Largest Empires In Human History

The British flag. The British Empire was the largest in history.

An empire is a group of nations or people that are under the rule of a powerful government or an emperor of a territory usually larger than a kingdom. An empire can feature nations or territories that are far from the empire itself or contiguous territories. Below are some of the largest empires in human history.

Largest Empires In Human History

Great Britain

The British Empire was the largest empire in human history whose greatest extent during its zenith was in the 1920s CE. The empire consisted of mandates, protectorates, colonies, dominions, and other territories administered and controlled by the UK and its forerunner states. The British Empire ruled over 23% of the total population in the world equivalent to 412 million by 1913 and covered about 24% of the Earth's total land area equivalent to about 13,000,000 square miles by 1920. As a result, the Empire’s linguistics, political, cultural and legal legacy became widespread, and it is still felt in different parts of the world.

Presently, Britain retains sovereignty of more than 14 territories outside of British Isle, and they have been renamed the British Overseas. Some of the territories are not inhabited and are used only for military and scientific personnel, and the others are independent but rely on the UK for defense and foreign relations. The British government has indicated willingness to assist any of the overseas territories willing to pursue independence. However, three territories chose to remain under the British sovereignty, and they include Bermuda, Gibraltar, and the Falkland Islands.


The Mongol Empire was history's largest contiguous land empire, reigning throughout the 13th and 14th centuries. The empire whose greatest extent was during the 1280 CE emerged from the amalgamation of nomadic tribes found in Northeast Asia. The vast empire extended from the steppes of Central Asia covering all the way to central Europe and as far as to the Sea of Japan. To the northern part, it extended as far as Siberia, while to the southwards and eastwards into Iranian plateau, Indochina, and the Indian subcontinent. To the westwards, it stretched as far as Arabian Peninsula and the Levant. The empire rose to prominence under the leadership of Genghis Khan who was declared ruler in 1206. The empire covered an area of 12,750,000 square miles the Mongol Empire is the second largest in human history.


The Russian Empire experienced their greatest extent during the 1860s CE although a state that was also known as Russia existed between 1721 and 1917 when it was overthrown by the February Revolution. With about 8,833,000 square miles the empire stretched to more than three continents. The Empire played a significant role in defeating Napoleon's aspirations of taking over Europe.


With 7,500,000 square miles, the Spanish Empire was one of the history's largest empires whose greatest extent was during the 1790s CE. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, under the leadership of the Spanish Habsburgs, the empire's economic, political and military power reached its heights. During the 18th century, under the leadership of the House of Bourbon, it became the world's largest empire. The empire's legacy features cultural and linguistic influences making Spanish the world's second most spoken language. Also, the long era of Spanish colonization resulted in the mixing of some people such as the Hispanics who are a mixture of indigenous and European ancestry.


The Umayyad Caliphate was among the four great caliphates founded after Mohammad's death. The Umayyad Caliphate was concentrated on the Umayyad dynasty originating from Mecca. During the caliphates greatest extent in 700 CE, it covered an area of about 5,800,000 square miles and swayed over 29% of the population in the world equivalent to 62 million people. The caliphate's legacy was marked by mass conversions into Islam, the use of Arabic as the administrative language and the construction of popular buildings.


The Yuan Dynasty of China was among the largest empires in human history founded by Kublai Khan who was the leader of the Mongolian Borjigin. Kublai placed Genghis Khan, his grandfather as the official founder of the dynasty. The dynasty's greatest extent existed in 1300 CE covering an area of about 5,417,000 square miles. One of the Yuan Dynasty's most significant achievements was the unification of the territory and certain developments featured in the natural sciences and technology sectors.


Officially known as the Great Qing, the Qing dynasty is also referred to as the Qing Empire, and it was China's last imperial dynasty existing between 1644 and 1912. The Qing Empire was preceded by the Ming Empire and eventually the Republic of China. The greatest extent of the dynasty existed during the late 1700s CE covering an area of 5,000,000 square miles. The Qing legacy leaves behind a rich history in literature, culture, cuisine and arts.


The French Colonial Empire was at its strongest in the 17th century, although decolonization did not distinctly occur until the year 1960. At a time, it was among the largest in human history with 4,750,000 square miles in 1920 and a population of 110 million people in 1939. The French colonial empire encouraged the spread of the Catholic Religion, the French language, and civilization.


The Abbasid Caliphate was among the four major caliphates established after Prophet Muhammad's death. The caliphate descended from the youngest uncle of Muhammad known as Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib. The caliphate's government was initially centered in Kufa. The greatest extent of the caliphate took place during the 9th Century CE covering an area of 4,300,000 square miles. During the prime era of the Abbasid Caliphate, the city of Baghdad became a hub for culture, philosophy, science, and technology during the Golden Age of Islam.


The Portuguese Empire was the first colonial empire. Existing for almost six centuries, it was also among the largest empires in human history. The empire's greatest extent took place during the early 1900s when the empire occupied an area of about 4,000,000 square miles. The Portuguese Empire's legacy features about eight of its former colonies who use Portuguese as their official language. Together with Portugal they make up the Community of Portuguese Language Countries.

What Makes An Empire?

What constitutes an empire and how to calculate the area coverage has been controversial, and according to Rein Taagepera, it is any relatively large sovereign political entity whose components are not sovereign, and the area coverage of the empire has undisputed taxation and military prerogatives. The earth surface covers an area of 57,500,000 Square miles, and most of these empires occupied area surface equivalent to 2% to about 24% of the earth surface area.

Largest Empires In Human History

RankLargest Empires, Zenith In HistoryArea of Realm
1Great Britain, 1920s CE13,000,000 square miles
2Mongols, 1280 CE12,750,000 square miles
3Russia, 1860s CE8,833,000 square miles
4Spain, 1790s CE7,500,000 square miles
5Umayyad, c. 700 CE5,800,000 square miles
6Yuan, c. 1300 CE5,417,000 square miles
7Qing, Late 1700s CE5,000,000 square miles
8France, 1918-1939 CE4,750,000 square miles
9Abbasid, 9th Century CE4,300,000 square miles
10Portugal, Early 19th Century4,000,000 square miles

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