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Comparative Classroom Approaches to the Classical Past

Saundra Schwartz



    The preference given by both students and scholars to the modern over the pre-modern world has led to a serious neglect of the Ancient and Classical past in the world history curriculum. Those colleges that offer a core curriculum course in world history usually require only one of a two- semester world history sequence and most majors require students take only the second or modern half of the year long course. Advanced Placement courses must compress coverage of the pre-modern world into increasingly fewer classroom hours. This is the first of a series of articles and resource reviews that will explore the causes of this imbalance and solutions designed to ameliorate its effects.

    The series begins with a selection of "Teaching Gems" developed by instructors of Advanced Placement courses in world history. Many of their classroom strategies have applications that may serve even younger students, who can easily grasp their collective focus on comparing chronologically and geographically distant civilizations in world history.

    The first of this group, by Carol Buchanan of Lake Highlands High School in Texas, addresses many issues, but especially the key issue of dynastic decline. Although the Roman documents provided are not a rich as the Han, this lesson plan gives a good illustration of a systematic, skill-building approach of comparing civilizations. The second plan is by Marcia Hudzik, of A.C. Reynolds High School in Asheville North Carolina. It uses a "newspaper" approach to the Romans and Han to serve the same comparative ends. A helpful list of websites enriches a list of text-based resources.

    An even broader comparative approach using a newspaper format is offered by Holly Wright of Graham Kapowsin High School in Graham, Washington, who asks students in groups of five to review a local newspaper for subjects and categories and they taken on the role of "traveling journalists responsible for reporting back to class their findings on the political institutions, religious practices, cultural advancements, social institutions, and growing trade systems in seven distinct areas: China, India, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Western Europe, and the Middle East" with a view to creating a newspaper "that details what they are experiencing in these regions during the end of the Classical Era."

    Perhaps the broadest and certainly most universal "era" comparative lesson plan is the final one offered here. It has been developed and used frequently by Rodney K. Floyd of Alpharetta High School in Alpharetta, Georgia, who seeks "to have students acquire an in depth comparison of the contributions of early civilizations to the rest of the world through research, analysis and evaluation." This goal is supported by maps, a useful rubric and a strong assessment model built around a cooperative exercise. While it has an "ancient" rather than classical civilization focus, it can easily be converted into a "classical" model with a few key strokes applied to the Group headings in the first chart.

    In future, this space will be used to share scholarship and develop new resources to enrich the study and teaching about pre-modern cultures and civilizations. If you wish to join in this effort, contact me at


Lesson Plan/Exercises Set 1: Comparing the Early Han Empires of Rome and Han

Carol Buchanan

Course: Advanced Placement World History

"The course highlights the nature of changes in international frameworks and their causes and consequences, as well as comparisons among major societies."   Its curriculum is shaped by The College Board's Course Description: World History, May, 2002-May 2003, c. 2001, (cited as CD:WH below). AP World History fulfills the one-year World History requirement for a high school diploma in Texas.

Level: 10th grade

Unit: Classical Rome and Han China: Comparing Civilizations

A.   Focus: Empires in the Classical Era: an introduction to types of political systems in major early civilizations, their development and decline.
See "Themes" in AP World History, "changes in functions and structures of states and political identities," "the relationship of change and continuity across …history," and the impact of interaction among major societies (trade),"(CD:WH, 6)

B.    Establish the geographic context and visualize the interconnections between the Rome and Han Empires using maps.

C.    Use readings as the basis for tracing the rise and golden age of Rome and Han China. Develop categories that facilitate comparisons, both similarities and differences

D. Apply the categories developed when analyzing the rise of empires to examining comparative analysis of decline: "the collapse of empires" and "how and why the collapse of empire was more severe in western Europe than it was in …China."
(see CD: WH, 10, 12). Create a pre-write or outline draft.

E. Skills: Developing the "ability to compare within and among societies"
CD:WH, 8)
Students will be introduced to and write a comparative essay using the rubric "Generic Core Scoring Guide for AP World History: Comparative Essay, (CD:WH, 47).


A. Eurasia Map (81/2 " x 11") with the following: capital cities,
boundaries of empire; the silk route connecting the two.

B. Notes based on analysis of documents in class discussion

C. An essay comparing the decline of Rome with that of Han China


Bulliet, Richard W. et al. The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Ebrey, Patricia B., ed. Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook. 2nd ed. New York: The Free Press, c. 1993.

Fairbank, John K., Reischauer, Edwin O. and Albert M. Craig. East Asia. Rev. ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., c. 1989.

Murphy, Rhoads. East Asia: A New History. 2nd ed. New York: Longman, c. 2001.

Wiesner, Merry E. et al. Discovering the Global Past. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.c. 1997. pp. 125-139.

Past Worlds: The Times Atlas of Archaeology. Maplewood, New Jersey: Hammond Inc. c. 1988.

Spodek, Howard. The World's History. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall,             c. 2001. pp. 120-124; 195-230;158-194

Stearns, Peter N. et al. World Civilizations: The Global Experience. AP edition. 3rd ed. New York: Longman, c. 2003. pp. 72-84; 93-106.

Each "Lesson" represents a 50-minute class.


Lesson #1 Introducing the unit: The Rise of Empires – Context and Characteristics

1.     Begin the Unit: In class, review the definition and characteristics of the term "civilization." Students discuss, contribute to the list, and take notes. See the summary for teacher reference as a guide to class discussion, which are based on previous readings and units of study.

2.     Class Discussion: use the (at home) readings in the text to create a list of characteristics of empires – the BIG picture.

Teachers may use the list "Some Defining Characteristics of Ancient Empires – the Global Stage" (included here) as a point of departure or guide for discussion. Student activity: contribute to discussion and take notes.

3.     Homework Activity: Use the Eurasia Map to mark the borders of the Roman Empire at its peak; the Han empire at its peak, and the silk trade route that connected the two. Include capital cities and key points on the route. See Handout Instruction sheet and maps to be used as reference by the students to create their own map. (CD:WH, 10 : basic features of World Geography: "location of key political units prior to 1000: the Roman Empire…the Chinese empire")

Lesson #2 – Concepts of Empire: The Roman Empire

1. Read documents #1 and #2 and identify the ideas about ruling and empire in the primary source materials. Students must begin by quoting specific passages from the documents as a starting point for discussion.

2.     Identify what characteristics of empire studied yesterday are demonstrated in each of the primary documents and record them in class notes as the discussion proceeds.

Lesson #3 – Concepts of Empire: Han Dynasty

Continue the examination of primary documents from the Han dynasty period (documents #3, 4, 5, 6).

1.     Read the documents and identify the ideas about ruling and empire in the primary source Materials. Students must begin by quoting specific passages from the documents as a starting point for discussion.

2.     Identify what characteristics of empire are demonstrated in the documents and record them in class notes.

3.     Homework: Read and create 2 timelines: one, of the Roman Empire and one of the Han empire, based on readings in the text. Begin to consider similarities and differences by marking S-1 and S-1, S-2 and S-2, etc., for similarities in the two lists, and "D" for differences.

Lesson #4. Preparing to write a comparative essay using the primary documents and readings from the text.

1. The whole class will participate in this collective organization of a comparative essay using the documents and readings.

2. Handout:

(a) The College Board rubric (c. 2001) for evaluating AP comparative essays.
(b) Guide to Writing an AP World History Comparative Essay

3. Based on the characteristics of empire (established in lessons #1, #2, and #3), what similarities are to be found in the Roman and Han empires? What differences? The students/teacher can organize these points in the form of a Venn Diagram or organize their notes into 2 pages: p. 1 similarities; page 2 with 2 columns to show how the two are different. Students should take notes as the pre-write is developed.

4. The students can write an essay based on the pre-write composed in class, or revise the pre-write and write up the essay at home, following the general format of comparative essays outlined in the rubric.

Lesson #5 . Writing a comparative essay independently, using the readings, documents, and any research materials students wish to include (if cited), will conclude the unit.

1. Topic (based on the CD:WH): Compare the decline and fall of the Roman and Han empires, accounting for why the collapse was more severe in the western Roman empire than in China.

2. Students may prepare their thesis statement at home, and bring a pre-write outline to guide them in writing the essay in class. The pre-write should NOT be a draft of your essay.

3. Students should come prepared to write for 30-40 minutes and allow time for proof-reading before turning in the final draft. The eventual goal (spring) will be to be able to compose the thesis, pre-write, and write the essay in class.



Paraphrase the main idea of each document. Identify similarities and differences and indicate them in a chart.

Document #1

From Caesar Augustus, The Achievements of the Divine Augustus, as inscribed on two bronze pillars set up in Rome, 1st century C.E. From Cassius Dio, Roman History in Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, eds., Roman Civilization: Selected Readings, vol.1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955), pp. 557-559.

1. At the age of nineteen, on my own initiative and at my own expense, I raised an army by means of which I liberted the Republic, which was oppressed by the tyranny of a faction. For which reason the senate, with honorific decrees, made me a member of its order in the consulship of Gaius Pansa and Aulus Hirtius (43 BCE), giving me at the same time consular rank in voting, and granted me the imperium. It ordered me as propraetor, together with the consuls, to see to it that the state suffered no harm. Moreover, in the same year, when both consuls had fallen in the war, the people elected me consul and a triumvir for the settlement of the commonwealth.

2. Those who assassinated my father I drove into exile, avenging their crime by due process of law; and afterwards when they waged war against the state, I conquered them twice on the battlefield (the two battles of Phillippi (42 BCE).

3. I waged many wars throughout the whole world by land and by sea, both civil and foreign, and when victorious I spared all citizens who sought pardon. Foreign peoples who could safely be pardoned I preferred to spare rather than to extirpate. About 500,000 roman citizens were under military oath to me. Of these, when their terms of service were ended, I settled in colonies or sent back to their own municipalities a little more than 300,000, and to all of these I alloted lands or granted money as rewards for military serve. I captured 600 ships, exclusive of those which were of smaller class than triremes.

4. Twice I celebrated ovations, three times curule triumphs, and I was acclaimed imperator twenty-one times. When the senate decreed additional triumphs to me, I declined them on four occasions. I deposited in the Capitol laurel wreaths adorning my fasces (an emblem of roman authority) after fulfilling the vows which I had made in each war. For successes achieved on land and on sea by me or through my legates under my auspices the senate decreed fifty-five times that thanksgiving be offered to the immortal gods. Moreover, the number of days on which, by drcree of the senate, such thanksgiving was offered was 890. In my triumphs there were led before my chariot nine kings or children of kings. At the time I wrote this, I had been consul thirteen times, and I was in the thirty-seventh year of my tribunician power (14 C.E.)

10. My name was inserted, by decree of the senate, in the hymn of the Salian priests. And it was enacted by law that I should be sacrosanct in perpetuity and that I should possess the tribunician power as long as I live. I declined to become pontifex maximus in place of a colleague while he was alive, when the people offered me that priesthood, which my father had held. A few years later, in the consulship of Publius Sulpicius and Gaius Valgius, I accepted this priesthood, when death removed the man who (had) taken possession of it at a time of civil disturbance; and from all Italy a multitude flocked to my election such as had never previously been recorded at Rome….

20. I repaired the Capitol and the theater of Pompey with enormous expenditures on both works, without having my name inscribed on them. I repaired the conduits of the aqueducts which were falling into ruin in many places because of age, and I doubled the capacity of the agueduct called Marcia by admitting a new spring into its conduit. I completed the Julian Forum and the basilica which was between the temple of Castor and the temple of Saturn, works begun and far advanced by my father, and when the same basilica was destroyed by fire, I enlarged its site and began rebuilding the structure, which is to be inscribed with the names of my sons; and in case it should not be completed while I am still alive, I left instructions that the work be completed by my heirs. In my sixth consulship (28 BCE) I repaired eighty-two temples of the gods in the city, in accordance with a resolution of the senate, neglecting none which at that time required repair. In my seventh consulship (27 BCE) I reconstructed the Flaminian Way from the city as far as Ariminum, and also all the bridges except the Mulvian and the Minucian….

26. I extended the frontiers of all the provinces of the Roman people on whose boundaries were peoples not subject to our empire. I restored peace to the Gallic and Spanish provinces and likewise to Germany, that is to the entire region bounded by the Ocean from Gades to the mouth of the Elbe river. I caused peace to be restored in the Alps, from the region nearest to the Adriatic Sea as far as the Tuscan Sea, without undeservedly making war against my people. My fleet sailed the Ocean from the mouth of the Rhine eastward as far as the territory of the Cimbrians, to which no Roman previously had penetrated either by land or by sea. The Cimbrians, the Charydes, the Semnones, and other German peoples of the same region through their envoys sought my friendship and that of the Roman people. At my command and under my auspices two armies were led almost at the same time into Ethiopia a penetration was made as far as the town of Napata, which is next to Meroe; in Arabia the army advanced into the territory of the Sabaeans to the town of Mariba.

27. I added Egypt to the empire of the Roman people. Although I might have made Greater Armenia into a province when its king Artaxes was assassinated, I preferred, following the precedent of our ancestors, to hand over this kingdom, acting through Tiberius Nero, who was then my stepson, to Tigranes, son of King Artavasdes and grandson of King Tigranes. And afterwards, when this same people revolted and rebelled, after I subdued it through my son Gaius, I handed it over to the rule of King Ariobarzanes, son of Artabazus, king of the Medes, and after his death to his son Artavasdes. When the latter was killed, I dispatched to that kingdom tigranes, a scion of the royal family of Armenia. I recovered all the provinces extending beyond the Aftiatic Sea eastward, and also, Cyrenae, which were for the most part already in the possession of kings, as I had previously recovered Sicily and Sardinia, which had been seized in the slave war….

34. In my sixth and seventh consulships, after I had put an end to the civil wars, having attained supreme power by universal consent, I transferred the state from my own power to the control of the roman senate and the people. For this service of mine I received the title of Augustus by decree of the senate and the doorposts of my house were publicly decked with laurels, the civic crown was affixed over my doorway and a golden shield was set up in the Julian senate house, which as the inscription on this shield testifies the Roman senate and people gave me in recognition of my valor, clemency, justice and devotion. After that timeI excelled all in authority, but I possessed no more power than the others who were my colleagues in each magistracy.

35. When I held my thirteenth consulship, the senate, the equestrian order, and the entire Roman people gave me the title of "father of the country" and decreed that this title should be inscribed in the vestibule of my house, in the Julian senate house, and in the Augustan Forum on the pedestal of the chariot, which was set up in my honor by decree of the senate. At the time I wrote this document I was in my seventy-sixth year.

Document # 2

Rostovtzeff, M. Rome. Trans. by Elias J. Bickerman. New York: Oxford University Press, c. 1960, p. 205-206 (The Best Man Theory).

            " The preachers of Stoic morality, whose influence over the enlightened section of society increased steadily, brought forward a theory which clashed with the view held by the emperors who followed Augustus. Each of these rulers regarded his authority as a personal right, founded upon his relationship to Augustus….power, they said, was entrusted by God to that man who was morally and intellectually superior to the rest of the community, and the proper exercise of it was a duty laid on him by God, a heavy obligation. The ruler, prince, or king was not a master, according to Stoic teaching, but the servant of mankind; and he should work for the welfare of all, not for his own interests and the maintenance of his power. This theory was not new: invented and maintained by the Cynics, it had passed on to Stoicism and was shared by many of the best rulers in the Hellenistic Age….It was by degrees adopted by almost all Roman society, and its supporters forced it upon the attention of the rulers….They held that the heir to the throne should be 'the best of the best' – in other words, the best among the senators-and that relationship to the actual ruler should be senators-and that relationship to the actual ruler should be ignored."

Document #3

Source: Sima Qian, The Annals of Qin, c. second century B.C.E. From Raymond Dawson, Historical Records. New York, Oxford University Press, 1994, 63-70.

When the August Emperor came to the throne, he created regulations and made the laws intelligent, and his subjects cherished his instructions.

In the twenty-sixth year of his rule, he for the first time unified all under Heaven, and there were none who did not submit.

In person he made tours of the black-headed people in distant places, climbed this Mount Tai, and gazed all around at the eastern limits.

His servants who were in attendance concentrated on following his footsteps, looked upon his deeds as the foundation and source of their own conduct, and reverently celebrated his achievements and virtue.

As the Way of good government circulates, all creation obtains its proper place, and everything has its laws and patterns.

His great righteousness shines forth with its blessings, to be handed down to later generations, and they are to receive it with compliance and not make changes in it.

The August Emperoro is personally sage, and has brought peace to all under Heaven, and has been tireless in government.

Rising early and retiring late, he has instituted long-lasting benefits, and has brought especial glory to instructions and precepts.

His maxims and rules spread all around, and far and near everything has been properly organized, and everyone received the benefits of his sagely ambitions.

Noble and base have been divided off and made clear, and men and women conform in accordance with propriety, and carefully fulfil their duties.

Private and public are made manifest and distinguished, and nothing is not pure and clean, for the benefit of our heirs and successors.

His influence will last to all eternity, and the decrees he bequeaths will be revered, and his grave admonitions will be inherited for ever.

In the twenty-ninth year the First Emperor made a tour in the east. When he reached Bolangsha in Yangwu, he was startled by bandits. They looked for them but did not find them, so he ordered a grand search through the Empire for ten days. He ascended Zhifu and had an inscription made on stone with the following words:

In the twenty-ninth year, the time being in the middle of spring, when the sunny season had just started.

The August Emperor made a tour in the east, and during his travels he ascended Zhifu, and his gaze shone upon the sea.

The servants who were in attendance observed him in admiration, recalled his blessings and glory, and reflected upon and sang the praises of what he initiated.

In creating the government, the great sage established the laws and regulations, and made manifest the guiding principles.

Abroad he taught the feudal lords, gloriously bestowing the blessings of culture, and spreading enlightenment by means of the principles of righteousness.

The Six States remained aloof, insatiable in greed and violence, and the atrocities and killings did not cease.

The August Emperor felt pity for the multitude, and then sent forth chastising armies, and displayed with determination his military power.

He made his punishments just and his conduct sincere, and his awesome glory spread around, and no one did not submit.

He wiped out the strong and violent, rescued the black-headed people, and restored order to the four quarters.

Everywhere he bestowed enlightened laws, and made warp and woof for all under Heaven, to provide a model for all eternity.

He has become great indeed, and within the whole universe we accept and obey his sage-like intent.

All his servants sing the praises of his achievements, and request to inscribe them on stone, so that they may be displayed and handed down as a constant rule.

(He set up a stone inscription extolling the virtue of Qin, to make clear that he had achieved his ambition.) It read:

In his twenty-eighth year, the August Emperor made a beginning:

Laws and standards are corrected and adjested, as a means of recording the myriad things.

Thus he clarifies human affairs, and brings concord to father and son.

With sagacity, wisdom, humaneness, and righteousness, he has made manifest all principles.

In the east he has pacified the eastern lands, and thus he has inspected officers and men.

When this task had been magnificently accomplished, he then turned towards the sea.

Through the achievements of the August Emperor, the basic tasks are diligently worked on.

Farming is put first and non-essentials are abolished, and it is the black'headed people who are made wealthy.

All people under Heaven, have heart and mind in unison.

Implements are given a uniform measure, and the characters used in writing are standardized.

Whenever the sun and moon shine wherever boats and carts carry goods.

Everyone completes his destiny, and nobody does not get what he wants.

He makes things move in accord with the seasons, such is the August Emperor.

Document #4

Li Ssu, Ch'in Shih Huang-di's Grand Councillor, 213 BC. Edict on Book Burning.

"There are those who unofficially propagate teachings directed against imperial decrees and orders. When they hear new instructions, they criticize them in light of their own teachings. At court they only dare to disagree in their minds, but in the streets they openly criticize your commands. Your servant requests that all persons works of literature and discussions of philosophers should destroy them. Those who have not destroyed them within 30 days are to be branded and sent to work as convicts."

Document #5

Han fei tzu, Legalist philosopher and advisor to Ch'in kings, 5th century BC

"If the laws are weak, so is the kingdom. The ruler alone should possess the power; if the ministers shut out the ruler, then he loses the effectiveness of his position. If they control wealth and resources, he loses the means of dispensing bounty. If they issue orders as they please, he loses the means of Command. If they are able to carry out righteous deeds in their own name, he loses his claim to enlightenment. And if they can build up factions of their own, he loses his supporters. All these are rights that should be exercised by a ruler alone; they should never pass into the hands of his ministers."

Document #6

Inscription on a Chinese Tower Built by Chin shih Huang-di, 3rd century B.C.E.

A new age is inaugurated by the Emperor;
Rules and measures are rectified,….
Farming is encouraged, secondary pursuits discouraged,….
Tools and measures are made uniform,
The written script is standardized;…
For our Emperor in accordance with the time
Has regulated local customs,
Made waterways and divided up the land…
High and low, noble and humble,
None dare overshoot the mark;…

The common people know peace
And have laid aside weapons and armor;…
There are no robbers or thieves;
Men delight in his rule,
All understanding the law and discipline.
The universe entire
Is our Emperor's realm…

Document #7

Source: Dong Zhongshuu (Tung Chung-shu), Essays on Kingship, "How the Way of the King Joins the Trinity." From William Theodore de Bary et al. eds., Sources of Chinese Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1960, 178-179.

     Those who is ancient times invented writing drew three lines and connected them through the middle, calling the character "king." The three lines are Heaven, earth, and man, and that which passes through the middle joins the principles of all three. Occupying the center of Heaven, earth, and man, passing through and joining all three – if he is not a king, who can do this?

     Thus the king is but the executor of Heaven. He regulates its seasons and brings them to completion. He patterns his actions on its commands and causes the people to follow them. When he would begin some enterprise, he observes its numerical laws. He follows its ways in creating his laws, observes its will, and brings all to rest in humanity. The highest humanity rests with Heaven, for Heaven is humaneness itself. It shelters and sustains all creatures. It transforms them and brings them to birth.

     The ruler holds the position of life and death over men; together with Heaven he holds the power of change and transformation. There is no creature that does not respond to the changes of Heaven. The changes of Heaven and earth are like the four seasons. When the wind of their love blows, then the air will be mild and the world team with life, but when the winds of their disfavor come forth, the air will be cold and all things die. When they are joyous the skies are warm and all things grow and flourish, but from their wrath comes the chill wind and all is frozen and shut up.

            The Threefold Obligations of the Ruler

     The ruler is the basis of the state. In administering the state, nothing is more effective for educating the people than reverence for the basis. If the basis is revered, then the ruler may transform the people as though by supernatural power, but if the basis is not revered then the ruler will have nothing by which to lead his people. Then though he employ harsh penalties and sever punishments the people will not follow him. This is to drive the state to ruin, and there is no greater disaster. What do we mean by basis? Heaven, earth, and man are the basis of all creatures. Heaven gives them birth, earth nourishes them, and man brings them to completion. Heaven provides them at birth with a sense of filial and brotherly love, earth nourishes them with clothing and food, and man completes them with rites and music. The three act together as hands and feet join to complete the body and none can be dispensed with….

Document #8

Source: Han Wendi (Wen-ti), On the Eclipse of the Sun. From Dun J. Li. The Essence of Chinese Civilization. New York: Van Nostrand, 1967, 116-117.

I have heard that Heaven installs rulers to govern the people it creates and that it will warn a ruler with natural disasters if he has lost virtue or if his rule has become unjust.

     On the eleventh month of this year there was an eclipse of the sun. No natural disaster can be more serious than this: Heaven has reproached me!

     I have inherited the duty of protecting the temples of our imperial ancestors. A simple and insignificant person though I was, I was called to become the king of all people and scholars. I am solely responsible for all occurrences on earth, be they good or evil. In administering the vast empire, I am assisted by some of my closest minister-advisors.

     I have lost my virtue indeed as my inability to take care of my people has aroused the wrath of the sun, the moon and the stars. Let it be known that immediately after this decree is issued, all of you should think seriously about my shortcomings and inform me on the happenings that I have not been able to hear and see myself. Report your findings to me directly! Moreover, you are urged to recommend to me the virtuous, the upright, the honest, and the outspoken so that I can benefit from their counsel and advice. Be it also decreed that all of you are to be diligent at your tasks and that you are to reduce taxes and corvée (forced labor) duties among my subjects.

Have students to consult their texts for the boundaries of the Roman and Han empires and other relevant maps.

Connections Between The Roman and Han Empires – the Silk Route

Use the blank map of Eurasia to locate and illustrate the following. Title the map in the rectangle and make a key for reading the map.

First, draw the boundaries of the Han Empire and the Roman Empire.
Locate and label the following:

1.  Rome, capital of the Roman Empire
2.  Chang'an (Xian) , capital of the Han Empire
Using the China map:
3.  Gobi Desert
4.  Pamir Mountains
5.  Himalaya Mts.
6.  Yellow River (Huang R.)
7.  Yellow Sea
8.  Yangzi River
9.  East China Sea
10.  Jincheng (Lanzhou)
11.  Turfan (on the silk route)

Use the silk trade route map to locate:

12.  Merv
13.  Ecbatana
14.  Antioch
15.  Ephesus
16.  Byzantium (Constantinople)
17.  Black Sea
18.  Alexandria
19.  Damascus
20.  Tyre


A traditional way to organize essays often presented is the "PERSIA" method. In thinking of what to compare, or how to group material, students are encouraged to think about "p" = political, "e"= economic, "r" = religious, "s"=social, "i"= intellectual, and "a"=artistic/cultural categories; hence "PERSIA" as a way to remember the categories.

The similarities and differences below may be grouped using the Persia method, but the student should note that historians push their analysis into more sophisticated directions, which the student of history should begin to notice and emulate.


1.     Many of the later emperors were weaklings unable to wield power and restore order.
2.     "Neither could adjust to the increase in population, the growth of wealth, and the development of complex institutions that centralized rule had made possible." (Fairbank)
3.     Both failed to solve financial difficulties
(Ex: large landowners proved to rich/powerful to be curbed by central govt.)
4.     "The centralized administration proved to be its own worst enemy." (Fairbank)
(Ex: nepotism – relatives, favorites, generals, administrators – all avaricious)
(Ex: peasants – tied to land in perpetuity)
5.     United government could no longer continue: China divided into 3 parts; Rome, into two (later 4) parts.
6.     Barbarian invasions played a role in overrunning the borders of empire:
In China, the Xiongnu (along the borders, became "semi-Sinicized barbarians"); they sacked the Han capital of Luoyang and the whole north of the empire; another group the Xianbei were also active.
Rome, capital of the empire, was also overrun by various Germans tribes, some of whom became semi-Romanized barbarians
7.     The Roman capital was overrun as was Loyang in 316 at the hands of the Hsiung-Nu.
8.     Constantinople in the eastern empire survived, as did Han culture in the "flight" to Nanjing , the "southern capital"
9.     The later history of Europe was an amalgam of Latin and German culture, as
in China, the barbarians of Central Asia assimilated with Chinese culture.
10.  As Confucianism and Roman secular systems declined, Taoism, Buddhism and
Christianity spread.
11.  The growing power of the great landed families and endless court intrigues fatally weakened the central state and drained its resources. (Murphy, 79)

Each empire had depended on a free peasantry, which was undermined, signaling the erosion of the authority of the state.


Although the eastern Roman empire survived, the western, Roman empire collapsed morecompletely than did Han culture and civilization in China (investigate why, considering the degree of urbanization, markets, barbarian impact, etc.)

The Chinese economy was based more completely on crop agriculture.

1.     Cities and commerce played a lesser role in China than in the West.
2.     Common culture (Chinese script) prevented as drastic a collapse as in Rome
(Latin, a lingua franca, but other languages, Greek, Hebrew, demotic Egyptian continued)
3.     The Han empire ended in 220, reunified by the Sui in 589; the Roman empire ended in 476, and was not reunified, despite Charlemagne's attempts c. 800
4.     The increasingly heavy tax burden on the peasantry provoked chronic banditry and rebellions (the Yellow Turbans, 184 CE); whereas major migrations primarily of Germanic tribes changed the demographic make-up of the Roman empire. (Murphy, 79)
5.     The role of eunuchs, originally trusted at court, but increasingly schemed to amass power and promote their favorites had no real counterpart in the western Roman empire.
6.     The role of Christianity in the West was distinctive:

a.     greater emphasis on Church organization (based on the structures of the Roman empire) than either Taoism or Buddhism
b.     greater Christian mission activity
c.     greater emphasis on exclusive truth, struggle for unified doctrine, intolerance of other beliefs, monotheism
d.     Constantine's conversion elevated Christianity (Caesaro-papism)
e.     Pope Leo I (461) established the papacy as the supreme authority in Europe
f.      Augustinian theology and its unifying role
g.     New attitudes toward the importance of the individual

7.     The imperial model of Han rule was revived in subsequent eras, but the lands of the Roman Empire never again achieved such a level of unification. (Bulliet, 169)
8.     There was no Roman equivalent of Confucianism – no ideology of political organization and social conduct that could survive the dissolution of the Roman state.

Stearn's caution: decline = not a death of civilization, but a regrouping

Bulliet: In China the imperial tradition and the class structure and value system that maintained it were eventually revived, and they survived with remarkable continuity into the 20th century. In Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, in contrast, there was no restoration of the Roman Empire, and the later history of those lands was marked by great political changes and cultural diversity.


Read and consider the following excerpts as part of your preparation to write a comparative essay. You may refer to them, or not.


The first century of a new dynasty would be marked by political, economic and cultural vigor, expansion, efficiency and confidence; the second would build on or consolidate what the first had achieved; and in the third vigor and efficiency would begin to wane, corruption would mount, banditry and rebellion would multiply, and the dynasty would ultimately fall. A new group coming to power from among the rebels would rarely attempt to change the system, only its management and supervision. Cultural was continuous, even during the political chaos following the fall of the Han.

            Source: Murphy, East Asia, 119.

Kennedy, Paul. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. New York: Random House, Although focusing on the 1500-2000 period in European history, consider his thesis and to what extent it may apply.

     Nations project their military power according to their economic resources and in defense of their broad economic interests. But…the cost of projecting that military power is more than even the largest economies can afford indefinitely, especially when new technologies and new centers of production shift economic power away from established…Powers, hence the rise and fall of nations…. Over the past five centuries the superpower states have tended to achieve military pre-eminence at a time when they were beginning to lose ground economically to lesser countries.


Compare the decline and fall of the Roman and Han empires, accounting for why the collapse was more severe in the western Roman empire than in China.

Prepare your thesis statement and bring it with you to class. Prepare a pre-write outline which you may also use to write your essay in class. The pre-write should NOT be a draft of your essay


Lesson Plan/Exercises Set 2: Comparing the Early Han Empires of Rome and Han

Marcia Hudzik

Classical Empires Newspaper
Rome & Han China-Foundations

In two groups, you will research and create a newspaper for each of the largest empires in the classical age. This will count as a test grade and you will be evaluated for both your individual contributions and the overall group product.

Individual-100 points
            Two articles from different sections – (minimum 250 words each)
            One editorial opinion - (minimum 100 words)
            Artwork - political cartoons, drawings, graphics
            Classifieds – one classified ad selling or hoping to buy any item appropriate to the time

            Group coordinator-layout and design
            Bibliography coordinator

Newspaper-100 points
            All articles must be in Times New Roman-10 pt font
            1.5 spacing for lines
            Right and left justification in a single column for each article-2.5 inches wide
            Name for the newspaper
            Title for all articles-14 pt font
            By-line for each article-12 pt font
            Layout of articles on paper-I will provide
            Alphabetized bibliography attached to project

I realize that these empires existed for many hundreds of years. Therefore you will "cover" a 100-150 year time span. Each newspaper will have a variety of sections just like the real thing! Artwork, graphics, or just the little extras will greatly enhance the overall product and will be graded accordingly. However, the focus will certainly be on the quality of the articles and the research. As usual, you will be expected to provide details and analysis of these details. The guidelines for each section are listed below.

Newspaper Section Guidelines-

National News

1.     political scene-what is happening with the government?
2.     national crisis-disasters, riots, mobs

International News

1.     interactions with other peoples-invasions (them or us), rebellions, new provinces
2.     treaties, diplomacy


1.     zoning issues, landlords, property zones, sewers, water supply
(include map of the capital or "the" major city)
2.     editorial on the quality of life in the city


1. predominant religions-practice and origin


1.     trade-agricultural and luxury items (with map)
2.     monetary value, markets,

Travel & Leisure

1.     city entertainment-night life, upcoming festivals,
2.     site-seeing in the provinces-where to go and what to see


1. sports arena, races, combat demonstrations

Health & Food

1.     disease, health care
2.     recipes from the empire-trace ingredients on a map and where to buy locally

Arts & Culture

1.     plays, music, art, dancing, festivals
2.     vignette-"on this day-100 years ago…"

Tech Update

1. farm implements, weaponry, transportation, architecture


1.     seasonal expectations
2.     map of empire-major cities, provinces-colored by you!!


1.     Cross-fire-opposing views about successes/problems of the empire


1.     to be assembled by the entire group

Please use the attached resource list to begin work.
This project will be presented in class. You should summarize and not read the article for class

Classical Empires Project Resource List

Rome and Han Common Text-style Book Resources

Andrea and Overfiled, The Human Record
Bentley and Ziegler, Traditions & Encounters - A Global Perspective on the Past
Bulliet, The Earth and Its Peoples
O'Brien, Oxford Atlas of World History
Stearns et al, World Civilizations: The Global Experience










Editor's Note: See also:

A comparison of the role of women in ancient China and in Rome is offered at

Daily life in ancient China explored at

Join others in an exploration of "Women and Confucianism" at

Links for the study of Chinese art are offered at

Further links for the study of ancient Chinese cultural traditions are supplied at

Roman daily life at

Roman Women at

Men of Rome:
Julius Caesar at
Pompeii at
Tiberius Gracchus

Gladiator games--mostly fought by men, but sometimes women:

The organization of the Roman army is discussed at:


Lesson Plan/Exercises Set 3: Cooperative Project--Ancient Civilizations

Holly Wright Miele

Classical Civilization Review

Objectives: Students will understand the similarities and differences around the globe around 600 CE. They will be traveling journalists responsible for reporting back to class their findings on the political institutions, religious practices, cultural advancements, social institutions, and growing trade systems in seven distinct areas: China, India, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Western Europe, and the Middle East. In groups of 5, they will create a newspaper that details what they are experiencing in these regions during the end of the Classical Era.


1.     Begin by showing you students an example of a local newspaper. Go over the general contents of the paper by highlighting the discussions of political issues, business information, and the culture that is presented by the articles themselves.
2.     Split up your class into groups of 5. Each member will be responsible for the research of one of the five topics listed above for each area. If you have fewer than 35 students, combine cultural advancements with religious practices.
3.     Each student will be given time in class to research their topic in whatever region is assigned to their group. They should independently research their specific topic and begin to create an article for their newspaper.
4.     After students complete their articles, they should exchange within their group and discuss the content of their work and collaborate together on the layout of their newspaper.
5.     Students should spend the second class period as a group constructing their papers and getting them ready for presentations to the rest of the class.
6.     Depending on how long it takes for students to complete this project, they should exchange their papers with other groups in the class. By the end of the period, all students should fill out a chart that compares and contrasts the 5 themes that were discussed in each different location.


For students who finish early with their article assignment, encourage them to create a piece of artwork, editorial, classified ad, game, or political cartoon that could enhance their group's newspaper.


The students should be monitored through the process of researching and constructing their articles. You may want to have each group member evaluate the performance of their peers in order to avoid having one student do all the work, etc. Their individual graded work would come from their research on their specific article and other entries they included in the paper.


Lesson Plan/Exercises Set 4: Cooperative Project--Ancient Civilizations

Rodney K. Floyd

Purpose: To have students acquire an in depth comparison of the contributions of early civilizations to the rest of the world through research, analysis and evaluation.

Structure: Four heterogeneous teams using STAD model.

Materials: Textbook and Internet.

Directions: Teams will divide the four groups of civilizations among themselves. Each member will be responsible for the following information for each civilization in their group:

1.     Historical Summary- origin and end date with important events placed on timeline.
2.     Location- main geographic features, place on map.
3.     Government- description of type, structure, laws (matrix)
4.     Society- class structure, women's role, rights, customs, religion (matrix)
5.     Achievements- inventions, concepts, adaptations (matrix)
6.     Important people- specific named people and their significance (matrix)
7.     Terminology- key terms specific to that civilization (matrix)

Group A

Group B

Group C

Group D

China (Shang and Zhou only)

India (Harrapan and Aryans only)











Example of Matrix:













Important People


Example of Timeline:

Each member will research their group. Research will be checked by instructor. After all research has been checked, groups will be placed in expert groups to check their work against other same groups. Groups will return to team and share all work with each other. Once all work shared, another teacher check will take place.

Students will be presented with a comparative essay question and have one week to complete.

Evaluation: SEE RUBRIC.



Ancient Civilizations Rubric





Student Individual Research

·       Has research on all three cultures assigned

·       Covered majority of topics for each culture with little depth (used text as main source)

·       Material is somewhat organized for ease of use and is legible.

( 13 Points)

·       Has research on all three cultures assigned

·       Covered all topics but not evenly or with great depth (went beyond the text some)

·       Material is organized using matrix, timeline and map and is legible to others.

( 16 Points)

·       Has research on all three cultures assigned

·       Covered all topics evenly and with depth (went beyond the text often)

·       Material is organized using matrix, timeline, and map as well as using colors where applicable or other images.

( 20 Points)

Student Expert Groups

·       Participated in the expert group and brought back some new material.

(9 Points)

·       Participated in the expert group and brought a lot of new material.

(12 Points)

·       Participated in the expert group and brought all material that expert had that was new. Merged material with own to get clearer picture.

(15 Points)

Student Share

·       Shared own material with group and copied majority of other cultures from team members' work.

(13 Points)

·       Shared own material with group and copied all of the other cultures from team members work.

(16 Points)

·       Shared own material with group and copied all of other cultures and all work related to these cultures from other members. Seamlessly merged this work with own.

( 20 Points)

Comparative Essay

(See your "How to Answer an Essay Question" for format and structure guidance)

·       Student answered basic question but not in format and with little depth. Many grammatical mistakes.

·       Poor structure to essay.

(35 Points)

·       Student answered basic question in format with some depth and used some examples from work. Few grammatical mistakes.

·       Good basic structure of essay.

(42 Points)

·       Student answer question and used many examples from work. Typed and with no grammatical mistakes.

·       Excellent use of structure with good flow.

(50 Points)

TOTAL POINTS ____________________

Saundra Schwartz, editor for pre-modern history, is director of the East-West Classical Studies program at Hawai'i Pacific University. She can be reached at or



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