Thedefinition of an empire is: when a single entity has supreme rule and powerover a vast area of territory, which consists of peoples of different ethnicityand nationality. This list is based on the influence, longevity and power ofthe various empires, and, as you will see, it contains at least one or twoentries that may strike some as controversial. My one requirement for this listis that the empire must have been ruled – for at least a majority of the time –by an emperor or king. This excludes modern so-called empires such as theUnited States and Soviet Union. The entries here are listed roughly byinfluence and size.
At theheight of its power (16th–17th century), the Ottoman Empire spanned threecontinents, controlling much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia and NorthAfrica. It contained 29 provinces and numerous vassal states, some of whichwere later absorbed into the empire, while others were granted various types ofautonomy during the course of centuries. The empire was at the center ofinteractions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries. WithConstantinople as its capital city, and vast control of lands around theeastern Mediterranean during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (ruled 1520to 1566), the Ottoman Empire was, in many respects, an Islamic successor to theEastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.
TheUmayyad Caliphate was the second of the four Islamic caliphates (systems ofgovernance), established after the death of Mohammed. It was ruled by theUmayyad dynasty, whose name derives from Umayya ibn Abd Shams, the great-grandfatherof the first Umayyad caliph. Although the Umayyad family originally came fromthe city of Mecca, Damascus was the capital of their Caliphate. Eventually, itwould cover more than five million square miles, making it the largest empirethe world had yet seen, and the fifth largest contiguous empire ever to exist.The Umayyads established the largest Arab-Muslim state in history. From the timeof Mohammed until 1924, successive and contemporary caliphates were held byvarious dynasties – the last being the Ottoman Empire (above).
or Achaemenid Empire
Babylonian,Akkadians, Assyrians, Sumerians, Hitites, Bactrians, Scythians, Parthians,Medes, Elamites, Egyptians, Ethiopians… Before the Romans, there were thePersians. They basically unified the whole of Central Asia which consisted of alot of different cultures, kingdoms, empires and tribes. It was the largestempire in ancient history. At the height of its power, the empire encompassedapproximately 8 million km2. The empire was forged by Cyrus the Great, andspanned three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe.
TheByzantine Empire, or Eastern Roman Empire, was the Roman Empire during theMiddle Ages, centered on the capital of Constantinople, and ruled by emperorsin direct succession to the ancient Roman emperors. It was called the RomanEmpire, and also Romania. During its existence, of over a thousand years, theEmpire remained one of the most powerful economic, cultural and military forcesin Europe, despite setbacks and territorial losses, especially during the Roman–Persianand Byzantine–Arab Wars. The Empire received a mortal blow in 1204 by theFourth Crusade, when it was dissolved and divided into competing ByzantineGreek and Latin realms. Despite the eventual recovery of Constantinople andre-establishment of the Empire in 1261, under the Palaiologan emperors,successive civil wars in the fourteenth century further sapped the Empire’sstrength.
Duringthe Chinese period of warring states, the whole of China was embroiled in acivil war as the different kingdoms within it battled it out with each other inthe quest for supremacy. In the end, the Qin State won, and gobbled up thewhole of China, with 40 million people under it’s control. The Qin Dynastydidn’t last long, and soon it went to the Han, which eventually controlledChina for close to 400 years. The period of the Han Dynasty is considered agolden age in Chinese history in terms of scientific achievement, technologicaladvance, economic, cultural and political stability. Even to this day, mostChinese people refer to themselves as the Han people. Today, the “Han people”is considered the largest single ethnic group in the world.
At it’sgreatest extent, the British empire was known as the largest empire in history,as it covered more than 13,000,000 square miles, which is approximately aquarter of the Earth’s total land area, and controlled more than 500 millionpeople – again a quarter of the world’s population. As a result, the legacy itimprinted on these conquered lands is tremendous in terms of political reform,cultural exchanges and way of life. The English language, which it spread, isthe second most-widely spoken language in the world today, and many linguisticsagree that English is the defacto standard language of the world. The Britishempire is definitely one of the most influential empires ever to have existedin human history.
Holy Roman Empire
Duringthe middle ages, they were considered the “superpower” of their time. At it’sheight, the Holy Roman Empire consisted of eastern France, all of Germany,northern Italy and parts of western Poland. Despite being relatively small interms of Empires, its influence on the history of central Europe is still felttoday. Incredibly the Empire lasted from the early middle ages ages to the 19thcentury. The Empire was formally dissolved on 6 August 1806 when the last HolyRoman Emperor, Francis II (later Francis I of Austria), abdicated following amilitary defeat by the French under Napoleon. Upon its collapse, the followingnations emerged: Switzerland, Holland, the Austrian Empire, Belgium, thePrussian Empire, Principality of Liechtenstein, Confederation of the Rhine andthe first French Empire.
The Russian Empire
TheRussian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolutionof 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia, and the predecessor ofthe Soviet Union. It was the second largest contiguous empire in world history,surpassed only by the Mongol Empire, and the third largest empire behind theBritish Empire and the Mongol Empire. At one point in 1866, it stretched fromeastern Europe, across Asia, and into North America.
It allstarted when Temujin (who was later known as Genghi Khan), vowed in his youthto bring the world to his feet. He almost did. His first act was unifying thescattered Mongolian tribes. Then he set his sight on China, and the rest ishistory. From Vietnam to Hungary, the Mongol Empire is the largest contiguousempire in the history of mankind. Unfortunately for them, their empire was toobig to be controlled, and there was no unity among the different cultures. TheMongols were fearless and ruthless fighters, but had little experience inadministration. The image of the mongols as a brutal and savage people isrenowned through history.
At firstthey were ruled by divine kings, then they became a republic (perhaps theirgreatest period) before finally becoming an empire. How a group of farmers, whostarted off fending wolves to protect their livestock, eventually became thegreatest empire in all history is the stuff of legends. Coupled with anexcellent military and administrative system, the Roman Empire, or ratherancient Rome, is also one of the longest-lasting. Counting from its founding tothe fall of the Byzantine empire, ancient Rome lasted for a whopping 2,214years! Ancient Rome contributed greatly to the development of law, war, art,literature, architecture, technology, religion and language in the Westernworld. In fact many historians consider the Roman Empire to be a perfect empire– influential, fair, long-lasting, big, well defended and economicallyadvanced. The influence of the Roman Empire is felt to this day, if for noother reason than the influence on the Catholic Church, which took much of itsadministrative nous and pageantry from it.