The Top Ten Empires of the Ancient World

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Posted on February 6th, 2008

We can look back in wonder at some of the most influential and awe-inspiring empires history has ever seen; their conquests brought great discoveries and uncovered new frontiers, which can be studied in most subjects students love to hate. They made breakthroughs in the arts, sciences and philosophy, as well as advances in engineering and government. Most of all, these societies learned valuable lessons that benefit our societies even today.

We can look back in wonder at some of the most influential and awe-inspiring empires history has ever seen; their conquests brought great discoveries and uncovered new frontiers. They made breakthroughs in the arts, sciences and philosophy, as well as advances in engineering and government. Most of all, these societies learned valuable lessons that benefit our societies even today. This list tallies the empires in terms of legacy, territories acquired, growth, development, and their influence on modern civilization.

10. Hunnic Empire

 Attila the Hun
The King of the Huns
Greatest Leader: Attila the Hun

One of the most-feared empires during the 4th Century AD, the Huns were an assembly of tribes that originated in Eurasia, especially Turkey. They were a highly-mobilized and warlike people, and through the leadership of the great Attila the Hun, they were able to conquer vast lands in a short amount of time. Attila’s tactics were so swift and destructive that within his lifetime, the territories assimilated by the Huns stretched as far as Germany and Mongolia. After Attila’s death, his sons took over the throne, but they proved to be less capable leaders, and their territories were lost as fast as Attila had obtained them.

9. Mauryan Empire (India)

Asoka the Great
Asoka Maurya
Greatest Leader: Asoka the Great

One of the oldest civilizations was established in the Indian subcontinent. It was 5,000 years ago when settlements began to grow in the Indus Valley. In 332 BC, India’s most powerful empire, the Maurya Empire, was founded by Chandragupta Maurya. The empire’s greatest period came during the reign of Maurya’s descendant, Asoka the Great. His developments in infrastructure, the arts and religion (he made Buddhism the empire’s official religion) made the Mauryan Dynasty one of the most established kingdoms of that time. (To learn more about India’s rich heritage and diversity, read India- Your destination to diversity and identity)

8. Arab Empire

Greatest Leader: Saladin

Saladin Sultan of Egypt and Syria
Before the rise of Islam, the Arabs were a cluster of nomadic tribes living within the Arabian Peninsula. It was the arrival of the prophet Muhammad and the spread of the Muslim religion that united the Arabs and formed an empire to rival all previous empires. The Arab people were known for advancing the scientific fields, particularly mathematics, astronomy, and medicine, and their universities were visited by scholars from all parts of the known world. During the Middle Ages, the Arabs were at war with Christian Europeans, fighting over the Holy Land (Israel), which both religions considered holy. The greatest leader of this time was Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt. Saladin was a great military leader and political genius, but he was also a pious man, admired by friends and enemies alike.

7. The Inca Empire (Tawantinsuyu)

Huayna Capac
Huayna Capac
Greatest Leader: Huayna Capac

The Cuzco Valley in the Andes Mountains of South America was home to the Inca Empire, the largest in pre-colonized America. The origin of the Inca people is not known, but the empire, known as Tawantinsuyu (“The Four United Regions”), was established in 1438. The empire lasted less than a hundred years, but within that short period, the Incas were able to assimilate two million square kilometers of land along the western South American coastline. The vast assimilation of land was done through conquest and diplomacy, mostly during the reign of the dynasty’s second ruler, Huayna Capac. He used the Inca’s rich culture and efficient military to acquire and conquer nearby tribes. The Inca’s downfall was due to the arrival of Europeans, who brought with them diseases and superior military prowess.

6. The Persian Empire (Achaemenid Dynasty)

Cyruss II
King of Persia
Greatest Leader: Cyrus the Great

Throughout its long history, Persia (present-day Iran) witnessed the rise and fall of countless distinct kingdoms, but it was the first, the Achaemenid Dynasty, that is considered the strongest claimant to the title of “the Persian Empire.” The empire was founded by Cyrus the Great, and throughout his reign, the empire maintained a vast superstate of kingdoms and countries ruled by a single administration. Cyrus was well-known for his righteousness: he tolerated the religion of the lands he invaded, was the emperor who freed the Jewish people from their Babylonian captivity, and was known as one of the first monarchs to acknowledge human rights. He was also famous for being the fiercest foe of the Greek people, a war that was continued by his descendants, Darius the Great and Xerxes.

5. Han Empire (China)

Greatest Leader(s): The Liu Clan

The First Emperor Liu Bang.
China boasts a rich history filled with hundreds of kings and kingdoms, but the Chinese people consider the era of the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) the greatest in Chinese history. Even today, the majority of Chinese people refer to themselves as the “Han.”

The Han Dynasty was ruled by the noble Lui clan. Through their reign, various important Chinese milestones took place: the proclamation of Confucianism as the national religion; the extension of cultural influence to neighboring countries like Korea, Japan, and Central Asia; great developments in trade and industry, most notably silk and tea; and the implementation of the Silk Road, which opened the possibility of trade with western civilizations.

When the Lui clan fell from power in 220, so did the Han dynasty, resulting in the disunity of China and the founding of the Three Kingdoms.

4. The Egyptian Empire (The New Kingdom)

Ramesses II
one of four external seated statues at Abu Simbel
Greatest Leader: Ramesses II

The Egyptians provided one of the richest kingdoms in the ancient world in terms of culture and technology. The period of 1570–1070 BC marked the zenith of Egypt’s power; this period is known as the New Kingdom, having replaced an older Egyptian dynasty.

The period included some of the most well-known Egyptian pharaohs: Amenhotep IV, also known as Akhenaten, who was the first practitioner of monotheism; Tutankhamun, the famous Egyptian “boy king”; and Hatshepsut, the longest-reigning female pharaoh. The greatest of them, however, was Ramesses II, who ruled when Egypt was at its most prosperous. The period was also known as the time when the Israelites were living (and were eventually enslaved) in Egypt, as written in the Bible and Jewish texts. (Learn how to read the bible)

3. The Mongol Empire

Genghis Khan
Khagan of the Mongol Empire
Greatest Leader: Genghis Khan

The Mongol Empire was the largest empire in ancient history, covering 33 million km (or 12%) of the Earth’s total land area, encompassing Eastern Europe, China and most of Russia. The expansion of the empire was single-handedly achieved by Genghis Khan, also known as Temujin. When he was crowned Great Khan in 1206, he proceeded in uniting the nomadic Mongol tribes and began organizing a stabilized nation. His expansion made enemies out of his neighbor countries, particularly the Chinese, but his military prowess proved unstoppable. In a short span of half a century, the Mongol Empire managed to expand its territories five times its former size.

The Mongol Empire is known for developing the Silk Road, which greatly opened eastern cultures to Europeans. The Empire is also known for its bloody and ruthless campaign: some 40 million lost their lives as the Mongols extended their land. The empire was eventually dissolved in 1405, when its four divisions became increasingly autonomous and eventually led to four different dynasties.

2. The Macedonian Empire (Greece)

Greatest Leader: Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great
Alexander fighting Persian king Darius III.
The Greek nation of Macedonia had existed since 800 BC, but it only became a formidable world power when Alexander the Great (336-323 BC) rallied the Greeks together and conquered most of the known world. His rule began the Hellenistic era in Greek history, known for its great advances in almost all branches of society. Thinkers such as Socrates and Plato brought forth a new form of thought that would influence Western philosophy for generations to come. The Greeks introduced the democratic way of government, a first among nations. Poets such as Homer produced epic masterpieces like the Odyssey and the Iliad.

The influence of the Greeks was even apparent during the empire’s decline and subsequent integration (146 BC) to Rome. The Greek gods and goddesses became the basis of the Roman pantheon, and many of the fundamentals of democracy were merged with the Roman republic.

1. The Roman Empire

Greatest Leader: Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar
Dictator of the Roman Republic
No other ancient empire has been more influential to modern society than the Romans. From philosophy to politics to military arts and even religion, the Romans have contributed greatly to the affairs of subsequent civilizations. The origins of Rome were legendary in nature, said to have been founded by Romulus, a son of the god Jupiter. The Roman Republic had been structured as early as 509 BC, but it was not until the time of Julius Caesar (50 BC) that the footholds of the empire were established. Julius Caesar proved to be a political and military genius, and his power made him the undisputed leader of the Romans. He was assassinated before assuming the throne, however, and instead his nephew Octavian became the first Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar.

The Romans are famous for their Legions, a highly-disciplined military system, that were instrumental to the expansion of the empire. The Romans defeated and crushed nearby countries and kingdoms, and by the time the Roman Emperor Trajan assumed the throne (98 AD), the empire had conquered much of Europe and parts of Africa and Asia. The empire spread east to the west, from the Black Sea to Portugal, and north to south, from England to North Africa. The empire eventually ended in 1453, when Constantinople, its last capital, fell to the Ottomans.

Roman influences that affect us even today include the Latin language and its modern variations (Spanish, French, Portuguese, etc.), the republican system of government, our way of naming months, engineering and architectural methods, the Christian tradition, and many more aspects in the fields of art, science and philosophy.

The rise and fall of these mighty empires should be a constant reminder to us of the fallibility and fragility of humanity. Learning from these past experiences, we should continue to strive forward, always vigilant and prepared, should our turn to be part of history arrive. That said, we should stop and marvel at the great legacies these empires have left us, and wonder if we, too, will be a source of awe and inspiration for the generations to come.

If the above article interests you, then subjects like the Top Ten Least Famous American Presidents and the Top Ten Political Conspiracy Theories should thrill you equally.

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    on 2009-01-21 at 20:49:28

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