Leaders throughout time and region have believed that increasing their physical land holdings will somehow make them immune to the troubles that many other countries had. In addition these leaders believed that no matter how their subjects were treated, the citizens were better off in an empire versus a smaller country or land holding. This belief was flawed as all but one empire has found out. The one remaining empire is starting to feel the pain that having numerous ethnic groups as well as political interests can cause. No matter what the rulers at the time felt, an empire caused by imperialism is highly unlikely to succeed over the long term due to multiple reasons. All of those empires that collapsed have similar causes as well as their own unique reasons for the failure.
Imperialism is the term that explains why leaders have created empires by acquiring colonies by both economic and militarily means. There are many reasons why an empire can fall. The main reasons that many empires collapse are; that they get to big, they do not treat their citizens well, they expect too much without compensation, and/or they fail in battle. Good examples of empires that were strong and then failed due to numerous of the previous reasons; The Roman Empire which ruled from 27 BC to 476/1453 AD, the Mongol Empire that ruled from 1206 to 1368, the Ottoman Empire that ruled from 1299-1922, and British Empire ruling from 1497 to modern day.
The Roman Empire is still one that is considered the greatest empire of all time. Not only was it a strong military power, but their devotion to humanity and all things beautiful rivals many of their successors. The Roman Empire came to be though conflict and it was not long before the entire Italian peninsula was controlled by the Roman emperor. At its height, the population was hovering around 60 millions subjects and covered more land than modern day India. The Roman Empire mostly occupied much of modern day Europe all the way to Syria. The Romans ruled their empire by giving security and a level of refinery. While the exact reason for the decline and fall are speculated, there are some reasons that led to the fall that are considered important. These reasons are the separation due to its overall size, and the method that the leaders ruled. With out countries coming into power around Rome, it was not surprising that those living on the outskirts started to look towards a better life. The leaders however wanted to maintain the status quo and subjects started to rise up against the empire.
The Mongol Empire came to power in similar fashion as Rome; however Genghis Khan, a great leader first brought smaller tribes together to form the basis of the Mongol Empire. To extend their territory, Genghis created a military that was second to none. The Mongols were not as refined or “civilized” as the Romans, and due to that saw more strife on a daily basis. Life was harder in Mongol territory and so much of their resources came from spoils of war. The Mongols ruled their empire with more of an iron fist than the Romans did. Unlike the Romans however, the Mongols did not settle early on with a dedicated empire but continued to increase it though most of its reign. Due to this method of creation however, the end was destined to be when Genghis died. In many empires there is a line of succession and that extends power over a longer period. When Genghis died, it was up to his family to decide who was going to be next, and that resulted in internal strife and eventually civil way among the tribes that were united under Genghis, but wanted more after him. His sons and brothers first divided up the land into separate regions that all answered to the same individual. As these individual leaders all had different methods of leading, it was soon before these leaders began to fight among themselves.
While the previous two empires declined long before the industrial revolution or the creation of the United States. The next two empires however, saw great changes in the overall world order, and their rise to power, and decline while similar to the previous two, show some differences that come from events that occurred during their ten year. The Ottoman Empire coming to power in 1299 saw the declines of both the Mongols and the Romans. This gave the Ottoman’s a view of what could go wrong, and how to change it. The Ottoman Empire began in modern day Istanbul and though brute force conquered most of Asia Minor along with some of southern Europe. While they may have gained though force, not all of the smaller regional rulers ruled that way. Rulers in modern day Serbia and Romania were art loving, and mostly peaceful rulers. The end for the Ottoman wasn’t due to internal strife as much as it was a general change to the world’s political atmosphere. The Ottoman Empire grew so fast that when the population began to decline, much of its power also declined. Although issues were present when ruling that large of an area, it was not until World War I that the Ottoman Empire was forced to disband, and therefore disappear.
During the time of Ottoman Empire another empire arose that as of 2012 still exists at a much smaller scale as it once was. The British Empire came to power during the time of the Ottoman Empire; therefore there was some tension for land control. The one thing that the British did not learn from previous empires was how to treat their subjects. When countries started to realize that independence was not to be feared, and that the British were no longer able to provide the military and economic security needed for such a large empire, colonies such as Australia and India started to separate themselves from the United Kingdom. The British Empire has declined due to its policies but to this day is still considered an Empire. However, while there are still countries that use British money, most have their own governments and are not officially part of the British Empire.
With each empire there was a height and then a slow decline, for the Ottoman Empire it was more of a requirement to dissolve versus by choice. Regardless of the tempo all four of these empires have fallen due to internal and external influences. With that, it is apparent that empires are unable to last, especially during the modern era where individuality is at times more important than nationality. This may affect the current empire like countries in the world, or they may use the lessons from the past to better understand how to maintain equality for all.
Hyam, Ronald. Understanding the British Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Kelly, Christopher. The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Munkler, Herfried, Empires: The logic of World Domination from Ancient Rome to the United States. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2007.
Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire 1700-1922. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2005