The first recorded empire in history was established roughly 4,300 years ago by Sargon the Great ago in ancient Mesopotamia. Historians now call this the Akkadian Empire, after the capital city of Akkad. This empire must have seemed enormous at the time, considering it encompassed much of the known world. However with historical data on our side, it was by no means anywhere close to on of the largest empires by land mass.
Since this very first empire there have been hundreds more throughout history. In fact empires lasted all the way until the mid 20th century, with the fall of the British empire following the devastation of World War II.
There is a case to be made that the United States in its current form is an empire (an economic based one, instead of military/territorial one), though that isn’t quite as relevant for the purposes of this post.
When looking across history the 5 empires listed below were the largest ever recorded, with territory spanning millions of square miles.
Largest Empires by Land Mass
The 5 largest empires by land mass consist of the following:
- British Empire: 13 million square miles around 1920
- Mongol Empire: 12.8 million square miles around 1280
- Russian Empire: 8.8 million square miles around 1860
- Spanish Empire: 7.5 million square miles around 1790
- Umayyad Empire: 5.8 million square miles around 700
For comparison, the earth’s surface consists of roughly 57.5 million squre miles. This means that the British empire covered nearly 23% of the world at one time – a stunning figure.
A few interesting notes on each of the empires can be found below:
The British empire holds the title of largest empire ever by land mass. It’s influence was far reaching as the empire maintained possessions on virtually every continent. The empire reached it’s apex during the reign of Queen Victoria – one of the 5 longest reigning British monarchs.
Utilizing it’s world class navy, and professionally maintained colonial army, the British were able to successfully hold these possessions until its collapse following the devastation of World War II.
The British empire just beat out the Mongol empire for pure size, but the Mongol empire has the claim for largest contiguous land empire.
The sheer enormity of the empire is tough to imagine, with it’s land extending east to west from the Sea of Japan to Central Europe. North to South it reached Siberia, as well as the Indian subcontinent, down westward to the Arabian peninsula.
The Russian empire also consisted of a massive stretch of land across 3 continents. Much of this land was sparsely populated due to the climate, including the vast stretches of Siberia and Alaska.
However, the Russian empire was essential in several large scale conflicts, including the defeat of Napoleon.
The Spanish empire has a firm legacy, especially in the America’s where it played the role of colonizer. By toppling the existing Aztec and Incan empires, the Spanish found themselves rulers of a vast swath of territory, spanning from Mexico, California and Florida, down to the tip of South America.
The empire ruled over so many people that Spanish is now the second most spoken language in the world.
Perhaps the least known empire on this list, the Umayyad empire was one of the four great caliphates founded following the death of the prophet Mohammed.
Through its influence, it oversaw the conversion of millions to Islam and the Arabic language.
Source: World Atlas