A Look at the 10 Biggest Empires in History

Throughout history, empires have risen and fallen, carving out territories that span continents and leaving indelible marks on the world’s cultural, political, and social landscapes. From the ancient dominions of the Persians and Romans to the vast expanse of the British Empire and the Mongol hordes that swept across Eurasia, these colossal entities have shaped the course of history. This article shines a light on the mightiest empires that have ever existed, examining their rise to power, their peak, and the legacy they’ve left behind.

British Empire

the British Empire in 1921

The British Empire, often heralded as the largest empire in history, exemplifies the height of colonial power. At its peak in the early 20th century, it covered over 35 million square kilometers, governing roughly a quarter of the world’s land area and population. This vast empire, on which “the sun never set,” included dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates, and territories across every continent. It was a major player in global affairs, shaping economies, legal systems, and cultures around the world through its trade networks, military conquests, and administrative prowess.

The empire’s influence extended far beyond its territorial acquisitions, spreading the English language, legal systems, and cultural practices across the globe. Its legacy is complex, marked by advancements in global communication and commerce, as well as conflicts and the lasting impacts of colonial rule. Check out our article, Discover the Expansion and Decline of the British Empire, to know more about the empire’s history and changing size.

Mongol Empire

the Mongol Empire at Genghis Khan’s death

The Mongol Empire, founded by Genghis Khan in the early 13th century, quickly became the largest contiguous land empire in history. At its height, it stretched from Eastern Europe across Asia to the Sea of Japan, encompassing over 33 million square kilometers. This empire was known for its military innovations, rapid expansion, and the creation of a vast network of trade routes known as the Silk Road, which connected the East and West.

Despite its reputation for brutality, the Mongol Empire facilitated cultural exchange and trade between its diverse territories, contributing to a period of economic growth and technological advancement in many parts of the world. The empire’s governance, based on meritocracy and religious tolerance, left a lasting impact on the regions it controlled. For more information on this empire’s history, read our article, Learn About the Mongol Empire and Its Rise and Fall.

Russian Empire

the Russian Empire in 1914

By the 18th century, the Russian Empire had emerged as a major European power, expanding through military conquests and diplomacy to become one of the largest empires in history. At its zenith, it stretched over 22.8 million square kilometers, from Eastern Europe across Siberia to North America. The empire played a critical role in the political, cultural, and economic dynamics of Eurasia, influencing the course of European history through its involvement in various wars and its complex relationship with neighboring powers.

The Russian Empire was a mosaic of diverse ethnicities and religions, and its expansion helped shape the national identities of many peoples within its borders. Despite the challenges of managing such a vast territory, the empire contributed significantly to the arts, science, and global exploration. Read “A Look at the Rise and Fall of the Russian Empire” to learn more about this empire’s expansion and eventual decline.

Spanish Empire

the Spanish Empire in 1606

The Spanish Empire emerged as a global powerhouse in the 16th century following Christopher Columbus’s voyages to the Americas. It became the first global empire, stretching from the Americas to Asia, including territories in Africa and Europe. At its height, the empire covered over 13.7 million square kilometers. It was known for its significant role in the Age of Exploration, opening up new trade routes and establishing colonies across the world.

This vast empire brought wealth and power to Spain, along with a complex legacy of cultural exchange and conflict. The Spanish Empire was instrumental in the spread of Christianity and had a profound impact on the world’s linguistic and cultural landscape, but it also faced criticism for its treatment of indigenous peoples and its role in the Atlantic slave trade. Read “Discover the History of the Spanish Empire and Its Rise and Fall” to know more.

Qing Dynasty

map of the Qing Dynasty

The Qing Dynasty, ruling from 1644 to 1912, was the last imperial dynasty of China and one of the largest empires in history. At its greatest extent in the 18th century, it covered over 14 million square kilometers. The Qing Dynasty was characterized by a period of significant expansion, particularly under emperors like Kangxi and Qianlong, who consolidated control over Inner Asia and extended China’s borders to their greatest historical extent.

The dynasty was a period of relative peace and prosperity, marked by advancements in arts and culture, as well as significant demographic growth. However, internal rebellions, external pressures, and the inability to adapt to modern challenges eventually led to its decline and the establishment of the Republic of China. Read our article, “Learn About the Rise and Fall of the Qing Dynasty, One of the Largest Dynasties of Imperial China,” to get more information on the dynasty’s expansion and decline.

Umayyad Caliphate

Umayyad Caliphate map

The Umayyad Caliphate, established following the death of Prophet Muhammad, quickly expanded to become one of the largest empires in history. At its height in the 8th century, it stretched over 11 million square kilometers from Spain in the west to the Indus River in the east. This period was marked by significant cultural, scientific, and economic achievements, including the spread of the Arabic language and the Islamic faith.

The Umayyad Caliphate’s expansion facilitated a golden age of scientific and intellectual activity, as scholars in the empire made significant advances in fields such as astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and philosophy. Despite its eventual fall to the Abbasid Revolution, the Umayyad Caliphate’s contributions to civilization have had a lasting impact. Check out “Discover the Expansion and Decline of the Umayyad Caliphate” to learn more about the empire’s beginnings, rise, and fall.

Abbasid Caliphate

Abbasid Caliphate map

Following the Umayyad Caliphate, the Abbasid Caliphate emerged as a center of Islamic power and culture from the 8th to the 13th centuries. Although its territorial control was smaller than its predecessor, the Abbasid Caliphate’s influence on the Islamic Golden Age was profound. Baghdad, its capital, became a global center for culture, science, and innovation, attracting scholars from across the world.

The Abbasid era was marked by incredible advancements in various fields, including the arts, science, and philosophy. The caliphate played a crucial role in preserving and enhancing the knowledge of previous civilizations, laying the groundwork for the Renaissance. Read our article titled “Find Out About the Expansion and Fall of the Abbasid Caliphate” for more information.

Roman Empire

size of the Roman Empire in 117 AD

The Roman Empire, with its origins in the 8th century BCE, grew to dominate the Mediterranean world and much of Europe. At its peak under Emperor Trajan in the 2nd century CE, the empire covered over 5 million square kilometers. Rome’s sophisticated system of governance, engineering marvels, and legal innovations laid the foundations for Western civilization.

The empire was instrumental in spreading Roman culture, language, and infrastructure across a vast area, influencing subsequent generations. Despite its eventual decline and fall in the 5th century CE, the Roman Empire’s legacy continues to shape modern society in numerous ways. You can read our article, Learn About the Expansion and Decline of the Roman Empire, to know more about this particular empire.

Persian Achaemenid Empire

Achaemenid Empire

The Persian Achaemenid Empire, founded by Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BCE, was the first global empire, stretching from the Indus Valley to the Balkans at its height. Encompassing over 5.5 million square kilometers, it set new standards for governance, architecture, and cultural integration, influencing subsequent empires.

The Achaemenid Empire is celebrated for its innovative administrative systems, tolerance of diverse cultures and religions, and the construction of the Royal Road for communication and trade. Its legacy, particularly in terms of respect for the cultures and governance of its constituent parts, remains a significant chapter in the history of civilization. Read Discover the Rise and Fall of the Persian Achaemenid Empire to gain more information on the empire’s history.

Ottoman Empire

the Ottoman Empire in 1683

The Ottoman Empire, at its peak in the 16th and 17th centuries, was one of the most powerful states in the world, controlling much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa. Spanning over 5.2 million square kilometers, the empire was a hub of Islamic culture and learning, as well as a significant military and naval power. Its strategic position between the East and West facilitated trade and cultural exchanges, contributing to a rich legacy of architecture, literature, and science.

The Ottomans were known for their sophisticated system of government and social organization, which allowed them to maintain control over a diverse population for centuries. The empire’s decline was gradual, culminating in its dissolution at the end of World War I, but its influence on the regions it governed remains evident today. You can read our article, “Know More About the Ottoman Empire, One of the Biggest Empires in History,” to get information on the empire’s changing size and history.


While these empires have long since faded, their legacies endure, influencing modern borders, languages, religions, and legal systems. As we reflect on their achievements and failures, we gain valuable insights into the forces that drive civilizations forward and the enduring human quest for unity, understanding, and dominance over our surroundings. The history of these great empires reminds us of the transient nature of power and the timeless impact of humanity’s greatest endeavors.