An empire comprises many territories ruled by one centralized governing body, often an emperor or other monarch. As long as humans have had aspirations to rule, there have been empires. Some date back more than 4,500 years, almost to the end of the Stone Age.
Some empires are short-lived, while others endure for centuries. Even those that disappear within a few hundred years can make a significant impact, imparting lasting influence on the arts, science, government, commerce, farming techniques, tradesmen crafts, religion, and urban development, among other human endeavors.
To determine the longest-lived empires in history, 24/7 Tempo reviewed numerous articles, encyclopedia entries, and historical and archeological websites, among the Britannica, World History, HistoryFiles, New World Encyclopedia, and Maps of India.
In many instances, it is impossible to determine a precise founding date for an empire, either because there are no trustworthy historical records or because some empires come into being slowly, beginning with minor dynasties that may turn into empires. It is also sometimes difficult to pinpoint the exact end of a declining empire unless it was conquered definitively. The date ranges given, then, are often approximate, and may be contested. (These are ancient civilizations destroyed by natural disasters.)
Whatever their lifespan, running an empire was a difficult task. Some managed to hold farflung possessions by allowing varying degrees of autonomy. That was one of the factors that allowed the Holy Roman Empire to last as long as it did. Other empires, such as the Saudeleur Dynasty in what is now Pohnpei island, in the Federated States of Micronesia in the South Pacific, imposed a strong centralized government. (These are the 50 most powerful leaders of all time.)
This list includes some of the most famous empires in human history – the Roman, the Ottoman, the Byzantine, and the British among them. Less well-known but no less interesting are the three empires that fought for supremacy in Korea for decades – the Goryeo, Paekche, and Silla kingdoms.
Click here to see the longest-lived empires in history
Among the many African-based empires on the list is Abyssinia (Ethiopian Empire), which succeeded in fending off European colonization. One of the longest-lasting empires in South America was the Wari civilization that lasted for 500 years and preceded the arrival of the Spanish by half a millenium.
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