View Poll Results: The Greatest Empire in History?

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  • Persian Empire

    0 0%
  • Roman Empire

    30 51.72%
  • Han Empire

    4 6.90%
  • Mayan Empire

    0 0%
  • Mongol Empire

    3 5.17%
  • Portuguese Empire

    0 0%
  • Spanish Empire

    0 0%
  • Russian Empire

    1 1.72%
  • French Empire

    2 3.45%
  • British Empire

    27 46.55%
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Thread: The Greatest Empire in History

  1. #1
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    The Greatest Empire in History

    There's a thread bumping around about American exceptionalism, and a common theme in that thread is noting that many great nations have exceptionalist viewpoints and tendencies.

    Over the course of the thread, one user posted a poem as a response to Rudyard Kipling's 'White Man's Burden', a sort of nod to American imperialism in the Philippines marking the US's transition from upstart colony to proper colonial power.

    The poem is extremely well-done, and I am in total awe at how perfectly it nails the response to Kipling. It can be found here:

    Ex-Conservative: The Judgment of Peers

    You'll note that the poem evokes the imagery of the great empires of the world judging America on its imperial capability -- and this imagery got me thinking about the empires of the past.

    So, Debate Politics, vote, for which you think the greatest empire in history was!



    Your options, in chronological order:

    The Persian Empire -- It gets a mention because it was the first empire in recorded history, and brought some pretty revolutionary ideas into common use, like codified law and local government.

    The Roman Empire -- The ancient world's most extensive, and certainly most famous empire. Lasted for an exceptionally long time, especially if you think of the Byzantine Empire as a direct continuation of the Roman Empire, though this isn't well-advised, as the institutional differences between them were vast. Still, there's no doubting that Rome's literature, architecture, philosophy and engineering has made a lasting impression on Europe, and thus the world.

    The Han Empire -- A shining page in Chinese history, in which figures from earlier ages like Confucius and Sun Tzu were mythified and spread across Asia. Impressive legal reforms and a (relatively) meritocratic examination system meant that all of East Asia, from Vietnam, to China, to Mongolia, to Korea to Japan all sought to emulate the Han Empire in the following centuries.

    The Mayan Empire -- Though lost to history and the creep of the jungle, Mayan ruins still tell a story of a civilisation with unique ideas about cosmology and theology. It stretched over much of modern-day Mexico and Central America until the mysterious Mayan Collapse -- the reasons for which no one is quite sure.

    The Mongol Empire -- Through the iron will of one fierce leader, the Mongols were the scourge of the Mediaeval world, and conquered southern Russia, Central Asia, the Middle East and even China. After Genghis Khan's death, the Mongols fractured into four 'hordes', evoking imagery of Alexander the Great's successor kingdoms. While the Mongols were eventually driven out by the Russians, Arabs and Persians, they managed to hold on to China for another century. Often depicted as an unstoppable horde of mounted warriors, what the Mongol Empire lacked in administrative capability, it made up for in strength of arms.

    The Portuguese Empire -- The first global empire! Portuguese navigators sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, and showed up in places as far apart as Brazil and Macau off of mainland China, with trading posts by way of Africa and India. Though her influence has waned tremendously, Portugal's exploration paved the way for the next six centuries of European colonialism.

    The Spanish Empire -- At one point stretching from California to Florida to Argentina, Spain's legacy on the New World is unsurpassed in terms of demographics, culture and language. Spain's conquistadors brought about the apocalyptic destruction of the Incas and Aztecs; colonised the New World and sent traders around the Old; and by the time they were done Spain had become so rich that even a moderately wealthy hidalgo wouldn't work a day in his life. Not to say it was not without issues -- Bartolomeo de las Casas was an outspoken critic of Spain's brutal slavery and serfdom systems in the New World.

    The Russian Empire -- The largest contiguous land empire in history (by most counts), the Russian Empire spanned the crown of the world from Alaska to Poland and Finland. An evocative image is the fact that if you were born in 1800, you were more likely than not to live somewhere to the south of the Russian Empire. Even more evocatively, this remains true today. An old and vast country, the Russian Empire inspired both a Northern European Renaissance in beautiful cities like St Petersburg, while remaining shockingly backwards for a European country, only abolishing serfdom in 1862 -- the year before the US abolished slavery.

    The French Empire -- Often called the 'liberal empire' (though this may not seem like such a compliment to some at Debate Politics), revolutionary and Napoleonic France was an intellectual and military powerhouse. Not only did it conquer Europe with one hand and hold off the British with the other, it instituted sweeping revolutionary reform everywhere it went, and its legal system (Napoleon's Civil Law) is now the most widely used legal system on Earth. It was so powerful, both ideationally and practically, that even in defeat at the end of the Waterloo Campaign, it retained a seat at the council presiding over its own peace treaty.

    The British Empire -- The largest empire the world has ever seen, conquering almost a third of the world and leaving its mark indelibly upon modern life. The architect of the Industrial Revolution, international diplomacy, modern civil reforms and labour laws, it is very true to say that we still live in the world created by the British Empire today. For more than a century it remained the foremost global power, administering and arbiting international disputes around the world. With territory on every continent on Earth, there was no corner of the globe that did not feel the power of the British Empire.


    That's it guys, hope you liked the write-ups -- and go vote!

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    Re: The Greatest Empire in History

    The Roman Empire, hands down, greatest empire ever. You can't even argue with this.

    Then I'd vote for French and British empires.

    French because the legacy of the Bonaparte conquests are things that are less visible today if you don't know what to look for but they are impacting us every day, like, the standardized metric system and driving on the correct side of the road. Ofc, there are many other heritages but these 2 are subtle and less known of.

    And ofc, the British empire. The great colonizer and spreader of civilization. It industrialized itself via the industrial revolution and civilized the world and because of its global reach, it ended slavery in 1/3rd of the world directly. And ofc, English supplanted French for the first time in the west as the international language in the late late XIXth century.

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    Re: The Greatest Empire in History

    The American Empire is the greatest in history. It's the only one that has ever truly been global.

    The entire world is more or less "Americanized" today.

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    Re: The Greatest Empire in History

    Quote Originally Posted by Rainman05 View Post
    The Roman Empire, hands down, greatest empire ever. You can't even argue with this.

    Then I'd vote for French and British empires.

    French because the legacy of the Bonaparte conquests are things that are less visible today if you don't know what to look for but they are impacting us every day, like, the standardized metric system and driving on the correct side of the road. Ofc, there are many other heritages but these 2 are subtle and less known of.

    And ofc, the British empire. The great colonizer and spreader of civilization. It industrialized itself via the industrial revolution and civilized the world and because of its global reach, it ended slavery in 1/3rd of the world directly. And ofc, English supplanted French for the first time in the west as the international language in the late late XIXth century.
    I could absolutely argue against the Roman empire. Did their reach expand in to East Asia? The Americas?

    Culturally, militarily, and economically, the United States is the most powerful country in the history of the world.

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    Re: The Greatest Empire in History

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Grimm View Post
    The American Empire is the greatest in history. It's the only one that has ever truly been global.

    The entire world is more or less "Americanized" today.
    I think it could be equally (and more convincingly) argued that America is 'British' fundamentally in its culture and institutional history. Obviously not what you're wanting to hear, but I have to admit I think that America's global power is A) Significantly less than Britain's at its height and B) Fundamentally not dissimilar to British ideas of how the world should be. America is a product of Britain, directly, and 'Americanization' appears to me to have all the hallmarks of Britain's 'civilising' quest.

    Plus, the British Empire was totally global, too.

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    Re: The Greatest Empire in History

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Grimm View Post
    I could absolutely argue against the Roman empire. Did their reach expand in to East Asia? The Americas?

    Culturally, militarily, and economically, the United States is the most powerful country in the history of the world.
    In objective terms, certainly. But in historical context, certainly not!

    In historical context, of the empires listed, all of them but the Mayan and Portuguese Empires were comparatively more powerful in their heyday.

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    Re: The Greatest Empire in History

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Grimm View Post
    I could absolutely argue against the Roman empire. Did their reach expand in to East Asia? The Americas?

    Culturally, militarily, and economically, the United States is the most powerful country in the history of the world.
    yeah that's right, compare the USA today with a civilization that existed in a whole different era. In a pre-industrial revolution era.

    Yeah, you sure are #1 all time. That comment proves it beyond doubt.



    EDIT: This isn't an attempt to mock america or americans. But to mock the mentality of Peter Grimm and the likes of him.

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    Re: The Greatest Empire in History

    The Roman Empire. No doubt in my mind.

    I would argue that the Byzantine Empire is legitimately the Roman Empire. The Byzantines certainly saw themselves as Roman - even if they were Hellenistic - and the land itself was part of the empire. Rome existed for something close to 1800 years and was the dominant polity for at least half that time. Add to that the fact that even today we - and much of the western world - still feel their influence it's hard to argue against them as the greatest empire.
    Don't be a grammar nazi - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 1 #7

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    Re: The Greatest Empire in History

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Grimm View Post
    The American Empire is the greatest in history. It's the only one that has ever truly been global.

    The entire world is more or less "Americanized" today.
    Rome was effectively global given what the known world looked like to them at the time.

    And Americanized, quite frankly means Romanized to a large extent given how Rome influenced - and still influences - Europe and America
    Don't be a grammar nazi - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 1 #7

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    Re: The Greatest Empire in History

    Quote Originally Posted by Ad_Captandum View Post
    I think it could be equally (and more convincingly) argued that America is 'British' fundamentally in its culture and institutional history. Obviously not what you're wanting to hear, but I have to admit I think that America's global power is A) Significantly less than Britain's at its height and B) Fundamentally not dissimilar to British ideas of how the world should be. America is a product of Britain, directly, and 'Americanization' appears to me to have all the hallmarks of Britain's 'civilising' quest.

    Plus, the British Empire was totally global, too.
    First, I think America sucks in a lot of major ways so don't get the false impression that I'm over here rooting for "team America." Objectively and rationally, though, you'd have to be a fool not to see the influence America exerts on the rest of the world.

    The majority of that influence is not centralized nor is it intentional. For example and incidentally, we are communicating via the internet (an American invention), hosted on an American server. You are probably listening to some form of modern music (jazz, blues, rock, hip hop, rap, etc all invented in America), or watching television (American invention), or enjoying indoor lighting (American), or driving your car (American) or flying a plane (American) etc etc etc.

    A large part of America's greater influence relative to the other empires on your list is simply the fact that in the modern world, we are all much more connected. In the days of the Empire (British), someone in China or Saudi Arabia could be fairly insulated from British influence. Today, you can go to the most remote corners of the world, for example the jungles of Africa, and young men will listen to American rap music and wear t-shirts and jeans (American inventions both).

    Some of America's influence and power is most certainly centralized and intentional. For example, I think we have something nutty like half the world's military spending or something like that. I'd have to check. Either way, it's ridiculous and overt hegemony. We control the world's energy supply, both via strategic military intervention, and also via control of the world's currency. Speaking of currency, over half of the world's gold resides in the United States.

    The United States dominates two oceans, and takes up nearly an entire continent full of nearly every natural resource we could ever need. You can't compare that to even the British Empire at its height.

    I would rank the British Empire at #2.


    I think the best argument one could make for the Roman Empire is the lasting effects it's had on the world we live in today. Roman culture shaped Western European culture (and eastern, to an extent), which in turn shaped American culture.

    So in that sense, it depends greatly on how you define "greatest." Relative to its own time, the Americans win. Taking in to consideration the cumulative and lingering effects of the empire, the Romans take the prize.

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