Whether it is through military prowess, scientific achievements, or an advanced culture, there are many traits that define the greatest empires in the history of the world. In concept, an empire is "an extensive group of states or countries ruled over by a single monarch, an oligarchy, or a sovereign state." In practice, an empire is a tale of brutality and oppression for those that the empire conquers. The histories of many of these empires relate in rule and scope, as they often succeeded each other by expanding on the infrastructure of prior imperial eras. However, in the centuries of rule that these mega-states presided over, destruction was not the only symptom: great periods of technological and cultural progress, and even mercy for those that chose to submit, occurred semi-frequently.
The Akkadian Empire, established around 2334 BCE, marked a significant period in ancient Mesopotamia. Founded by Sargon of Akkad, it is one of history's earliest empires. At its zenith, the empire reigned over 310,000 square miles, demonstrating the strength of centralizing power as well as a novel capacity for administration and infrastructure. The Akkadian language became the lingua franca due to the rule of Akkadian administrators, although forms of Sumerian and Elamite were still used. The empire made significant strides in arts and sciences, with notable achievements in cuneiform script, which influenced later civilizations (and the aforementioned languages themselves). However, the empire faced challenges due to its large population, administrative complexity, and external threats.
Its decline around 2154 BCE stemmed from political instability, economic decline, and invasion by the Gutians. Until recently, it was falsely believed the Gutians and their kings swept suddenly into the area and overwhelmed the nation, but in reality, they had roots going back 100 years in the region. Furthermore, evidence of a drought around 2200 BCE also placed additional stress on the state. Upon collapsing, the Akkadian Empire's regions reverted to a system of independently managed city-states, which, while functional, still signified a period of "dark ages" societally.
The Roman Empire, emerging from the Roman Republic in 27 BCE, was a geopolitical entity that profoundly shaped the future of Western civilization. The transition from a republic (ruled by representative senators) to an empire hinges on the ambitions of its first emperor, Julius Caesar, who began his rise to power when he was elected dictator in order to singularly respond to instability. Although he was assassinated by a group of senators, Julius' adopted son Augustus became the subsequent emperor. Rome's historical narrative spanned around five centuries until its fall in 476 CE.
The empire's territorial expanse, at its peak under Emperor Trajan, spanned three continents and is due in part to military innovations, such as perfecting the ancient phalanx. Roman law and governance models influenced numerous modern legal and political systems. Infrastructure, like roads, aqueducts, and architecture, notably the Colosseum, underscore the empire's achievements. Latin, its lingua franca, became the foundation of Romance languages. The empire's conversion to Christianity under Constantine I further shaped the future of Western religious culture. The Pax Romana period epitomizes its prosperity and stability. However, the empire also faced numerous crises, including economic instability, military overreach, societal decadence, and barbarian invasions, leading to its eventual fragmentation in 395 CE.
7 Reasons Why Rome FellEver since its collapse in 476 CE, academics have been trying to figure out how such a peerless civilization that had once ruled with total dominance faced such a humiliating defeat.
Persian Empire (Achaemenid Empire)
The Persian Empire, spanning 550 to 330 BCE, was one of history's most powerful and expansive empires, established by Cyrus the Great. Its peak covered three continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe, including modern-day Iran, Egypt, Turkey, and parts of India and Greece. The empire had an efficient bureaucracy, run by satraps or provincial governors, and a postal system fostering communication across vast territories. Infrastructural achievements like the 1,553-mile Royal Road facilitated trade and military movements.
Despite its military strength, the Persian Empire demonstrated a policy of tolerance towards conquered people, respecting their customs and religions (one popular example is the restoration of the temporarily-exiled Jewish people). Under Darius the Great, the empire codified laws and introduced standardized weights and measures. However, power struggles and external threats, notably the Greco-Persian wars, gradually eroded its stability. Alexander the Great's conquest in 330 BCE marked the end of the Persian Empire, and the territory fell under the rule of the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Seleucid Empire after Alexander's death.
The Mongol Empire, founded by Genghis Khan in 1206, was a monumental force in world history. Exhibiting exceptional military strategy and organizational skills, the Mongols established the largest contiguous empire ever, spanning Eurasia from China to Eastern Europe. Their advanced communication system, the Yam, facilitated control over distant territories. The Yam relied on countless, well-guarded relay posts that supplied fresh horses to messengers every 25 miles. The empire's religious tolerance and merit-based promotions helped sway populations into submission without conflict. However, their expansion also entailed brutal conquests and mass killings (those who refused to submit were turned into examples), leaving a stark legacy of destruction.
The Pax Mongolica, their period of peace, facilitated unprecedented cultural exchange and trade along the Silk Road, influencing societies from Asia to Europe. However, domestic conflict, succession issues, and rebellions led to the empire's fragmentation into khanates by the late 13th century. As a legacy, the empire left a trail of roughly 50 million deaths in its wake, which substantially affected global demographics during a time when the world population was approximately 500 million.
The Ottoman Empire (1299-1922) was a significant global power strategically situated between Europe and Asia. Its multiethnic, multicultural structure is evidence of its imperialistic endeavors. Rooted in Turkish tribes under Osman I, it expanded rapidly, reaching its zenith under Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) when it encompassed Southeast Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa. The Ottoman Empire swallowed up much of the Eastern Roman Empire and claimed itself to be, therefore, the inheritor of the Roman Empire.
The empire's administrative structure, with its military elite (Janissaries), religious tolerance, and well-established laws, created social stability. However, long-lasting wars, internal strife, and increasing Western influence precipitated its decline, culminating in its partition after WWI. The Allied Powers occupied the territories of the opposed Central Powers, which included the Ottomans, and divided their territories between the United Kingdom and France. However, a successful rebellion instigated by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created the smaller but reminiscent modern-day nation of ofTürkiye.
Once the world's most extensive geopolitical entity, the British Empire profoundly shaped global history from the late 16th century to the mid-20th century. By wielding maritime exploration, trade, and colonization, it established a complex imperial system of governance and economic control over numerous territories across nearly all continents. Although it brought infrastructural advancement and cultural exchange, it also imposed cultural hegemony, economic exploitation, and significant human rights abuses, including slavery and the eradication of indigenous societies.
Globalization in the past two centuries is partly responsible for the downfall of the empire (and empires in general), in which administrative inefficiencies and ethical faults tend to outweigh benefits. The cracks first revealed themselves during the American War for Independence around 1783, and additional colonies followed suit upon sensing weakness. The British Empire's legacy remains contentious; many former colonies have achieved remarkable progress post-independence yet grapple with socio-economic and political issues rooted in their colonial past. The British Empire's influence on language, law, and governance remains evident globally, particularly in the Commonwealth of Nations.
Russian and Soviet Empires
The beginnings of the Russian Empire traces back to the principality of Moscow, which started as a small town in the 12th century and gradually grew in influence due to its strategic location and astute political maneuvering, notably under Ivan I ("Ivan Moneybags"). By the time of Ivan III ("Ivan the Great") in the late 15th century, Moscow had successfully consolidated power over surrounding territories and threw off the Mongol yoke, laying the foundations for a unified Russian state that would later evolve into the Russian Empire under Peter the Great in 1721. The empire was marked by autocratic governance, massive territorial expansion, and a highly diverse ethnic population. Tsarist rule, while fostering modernization, was frequently oppressive, inciting social unrest that culminated in the 1917 Revolution.
The Soviet Union, which succeeded the Russian Empire, sought to construct a socialist utopia and worked to achieve this by salvaging the Russian Empire's physical/geographical infrastructure while disposing of its cultural structure. Vladimir Lenin's leadership initially instilled revolutionary fervor, but his death gave way to Stalin's iron-fist rule, characterized by mass purges and collectivization. Despite the devastation of World War II, the USSR emerged as a superpower, competing against the US in the Cold War. Then, Khrushchev's and Brezhnev's reigns saw a mix of de-Stalinization (ending large-scale forced labor), military expansion, and stagnation. The late 1980s' Glasnost and Perestroika under Gorbachev aimed to reform the system, but instead led to its collapse in 1991.
United States of America
Although not officially a traditional Empire, The USA's current military and political influence, and history of territory acquisition and management, bear a striking similarity to empires of the past. The USA originated from 13 adjacent British colonies on the eastern coast of North America but declared independence in 1776 in the name of the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and democracy. Its early expansion westward into indigenous territories, termed Manifest Destiny, and the Industrial Revolution set the stage for its rise. Fueled by immigration, innovation, and resources, it emerged as a global power post-WWII. Its strengths lie in its diversified, technologically-advanced economy, military supremacy, and cultural influence. Furthermore, as it occupies a fairly isolated continent, it is currently near-impossible to successfully invade.
Today, it parallels old empires like Rome and Britain in scope, aesthetics, and influence. Rome's legal system, infrastructure, and language permeated the known world, much like the USA's cultural exports, English language, and democratic principles. Britain's former naval prowess and colonies echo the USA's global military bases and economic reach. However, the USA differs in its soft power emphasis, using cultural, economic, and political influence more than direct colonial control. Nevertheless, its military involvement in the Middle East and Southeast Asia has not gone without criticism, particularly because those involvements often provided indirect political or monetary benefits for the Red-White-and-Blue Federation. Last, the challenges it faces—inequality, polarization, global competition—mirror those of past empires, hinting at the universality of power dynamics.
Largest Empires In HistoryThese vast empires offer a glimpse into how civilization has evolved over time and helped shape the modern world.
It is a complex task to navigate the dichotomy between the tangible benefits these empires bequeathed us, such as advancements and infrastructure, and the harsh realities of their often violent dominion over unsuspecting cultures. Historically, rulers justified such conduct by claiming that the subjugated would have pursued similar paths of domination, given the opportunity. This logic stems from the reality that most of today's nations owe their existence to past tendencies of overpowering and absorbing neighboring competitors. However, the perspective has shifted in the modern age; large-scale conflicts are now viewed as more detrimental than beneficial, depleting resources and morale.
Empires have demonstrated over time that they are unsustainable in the long term. The constant interplay of internal and external pressures inevitably introduces too many fractures, overwhelming these consolidations of power and leading to their eventual collapse. It may be that a force will rule the majority of Earth again, someday, through either good intentions or a cancerous lust for power. Still, given the nature of humankind, no organization seems capable of permanence; for better or worse.
Cory Price May 18 2023 in History
1) The British Empire was the largest empire the world has ever seen. The British Empire covered 13.01 million square miles of land - more than 22% of the earth's landmass. The empire had 458 million people in 1938 — more than 20% of the world's population.What was the greatest empire in world history? ›
1) The British Empire was the largest empire the world has ever seen. The British Empire covered 13.01 million square miles of land - more than 22% of the earth's landmass. The empire had 458 million people in 1938 — more than 20% of the world's population.How many great empires have ruled the world? ›
Much of what we call history consists of the deeds of the 50 to 70 empires that once ruled multiple peoples across large chunks of the globe.What were the world's biggest empires? ›
Five of the biggest empires that had a strong impact are the Persian Empire, the Han Dynasty, Umayyad Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, and the British Empire. Answer. It is considered that the British Empire is the largest in the world, taking into consideration its land area and population.Who conquered most of the world? ›
Genghis Khan was by far the greatest conqueror the world has ever known, whose empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean to central Europe, including all of China, the Middle East and Russia.Who was the most powerful empire in the ancient world? ›
After the fall of the Assyrian Empire in 612 BC, the Babylonian Empire was the most powerful state in the ancient world.What were the 5 largest empires? ›
The British, Mongol, Russian, Spanish, and Abbasid empires are considered the largest empires in history.Which empire changed the world the most? ›
The Roman Empire
This one should be obvious. The Roman Empire has long been the empire par excellence for the Western world.
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 16 empires of varying size and reach. At the end of the century, there was just one: the United States.Is USA an empire? ›
While the United States has never officially identified itself and its territorial possessions as an empire, some commentators have referred to the country as such, including Max Boot, Arthur M.
- The Roman Empire – 27 B.C. to 393 A.D. The Roman Empire was one of the largest and most illustrious empires of all time. ...
- The Mongolian Empire – 1206 A.D. to 1368 A.D. ...
- The British Empire – 1689 A.D. to 1901 A.D.
While various empires over the course of history have been able to expand and dominate large parts of the world, none have come close to conquering all the territory on Earth. However, these empires have had a global impact in cultural and economic terms that is still felt today.What was the biggest and richest empire? ›
At its height, it controlled 25% of the world's landmass — geographically, the largest empire ever — and 412 million subjects or 23% of the world's population. From spices in India to fur in Canada, the entire thing was propped up by a global network of exploitative colonial “trading” posts.
|Rank||Name of Empire||Extent (land area in million mi2)|
In the history of the world, the empire of the Mongols became, at its peak, the second largest empire in history, only surpassed by the British Empire in the twentieth century.Who was the closest to conquering the world? ›
Genghis Khan: The Mongol Warlord Who Almost Conquered The World | HistoryExtra.Who conquered more Romans or Vikings? ›
Any fight between a Roman force and a Viking force would depend on which one is dictating the terms of the battle. However, the Romans fought and won much more territory than the Vikings, suggesting they may have had an edge. That said, this doesn't entirely mean that the Romans were better than the Vikings militarily.Who conquered more land than anyone in history? ›
Genghis Khan conquered more than twice as much land as any other person in history, bringing Eastern and Western civilizations into contact in the process.What is the oldest kingdom in history? ›
The first kingdoms were established about 3000 B.C.E. in Kengir, also known as Sumer, and Kemet, also known as ancient Egypt. Sumer was a kingdom that existed between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in what-is-now Iraq.Who founded the largest empire in history? ›
Genghis Khan (ca. 1162–1227) and the Mongols are invariably associated with terrible tales of conquest, destruction, and bloodshed. This famed clan leader and his immediate successors created the largest empire ever to exist, spanning the entire Asian continent from the Pacific Ocean to modern-day Hungary in Europe.
King Sargon of Akkad—who legend says was destined to rule—established the world's first empire more than 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia.What are the four great ancient empires? ›
The traditional interpretation of the four kingdoms, shared among Jewish and Christian expositors for over two millennia, identifies the kingdoms as the empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome.How did Roman Empire fall? ›
In 476 C.E. Romulus, the last of the Roman emperors in the west, was overthrown by the Germanic leader Odoacer, who became the first Barbarian to rule in Rome. The order that the Roman Empire had brought to western Europe for 1000 years was no more.What was the biggest empire in the Middle Ages? ›
Mongol Empire (1206–1368)
After uniting the Mongol people, Genghis Khan (c. 1162-1227) and his successors would use their military power to conquer state after state, until by the mid-thirteenth century the Mongols would establish the largest contiguous land empire in history.
Some of the broad factors that historians use to help explain imperial collapse are: Economic issues. Social and cultural issues. Environmental issues.Why were the Romans so advanced? ›
The Romans achieved high levels of technology in large part because they borrowed technologies from the Greeks, Etruscans, Celts, and others. With limited sources of power, the Romans managed to build impressive structures, some of which survive to this day.Which empire fell first? ›
It was the Western Roman Empire that fell first, the Eastern Roman Empire only following another 1000 years later.What's the longest lasting civilization? ›
An old missionary student of China once remarked that Chinese history is “remote, monotonous, obscure, and-worst of all-there is too much of it.” China has the longest continuous history of any country in the world—3,500 years of written history.Which empire was destroyed? ›
The Holy Roman Empire had survived over a thousand years when it was finally destroyed by Napoleon and the French in 1806.When did America become a superpower? ›
The global equilibrium, which had allowed the United States to grow and prosper in virtual isolation since 1815 was gone forever as the result of a short but shattering war.
At the start of the American Revolutionary War in 1775, the British Empire included 23 colonies and territories on the North American continent. The Treaty of Paris of 1783 ended the Revolutionary War, and Britain lost much of this territory to the newly formed United States.Who ruled usa? ›
Before the American Revolutionary War, each state had its own constitution, which gave people certain rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press. During the war, the 13 colonies united to free themselves from British rule.How many empires still exist? ›
Do any empires still exist? Compared with their ancient and early modern predecessors, the empires of the last century were remarkably short lived. This phenomenon of reduced imperial life expectancy has profound implications for our own time. Officially, there are no empires now, only 190-plus nation-states.What are the five African empires? ›
- The Kingdom of Kush. Meroë is an ancient city on the east bank of the Nile app. ...
- The Land of Punt. Papyrus showing preparations for an Egyptian journey to Punt. ( ...
- Carthage. Tunisia, Carthage. ( ...
- The Kingdom of Aksum. Coins from Aksum. ( ...
- The Mali Empire. ...
- The Songhai Empire. ...
- The Great Zimbabwe.
The Edomite Empire, the smallest Empire in History 600b.What is the empire that never ended? ›
“The empire never ended,” was a phrase that science fiction author Philip K. Dick was fond of using now and then to describe the state of our world. He was referring to the alleged “fall” of the Roman Empire; however, his sentiment is that there was no fall, but only a changing of the guard.When did we stop being an empire? ›
The two events that are usually used by historians to signify the end of the British Empire are the Independence of India in 1947 or the end of British rule in Hong Kong in 1997.Is the US the wealthiest country in history? ›
While the United States has consistently had the world's largest economy for some time, in the last fifty years the world has seen the rapid rise and fall in relative terms of the economies of other countries while the share of the United States has also risen.Is America the wealthiest nation in history? ›
Yes, America likely became the world's largest economy in the late 19th century on the strength of its large population, vast natural resources, and entrepreneurial spirit.What was the biggest empire in America? ›
The Incas have the double distinction of presiding over the largest empire of the ancient Americas and one of the shortest-lived.
No. 4: Qing Dynasty | Peak size: 5.68 million sq. miles in 1790 | The Qing dynasty,was the last of the imperial dynasties of China and lasted from 1644 to 1911/12. The dynasty reached its peak in the 18th century, when it administered over 5 million square miles.What is the oldest large empire? ›
The Akkadian Empire was the first empire of ancient Mesopotamia, which makes it the oldest empire in the world. Under the empire, Akkadians and Sumerians were united and many people were bilingual, speaking both the Akkadian and Sumerian language.Which empire was the richest empire? ›
The Mughal Empire became the world's dominant power. The wealth of the Mughal Empire around the year 1700 would translate to a staggering $21 trillion today. The Mughals were the world's leaders in manufacturing at the end of the 17th century, producing 25% of the world's industrial output.Who was the greatest king of the empire? ›
He is Cyrus the Great of Persia, who in the mid-6th century BC ruled the greatest empire the world had ever known.