Get That History Book Out: These 5 Empires Left Their Mark On the World

Akhilesh Pillalamarri

Key point: In the triumphs and faults of previous empires, there are lessons for America today.

Of all the empires that arose and thrived on the face of this earth, which were the five most powerful? And how is it even possible to select five empires from among the hundreds that have flourished over the past five thousand years? Truth be told, any formulation of the “five most powerful empires” will always be subjective, because all empires were glorious and influential in their own ways.

But there are some empires that were simply so powerful, large, and influential over the grand sweep of history that they deserve to be called the greatest, no matter the criteria. The reader may note that I left out empires from China and India. While I would be the first to acknowledge the importance and legacy of empires from these regions, the overall global legacy of empires from these regions tends to be regional.

The (First) Persian Empire

The Achaemenid Persian Empire was founded by Cyrus the Great around 550 B.C.E., who went by the title of King of Kings (Shahanshah). Although the Persian Empire came to an inglorious end at the hands of Alexander the Great in 330 B.C.E., it had a lasting legacy on the subsequent development of world civilizations and future empires. Indeed, the Persian Empire was a pivotal empire because it was the first true empire that set the standard of what it meant to be an empire for future ones.

The Persian Empire existed at a unique time in history, when most of the oikumene, or civilized, settled, populated world was concentrated in or near the Middle East. As a result, the Persian Empire, which dominated most of the Middle East, ruled over a greater percentage of the world’s population than any other empire in history. Indeed, in 480 B.C.E., the empire had a population of approximately 49.4 million people, which was 44 percent of the global population at that time. The Persian Empire was the first empire to connect multiple world regions, including the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, India, Europe, and the Mediterranean world. It jumpstarted the concept of empires in places like Greece and India.

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