Largest empires of all time

Largest empires of all time

Largest empires of all time


The British Empire was made up of the United Kingdom and its predecessor states’ dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates, and other territories ruled or administered. It started between the late 16th and early 18th centuries with the overseas possessions and trading posts founded by England. It was the largest empire in history at its height and was the foremost global force for over a century. By 1913, the British Empire controlled over 412 million people, 23 percent of the world population at the time, and by 1920 it occupied 35,500,000 km2 (13,700,000 sq mi), 24 percent of the total land area of the Planet. The expression “the empire on which the sun never sets” was frequently used at the height of its dominance to characterise the British Empire as the sun always shone on at least one of its territories.


The Mongol Empire emerged under the leadership of Genghis Khan (c. 1162–1227), whom a council declared as the king of all Mongols in 1206, from the union of many nomadic tribes in the Mongol homeland. Under his rule and that of his descendents, who sent out invading armies in every direction, the empire expanded rapidly. In an imposed Pax Mongolica, the immense transcontinental empire linked the East with the West, the Pacific with the Mediterranean, enabling trade, technology, goods and philosophy to be disseminated and exchanged across Eurasia.

As the grandchildren of Genghis Khan contested whether the royal line should follow from his son and initial successor, Ögedei, or from one of his other sons, such as Tolui, Chagatai, or Jochi, the empire began to fracture due to wars over succession. After a bloody purge of the Ögedeid and Chagataid factions, the Toluids prevailed, but conflicts between Tolui’s descendants persisted. The controversy over whether the Mongol Empire would become a sedentary, cosmopolitan empire, or remain true to the nomadic and steppe-based lifestyle of the Mongols, was a key reason for the split. After the death of Möngke Khan (1259), various successors were concurrently elected by rival Kurultai councils, the Ariq Böke and Kublai Khan brothers, who battled each other in the Toluid Civil War (1260-1264) and also met with challenges from the descendants of other Genghis sons. Kublai took power successfully, but civil war ensued as he tried unsuccessfully to retake control of the families of the Chagatayid and Ögedeid.


From 1721, after the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was declared by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917, the Russian Empire was a historical empire that stretched throughout Eurasia and North America. The Russian Empire, the third largest empire in history, stretching to its greatest extent over three continents, Europe, Asia, and North America, was only exceeded by the British and Mongolian empires in scale, leaving the empire 196 years long. The growth of the Russian Empire coincided with the fall of competing neighbouring powers: the Swedish Empire, the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania, Persia and the Ottoman Empire. In 1812-1814, it played a major role in crushing the aspirations of Napoleon to rule Europe and spread to the west and south, becoming one of the most powerful European empires of all time.


The dynasty was established in Manchuria by the Manchu Aisin Gioro clan. Nurhaci, originally a Ming vassal, started organising “Banners” in the late sixteenth century, which included Manchu, Han, and Mongol elements as military-social units. In 1616, Nurhaci unified the Manchu clans and formally proclaimed the Later Jin Dynasty. His son Hong Taiji started to push Ming forces out of the Liaodong Peninsula, and in 1636 he proclaimed a new dynasty, the Qing. In 1644, peasant rebels led by Li Zicheng captured the capital Beijing as Ming power disintegrated. Refusing to serve them, Ming General Wu Sangui opened the Shanhai Pass to the Banner Armies, led by Prince Dorgon, the regent, who defeated the rebels and captured the capital. Under the Shunzhi Emperor, Dorgon acted as Prince Regent. Resistance from the loyalists of the Ming in the south and the Three Feudatories Rebellion led by Wu Sangui postponed the full conquest under the Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722) until 1683.

Qing influence was expanded into Inner Asia by the Ten Great Campaigns of the Qianlong Emperor from the 1750s to the 1790s. The empire controlled the entirety of today’s Mainland China, Hainan, Taiwan, Mongolia, Outer Manchuria and Outer Northwest China at the peak of the Qing dynasty. The early Qing rulers retained their Manchu practises, were patrons of Tibetan Buddhism, and used “Bogd khaan” when dealing with the Mongols when their title was Emperor. Using a Confucian style and hierarchical institutions, they ruled, maintaining the imperial examinations to recruit Han Chinese to serve under the Manchu rulers or in parallel with them. In claiming dominance over peripheral nations such as Korea and Vietnam, they also adapted the principles of the Chinese tributary system, thus annexing neighbouring regions such as Tibet and Mongolia.


One of the greatest empires in history was the Spanish empire. Spain ruled a large overseas territory in the New World, the Asian archipelago of the Philippines, what they called “The Indies” (Spanish: Las Indias) and territories in Europe (centred on the so-called Spanish Road), Africa and Oceania from the late 15th century to the early 19th. It was one of the most powerful empires of the 16th and 17th centuries. The Spanish Empire became known.


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