Between 3000 BCE and 1800 CE there were more than 60 'mega-empires' that controlled at the peak an area of at least one million square kilometers. An empire is a state extended beyond the limits of what might seem to be the natural limits of a government. By conquest, or by colonization, or by any other means, lawful or lawless, the central power has stretched its arms, east and west, north and south, through many degrees of latitude and longitude. Empires are states the chiefs of which have come to be called emperors, but not all rulers called emperors rule actual empires.
It seemed to some that in the arts of empire the English were mere plagiarists, stupid plagiarists who have spoilt what they have stolen. They had not, so it was affirmed, one single original or admirable quality. They were not great discoverers like the Portuguese, or a great Christianizing power like the Spaniards. They had not the art of conciliating natives like the French, nor even of making themselves beloved by their own colonists. They had not even the wits to make their empire pay like the Dutch. They rolled up, everywhere, mountains of debt; they extorted only that they may squander.
The single quality that they possessed in an abundant degree was neither rare nor original. Heavy bloodsuckers, they bestrode the earth with their so-called empire like a nightmare; the world would be a sweeter place to live in without them; the amount of damage they had wrought was as wide as the realm that they have filched from their betters with so much violence and fraud. These pleasantries, oft repeated, have grown to have the weight of arguments; and, indeed, to others, they formed a very ingenious substitute for argument.
Like the British Empire, the Roman Empire commenced from a very small beginning. Rome, the greatest city of the world, started life as a village composed of a few roughly-built hovels surrounded by an earthen rampart. Such an empire is mighty so long as it is thought to be so ; but it ceases to be mighty at the moment when the breath of opinion fails to pronounce it to be omnipotent. It lives in peril hourly upon the prestige of its reputation. An empire, in this sense, can have no period of stable equilibrium, for at every moment it must be either in growth or in decay. Accretion or dissolution are its only conditions.
Unlike neo-classicists, classical theorists of imperialism were more concerned with the causes of imperial expansion in the late 19th century capitalist nation-states than with its consequences for colonial societies. They interpreted imperialism as a European strategy for frontier expansion that enabled the ‘Lords of Humankind’ to extend their geopolitical reach to Africa, Asia and Latin America in order to secure strategic sites throughout the colonial world and to exploit its natural and human resources.
The theoretical and descriptive accounts of social scientists, historians and geographers, had the effect of spawning heroic images of empire-builders as kindly priests, pioneering settlers and altruistic officials who cherished notions of the superiority and ‘gentlemanliness’ of Europeans. This in turn convinced Europeans that they were born to rule over the colonial world.
Beginning with Gibbon, most theoretical efforts have been directed to the causes of imperial disintegration and fragmentation. Slowly, the great Empire passes away. Troubles at home, discontent, luxury and discord are doing their work ; the savage tribes on the frontier begin to raid the further provinces, and the mercenary soldiers, instead of driving them back, are fighting one another. The disintegration of an empire may take place in a manner which may be likened to the blowing up of a machine in consequence of a faulty construction, or an ill-adjusted relationship of its motive functions, which, as they are partly chemical and partly mechanical, as in the instance of the steam-engine, require great care and skill in the engine-room. Dismemberment may be the breaking up of a crazy and cumbrous machine, which is sure to ensue if it be attempted to put a too high speed upon its movements, in relation to the age of the framework, and to the quality of the materials, and the manner of the jointings, and the worn condition of the revolving part3, and the loss of steady-pins, and the wear of the cogs.
China is unique, in that it has seen a continuous sequence of rise and fall of empires since the Bronze Age. Had not great captains skillfully marshaled hosts for battle, the name of the United States of America might have been added to the long list of empires that have fallen.
Modern Empires - Since 1800
Plus a few others not on the other lists.
|Date (peak)||Empire name||Region||Area|
|1790||Spanish Empire||World Wide||19.40|
|1822||Portuguese Empire||World Wide||8.90|
|1914||Imperial Germany||World Wide||3.30|
|1922||British Empire||World Wide||36.70|
|1942||Axis Italy||Europe / Africa||3.70|
|1949||Dutch Empire||World Wide||2.10|
|1953||Soviet Bloc||World Wide||25.60|
|1960||Belgian Empire||World Wide||2.40|
|1960||French Empire||World Wide||12.60|
60 "Mega" Empires - 3000 BCE to 1800 CE
Over 1,000,000 square kilometers
|Date (peak)||Empire name||Region||Area|
|1300 BC||Egypt (New Kingdom)||Africa||1.00|
|800||Tufan (Tibet)||Central Asia||4.60|
|1310||Golden Horde||Central Asia||6.00|
|1122 BC||Shang||East Asia||1.25|
|50||China - Han||East Asia||6.00|
|715||China - Tang||East Asia||5.40|
|947||Liao (Kitan)||East Asia||2.60|
|980||China - Sung||East Asia||3.10|
|1126||Jin (Jurchen)||East Asia||2.30|
|1450||China - Ming||East Asia||6.50|
|1790||China - Manchu||East Asia||14.70|
|500||Hephthalite Huns||South Asia||1.70|
|648||Harsha (Kanyakubia)||South Asia||1.00|
|670 BC||Assyria||Southwest Asia||1.40|
|585 BC||Media||Southwest Asia||2.80|
|500 BC||Achaemenid Persia||Southwest Asia||5.50|
|323 BC||Hellenistic (Alexander's)||Southwest Asia||5.20|
|301 BC||Seleucid||Southwest Asia||3.90|
|550||Sassanian Persia||Southwest Asia||3.50|
|980||Buyid (Buwahid)||Southwest Asia||1.60|
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