During the late Classical Period (200-600 C.E.), all the great empires collapsed. The collapse of the empires did not happen abruptly but was a process. The fall of the Han dynasty and the Roman Empire showed similar characteristics. Both empires simply got too big, too overextended, and when weakened were overrun by barbarian tribes. However, there are profound differences as well. The Roman Empire proofed too expansive to be sustained by the available resources with no new technological innovations especially when the revenue decreased due to no new countries being conquered. China during the Han dynasty produced several new inventions like the ox drawn plow. China’s increase in population contributed to the collapse of the empire as did the decrease of the Roman population. The Han dynasty empire in China collapsed by the year 220 C.E. For the next 400 years, China was divided into several regional kingdoms. The Roman Empire came to an end by 476 C.E.
However, it had already declined over several decades and the golden age of Rome, the Pax Romana, came to a close with the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 C.E. In contrast to China, the eastern part of the empire maintained the tradition of imperial Rome, the Byzantine Empire, for another thousand years. The Han dynasty was interrupted by Wang Mang (9-23 CE) who was a government official taking on power and weakened the empire by his unsuccessful attempt to reform land ownership and currency which caused chaos in the local economy among the poor and the rich. The Han dynasty was restored two years later by the empire could not fully recover. The size Officials were exempt from taxes and the heavy taxation of impoverished tenant farmers caused a major peasant revolt, Yellow Turban Rebellion, in 184 C.E. which weakened the authority of the central government.
In the Roman Empire small landowners were frequently forced to sell their land to the owners of large estates. These large landowning families avoided paying taxes as did the church. Both empires suffered weakened political system structures. In China, the corruption of court officials as well as the tension between them and the Confucian-educated scholar-bureaucrats weakened the state’s control of large estate owners. In Rome some emperors tried desperately to save the empire but 25 out of 26 emperors died a violent death in a 50 year span. The influence of army general and division of the empire weakened the western half. Persistent famines, devastating floods along the Yellow River caused an increase in prices in China and the resentment of peasant towards the court. A population increase lead to less land per family. The resulting poverty weakened the local trade. Rome’s population declined by 25% due to epidemic diseases. This and poor harvest caused less production, weakened trade and therefore a decreased revenue for the state.
As both empires weakened migratory invasions from barbarian tribes could not be stopped. The Chinese had dealt with the Xiongnu and other nomadic tribes by encouraging marriages, offering gifts and building the Great Wall but as the empire weakened these tribes set up “barbarian states” in the north of China. Rome already suffered a decreased money flow into the empire as no new countries were conquered. The western part of the Roman Empire collapsed when the nomadic Huns from Central Asia migrated south and west in search of better pasture land. The recruitment of non-Romans into the Roman Army weakened its strength. Germanic tribes who had already lived around the northern borders of the Roman Empire were forced to flee from the Huns and began overrunning the Roman borders. By 425 C.E. several Germanic Empires where set up within the empire. By 476 C.E., the last western Roman emperor was replaced by a Germanic ruler from the tribe of the Visigoths.