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Similarities and Differences between First and Second-wave Empires

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The emergence of second-wave empires in 500 BCE coincides with the decline of earlier river societies, also known as first-wave civilizations, which were present from approximately 3500 BCE to 500 BCE. River valley societies were, as its name suggests, situated near rivers as a source of water for irrigation and everyday use. In comparison, second-wave empires adopted many traits from earlier civilizations and elaborated on them or completely changed them. Despite bearing some minor similarities, the differences in political organization, innovations, and social inequality between first and second wave civilizations are more noteworthy. The political structures in first and second wave civilizations share some traits while differing in others. For instances, leaders in early river societies claimed that they were divinely ordained. Sumerian kings of individual city-states each claimed to be connected to a godly entity and as a result were deemed fit to rule. Additionally, Egypt, the Nile river valley society, was led by a series of Pharaohs who claimed to be Gods in human form. Likewise, leaders of second-wave empires also avowed that supernatural forces aid their regimes. Rome past emperors were regarded as gods.

Similarly, in China, emperors were thought to rule with the divine force of the Mandate of Heaven. On the other hand, many leaders of second-wave civilizations also depended on personal merits and high positions in their social hierarchy to establish leadership. Moreover, Han’s dynasty established an imperial academy and developed a civil service system to identify potential government officials. Also worth mentioning, is Athens’s concept of a “citizen”, which was a ground-breaking political idea, although not yet perfected, that views each individual as a part of a larger state system. Although there wasn’t any technological breakthrough as significant as the Agricultural Revolution, second-wave empires did have modest innovations that were not seen in first-wave civilizations. Some inventions, however, saw continuity from the first to second-wave civilization. In the first-wave civilizations, in terms of weapons, swords, arrows, and axes were used. The Chinese made advancements in weaponry, namely, the invention of piston bellows, firearms, and gunpowder, changing the game of warfare. In addition, the invention of the draw-loom, silk-handling machinery, the magnetic compass, the iron-chain suspension bridge, paper, and porcelain was also of Chinese origin, and that’s only naming a few.

Meanwhile, India initiated the crystallization of sugar and developed methods for making cotton textile. Rome, lastly, engineered numerous infrastructural accomplishments that can still be seen today. Relative to measurements and weighing systems, the Indus valley civilization developed standardized weights and measures which continued to be used by second-wave empires. To put briefly, many inventions from first-wave societies continued to be used – but improved upon, and many completely new innovations were made as well. Social inequality was a feature of both first and second-wave civilizations; nevertheless, there were slight variations. In ancient Egypt, there was a social class pyramid with Pharaohs on the top and slaves on the bottom with middle classmen in between. In the same way, the Tigris-Euphrates river valley civilizations also had a social ladder however instead of Pharaohs there were kings and nobles. These social classes caused a rift between the people, granting too much power to some and too little to others. Additionally, earlier river societies often practiced patriarchy, raising the value of men above women.

Concerning inequality between social classes and gender, first and second-wave civilizations shared a common ground. Second-wave empires continued to use social ladders such as the caste system in India. These social structures however, became much more strict and rigid. Furthermore, the margin of difference between social classes widen significantly. In comparison, second-wave empires imposed a firmer hold on women subordination, whereas river valley civilizations were less restrictive. Both first and second-wave civilizations claimed to have leaders that are spiritual connected to the gods, share a couple of innovations, have a social class system, and practice patriarchy. More pronounced, though, are the points that cause the earlier river societies to differ from second-wave empires. In sum, second-wave empires produced new political concepts – such as the concept of “citizens”, made an extensive amount of inventions to better everyday life, while creating a more defined social ladder and rigorously adhering to practices of patriarchy.

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