The Greatest Empires
in World History

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One definition of an empire is that it is a state which controls or dominates over areas and populations that have a different culture and / or ethnicity than its own. Dictionary.com defines it as a group of nations or peoples ruled over by an emperor, empress, or other powerful sovereign or government.

World empires, by their very nature, have come and gone since the first one began three thousand years ago and have used a wide variety of methods to rule. Examples of world powers in history include those centered in Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Egypt, Parthia and others.

The list of empires below includes land that an empire claimed was theirs even if such territorries had few if any people.

Additionally, it should be noted that GDP (Gross Domestic Product the total value of all goods and services produced in a year) data has only been available for a few centuries, with highly accurate data available only in the last few decades. Some well-known empires that are not in the top 10 for a particular category are also listed with their corresponding rank.

Greatest Empires based on Land controlled
(all numbers are in the millions of square miles)
(number in parenthesis is the year milestone reached)

1. British - 14.13 mi² (1922)

2. Mongol - 12.82 mi² (1268)

3. Russian - 8.8 mi² (1895)

4. Spanish - 7.33 mi² (1759 - 1788)

5. Umayyad Arab - 5.1 mi² (723 - 743)

6. French - 4.82 mi² (1938)

7. Qing - 4.63 mi² (Emperor Qianlong)

8. Portuguese - 4.02 mi²

9. American - 3.86 mi² (1898 to 1934)

10. Rashidun Arab - 3.47 mi² (644 - 656)

12. Achaemenid Persian - 2.9 mi² (521 - 486 B.C.)

13. Japanese - 2.86 mi² (during WWII)

16. Roman - 2.2 mi² (117)

17. Ottoman - 2.12 mi² (1680)

18. Macedonian - 2.08 mi² (under Alexander the Great)

23. Eastern Roman (Byzantine) - 1.74 mi²

30. Nazi German - 1.39 mi² (during WWII)

40. Parthian - 1.1 mi² (Mithridates II 123 - 88 B.C.)

47. Neo-Assyrian - 540,543 mi²

56. Egyptian - 386,102 mi²


Map of Roman Empire at its Peak

Alexander the Great's Empire

Map of Assyrian and Babylonian Empires

Ancient Near East Empires

Map of Persian Empire at its Height

Greatest Sea Powers

1. British - 14.13 mi² (1922)

2. Spanish - 7.36 mi² (under King Charles III)

3. French - 4.83 mi²

4. Portuguese - 4.02 mi²

5. American - 3.86 mi² (1898 - 1902 and 1906 - 1908)

6. Japanese - 2.86 mi² (during WWII)

7. Italian - 1.47 mi² (during WWII)

8. Dutch - 1.43 mi²

9. German - 1.35 mi² (under Wilhelm II before WWI)


Most Powerful Empires in the Ancient World

1. Achaemenid Persian - 2.9 mi² (521 - 486 B.C.)

2. Han - 2.32 mi²

3. Roman - 2.2 mi² (under Emperor Trajan)

4. Macedonian - 2.08 mi² (under Alexander the Great)

5. Maurya - 1.93 mi² (under Ashoka the Great)

6. Hunnic - 1.54 mi² (441)

7. Seleucid - 1.51 mi²

8. Gupta - 1.35 mi² (400)

9. Sassanid Persian - 1.35 mi² (626)

10. Parthian - 1.1 mi² (123 to 88 B.C.)


Greatest Modern Empires
(in the millions of square kilometers or miles)

1. British - 36.6 km² or 14.13 mi² (under King George V in 1922)

2. Russian - 22.8 km² or 8.8 mi² (under Alexander II in 1867)

3. Soviet Union - 22.4 km² or 8.65 mi² (in 1989)

4. Spanish - 19 km² or 7.34 mi² (under Charles III)

5. French - 12.5 km² or 4.83 mi²

6. Qing - 12 km² or 4.63 mi²

7. Portuguese - 10.4 km² or 4.02 mi²

8. American - 10 km² or 3.86 mi² (1898 - 1902 and 1906 - 1908)

9. Brazilian - 8.1 km² or 3.13 mi²

10. Japanese - 7.4 km² or 2.86 mi² (during WWII)

13. Italian - 3.8 km² or 1.47 mi² (during WWII)

15. Nazi German - 3.6 km² or 1.39 mi² (during WWII)


Greatest Powers by Population
(population numbers are in the millions)

1. British - 531.3 (in 1938)

2. Qing - 432 (in 1912)

3. Soviet Union - 286 (in 1989)

4. Russian - 176.4 (in 1913)

5. Mughal - 175 (in 1700)

6. Ming - 160 (in 1600)

7. American - 146.4 (in 1942)

8. Japanese - 134.8 (in 1938)

9. French - 112.9 (in 1938)

10.Mongol - 110 (13th century)

11. Dutch - 80 (1940)

12. Nazi German - 75.4 (in 1938)

16. Roman - 60 (1st century A.D.)

23. Ottoman - 39 (17th century)

25. Eastern Roman (Byzantine) (5th - 6th centuries)


Wealthiest World Empires by size of GDP
(in the billions of dollars)

1. American - $1,713.6 (in 1944)

2. British - $683.3 (1938)

3. Nazi German - $375.6 (1938)

4. Japanese - $260.7 (1938)

5. Russian - $257.7 (1913)

6. Qing - $241.3
(GDP decline to 1912, immediately before downfall)

7. French - $234.1 (1938)

8. Italian - $143.4 (1938)

9. Austro-Hungarian - $100.5 (1913)

10. Mughal - $90.8 (GDP decline in 1700)

Additional Study Materials
Greatest extent of the Parthian Empire
Map showing the rise and fall of Roman Empire
List of World Empires from Babylon to the End Time!
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