Comparative culture

Silk Road



The age of empires


The beginning of the Common Era was an age of empires. Four great empires – the Roman, Parthian/Persian, Kushan, and Han – spanned mid-latitude Eurasia and northern Africa. To their north, the nomadic empire of the Xiongnu was disintegrating under Han pressure, but that of the Huns had not yet arrived.

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The age of empires

Ancient peoples at either end of Eurasia had notions of “the world,” the Chinese tianxia, Roman orbis terrarum, and Greek oikumenē. The Chinese and Roman Empires each imagined itself covering the whole world. The Romans claimed imperium orbis terrae, domination over the earth, which they expressed by placing the globe under the foot or on the palm of the statues of Goddess Roma or emperors. The Chinese claimed yitong tianxia 一統天下, unity under heaven. As soon as Qin united China, it standardized laws, local government institutions, coinage, weight, measure, even the gauge of carriages, so that vehicles ran in the same ruts all across the empire.

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Left: The Goddess Roma. (Museum of Roman Civilization, Rome.) Below: porphyry relief of co-emperors Diocletian and Maximian embracing. (The Vatican, Rome).

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Bronze measure (Shaanxi Provincial History Museum) and weight, (Museum of the Terracotta Warriors of Qin Shihuangdi) inscribed with imperial edicts for the standardization of all measures and weights in united China.



Timeline of the Roman and early Chinese empires in historical context


The Mediterranean


中國  China

Destruction of the citadel of Mycenae

c. 1150



c. 1066 – 771

西周  West Zhou dynasty

Phoenician and Greek colonization

c. 775 – c. 650



771 – 256

東周  East Zhou dynasty



秦立國  State of Qin invested

Traditional date of the foundation of Rome




722 - 481

春秋  Spring and Autumn period

King Servius Tullius of Rome

c 579 – 543



c. 566 – 486

釋迦  Siddhartha (Buddha, in India)


551 - 479

孔丘 Confucius

Foundation of the Roman Republic



Wars between Persia and the Greeks

490 - 449



470 - 399



453 - 221

戰國 Warring-state period

Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta

431 - 404




商鞅變法 Qin started political reform

Latin League dissolved; Rome controlled central Italy



Alexander the Great

336 - 323


First Punic War between Rome and Carthage

264 - 241



221 – 206

秦朝  Qin dynasty, beginning of imperial China

Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage

218 - 202



206 -202

楚漢相爭 Civil war between Chu and Han


202 – 1 CE

西漢  Western Han dynasty



單于立  Maodun became Chanyu of Xiongnu

Rome sacked Corinth and Carthage

148 - 146




始營西域 China began westward expansion

Roman civil wars

49 - 27


Augustus as princeps

27 – 14 CE   



 c 2

佛學東漸 Buddhism entered China


1 – 30



1 - 22

新朝  Xin Dynasty


22 - 220

東漢  Eastern Han dynasty


220 – 280

三國  Civil wars: three kingdoms

Sassanians (Persians) overthrew Parthia



Military anarchy in Roman Empire

235 - 284



265 - 316

西晉  Western Jin dynasty



洛陽淪陷  Fall of Luoyang


316 - 589

東晉南北朝 China divided in North and South

Foundation of Constantinople



Sack of Rome by Alaric the Visigoth



End of the Western Roman Empire




571 - 632



589 - 618

隋朝  China reunited under Sui dynasty


618 - 907

唐朝  Tang dynasty

Muslim spread to Egypt, Syria, and Iran

633 - 655


Fall of Constantinople, end of the Byzantium Empire



The Mediterranean