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This article is about the political and historical term. For other uses, see Empire (disambiguation).
For the Fox television series, see Empire (2015 TV series).
Imperialism and colonization in 1900

An empire is defined as "an aggregate of nations or people ruled over by an emperor or other powerful sovereign or government, usually a territory of greater extent than a kingdom, as the former British Empire, French Empire, Russian Empire, Byzantine Empire or Roman Empire."[1] An empire can be made solely of contiguous territories such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or of territories far remote from the homeland, such as a colonial empire.

Aside from the more formal usage, the term "empire" can also be used to refer to a large-scale business enterprise (e.g. a transnational corporation), a political organisation controlled by a single individual (a political boss) or a group (political bosses).[2] The term "empire" is associated with other words such as imperialism, colonialism, and globalization. Empire is often used to describe a displeasure to overpowering situations.[3] The effects of imperialism exist throughout the world today.

An imperial political structure can be established and maintained in two ways: (i) as a territorial empire of direct conquest and control with force or (ii) as a coercive, hegemonic empire of indirect conquest and control with power. The former method provides greater tribute and direct political control, yet limits further expansion because it absorbs military forces to fixed garrisons. The latter method provides less tribute and indirect control, but avails military forces for further expansion.[4] Territorial empires (e.g., the Mongol Empire and Median Empire) tend to be contiguous areas. The term, on occasion, has been applied to maritime empires or thalassocracies, (e.g., the Athenian and British empires) with looser structures and more scattered territories. Empires are usually larger than kingdoms.

This aspiration to universality resulted in conquest by converting ‘outsiders’ or ‘inferiors’ into the colonialized religion. This association of nationality and race became complex and has had a more intense drive for expansion.[5]


An empire is a multi-ethnic or multinational state with political and/or military dominion of populations who are culturally and ethnically distinct from the imperial (ruling) ethnic group and its culture.[6] This is in contrast to a federation, which is an extensive state voluntarily composed of autonomous states and peoples. An empire is a large political party who rules over territories outside of its original borders.

Definitions of what physically and politically constitute an empire vary. It might be a state affecting imperial policies or a particular political structure. Empires are typically formed from diverse ethnic, national, cultural, and religious components.[7] Empire and colonialism are used to refer to relationships between powerful state or society versus a less powerful one.

Tom Nairn and Paul James define empires as polities that:

extend relations of power across territorial spaces over which they have no prior or given legal sovereignty, and where, in one or more of the domains of economics, politics, and culture, they gain some measure of extensive hegemony over those spaces for the purpose of extracting or accruing value.[8]

Sometimes, an empire is a semantic construction, such as when a ruler assumes the title of "emperor". That ruler's nation logically becomes an "empire", despite having no additional territory or hegemony. Examples of this form of empire are the Central African Empire, or the Korean Empire proclaimed in 1897 when Korea, far from gaining new territory, was on the verge of being annexed by the Empire of Japan, the last to use the name officially. Among the last of the empires in the 20th century were the Central African Empire, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Manchukuo, the German Empire, and Korea.

The terrestrial empire's maritime analogue is the thalassocracy, an empire composed of islands and coasts which are accessible to its terrestrial homeland, such as the Athenian-dominated Delian League.

Furthermore, empires can expand by both land and sea. Stephen Howe notes that empires by land can be characterized by expansion over terrain, “extending directly outwards from the original frontier” [9] while an empire by sea can be characterized by colonial expansion and empire building “by an increasingly powerful navy”.[10]


Empires originated as different types of states, although they commonly began as powerful monarchies. Ideas about empires changed throughout century varying from approval from the public to becoming universally distasteful. Empires are built out of separate units with some kind of diversity – ethnic, national, cultural, religious – and imply at least some inequality between the rulers and the ruled. Without this inequality, the system would be seen as commonwealth.

Many empires were the result of military conquest, incorporating the vanquished states into a political union, but imperial hegemony can be established in other ways. The Athenian Empire, the Roman Empire, and the British Empire developed at least in part under elective auspices. The Empire of Brazil declared itself an empire after separating from the Portuguese Empire in 1822. France has twice transitioned from being called the French Republic to being called the French Empire, while France remained an overseas empire.

Weaker states may seek annexation into the empire. An example is the bequest of Pergamon to the Roman Empire by Attalus III. The Unification of Germany as the empire accreted to the Prussian metropole was less a military conquest of the German states than their political divorce from the Austrian Empire. Having convinced the other states of its military prowess, and having excluded the Austrians, Prussia dictated the terms of imperial membership.

Politically, it was typical for either a monarchy or an oligarchy, rooted in the original core territory of the empire, to continue to dominate. If governmental authority was maintained by controlling water supplies, vital to colonial subjects, such régimes were called hydraulic empires.

Europeans began applying the designation of "empire" to non-European monarchies, such as the Qing Empire and the Mughal Empire, as well as the Maratha Empire, eventually leading to the looser denotations applicable to any political structure meeting the criteria of "imperium".

Some empires styled themselves as having greater size, scope, and power than the territorial, politico-military, and economic facts support. As a consequence, some monarchs assumed the title of "emperor" (or its corresponding translation, tsar, empereur, kaiser, etc.) and renamed their states as "The Empire of ...."

Empires were seen as an expanding power, administration, ideas and beliefs followed by cultural habits from place to place. Empires tend to impose their culture on the subject states to strengthen the imperial structure. This can have notable effects that outlast the empire itself, both positive and negative.

History of imperialism[edit]

Early empires[edit]

Early empires

The earliest known empire appeared in Egypt when King Narmer of the Upper Valley who conquered lower Valley circa 3000 BC and laid the foundations for the Old Kingdom. The Akkadian Empire, established by Sargon of Akkad (24th century BC), was an early all-Mesopotamian empire. This imperial achievement was repeated by Hammurabi of Babylon in the 17th century BC. In the 15th century BC, the New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, ruled by Thutmose III, was ancient Africa's major force upon incorporating Nubia and the ancient city-states of the Levant.

Circa 1500 BC in China rose the Shang Empire which was succeeded by the Chou Empire circa 1100 BC. Both surpassed in territory their contemporary Near Eastern empires. The Chou Empire dissolved in 770 BC into feudal multi-state system which lasted for five and a half centuries until the universal conquest of Qin in 221 BC.

The first empire comparable to Rome in organization was the Neo-Assyrian Empire (916–612 BC). The Median Empire was the first empire within the territory of Persia. By the 6th century BC, after having allied with the Babylonians to defeat the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the Medes were able to establish their own empire, which was the largest of its day and lasted for about sixty years.

Classical period[edit]

Classical period

The Axial Age (mid-First Millennium BC) witnessed unprecedented imperial expansion in the Indo-Mediterranean region and China.[11] The successful and extensive Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BC), also known as the first Persian Empire, covered Mesopotamia, Egypt, parts of Greece, Thrace, the Middle East, much of Central Asia, and Pakistan, until it was overthrown and replaced by the short-lived empire of Alexander the Great. His Empire was succeeded by three Empires ruled by the Diadochi--the Seleucid, Ptolemaic, and Macedonian, which, despite being independent, are called the "Hellenistic Empire" by virtue of their similarities in culture and administration.

Meanwhile in the western Mediterranean the Empires of Carthage and Rome began their rise. Having decisively defeated Carthage in 202 BC, Rome defetaed Macedonia in 200 BC and the Seleucids in 190/189 BC to establish all-Mediterranean Empire. The Seleucid Empire broke apart and its former eastern part was absorbed by the Parthian Empire. In 30 BC Rome annexed the Ptolemaic Egypt.

In India during the Axial Age appeared the Maurya Empire--a geographically extensive and powerful empire, ruled by the Mauryan dynasty from 321–185 BC. The empire was founded in 322 BC by Chandragupta Maurya, who rapidly expanded his power westward across central and western India, taking advantage of the disruptions of local powers following the withdrawal by Alexander the Great. By 320 BC, the Maurya Empire had fully occupied northwestern India as well as defeating and conquering the satraps left by Alexander. Under Emperor Asoka the Great, the Maurya Empire became the first Indian empire to conquer all Indian Peninsula--achievement repeated only twice, by the Guptan and Moghul Empires. In the reign of Asoka Buddhism spread to become the dominant religion in ancient India. It has been estimated that the Maurya dynasty controlled an unprecedented one-third of the world's entire economy, was home to one-third of the world's population at the time (an estimated 50 million out of 150 million humans), contained the world's largest city of the time (Pataliputra, estimated to be larger than Rome under Emperor Trajan) and according to Megasthenes, the empire wielded a military of 600,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry, and 9,000 war elephants.

In China of the Axial Age, the era of the Warring States ended in 221 BC with the universal conquest of Qin. The King of Qin, Cheng, became China's First Emperor and began the pattern of successive dynasties. Cheng founded the Great Wall of China which marked the northern frontier of China. The Qin Dynasty was short lived and in 207 BC was overthrown by the Han Dynasty (207 BC - AD 220) which became one of East Asia's most long-lived dynasties. In the Second century AD the Han Empire expanded into Central Asia. By this time only three Empires stretched between the Pacific and the Atlantic--China, Parthia, and Rome.

The Romans were the first nation to invent and embody the concept of empire in their two mandates: to wage war and to make and execute laws.[12] They were the most extensive Western empire until the early modern period, and left a lasting impact on Western Europe. Many languages, cultural values, religious institutions, political divisions, urban centers, and legal systems can trace their origins to the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire governed and rested on exploitative actions. They took slaves and money from the peripheries to support the imperial center.[12] However, the absolute reliance on conquered peoples to carry out the empire's fortune, sustain wealth, and fight wars would ultimately lead to the collapse of the Roman Empire.[12] The Romans were strong believers in what they called their "civilizing mission". This term was legitimized and justified by writers like Cicero who wrote that only under Roman rule could the world flourish and prosper.[12] This ideology, that was envisioned to bring a new world order, was eventually spread across the Mediterranean world and beyond. People started to build houses like Romans, eat the same food, wear the same clothes and engage in the same cruel games.[12] Even rights of citizenship and authority to rule were granted to people not of Roman or Italian birth.[12] This authority given to people outside of Roman culture is an example of how its empire collapsed, with a strong dependence on "foreign" rulers.

The Latin word imperium, referring to a magistrate's power to command, gradually assumed the meaning "The territory in which a magistrate can effectively enforce his commands", while the term "imperator" was originally an honorific meaning "commander". The title was given to generals who were victorious in battle. Thus, an "empire" may include regions that are not legally within the territory of a state, but are under either direct or indirect control of that state, such as a colony, client state, or protectorate. Although historians use the terms "Republican Period" and "Imperial Period" to identify the periods of Roman history before and after absolute power was assumed by Augustus, the Romans themselves continued to refer to their government as a republic, and during the Republican Period, the territories controlled by the republic were referred to as "Imperium Romanum". The emperor's actual legal power derived from holding the office of "consul", but he was traditionally honored with the titles of imperator (commander) and princeps (first man or, chief). Later, these terms came to have legal significance in their own right; an army calling their general "imperator" was a direct challenge to the authority of the current emperor.[13]

The legal systems of France and its former colonies are strongly influenced by Roman law.[14] Similarly, the United States was founded on a model inspired by the Roman Republic, with upper and lower legislative assemblies, and executive power vested in a single individual, the president. The president, as "commander-in-chief" of the armed forces, reflects the ancient Roman titles imperator princeps.[15] The Roman Catholic Church, founded in the early Imperial Period, spread across Europe, first by the activities of Christian evangelists, and later by official imperial promulgation.

Post-classical period[edit]

In western Asia, the term "Persian Empire" came to denote the Iranian imperial states established at different historical periods of pre–Islamic and post–Islamic Persia. In East Asia, various Celestial empires arose periodically between periods of war, civil war, and foreign conquests. The greatest of them was the Tang Empire (AD 618-907).

The 7th century saw the emergence of the Islamic Empire, also referred to as the Arab Empire. The Rashidun Caliphate expanded from the Arabian Peninsula and swiftly conquered the Persian Empire and much of the Byzantine Roman Empire. Its successor state, the Umayyad Caliphate, expanded across North Africa and into the Iberian Peninsula. By the beginning of the 8th century, the Umayyad Caliphate had become the largest empire in history, it would not be surpassed in size until the establishment of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century. In 750 the Caliphate clashed with the Tang China at Talas. By this time only these two Empires stretched between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

In the 7th century, Maritime Southeast Asia witnessed the rise of a Buddhist thallasocracy, the Srivijaya Empire, which thrived for 600 years and was succeeded by the Hindu-Buddhist Majapahit Empire that ruled from the 13th to 15th centuries. In the Southeast Asian mainland, the Hindu-Buddhist Khmer Empire was centered in the city of Angkor and flourished from the 9th to 13th centuries. Following the demise of the Khmer Empire, the Siamese Empire flourished alongside the Burmese and Lan Chang Empires from the 13th through the 18th centuries. In Eastern Europe, during the year of 917, the Byzantine Empire was forced to recognize the Imperial title of Bulgarian rulers (who were called Tsars). The Bulgarian Empire remained a major power in the Balkans until its fall in the late 14th century.

Post-classical period

At the time, in the Medieval West, the title "empire" had a specific technical meaning that was exclusively applied to states that considered themselves the heirs and successors of the Roman Empire. Among these were the Byzantine Empire, which was the actual continuation of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Carolingian Empire, the largely Germanic Holy Roman Empire, and the Russian Empire. Yet, these states did not always fit the geographic, political, or military profiles of empires in the modern sense of the word. To legitimise their imperium, these states directly claimed the title of Empire from Rome. The sacrum Romanum imperium (Holy Roman Empire), which lasted from 800 to 1806, claimed to have exclusively comprehended Christian principalities, and was only nominally a discrete imperial state. The Holy Roman Empire was not always centrally-governed, as it had neither core nor peripheral territories, and was not governed by a central, politico-military elite. Hence, Voltaire's remark that the Holy Roman Empire "was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire" is accurate to the degree that it ignores[16] German rule over Italian, French, Provençal, Polish, Flemish, Dutch, and Bohemian populations, and the efforts of the ninth-century Holy Roman Emperors (i.e., the Ottonians) to establish central control. Voltaire's "... nor an empire" observation applies to its late period.

In 1204, after the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople, the crusaders established a Latin Empire (1204–1261) in that city, while the defeated Byzantine Empire's descendants established two smaller, short-lived empires in Asia Minor: the Empire of Nicaea (1204–1261) and the Empire of Trebizond (1204–1461). Constantinople was retaken in 1261 by the Byzantine successor state centered in Nicaea, re-establishing the Byzantine Empire until 1453, by which time the Turkish-Muslim Ottoman Empire (ca. 1300–1918), had conquered most of the region. The Ottoman Empire was a successor of the Abbasid Empire and it was the most powerful empire to succeed the Abbasi empires at the time, as well as one of the most powerful empires in the world.[17] The Ottoman Empire centered on modern day Turkey, dominated the eastern Mediterranean, overthrew the Byzantine Empire to claim Constantinople and it would start battering at Austria and Malta, which were countries that were key to central and to south-west Europe respectively — mainly for their geographical location.[17] The reason these occurrences of batterings were so important was because the Ottomans were Muslim, and the rest of Europe was Christian, so there was a sense of religious fighting going on.[18] This was not just a rivalry of East and West but a rivalry between Christians and Muslims.[19] Both the Christians and Muslims had alliances with other countries, and they had problems in them as well.[20] The flows of trade and of cultural influences across the supposed great divide never ceased, so the countries never stopped bartering with each other.[21] These epochal clashes between civilizations profoundly shaped many people's thinking back then, and continues to do so in the present day.[22] Modern hatred against Muslim communities in South-Eastern Europe, mainly in Bosnia and Kosovo, has often been articulated in terms of seeing them as unwelcome residues of this imperialism: in short, as Turks.[23] Moreover, Eastern Orthodox imperialism was not re-established until the coronation of Peter the Great as Emperor of Russia in 1721. Likewise, with the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815), the Austrian Empire (1804–1867) emerged reconstituted as the Empire of Austria–Hungary (1867–1918), having "inherited" the imperium of Central and Western Europe from the losers of said wars.

In the thirteenth century, Genghis Khan expanded the Mongol Empire to be the largest contiguous empire in the world. However, within two generations, the empire was separated into four discrete khanates under Genghis Khan's grandsons. One of them, Kublai Khan, conquered China and established the Yuan Dynasty with the imperial capital at Beijing. One familiy ruled the whole Eurasian land mass from the Pacific to the Adriatic and Baltic Seas. The emergence of the Pax Mongolica had significantly eased trade and commerce across Asia.[24][25]

In the pre-Columbian America, two Empires were prominents--the Azteca in Mesoamerica and Inca in Peru. Both existed for several generations before the arrival of the Europeans. Inca had gradually conquered the whole of the settled Andean world as far south as today Santaigo in Chile.

In Oceania, the Tonga Empire was a lonely empire that existed from the Medieval to the Modern period.

Colonial empires[edit]

In the 15th century, European landings in the so-called "New World" (first, the Americas, and later Australia), along with Portuguese travels around the Cape of Good Hope and along the coast of Africa bordering the southeast Indian Ocean, proved ripe opportunities for the continent's Renaissance-era monarchies to establish colonial empires like those of the ancient Romans and Greeks. In the Old World, colonial imperialism was attempted and established on the Canary Islands and Ireland. These conquered lands and people became de jure subordinates of the empire, rather than de facto imperial territories and subjects. Such subjugation often elicited "client-state" resentment that the empire unwisely ignored, leading to the collapse of the European colonial imperial system in the late 19th century and the early and mid-20th century. Spanish discovery of the New World gave way to many expeditions led by England, Portugal, France, the Dutch Republic, and Spain. In the 18th century, the Spanish Empire was at its height because of the great mass of goods taken from conquered territory in the Americas (Mexico, parts of the United States, the Caribbean, most of Central America, and South America) and the Philippines.

Modern period[edit]

Modern period

The French emperors Napoleon I and Napoleon III (See: Premier Empire, Second French Empire, and French colonial empire) each attempted establishing a western imperial hegemony centered in France. The German Empire (1871–1918), another "heir to the Holy Roman Empire", arose in 1871.

The Ashanti Empire (or Confederacy), also Asanteman (1701–1896), was a West African state of the Ashanti, the Akan people of the Ashanti Region, Akanland in modern day Ghana. The Ashanti (or Asante) were a powerful, militaristic and highly disciplined people in West Africa. Their military power, which came from effective strategy and an early adoption of European firearms, created an empire that stretched from central Akanland (in modern-day Ghana) to present day Benin and Ivory Coast, bordered by the Dagomba kingdom to the north and Dahomey to the east. Due to the empire's military prowess, sophisticated hierarchy, social stratification and culture, the Ashanti empire had one of the largest historiographies of any indigenous Sub-Saharan African political entity.

The Sikh Empire (1799–1846) was established in the Punjab region of India. The empire collapsed when its founder, Ranjit Singh, died and its army fell to the British. During the same period, the Maratha Empire (also known as the Maratha Confederacy) was a Hindu state located in present-day India. It existed from 1674 to 1818, and at its peak, the empire's territories covered much of Southern Asia. The empire was founded and consolidated by Shivaji. After the death of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, it expanded greatly under the rule of the Peshwas. In 1761, the Maratha army lost the Third Battle of Panipat, which halted the expansion of the empire. Later, the empire was divided into a confederacy of states which, in 1818, were lost to the British during the Anglo-Maratha wars.[27]

The British established their first empire (1583–1783) in North America by colonising lands that made up British America, including parts of Canada and the Thirteen Colonies. In 1776, the Continental Congress of the Thirteen Colonies declared itself independent from the British Empire, thus beginning the American Revolution. Britain turned towards Asia, the Pacific, and later Africa, with subsequent exploration leading to the rise of the Second British Empire (1783–1815), which was followed by the Industrial Revolution and Britain's Imperial Century (1815–1914).[28]

Transition from empire[edit]

In time, an empire may change from one political entity to another. To wit, the Holy Roman Empire, a German re-constitution of the Roman Empire, metamorphosed into various political structures (i.e., federalism), and eventually, under Habsburg rule, re-constituted itself as the Austrian Empire, an empire of much different politics and vaster extension.

An autocratic empire can become a republic (e.g., the Central African Empire in 1979), or it can become a republic with its imperial dominions reduced to a core territory (e.g., Weimar Germany (1918–1919) and the Ottoman Empire (1918–1923)). The dissolution of the Austro–Hungarian Empire after 1918 is an example of a multi-ethnic superstate broken into its constituent states: the republics, kingdoms, and provinces of Austria, Hungary, Transylvania, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czechoslovakia, Ruthenia, Galicia, et al.

After the Second World War (1939–1945), the process became commonly known as decolonisation. The British Empire evolved into a loose, multinational Commonwealth of Nations, while the French colonial empire metamorphosed to a Francophone commonwealth. The French territory of Kwang-Chou-Wan was given back to China in 1946. The British gave Hong Kong back to China in 1997 after 150 years of rule. The Portuguese territory of Macau was given back to China in 1999. Macau and Hong Kong were not incorporated into the provincial structure of China; they have an autonomous system of government as Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China.

France still governs colonies (French Guyana, Martinique, Réunion, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, St Martin, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, Guadeloupe, TAAF, Wallis and Futuna, Saint Barthélemy, and Mayotte) and exerts hegemony in Francophone Africa (29 francophone countries such as Chad, Rwanda, et cetera). Fourteen British Overseas Territories remain under British sovereignty. Sixteen countries of the Commonwealth of Nations share their head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, as Commonwealth realms.

While the notion of "formal empire" may have ended, it is important to note that many of these former colonial populations still continue to face the historical legacy of colonialism. While traditional sovereignty has been granted to these political units, one must not forget the economic, political and cultural entanglements that continue to affect these subject populations. Therefore, discursive practices of Empire are still present in countries today.

Contemporary usage[edit]

Contemporaneously, the concept of empire is politically valid, yet is not always used in the traditional sense. For example, Japan is considered the world's sole remaining empire because of the continued presence of the Japanese Emperor in national politics. Despite the semantic reference to imperial power, Japan is a de jure constitutional monarchy, with a homogeneous population of 127 million people that is 98.5 percent ethnic Japanese, making it one of the largest nation-states.[29]

Characterizing some aspects of American foreign policy and international behavior as "American Empire" is controversial but not uncommon. Stuart Creighton Miller posits that the public's sense of innocence about Realpolitik (cf. American Exceptionalism) impairs popular recognition of US imperial conduct since it governed other countries via surrogates. These surrogates were domestically-weak, right-wing governments that would collapse without US support.[30] Former President G.W. Bush's Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, said: "We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic; we never have been."[31] This statement directly contradicts Thomas Jefferson who, in the 1780s while awaiting the fall of the Spanish empire, said: "...till our population can be sufficiently advanced to gain it from them piece by piece".[32][33][34] In turn, historian Sidney Lens argues that from its inception, the US has used every means available to dominate other nations.[35] Other historian Max Ostrovsky argues that the term hegemony is better than empire to describe the US' role in the world but finds that hegemony is likely to be an intermediate stage between states system and empire.[36]

Since the European Union began in 1993 as a west European trade bloc, it has established its own currency, the Euro (1999), established discrete military forces, and exercised its limited hegemony in parts of eastern Europe and Asia. The political scientist Jan Zielonka suggests that this behaviour is imperial because it coerces its neighbouring countries into adopting its European economic, legal, and political structures.[37][38][39][40][41][42]

In his book review of Empire (2000) by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Mehmet Akif Okur posits that since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, the international relations determining the world's balance of power (political, economic, military) have been altered. These alterations include the intellectual (political science) trends that perceive the contemporary world's order via the re-territorrialisation of political space, the re-emergence of classical imperialist practices (the "inside" vs. "outside" duality, cf. the Other), the deliberate weakening of international organisations, the restructured international economy, economic nationalism, the expanded arming of most countries, the proliferation of nuclear weapon capabilities and the politics of identity emphasizing a state's subjective perception of its place in the world, as a nation and as a civilisation. These changes constitute the "Age of Nation Empires"; as imperial usage, nation-empire denotes the return of geopolitical power from global power blocs to regional power blocs (i.e., centred upon a "regional power" state [China, Russia, U.S., et al.]) and regional multi-state power alliances (i.e., Europe, Latin America, South East Asia). Nation-empire regionalism claims sovereignty over their respective (regional) political (social, economic, ideologic), cultural, and military spheres.[43]

Timeline of empires[edit]

The chart below shows a timeline of polities that have been called empires. Dynastic changes are marked with a white line.

  • The Roman Empire's timeline listed below only includes the Western portion. The Byzantine continuation of the Roman Empire is listed separately.
  • The Empires of Nicaea and Trebizond were Byzantine successor states.
  • The Empire of Bronze Age Egypt is not included in the graph. Established by Narmer circa 3000 BC, it lasted as long as China until it was conquered by Persia in 525 BC.
  • Japan is presented for the period of its overseas Empire (1895-1945). The original Japanese Empire of "the Eight Islands" would be third persistent after Egypt and China.

Theoretical research[edit]

Empires have been the dominant international organization in world history. Political scientist Hedley Bull wrote that "in the broad sweep of human history…the form of states system has been the exception rather than the rule."[44] Political scientist Robert Gilpin confirmed Bull's conclusion for the pre-modern period:

The history of interstate relations was largely that of successive great empires. The pattern of international political change during the millennia of the pre-modern era has been described as an imperial cycle… World politics was characterized by the rise and decline of powerful empires, each of which in turn unified and ordered its respective international system. The recurrent pattern in every civilization of which we have knowledge was for one state to unify the system under its imperial domination. The propensity toward universal empire was the principal feature of pre-modern politics.[45]

Historian Michael Doyle who undertook an extensive research on empires extended the observation into the modern era:

Empires have been the key actors in world politics for millennia. They helped create the interdependent civilizations of all the continents… Imperial control stretches through history, many say, to the present day. Empires are as old as history itself… They have held the leading role ever since.[46]

A later group of political scientists, working on the phenomenon of the current unipolarity, in 2007 edited research on several pre-modern civilizations by experts in respective fields. The overall conclusion was that the balance of power was inherently unstable order and usually soon broke in favor of imperial order.[47] Yet before the advent of the unipolarity, world historian Arnold Toynbee and political scientist Martin Wight had drawn the same conclusion with an unambiguous implication for the modern world:

When this [imperial] pattern of political history is found in the New World as well as in the Old World, it looks as if the pattern must be intrinsic to the political history of societies of the species we call civilizations, in whatever part of the world the specimens of this species occur. If this conclusion is warranted, it illuminates our understanding of civilization itself.”[48]

Most states systems have ended in universal empire, which has swallowed all the states of the system. The examples are so abundant that we must ask two questions: Is there any states system which has not led fairly directly to the establishment of a world empire? Does the evidence rather suggest that we should expect any states system to culminate in this way? …It might be argued that every state system can only maintain its existence on the balance of power, that the later is inherently unstable, and that sooner or later its tensions and conflicts will be resolved into a monopoly of power.[49]

Much earlier, Fichte, having witnessed the battle at Jena in 1806 when Napoleon overwhelmed Prussia, described what he perceived as a deep historical trend:

There is necessary tendency in every cultivated State to extend itself generally... Such is the case in Ancient History … As the States become stronger in themselves and cast off that [Papal] foreign power, the tendency towards a Universal Monarchy over the whole Christian World necessarily comes to light… This tendency ... has shown itself successively in several States which could make pretensions to such a dominion, and since the fall of the Papacy, it has become the sole animating principle of our History... Whether clearly or not—it may be obscurely—yet has this tendency lain at the root of the undertakings of many States in Modern Times... Although no individual Epoch may have contemplated this purpose, yet is this the spirit which runs through all these individual Epochs, and invisibly urges them onward.”[50]

Fichte's later compatriot, Geographer Alexander von Humboldt (1769 –1859), in the mid-Nineteenth century observed a macro-historic trend of imperial growth in both Hemispheres: "Men of great and strong minds, as well as whole nations, acted under influence of one idea, the purity of which was utterly unknown to them."[51] A macro-historical view of the imperial cycles outlines the pattern of expanding pulsation. Since the dawn of history, when there appeared first empires visible on the world map, the trend was towards ever-larger empires. The List of largest empires demonstrates record progression of largest empires in terms of both territory and population. The paradigm that empires perpetually rise and fall without expansive trend appears to be Western and eurocentric based on the fact that since the Roman Empire fell the European world never repeated its ancient unity.

Historian Max Ostrovsky, basing on the comparative analysis between pre-modern civilizations,[52] stressed that the European system was exceptional in that it was ever-expanding. External expansion released internal centripetal pressure. The overall trend of imperial expansion was not reversed with the beginning of the Middle Ages, as seen from the rise of the Caliphate, Tang, and Mongols (see "History" above). The next expansive empires emerged on the western edge of Eurasia but this time the general trend was altered by the Seafaring Revolution: the European empires turned their exceeding energies overseas and the internal European power was balanced.

In world history, Ostrovsky continues, two parallel processes occurred—imperial expansion and imperial consolidation. Expansion retarded and complicated consolidation. But if in the past external expansion could outpace internal consolidation, the gap between the two processes was doomed to close due to the fact that the size of the world is definite.”[53]

The imperial expansion filled the world circa 1900. Two famous contemporary observers—Frederick Turner and Halford Mackinder described the event and drew implications, the former predicting American overseas expansion and the latter stressing that the world empire is now in sight.[54]

Two their contemporaries—Kang Yu-wei and George Vacher de Lapouge—stressed that imperial expansion cannot indefinitely proceed on the definite surface of the globe and world empire is imminent. Kang Yu-wei in 1885 believed that the imperial trend will culminate in the contest between Washington and Berlin and Vacher de Lapouge in 1899 estimated that the final contest will be between Russia and America in which America is likely to triumph.[55]

Later, four Anthropologists—Hornell Hart, Raoul Naroll, Louis Morano, and Robert Carneiro—researched expanding imperial cycles. They reached the same conclusion that a world empire is not only pre-determined but close at hand and attempted to estimate the time of its appearance.[56]

One of them, Robert Carneiro, is the author of the circumscription theory (Carneiro's circumscription theory). Working on the Bronze Age civilizations, he concluded that the more a region is circumscribed, the sooner it unifies. Ostrovsky extended the theory past the Bronze Age to demonstrate that the factor of circumscription never ceased to work, as most evident from the comparison between the Chinese and the Mediterranean/European systems.[57]

The modern system, being global, is totally circumscribed. One of the leading scholars of the world system theory, Christopher Chase-Dunn, in 1990 was the first to link the circumscription theory with the formation of the closed global system.[58] The subject was further developed by Ostrovsky who devoted a decade of research to the macro-trend of imperial expansion. He noted that in the modern world the moment of circumscription (circa 1900) coincided with the revolution in technology of warfare and communication which multiplied the factor of circumscription. As a result, within less than a century the world overcame its centuries-old balance of power and reached the present unipolarity. [59]

It is debatable whether the present unipolarity represents the American Empire or the American hegemony. Ostrovsky finds the latter term more correct but, due to the factors of circumscription and modern technology, the pendulum is likely to swing to the world empire in its most unitary form. [60]

The most unitary form of empire was described by Michael Doyle in his Empires. It is empire in which its two main components—the ruling core and the ruled periphery—merged to form one integrated whole. At this stage the empire as defined ceases to exist and becomes world state. Doyle exemplifies the transformation on the example of the Roman Emperor Caracalla whose legislation in AD 212 extended the Roman citizenship to all inhabitants of the Mediterranean world.[61]

Besides the most unitary form, the forthcoming world empire, according to Ostrovsky, is supposed to outlast all previous. The Empires of ancient Egypt and China persisted for two-and-a-half millennia of their circumscribed existence, until they were engulfed by larger empires—Egypt by the Persian and China by several modern empires. The world empire, being global, can neither expand nor be engulfed by a larger empire and this condition will remain to the end of history. The technological progress will not be reversed as long too. Hence, the expected world empire would last for millennia. [62]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Portland House, New York, 1989, p. 468.
  2. ^ "Empire". Oxford Dictionary Online. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  3. ^ Howe, Steven (2002). Empire: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford. 
  4. ^ Ross Hassig, Mexico and the Spanish Conquest (1994), pp. 23–24, ISBN 0-582-06829-0 (pbk)
  5. ^ Howe, Stephen (2002). Empire: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford Press. pp. 10–15. 
  6. ^ The Oxford English Reference Dictionary, Second Edition (2001), p. 461, ISBN 0-19-860046-1
  7. ^ Howe, Stephen (2002). Empire. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-19-280223-1. 
  8. ^ James, Paul; Nairn, Tom (2006). Globalization and Violence, Vol. 1: Globalizing Empires, Old and New. London: Sage Publications. p. xxiii. 
  9. ^ Howe, Stephen. “Empire: A Very Short Introduction,” New York: Oxford University Press, 2002: 35
  10. ^ Howe, Stephen. “Empire: A Very Short Introduction,” New York: Oxford University Press, 2002: 66
  11. ^ Samuel N. Eisenstadt, Axial Age Civilizations, (New York: New York State University Press, 1986); Max Ostrovsky, Y = Arctg X: The Hyperbola of the World Order, (Lanham: University Press of America, 2007).
  12. ^ a b c d e f Howe, Steven (2002). Empire: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford.
  13. ^ Michael Burger (2008). The Shaping of Western Civilization: From Antiquity to the Enlightenment. University of Toronto Press. p. 115. 
  14. ^ Ken Pennington. "France – Legal History". Columbus School of Law and School of Canon Law, The Catholic University of America. Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  15. ^ Cynthia Haven (February 19, 2010). "Stanford scholar links Rome and America in Philadelphia exhibition". Stanford Report. 
  16. ^ Voltaire, Wikiquote, citing Essai sur l'histoire generale et sur les moeurs et l'espirit des nations, Chapter 70 (1756), retrieved 2008-01-06 
  17. ^ a b Howe, Stephen (2002). Empire- A Very Short Introduction. New York, United States: Oxford University Press. p. 46. 
  18. ^ Howe, Stephen (2002). Empire- A Very Short Introduction. New York, United States: Oxford University Press. p. 46. 
  19. ^ Howe, Stephen (31 January 2015). Empire- A Very Short Introduction. New York, United States: Oxford University Press. p. 46. 
  20. ^ Howe, Stephen (2002). Empire-A Very Short Introduction. New York, United States: Oxford University Press. p. 46. 
  21. ^ Howe, Stephen (2002). Empire-A Very Short Introduction. New York, United States: Oxford University Press. 
  22. ^ Howe, Stephen (2002). Empire- A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 30. 
  23. ^ Howe, Stephen (2002). Empire- A Very Short Introduction. New York, United States: Oxford University Press. p. 47. 
  24. ^ Gregory G. Guzman, "Were the barbarians a negative or positive factor in ancient and medieval history?", The Historian 50 (1988), 568–70
  25. ^ Thomas T. Allsen, Culture and conquest in Mongol Eurasia, 211
  26. ^ Wilbur, Marguerite Eyer; Company, The East India. The East India Company: And the British Empire in the Far East. Stanford University Press. pp. 175–178. ISBN 9780804728645. Retrieved 16 February 2014. 
  27. ^ Pagadi, Setumadhavarao R. (1983). Shivaji. National Book Trust, India. p. 21. ISBN 81-237-0647-2. 
  28. ^ British Empire
  29. ^ George Hicks, Japan's hidden apartheid: the Korean Minority and the Japanese, (Aldershot, England; Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, 1998), 3.
  30. ^ Johnson, Chalmers, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000), pp.72–9
  31. ^ Niall Ferguson. "Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire". 
  32. ^ Sidney Lens; Howard Zinn (2003). The forging of the American empire: from the revolution to Vietnam, a history of U.S. imperialism. Pluto Press. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-0-7453-2100-4. 
  33. ^ LaFeber, Walter, Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America (1993) 2nd edition, p. 19
  34. ^ Boot, Max (May 6, 2003). "American Imperialism? No Need to Run Away from Label". Council on Foreign Relations op-ed, quoting USA Today. Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  35. ^ Lens & Zinn 2003, p. Back cover
  36. ^ Y = Arctg X: The Hyperbola of the World Order, (Lanham: University Press of America, 2007).
  37. ^ Ian Black (December 20, 2002). "Living in a euro wonderland". Guardian. Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  38. ^ "EU gets its military fist". BBC News. December 13, 2002. Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  39. ^ Nikolaos Tzifakis (April 2007). "EU's region-building and boundary-drawing policies: the European approach to the Southern Mediterranean and the Western Balkans 1". Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans (informaworld) 9 (1): 47–64. doi:10.1080/14613190701217001. Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
  40. ^ Stephen R. Hurt (2003). "Co-operation and coercion? The Cotonou Agreement between the European Union and acp states and the end of the Lomé Convention" (PDF). Third World Quarterly (informaworld) 24: 161–176. doi:10.1080/713701373. Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
  41. ^ Bruno Coppieters, Michael Emerson, Michel Huysseune, Tamara Kovziridze, Nathalie Tocci, Gergana Noutcheva and Marius Vahl. "Europeanisation and Conflict Resolution: Case Studies from the European Periphery" (PDF). Belgian Science Policy. Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  42. ^ Jan Zielonka (2006). Europe as Empire: The Nature of the Enlarged European Union (PDF). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-929221-3. Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  43. ^ For the Okur's thesis about "nation empires", look at the article: Mehmet Akif Okur, Rethinking Empire After 9/11: Towards A New Ontological Image of World Order Perceptions, Journal of International Affairs, Volume XII, Winter 2007, pp. 61–93
  44. ^ The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics, London: Macmillan, 1977, p 21).
  45. ^ Gilpin War and Change in World Politics, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981, p 110-116).
  46. ^ Empires, (London: Cornell University Press, 1986, p 12, 51, 137).
  47. ^ William Wohlforth, & Stuart Kaufman, & Richard Little, Balance of Power in World History, (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
  48. ^ “Foreword,” Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru, (Garcilaso de la Vega, Austin & London: University of Texas Press, 1966, p X-XI).
  49. ^ System of States, (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1977, p 43-44).
  50. ^ Fichte, (1806). “Characterisitics of the Present Age,” Theory and Practice of the Balance of Power, 1486-1914: Selected European Writings, (ed. Moorhead Wright, London: Rowman & Littlefield, 1975, pp. 87-89).
  51. ^ Cosmos : a sketch of a physical description of the universe by Alexander von Humboldt; translated from the German by E. C. Otté (vol I, p 359).
  52. ^ Y = Arctg X: The Hyperbola of the World Order, (Lanham; University Press of America, 2007); Comparative studies of the Roman and Han empires.
  53. ^ Y = Arctg X: The Hyperbola of the World Order, (Lanham; University Press of America, 2007, p 126-139)..
  54. ^ Halford J. Mackinder, The Geographical Pivot of History, J. Murray, London, 1904; Fredrick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History, Holt, Rinchart and Winston, New York, 1920
  55. ^ K'ang Yu-wei, The One World Philosophy, (tr. Thompson, Lawrence G., London, 1958), pp 79-80, 85; George Vacher de Lapouge, L'Aryen: Son Rôle Social, (Nantes: 1899), chapter " L`Avenir des Aryens."
  56. ^ Hornell, Hart, "The Logistic Growth of Political Areas," Social Forces, 26, (1948): 396-408; Raoul, Naroll, "Imperial Cycles and World Order," Peace Research Society, 7, (1967): 83-101; Louis A., Marano, "A Macrohistoric Trend towards World Government", Behavior Science Notes, 8, (1973): 35-40; Robert Carneiro, "Political Expansion as an Expression of the Principle of Competitive Exclusion", Studying War: Anthropological Perspective, eds. Reyna, Stephen P. & Dawns, Richard Erskine, Gordon and Breach, New Hampshire, 1994; Robert Carneiro, "The Political Unification of the World", Cross Cultural Survey, 38/2, (2004), 162-177.
  57. ^ Y = Arctg X: The Hyperbola of the World Order, (Lanham; University Press of America, 2007, p 51-53, 89-91); Comparative studies of the Roman and Han empires..
  58. ^ "World State Formation: Historical Processes and Emergent Necessity," California: Institute for research on World System, working paper 1, http://irows.ucr.edu/papers/irows1.txxt
  59. ^ Y = Arctg X: The Hyperbola of the World Order, (Lanham; University Press of America, 2007, p 126-174)..
  60. ^ Y = Arctg X: The Hyperbola of the World Order, (Lanham; University Press of America, 2007, p 341-353)..
  61. ^ Empires, (London: Cornell University Press, 1986,, p 12).
  62. ^ Y = Arctg X: The Hyperbola of the World Order, (Lanham; University Press of America, 2007, p 367)..


Further reading[edit]

  • Innis, Harold (1950, rev. 1972). Empire and Communications. Rev. by Mary Q. Innis; foreword by Marshall McLuhan. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press. xii, 184 p. N.B.: "Here he [i.e., Innis] develops his theory that the history of empires is determined to a large extent by their means of communication."—From the back cover of the book's pbk. ed. ISBN 0-8020-6119-2 pbk

External links[edit]