20 Largest Empires in World History

An Empire contains the extension of a country’s sovereignty over external territories and types of different ethnic groups. The term “empire” generally applied to political entities that are considered to be large by the standards of their time. Many large Empires established in history, but some of the empires have significant value in the World’s history due to their power and large area.

1. British Empire

The British Empire is the greatest Empire of the World. It comprised the colonies, dominions, territories, mandates, and protectorates ruled or administrated by the UK and its predecessor states. It was the largest empire in history, for over a century and considered as the global power. By 1913, the British Empire was ruling over 412 million people, 23% of world population. By 1920, 35.5 million square kilometers area was under the British Empire, 24% of the Earth’s total land area. That’s why, it’s political, cultural, and linguistic legacy is widespread. After series of war in the 17th and 18th centuries with France and Netherlands, and the union between Scotland and England in 1707, made Great Britain, the dominant colonial power in India and North America. After the American War of Independence in North America in 1783, Britain lost some of the oldest and populous colonies. After the defeat of France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, British Empire emerged as the primary naval and imperial power of the 19th century. After the World War II and Independence of India, it was the end of the British Empire.

2. Mongol Empire

The Mongol Empire existed during the 13th and 14th century. It was one of the largest land empires in history. Originating in Central Asia, the Empire instantly stretched from Central Europe to the Sea of Japan, eastwards and southwards into the Indian Subcontinent, the Iranian plateau, and Indochina, extending northwards into Siberia, and westwards as far as the Arabia, and Levant. The Mongol Empire emerged from the union of Mongol tribes under the leadership of Genghis Khan, who was the ruler of all Mongols in 1206. The empire rapidly grew under him and his descendant’s rule, who sent invasions in every direction. The empire started to split due to wars over succession. In 1260, the Battle of Ain Jalut marked the high point of the Mongol conquests. Total area under the Mongol Empire was 24 million square kilometers. After the death of Kublai’s death in 1294, the Empire fractured into four separate empires or khanates, each with its own objectives and interests.

3. Russian Empire

Russia, also known as Russian Empire, was a state that existed from 1721. It was one of the largest empires in history, stretching over three continents. The empire was suppressed in landmasses only by the Mongol and British Empires. The rise of the empire occurred in association with the decline of neighbor’s powers, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Swedish Empire, Persia, and the Ottoman Empire. The Russian Empire played an important role in defeating Napoleon’s ambitions to control Europe in 1812-14 and expanded to the south and west. At the starting of the 19th century, the empire extended from the Baltic Sea on the west to the Pacific Ocean, from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea on the south, and into Alaska in North America on the east. By 1897, the empire was ruling over 125.6 million people, the third largest population in the world at the time, after India and Qing China. Like all other great Empires, it included a large disparity regarding ethnicity, economics, and religion. By 1895, the total area under the empire was 22 million square kilometers. The Russian Empire collapsed during the Revolution of 1917.

4. Qing Dynasty

The Qing Dynasty or the Great Qing, was the last imperial dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912. The Qing Dynasty preceded by the Ming Dynasty and succeeded by the Republic of China. This multi-cultural empire lasted three centuries. The Jurchen Aisin Gioro founded the empire in Manchuria. In the late 16th century, Nurhaci started organizing “Banners,” military-social units that included Han Chinese, Jurchen, and Mongol elements. During the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, the population under the empire was 400 million. By 1790, the total area under control was 14.7 million square kilometers. Puyi was the last emperor of Qing Dynasty, abdicated on 12 February 1912.

5. Umayyad Caliphate

The Umayyad Caliphate was the second of the four major Caliphates established after the death of Muhammad (PBUH). The caliphate was centered on the Umayyad dynasty hailing from Mecca. The Umayyad Caliphate was founded by Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan, who was the long-time governor of Syria, after the end of the First Muslim Civil War. The city of Damascus was the capital of Caliphate and Syria remained the main power base. They continued the Muslim conquests, incorporating the Transoxiana, Caucasus, Sindh, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Maghreb into the Muslim World. Total area under the Umayyad Caliphate was 11.1 million square kilometers, and a population of the Empire was 62 million people, 29% of the world’s total population. So Umayyad Caliphate was one of the largest empires in history regarding population and area. The Second Muslim Civil War of 680-692, the Berber Revolt of 740-743 and the Third Muslim Civil War of 744-747 were the basic reasons for Umayyad Caliphate decline. A branch of the family fled to Al-Andalus (Spain) and established the Caliphate of Cordoba, which lasted until 1030.

6. Spanish Empire

The Spanish Empire was one of the largest empires of the history. The empire reached the peak of its political, military, and economic power, through most of the 16th and 17th centuries. The greatest territorial extent in the 18th century under the House of Bourbon, when it was the largest empire in the world. The foremost global power and was the first to be called “the empire on which the sun never sets.” The empire originated after the voyages of Christopher Columbus, during the Age of Discovery. The Spanish monarch comprised territories in the Asia, Americas, Africa, and Oceania, as the most of South America, the Greater Antilles, Central America, and part of North America, as well as some Pacific Ocean archipelagos such as the Philippines. The Spanish Empire lasted until the early 19th century American Spanish Wars of Independence, which left only Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines under the Spanish Empire. The Empire established in 1492 and ended in 1975.

7. Abbasid Caliphate

The Abbasid Caliphate was the third of the Islamic caliphates to succeed the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (PBUH). They ruled as caliphs, from their capital in Baghdad (Iraq) for most of their period, after getting the authority from the Muslim Empire of Ummayyads in 750 CE. The first center of government was Kufa, but the caliph Al-Mansur founded the city of Baghdad in 762. In the late 8th century, the Abbasids had alienated both Iranian bureaucrats and Arab mawali. They were forced to cede authority over Maghreb and Al-Andalus to the Umayyads, Egypt to the Shi’ite Caliphate of the Fatimids, Ifriqiya to the Aghlabids, and Morocco to the Idrisid dynasty. The political power of Abbasid Caliphate ended with the rise of the Seljuq Turks and Buyids. The Abbasid leadership over the vast Islamic Empire was reduced to a ceremonial religious function. The capital city of Baghdad became a center of culture, science, invention, and philosophy during the Golden Age of Islam. In 1258, the period of cultural fruition ended with the sack of Baghdad by the Hulagu Khan of Mongolian Empire.

8. French Colonial Empire

French Colonial Empire constituted the overseas, colonies, mandated territories, and protectorates that came under the French rule from the 16th century. The empire was divided into two parts; the ‘first colonial empire” existed until 1814 and the “second colonial empire” began with the conquest of Algiers in 1830. The second came to an end after the loss of wars in Vietnam (1955) and Algeria (1962). As completion with the Portugal, Spain, and the Britain, France started to make colonies in the Caribbean, North America, and India in the 17th century. A series of wars with major European powers during the 18th century and early 19th century, France lost nearly all of its conquests. France rebuilt an empire after 1850, concentrating in Africa, Indochina, and the South Pacific. French Empire spread its civilization, culture, the religion, and language to its colonies. The total amount of land under French Colonial Empire reached 11.5 million square kilometers in 1920. By 1929, total population of the empire was 110 million. After the anti-colonial movement started in 1945, French Colonial Empire established the French Union and newer remnants of the empire were integrated into France as overseas departments and territories.

9. Yuan Dynasty

The Yuan Dynasty was the empire of China established by Kublai Khan, leader of the Mongolian Borjigin clan. Before the Yuan Dynasty, Mongolians were ruling over today’s North part of China for decades. But in 1271, Kublai Khan proclaimed the dynasty in the traditional Chinese style. His realm was isolated from the other Khanates and control most of the today China and its surrounding areas, including today Mongolia. Yuan Dynasty was the first foreign dynasty to rule over China and ended in 1268. After that, the Genghisid ruled moved back to their homeland and continued to rule the Northern Yuan Dynasty. Some Emperor of Yuan Dynasty mastered the Chinese languages, while others used their native language. The dynasty is considered both an imperial Chinese dynasty and a successor to the Mongol Empire. Kublai Khan established the empire, yet placed his grandfather Genghis Khan on the imperial records. Kublai announced the name of the dynasty as Great Yuan. He also claimed the title of Great Khan, supreme over the other Mongolian Khanates, the likhanate, the Golden Horde and the Chagatai.

10. Tang Dynasty

The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China. The dynasty is regarded as a high point in Chinese civilization. Li family founded the dynasty, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire. During the 7th and 8th century, total population under the Tang Dynasty was about 80 million. Due to a large population, the empire raised professional and conscripted armies of millions of troops to conquered inner Asia. Many kingdoms and state paid tribute to the Tang Dynasty and the Tang also conquered many regions which it controlled through a protectorate system. It exerted a powerful culture influence over neighbors states including the Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. The dynasty was a period of success and stability in the first half of the rule. The Central Authority declined in the later half of the century. The dynasty created a civil service system by appointing scholar-officials through examinations and recommendations to office. Chinese culture rose and matured during the era and considered as the greatest age of Chinese poetry.

11. Portuguese Empire

The Portuguese Empire or the Portuguese Overseas was the first colonial empire, spanning almost six centuries. The empire spread throughout a large number of territories that are now parts of 60 different states. Portuguese Empire was one of the largest empires in world history and was the first to reach global dimensions with a long network of many territories and small possessions. The first era of empire originated by beginning of the Age of Discovery, started by the Kingdom of Portugal. Portuguese sailors started exploring the Atlantic archipelagos and the coast of Africa in 1418-10, using developments in cartography, navigation, and maritime technologies. The Council of Portugal ruled the state and its empire from Madrid. Due to a 60 years union between Portugal and Spain started in 1580, King of Portugal was also the King of Spain. Colonies of Portuguese Empire became the subject of attacks by three rival European powers England, Dutch Republic, and France. The small country of Portugal was unable to defend its overstretched network of trading posts, and the Portuguese Empire began a gradual decline. The third era showed the final stage of Portuguese Empire colonialism after the decolonization of the Americas.

12. Rashidun Caliphate

The Rashidun Caliphate was the Islamic Caliphate in the earliest period of Islam. The Rashidun Caliphate comprised the first four caliphs or Rashidun caliphs. The Caliphate was founded after the death of Muhammad (PBUH) in 632. At its peak, the Caliphate controlled an empire from the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula to the North Africa from Egypt to Tunisia in the West, to the Caucasus in the North, and the Iranian plateau to Central Asia in the east. Abu Bakr Siddique was the first Calipha, not a monarch and never claimed such title. Their election and leadership were based on merit. Umar Farooq was appointed as second Calipha after the death of Abu Bakr. The whole Persian Empire, Byzantine territory, and Egypt were conquered under his reign. The 3rd and 4th Caliphs were Usman Ghani and Ali Murtaza. Within the span of 24 years of conquest, the Rashidun Caliphate expanded gradually. In conquered areas, they give legal rights to Non-Muslim according to their faiths’ Law. Non-Muslim have freedom to practice their religion and enjoy a measure of communal autonomy.

13. Xiongnu

The Xiongnu were a confederation of nomadic peoples who inhabited the eastern Asian Steppe, according to ancient Chinese sources, from the 3rd century BC to the late first century AD. According to Chinese sources, the supreme leader, Modu Chanyu founded the Xiongnu Empire, after 209 BC. The Xiongnu became a dominant power on the steppes of north central Asia during the 2nd century BC. They were active in areas no part of Gansu, Siberia, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang. Relations of Xiongnu with adjacent Chinese dynasties were complex, with repeated periods of intrigue and conflict, alternating with exchanges of trade, tribute and marriage treaties. The Xiongnu may be cognate with that of the Huns or the Huna. Other linguistic links proposed by scholars include Mongolic, Iranian, Uralic, Turkish, Tocharian, or multi-ethnic.

14. Empire of Brazil

The Empire of Brazil was a 19th-century state, comprised the territories which form modern Uruguay and Brazil. The representative parliamentary constitutional monarchy was under the rule of the Emperors Dom Pedro I and his son Dom. The country became the seat of the Portuguese colonial Empire in 1808, when prince regent fled from Napoleon’s invasion and established himself and his government in the city Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Later, he returned to Portugal and left his eldest son, Pedro, to rule the Kingdom of Brazil as regent. Pedro declared the Independence of Brazil on 7 October 1822, after a successful war against his father’s Empire. He was the first emperor of Brazil. Unlike other neighboring Hispanic American Republics, Empire of Brazil had political stability, constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech, vibrant economic growth, and respect for civil rights of its subjects. Pedro, I became the King of Portugal, and he abdicated the throne of Portugal in favor his eldest daughter. On 15 November 1889, after a 58 years reign, the Emperor was overthrown by a clique of military leaders who want to make the First Brazilian Republic.

15. Han Dynasty

The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China during 206 BC and 220 AD, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms. The Han Empire was a golden time in Chinese history, spanning over four centuries. Nowadays, the majority of Chinese ethnic group refers to itself as the “Han People.” The rebel leader Liu Bang established the Han Dynasty. The interregnum distinguishes the dynasty into two parts, the Former Han or Western Han and the Later Han or Eastern Han. The emperor presided over the Han government and shared power with the appointed ministers and the nobility. The ministers came from the scholar’s gentry’s class. The Dynasty was an age of economic prosperity and saw a significant rise of the money economy, established first during the Zhou dynasty. The Xiongnu defeated the Han in 200 BC. Higher involvement of the palace eunuchs in court politics, power struggles between the different consort clans of the empresses and empresses’ dowager, was the primary reason for Han Dynasty downfall.

16. Ming Dynasty

The Ming Dynasty or the Empire of the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China, for 276 years, between 1368 and 1644. The Ming was the last imperial dynasty in China ruled by ethnic Han Chinese. The Ming was “one of the greatest ears of orderly government and social stability in human history” described by someone. The Hongwu emperor tried to create a society of self-sufficient rural communities. The Ming Dynasty had a standing army of more than one million troops, as well as the navy’s dockyards, were the largest in the world. The emperor broke the power of the unrelated magnates and the court eunuchs. He tried to guide his princes through a set of published dynastic instructions, Huang Ming Zu Xun. The expansion of European trade in the 16th centuries spread the Columbian exchange of plants, crops, and animals into China. The growth of Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch trade created demand for Chinese products. Later years, due to crop failure, epidemic, and floods, the dynasty collapsed, and the rebel leader Li Zicheng founded the Qing dynasty.

17. Turkic Khaganate

The Turkic Khaganate was a Khanate established in medieval Inner Asia by the Ashina clan of the Gokturks. The Ashina, under the leadership of Buman Qaghan (d.552) and his sons, succeeded the primary power in the Mongolian Plateau, Rouran Khaganate and established a stronger empire. Turkic Khaganate interacted with different dynasties based in North China. They got control over the lucrative Silk Road trade, for significant periods. The first dynasty of Turkic Khaganate collapsed in 581, due to a series of political conflicts and civil wars. A century later, second Turkic Khaganate emerged in 682, and it lasted until 744. The power of the second Turkic Khaganate was centered on Otuken. Kutluk seized Otuken in 744 and beheaded the last Khagan, Ozmysh Qaghan and sent his head to the Tang Dynasty Chinese Court.

18. Golden Horde

The Golden Horde was a Mongol, and later Turkicized Khanate created in the thirteenth century. In 1259, with the fragmentation of the Mongol Empire, Golden Horde became a separated Khanate. After the death of the founder of the Golden Horde, Batu Khan in 1255, the dynasty flourished for a full century. During the reign of Uzbeg (1312-1341), Golden Horde’s military power was at a peak. Uzbeg adopted Islam. At the peak, the territory of Golden Horde included the most of Eastern Europe and extended deep into Siberia. The dynasty lands bordered on the Caucasus Mountains, the Black Sea and territories of the Mongol dynasty. The Horde experienced internal political disorder started in 1359. After that, Golden Horde broke into small Khanates, declined steadily in power. By the start of the 15th century, the Golden Horde started to fall apart. In 1396, Timur founded the Timurid Empire.

19. Achaemenid Empire

The Achaemenid Empire was called the first Persian Empire. The empire founded by Cyrus the Great, based in Western Asia. It became the largest empire in ancient history, with maximum extent from Eastern Europe and Balkans proper in the West and to the Indus Valley in the east. The Empire was famous for its successful model of a bureaucratic, centralized administration, the use of an official language across it territories, for building infrastructures such as a postal system and road systems and large professional army and civil services. The empire is noted in Western history for the emancipation of the Jewish exiles in Babylon and as the antagonist of Greek city-states during the Greco-Persian Wars. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus was built in a Hellenistic style in the empire, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Time of Achaemenid Empire was between 550 BC and 330 BC. The historic mark of the Empire went for beyond its military and territorial influences and included social, cultural religious and technological influences as well.

20. Macedonia (Ancient Kingdom)

The Macedonia (Ancient Kingdom) was an ancient kingdom on the periphery of Classical Greece. Before the fourth century BC, it was a small kingdom outside the area dominated by the great states of Sparta, Athens, and Thebes. The reign of Philip II saw the rise of Macedonia when Kingdom got the control of whole Greek world. Philip defeated the oldest powers of Thebes and Athens in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC with the help of innovative Macedonian Army. After the death of Philip, his son Alexander the Great got the command of whole Greece through the Federation of Greek States. He led his forces against the Achaemenid Empire, in the 5th century BC. He stretched his territory as far as the Indus River. During his rule, Macedonian Empire was the most powerful in the world. Greek literature and arts spread in the new conquered lands and advancement in science and philosophy were flourished to the ancient world. After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, his Empire divided into parts. Macedonia’s Empire started to decline with the rise of Rome until in 168 BC, its ultimate subjection following the Macedonian Wars.

Aaric Hale

Aaric Hale is a writer whose expertise includes an array of topics across several industries—having done several articles on science, history, and the latest trends. Interested in the act of learning itself, he tries to keep his mind busy with exploring histories, global news, and about the world. Aaric Hale also wants to contribute to the popularization of science and communicate ideas across the globe.