How Is the Roman Empire Similar to the Islamic Golden Age?

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
... Uriel Sinai/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The Roman Empire/Republic and the Islamic Caliphate shared key traits during their golden ages. Both were very tolerant amidst seas of intolerance, were centers of culture and learning, promoted vast trade networks that enriched their domains and had generally weak neighbors into which they could easily expand.

1 The Extent of Roman Power

The traditional date of the founding of the city of Rome is 753 B.C. By the early third century B.C., Rome was the dominant power in Italy; by the mid-third century B.C., it was the dominant power in the western Mediterranean; and by the mid-second century B.C., it dominated the entire Mediterranean. At its peak in the early second century A.D., Rome stretched from Britain, Spain and Morocco in the west and through to the Persian Gulf and the Caucasus Mountains in the east. It held most of this territory until the mid-fifth century. Germanic tribes deposed the last emperor in the West in 476. Roman emperors continued to reign in Constantinople, but lost most of their territory to the Arab Muslim armies in the seventh century and finally the last of the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

2 The Extent of the Arab Muslim Caliphate

The Prophet Mohammed began consolidating his power and territory around Medina beginning in 622. He died in 632, but by the early seventh century, an Arab Muslim led empire called the caliphate stretched from northeast India and parts of central Asia in the east, through all of Persia and the Middle East, through all of North Africa, and most of Spain and some of southern France in the west. Muslims would also briefly hold Sicily and southern Italy. The caliphate was conquered in 1258 by Mongol armies.

3 Tolerance

For most of Roman history, religious tolerance was the norm. However, Druids were persecuted because of their practice of human sacrifice, and Christians were sporadically persecuted because of their resistance to state authority. Jews were not persecuted until after several major political rebellions and were generally treated well until the days of the Christian Emperors. During Islam's Golden Age, Jews and Christians enjoyed freedom of worship and many rights and protections. The religious tolerance in both empires contributed to stability and harmony.

4 Culture and Learning

During Rome's Golden Age, literature, poetry, science, architecture and philosophy all flourished. Though much has been lost, that which survives, such as the idea of divided government, the writings of Cicero and the Colosseum, still inspires awe. Likewise, the Islamic Golden Age was culturally rich, rich in the sciences, poetry, architecture and philosophy. Jews, Christians and Muslims worked together in places like Baghdad and Spain. Beautiful Islamic architectures from this era still stands today, and Islamic lands were actually major centers for the preservation of ancient Greek and Roman knowledge and culture.

5 Trade

By providing peace over wide regions, both empires allowed trade, and ideas, to flourish and spread. Both engaged in trade with lands half a world away. Peace helped to advance prosperity and helped to fund further building projects.

  • 1 The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic
  • 2 The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Augustus
  • 3 An Introduction to Islam, by Frerick Matthewson Denny
  • 4 The Middle East: A History: Sixth Edition, by William Ochsenwald and Sudney Nettleton Fisher
  • 5 Blackwell Companion to the Roman Empire
  • 6 Blackwell Companion to the Roman Republic
  • 7 Oxford World's Classics: Livy: The Rise of Rome, Books 1-5
  • 8 The Times Complete History of the World, by Richard Overy

Brian E. Frydenborg lives in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. He received his Master of Science in peace operations from George Mason University's School of Public Policy in 2011. Frydenborg also holds a double major Bachelor of Arts in history and politics from Washington and Lee University.