Conquering The World: The Most Powerful Empires Throughout History

Since humans discovered the power and capability that comes with numbers, we have lived in societies that enable us to live and flourish as a species. Yet, some people weren’t content just surviving in small communities, understanding the possibilities available through the conquering and unification of other groups. Thus, empires were born. While there have been countless empires throughout history, a few stand out as great due to their size, strength, and the extent of time they maintained control. These are the most powerful empires in history and all they accomplished.

The Akkadian Empire Is As Ancient As It Gets

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Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Following Sumer, the Akkadian Empire was the first empire of Mesopotamia, named after the city of Akkad. The Assyrian, Babylonia, and Sumerian cultures and languages were joined under one empire, allowing it to spread with great energy across Mesopotamia.

Its founder is identified as Sargon of Akkad, who led vast military exploits that allowed for its expansion and security of power. The empire reached its zenith between the 24th and 22nd centuries BC. Akkad is considered the first empire in history by some experts, although there is disagreement among historians.

The First Turkic Khaganate Spanned The Area Between Manchuria And The Black Sea

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Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

Also referred to as the First Turkic Empire, the First Turkic Khaganate was built by the Ashina clan in medieval Inner Asia during the 6th century. It was under the leadership of Bumin Qaghan and his brother Istami. Not long after becoming the dominant power over the Mongolian Plateau, the empire began to move into Central Asia.

Eventually, it became the first Central Asian transcontinental empire. The empire would eventually collapse in 603 AD due to civil war, which split it into the Eastern Turkic Khaganate and the Western Turkic Khaganate.

The Rashidun Caliphate Was The First Caliphate After Muhammad’s Death

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Established after the Islamic prophet Muhammad’s death in 632 AD, the Rashidun Caliphate was the first of four caliphates that fall under Sunni Islam. Abu Bakr, a close friend of Muhammad, was chosen as the first leader and immediately began to expand their strength in the Arabian Peninsula.

Known for its military prowess, at its height, the Rashidun Army had a force of more than 100,000, and by the 650s, controlled the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant, Egypt, North Africa, the Iranian Plateau, and parts of Central Asia and South Asia.

The Mongol Empire Conquered With An Iron Fist

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Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

The Mongol Empire was established after the unification of numerous nomadic tribes under the fierce conqueror Genghis Khan’s leadership. Known for their ruthlessness and military domination over their rivals, the Mongols quickly expanded their empire that eventually covered parts of Asia, Eastern Europe, Central Europe, the Sea of Japan, the Arctic, the Iranian Plateau, and beyond.

It is easily one of the largest empires in history, connecting the East with the West and the Pacific to the Mediterranean. Lasting from 1206 to 1368 AD, the empire began to falter after wars over succession. The Mongols conquered without remorse.

The Maurya Empire Was The Largest In The History Of India

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Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

During the Iron Age, the Maurya Empire held control over the Indian subcontinent between 322 and 185 BC. Primarily based in Magadha with the capital city located in Pataliputra, the empire was the largest in India’s history, covering more than 1.9 million square miles.

The empire was founded by Chandragupta Maurya, who established an army and began conquering the satraps that had been established and left behind by Alexander the Great, also overthrowing the Nanda and Seleucid Empires. Besides being incredibly vast, the empire was progressive in trade, agriculture, and finance.

The Umayyad Caliphate Was One Of The Largest Empires In History

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The Print Collector via Getty Images
The Print Collector via Getty Images

The second of the four major caliphates following Muhammad’s death, the Umayyad Caliphate continued to conquer its surrounding lands between 661 and 750 AD. At its greatest size, it totaled more than 4,300,000 square miles, making it one of the largest empires in history.

Because it was so large, it ruled over countless different ethnicities and cultures, even allowing Christians and Jews to practice their religion in return for a tax. Positions in government and other high standings were even held by Christians and non-muslims. The era is credited for being one of the most important periods for Islamic art.

The Ming Dynasty Oversaw China’s Great Population Boom

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Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Otherwise known as the Great Ming, the Ming dynasty ruled China from 1368 to 1644 and is considered the last imperial dynasty to be ruled by the Han. Through a stroke of genius, the dynasty established surrounding self-sufficient communities that allowed for a constant and permanent class of soldiers.

At one point, the dynasty’s army exceeded one million and it also had the world’s largest dockyards. Furthermore, during the Ming Dynasty, China’s population doubled, and trade was established with the West.

The Sasanian Empire Was The Longest-Surviving Persian Empire

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PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Sasanian Empire, or Empire of the Iranians, was the final Persian imperial dynasty until it was eventually conquered by the Muslims in the seventh century AD. The empire lasted from 224 to 651 AD, which meant that it was the longest Persian dynasty in history.

It was founded by Ardashir I, who began to expand the empire’s borders and was quite successful at it. At its peak, it covered all of present-day Iraq and Iran, from the eastern Mediterranean to Pakistan, and into Central Asia.

The British Empire Was The Largest In History

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Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

Between the 16th and 18th centuries, the British Empire was a collection of all of the landholdings by the United Kingdom. During the Age of Discovery, England was quick to snatch up territories, colonize, and establish trade networks, following in suit of Portugal and Spain.

It turns out, they were incredibly successful as well, growing to become the largest empire in history. By 1913, the British Empire controlled more than 24% of the world’s population and by 1925 ruled over more than 13,500,000 square miles. Yet, the empire began to drastically lose its territories leading up to and after World War II.

The Macedonian Empire Was The Strongest Under Alexander The Great

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Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

An ancient kingdom, Macedonia dominated Hellenistic Greece, but before the 4th century BC was nothing more than a small city-state. Under the leadership of Philip II between 359 to 336 BC, it grew to dominate mainland Greece through mostly conquest.

However, it was his son, Alexander the Great, who took Macedonia to new heights. Alexander secured all of Greece, conquered the Achaemenid Empire, and established territories under his rule that went as far as the Indus River. This great expansion made Macedonia the most powerful empire in the world at the time, paving the way for a massive progression forward in Ancient Greek civilization.

The Achaemenid Empire Had An Impressive Political System

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Vivienne Sharp/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Vivienne Sharp/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Also known as the First Persian Empire, the Achaemenid Empire was formed by nomadic Persians, Iranian people who for many centuries were ruled over by the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Their own empire was founded by Cyrus the Great and existed between 550 to 330 BC.

The Achaemenid Empire grew quickly and is impressive for its political achievements such as its bureaucratic system and roads, a postal system, and the development of an official language. At one point, it was the largest empire in history, which covered more than 2.1 million square miles.

The Han Dynasty Is Considered The Golden Age In Chinese History

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DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

Lasting from 202 BC to 220 AD, the Han Dynasty followed the Qin Dynasty and was China’s second Imperial Dynasty. It eventually was split into two periods known as the Western Han and the Eastern Han. The time of the Han Dynasty is considered to be one of the greatest periods in Chinese history that has deeply influenced the culture ever since.

During this time, the ethnic group of the Han Chinese emerged, with society experiencing significant economic prosperity, booming trade, and incredible advances in science, technology, warfare, mathematics, and more.

Sumer Produced The Oldest Form Of Writing

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Nik Wheeler/Corbis via Getty Images
Nik Wheeler/Corbis via Getty Images

Located in the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates River, Sumer was an ancient Mesopotamian civilization, and the Sumerians are considered the creators of modern civilization.

The first humans to settle in the region were the Ubaid people around 4500 to 4000 BC, who made incredible strides regarding agriculture, architecture, and more. Eventually, Sumer was divided into independent city-states protected by stone walls and separated by canals. The earliest writings in human history came from the cities Uruk and Jemdet Nasr.

The Ottoman Empire Conquered The Byzantine Empire

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Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Between the 14th and 20th centuries, the Ottoman Empire was a massive force that controlled most of Southeast Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia. Founded by the tribal leader Osman I, by the mid-1300s, the Ottomans made their way into Europe and began conquering their way throughout the Balkans. In 1453, the empire sacked Constantinople, marking the end of the Byzantine Empire.

By then, the Ottoman Empire was transcontinental and was incredibly advanced in just about everything that makes an empire successful. They used Constantinople as its capital, which is considered to have been the premier meeting place for the Eastern and Western worlds. The empire eventually collapsed during the 20th century.

The French Colonial Empire Spanned All Over The Globe

Painting of the French
Prisma/UIG/Getty Images
Prisma/UIG/Getty Images

A collection of overseas colonies, the French colonial empire has been generally separated into two time periods. These are the First French Colonial Empire that lasted until 1814 and the Second French Colonial Empire, with its beginnings being marked by Algiers’ defeat in 1830.

The creation of the colonial empire began during the 17th century when the French began securing colonies in the Caribbean, India, and North America, eventually spreading to Africa and Indochina. At its height, the Second French Colonial Empire was once of the largest in history, including all of France, and dominion of more than 4,400,000 square miles and a population of 110 million by the 1930s.

The Incan Empire Was The Largest In The Pre-Colombian Americas

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EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP via Getty Images
EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP via Getty Images

Emerging from the Peruvian highlands in the 13th century, the Incan Empire became the largest pre-Colombian civilization in North America. Lasting from around 1438 to 1533, the empire spanned a major part of South America and covered what is now Perus, western Ecuador, south Bolivia, Chile, northwest Argentina, and Colombia.

They did so through the use of military force and diplomacy. However, what makes the civilization so interesting is that they were able to accomplish so much without using tools from the Old World such as the wheel, iron or steel, and even a writing system.

The Assyrian Empire Ruled Over Other Empires

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Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Established as early as the 25th BC, the Assyrian Empire was located in Mesopotamia and existed from the Early to Middle Bronze Age and through the Iron Age. The Assyrians ruled over powerful other empires such as Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, and Babylonia.

Through militaristic force, the empire worked its way through the East Mediterranean to Iran and south to the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt. The empire’s timeline is separated into the Early Period, Old Assyrian Empire, Middle Assyrian Empire, and Neo-Assyrian Empire, which ended in 609 BC.

The Roman Empire Greatly Impacted Western Culture

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Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

The Roman Empire is defined as the post-Republican period of ancient Rome that was controlled by emperors. A highly efficient, progressive, and military-driven empire, Rome was able to secure vast amounts of territories across the world, including the Mediterranean Sea, Northern Africa, and Western Asia.

The empire was split into the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire, otherwise known as the Byzantine Empire. The fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire transformation gave way to the Middle Ages. The Roman Empire’s influence can still be felt strongly today in art, government, economics, philosophy, and more.

The Spanish Empire Covered The Globe

Painting of Spanish
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Spanning from the 15th to the 19th centuries AD, the Spanish Empire, otherwise known as the Hispanic Monarchy and Catholic Monarchy, was one of the largest in all of history. One of the things that made the empire so vast was the number of overseas territories that they had established.

These include territories in Europe, the New World, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Africa, and Oceania. Sometimes referred to as the “the empire that the sun never sets,” it was easily one of the most powerful in the 16th and 17th centuries, reaching its peak in the 18th century.

The Russian Empire Was The Third-Largest In History

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Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

The Russian Empire’s inception began in 1721 after the conclusion of the Great Northern War. One of the reasons that the Russian Empire grew so large and successful so quickly was the decline of its rival powers around the same time, such as the Ottoman Empire, Persia, Swedish, and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

It is the third-largest empire in history, only falling behind the British and Mongol empires. At its most powerful, the Russian Empire controlled parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. The empire was ruled under an absolute monarchy up until its collapse after the February Revolution in 1917.