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

16 Empires from around the world, at their greatest extent

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 extent is taken from: East-West Orientation of Historical Empires and Modern States, a paper by scholars from the universities of Connecticut, Rutgers, and DePaw.

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: Zoroastrism
Countries included: all of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Afghanistan; and parts 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. But Cyrus’ empire fell to Alexander the Great who established the Macedonian Empire instead. The Macedonian Empire covered 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 of India and Bangladesh: parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and a bit of Iran
Duration: 322–185 BC
The scoop: the founder of the empire was Chandragupta who expelled the Macedonians from his territories and then conquered and united the Indian subcontinent in the 4th century BC
More information: Khan
Other maps: [1]

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 of Italy, France, Cyprus, Malta, Monaco, Vatican City, San Marino, Spain, Portugal, Andorra, England, Wales, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro, Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine; and parts 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 of Eritrea and Djibouti; parts of Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia
Duration: c.1–1000 AD
More information: Aksumite Empire
More maps[1]

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: in Asia, Tongwancheng (China); in Europe, Budapest (Hungary)
Lingua franca: Hunnic
Religion: maybe Tengrism
Countries included: all of Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova; most of Germany; parts of Austria, Serbia, Estonia, Russia, Kazakhstan. 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 and invade Rome, which marked the end of the Roman Empire. After the fall of Rome the Visigoths ruled Spain, while the Ostrogoths, Italy.
The Chinese built the Great Wall to protect themselves against the 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 of Portugal, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan; parts of Spain, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Turkey, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, India, and a tidbit of Russia. In 750, when the empire was at its greatest extent, it had already 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 and crossed into Europe, submitting Portugal and most of Spain. Then, the Muslim army made its way further into Europe but was defeated in France by Charles Martel in 732.
The Umayyad Caliphate was one of four Islamic caliphates that succeeded one another 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 less 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 of Mongolia, China, North Korea, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine; most of Russia; parts 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 famous Genghis Khan in 1206.
In 1241, when the Mongols were invading -and winning- in Europe, their khan, Ogedei, died so they returned to their capital in Asia to elect a new khan. Because of it most of Europe was spared.
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 of 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: Parts of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and a bit of Argentina
Duration: 1438-1533
The scoop: The Inca Empire was the largest of 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, the other, Atahualpa, son of his new wife, in Ecuador. The 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 -with the aid of the tribes that wanted to oust the Incas.
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’s brother)
Origin: Spain
Capital: Madrid (Spain)
Lingua franca: Spanish
Religion: Christianity
Countries included: all of Spain, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Venezuela, 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 of France, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Lichtenstein, 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: Preceded by the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806). 
Napoleon placed his siblings on the throne of several European countries: Joseph Bonaparte became king of Naples and then Spain, Elisa became the grand duchess of Tuscany; Louis, king of Holland; Pauline, duchess of Gaustalla; Caroline, queen of Naples (after Joseph was made king of Spain); Jerome, king of Westphalia.
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 of China, Mongolia, Taiwan, Hong Kong; 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 are of Han ethnicity, while the Qing are Manchu.
The current area of China is 9,600,000 km2 (3,700,00 mi2).
More information: DuckstersScholastic
Other maps: [1]

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 of 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 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 of 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.
By 1920 it had already lost its territories in the United States, Afghanistan, and other countries.
At its height it had territories in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania.
The empire began with small settlements in India in 1600. In 1607 the first successful British colony in the Americas was established in Jamestown. Like the small colonies in India, it was sponsored by private British businessmen. The colonization in earnest would begin some decades later. Here is a handy video with the expansion timeline of this vast 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 of 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. 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 of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Moldova, Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Estonia
Duration: 1922-1991
The scoop: Under the tzars Russia had slightly more territory: 22’800,000 km2 (8,800,000 mi2) in 1895. The boundaries of the empire were slightly different from those of the USSR, for the Russian Empire included more European territories 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, US, 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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