Three empires during the post-classical period will be discussed in the paper: the Roman Empire (the Western and the Eastern Roman Empires), the Gupta Empire, and the Sassanian Empire. After the fall of the Roman Empire, two new empires emerged: the Western Empire also known as the Holy Roman Empire and the Eastern Empire also known as the Byzantine Empire.
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Despite the fact that these two empires were now different states, they still had some similarities. For example, both empires still used gladiator fights as the primary form of entertainment for their citizens, despite differences in culture and religion (Rautman 53). The religious differences were quite striking: while the Western Empire adhered to polytheism (e.g. to the pantheon that previously existed in the Roman Empire), the Eastern Empire’s religion was monotheistic; furthermore, the power of and support for Christianity was much larger in the Eastern Empire than in the Western Empire (Rautman 62).
Meanwhile, religious policies in the Gupta Empire were significantly different from the religions of the both parts of the former Roman Empire. Under the ruling of the Gupta family, India was able to experience the era of religious tolerance and acceptance. Unlike the Western empires, the Gupta Empire accepted two religions and their followers, i.e. Hinduism, the religion respected and valued by the Guptas, and Buddhism, a less popular religion that still had enough support among the citizens of the Empire (Blankenship 114).
It should be noted that the Sassanid Empire was the last empire before the emergence of Islam. The state religion, therefore, was not Islam but Zoroastrianism that was mixed with traditional Iranian beliefs and influenced by preferences and worldviews of the sovereigns in the Sassanid Empire. Furthermore, Christians also lived in the Sassanid Empire, although it was not a state religion; this form of Christianity related to the Christianity in the Roman Empire, but could not be seen as a part of it due to the history of conflict between the Sassanid Empire and the Roman Empire (Axworthy 18). The similarity between the Sassanid and the Gupta Empires was in their approach towards religions. Christianity and Buddhism, as well as Judaism, were not prohibited from preaching in the Sassanid Empire, and both empires showed religious tolerance, despite the fact that they also had a state religion.
The diversity of culture in the empires should also be taken into consideration. Various types of art prospered in these empires: the Gupta Empire is famous for its architecture and sculpture, and the latter often focused on the representation of divine beings of Hinduism. At the same time, the art in the Sassanid Empire was to display the cultural identity of the Empire and its citizens. It should be noted that it was also influenced by the Greco-Roman culture and often presented gods and other mystical beings from it. Silver plates and other vessels were common pieces of art in the Sassanid Empire. They became famous and recognizable due to the extensive trade with other states and empires (Axworthy 21).
While the Holy Roman Empire was not only multi-cultural (since it consisted of different regions) but also multi-lingual, the Byzantine Empire’s culture and art were more consistent. The art in the Byzantine Empire focused on the religious aspects of culture, including theological ideas and expressions. Mosaics and frescoes were common forms of art in the Byzantine Empire, while its architecture could be separated into two different types: secular buildings and religious buildings. The Byzantine art, including architecture and iconography, also influenced the culture (as well as architecture) of other countries such as Italy and Sicily, as well as Russia.
The extensive trade, cultural influence, emergence of new trade routes, and the acceptance of different religions show how the global integration was possible in the post-classical period. The Holy Roman Empire, despite differences in culture and languages, was able to integrate citizens with different cultural backgrounds into the society. The Sassanid Empire, as well as the Gupta Empire, was able to accept and support different religions and cultural beliefs of its citizens. One can also view Byzantium (or Constantinople) as a globalized city, somewhat similar to modern major cities where trade with other countries and continents becomes one of the most important functions of the city.
The emergence of the Silk Road also indicates the globalization and interaction of cultures and economies that were interested in expanding their trade routes and economic relationships with different nations and states. The interconnected influence of the discussed empires also proves that they did not exist in a vacuum but rather were formed and shaped by interactions (including wars and conflicts) with other empires. The Silk Road connected multiple states, such as China, Korea, India, Turkey, Italy, and others, allowing them to exchange not only wares, goods, and recourses but cultural beliefs, ideas, and opinions as well. Therefore, it would be unreasonable to believe that the term global integration can only apply to the XX and XXI centuries since it was extremely relevant almost 1700 years ago as well.
Axworthy, Michael. Iran: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford University Press, 2016.
Blankenship, LeeAnn. Daily Life in Ancient India. Rosen Publishing Group, 2016.
Rautman, Marcus. Daily Life through History. ABC-Clio, 2013.