Theories of Empire: Rise, Maintenance and Decline


The Big Idea:

Key Concept 2.2 The Development of States and Empires
As the early states and empires grew in number, size and population, they frequently competed for
resources and came into conflict with one another. In quest of land, wealth, and security, some empires
expanded dramatically. In doing so, they built powerful military machines and administrative institutions
that were capable of organizing human activities over long distances, and they created new
groups of military and political elites to manage their affairs. As these empires expanded their
boundaries, they also faced the need to develop policies and procedures to govern their relations with
ethnically and culturally diverse populations: sometimes to integrate them within an imperial society
and sometimes to exclude them. In some cases, these empires became victims of their own successes.
By expanding boundaries too far, they created political, cultural and administrative difficulties that they
could not manage. They also experienced environmental, social and economic problems when they
over-exploited their lands and subjects and permitted excessive wealth to concentrate in the hands of
privileged classes.

II. Empires and states developed new techniques of imperial administration based, in part, on the
success of earlier political forms.
A. In order to organize their subjects the rulers created administrative institutions including centralized
governments, elaborate legal systems, and bureaucracies (such as in China, Persia, Rome or
South Asia ).
B. Imperial governments projected military power over larger areas using a variety of techniques
including: diplomacy; developing supply lines; building fortifications, defensive walls, and
roads; and drawing new groups of military officers and soldiers from the local populations or
conquered peoples.
C. Much of the success of empires rested on their promotion of trade and economic integration by
building and maintaining roads and issuing currencies.
III. Unique social and economic dimensions developed in imperial societies in Afro-Eurasia and
the Americas.
A. Cities served as centers of trade, public performance of religious rituals, and political administration
for states and empires (such as Persepolis, Chang’an, Pataliputra, Athens, Carthage, Rome,
Alexandria, Constantinople or Teotihuacan.)
B. The social structures of all empires displayed hierarchies that included cultivators, laborers,
slaves, artisans, merchants, elites or caste groups.
C. Imperial societies relied on a range of methods to maintain the production of food and provide
rewards for the loyalty of the elites including corvée, slavery, rents and tributes, peasant
communities and family and household production.
D. Patriarchy continued to shape gender and family relations in all imperial societies of this period.
IV.The Roman, Han, Persian, Mauryan, and Gupta empires created political, cultural, and
administrative difficulties that they could not manage, which eventually led to their decline,
collapse and transformation into successor empires or states.
A. Through excessive mobilization of resources, imperial governments caused environmental
damage (such as deforestation, desertification, soil erosion or silted rivers) and generated social
tensions and economic difficulties by concentrating too much wealth in the hands of elites.
B. External problems resulted from security issues along their frontiers, including the threat of
invasions (such as between Han China and Xiongnu; Gupta and the White Huns; or between
Romans, and their northern and eastern neighbors).