16 of the Largest Empires the World Has Seen (With Maps)

These are some of the most impressive (or fear-striking, depends on the point of view) empires the world has ever seen. The empires are shown when they were at their greatest extent.

*The territorial extents are from East-West Orientation of Historical Empires and Modern States, written by scholars from the universities of Connecticut, Rutgers, and DePauw.

1. Achaemenid Empire. 500 BC

Map of the Achaemenid Empire at its greatest extent: western Asia and a bit of northeast Africa.

(Photo: Ali Zifan/CCBYSA4.0)

Empire at greatest extent: 5,500,000 km2 (2,100,000 mi2)
Under: Darius the Great
Origin: Iran
Capital: Susa, Ecbatana, Persepolis (all in Iran), and Babylon (Iraq)
Lingua franca: Aramaic
Religion: Zoroastrianism
Countries included: all of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Afghanistan. Part of Lybia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine. And a tiny bit of Russia.
Duration of the empire: 559 – 330 BC
The scoop: there had been other great empires in the area, like Assyria and Media. Cyrus the Great conquered Media in 550 BC and expanded it, creating the Achaemenid/Persian Empire.
Centuries later, Cyrus’ empire fell to Alexander the Great, who established the Macedonian Empire instead. The Macedonian Empire covered the same territory. It had 5,200,000 km2 (2,000,000 mi2) at its height, in 323 BC.
More information: Khan 
Other maps: [1] [2]

2. Mauryan Empire. 250 BC

Map of Asia. The Mauryan empire occupies India and some territories north of India

(Photo: Thomas Lessman/CCBYSA3.0)

Empire at greatest extent: 5,000,000 km2 (1,930,000 mi2)
Under: Ashoka the Great
Origin: India
Capital: Pataliputra (India)
Lingua franca: Sanskrit and others
Religion: JainismBuddhism
Countries included: almost all India and Bangladesh. Part of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and a bit of Iran
Duration: 322 – 185 BC
The scoop: the founder of the empire was Chandragupta. The Indian ruler expelled the Macedonians (Macedonian Empire) from India. Then he conquered the different kingdoms of the Indian subcontinent and united them in the 4th century BC
More information: Khan
Other maps: [1]

Read more about Pataliputra in These Ancient Cities Had 300,000 Inhabitants Or More

3. Roman Empire. 117 AD

Map of the world. The Roman Empire covers all the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, all of Western Europe, part of Eastern Europe and western Asia.

(Photo: Heraldry/CCBYSA3.0)

Empire at greatest extent: 5,000,000 km2 (1,930,000 mi2)
Under: Trajan
Origin: Italy 
Capital: Rome
Lingua franca: Latin
Religion: Roman Polytheism. Christianity from the 4th century AD
Countries included: all Italy, France, Cyprus, Malta, Monaco, Vatican City, San Marino, Spain, Portugal, Andorra, England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro, Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine. Part of Germany, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco
Duration: 27 BC – 476 AD
Other maps: [1] [2]

4. Aksumite Empire. 350 AD

Map of Africa. Aksum occupies parts of both shores of the Red Sea.

(Photo: Trokiodero/CCBYSA4.0)

Empire at greatest extent: 1,250,000 km2 (482,000 mi2
Under: Ezana of Aksum
Origin: Ethiopia
Capital: Aksum (Ethiopia)
Lingua franca: Ge’ez
Religion: Arabian Polytheism. Christianity after 330 AD
Countries included: all Eritrea and Djibouti Part of Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia
Duration: c. 1 – 1000 AD
More information: Aksumite Empire
More maps[1]

Read more: 4 Huge African Kingdoms Nobody Told You About

5. Hunnic Empire. 441 AD

Map of Eruoasia. The Hunnic Empire covers all of Eastern Europe and most of western Asia.

(Photo: Wikimedia/Public domain)

Empire at greatest extent: 4,000,000 km2 (1,540,000 mi2)
Under: Attila the Hun
Origin: Central Asia, probably Kazakhstan
Capital: it had two capitals, one in Asia (Tongwancheng, China), one in Europe (Budapest, Hungary)
Lingua franca: Hunnic
Religion: maybe Tengrism
Countries included: all Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova. Most of Germany. Part of Austria, Serbia, Estonia, Russia, Kazakhstan. It shortly invaded, but did not hold, eastern France and northern Italy
Duration: c. 370 – c. 469
The scoop: Some scholars believe the Huns are indirectly responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire. They invaded northern Europe causing the Germanic tribes (Vandals, Visigoths, Ostrogoths) to flee south. The displaced tribes invaded Rome and brought down the Roman Empire. After the fall of Rome, the Germanic Visigoths ruled Spain and the Ostrogoths, Italy.
On the other side of Eurasia, the Chinese built the Great Wall to protect themselves against the fearsome Huns.
Other maps: [1]

6. Umayyad Caliphate. c. 750 AD

Map of the world. The caliphate covers northern Africa, plus Spain, and territories in western Asia.

(Photo: Stegop/Public domain)

Empire at greatest extent: 11,100,000 km2 (4,286,000 mi2)
Under: Marwan II
Origin: Mecca (Saudi Arabia)
Capital: Damascus (Syria)
Lingua franca: Arabic
Religion: Islam
Countries included: All Portugal, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan. Part of Spain, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Turkey, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, India, and a tidbit of Russia.
In 750 AD, when the empire was at its greatest extent, it had lost territories in Turkey, Russia, and France.
Duration: 661 – 750
The scoop: The Prophet Muhammad, who was from Arabia, conquered Arabia’s neighbors. After his death, his descendants invaded Northern Africa. Then, they crossed into Europe, submitting Portugal and most of Spain. The Muslim army made its way farther into Europe but was defeated in France by Charles Martel in 732.
The Umayyad Caliphate was one of four Islamic caliphates. They succeeded each other in the region. The Umayyad was the largest.
In the 17th century, another Islamic empire, the Ottoman, occupied some of those same lands, but had fewer territories in Africa and Asia, and more in Europe. At its height, it covered 5,200,000 km2 (2,000,000 mi2).

7. Mongol Empire. 1279 AD

Map of Asia. The Mongol Empire covers a wide strip central countries of Asia, from eastern Europe to the shores of China.

(Photo: Astrokey44 & Sting/CCBYSA2.5)

Empire at greatest extent: 24,000,000 km2 (9,250,000 mi2)
Under: Kublai Khan
Origin: Mongolia
Capital: Karakorum (Mongolia), then Beijing (China) 
Lingua franca: Mongolian
Religion: Tengrism
Countries included: all Mongolia, China, North Korea, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine. Most of Russia. Part of Belarus, Poland, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, India, Laos, Vietnam.
Also invaded/raided Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Croatia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Myanmar, Java, Japan.
Duration: 1206 – 1368
The scoop: It is the largest contiguous empire the world has ever seen. And it is the second-largest by territorial extent.
The Mongol Empire was founded by the famous Genghis Khan in 1206.
In 1241, when the Mongols were invading -and winning- in Europe, their khan, Ogedei, died. So, following their custom, the Mongols retired and returned to their capital in Asia to elect a new khan. And with that, central Europe was spared of being conquered.
Marco Polo, the Italian traveler, served Kublai Khan in his court in China.
After 1279, the Mongol Empire split into four: Yuan Dynasty, Golden Horde Khanate, Chagatai Khanate, and Ilkhanate.
More information: Britannica
Other maps [1] [2]

8. Songhai Empire. 1500 AD

Map of Africa. The Songhai Empire is on the northwestern side of Africa.

(Photo: KarnRedson/CCBYSA3.0)

Empire at greatest extent: 1,400,000 km2 (500,000 mi2)
Under: Askia the Great
Origin: Mali
Capital: Gao (Mali)
Lingua franca: Songhai and others
Religion: Traditional African religion, Islam
Countries included: all The Gambia. Most of Mali. Part of Senegal, Guinea, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Benin
Duration: 1464 – 1591
The scoop: Preceded by the Mali Empire (1235 – 1400)
More information: You may like the short article Ancient Empires of Sub-Saharan Africa. Or for a lengthy read, the book UNESCO General History of Africa, Vol IV

9. Inca Empire. 1527 AD

Map of South America. On the western side of South America, a stripe goes north to south.

(Photo: L’Americain/CCBYSA3.0)

Empire at greatest extent: 2,000,000 km2 (770,000 mi2)
Under: Atahualpa
Origin: Peru
Capital: Cuzco (Peru)
Lingua franca: Quechua
Religion: Shamanism
Countries included: Part of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and a bit of Argentina
Duration: 1438 – 1533
The scoop: The Inca Empire was the largest in pre-Columbian America
The Incas lived in the highlands, in the Andes Mountains. They did not fare well when trying to conquer coastal regions.
After Emperor Huayna Capac’s death, war ensued between his two sons. The older, Huascar, had been raised in Peru, while younger Atahualpa, son of his new wife, in Ecuador. The half-brothers had never met and mistrusted each other. Civil war broke out, and Atahualpa won. But immediately after his victory, the Spaniards arrived and conquered the weakened empire.
The tribes that had been conquered by the Incas wanted them out, so they helped the Spaniards bring down the Inca Empire.
More information: Khan, HistoryAncient History Encyclopedia
Other maps: [1] [2]

10. Spanish Empire. 1810 AD

Map of the Americas showing most of North America and South America covered in red, as well as all of Central America and the Caribbean.

(Photo: Nagihuin/CCBYSA4.0)

Empire at greatest extent: 13,700,000 km2 (5,290,000 mi2)
Under: Joseph I (Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother)
Origin: Spain
Capital: Madrid (Spain)
Lingua franca: Spanish
Religion: Christianity
Countries included: all Spain, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the Philippines. Most of the United States. Part of Canada and Italy
Duration: 1492 – 1975
More information: The unraveling of the Spanish Empire at Encyclopedia.com. You may also like The most spoken languages in the Americas
Other maps: [Spanish provinces in the Americas]

11. First French Empire. 1812 AD

Map of Europe. Most of Western Europe is colored green.

(Photo: Trajan117/CCBYSA3.0)

Empire at greatest extent: 2,100,000 km2 (810,000 mi2)
Under: Napoleon
Origin: Corsica/France
Capital: Paris (France)
Lingua franca: French
Religion: Christianity
Countries included: all France, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Andorra, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Vatican City, San Marino, Croatia. Parts of Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia. *Some of the territories were directly administered by France, others were under French control
Duration: 1804 – 1815
The scoop: After conquering several European countries, Napoleon placed his siblings on their thrones. Joseph Bonaparte became king of Spain. Their sister Elisa became the grand duchess of Tuscany; Louis, king of Holland; Pauline, duchess of Gaustalla; Caroline, queen of Naples; and Jerome Bonaparte, king of Westphalia.
The First French Empire was preceded by the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806).
Other maps: [1]

12. Qing Empire. 1820 AD

Map of Asia. The eastern side is painting in green, from China to the south.

(Photo: Jerrch and Nat/CCBYSA3.0)

Empire at greatest extent: 13,000,000 km2 (5,020,000 mi2)
Under: Yongyan
Origin: Manchuria (China)
Capital: Peking (China)
Lingua franca: Mandarin, Chinese dialects
Religion: ConfucianismTaoism, Buddhism, others
Countries included: all China, Mongolia, Taiwan, Hong Kong; and a tiny bit of Russia. Vassal states: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, North Korea, South Korea
Duration: 1644 – 1912
The scoop: The Qing Empire took over the Ming Empire and expanded it -more than doubling its size.
450 million people lived in the Qing Empire.
China has had many empires in its long history. The Han, for example, was at its height in 50 BC and covered an area of 6,000,000 km2.
The vast majority of people in modern China is of Han ethnicity, while the Qing are of another ethnicity: Manchu.
The current area of China is 9,600,000 km2 (3,700,00 mi2).
More information: DuckstersScholastic
Other maps: [1]

Read next: These 3 Atheistic Religions are Doing Just Fine Without a God

13. Second French Colonial Empire. 1920 AD

Map of the world with countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, and South America colored blue.

(Photo: Kirill/CCBYSA3.0)

Empire at greatest extent: 11,500,000 km2 (4,440,000 mi2)
Under: President Raymond Poincaré
Origin: France
Capital: Paris
Lingua franca: French
Religion: Christianity
Countries included: all France, French Guiana, Algeria, Tunisia, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Madagascar, Syria, Lebanon, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Vanuatu. Part of Morocco, Cameroon, Libya; and bits of India
Duration: 1534 – 1980
The scoop: By 1920, when this empire was at its greatest extent, France had already lost its territories in Canada and the United States

14. British Empire. 1920 AD

Map of the world with many countries in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania colored red.

(Photo: Vadac/Public domain)

Empire at greatest extent: 35,500,000 km2 (13,707,000 mi2)
Under: George VI
Origin: England
Capital: London (England)
Lingua franca: English
Religion: Christianity
Countries included: all Great Britain, Canada, Belize, Guyana, Antigua, The Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos, Falkland Islands, Malta, Cyprus, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, Egypt, Mauritius, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Brunei, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Kiribati, Maldives, Nauru, Seychelles, Soliman Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Pitcairn Islands. Part of Cameroon, Somalia, Yemen, Papua New Guinea
Duration: 1600 – 1997
The scoop: It is the largest empire the world has ever seen (by non-contiguous territory).
The British had territories in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania.
At its height, in 1920, the empire had lost its territories in the United States, Afghanistan, and other countries.
The empire began with small settlements in India in 1600. In 1607, the British established their first successful colony in the Americas: Jamestown, Virginia, U.S. Like the small colonies in India, it was sponsored by British businessmen. The colonization in earnest would begin some decades later. Here is a handy video with the expansion timeline of this empire.
More information: Britannica

15. Empire of Japan. 1938 AD

Map of Asia. The eastern coast is colored red including bits of China,  the south, and all the islands.

(Photo: Wikimedia/CCBYSA3.0)

Empire at greatest extent: 8,500,000 km2 (3,282,000 mi2)
Under: Emperor Hirohito
Origin: Japan
Capital: Tokyo (Japan)
Lingua franca: Japanese
Religion: Shinto
Countries included: all Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Brunei, Hong Kong. Part of China, Papua New Guinea, and a Russian island (Sakhalin)
Duration: 1868 – 1947
The scoop: Hirohito was the 124th Japanese emperor. He ruled for 62 years
Other maps: [1] [2]

16. The Soviet Union. c. 1960 AD

Map of the world. The northern half of Asia is painted green.

(Photo: Realismadder/CCBYSA3.0)

Empire at greatest extent: 22,500,000 km2 (8,690,000 mi2)
Under: Nikita Krushchev
Origin: Russia
Capital: Moscow (Russia)
Lingua franca: Russian
Religion: None/atheism
Countries included: all Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Moldova, Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Estonia
Duration: 1922-1991
The scoop: Under the tzars, in 1895, Russia had slightly more territory: 22,800,000 km2 (8,800,000 mi2). The boundaries of both empires were slightly different. The tsarist empire included more European territories than the USSR, such as Finland and Poland.
Today, Russia is the largest country in the world by far, covering 17,100,000 km2 (6,600,000 mi2). The next countries in size are Canada, China, the United States, and Brazil, each within the 3,000,000 mi2 range.
Other maps: [1] [2] [3]

The same empires ordered by size:

1- British Empire: 35,500,000 km2 (13,707,000 mi2)

2- Mongol Empire: 24,000,000 km2 (9,250,000 mi2)

3- Russian Empire/Soviet Union: 22,800,000 km2 (8,690,000 mi2)

4- Spanish Empire: 13,700,000 km2 (5,290,000 mi2)

5- Qing Empire: 13,000,000 km2 (5,020,000 mi2)

6- Second French Colonial Empire: 11,500,000 km2 (4,440,000 mi2)

7- Umayyad Caliphate: 11,100,000 km2 (4,285,734 mi2)

8- Empire of Japan: 8,500,000 km2 (3,282,000 mi2)

9- Achaemenid Empire: 5,500,000 km2 (2,100,000 mi2)

10- Mauryan Empire: 5,000,000 km2 (1,930,511 mi2)

11- Roman Empire: 5,000,000 km2 (1,930,511 mi2)

12- Hunnic Empire: 4,000,000 km2 (1,544,409 mi2)

13- First French Empire: 2,100,000 km2 (810,000 mi2)

14- Inca Empire: 2,000,000 km2 (770,000 mi2)

15- Aksumite Empire: 1,250,000 km2 (482,000 mi2)

16- Songhai Empire: 1,400,000 km2 (500,000 mi2)

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2019-08-12
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