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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:58

Video transcript

- [Sal] Steve, what are doing here? - [Steve] Hey, Sal. We're gonna look at this question of, why do empires fall? - [Sal] And for those of you who don't know Steve Schraeder, he is a World History Fellow here at Khan Academy and also a former World History teacher. - [Steve] So what we want to do here is use this big ideas, these big factors that are somewhat common across empires, to sort of understand how specific empires fell. - [Sal] Let's start in Achaemenid Persia. So, Achaemenid Persia, it's an empire that lasts for roughly 200 years. And I guess the obvious thing about Achaemenid Persia, it gets taken over by Alexander the Great. So I'll just go ahead and throw invasion on that list for Achaemenid Persia. So, outside of invasion, if we go through the rest of this list, it clearly was a large empire, so maybe there was an element of over expansion. It was governed in a fairly federated way through these satraps. You might have had bad leadership be a role. Darius III, famous for deserting his troops on the battlefield. - [Steve] Yeah, and on top of that, we might throw in economics as well, because as Alexander conquers bits and pieces of the empire, he's also depriving them of the resources that those areas would provide. - [Sal] So, now let's move on to Maurya India. Once again, a significant empire, lasts definitely over 100 years and it's actually the largest unified empire over the Indian subcontinent. And it starts with three fairly strong rulers and it's known, especially with Ashoka the Great, for spreading of the Buddhist religion. So why, in your mind, Steve, did it fall? Which of these factors played most strongly? - [Steve] Well, the first one that jumps out is over expansion. Once Ashoka dies, you see the empire really lose a lot of that northwestern territory. What we did see is some religious strife. You mentioned that Ashoka worked really hard to spread Buddhism and he did follow that in some of his policies which led to some tension between some of the Hindu population in the empire. - [Sal] And so you could also call that division as well. So, moving on. Go to Han China. It began to fall the end of the second century CE and then falls in the third century CE. Which of these factors led to its eventual demise? - [Steve] Right. So I think we want to start looking at the fall of Han China from the lens of the Yellow Turban Rebellion. And that is partly a religious movement and it also is partly sparked by environmental factors leading to food shortages. - [Sal] And food shortages might affect the economy. - [Steve] Absolutely. And there's a lot of internal migration to look for better jobs within Han China because of this. - [Sal] Do you think leadership played a role? - [Steve] Yeah. There was a lot of dissatisfaction with the Han emperor and how he was sort of dealing with some of these problems. And over time, efforts to defeat the rebellion led to regional warlords gaining more power and then they eventually carve out their own kingdoms from the Han domain. - [Sal] Okay. And then, overlapping in time with Han China, we of course have the famous Roman Empire. And on my timeline here, this first section is the Roman kingdom, then Roman republic, and then you have the formal Roman empire that collapses at the end of the fifth century. So which of these factors do you think played... In the Western Roman empire is collapsed, the Byzantine empire, the Eastern Roman empire continues on for roughly a thousand years more. - [Steve] Well, let's start with the obvious point there that there is a division. There's a formal political division that's gonna weaken both halves of the empire in terms of the resources available. We also have, at the same time as that division, religious issues going on. We have Christianity being declared the official religion of the Roman empire at this time and that leads to internal conflicts between those who are Christians and those who are not. - [Sal] You have migrations and invasions. You have famously the Huns migrating into Eastern Europe and then putting pressure on the Germanic tribes to oftentimes come into the Roman empire, but that led to... So that was both migrations and invasion. - [Steve] Yeah, and in this case, it's sometimes hard to separate invasion from migration. - [Sal] And I would throw in economy since the Roman empire, in its expansionary period, was constantly getting new territory which would add tax revenues to Rome's coffers. It allowed for more and more slaves who could work for Rome. Once you get into the third, fourth century CE, that expansion starts to stop and so it stops that ever-growing pile of money and ever-growing pile of labor. So, I'd argue economy played a role. You can never point to just one factor. Empires are these very complicated things but there are these general themes and as a student, it's valuable to think about them in a framework something like this. - [Steve] So all these factors won't apply to every single empire you look at. They're a good starting point when you start thinking about those questions of why did this particular empire fall? - [Sal] Awesome. Thanks, Steve. - [Steve] Thanks, Sal.