An empire is when more than one nation is ruled over by one single emperor or empress. Most settled land has been ruled over as part of an empire during at least one period in history, with multiple empires usually co-existing. There are arguably no empires left today, but it wasn’t too long ago that most people who imperial subjects. Some empires are more mighty than others. Some last for thousands of years, while others last only months. Some stretched across multiple continents, while others only existed on one single continent. And in the same sense, some empires were more savage than others, resorting to brutal measures to maintain their power structures. Here are the ten most savage empires in history.
Before British rule, India was home to the powerful Mughal Empire. It’s royal family claimed descent from Genghis Khan to give them legitimacy. They also allowed their subjects to practice whichever beliefs they wished to, despite their individual kingdoms being part of the empire. The Mughals united individual kingdoms to form the most wealthy empire in the world. This gave them access to some of the world’s greatest militaries. Mughal rule even stretched into Afghanistan. Afghanistan is known as the death-bed of empires because it’s so difficult to colonize. And that gives you an idea of what the Mughals were capable of, as it was comfortably part of their empire.
Comancheria covered large areas of Texas and it’s surrounding states. Until 1860 it was occupied by the Comanche people, who took it from several other native groups. They maintained an economic system and were the dominant power in the region. They even went to war with Mexico, which they arguably won. Neighboring peoples feared the Comanche, as they were known to raid their enemies at will. We don’t know how numerous they were but their empire was unmatched in power at least at one point.
The Akkadian empire covered much of modern day Iraq. Like Rome, it grew from a city state and came to surpass the power held by it’s neighbors. It lasted for at least 200 years but that’s not what makes it noteworthy. Looking back, it was the first empire in recorded history, being founded more than 2 thousand years before the Roman empire. The empire was established by Sargon of Akkad, who literally worked as a gardener before becoming king. After taking power he began invading neighboring powers. His will to unite conquered lands into one single empire made him a true visionary, and his success in doing so was legendary. This was during the bronze age.
Portugal isn’t remembered as a global military power. But for six centuries it held one of the most wealthy and stable empire. Their most valuable colony was Brazil, with it’s massive natural resources and access to trade routes. In fact, at one point the Portuguese royal family even lived in Brazil. Portuguese explorers discovered more than most other nations, allowing the empire to colonize valuable lands without competition. The most impressive thing about the empire is how recently it fell. It was a colonial dictatorship until it’s overthrow by peaceful revolution in 1974. Until that point they held a lot of land in Africa, which they were winning a long war to retain.
The Umayyad Caliphate was one of four major Islamic empires. It expanded rapidly, conquering all power rivals, giving them 4.3 million square miles to rule over, which included 29 percent of the human population. It was the superpower of it’s day, even controlling European land. People forget Spain and Portugal were Islamic territories for several centuries. During their rule, the middle-east underwent what you might call a proto-Renaissance. Culture and science flourished, which helped in their war effort against Byzantium. The caliphate fell in 750 as a result of civil war and internal conflict, but Spain would remain Islamic until the year 1492.
Imperial Japan was an incredible military force. When world war 2 began they had not lost a war for several lifetimes. Their military expanded with each victory. After a while, Japanese people didn’t even believe defeat was a possibility – that their destiny was to conquer all Asia. They soon took Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Burma, the Philippines, and vast sways of mainland China. So for a while it looked as if their destiny was becoming a reality. But that was their downfall. Overconfidence meant they were unprepared to fight long wars. Two thirds of their military deaths were from illness or starvation.
The British Empire was the biggest empire in history. Built on the annexation of specific trade routes, it was the first global superpower. British naval dominance maintained the empire until after world war one, as it guaranteed valuable colonies would be kept. Diplomacy and propaganda was also used, pitting it’s subjects against each other. It was an empire of illusion, rather than steel. In 1913 the empire had 412 million subjects – that was 23 percent of the human population. 1997 is generally thought to be when the empire ended, when Hong Kong was handed back to China. This is strange as it means almost everyone I know was born in the Empire.
After the Akkadian empire fell, it was succeeded by 2 great kingdoms. To the south was Babylonia and to the north was Assyria. Where possible, the Assyrians would treat their enemies with endless brutality. People who submitted to them would also be met with brutality, either being enslaved or exiled from their own land. But those who rebelled against them would have their eyes gouged out – with their children’s execution being the last thing they saw beforehand. It was this kind of savagery that deterred rebellion, allowing Assyria to last almost 2 thousand years. When it did fall, Assyrian nobles were massacred as revenge for their tyranny.
I hope none of you will be surprised to see the Mongols on this list. Their empire was the biggest continuous land empire in history. It was built on pure brute force and psychological warfare. Before conquering a city they would send a messenger to demand surrender. No harm would come to those who did chose to surrender but unbelievable brutality would meet those who did not. When Baghdad refused to surrender, the city was sacked and it’s population massacred. It was a city rich in knowledge but the mongols destroyed it’s libraries. The city ruler was rapped up in a rug and beaten to death. This put fear into anyone else considering challenging the mongols.
In many ways, Rome was the first global power, controlling 20 percent of the human population at it’s peak. The empire stretched from Iraq to England and held full control of the Mediterranean Sea. The empire was so wealthy that entire species were hunted to extinction for Colosseum entertainment. They had elephants fighting rhinos and naval battle re-enactments. At one point, one third of Roman wealth was spent on Colosseum entertainment. They could only do that because they believed their destiny was to remain in power. Every modern European empire sought to emulate Rome in some way – that’s how much prestige is still associates with the Roman empire.