Mighty empires leave a lasting influence on civilizations as they rise and collapse throughout human history. These vast empires have a major impact on trade routes, cultural formation, and historical progression. Their influence reverberates throughout the social development of countries, permanently altering the global narrative. These empires are essential to comprehending the interdependence of civilizations and the dynamic forces that have created our globe, from the Mongol Empire’s union of East and West to the Ottomans’ widespread influence. These empires have quickly changed the path of human history and left a deep and enduring mark.
List of the 10 Largest Empires in History
- British Empire
- Mongol Empire
- Russian Empire
- Ottoman Empire
- Spanish Empire
- Qing Dynasty
- Umayyad Caliphate
- Abbasid Caliphate
- Roman Empire
- Persian Achaemenid Empire
1) British Empire (16th–20th centuries)
A massive maritime empire, the British Empire had a significant influence on world history from the late 16th to the mid-20th centuries. The empire, which began with the exploration and colonization expeditions of the Age of Discovery, peaked in the 1800s. The adage “the sun never sets on the British Empire ” captured its grandeur at the time, as its holdings stretched throughout Africa, Asia, the Americas, Oceania, and the Caribbean. The British Empire ruled over 412 million people by 1913, accounting for 23% of the world’s population at the time. By 1920, it accounted for 24% of Earth’s total surface area, approximately 35.5 million km³ (13.7 million sq mi).
The British Empire impacted political systems, economic systems, and cultural environments in addition to controlling large swaths of territory. Resources taken from colonies helped Britain’s Industrial Revolution, while the empire’s naval might promoted international trade and communication.
British legal, governmental, and educational systems were introduced by colonial administrations, frequently having a lasting impression on the civilizations they came into contact with. Concurrently, the growth of the empire led to wars, exploitation, and the imposing of Western values on non-Western nations.
As former colonies attained independence, the British Empire was gradually dismantled over the 20th century. The empire left a complicated legacy that had both beneficial and negative effects, but its historical influence cannot be denied. The post-colonial world is still shaped by the English language, legal frameworks, and cross-cultural interactions, which makes the British Empire a key player in the development of international relations.
2) Mongol Empire (1206–1368)
Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire in 1206, making it one of the most contiguous land empires in history. The Mongol empire spanned an estimated 23 million square kilometers, or 9 million square miles. The Mongols started on the wide steppes of Central Asia and, under the visionary leadership of Genghis Khan, united nomadic tribes under a single authority via a relentless war of conquest. With lightning speed, this tremendous military machine swept over China, the Middle East, and portions of Eastern Europe, extending from Eastern Europe to Asia.
The Mongols, who were renowned for their unmatched riding prowess and creative military strategies, revolutionized battle with their quick cavalry charges and proficiency with archery. Kublai Khan and other Genghis Khan successors carried on the empire’s growth, helping it reach its zenith in the middle of the 13th century.
The Pax Mongolica, or extraordinary cultural interactions between East and West, was made possible by the Mongol Empire. Along the Silk Road, this period of more calm and stable conditions encouraged trade, business, and the sharing of ideas, bridging different civilizations. In spite of their formidable image as conquerors, the Mongols demonstrated an extraordinary ability to rule, encouraging religious tolerance and implementing novel administrative practices.
The Mongol Empire finally declined in the 14th century due to internal conflict, political disintegration, and outside forces. The Mongol Empire, despite its brief history, had a profound impact on trade routes, geopolitics, and cross-cultural relations for centuries to come.
Read More: Why Were Mongols So Successful?
3) Russian Empire (1721–1917)
The Russian Empire, which ruled over all of Eurasian history from 1721 to 1917, was an immense and powerful political force. With the reforms implemented by Peter the Great in the early 1700s, Russia emerged from the Tsardom of Russia and became a significant European power. As a result of the empire’s territorial expansion, which spanned from Eastern Europe to the Pacific Ocean, a multiethnic and multireligious state was established. The Russian Empire spanned around 22,800,000 square kilometers (8,800,000 square miles).
The Russian Empire flourished culturally and expanded geographically under Catherine the Great in the late 1700s, strengthening its position of power in the Black Sea and Central Asia. The empire was essential in determining the balance of power during the Napoleonic Wars and thereafter in European geopolitics.
Serfdom endured for a large portion of the Russian Empire’s history, and the tsar served as the absolute ruler. The Russian Empire was characterized by authoritarian governance. Social unrest accompanied 19th-century attempts at industrialization and modernization, which culminated in the 1917 Russian Revolution.
The Soviet Union emerged, and the Romanov dynasty came to an end with the fall of the empire. The legacy of the Russian Empire endures in the intricate geopolitical terrain of modern Russia, its cultural achievements, and architectural wonders like the Hermitage and the Kremlin. The Russian nation’s identity and future are still shaped by the remnants of its imperial history.
4) Ottoman Empire (1299–1922)
The Ottoman Empire, a powerful Islamic nation that ruled over three continents from the late 13th to the early 20th centuries, significantly shaped North Africa, Southeast Europe, and the Middle East. Established by Osman I, Mehmed II brought the Byzantine Empire to its pinnacle when he spectacularly took Constantinople in 1453, which put an end to it. It is estimated that the Ottoman Empire spanned 5.2 million km2 at its peak.
The Ottoman Empire was a mingling pot of cultures, faiths, and ethnic groups, and it was well-known for its varied and tolerant style of government. A level of religious plurality unheard of for its time was fostered by the millet system, which gave non-Muslim populations authority over questions of personal law and religion.
The leaders of the Ottoman Empire ruled over a huge area that comprised portions of Eastern Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, when it was at its most powerful. The Ottoman military was well-known for its efficiency and agility, especially with its elite Janissary corps.
Known as the “Sick Man of Europe,” the empire saw a period of collapse in the 19th century due to internal turmoil and foreign pressures. With the end of World War I, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk brought about the creation of modern Turkey as the Ottoman Empire fell.
The vast cultural, architectural, and gastronomic contributions the Ottoman Empire left behind in the areas it once controlled serve as a testament to the empire’s enduring influence on the globe.
5) Spanish Empire (15th–19th centuries)
The Spanish Empire is one of the most significant empires in the history of the world, having reached its height from the late 15th to the early 19th centuries. It originated in the Age of Exploration, with Christopher Columbus’s trip in 1492 paving the way for Spain to begin a new period of international development. A huge and linked colonial network was established by the empire, which covered the Americas, the Philippines, portions of Africa, and countless Pacific islands. At the height of its power, the Spanish Empire occupied more than 7 million square miles.
Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro, two Spanish explorers and conquistadors who accumulated enormous fortunes in gold and silver, were instrumental in the conquering of the Inca and Aztec empires. Although the inflow of precious metals stimulated Spain’s economy, it also brought about inflation and other problems.
Beyond only gaining new lands, the Spanish Empire also shaped language, religion, and culture. A distinct mestizo identity emerged in the Americas as a result of the blending of Spanish and indigenous cultures, while the introduction of Christianity via missionary endeavors left an enduring legacy.
The empire’s supremacy over the world, however, began to decline in the face of geopolitical difficulties, including wars with competing European nations and economic difficulties. The Spanish Empire had mostly collapsed by the 19th century, with former colonies winning their freedom in a string of independence wars throughout Latin America. The Spanish Empire is a major character in the history of world exploration and colonialism because of the lasting influence it has on the common cultural, linguistic, and religious heritage of its former colonies.
6) Qing Dynasty (1644–1912)
The Qing Dynasty, China’s final imperial dynasty, shaped the history of the country throughout its 1644–1912 reign. Following the collapse of the Ming Dynasty, the Qing Dynasty was established by the ethnic Manchu Aisin Gioro clan. The Qing Dynasty achieved its pinnacle and emerged as the biggest and wealthiest empire of its era during the early reigns of emperors like Kangxi and Qianlong. The Qing Dynasty covered an area of over 13 million km².
Notorious for its military might, the Qing enlarged China’s boundaries to include Tibet, Mongolia, and Central Asia. By adopting Chinese administrative techniques, the dynasty strengthened its hold on power and preserved stability through the application of Confucian precepts.
Significant cultural advancements were made during the Qing dynasty, including the growth of unique styles like Qing porcelain and the flowering of the arts and literature. Nevertheless, the dynasty was undermined in its last years by both external pressures from Western countries and internal issues like population growth and corruption.
The Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion of the 19th century revealed the dynasty’s weaknesses, which ultimately resulted in its fall and the founding of the Republic of China in 1912. The legacy of the Qing Dynasty, despite its turbulent conclusion, lives on in China’s cultural and historical identity, adding to the rich fabric of the nation and offering insights into the intricacies of imperial control and societal evolution.
7) Umayyad Caliphate (661–750)
The Umayyad Caliphate, which ruled from 661 to 750 AD, was a pivotal period in Islamic history and had a major influence on the development of the early Islamic world. The Umayyad Caliphate encompassed 11,100,000 km2 (4,300,000 sq mi) at its height. The Umayyads, who took over when Ali, the fourth caliph, was assassinated, relocated the capital from Medina to Damascus, signifying a change from the egalitarian philosophy of early Islam to a more centralized form of government.
The caliphate grew in power throughout the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Spain, and portions of Central Asia under the direction of the Umayyad Caliphs, especially Muawiya I and Abd al-Malik. This enormous geographic area made it easier for Islam to expand and for many civilizations to come together, which led to the Islamic civilization’s golden period.
The architectural wonders of the Umayyad Caliphate, such as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, showcase a distinctive fusion of Islamic, Byzantine, and Persian elements. But the Umayyad Caliphate fell due to internal strife and political unrest, most notably the Abbasid Revolution in 750 AD.
Even though the Umayyad Caliphate was only in existence for a brief period of time, the contributions it made to Islamic art, architecture, and government set the stage for the later Abbasid Caliphate and had a lasting effect on the advancement of Islamic culture.
8) Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258)
The Abbasid Caliphate, one of the most significant and long-lasting Islamic empires in history, ruled from 750 to 1258 AD. In 750, the Abbasid Caliphate reached a maximum area of 4.29 million square miles. The Islamic Golden Age was a time of great cultural, intellectual, and economic prosperity that began with the Abbasids’ establishment of Baghdad as the capital following the fall of the Umayyad Caliphate.
Baghdad bloomed as a hub of scholarship and learning during the early Abbasid Caliphs, including Al-Mamun and Harun al-Rashid. Advanced science, mathematics, medicine, and philosophy have greatly benefited from the translation and preservation of ancient Greek, Persian, and Indian manuscripts by the intellectual center known as the House of Wisdom.
The Abbasid Caliphate fostered a cosmopolitan and diversified empire by extending its dominance over sections of Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. The Seljuk Turks and then the Mongols invaded the empire from the outside, and it also had to deal with internal turmoil and local uprisings.
The Abbasid Caliphate came to an end in 1258 with the Mongols’ invasion of Baghdad, which resulted in a reduction in the centralized Islamic government. The intellectual, artistic, and architectural accomplishments of the Abbasids, however, continue to carry on their legacy, serving as a foundation for both the European Renaissance and the wider advancement of Islamic culture.
Read More: Islamic Scholars in History
9) Roman Empire (27 BCE–476 CE)
The Roman Empire, regarded as one of the oldest civilizations in history, influenced the development of Western history irrevocably. It lasted from 27 BC to 476 AD. In AD 117, the Roman Empire reached a maximum area of around 5 million square kilometers, or 1.9 million square miles. Augustus, the first Emperor, and Julius Caesar’s military might symbolize the empire’s rise from its beginnings as the Roman Republic. A time of relative calm known as the Pax Romana enabled advances in technology, cultural development, and economic prosperity over the whole empire.
Spreading its rule over Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, the empire had Rome as its capital. The Colosseum and the aqueducts are two famous examples of Roman engineering, law, and government accomplishments that set the stage for Western civilization.
Latin, the ancestor of the Romance languages, was greatly impacted by the Roman Empire. Its legal ideas have had a lasting impact on contemporary legal systems. But the empire’s downfall was aided by foreign barbarian invasion pressure, internal warfare, and economic difficulties.
Classical antiquity came to an end with the fall of Rome in 476 AD, signified by the removal of Romulus Augustulus, the last Roman emperor. The Roman Empire is nevertheless a major part of Western heritage and a crucial period in the history of human civilization, leaving its mark on art, architecture, politics, and cultural institutions.
10) Persian Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BCE)
The Persian Achaemenid Empire, which ruled from 550 BC to 330 AD, was one of the most powerful and vast empires in antiquity. The Achaemenid Persian Empire covered an area of 2.1 million square miles, or 5.5 million square kilometers. The history of the Near East and beyond was significantly influenced by this empire, which was founded by Cyrus the Great. Darius the Great led the Achaemenid Empire, which, at its height, included a wide range of civilizations, languages, and customs and spanned from the Aegean Sea to the Indus River.
The Achaemenid Empire, highly regarded for its innovative administrative practices, effectively promoted cultural variety and efficient government by dividing its extensive domains into provinces, each headed by a satrap. All over the empire, trade and communication were made easier by the vast and well-kept Persian Royal Road.
The building of Persepolis, a magnificent metropolis displaying complex craftsmanship and cutting-edge engineering, is an example of the Achaemenids’ great architectural accomplishments.
The Achaemenid Empire’s influence persisted even after Alexander the Great finally overthrew it in 330 BC. It affected the Parthians and Sassanids, two more Persian empires that came after, and it helped expand Zoroastrianism and create administrative structures and cultural interactions. Highlighting the accomplishments of a brilliant and lasting Persian culture, the Achaemenid Empire continues to be an important part of the complex fabric of ancient civilizations.
These empires, each adding in a different manner to the world tale, reflect a varied fabric of human history. Even though the empires have come and gone, their legacies have continued to shape the modern world. Gaining an understanding of these empires’ effects can help one better comprehend the intricate interactions between politics, culture, and civilization that have molded our planet throughout the ages.
Which Historical Empire Was the Largest?
At its height, the British Empire was the biggest contiguous land empire in recorded history.
What Effects Did the Roman and British Empires Have on World History?
While the Roman Empire contributed to Western civilization and law, the British Empire affected worldwide trade and government.
What Causes Contributed to the Ottoman Empire’s Rise and Fall?
The Ottoman Empire experienced collapse as a result of both internal problems and foreign challenges, despite its rise owing to military might and strategic expansion.
What Contributions Did the Achaemenid Persian Empire Make to Ancient Civilizations?
The Achaemenid Empire left a lasting cultural impact by innovating administrative procedures, constructing the Royal Road, and influencing architecture.
What Traits Distinguish the Roman Empire’s Decline?
The Roman Empire eventually collapsed as a result of internal strife, military difficulties, and economic difficulties throughout its fall.