Interactions in the Late Classical Period Review for AP World History
Review questions for this study guide can be found at:
The Han dynasty of China began to decline around 100 C.E. Among the causes of its decline were:
- Heavy taxes levied on peasants.
- The decline of interest in Confucian intellectual goals.
- Poor harvests.
- Population decline from epidemic disease.
- Social unrest, particularly by students.
- A decline in morality.
- Weak emperors and the increased influence of army generals.
- Unequal land distribution.
- A decline in trade.
- Pressure from bordering nomadic tribes.
As political, economic, and social decay befell Han China, Daoism gained a new popularity. In 184, the Yellow Turbans, a Daoist revolutionary movement, promised a new age of prosperity and security which would be initiated by magic. Buddhism also spread as Chinese cultural unity was dissolving.
The decay of the Han Empire made it difficult for the Chinese to resist nomadic invaders living along their borders. These invaders, or Hsiung-nu, had for decades been raiding Han China, prompting the Chinese to pay them tribute to prevent further invasions. By 220, however, Han China's strength had deteriorated to the point that it could no longer repel a final thrust by the invading Hsiung-nu, who then poured into the empire. The fall of Han China was followed by centuries of disorder and political decentralization until Chinese rulers in the northern part of the country drove out the invaders. In 589, the Sui dynasty ascended to power and continued to establish order in China. In spite of significant threats to Chinese civilization, it did ultimately survive. Confucian tradition endured among the elite classes, and the nomads eventually assimilated into Chinese culture.
The golden age of Rome—the Pax Romana—came to a close with the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180. Historians have noted a number of causes of the decline and fall of Rome including:
- Ineffective later emperors concerned more with a life of pleasure than a desire to rule wisely.
- The influence of army generals.
- The decline of trade.
- Increasingly high taxes.
- A decreased money flow into the empire as conquests of new territory ceased.
- Population decline as a result of epidemic disease.
- Poor harvests.
- Unequal land distribution.
- Social and moral decay and lack of interest in the elite classes.
- Roman dependence on slave labor.
- The recruitment of non-Romans into the Roman army.
- The vastness of the empire, rendering it difficult to rule.
- Barbarian invasions.
Attempts to Save the Roman Empire
As the Roman Empire declined economically, small landowners were frequently forced to sell their land to the owners of large estates, or latifundia. The self-sufficiency of the latifundia lessened the need for a central authority such as the Roman emperor. Furthermore, the economic self-sufficiency of the estates discouraged trade among the various parts of the empire and neighboring peoples. The decline in trade eventually produced a decline in urban population.
Some emperors tried desperately to save the empire. Diocletian (ruled 284–305) imposed stricter control over the empire and declared himself a god. When the Christians refused to worship him, Diocletian heightened persecutions against them. The Emperor Constantine (ruled 312 to 337) established a second capital at Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople. Converting to Christianity, Constantine allowed the practice of the faith in Rome. Although the western portion of the empire steadily declined, the eastern portion, centered around Constantinople, continued to thrive and carry on a high volume of long-distance trade.
The last measure that weakened the western Roman Empire originated in the steppes of Central Asia. In the fifth century, the nomadic Huns began migrating south and west in search of better pasturelands. The movement of the Huns exerted pressure on Germanic tribes who already lived around the border of the Roman Empire. These tribes, in turn, overran the Roman borders. By 425, several Germanic kingdoms were set up within the empire; by 476, the last western Roman emperor was replaced by a Germanic ruler from the tribe of the Visigoths.
The eastern portion of the empire did not fall at the same time as the western empire. One reason for its endurance was that it saw less pressure from invaders. Located on the Bosporus, it was the hub of numerous trade routes and a center of art and architecture. Neighboring empires—most notably the Parthians and, after 227, the Sassanids—served as trade facilitators. Not only did they preserve the Greek culture, but they continued to bring Indian and Chinese goods and cultural trends to the eastern, or Byzantine, empire. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian (ruled 527 to 565) had attempted to capture portions of Rome's lost territory. Justinian's efforts were largely in vain, however, as the western empire increasingly fragmented into self-sufficient estates and tiny Germanic kingdoms. Trade and learning declined, and cities shrank in size. The centralized government of Rome was replaced by rule based on the tribal allegiances of the Germanic invaders.
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