Historical Empires

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The common definition of an empire, as opposed to a kingdom, is that a commonly but not always divinely-ordained Emperor rules over subjects of multiple cultures, races, and/or religions. Empire is derived from the Latin word Imperium, which means "authority" and more specifically the authority to command numerous Roman legions.

What does this have to do with /tg/?[edit]

Historical empires are a commonly-referenced source for fantasy and sci-fi cultures. For example, the Holy Roman Empire had a lot of influence on the design of the Empire of Warhammer Fantasy Battles. Most roleplaying settings feature big, huge empires based on historical empires or the decaying remnants of such. And empires are common window dressing for board games like Twilight Imperium. Empires give you more options than typically smaller, more parochial kingdoms.

Notable Historical Empires[edit]

Not an exhaustive list, though there are relatively few empires compared to kingdoms in history due to the size and demands of maintaining one.

Ancient[edit]

Empires first emerged as the economic and agricultural needs of individual city-states outgrew the palace economy they had hitherto relied upon and priest-kings began to covet the lands and wealth of their neighbors.

  • Akkadian Empire (circa 2234-2154 BC): The oldest known empire in human history, arising in the Fertile Crescent in northern Mesopotamia. Arose when Sargon of Akkad conquered the cities of the Sumerian civilization and then conquered its neighbors and subjugated their kings.
  • Neo-Assyrian Empire (911 BC–612 BC): An empire which had in its foundation a belief that if their army ever lost a battle, the world would end. Unsurprisingly, it lasted until slightly after they lost their first major battle.
  • Egyptian Empire: Depending on your definition, one could define it as starting with the Old Kingdom unifying the Egyptian city-states until the fall of Ptolemaic Egypt to the Roman Empire. Mind you, the civilization is not the Empire. For details, please consult relevant professionals and their works instead of a wiki for tactical genius.
  • Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BC): Most famous for being conquered by Alexander and, along with Egypt, providing visual inspiration for the Thousand Sons. Infamous for how they're depicted in the oil-slicked fantasy epic that is 300, the Persian Empire was not, in fact, a highly decadent empire of monsters and evil god-kings; only a regularly decadent empire that was actually quite lenient for empires of the time - Slaves were outlawed among Persians (but not their subjects), and slaves had more rights than usual; women could own businesses and they were very off-hand in their dealings with their vassal kingdoms. It was still a militaristic empire, mind, but they were not some evil eastern "other" for the Greeks to defeat - in fact, the "Greeks" did not exist yet! The people that would become the Greeks were as different culturally from each other as they were from the Persians, and many even saw the Persians as closer to them culturally than some of the other city states! Why was that? Well, a good number of Greek city-states (particularly the ones in Anatolia or very close to it) had had years of either being tributary to the Persians or had incredibly good trade relations with them.
  • Chinese Empire (221 BC-Present): Though already unified under a king as late as 841 BC (re-dating based on astronomy claims to trace further exact years way into 2100BC and there is evidence of complex agrarian civilization going back well before that), the Chinese did not live under an Emperor until 221BC. They survived interim catastrophes by coming up with the Mandate of Heaven (if the dynasty turns into a bunch of idiots then your local emperor definitely isn't favored by the gods and every peasant can hang them off), their equivalent of a common law, in the Zhou (not empire), and enhanced social mobility with a general disregard in right of blood (began in the Qin(Chin), first empire) and the test system for enlisting government officials (began in the Sui, some 600 years later). Lasted until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in the early 20th century, after the European imperialist ambitions exploited the hell out of the Chinese state and societal structures being essentially the same for almost 3000 (yes, really) years (and also these 3000 years of prevailing against all odds made the Chinese aristocracy complacent to such an extent that the Russian nobles the Soviets had shot looked progressive by comparison). Resurgent, you may say.
  • Macedonian Empire (330-323 BC): One of the largest Empires in ancient history, created by Alexander the Great. Conquered Persia, the largest Empire in history at the time. Shortly after the empire achieved its height, Alexander died at only 32 years old and his Empire was split into several smaller countries such as Seleucid Empire and Ptolemaic Kingdom, ruled by dynasties started by his generals, called Diadochi.
    • Seleucid Empire (323-63 BC): The only one of the Diadochi Kingdoms to be called an Empire. By far the largest of the Diadochi Kingdoms, it streched at its largest extent from western Anatolia all the way into modern Pakistan, although that period didn't last very long. In spite of the difficulties of managing a realm of such a size, they stuck around for a very long, because of a whole couple of clever alliances struck with proto-Indians and the gradual assimiliation of its Persian populace. Its strength started to vain in the middle of the 2nd century BC when a couple of political intrigues messed up the day of the ruling dynasties as well as the the constant warring with Ptolemaic Egypt in Syria and modern-day Israel and the somewhat-resurgent Greek states in the west. Its final demise came at the hand of the Romans, when Pompeius dismantled the remainders of the Seleucid Empire in Antioch in 63 BC.
  • Roman Empire (27 BC – 476 AD (Western)/1453 AD (Eastern)/1475 AD (Trebizond)): The codifier for fictional empires everywhere, and (through borrowing/stealing Greek technology) largely blamed for turning Europe from a backwater land of barbarians into the home of the most ambitious superpowers in history. Has lots, and I mean LOTS, of successors whether it be the directly-descended Spanish and French Empires, or the more-religiously-oriented Roman Catholic Church, et cetera. Roma Invicta.
    • Byzantine Empire (395-1453 AD): Originally the chopped off eastern half of the Imperium Romanum with Greece, Egypt and Anatolia as its most important core territories. It came into being when the last Emperor of both halves of the Roman Empire, Emperor Theodosius, made Konstantinople his permanent residence and gave the leadership over the Empire to his two sons, Honorius and Arcadius. The Eastern Empire survived the cataclysmic events of the Migration Period (not in small part due to generous bribes to the Huns and throwing the western half under the bus) much longer than its western cousins did and even enjoyed a long period of relative peace between 400 and 503, during which time the East Roman Emperors consolidated their Empire and greatly strengthened its civil institutions. The first major points of its eventual demise came at the hands of the Seljuk Turks and Mamaluks, who conquered Egypt and all of the Empires holdings in Anatolia as well as the sack of Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204. After the sacking of its capital, the Empire only persisted as merely a rump state with holding in Thrace and Greece and saw its ultimate end when the attempt of the Polish King Wladyslav to save Constantinople from the Ottomans failed at the Battle of Varna in 1444 and the city subsequently was conquered in 1453.

Medieval[edit]

Many medieval empires that are known to fa/tg/uys claimed legitimacy, in some way or another, from the Roman Empire. Even the Ottoman sultans claimed to be Kayser-i-Rum, or Caesar of Rome. New World empires, obviously, did not, and most Asian empires embraced the trappings, if not the lineage, of the Chinese Empire. The great empires of the ancient period thus laid the foundation for the creation and culture of many modern nation-states through the transmission of medieval successors.

  • The Holy Roman Empire (962–1806): Sometimes called the first Reich. Started as a powerful medieval state, but ever since the beginning of High Middle Ages started to devolve into something "neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire." (Voltaire) So complex that its easier to explain what it was not than what it was. If you know how the Empire's politics works, that's the HRE in a nutshell. In essence, the HRE was more of a loosely-connected confederation of innumerable fiefdoms, counties and kingdoms (over 300 by the late 1600s) formally unified under the leadership of the Romano-German Emperors. Its political power in Europe rested entirely on the willingness and ability of the current Emperor to keep his underlings in line, but by the 1300s the Emperor's authority began to crumble and was completely gone when the Thirty-Years-War (1618-1648) ravaged a third of its population and foreign powers (mainly France, Prussia and Sweden) started to chip away at its territory. Saw its ultimate end when Napoleon defeated the Prussians and the Austrians in short succession, prompting the major dukedoms that were still left to formally leave the Empire, and the Habsburg Emperor Joseph II abdicated the imperial crown in 1806. Luckily, the Hapsburgs had installed a backup empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, meaning they retained the title of Emperor even when the HRE dissolved.
    • Named "The Holy Roman Empire" because the Pope of the day went around baiting kings with religious recognition to earn more loyalty from the brainwashed, god-fearing masses. The Pope did this because, after seceding from the Roman Empire ruling in the east and declaring its independence from the Emperor-dominated Orthodox Church papacy, the Roman Catholic Church needed to sponsor a Roman Emperor of their own.
    • Was preceded by the Carolingian Empire that lasted for about eight decades until it was partitioned into three successor kingdoms, one of which would evolve into the Holy Roman Empire and the other into the Kingdom of France, thus laying the groundwork for the greatest Hatfield-McCoy feud in history. The Ottonian House that founded the HRE liked to claim descent from the Carolingian House and Charlemagne as a result.
    • Note that the Byzantines in the East also laid claim to the title of Roman Emperor and occasionally acknowledged the Holy Roman Emperors as their equals. This was a pretty messy period though and a detailed explanation would require a full article of its own.
    • As to the frequent asked question why there were so goddamn many states on the territories that up the HRE, one needs to look at German inheritance custom, which survives to this day. It was the normal custom for each son of a noble family to inherit a piece of the realm after the previous ruler's death and found their own little dukedoms, especially if the sons couldn't agree on who got what. Add to that an incomprehensibly complicated net of political marriages with the addition of bishoprics which were issued by the Vatican and free cities (plus a number of other miniscule imperial territories like the "Imperial valley of Zell) and you get a clusterfuck of fractured territories that were constantly at each others throats and only banded together when the perfidious French tried something.
  • Ummayyad Caliphate (661-750): The Largest of the four classical caliphates established after the death of Muhammad.It's borders stretched from Northern Spain to Pakistan. Overthrew the last Rashidun ("Rightly-Guided") Caliph Ali in order to gain power. At it's apex, it was one of the mightiest empires the world had ever seen and cemented Islam's new role as a religion of caliphs and kings. When one thinks of the Islamic Golden Age, it's either these guys or the dudes that took them down, the Abbassids. The Ummayyad's were rebels who promoted an early form of Arab nationalism throughout the Islamic World, as well as shifting the role of the Caliph from an elected position to a hereditary one. Eventually, their rampant Arab nationalism would get them overthrown by the Abbassids and the last remaining heir fled to Muslim Iberia, where they established the Emirate of Cordoba
  • Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258): A caliphate born in a revolution against the Umayyads, the Abbasids are what you think of when you think of the Arabian Nights. Opulent cities glistening with the fruits of empire, crafty viziers who hide behind puppet sultans, and all the glories of Baghdad in it's prime. Notable achievements include the many inventions and advancements of the Islamic Golden Age, Dominating the Mediterranean (Just look at Sicily), and battling the Chinese Tang Dynasty for control of Central Asia. Unfortunately with the coming of the Seljuk Turks, their hegemony would shatter and eventually their dynasty would become nothing more than a line of puppet kings hiding out in Mamluk Egypt.
  • Ethiopian Empire (1137-1935/1941-1974): an empire of Africans, and one of the only two African nations to remain independent of the West, depending on your view of Liberia. Also used to have Judaism as the official religion and then switched to its own version of Christianity. Its last Emperor, Haile Selassie, was revered by a religious movement as God incarnate (which, notably, he neither started nor approved of).
  • Portuguese Empire (1139-1975): The lesser Iberian empire that liked keeping their maritime maps secret, becoming the first global empire in the world. Notable for the founding of Nagasaki, moving their capital and court to Brazil to escape Napoleon, and coming back from the brink of dissolution three times. Also, their nicknames, Portugal Overseas: Ultramar Português or the Império Ultramarino Português has something to do with some smurfs made by a British company of Grimdark. Due to secrecy, nobody has found the old Portuguese royal sea route maps.
  • Mongolian Empire (1206–1368 AD): The Empire made from Empires. Your stereotypical savage-nomad-kill-burn-kill-maim-burn empire. But only because they liked their reputation to precede them and do the conquering without the bloodshed and the damage to their soon-to-be territories. Was more civilized than Alexander the Great and their empire lasted even longer than his when you think about it. The empires they conquered were actually at THEIR golden ages too, like the Khwarazm and Song (China).
    • Like Romans, once a people surrendered, they welcomed scholars and engineers with their new ideas, especially that of war, and they went from steppe cavalry with arrows to heavily armored cavalry with horse trains, gunpowder, and siege weapons. Religiously tolerant/gave no shits. Built a lot of bridges and blazed a lot of trade routes. Remember Marco Polo was writing about their empire. Put the Four Khanates and the conquered China (Yuan) together, and lol, the second largest human empire, ever, at 88% the size of the British one. Mind you, the Mongol Empire was continuous, though, unlike the British Empire with isolated territories and islands. But the British are a seafaring empire, so there's that.
    • Through the 4 sons of Genghis Khan, was the progenitor of other vast, mostly Muslim, empires. Its last successor, the Mughal Empire, only fell in 1857.
  • Ottoman Empire (1299–1923): A vast and powerful Muslim empire that started out as an amalgamation of nomadic tribes uniting to fight off Mongol raiders. From there they became a small Turkish state in Anatolia that conquered Constantinople, the Balkans, Middle East, and North Africa. In its heyday, it was huge, technologically advanced, well-governed and constantly driving forward, the terror of Europe. Its Janissary Corps the most feared and elite group of soldiers in Europe or the Middle East. Yet beginning in the 1600s the Empire began to transition towards a more sedentary state, and while it kept parity with its contemporaries well into the 18th century, missing out on the advances that came with Europe's Seven Years War and then its age of Colonization created a gap the Ottomans were incapable of surmounting. Adding to this was the introduction of Nationalism into the boiling pot of ethnic tensions, (with the Greeks being the first to win their independence in a brutal civil war), the conquest and liberation of much of its territories in Europe by the Austro-Hungarians in the mid 1700s and the Pre-WW1 Imperial Powers of Europe frequently exploiting the political weaknesses of the Ottoman Empire to their benefit. Its eventual end came with World War 1, when the German-allied Ottomans suffered a series of embarrassing defeats against the British-lead Arab minorities and the Russian Empire in the Caucasus. Trying to exterminate the Armenians in the largest Genocide up until the Holocaust did little to alleviate its decline. Kemal Atatürk ultimately dissolved the Empire in 1923 and founded the Republic of Turkey.

Modern Period[edit]

Note that when WWI started, the crowned rulers of Russia, Great Britain, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Greece, and Romania were all related by blood or marriage, making both the war the single biggest family feud in history, as well as the royal family the single most successful genepool in all ecology. A similar feud, but between the rival Houses of Bourbon and Hapsburg, sparked pretty much all European wars between 1400 and 1798.

  • Spanish Empire (1402-1975, at its height 1516-1700): Starting with the discovery of America by Columbus, it quickly colonized huge swaths of the New World, making Spanish the official language of most of Central and South America and the Caribbean. Annihilated the Aztec empire in the process of plundering its gold and silver. They established a trade route with China from the Philippines to Europe going through America, which was one of the first oceanic spice routes of the Early Modern World (the other one being the Portuguese route to India). In its hay day, the Spanish Empire was a frightening entity, controlling the overwhelming majority of trade with Silver and Gold, fielding the largest army and navy in Europe and only adding to it was the union between Spain, Portugal and the Holy Roman Empire under the Habsburg dynasty which dominated much of the history of 1500s central Europe. Its strength started to fade when economic stagnation and an over-reliance on its colonies paired with a serious succession crisis (the result of generations of relentless inbreeding within the Habsburg dynasty) in the early 1700s made its oversea holdings more of a liability than a boon. Adding to this were the constant efforts of the Dutch, British and French to chip away at its powerbase in the Caribbean. In the early 1800s, when mainland Spain was thoroughly beaten into submission by Napoleon, the colonial elites in the new world saw no use in their status anymore and declared independence in quick succession between 1810 and 1830. The final nail in the coffin was the establishing of the Monroe-doctrine as a central tenet in US foreign policy, which saw the Spanish kicked out of Cuba and the Philippines in 1898, ceding its last holdings in the Americas to the United States.
    • When talking about the Spanish and Portuguese empires the Treaty of Tordesillas is worth a mention. Created by Pope Alexander VI, the treaty split the New World between the Spanish and the Portuguese, which is why the Portuguese settled Brazil and got to Japan because that was east of the line.
      • Also, between 1578-1668 the Spanish and Portuguese Empire were under the same crown, turning it into the biggest colonial entity until the XIXth Century.
  • Aztec Empire (1428–1521): Inspiration for Lizardmen buildings and homeland. It had a weird political structure because it was technically the alliance of 3 city-states, each with their own sovereign priest-king, that split up the spoils of war and regular tribute from their conquered territories in accordance to their contribution to the alliance. Infamously incapable of metalsmithing despite their greatest and most dangerous foes, the Purépecha Empire, knowing how to forge bronze.
    • The real reason they were conquered by a band of Conquistadors under Hernan Cortes was not that they beardy crack team of war vets and military engineers of the reclamation of Spain from Muslims, not horses, not cannons, not guns (guns aren't all that deadlier than arrows until in the 19th century with machine guns. Guns are easier to handle and train with, and that is what made them useful), but his craftiness in exploiting how the native city-states all hated the Aztecs. Because they kept demanding humans for their ritual sacrifices, even going so far as to plant spies to instigate rebellions every decade or so, and spies informing Aztec warriors of all enemy intel to easily reconquer them... all just to justify their taking of even more sacrifices/slaves as "punishment." (Really similar to what Spartans did to their vassal cities). Unlike the greedy and short-sighted Columbus who was reviled by his own men for stealing their cut and discoveries (once they even allied with natives to kill him in his sleep). It doesn't matter how good you are, a few hundred men can't control 10s of 1000s of natives especially when you have limited supplies, arms, and bullets. Cortes promised the natives a good life and equal treatment as new subjects of His Majesty of Spain if they cooperated, and later even pushed to get his mestizo children legitimately recognized by the Church. As it turns out, he was the nicest and most successful conquistador as a result. Still killed a lot of people but that was in war rather than pointless massacres and backstabbing/slavery of cooperative natives like Columbus.
      • A good example of this are the Tlaxcaltecs. Cortes kept his promise to them. Chichimecs and peoples of Mayan descent also hated the Aztecs and banded together with Cortes.
  • Inca Empire (1438–1533): Notable for it's size, road systems and the fact that it got so big without horses or wheeled vehicles. Unfortunately for them they got hit with the full Guns, Germs and Steel package when the Spanish showed up.
  • Mughal Empire (1526–1857): A Muslim-Mongol superpower. After squandering the treasury on buildings and war, British influence managed to increase its presence on the subcontinent. Technically spent its last century as a British vassal.
  • British Empire (1583-1997): At its height, the British Empire ruled a quarter of the Earth's land. Began the decolonization process after World War II and the Empire is considered to have ceased to exist as such when Hong Kong was formally turned over to China. Even so they still have handful of overseas territory over which the sun has still yet to set. Had a hilarious war over trying to peddle drugs into China. And again. God Save the King/Queen.
  • Russian Empire (1721-1917): Big, powerful but often backwards in technology and social development. And when it finally started to catch up it decided to enter a world war. Genius indeed.
  • First French Empire (1804–1815): "Vive la Napoleon!" A pampered child of /v/, too. Also the O.G. IMPERIAL GUARD (Napoleon's La Garde Impériale). In case you don't know about Napoleon, here is the tl;dr version of his and his Empires exploits: Starting as a lowly Lieutenant in the Revolutionary French army, he innovated many tactics of that time (incidentally inventing the basic concept of modern maneuver warfare in the process) and took many of the numerous enemies of the first French Republic by surprise, resulting in astounding victories for France in Italy and Egypt. He then did a Julius Caesar after the government of the Republic lost the support of the masses and installed himself as its sole military dictator, first with the title of First Consul, later crowning himself as Emperor of the French Napoleon I in 1804. His military and logistical genius saw France ground the major powers of Europe fall to their knees in short succession and by 1806, only the British were left to oppose him (although he couldn't do much to defeat them, as the Royal Navy handed him and his incompetent Admiralty a devastating defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar in the same year). Satisfied with his supreme rule over most of continental Europe, he grew a bit complacent which gave his enemies time to reorganize and reform their armies. The first major blunder of his career came when he tasked his Marshals with putting down a rebellion in Spain in a Guerilla War clusterfuck (fun fact: The word Guerilla itself was the name the Spanish rebels fighting Napoleon gave themselves) that rivalled later wars like Vietnam or the Eastern Front in WW2, which they consistently proved to be incapable of putting down, binding precious manpower and resources. THis however was overshadowed in every way by his historic defeat during the Russian Campaign in 1812, where a combination of underestimating the resolve of the Russian Tzar Alexander, overestimation of his own capabilities to overcome the massive distances in Russia, logistical fuck-ups from start to finish and the simple fact that France by that point had exhausted its reserves to the absolute breaking point lead to a devastating and humiliating defeat. This emboldened his former allies to form a new coalition to combine their forces and force him out of Europe in 1813. He did make one (and arguably doomed from the start) last attempt to grab power in 1815, when he was finally defeated at the by now near-mythical Battle of Waterloo.
    • Seriously, fa/tg/uys need to stop with the tired French surrender monkeys meme and actually learn some history other than parrot arrogant British mockeries of their rivals. The French up until the Franco-Prussian War had the largest land forces in Europe, because after the Revolution, the military forces of the Republic were filled with people for the first time feeling like they mattered to the country, and this helped Napoleon immensely since his genius in logistical capabilities that let him to outnumber his enemies on the battlefield when least expected and minimize losses so they can keep on going and soon attack the next enemy army.
    • Their defeats in WW1 in the trenches were not because they were stupid surrender monkeys like Italians, but too brave to a fault: they kept charging into MG nests and if they didn't make it, they thought they were simply not trying hard enough. Just like many scientific concepts at the time (like Social Darwinism), some generals misused the science/philosophy of the "Élan vital", which basically meant a creature is its will to live. Which in military terms, a military force is not dead until its commanders finally throw in the towel, so to keep up the pressure of life, one must never cease attacking. This on the surface The French learned that mindless charges and machismo won't win wars the hard way in WW1, but the Japanese took WW2 to learn it from their devastating losses by American hands.
    • Next time you compare them to the British Empire, try minding that unlike Britain, they had to divide their forces among the sea, AND the land (The real reason Napoleon invaded Russia was because of England's blockade + Russia's refusal to cooperate with his isolation plans for the English). Do mind that a war on two fronts was only ever really won in history by Americans in WW2 (Pacific and Europe) by sheer industrial-economic might (One steel mill in Pittsburgh produced more steel than all of the 3rd Reich, for instance).
  • Austrian Empire (1804–1918, including time spent as the Austro-Hungarian Empire): Ripped apart after WWI. On the height of its power, Hapsburg Austria commanded respect across Europe through a strong army, reinforced through its very liberal policies towards non-Germans (Hussars were an Austro-Hungarian invention, after all). It served as a collective buffer between the Ottomans to the south and the rest of Europe alongside serving a relatively liberal oasis of refuge for multiple ethnicities at the mercy of Russian or Ottoman encroachment. Unfortunately, by the 20th Century, rising ethnic nationalism replaced the regional feudalistic sense of loyalties among the multiple ethnic groups in the Empire. By the time the run-up to WW1 started, Austria had fallen by the way side and was overshadowed in every way by its larger cousin, the German Empire, (ironically enough mainly because of it and Prussia) and although the peace between the Austrians and the Hungarian state structures was tenuous even at the best of times, it persisted quite successfully for a state whose structures looked like a relic well before it collapsed. Lick a Stamp, Lick the Kaiser!
  • Brazilian Empire (1822-1889): Like Russia but more backwards and way less powerful. It was one of the premier powers on South America alongside Argentina. Stopped existing when the rich landowners that controlled the country got sick of the Emperor's shit for making the slaves free so they sacked him and declared a republic. Oh how ironic the monarchy was better than the "free" republic.
  • Empire of Japan (538–1947): They've had an emperor since 538, but didn't actually make significant foreign or cultural conquests of any sort since the prior two attempts to do something in Korea ended in eventual expulsion. Japan really got into the empire-building business after it was first to industrialize among the nations of Eastern Asia, which wouldn't be that much of an advantage were it not for the fact that most nations around them (Russia, Korea, China...) were in pretty bad shape so the Japanese had little trouble defeating and conquering them...except their own staggering ineptitude in some areas like the land-army and the navy actively undermining each other or not making any friends by being genocidal pricks, in some ways being arguably worse than the Nazis. For what it's worth, Japan did manage to build a respectably-sized empire starting from the 30s but saw it all collapse due to aforementioned assholery, poor supply lines and taking on the United Motherfucking States of America.
    • Note that while modern Japan is still named the same as the Japanese Empire was, the name is now officially translated as Japanese State rather than Japanese Empire. It also still maintains an Emperor as a constitutional monarch.
  • German Empire (1871–1918): The Second Reich, put together by Otto von Bismarck's political genius and Prussian efficiency, it took a collection of feuding principalities and, in a few decades, turned them into the greatest industrial power in Europe until it was exhausted fighting pretty much every other industrial power that mattered, twice. Bismarck famously kept the Austrian Empire out of the German Empire owing to the long-standing Prussian-Austrian rivalry within the HRE and the fact that incorporating the Austrians would've meant bringing in huge masses of non-German populations.
  • (Great) Germany (Grossdeutsches Reich) (1933-1945): Colloquially known as Nazi Germany. The Third and shortest Reich, though not for lack of ambition. Owing to Bismarck keeping the Austrians out of the German Empire, their first major conquest beyond the historic borders of Germany was Austria. They claimed to be the greatest industrial power in Europe until they exhausted themselves fighting pretty much every other industrial power that mattered.
    • Did you know the term Nazi was a derisive slur originally used by their political enemies? The political party was actually named NSDAP, Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or "National Socialist German Worker Party". They were called Nazis because, in German, it was an insult for Bavarian hillbillies, and most National Socialists came from Bavaria.
  • Soviet Union (1922-1991): THE HEAD OF THE SECOND WORLD. The successors to the Russian Empire, Too many people forget the USSR was a body of many nations and peoples (to the point a lot of ex-Soviet peoples wistfully think of the old days when all were equal under the Soviet rule and Russians weren't jingoistic and neo-Nazis were unheard of), even when Russia was its most powerful unit with no doubt. With a Global Ideology based on Communism. But do keep in mind that not all (self-proclaimed) Communist nations were actually part of the Soviet Union (quite a number of them were just de facto dictator/monarchs with Anti-Western ideologies that proclaimed they were going to save the downtrodden people with Communism, and also get monetary supplement from USSR for being Anti-West). After defeating the 3rd Reich, managed to extend its influence over Eastern Europe and thanks to the appeal of Communism was also able to influence states on almost every continent. But was unable to keep up economically or militarily with the United States and eventually finally fell apart with a whimper at the end of the Cold War.
    • In it's height of power, the USSR's GDP was around half of USA, but its military budget equaled it. And during the Cold War, American military budget was almost 10% of its GDP compared to 4.5% of today, compared to around 3% to 1st world nations who depend on the US military to protect them from China/Russia.
    • Really screwed themselves over with a 20% GDP military budget. Every ruble spent in the military is one not spent in civil industry and commerce. But even this is heavenly compared to bleak militaristic shit holes like North Korea.
      • That, and their version of Vietnam, called the Soviet-Afghanistan war. Started on the same year when China invaded Vietnam, in 1979. Ended in 1989. Not long before the collapse of the Union.
    • The reason for its downfall are not easy to boil down. Aforementioned oversized military budget, being caught in the Cold War did a substantial part, but also a culture of administrative corruption and cronyism the Soviets inherited from the state structures of the Russian Empire. The whole economy was centrally planned around the ideal of maximizing productivity through a series of four or five-year-plans in which certain goals, issued by the Communist Party, were meant to be achieved. However, the slow, monolithic bureaucracy that would give the Administratum a run for its money in how inefficient in worked, made achieving these goals impossible, be it through the tedious gears of administrators that had to approve every single thing on their desks or just straight up incompetence: The Socialist ideal pushed people from the factories and lowest stratas of society into high level government offices they were in no way equipped or capable to manage. The constant atmosphere of fear and terror that drooled out of the KGB also made sure that no serious innovative initiatives could take place; you had to accept the party line or say goodbye to your (and your families) few privileges, if you had some sort of power or ability useful to the Soviet State. This created a self-destructive culture of officials and directors frequently falsifying factory and bureaucracy records, which were then further edited the higher they went up in order to earn a promotion, make themselves look better or just avoid the all too watchful eye of the KGB - it was only after Chernobyl and the beginning of Perestroika under Gorbachev when the Soviet Leadership started to grasp how deeply fucked the entire Soviet economy even was. The revelations from these inquiries very quickly lead to the collapse of the USSR within just 5 years through the people that finally had enough of the Communists. Gorbachev, for the shit he (on some accounts, rightfully) gets was by 1986 presented with a problem that was impossible to find a solution for, even for more capable statesmen he ended up being.
    • These aforementioned problems were further exasperated by rising ethnic tensions in many parts of the multi-ethnic USSR, starting in the Baltic states. The economic situation was so catastrophic that the US (and West Germany) tried desperately to prop up the USSR with billions of Dollars in relief money and debt cuts, as declassified CIA and White House documents show. The current climate of continuing aggression from the Russian side and Western sanctions might have been avoided, if these plans came to fruition, but the USSR was gone before the US had any chance to implement them.
  • The United States of America (1776-Present): THE HEAD OF THE FIRST WORLD. There is much controversy over whether the global Hegemony established by the United States counts as an empire or not. The merriam-webster definition of empire reads: a major political unit having a territory of great extent or a number of territories or peoples under a single sovereign authority, which even before you consider out of territory influence the vast amount of states with different cultures certainly means American meets the technical dictionary definition of empire, which means every body still argues about but that some people are just more nerdy about how they do it then others. For argument's sake, we will consider the American Empire a reality here. What is not in doubt is that since the end of WWII, and especially since the end of the Cold War the United States has held near total sway in terms of global power, though recent moves by a resurgent China look to be eroding American Global Power and Influence. Which is all Bush Jr.'s fault for wasting energy on the Middle East when he should have checked China and Russia.
    • Much of the Global Hegemony of the US results from ordinary political pushes and pulls that happen between nations popularly called 'soft power'. It's just that America is seriously advantaged in this game, what with the largest consumer market, dollar currency, lack of resource dependency (America produces the most oil. Shocking, I know. America just need even more of it), Lack of hostile/powerful neighbors being and military might.
    • Controls the mightiest military force in human history. #1 largest military budget, and this is large as the those of nations in #2 to #10 combined. And excluding China and Russia, all those nations are American allies anyway (maybe except India). And GDP Percentage-wise, this is less than half of American military spending during the Cold War. Should an alien invasion occur, they are your first and last hope.
      • And the military with most real combat experience to boot.
    • With NATO, and many nations asking to station American troops around the world (and America pays a large chunk of the expenditures for them too), many nations voluntarily depend on American protection, especially from China or Russia nowadays.
    • Still to this day, no nation in history has ever held as much power as it did as the United States of America. And compared to the other 2 contenders (The Spanish and British Empires), still is the most conscious of human rights and freedoms. (Keep in mind, while the US is a bit behind in human rights/freedoms/corruption than some European nations, most other 200 nations in the world have appalling oppression to the point the people there just don't even complain about it because they've been inoculated by grimdark. If you live in a country that can still complain about injustices happening within it, then there is still hope.)
    • The USA is also frankly fascinating in that it achieved something similar to the Roman Empire but even better - it produced a dominant culture that can (relatively) easily assimilate various ethnicities and other cultures and strengthen itself through this process. If you know English and are a skilled worker, you can get a green card, live in the US for 5 years and then take a test to become a citizen, then you can open up a store that sells Sushi/Burek/Pizza and earn millions as you introduce a hitherto-unknown new dish to the country. America is the Borg except you get to keep your biological distinctiveness while culture and tech are shared to strengthen everybody.
    • And finally, the simply IMMENSE cultural impact that the USA had/has on the whole PLANET also helps maintain it's status. Don't believe me - Mickey Mouse, Coca-cola, the frigging american flag will likely get recognised virtually anywhere in the world. Hollywood may as well be up there with the Army for the amount of influence it exerts on other countries.

Notable Fictional Empires[edit]

Fantasy[edit]

  • The Empire (Warhammer Fantasy): Holy Roman Empire with bald monks, lots of gunpowder and Karl Franz.
  • Nilfgaard (The Witcher)): Roman Empire + some HRE and Nazi Germany (at least in the late books) again, although this time you'd probably want to live here than in the most of the oppressive feudal racist and constantly warring Northern Kingdoms. Especially with the fact that it almost became constitutional monarchy before Torres var Emreis took over.

Science Fiction[edit]

  • Galactic Empire (Star Wars): An amalgamation of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, several colonial or semi-colonial empires (Britain, Japan) and USA during Vietnam War. It's background also borrows many things from Rome, with an elected dictator gaining an absolute power to prevent the stagnation of previous democratic regime. Probably the most famous "Galactic Empire" in science fiction, despite having several precedents.
  • Galactic Empire (Foundation): Space Rome. Asimov based the Foundation series on Gibbons' "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" and so the Galactic Empire is a sclerotic, decaying empire doomed to collapse and be replaced with a new, more vibrant empire. At least, until he went back to write some sequels.
  • Galactic Empire (Legend of the Galactic Heroes): What if Otto von Bismarck was a neo-Nazi LARPER who went full Julius Caesar on the Galactic Republic? Well, then you'd get the Galactic Empire.
  • Empire of the Known Universe (Dune): Feudalism in space, its first iteration. Emperor doesn't play much role here (at first, at least), and usually has to meet the needs of Spicing Guild (the real ruler of the Universe) or interact with other Great Houses, who are as powerful as him. Eventually the Imperium turned into an oppressive dictatorship of the all-knowing and all-seeing immortal half-worm half-human hybrid, all according to his plan to elevate the Humanity.
  • Imperium of Man (Warhammer 40K): Dune and Warhammer Empire's evil child. Catholic-themed Soviet Union at first, extremely oppressive Catholic Middle Ages Europe with some Nazi flavor later, Catholic-themed Late Roman Empire/Republic now( with some more bit of the middle ages).