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A dynasty is a series of rulers who are most often from the same family. The term can also be used to describe the era or period during which that particular family ruled. The current royal family in England is a part of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha dynasty, which has been in power since 1902. The family changed its name to Windsor during World War I to appear more British.

There have been many dynasties of differing lengths and importance around the world. Their impact on history also varies, some dynasties being more famous than others. Most people will have heard of the Ming dynasty in China because of the beautiful porcelain that was created during that family's time in power. Not as many people, however, will have heard of the Piast Dynasty who ruled in 9th century Poland. Refer Image1

The stories of many of the great empires are usually told by telling the history of the dynasties that ruled within those empires. Sometimes the dynasties only lasted a few years, sometimes for hundreds. In Europe, much of the history is recounted in this way. When someone studies European history they will learn of the Carolingians, the Hapsburgs, the Stuarts and the Romanovs. Each of these dynasties tells the history of the country in which it ruled, and also the history of the region.

The Roman Nervan-Antonian dynasty AD96-180

This period of history in the Roman Empire is often also referred to as the 'Five Good Emperors' period. After many years of wars and instability, the five emperors who ruled between AD96 and AD180 brought in an era of relative peace and prosperity. They were immediately succeeded by more repressive, tyrannical rulers, so their era was highlighted for its 'goodness'.

Nerva - AD96-98

Nerva was the first of the Good Emperors and even though he only ruled for two years, it was he who set in motion the policy of 'adopting' an heir to the Imperial throne, rather than the throne automatically going to a son. He set in motion the idea of giving the throne to the most worthy man, who deserved it. This practice was adopted by his successors. He was also a very moderate ruler, he released people who had been imprisoned for treason and allowed exiled Romans to return to the city-state.

Trajan - AD98-117

Trajan was adopted by Nerva and he ruled in much the same way as his adopted 'father'. He was a general in the army and under his rule, the territory owned by the Roman Empire was at its biggest. Born in Spain, Trajan was also the first non-Roman-born Emperor in the empire's history. He adopted Hadrian.

Hadrian - AD117-138

Hadrian, like Trajan before him, was a peaceful ruler who believed in peace above force. It was this Hadrian who built Hadrian's Wall in the North of England to stop a war between the Romans in Britain and the Scots. Hadrian was devoted to the arts and architecture, erecting many beautiful buildings. He also left a 150-year legacy of beards behind him. He was the first of the Emperors to wear a beard, and for the next 150 years other Emperors followed suit. Hadrian adopted Antonius Pius.

Antonius Pius - AD 138-161

Antonius Pius had a relatively peaceful reign also, although by not taking a more active stand against some troublesome tribes in Germany and Parthia, he was laying up trouble for his adopted successor - Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius - AD161-180

Marcus Aurelius was the last of the five good emperors. It is he who is portrayed in the 2000 movie Gladiator. Another moderate politician, in the same vein as his predecessor, Aurelius passed laws that were beneficial to widows, slaves and children. During his reign, Rome was almost always at war with countries outside the Empire.

Marcus Aurelius made the mistake of nominating his son Commodus as his heir to the Empire. Commodus was a tyrant who oppressed the Roman people and brought to an end the period of prosperity and unity that had been present under the Nervan-Antonian dynasty.  By looking at this one dynasty in the long history of the Roman Empire, we can see how the rulers in that dynasty and their actions affected the Empire. This one dynasty of rulers is quite significant, because many people see its end as the beginning of the end of the great Roman Empire.

The Chinese Empire

The history of the Chinese Empire is almost always told in relation to the dynasties that ruled in the empire. Here is a very brief history of those dynasties. Refer Image2

1650-1027 BC - Shang Dynasty. China's first great dynasty ruled in the Bronze Age. It is during this time that the first examples of Chinese writing emerge.

1027-256 BC - Zhou Dynasty. The Zhou dynasty was a prosperous time of great feudal lords.

481-221 BC - Warring States Period. As the name suggests a time of great instability and war. Confucius and other famous Chinese philosophers were writing at this time.

221-207 BC - Qin Dynasty. This was the first Dynasty to unite all of China into one Empire. The Qin dynasty built the Great Wall of China and created one unified system of writing, measurements, currency and weight.

207 BC - AD 220 - Han Dynasty. The Han Dynasty strengthened the Imperial bureaucracy put in place by the Qin Dynasty.

AD 221-589 - Period of Disunity. This era saw many different dynasties fighting for power within the empire.

AD 589-618 - Sui Dynasty. The Sui Dynasty reunited the Chinese Empire and rebuilt the Great Wall.

AD 618-908 - Tang Dynasty. Under the Tang Dynasty the Chinese Empire expanded and became a great world power. It became very prosperous and the arts became very important in society. Poetry became a part of the school examinations.

AD 907-960 - Five Dynasties Period. China became divided again among many different dynasties.

AD 960-1279 - Song Dynasty. China was once more reunited the Song Dynasty. This was the beginning of the era of great Chinese civilisation - there were great advances in technology and science.

AD 1279-1368 - Yuan Dynasty. China was conquered by the Mongols from the North who brought their own ruling dynasty with them, the Yuan. This is when Europeans began to arrive in China and marvelled at the great wealth, technology and culture they discovered there.

AD 1368-1644 - The Ming Dynasty. The Mongols and the Yuan were expelled and the Chinese Ming Dynasty took power. The Ming Dynasty is of course famous for its arts and crafts, especially Ming Porcelain. It was to be the last Chinese Dynasty though.

AD 1644-1912 - The Qing Dynasty. The Qing Dynasty, also known as the Manchu Dynasty was not Chinese. They came from an area of what is now North East China. They ruled for a long time and were in power at the height of China's Imperial power. They lived under the constant threat of a Chinese revolt and by the early 1900s, the dynasty was in decline. In 1912 the Manchu Dynasty was overthrown and the last Qing Emperor abdicated from the throne.

By looking at the series of dynasties who ruled China, we can see how the country changed over the years. How technology and science were once so advanced, but then declined. Historians can see how foreigners coming into the country influenced the culture and government. They can also see how things like clothing, music, culture and laws developed and changed over time.

Chapters: The Suffragists Dynasties


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