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The Persian Empire was an enormous empire that was originally under the supervision of Mesopotamia but during the sixth century B.C.E. the rulers of the land started a series of conquests to get out of from under the shadow. Of this empire there were four dynasty’s, the Acheaemenids that ruled from 558-330 B.C.E., the Seleucids that ruled from 323-83 B.C.E., the Parthians that ruled from 247 B.C.E-224 C.E., and the Sasanids that ruled from 224-651 C.E. The Byzantine Empire began when the Roman emperor Constantine wanted a “new Rome” where the land of Byzantium was. The western half of the Roman Empire eventually fell in the fifth century but the eastern half survived for 1,000 more years, having a rich tradition of art and literature. The Silk Road was a long-distance trade route that was nearly 12,000 kilometers long and was the main connection of these two societies and it helped in the shaping of these empires. The Persian and Byzantine were very connected and there were many consequences because of that connection in their political, economic, and social structures.
The Byzantine empire had a “tightly centralized rule that concentrated power in the hands of a highly-exalted emperor” (Bentley, 182). Constantine the emperor established a policy called caesaropapism which allowed the emperor to rule and have absolute say in military, financial, political, judicial, and religious disputes. They even had a court that attracted attention to rulers. These emperors would be dressed head to toe in jewels, crowns, and silk. Then came the high officials that would be presented as the emperors’ slaves and they were required to kiss the emperor’s hands and feet before getting down to business. One of the emperors, Justinian who ruled from 527-565 C.E. created a code for the Roman law. The code was called Corpus iuris civilis which literally means “Body of Civil Law” (Bentley, 185). The Persian Empire also had a very strong political structure. They had something called the Satrapies structure. It was where they appointed almost like governors to watch over and control 23 city states. Then they had a big overall administration that governed all of them. They also “created a new category of officials—essentially imperial spies—known as “the eyes and ears of the king”” (Bentley, 88) who would travel throughout the city-states and make sure that everyone was following the ground rules that were set. There were also tax levies set and each year each satrapy had to pay a certain amount of silver to the king. the Silk Road left many political impacts on these two societies. This long-distance trade helped elites to stand out from commoners because they had exquisite goods from a distance. It also allowed “controlling and taxing trade” (Sarr, 11) in each empire. The trading networks between the Persian and Byzantine empires worked best when they provided safety for their travelers and merchants so neither would try to capture each other people are steal goods from one another.
The Byzantium Empire had a very strong economy with lots of trade throughout the land. The imperia capital Constantinople was the center of all the trade. There were routes going from east to west as well as north to south with merchants and manufactures in Russia, northern Europe, lands of the Black Sea, Scandinavia, and central Asia. They would trade such things as linen, silk, gems, jewelry, gold, and silver. Banks also helped with trade because they gave out loans to people who wanted to start businesses. The empire “supported a large class of free peasants who owned small plots of land” (Bentley, 187). This free peasantry could be strengthened as well if you took part in military duties. Unlike the Byzantium Empire the Persian Empires main economic foundation was agriculture. They used these strong foundations to support their massive military. They mainly grew wheat and barley for cereals and then wine and beer were the most common drinks. Along with agriculture they “depended heavily on long distance trade” (Sarr, 8). They were able to do the long-distance trade because they had an amazing road system called the Royal Road which stretched some 1,700 miles across the empire. The economic livelihood of the Byzantine and Persian empires were impacted greatly by the Silk Road trade routes. There were always new goods such as paper, iron tools, silk, and porcelain that greatly helped the daily lives of all classes. It also changed the consumption of many people because there were all kinds of new and exciting things to try.
The Byzantium Empire had an overall religion of Christianity which branched for Greek philosophy. The church would get “engaged in doctrinal quarrels over precise nature of Jesus Christ” (Sarr, week 12). Monophysites believed that Jesus was purely divine and Nestorians believed that he was actually two people, one divine and one human. Byzantine had their monasteries as well but they typically were not used for education, learning, study, and scholarship purposes. They were used mostly for monks, prayer, and meditation. They also helped communities in need with medical treatment and food shortage. The Aristocrats in Constantinople lived in gigantic “palaces that included courtyards, reception halls, libraries, and chapels” (Bentley, 189). The woman lived in their own apartments and were not allowed visitors outside the household. Also, women did not participate in social gatherings or parties. The more poorer classes normally had a room and shared facilities such as kitchens and sanitarians. The Persian Empire also “incorporated religion into their daily lives” (Sarr, 8) and were polytheistic. They had many gods that all represented a natural occurrence. But in the sixth century B.C.E. some of their beliefs changed and they had the ideas of a holy man. This holy man began to preach Zoroastrianism to them. The Persians also had a social structure that included the slaves, free classes, and imperial bureaucrats. A person could be sold into slavery or if a person were a prisoner of war they could become a slave to survive. The free classes were just they daily commoners that made up the empire. The imperial bureaucrats were a new part of society and they were highly educated. Most of them were higher officials and would be included in a lot of decision making for the empire. Along the Silk Road there were ambassadors, scholars, missionaries, and merchants so there was all kind of communication going on. Because of all the different kinds of people it also represented a clear majority of cultures. The Silk Road also spread many religions including Christianity and Buddhism.
The Byzantine and Persian empires were very large and vast empires that strived for greatness during the fifth and sixth century. They were in many ways similar but also had their differences as well. The Silk Road was a huge connection between the Byzantine and Persian empires. It changed the political, economic, and social cultures of these empires and shaped the societies for the future to come.
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