Compare and Contrast Essay on Rome and Han Dynasty

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In this essay I will discuss the cultures of Classical 5th century BCE Athens, the Classical Han of China, and Classical Republican Rome. I will identify the philosophical beliefs that formed the foundations of these cultures and how they were exemplified by their creations. I will use examples of art, literature, architecture, and dramas that reflect their classical approach to reality.

Fifth-century Athens refers to the Greek city/state of Athens in the period of 480 BC to 404 BC. This was a period of economic growth, political reign, and cultural opulence that had been known previously as the Golden Age of Athens. The period began around 480 BC when an alliance, known as the Delian League, from Athens defeated the Persians at Salamis (Sayre, 2015). As the fifth century continued, independent city-states became the Athenian empire. Eventually the Delian League relocated from Delos to Athens. Athens has produced some of the most influential and lasting cultural artifacts of the Western tradition.

Ancient Greeks were unified by traditions like the PanHellenic games as well as other athletic competitions. The games had religious meaning and were often tied to Greek mythology. The most important and well known of these games were the Olympic Games. The Olympic games were held every four years and had a variety of sporting events. They were held at the site Olympia in honor of Zeus, the supreme god of Greek religion (Khan Academy). The Olympic games were an important cultural event in ancient Greece.

Greek society valued temples as places where religion took on a more formal tone. Gods were worshipped at these revered sites and temples in all major Greek city-states. Over time, immense temples were built to honor gods. They typically housed a statue of the god being honored. Two of the best-preserved Greek temples from 540 BCE are The Temple of Hera I and the Temple of Hera II (Sayre, 2015). Hera was the wife and sister to Zeus, the goddess of marriage and maternity (Sayre, 2015).

An example of classical fifth century art in Athens can be found in some of their pottery. The Priam Painter, Women at a Fountain House, ca. 520-510 BCE, is a black figure decoration on a water jug. The artwork shows women carrying water jugs as they socialize at a fountain house. Fountain houses were popular among women as it provided them a place to gather socially, which was rare as women were mostly limited to their homes. An example of a famous literary writer was Sappho (Sayre, 2015). Sappho wrote lyric poems on themes of love and relationships, quite often with other women. One of her poems is as follows: Although they are only breath, words which I command are immortal (Sayre, 2015). I understand this poem to mean that our words can live on for an eternity, even after we pass away.

Around 206 BCE – 220 CE the Han dynasty came to power. The Han emperors installed Confucianism as the official state philosophy. Han honored scholars and even gave them roles in governing the country (Sayre, 2015). Chinese literature arts thrived under the rule of Emperor Wu. In 120 BCE, he established Yue Fu, the Music Bureau that collected songs by commoners. These songs were mirrored by poets during the Han period as well as throughout the history of Chinese poetry.

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When it comes to Han architecture, we can look at their homes for examples. A model of a house was found in a tomb that was presumed to be used by the departed in their afterlife. Figure 7.11, page 229 shows us one of the largest and most complete models of a Han house (Sayre, 2015). What is most distinct about Chinese architecture is the oversized eaves on the roofs of their homes. That became the standard for East Asian Construction.

Shang priests believed no event was arbitrary. They believed that there is greater reason and order in everything. Nothing is chance or without meaning, even cracks in a bone. The first classic of Chinese literature, the Book of Changes, is a guide to interpreting the workings of the universe (Sayre, 2015). The Chinese symbol of Yin-yang coming to create the endless cycles of change, from day to night, across all four seasons of the year (Sayre, 2015). This symbol represents balance, accord, and co-existence.

China’s greatest philosopher and teacher is known in the west as Confucius. He taught a way of life that was based on relationships with other people and your own self-discipline. He believed that values such as respect for elders, moral behavior, self-control, and respectability were important for peace and harmony, not only for an individual, but for family, society, and even the country. The Han dynasty adopted Confucianism as the Chinese state religion (Sayre, 2015).

In fifth century BCE, Rome went from being one of the many city-states to one of the most powerful empires in the world. Rome was able to gain its power by assigning a form of citizenship to people it ruled. Citizens were categorized into two classes, the patricians and the plebians. The patricians were land owners who served as priests, lawyers and judges. Whereas the plebians were the poorer class that served as craftsmen, merchants, and laborers (Sayre, 2015). In 510 BCE, the Romans decided to rule themselves without a monarch. What we can relate to our modern day, western government style, can be seen in the development of the Roman Republic. The principle was that the citizens were the source of lawfulness and authority.

Roman culture eventually reflected the sense of equality between women and men. This is seen in a figure from 520 BCE, made of Terra cotta, the figure titled Sarcophagus, shows a husband and wife reclining on a couch reflecting equal status (Sayre, 2015). Another figure titled She-Wolf from 500-480 BCE is a bronze statue reflecting the legend of twin infants’ names Romulus and Remus who were left to die but were saved by a wolf who fed them (Sayre, 2015).

An architectural example of Republican Rome is the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. This marked the start of historical records recording the development of Rome, as well as the start of the Roman Republic (Sayre, 2015).

When looking up what the word “classical means”, it states that it relates to ancient Greek and Roman worlds and especially to its literature, art, architecture or ideals (Merriam-Webster). From artwork, plays, architecture, and even style of governments, we can see how the classical worlds of Athens, Han China, and the Roman Republic shaped and influenced the world as we know it today. The ideals of Confucius and of Yin-Yang are still wildly popular today.

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Compare and Contrast Essay on Rome and Han Dynasty. (2024, January 30). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from
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