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Methods of Political Control in the Roman and Gupta Empires

Gupta Empire

Gupta Empire

Roman emperors

Roman emperors

In the Classical Period, two great empires emerged as the most powerful nations on the map: Imperial Rome and Gupta India. The Gupta and Roman empires methods of political control were similar in their use of hereditary rule and imperialism, but different because of Rome’s slave class and India’s flourishing religious freedom and artistry.

Gupta India and Imperial Rome both used hereditary rule as their method of succession and imperialism as their method for expansion. Hereditary rule is where political control is passed down according to bloodline. In Rome, where assassination was an occupational hazard for emperors, hereditary rule often meant that control jumped between various royal families, and a person who was honest and wise didn’t necessarily get the throne. For every wise ruler like Augustus, there was an evil one like Caligula. However, in India, the Gupta Empire managed to keep the rule within one family for the entirety of its rule, beginning with Chandragupta I. This created an environment where the skills and responsibilities of ruling were taught and passed down by father to son; continuation of policies like religious freedom and patronage of the arts is evident in each Gupta emperor. Imperialism was an integral facet of Gupta and Roman methods of political rule. During Gupta reign, an imperialist figure, who stands out among the rest, is Samudragupta, the son of Chandragupta I. Defeating India’s enemies and expanding into Central Asia, Samudragupta is likened to the world’s greatest conquerors like Napoleon and Alexander the Great. Coincidentally, Alexander the Great was Rome’s greatest conqueror. His empire was the largest in the history of Rome, and stretched from Asia Minor to Western Europe. Gupta and Roman methods of political control were similar in their use of hereditary rule and imperialism.

Gupta and Roman methods of political control were different in that the Gupta Empire encouraged innovation through patronage of the arts, whereas the Romans relied on slaves for free labor. The emperors of the Gupta Empire had a love of the arts that was passed down from father to son. Because of this, artists in Gupta India were paid for their work, which caused science, mathematics, literature, and art to flourish. It was a Gupta scientist who calculated the calendar year to be 365 days and who theorized the earth was a rotating sphere, long before Columbus’ voyages. Religious freedom was also encouraged in Gupta India. Indeed, a large Buddhist University was built in India, although the Gupta Empire supported Hinduism. The Roman Empire was not so lenient. Most religions were allowed to be practiced unhindered, but Christianity suffered at the hands of the Roman Empire. Typically, Christians were slaughtered, although one emperor, Nero, would lock Christians up in cages and set them on fire, using them as “lights” for his festive parties. In regards to the arts, the Classical Period of Rome saw many beautiful sculptures and busts, particularly of emperors, and many great writings, but this wasn’t necessarily endorsed or oppressed by the emperors. The Roman Empire also had a slave class, which Gupta India did not. Reliance on slave labor is considered one of the downfalls of the Roman Empire. Overall, the Gupta Empire was more lenient than the Roman Empire.

The Gupta and Roman Empires were both powerful. Each empire had various methods of political control, Gupta’s typically being slightly more lenient than Rome. Similarities occurred between the two great empires in their use of hereditary rule as the rule for succession and their imperialist mindsets. In terms of their differences, India’s support of the arts and religious freedom was greater than Rome’s, and Rome had the support of a slave class where Gupta did not. Regardless of their similarities or differences, both the Gupta and Roman empires are regarded in history as extremely powerful and influential.


Chris on March 01, 2017:

Alexander the Great was Roman?

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Joy M from Sumner, Washington on April 24, 2013:

Yes, if you were bending the caste rules yourself you couldn't exactly frown on others who did the same. I forgotten they were not the typical caste.

MasonZgoda (author) on April 21, 2013:

Excellent point. My thought was that the untouchables were not slaves. Untouchables were simply shunned from society, whereas the Romans used slaves for labor. Also, it would seem that the Gupta Dynasty was a bit more lenient when it comes to the cast system, as the Gupta rulers themselves were of the Vaishya caste (farmers, artisans, etc.) when most Indian rulers were of the Kshatriya (warrior) caste.

Joy M from Sumner, Washington on April 19, 2013:

Couldn't the Dalits or untouchable caste be equated to the Roman slave class?

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