The Greatest Empires
in History

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What are the greatest empires in world history in terms of land controlled? Who possessed the most powerful navies that dominated the seven seas? Who were the most fearful and populous people in the ancient world? Who, in modern times, are the largest and wealthiest people on the planet?

One definition of an empire is that it is a state that controls or dominates over areas and populations that have a different culture, ethnicity, or both, 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. The greatest world empires, by their very nature, have come and gone since the first one (Assyria) began almost three thousand years ago. They have utilized a wide variety of methods to conquer and control other peoples and nations. Examples of world-ruling powers in history include those centered in Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Egypt, Parthia and others.

The lists of greatest empires that are below include land that a nation claimed was theirs even if such territories 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 recent history. Some well-known powers that are not in the top ten for a particular category are also listed with their corresponding rank.

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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


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

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

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 in terms of GDP

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 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 rise and fall of Rome
List of World Powers from Babylon to the Beast!

The Greatest Empires in History
Bibliography

Wikipedia


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