In ancient times various political and socio-economic systems of the empires either contributed to their power and success or eventually led to the catastrophic downfall of the nation due to flaws in the system. Such empires as Persian, Roman, Mongol, and Inca are among the most prominent empires of all times. While having some similar approaches to maintaining power, including tax, administration, and enslavement systems, there are certain differences, with some boosting the efficiency of the empire or decelerating development.
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One of the cruelest empires with detrimental impacts was the Mongol empire. During the initial phases of subjugation, the Mongol empire tried to enforce the system of the steppes on the conquered tribes. These enslaved tribes eventually became a part of the victorious empire. Moreover, Mongol military commanders utilized local economic structures of the enslaved area as they pleased (May). The previous state apparatus and administration were not used, and the initial political ideas were completely ignored (May). As a result, brutal exploitation under heavy military force was typical of the early era of Mongol dominance.
The subjugated regions’ economies were not adequately managed during the conquering period. The elimination of highly structured administrations created an opportunity for Mongol leaders to abuse regional output (May). There was no one monetary system that served the entire realm or even substantial portions of it (May). The lack of political structure at the top, the tremendous autonomy of the numerous appanages, and the high importance given to military matters profoundly destabilized and harmed economic growth and development. Thus, unlike other empires, the Mongol empire was a massive conglomeration of very varied lands kept together only by military control, with the lack of economic and political systems being the flaws of the empire.
The Roman Empire can be considered similar to the Mongol empire due to the austerity of military control. For generations, the Roman army has asserted its lethal dominance over its foes via smart tactics and rigid discipline (King et al.). However, certain differences make the Roman empire more successful. The triumph of the Roman legions was aided by technological advancements which were not inherent to other empires (King et al.). Romans were among the first to deploy military equipment, and their adversaries had little chance against their superior arsenal.
Additionally, almost all kinds of commodities were taxed, including people. Aside from economic difficulty, residents of Rome were exempt from paying this tax, while all noncitizens living in the empire were forced to pay taxes on all their possessions (King et al.). Moreover another contribution to the empire’s power was the role of slaves. The Romans had a cruel social division that distinctly drew the line between those worthy of normal life and those worthy of being treated worse than cattle. Slaves were employed in various settings, including private residences, mines and industries, and farmland (King et al.). Slaves also labored on construction projects for municipal administrations, such as roads, canals, and buildings.
Like the Mongol and Roman empires, the Inca empire relied heavily on subjugating other territories and people. However, unlike the listed empires, the Incas did not make these people slaves. They forced their faith, organization, and even culture on conquered territories, demanded tax, and even relocated loyal communities to better incorporate new regions into the realm (Bauer). The Inca aristocracy retained control of the empire’s most significant political, religious, and military functions (Bauer). Troops were established across the empire to guarantee this elite’s authority over their people, and wholly new bureaucratic centers were built. Nevertheless, the Incas also brought specific advantages, such as food allocation in times of global emergency, work through government initiatives, roads, and military support.
Since there were no currencies in the Inca civilization, taxes were paid mainly for food, precious minerals, textiles, exotic birds, paints, and shells. Another source was laborers who could be moved about the realm to be employed where they were most necessary (Bauer). Local communities were also required to assist in constructing and maintaining imperial infrastructure like the empire’s road network.
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Perhaps one of the most reasonable and wise empires was the Persian empire. Unlike rulers of other empires, Cyrus of Persia was famed for his kindness rather than violence (Melville). He and his successors pursued an assimilation and reconciliation strategy toward subjugated peoples. They worked with local leaders and intervened as little as possible in subjects unrelated to their reign. They honored local customs and even embraced some of their people’s religious habits (Melville). Rather than destroying local economies for personal gain, the Persians tried to boost commerce throughout their empire. As a result, this infrastructure reinforced the exchange of goods with other nations.
Additionally, the Persian rulers established a system for managing a huge empire afterward emulated by others. Laws were applied equally and evenly to all of the enslaved people. The Persians subdivided their empire into districts, each of which was overseen by a governor. Furthermore, they gave property to feudal lords in return for allegiance and military pledges for the Persian army. All of these factors contributed to the success and immense power of the empire.
Thus, the power of most of the empires was maintained by the armies and the elites. Additionally, all of the empires were either fully or partly taxing the territories, depending on the situation in the empire and the strata. However, there are differences in the ruling approaches of the empires. For example, the Mongol and Roman empires relied heavily on slaves and treated them as a workforce and the lowest stratum of society. Meanwhile, the Persian and Inca empires tended to assimilate with the subjugated territories, maintaining friendly approaches.
Bauer, Brian S. Ancient Cuzco. University of Texas Press.
King, Darwin L., Carl J. Case, and Jared L. Roosa. “The comprehensive taxation system existing during the Roman Empire.” Journal of Business and Accounting, vol.12, no.1, 2019, pp. 64-78.
May, Timothy. The Mongols. ARC, Amsterdam University Press, 2019.
Melville, Charles. “The Illustration of History in Persian Manuscripts.” Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies, vol.56, no.1, 2018, pp. 47-63.