Three are also outside enemies that want to invade, plunder, and pillage. Comparing how each ended helps highlight bigger patterns that point to why empires fall.
Word of the Day: Barbarian
- Definition: A person in a culture believed by those in another culture to be savage, primitive, or uncivilized.
- Groups that invaded empires eventually came to be known as “barbarians.” Big empires thought of these people as uncultured and didn’t want anything to do with them. However, these so-called barbarians played a major role in their collapse. Today some people are still unfairly viewed as barbarians by dominant cultures, such as the Hmong people in Southeast Asia.
- Read: “Empires Fall” in Lesson 4.1 on Khan Academy
- Optional: Read “The Fall of the Han Dynasty” and “The Fall of Rome” in Lesson 4.1 on Khan Academy
- As you read, look for the explanations the article gives about why societies collapse.
Historian’s Journal Prompt
- How are we more prepared and globally interconnected than say the Roman Empire or Han China, and how will this preparedness help us in our fight against COVID?
- We don’t have many of the problems that ancient Rome or Han China were facing. Most countries today are relatively stable, their leaders are generally elected in some form or fashion by their citizens, and we can call on huge international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations and other groups for aid. We are also more interconnected with other countries, which helps us respond more quickly and help each other.