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25 of History’s Largest and Most Powerful Empires

Image of an artist's depiction of the Battle of Salamis between several Greek city-states and the Achaemenid Empire, for a post covering the larges empires in history.

Today, we’re exploring the top 25 largest empires in history, a journey that spans continents, cultures, and centuries.

These empires not only carved their names into the bedrock of time but also shaped the world as we know it.

From the vast stretches of the Mongol Empire to the sophisticated realms of the Roman and British Empires, each tells a story of ambition, leadership, and legacy.

Join us as we traverse the rise and fall of these monumental entities, understanding how they came to be, what they achieved, and the impact they left behind.

25 of the Largest Empires in History:

1. British Empire

2. Mongol Empire

3. Russian Empire

4. Qing Dynasty

5. Spanish Empire

6. Umayyad Caliphate

7. Abbasid Caliphate

8. Yuan Dynasty

9. Achaemenid Empire (Persian Empire)

10. Roman Empire

11. Rashidun Caliphate

12. Han Dynasty (China)

13. Tang Dynasty (China)

14. Byzantine Empire

15. Ottoman Empire

16. Macedonian Empire

17. Maurya Empire

18. Xiongnu Empire

19. Gokturk Empire

20. French Colonial Empire

21. Ghaznavid Empire

22. Timurid Empire

23. Empire of Brazil

24. Parthian Empire

25. Sassanian Empire

The Details: The Largest Empires in History

Kicking off our list of the 25 largest empires in history is the British Empire.

It stood as a colossal global power, shaping history and cultures around the world.

Image of an iconic symbol of the largest empire in history, the British Empire

1. The British Empire (16th – 20th Century)

At its height, the British Empire covered around 35.5 million square kilometers (13.7 million square miles), about a quarter of the Earth’s total land area.

The British Empire was the largest empire in world history at its peak, spanning a quarter of the world’s land area at its height.

It was known for its naval power, industrial and technological advancements, and the imposition of the English language and culture on its colonies.

The empire’s decline began in the 20th century, with many colonies gaining independence after World War II.

Image of a statue of Ghengis Khan, leader of one of the largest empires in history

2. The Mongol Empire (1206 – 1368)

The Mongol Empire spanned approximately 24 million square kilometers (9.27 million square miles) at its largest extent, making it the largest contiguous land empire in history.

Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire and became the largest contiguous empire in history.

It stretched from Eastern Europe to East Asia, known for its unparalleled horse archers and innovative military strategies.

The empire ultimately fragmented into several khanates after the death of Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan.

Image of a gate emblem representing the power of the Russian Empire

3. The Russian Empire (1721 – 1917)

The Russian Empire, which existed from 1721 to 1917, reached its maximum size of around 22.8 million square kilometers (8.8 million square miles).

The Russian Empire was one of the largest empires in history, stretching from Eastern Europe to Northern Asia.

It was known for its expansionist policies, its role as a major European power, and its cultural achievements in literature, music, and the arts.

The Russian Empire came to an end with the Russian Revolution in 1917.

Image of a dragon carving in the style of the Qing Dynasty

4. The Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1912)

At its peak, the Qing Dynasty in China covered around 14.7 million square kilometers (5.7 million square miles).

Founded by the Manchu-led Aisin Gioro clan, the dynasty emerged as a major power following the collapse of the Ming Dynasty.

The Qing Dynasty, which lasted from 1644 to 1912, was the last of the imperial dynasties of China.

The Manchus, originally from the northeastern region of China, managed to conquer and unify the vast territory under their rule, expanding the empire to its largest extent in Chinese history.

At its height, the Qing Dynasty encompassed present-day China, Taiwan, Mongolia, and Central Asia.

The dynasty was marked by a period of initial prosperity, during which Chinese culture and arts flourished, and the empire saw significant advancements in technology, trade, and international relations.

However, in the 19th century, the Qing Dynasty began to decline due to internal strife, government corruption, humiliating defeats in the Opium Wars, and a weakened economy.

The dynasty faced numerous uprisings and rebellions, including the Taiping Rebellion and the Boxer Rebellion, further weakening its power.

The fall of the Qing Dynasty came in 1912 with the Xinhai Revolution, which led to the establishment of the Republic of China, marking the end of imperial rule in China.

Image of a statue of Christopher Columbus

5. The Spanish Empire

From the late 15th century to the early 19th century, the Spanish Empire had a maximum land area of around 13.7 million square kilometers (5.29 million square miles).

The Spanish Empire began in the 15th century with the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella, which united two powerful kingdoms: Castile and Aragon.

In 1492, they sponsored Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World and colonized much of Central and South America.

The Spanish Empire became a major European power, dominating much of the continent through military might.

In the 16th century, Spain continued to grow as an empire during a period known as the Golden Age of Spain.

The Spanish Armada defeated England’s navy in 1588 and conquered Portugal in 1581.

It also colonized Italy, the Netherlands, Sardinia, and Sicily.

By 1600, Spain had become one of the most powerful empires in Europe, with colonies across Central and South America and large parts of North America.

By the 17th century, however, Spain had begun to lose its political power due to financial mismanagement and costly wars with other European nations.

In the 1700s, many Spanish colonies declared their independence from Spain, including Mexico in 1821 and Peru in 1824.

Other countries like Bolivia also broke away from Spanish control over time.

Despite its waning influence by the 19th century, Spain maintained control over some of its remaining colonies until 1898, when it lost Cuba to US forces during the Spanish-American War.

The last remnants of what was once a vast empire were ceded to US rule after this conflict concluded, marking an end to centuries of Spanish domination throughout much of Latin America.

Image of an Umayyad palace in modern day Jordan

6. The Umayyad Caliphate

The Umayyad Caliphate reached its greatest extent in the early 8th century, covering an area of about 11.1 million square kilometers (4.29 million square miles).

The Umayyad Caliphate was one of the largest empires in history, particularly in the Islamic world, lasting from 661 to 750 AD.

It was founded by Muawiyah I, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad and Governor of Syria, who declared himself Caliph after defeating Ali in the First Fitna.

The Umayyads faced numerous internal and external threats throughout its existence, including military campaigns against Byzantine forces, Turkic nomads to their north, and rebellions from within their own ranks.

Nonetheless, the Umayyad dynasty expanded its realm to encompass much of North Africa and Mediterranean Europe by 750AD.

The Umayyads are known for their religious tolerance and patronage of arts and sciences.

They established libraries all over the empire, commissioned famous works such as The Arabian Nights and One Thousand and One Nights, and encouraged trade with Europe, India, and China which resulted in an economic boom across the Muslim world during this period.

This period also saw some of the greatest architectural achievements; most notably, the Dome of The Rock in Jerusalem was built during this time.

The Umayyads also introduced coinage into their empire, which helped facilitate trade among their various provinces.

Ultimately, internal squabbling within the ruling family led to a civil war that weakened the mighty Empire until it was eventually conquered by Abbasid forces in 750 AD.

Despite its rocky end, the Umayyad rule left a lasting legacy on art, architecture, and economy that still looms large today.

Image of a castle from the Abbasid Caliphate

7. The Abbasid Caliphate

At its height, the Abbasid Caliphate covered around 11 million square kilometers (4.25 million square miles).

The Abbasid Caliphate was an Islamic state that ruled over much of the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of modern-day India from 750 to 1258 CE.

Abu al-Abbas as-Saffah, the first Abbasid caliph following the collapse of the Umayyad Dynasty, established it.

The Abbasids established their capital in Baghdad and maintained a powerful centralized government with an expansive bureaucracy.

This allowed them to control a vast trading network and expand their influence throughout their territories.

Under the Abbasids, Islamic culture flourished, and advances were made in science, medicine, philosophy, and other fields.

They also annexed many smaller kingdoms across North Africa, Asia Minor, and Persia, further strengthening their power.

However, this period of stability began to decline in the 9th century due to external threats such as Mongol invasions and internal political strife between various factions within the caliphate itself.

This ultimately led to its downfall by 1258 when Mongols successfully captured Baghdad and destroyed its infrastructure.

Nevertheless, the legacy of the Abbasid Caliphate continues to this day through its cultural achievements, such as literature and artworks depicting life in ancient Iraq and its economic achievements in trade across Europe and Asia, which laid the foundation for today’s global economy.

Image of the first emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, Kublai Khan

8. The Yuan Dynasty (China)

The Yuan Dynasty, established by Kublai Khan, had a maximum land area of around 10 million square kilometers (3.86 million square miles).

The Yuan Dynasty, known as the Mongol Empire, was founded by Kublai Khan in 1271.

It was the first foreign rule of China and lasted until 1368.

The dynasty originated from a nomadic people called the Mongols, who lived in Mongolia and Manchuria.

They were united by their leader Temujin who later became known as Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan unified the Mongol tribes into one powerful nation and began to build an empire that eventually stretched across much of Asia.

The Yuan Dynasty quickly expanded its power and influence over China.

They introduced many reforms, including a new administrative structure, taxation laws, and military organization.

In addition, they also brought their own culture, including literature, art, music, and architecture.

As their territory grew, so did their political power.

By 1279 they had conquered all of China and proclaimed themselves rulers of the Chinese Empire.

During this time, trade flourished between China and other countries, such as Persia, India, Tibet, and Arabia.

However, due to unrest in some parts of their empire, the Yuan dynasty began to decline in power during the mid-1300s until it eventually fell in 1368 to a rebel army led by the Chinese peasant Zhu Yuanzhang who established the Ming dynasty thereafter.

Despite its relatively short reign, the influence of the Yuan Dynasty is still felt today with its adoption of Chinese customs such as Confucianism which promotes traditional values such as respect for elders or filial piety, as well as its contributions to art forms like calligraphy or painting which are still practiced today.

Image of ruins from the Achaemenid Empire in modern day Iran

9. The Achaemenid Empire (Persian Empire)

At its peak under Darius the Great, the Achaemenid Empire spanned approximately 5.5 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles).

The Achaemenid Empire was one of the largest and most powerful empires in the ancient world, ruled by the Achaemenid dynasty for over 200 years.

It was founded by Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BCE, who managed to unite several Iranian tribes and establish a centralized government in Persia.

Under the rule of Cyrus and his successors, the Achaemenid Empire expanded rapidly, conquering territories in what is now Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Its military prowess, advanced administration, and cultural diversity made it one of the most formidable and influential empires of its time.

The rise of the Achaemenid Empire began with Cyrus the Great, who conquered the Median Empire in 550 BCE and then moved eastwards, subjugating the kingdom of Lydia and the Greek city-states of Ionia.

By 539 BCE, the Achaemenid Empire had annexed Babylon, adding Mesopotamia to its territories.

One of the defining characteristics of the Achaemenid Empire was its policy of tolerance and respect for local customs and religions.

This allowed the empire to smoothly integrate diverse peoples and cultures, contributing to its stability and longevity.

After a golden age under rulers such as Darius the Great and Xerxes the Great, the Achaemenid Empire declined in the 4th century BCE.

Economic troubles, internal strife, and external pressure from neighboring powers weakened the empire’s hold on its territories.

In the mid-4th century BCE, Alexander the Great launched a successful campaign against the Achaemenid Empire, defeating its armies and claiming its territories for his own.

The fall of the Achaemenid Empire marked the end of one of the most remarkable periods of ancient history, leaving a legacy of cultural exchange, administrative innovation, and military achievement that would continue to influence the world for centuries.

Image of an ancient Roman inscription
Senātus Populus Que Rōmānus (SPQR) – meaning “the Roman Senate and people”

10. The Roman Empire

At its largest extent under Emperor Trajan, the Roman Empire covered about 5 million square kilometers (1.93 million square miles).

The Roman Empire was one of the largest empires in history, and its powerful legacy has been felt for millennia.

It began in 753 BC when Romulus and Remus founded the city of Rome.

In its early years, Rome was an Italic kingdom that gradually expanded throughout the Italian peninsula until it became a republic in 509 BC.

From then on, the Roman Republic quickly gained power through military conquest, diplomatic alliances, and economic success.

By the time Julius Caesar took control in 49 BC, it had become a massive empire stretching from Britain to North Africa and Spain to Turkey.

The Roman Empire flourished under several emperors, including Augustus, who changed Rome into an autocratic monarchy.

He set up a system of government that included laws, a senate, and military conscription.

This system allowed Rome to sustain its large population and expanding territory for centuries until it crumbled in 476 AD following barbarian invasions.

After its fall, the Roman Empire left a lasting legacy that included legal systems, political structures, engineering advances, literature, and artworks that have shaped Western culture ever since.

Its territorial expansion also led to influential trade networks across Europe and strong cultural interactions between East and West, which can still be seen today in religious practices such as Christianity that originated during this period.

Image of an ornate mosque ceiling from the Rashidun Caliphate

11. The Rashidun Caliphate

The Rashidun Caliphate, the first of the Islamic caliphates, covered an estimated area of around 6.4 million square kilometers (2.47 million square miles).

The Rashidun Caliphate was the first to succeed the Islamic prophet Muhammad after he died in 632 AD.

It was ruled by the first four caliphs of Islam, also known as the “Rightly Guided” or “Perfect” caliphs.

These caliphs were Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali, and they were instrumental in spreading Islam throughout the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.

The Rashidun Caliphate lasted for 30 years, from 632 AD to 661 AD, followed by the Umayyad Caliphate.

During this time, the caliphs established a capital in Medina and expanded their territory by conquering neighboring lands.

They were also known for their adherence to the principles of justice and equality, central to Islamic teachings.

One of the most significant events of the Rashidun Caliphate was the Battle of Badr in 624 AD, in which the Muslims triumphed over the Meccans, solidifying their power in the region.

The caliphs were also responsible for organizing the first Qur’an compilation, which helped standardize Islamic teachings and practices.

Overall, the Rashidun Caliphate played a critical role in the development and spread of Islam, and its legacy continues to influence Muslim thought and culture to this day.

Image of a temple from the Han Dynasty

12. The Han Dynasty (China)

The Han Dynasty, one of the most influential periods in Chinese history, had a maximum land area of about 6 million square kilometers (2.3 million square miles).

The Han Dynasty was a powerful imperial dynasty that ruled China from 206 BC to 220 AD, following the collapse of the Qin Dynasty.

This period is considered one of the greatest in Chinese history and is divided into the Western Han (206 BC – 9 AD) and the Eastern Han (25–220 AD).

The dynasty is named after its founder, Liu Bang, who became Emperor Gaozu.

Under the leadership of the Han dynasty, China experienced great social, cultural, and technological advancements.

During this time, Confucianism became the dominant philosophy, and the government was structured under a centralized administrative system led by the emperor.

The Han dynasty also saw advances in science and technology, such as porcelain production, advancements in medicine, and the invention of paper, which revolutionized Chinese literature and scholarship.

There were also periods of political turmoil and unrest during the Han dynasty, and several rebellions took place, leading to the decline and eventual collapse of the dynasty.

Despite this, the legacy of the Han dynasty continues to be felt in modern China through its cultural, philosophical, and technological contributions.

Image from the ancient Chinese Tang Dynasty

13. The Tang Dynasty (China)

The Tang Dynasty, another major Chinese dynasty, reached its greatest extent of around 5.4 million square kilometers (2.08 million square miles).

The Tang dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China that spanned from 618 to 907 CE. It succeeded the Sui dynasty and marked a time of peace and prosperity in Chinese history.

The dynasty was founded by Li Yuan, a military commander who declared himself emperor after quelling a coup.

China experienced cultural, intellectual, and technological advancements throughout the Tang dynasty.

It was considered a “golden age” in Chinese history, with achievements in poetry, art, literature, and architecture.

The imperial examination system was also introduced, creating a merit-based system for selecting government officials.

The reign of Emperor Xuanzong during the eighth century was particularly significant, earning the title of “minghuang,” or “brilliant emperor.”

The dynasty eventually fell due to economic and military decline, but it impacted Chinese culture and society.

Image of an ancient wall and castle from the Byzantine Empire era

14. The Byzantine Empire

At its height, the Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire, spanned approximately 5 million square kilometers (1.93 million square miles).

The Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, was a powerful civilization that continued the legacy of the Roman Empire.

It originated in 330 A.D. when Roman Emperor Constantine I moved the capital of the Roman Empire to the eastern city of Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople.

This marked the formal establishment of the Byzantine Empire, which lasted for over a thousand years until 1453.

Despite facing significant challenges like wars, plagues, and political upheavals, the Byzantine Empire was known for its strong political institutions, art, architecture, and military prowess.

It was a Christian empire, with the Greek Orthodox Church significantly shaping the empire’s culture and identity.

The empire’s influence was far-reaching, spanning Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Image of a carving in arabic representing the Ottoman Empire

15. The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire lasted for over 600 years and peaked at around 5 million square kilometers (1.93 million square miles).

The Ottoman Empire was a powerful state that emerged in Anatolia in the late 13th century.

It was founded by Osman I, a leader of the Turkish tribes, and quickly grew to become one of the largest empires in history.

The name “Ottoman” is derived from Osman’s name.

The Ottoman Empire expanded by conquering neighboring lands, including Egypt, Bulgaria, Greece, and parts of Hungary and Poland.

The empire spanned three continents at its height and was known for its military strength, cultural achievements, and religious tolerance.

The empire declined in the 19th century and eventually dissolved after World War I with the emergence of modern Turkey.

Today, the history of the Ottoman Empire is studied for its political, social, and cultural impact on the world, particularly in the Middle East and Europe.

Its legacy can be seen in many countries’ architecture, cuisine, and language once part of the empire.

Image of a statue of Alexander the Great

16. The Macedonian Empire

Under the rule of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian Empire covered an estimated area of around 5 million square kilometers (1.93 million square miles).

The Macedonian Empire was founded by the royal Argead dynasty in ancient Macedonia around 808 BCE.

It was later ruled by the Antipatrid and Antigonid dynasties before the empire eventually came under the rule of the Persian Achaemenid dynasty.

At its peak, the Macedonian Empire spanned the regions from the Nile River in the west to the Indus River in the east.

The Macedonian Empire was known for its wealth and power, and Alexander the Great, who ruled from 336 to 323 BCE, was one of its most famous and successful rulers.

He conquered vast land and expanded the empire’s territories into parts of Persia, Asia Minor, and Egypt.

However, his death marked the end of the empire’s golden age, and it eventually fell under the rule of the Romans in 146 BCE.

Nevertheless, the Macedonian Empire’s legacy is evident in the cultural and architectural influences still seen in modern-day Greece.

Image of a temple from the Indian Maurya Empire

17. The Maurya Empire

At its largest extent, the Maurya Empire, one of the most powerful empires in ancient India, covered about 5 million square kilometers (1.93 million square miles).

The Maurya Empire was an ancient Indian dynasty from 322 BCE to 185 BCE.

It was founded by Chandragupta Maurya, who overthrew the Nanda Dynasty and rapidly expanded his power westward across central and northern India.

The Maurya Empire was the first pan-Indian empire and covered most of the Indian region, with its capital at Pataliputra (now known as Patna).

Under the rule of Emperor Ashoka, the Maurya Empire reached its peak in terms of territory and cultural achievements.

Ashoka is known for promoting Buddhism and humanitarianism, evidenced by his inscriptions on pillars and rocks throughout the empire.

His reign also saw the development of a standard system of weights and measures, the construction of roads and public works, and the establishment of hospitals for humans and animals.

However, the decline of the Maurya Empire began after Ashoka’s death, and it eventually collapsed in 185 BCE due to internal conflicts and external invasions.

Despite its relatively brief existence, the Maurya Empire was a crucial part of India’s history and left a significant legacy regarding political organization, cultural accomplishments, and societal developments.

Image of a wall painting from the Xiongnu Empire era in China

18. The Xiongnu Empire

The Xiongnu Empire, a nomadic empire in Central Asia, had a maximum land area of around 4.5 million square kilometers (1.74 million square miles).

The Xiongnu Empire was a tribal confederation of nomadic peoples that inhabited the eastern Eurasian Steppe from the 3rd century BCE.

According to ancient Chinese sources, the Xiongnu were able to form a great tribal league at the end of the 3rd century BCE, which made them a dominant power in the steppes of northeastern Central Asia.

Their empire lasted until the late 1st century CE.

The Xiongnu were known for their multiethnic structure and their nomadic way of life.

Their empire was concentrated in Mongolia and controlled the eastern Eurasian steppe that covered present-day China and parts of Russia.

The empire was the first of many historically documented steppe empires to arise in Eurasia, and its formation foreshadowed the rise of other nomadic empires like the Mongols.

The Xiongnu Empire played a significant role in world history as it interacted with the Han Dynasty of China, resulting in the construction of the Great Wall.

The Han–Xiongnu relationship is especially important because it was the first time a major steppe power and agriculturalist civilization interacted.

Recent DNA studies have helped uncover previously unknown aspects of the Xiongnu Empire, including its genetically diverse population structure and unique funeral practices.

Image of a wall painting from the Gokturk Empire era in Central Asia
Tomb mural, Göktürk, 7th century CE

19. The Gokturk Empire

The Gokturk Khaganate, a Turkic empire in Central Asia, reached its greatest extent of around 4 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles).

The Göktürk Khaganate, also known as the First Turkic Khaganate, was founded by the Ashina clan of the Göktürks in the 6th century CE.

It was a powerful empire controlling much of Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

Göktürk means “Celestial Turks,” and they spoke the Old Turkic language.

The empire was founded by two brothers, Bumin and Istämi. They rebelled against the Rouran Khaganate, which had been ruling the region.

Bumin declared himself as the first Khagan, or Emperor, of the Göktürk Khaganate in 552 CE.

The Göktürks’ temporary khans, which belonged to the Ashina clan, were subordinate to the Khagan.

The Khaganate was organized into several tribes, and each tribe had a leader or a “Bey.”

The Göktürk Khaganate had a significant impact on the history of Central Asia as they had a strong military and could expand their territory rapidly.

They conquered many neighboring territories and created alliances with powerful empires such as the Byzantine Empire and the Sui dynasty of China.

The empire struggled with internal conflict and outside influence, eventually declining in the 8th century CE.

However, it left a lasting legacy as a significant contributor to the Turkic culture and language.

Image of a statue of King Louis XIV of France

20. The French Colonial Empire

The French Colonial Empire, from the 16th to the 20th centuries, had a peak land area of around 3.6 million square kilometers (1.39 million square miles).

The French colonial empire was a vast network of overseas colonies, protectorates, and mandate territories under French rule, starting from the 16th century.

The empire’s history began in 1605 with the establishment of Port Royal in the colony of Acadia in North America, which is now a part of Canada.

From there, France established colonies in different parts of the world, including India, Africa, and Southeast Asia, with colonies like Pondicherry and Karikal, to name a few.

At its peak, the French colonial empire controlled vast territories in the Americas, most notably Acadia, Quebec, and Louisiana, as well as several territories in Africa and Southeast Asia.

The empire’s size and importance went hand in hand with the British Dominions and Colonies beyond, holding second place in size and importance.

Image of a painting depicting a battle fought during the Muslim Ghazinavid Empire era

21. The Ghazinavid Empire

The Ghaznavid Empire, a medieval Muslim empire centered in modern-day Iran and Afghanistan, covered an estimated area of around 3.5 million square kilometers (1.35 million square miles).

The Ghaznavid Empire was one of the most prominent empires in the Islamic world during its time, from 975 to 1187.

The empire was established by a dynasty of Turkic mamluk (soldier-slaves) origin, who ruled in the eastern Iranian lands, briefly as far west as Lahore, and over Northern India and Afghanistan.

Their capital city was Ghazni, which was famous for its architecture and art during that time.

The founder of the Ghaznavid Empire was Alptigin, a Turkish slave of the Samanid Empire who conquered Ghazni and ultimately established his own dynasty.

However, Mahmud of Ghazni, who ascended to the throne in 998 CE, is considered the greatest of all Ghaznavid rulers.

He expanded the empire’s territories, including the Punjab region of present-day India, where he established political and cultural dominance.

The downfall of the Ghaznavid Empire began in the late 12th century, with invasions by other dynasties, such as the Ghurids and the Seljuks, and soon, the empire was reduced to its capital city, Ghazni.

The end of the Ghaznavid dynasty came in 1186 CE, when the Ghurids under Muhammad Bin Sam overran Lahore, and their campaign of conquest took over Northern India.

Image of men on horseback from the Timurid Empire era in Central Asia

22. The Timurid Empire

The Timurid Empire was powerful and prosperous in Central Asia from the late 1300s to 1500s.

Under Timur’s rule, the Timurid Empire achieved great heights of literature, art, architecture, science, and culture.

It was founded by the Turco-Mongol conqueror Timur (Tamerlane), who led his people to military supremacy over much of Central Asia, Iran, and parts of India.

It extended its power far beyond its original boundaries through military conquest and political alliances with other powerful states in the region, such as the Ottoman Empire and the Safavid Persian Empire.

After Timur died in 1405, his dynasty continued to rule until 1507, when the Uzbek Shaybanids rose up to overthrow them.

The last of the Timurid rulers was Babur, who established the Mughal dynasty in what is now India in 1526.

Under these rulers, the Timurid legacy extended even further with great accomplishments in literature, art, and architecture, including Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi and Babri Mosque near Ayodhya.

Many aspects of their culture endured even after their downfall, such as the Turkish language still spoken throughout Central Asia today.

Image of the seal of the Empire of Brazil

23. The Empire of Brazil

The Empire of Brazil was founded in 1822 by Emperor Pedro I and his son, Dom Pedro II.

It was the only Latin American nation to gain independence in the early 19th century without a bloody revolution. It also became the largest country in South America after its independence.

The Empire of Brazil enjoyed growth and prosperity under Dom Pedro II, who reigned until 1889.

During this time, the country welcomed an influx of European immigrants, which helped spur economic growth.

The Brazilian legal system was also established during this period, as were new education and public health laws.

In addition, slavery was abolished in 1888—a move that greatly contributed to the country’s economic development.

The Empire of Brazil remained a monarchy until 1889 when it became a republic following a coup d’état led by army officers and backed by coffee planters.

After becoming a republic, Brazil experienced further economic modernization with successive governments introducing policies such as industrialization and land reform—policies would significantly change the country’s social structure over time.

By 1950, it had become one of Latin America’s most advanced countries economically and socially.

Image of the Parthian ruins in Turkmenistan.
Ancient Parthian ruins in Nisa, Turkmenistan

24. The Parthian Empire

The Parthian Empire was an ancient Iranian civilization from 247 BC to 224 AD.

Founded by the Parni tribe, they were originally nomadic pastoralists based in modern-day Turkmenistan.

The empire quickly grew to become one of the most powerful nations in the ancient world, stretching from present-day Turkey and Iraq to parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and western Iran.

Under the rule of Mithradates I in c. 171 BC, the Parthians conquered vast regions of Southwest Asia, establishing their capital at Ctesiphon near modern Baghdad.

Their territory included parts of Persia, Iraq, Syria, and Anatolia along with parts of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The Parthian Empire was renowned for its military might as well as its advanced system of government.

Their multi-ethnic monarchy greatly influenced different religions and cultures during this period.

Like the neighboring Roman Empire, they also had a complex taxation system that enabled them to maintain power over their vast territories.

The Parthians are also remembered for their advances in culture, art, science, and technology.

They left behind extensive ruins throughout their domains, including exquisite works of architecture such as palaces and tombs decorated with artwork depicting mythological scenes or everyday life activities.

Their contribution to literature is also noteworthy, particularly the epic poem ‘Shahnameh’ by Ferdowsi, which is still widely read today by Iranians worldwide.

By 224 AD, however, the Parthian Empire began to decline due to a combination of internal strife and pressure from external forces, including the Roman Empire led by Emperor Severus Alexander, who managed to annex much of what remained of their territory into Roman lands before its eventual downfall later that same year at the hands of Ardashir I who established Sassanid Dynasty in its place.

Image of Ardashir I the founder of the Sasanian Empire on a gold Sasanian dinar, for a post listing the 25 largest empires in history.
A gold Sasanian dinar with the image of the empire’s founder, Ardashir I

25. The Sasanian Empire

The Sasanian Empire was an ancient Iranian empire from 224 to 651 CE. I

It was founded by Ardashir I and expanded upon by his son, Shapur I.

The Sasanians created the first unified state in Persia since the fall of the Achaemenid Empire in 330 BCE, and they were considered to be the most powerful empire in western Asia until they were eventually defeated by the Arab Muslim forces in 651 CE.

Under their rule, they developed a strong centralized government and a powerful military system that relied on heavy cavalry and large-scale use of cataphracts.

During their reign, they also had a rich cultural life, advancing art, literature, and architecture.

Some of their most impressive accomplishments include a large network of roads for trade and communication and a complex set of tax laws that allowed them to extract revenue from all their subjects.

The Sasanians left behind a legacy of great religious tolerance between different faiths, something highly unusual for its time period.

They promoted dialogue between different spiritualities, such as Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Manicheism, which flourished under their rule.

For example, during Emperor Shapur II’s reign, Christian schools were established throughout Persia so that members of other religions could learn about each other’s beliefs.

This tolerant attitude was one reason why their empire survived so long despite numerous internal and external challenges over its five-hundred-year span.

Image of the Temple of Saturn in Rome
The Temple of Saturn in Rome, the former Roman treasury

Wrap-up: Largest Empires in History

As we’ve explored the largest empires in history, it’s clear that each one left a significant mark on the world.

From their vast territories to their cultural and economic contributions, these empires profoundly shaped the world as we know it today.

While each empire’s rise and fall were unique, several recurring factors contributed to their success or downfall.

Military might, economic power and innovative leadership were all key components of an empire’s ability to thrive.

However, overreliance on conquest, corruption, and internal strife led to the downfall of many great empires.

Studying the histories of these empires can provide valuable lessons for our understanding of contemporary events and global power dynamics.

By learning from their successes and failures, we can better understand what it takes to build and maintain a successful nation.

It’s up to each of us to engage in further research and education about these empires and consider how they can influence our present and future.

The lessons we learn from history can help us shape a more just and equitable society.

So, let’s commit to studying the past to inform our present and create a better future for all.

Image of King George V opening the Parliament of Australia
George V of Great Britain in 1904 (then the Duke of York) speaking to the
Australian parliament: he would rule the British Empire at its peak in 1921

FAQs: Largest Empires in History

1. Which empires lasted the longest in history?

The Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, and Chinese dynastic system are among those that had the longest durations in history.

2. Why did these large empires eventually fall?

Empires typically fall due to various factors, including military defeat, economic strain, internal conflicts, and cultural assimilation issues.

3. Were there any commonalities in how these empires were governed?

While specific governance methods varied, many empires utilized local leaders or administrative divisions to manage vast territories and centralized their power through a monarch or emperor.

References: Largest Empires in History

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Britannica. “Western Colonialism – Spain’s American Empire | Britannica.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019, www.britannica.com/topic/Western-colonialism/Spains-American-empire.

cartwright, mark. “Mongol Empire.” World History Encyclopedia, Mark Cartwright, 11 Nov. 2019, www.worldhistory.org/Mongol_Empire/.

HISTORY.COM EDITORS. “Qing Dynasty.” History.com, 4 May 2018, www.history.com/topics/asian-history/qing-dynasty.

Khilnani, Sunil. “The British Empire Was Much Worse than You Realize.” The New Yorker, 25 Mar. 2022, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2022/04/04/the-british-empire-was-much-worse-than-you-realize-caroline-elkinss-legacy-of-violence.

Muhammad Khan, Syed. “Umayyad Dynasty.” World History Encyclopedia, 28 Jan. 2020, www.worldhistory.org/Umayyad_Dynasty/.

“Qing Dynasty (1644–1911).” Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, asia-archive.si.edu/learn/for-educators/teaching-china-with-the-smithsonian/explore-by-dynasty/qing-dynasty/.

“Spanish Empire – New World Encyclopedia.” Newworldencyclopedia.org, 2019, www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Spanish_Empire.

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Mongol Empire | Facts, History, & Map.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2 Oct. 2018, www.britannica.com/place/Mongol-empire.

Walsh, Edmund. “The Fall of the Russian Empire: The End of the Monarchy.” The Atlantic, The Atlantic, Feb. 1928, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1928/02/the-fall-of-the-russian-empire-the-end-of-the-monarchy/303869/.

Yalman, Suzan. “The Art of the Umayyad Period (661–750).” Metmuseum.org, 2019, www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/umay/hd_umay.htm.