Five of the Most Powerful and Influential Empires of the Ancient World
The history of human civilization has seen the rise and fall of countless empires. Many of these empires have influenced history on a regional, or even on a global scale. Still, there are some empires that may be said to have been ‘greater’ than others. The ‘greatness’ of an empire, however, is not an aspect that can be easily quantified, as there are various factors to be taken into account. Common factors taken into consideration include the size of the empire, and the period of time that the empire lasted for. It does not equate with being ethical and just! Other factors that are perhaps less spoken of include an empire’s contribution towards the Arts and Sciences, as well as its economic might. In spite of these complications, this article will attempt to make a list of five of the greatest empires that have existed in history.
The British Empire
In a list of ‘greatest’ empires, a place should be reserved for the British Empire. One of the primary reasons for this is that the British Empire was the largest empire in the history of mankind. At its height of power, this empire controlled 35.5 million square km of land, which is almost a quarter of the earth’s landmass, and had more than 500 million people under its rule, which is about a quarter of the world’s population at that time. One of the impacts that the British Empire has had on the modern world is the widespread use of English today. Nevertheless, it should also be born in mind that the predominance of this language is in part also due to the rise of the United States as a world superpower following the Second World War.
An elaborate map of the British Empire in 1886, marked in the traditional color for imperial British dominions on maps. (Public Domain)
The Mongol Empire
Whilst the British had the largest empire known to man, it was the Mongol Empire that was the largest contiguous empire in history. From the Mongol Steppe, Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire, set forth to conquer the world. The expansion of the Mongol Empire continued under his descendants, and at its heyday, the empire stretched from China in the east to Hungary in the west. Unlike the British Empire, the Mongols did not benefit from technological advances that would allow them to govern their far-flung empire. As a result of this, the Mongol Empire eventually fragmented into smaller entities. The Mongols were renowned for their ferocity and ruthlessness. Nevertheless, one of the more positive achievements of the Mongols was the re-opening of the Silk Route that connected China to Europe.
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Location of the Mongolian Empire (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Roman Empire
Whilst the British and Mongols had two of the largest empires in history, neither of them were the longest-lasting. This title is held by the Roman Empire (if one were to consider the Byzantine Empire as part of the Roman Empire as well). This empire was founded in 27 BC with the ascension of Augustus to the throne, and ended in AD 1453 with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans. It should be pointed out that the western half of the Roman Empire ended during the 5 th century AD, and the Byzantine Empire was temporarily dissolved during the 13 th century AD as a result of the Fourth Crusade. Still, the Roman Empire lasted for almost a millennium and a half. Needless to say, the Romans have had a great impact on the landscape of Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as on the minds of those who inherited their lands.
A referenced map of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Ummayad Caliphate
Another empire that should be on a list of ‘greatest empires’ is the Ummayad Caliphate, which was the second of the four caliphates established after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. At its peak during the 7 th century AD, the Ummayads had an empire that covered an area of 11.1 million square km, and governed almost a third of the world’s population. Perhaps one of the most significant contributions of this empire to history is that it facilitated the spread of Islam, and elevated it to the status of a major world religion. In addition, the Ummayad Caliphate has also often been considered to be the Golden Age of Islam, as many contributions to the Arts and Sciences were made by the intellectuals of this empire.
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Mosque of Córdoba, Spain. A spectacular monument of the Ummayad empire (CC by 3.0)
The Achaemenid Empire
The last empire to be included in this list is the Achaemenid Empire, which was the largest empire in the ancient world. Based in modern day Iran, the Achaemenid rulers controlled an empire of almost 8 million square km, and had about 49.4 million subjects. Apart from its size, the Achaemenid Empire may be considered to be the first ‘global’ empire, as it was the first empire to have territory in three different continents, i.e. Asia, Europe and Africa. In addition, many advanced civilizations at that time, including the Babylonians, the Egyptians and the Lydians were absorbed into this empire, which attest to the military might of this empire. Under the Achaemenids, the Middle East experienced a period of peace and harmony for 200 years, which in itself may be regarded as a great achievement.
Panorama of Naqsh-e Rustam. Achaemenid tombs above, Sassanian reliefs below. The tombs, from left to right, probably belong to: Darius II, Artaxerxes I, Darius I, Xerxes I (CC by 3.0)
Featured image: Robert Clive's victory at the Battle of Plassey established the East India Company as a military as well as a commercial power. (Public Domain), The sack of Suzdal by Batu Khan in 1238, miniature from 16th-century chronicle (Public Domain), Roman winner of a Roman chariot race (Public Domain), Interior of the palace of Shauh Shujah Ool Moolk, Late King of Cabul This lithograph is taken from plate 3 of 'Afghaunistan' by Lieutenant James Rattray. (Public Domain), Cyrus the Great king of Iran (ancient Persia) is said in the Bible to have liberated the Hebrew captives in Babylon to resettle and rebuild Jerusalem, earning him an honored place in Judaism. (Public Domain)
By Wu Mingren
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