Political Control of the Mauryan, Gupta, and Roman Empires

Several great empires emerged during the classical period: The Roman, the Mauryan, and the Gupta. The Roman and Gupta empires are both regarded as being the “golden ages” of their regions, but what was it about their reigns that made them so memorable? All three empires ruled a vast amount of land and had immense political control. Not only that, but the subjects of these empires were notably content with the control exerted upon them. Through comparing the ways these empires maintained their power, and the implications of their political control, one can develop a deeper understanding of the factors that make an empire powerful, and those of why it eventually falls. Imperial Rome, along with the Mauryan and Gupta Empires, had a single, hereditary based, leader. In Rome, leaders could be from several different families, while in India, there was one family line–this resulted in leaders maintaining the same priorities, unlike in Rome.

Rome had a senate, where aristocrats along with common people, or plebeians, were represented. The Mauryan government was also an organized bureaucracy but had less room for democratic solutions. The Gupta Empire allowed for relatively autonomous states, this freedom made the government’s control less restricting and people were more willing to oblige. The Romans also had a set law code, making a fair judicial system. The Mauryans had a similar structured judicial system and law code, but they excelled especially in law enforcement and maintaining peace. Locals in the Indian kingdoms were less likely to be robbed than in Rome, and there was generally a more peaceful atmosphere.

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The Gupta empire also progressed from the stricter Mauryan empire, for example, it no longer punished people with death. Imperial Rome never improved like the empires in India, maintaining its rigid structure for the duration of its existence. All three empires also had powerful militaries that exerted power and commanded obedience. In Rome, the military wasn’t necessarily separate from the people; being a war hero was glorified, and people readily joined the military, this made them much more welcome to military control. The Mauryan and Gupta empires and Imperial Rome had powerful governments that exerted a great deal of power, however, this was not the key to their political success–a country’s subjects have to be relatively willing to be controlled or no authority will maintain power for long. Imperial Rome and the Mauryan and Gupta Empires (especially the Gupta Empire) were desirable places to live.

The governments made wealthy, safe, and peaceful environments for their subjects, so people welcomed political control in exchange for these benefits. Rome is most well known for public works projects, making things like the aqueducts, better irrigation, roads, and much more–as the old saying goes, all roads lead to Rome. Gupta leaders heavily patronized artists, scholars, scientists, etc.. Both empires sparked a surge of arts, medicine, science, architecture, engineering, and technology. All three empires also established complex trade routes, building wealthy economies.

The Gupta Empire took to maritime trade, as did Imperial Rome–having, at its height, a monopoly on the entire Mediterranean. The empires’ great militaries also provided the people with safety and stability. These benefits caused inhabitants to embrace the political control of the empires because it made their lives safer, brought them wealth, and allowed them to lead generally more comfortable and enjoyable lives. The Gupta and Roman Empires constantly accumulated new citizens, as the places appealed to foreigners. This was displayed in their policies: The Gupta empire had a lot of religious freedom, making immigrants more welcome and willing to join, the Roman Empire automatically made inhabitants of conquered lands citizens.

Due to the just policies and cultural benefits these empires had to offer, people willingly became citizens and respected political control in Imperial Rome and the Mauryan and Gupta Empires. Despite the aforementioned qualities of the Mauryan, Gupta, and Roman Empires, all eventually lost political control. The Mauryan government exerted too much political control, with its espionage and strict laws, people soon became discontent with the authoritarian system. The Gupta and Roman Empires both grew too large, making it difficult to maintain control over their vast territories. The Roman Empire also had a large slave caste, and peasant and slave revolts soon began, comparably, this weakness was not one the Gupta Empire faced because it did not have a slave caste. The Roman and Mauryan Empires also lost the loyalty of their soldiers, in Rome military service lost its previously glorified appeal and in India soldiers were underpaid, both resulting in weak militaries.

The Mauryan, Gupta, and Roman Empires all seemed great at one point, but eventually lost political control for a variety of reasons. As demonstrated in Imperial Rome and the Mauryan and Gupta empires alike, political control is something complex and difficult to maintain, requiring a mutually beneficial relationship between a political power and its subjects. A balance must be found between too much control (as seen with the Mauryans) and too little (as seen with the Gupta that allowed for more autonomous states). Governments must keep people content but also obedient. How much focus should be put on public works projects, the military, and the judicial system? Is it more important to expand or improve current territory? Governments must find solutions to these problems in order to maintain control while keeping their subjects satisfied. Through examination of Imperial Rome and the Mauryan and Gupta Empires, great empires that were thought to be the pinnacles of civilization in their regions yet eventually lost power, one can develop a deeper understanding of the complex factors that affect political control.