When it comes to selecting history’s most powerful empires such a list will always be subjective, for the past five thousand years there have been hundreds of empires. All these empires were powerful, influential and glorious in their own way. This is why it is extremely difficult to single out five empires from the list of hundreds.
However, throughout history we find that there were some empires which became so powerful and had such a strong and continuous impact on the rest of the world that they have to be considered as the greatest empires. All such empires have certain things in common that include their military might and innovation, their cultural heritage and their long lasting impact even after these empires had disappeared from the face of the earth.
Empires from India and China are not included in this list because even though they were of great importance and their legacies are acknowledged all over the world their impact still tended to be regional.
The British Empire
The empire that had the greatest influence in shaping the modern world was the British empire, the modern political system of representative democracy was introduced by the British. It spread throughout the modern European states as it had influenced many European philosophers. Even the characteristics of rule of law, civil rights, trade and liberalism of United States stem from the British.
These characteristics became the major force behind the success and growth of the British Empire, however, democracy is not the only characteristic of the British Empire that was emulated by other nations. Britain had one of the best financial system and an immense naval strength which helped them to hold and thrive and grow their controlled territories.
It is interesting to know that financial prowess and organizational feats were more responsible for spreading the British Empire across a quarter of the world as compared to its military might. But the military of Britain was extremely powerful anyways, it had the ability to handle multiple wars at once and they rarely lost any major war.
The Mongol Empire
The Mongol Empire was founded by Genghis Khan in 1206 C.E who started from a humble beginning and created an empire that defeated enemies with more population and resources. The Mongols started their conquest by conquering different parts of China.
After China the Mongols attacked the Khwarazmian Empire which ruled over Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia. Genghis Khan had sent his ambassadors to the Khwarazmian Empire on a diplomatic mission but they were killed. This was taken as a sign of disrespect and the Mongols attacked in revenge and completely destroyed Central Asia. The Golden Age of Central Asia came to an end after Mongol conquest, the establishment of European sea routes that undermined the importance of the Silk Route also played a role.
The Mongols had a population of just two million but they managed to conquer territories that included China, most of Middle East and Russia. The descendants of Genghis Khan continued the expansion of the empire even after his death.
Eventually their system of administration proved inefficient as the empire first split into four khanates and then each one them had further splits and eventually they all fell apart. At the height of its power the Mongols ruled over an area that spread across 9.27 million square miles (24 million square kilometers).
The caliphate was a political entity founded by prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and during his lifetime most of the Arab territories were conquered by the caliphate. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was succeeded by the Rashidun, the four pious caliphs of the early Muslim state. They were selected by acclamation and consensus, however, the Umayyads turned it into hereditary system after 661 C.E and remained in power until 750 C.E.
They were followed by the Abbasids with their center of power in Baghdad, the Abbasids were the last powerful Muslim Arab caliphs and their rule ended with the Mongol invasion in 1258 C.E. after them the caliphate was claimed by non-Arab Muslims.
The caliphate grew so strong that it defeated the powerful Byzantine empire and the Persian Sassanid Empire. Both these empires had far greater resources and populations but could not stand in the way of the military success of the caliphate which produced two of the largest empires in the world.
Under the leadership of the second caliph Omar R.A the region from Egypt to Persia was conquered in just ten years and the caliphate became several times more powerful and larger than the Roman empire in just 100 years.
The Roman Empire
The Roman Empire is the most well known empire in the Western world and it is truly one of the most magnificent and powerful empire history has ever witnessed. The Romans had an amazing ability to attack, conquer and then keep large territories. They had kept their territories for hundreds and sometimes even thousands of years.
Military might was just one aspect of their huge success, the Romans introduced classical, suave and enlightened culture to their conquered territories aspiring people to act like Romans. They also influenced the modern concept of democracy and legal system practiced in the West today.
The founding fathers of America were inspired by Romans and both these powers have many parallels between them including increasing cost of political campaigns, constant and continuous wars, internal policies shaped by profits made overseas, collapse of the middle class and unwillingness to make compromises.
The legacy of the Romans also include the transfer and passing down of Greek knowledge about philosophy, science and architecture and their role in turning Christianity from a minor cult to the most followed religion in the world as it is today.