State Support for Religion by Empirial Rome and Indiaby Rit Nosotro
Compare the Roman emperors' tolerance for and support of Christianity with Ashoka's support for Buddhism. What were the consequences of imperial support?
[To be revised: The follow two essays need to be combined into one essay.]
Throughout history, there have always been many different religions. In China
and India, Buddhism spread and became a major religion. In Europe, Christianity
became the most popular religion and in the Middle East and North Africa, Islam
became dominant. What caused those religions to subdue others and become the
most powerful religion in their respective geographical regions? If one tries
to find the answer to that question, he or she will always find the same answer,
or at least a similar one. No matter if one talks about Christianity, Islam
or Buddhism, the main reason for the spread of a religion has always been one
or several powerful rulers who gave imperial support to that religion. This
essay will discuss two of those rulers who allowed religions to become powerful:
Constantine and Ashoka.
Constantine’s rise to power brought about major changes in the structure of the Roman Empire. The most important and significant change made by him involved Christianity. According to the story, during his march on Rome, Constantine saw a vision of a cross in front of the sun surrounded by the words: “By this sign conquer”. After this vision, Constantine ordered his troops to march into a river and declared them baptized. He also ordered them to paint the Greek letters chi and rho, (which was an abbreviation for the name of Christ), on their shields. After the battle ended in victory, Constantine became a lifelong supporter of Christianity.
The imperial support that Constantine gave to Christianity had a great impact. Obviously Constantine legalized Christianity in all areas of his empire. In the eastern half of the empire, a stronger population of Christians always had existed, and pagans never really cared for the myths and rituals of the Romans, therefore the adoption of Christianity created a feeling of unity and patriotism, which resulted in the strengthening of the empire and closer relations with other Christian nations.
His Christian faith had a major impact on the East. Constantine thought that the East had become the proper place for an emperor to live, for the population was higher and more concentrated than in the West. Constantine moved to the small city of Byzantium, later known as Constantinople. There he had a vision to enlarge the city. He walked out, spear in hand, and started to walk. After two miles a weary follower asked how much farther he planned to go. Constantine answered: “I shall go on until He who is walking in front of me stops.” Constantine’s choice for the new capital was of great importance. Constantinople gave him the power to control the trade of both the Middle East and Europe. Constantinople also played a significant role in the protection of Christian Europe. For more than a thousand years Constantinople protected Europe from invasions.
Ashoka was the third king of the Maurya dynasty. Ashoka’s grandfather had established a large kingdom in northern India. This kingdom was further expanded by Ashoka’s father. Since Ashoka was not the first born son, he had to fight his elder brothers to reach the throne. This may have resulted in an interim of four years between his father’s death and formal acceptance of Ashoka as emperor. On becoming king in about 269 AD, Ashoka inherited a vast empire stretching from the Kashmir region in the north to modern Karnataka state in the south, and from the Ganges delta in the east to southern and eastern Afghanistan in the northwest. According to his own accounts, Ashoka conquered the Kalinga country in the eighth year of his reign. After this military campaign was over, Ashoka was so disturbed by the suffering that it had caused, that he forsook war and thereafter endorsed non-violence and peaceful persuasion in consolidating his huge empire. He called this policy “conquest by dharma (principles of right life).” It was at this time that he came in touch with Buddhism and adopted it. His vigorous support of Buddhism during his reign dramatically furthered the expansion of that religion throughout India. He built a number of stupas and monasteries. Among his works of public utility were the founding of hospitals and the supplying of medicines. He also ordered the planting of roadside trees and groves, digging of wells, and construction of watering sheds and rest houses. Even though Ashoka strongly supported Buddhism, he adopted a policy of respect towards all religious sects and guaranteed them freedom. However, he also urged them to exert themselves for “the increase of their inner worthiness.” Due to Ashoka’s support of Buddhism, it became a popular religion in India. Buddhism, which until then, was only a small sect, spread throughout India and consequently beyond the borders of the country.
Even though both rulers’ political agenda included the spread of religion, there remains a great difference of how the two rulers promoted their religion. Constantine forced all his people to adopt Christianity, thereby changing the religious ideas. The church had converted Constantine, but now Constantine changed the Church. Jesus never told his followers to build churches and have priests, however those things were now strongly supported by Constantine. In contrast to Constantine, Ashoka did not force his people to adopt Buddhism, but used it as a tool to improve their lives, leading to their conversion. Ashoka and Constantine ruled in different ways. In both cases however, the rulers improved the structure of their empires, and both rulers made it possible for their supported religion to spread.
1. What empire did Constantine rule?
2. What empire did Ashoka rule?
3. What effect did the religions have on the rulers? Compare!
4. What effect did the rulers have on the religions? Compare!
Kimball, Charles. "The Xenophile Historian, Chapter 8: ANCIENT ROME, PART II." . (1998). Retrieved 14 10 2003 <file:///C:/My%20Documents/Grade%2011/World%20History%20section%201/index.html, >.
Sen, Amalya Chandra "Asoka." Britannica Biography Collection
Microsoft Encarta "Ashoka". 1993 - 1999
ESSAY #2: Same prompt question - different student author
When comparing the Roman Emperor's tolerance for Christianity and Ashoka's tolerance for Buddhism, one finds that both instances of toleration come from one main goal. That goal was to rule an empire peacefully. One of the most famous religiously tolerant emperors of Roman was Constantine. Known for making Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire, Constantine put an end to the persecution of religions during his rule. Constantine supported Christianity because of the faith's high ethical and moral values. Because the behavior of the people following the Christian faith was easier to rule than people following pagan religions, Constantine increased his support of the faith. And with the emperor's support, Christianity flourished throughout the empire, and it was spread to far off lands.
Christianity has also had a reputation of being a religion full of laws and regulations. While this may seem true for a non-believer, Constantine realized the truth of the matter was that those who believed in Christianity desired to follow these "laws and regulations" to honor God. Constantine, and many other tolerant Roman emperors, took advantage of this. They knew that if they could get their people to believe in a religion with such good and moral laws, then their reign would result in many long years of peace.
Having one religion also unified the empire. Without the constant bickering of religious leaders as to which religion was true, Constantine attempted to solve the problem by having one religion. Fortunately for the Romans, he chose the only true religion as their state religion. Because Constantine chose Christianity, the empire became strong. People were given hope of being saved from their sins by a Savior who had taken their iniquities upon himself. The Christian people of the Roman Empire did not have to worry about attaining perfection, because they knew that only the Son of God was perfect. However, they knew that living a life according to the Scriptures pleased their Savior, and this was enough motivation to live a good life.
Similar to Christianity, Buddhism has a set of rules relating to its religion. Those wanting to become a member of the religion had to be willing to give every day of their lives to obeying the different rules. The four cardinal rules for monks were abstaining from violence, stealing, lying, and sexual misconduct. Many Buddhists took their religion seriously, and strived to obey these rules as frequently as possible. The ruler, Ashoka, knew of the rules. He also knew that the more people he could get to believe in this religion, the more people would be striving to live lives of peace. As a result, this would make his rule stronger.
Because of Ashoka's support of Buddhism, the religion began to spread all over the world. With their ruler's blessing on Buddhism, the people grasped the religion, hoping their belief would make a better world. However, these people failed to realize that Buddhism offered no peace. As they struggled to follow the rules of their religion, they found they could not attain perfection because of man's sin. So, what started as a religion based on goodness and morality became a religion filled with hopelessness. This was a serious consequence.
Both Roman emperor's, like Constantine, and the ruler, Ashoka, used the peaceful laws of the popular religions of their day to help them govern a peaceful empire. By using these religions, the people willingly lived peacefully, following their religion. Unfortunately, not every ruler chose the one and only true religion, Christianity, to help them govern their empires. And as a result of this, many empires became weaker instead of stronger.
1. Which famous emperor supported Christianity?
2. Which emperor supported Buddhism?
3. Which is the only true religion?
4. In both cases, what was the result of the emperors support of the religions.
a. The religions vanished
b. The religions spread
c. The religions were mocked
d. The religions ruined the empire
e. The religions weren't accepted by the people.
1. http://www.psycoanalysisdownunder.com/PADPapers/cirlces_sn.htm. Historical Background of the Buddah. Psyco Analysis Down Under. 1/5/04
2. http://www.purifymind.com/ModernWorld.htm. Buddhism in the Modern World. Purify Mind. 1/3/04
3. http://www.fsmitha.com/h1/ch24.htm. Emperor Constantine Supports Christianity. Smith. 1/3/04
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