6 Empires That Changed the World

  • The Bayezid Mosque
The Bayezid Mosque
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Much of human history has been defined by the actions of around 50 to 70 empires that once ruled large swathes of people across vast chunks of the globe. Each of these empires, whether large or small, for ill or for good, has influenced world history. It’s hard to say which has had the greatest impact on society — it is, after all, somewhat subjective and hard to measure — but some have undeniably shaped the course of human history, forever and irrevocably. Here are six such empires, from the mighty Persians to the globe-spanning British. 

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Persian Empire

Around 550 BCE, Cyrus II of Persia — later to be known as Cyrus the Great — conquered a number of neighboring kingdoms, including Media and Babylon, and brought them together under his control. In so doing, he founded the first Persian Empire, also known as the Achaemenid Empire. Centered in modern-day Iran, it became one of the largest empires in history, stretching from Egypt and the Balkans to parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. For more than two centuries, the empire was a global center of culture, religion, science, arts, and technology. But then came the Persian ruler Xerxes, whose failed invasion of Greece in 480 BCE brought about a period of decline. Weakened, the Persian Empire eventually fell in 330 BCE at the hands of the invading armies of Alexander the Great of Macedonia. 

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Roman Empire 

Following a period of unrest and civil wars — including the assassination of Julius Caesar — the Roman Republic came to an end and Augustus Caesar was crowned the first ruler of the new Roman Empire in 27 BCE. At its height in 117 CE, Rome controlled all the land from Western Europe to the Middle East, and was the most powerful political and military entity the world had yet seen. The impact of the Roman Empire on the modern world is hard to overstate. Our art, architecture, laws, technology, and engineering — even the very words we speak — have all been heavily influenced by the ancient Romans. But even an empire as mighty as Rome was destined to fall. A series of Gothic invasions heralded a general decline, and in 476 CE, the Western Roman Empire fell. The Eastern Roman Empire — also known as the Byzantine Empire — remained until 1453, but the glory days of the Roman Empire had reached their end. 

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