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Scholars debate what exactly constitutes an Empire (from the Latin "imperium", denoting military command within the ancient Roman government). Generally, they may define an empire as a state that extends dominion over areas and populations distinct culturally and ethnically from the culture/ethnicity at the center of power. Like other states, an empire maintains its political structure at least partly by coercion. Land-based empires (such as the Mongol Empire or the Achaemenid Persia) tend to extend in a contiguous area; sea-borne empires, also known as thalassocracies (the Athenian and British empires provide examples), may feature looser structures and more scattered territories.

Empires predate the Romans by several hundred years: Egypt, for example, set up an empire in the 16th century BC by invading and then incorporating Nubia and the ancient city-states of the Levant. The Akkadian Empire of Sargon of Akkad exists as one of the earliest models of a far-flung, land-based empire. Empire contrasts with the example of a federation, where a large, multi-ethnic state — or even an ethnically homogeneous one like Japan or a small area like Switzerland — relies on mutual agreement amongst its component political units which retain a high degree of autonomy. Additionally, one can compare physical empires with potentially more abstract or less formally structured hegemonies, in which the sphere of influence of a single political unit (such as a city-state) dominates a culturally unified area politically or militarily. A second side of this same coin shows in potentially inherent tactics of divide and conquer by different factions ("the enemy of my enemy is my friend") and central intervention for the greater whole's benefit.

Image:Austria hungary 1911.jpg
Ethnicities within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, from William R. Shepherd, Historical Atlas, 1911: compare nation-state.


[edit] Imperial systems

What constitutes an empire is subject to wide debate and varied definitions. An empire can be described as any state pursuing imperial policies, can be defined traditionally, or can be examined as a political structure, for example.

Alexander J. Motyl provides a theoretical framework for examining the structure of empire. First, in an empire there must be a core and a periphery. The empire's structure relates the core elite to the peripheral elite in a mutually beneficial fashion. Such as relationship can be established through any number of means, be they aggressive, coercive, or consensual. And while there is a vertical relationship between the core and periphery, there is a lack of substantive relations between periphery and periphery.<ref name="motyl">Motyl, Alexander J. [2001]. Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 13, 19-21, 32-36. ISBN 0-231-12110-5.</ref> This relationship he describes as an incomplete wheel: there are hubs and spokes, but no rim.

Motyl describes three types of imperial structures: continuous, discontinuous, and hybrid. In a continuous empire, all the terrritories are adjacent to one another on land.<ref name="motyl" /> The Mongol Empire, Russian Empire, Aztec Empire, and Akkadian Empire are examples of such continuous empires. A discontinuous empire is one in which the ruled territories are overseas or are exclaves far from the imperial core. Maritime empires, such as the European colonial empires, are examples of discontinuous empire.<ref name="motyl" /> A hybrid empire had both adjacent ruled territories and far-flung ruled territories. An example might be the German Reich, which had imperial possessions in Europe as well as overseas in Africa.<ref name="motyl" />

Motyl also posits varying degrees of empire: formal, informal, and hegemonic. In a formal imperial relationship, the core can appoint and dismiss peripheral elites, obviate any external agenda or policies, and directly control the internal agenda and policies. In an informal imperial relationship, the core has influence but not control over appointing and dismissing peripheral elites, direct control over the external agenda and policies, and influence over the internal agenda and policies. Finally, in a hegemonic relationship, the core has no control over appointing or dismissing peripheral elites, control over the external agenda, influence over external policies, and no control over the internal agenda or policies.<ref name="motyl" />

Empire ends when significant peripheral interaction begins, not necessarily when the core ceases its domination of the peripheries. The core-periphery relationship can be as strong or weak as possible and remain an empire as long as there is only insignificant interaction between periphery and periphery.<ref name="motyl" />

In analyzing empires, Motyl makes six caveats:

  1. Empire ought not be conflated with imperialism. The former is a structure, the latter is a policy.
  2. Empire is not necessarily the result of imperialism.
  3. Empires do not rise or decline as a result of choice. Imperialism can be the result of choice, but not empire.
  4. Empires cannot reliably be explained as a result of the cost/benefit analysis of the elites. Mythologies, ideologies, strategic cultures exercise far too much influence on elites to allow for a simple cost/benefit analysis.
  5. Inability to see "true" costs and benefits should not be attributed to the myths, ideologies, and strategic cultures.
  6. The concept of overextension or overreach makes the incorrect assumption that empires (or states more generally) have an ideal size knowable to the elite.

<ref name="motyl" />

Finally, Motyl warns that no theory of empire explains both rise and fall equally. Even if the rise and fall mirror each other, it does not follow that the introduction of elements that lead to the rise also lead to the fall upon their removal. <ref name="motyl" />

[edit] Examples of empire

The modern term "empire" derives from the Latin word imperium, a word coined in what became possibly the most famous example of this sort of political structure, the Roman Empire. For many centuries, the term "Empire" in the West applied exclusively to states which considered themselves to be successors to the Roman Empire, such as the Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, or, later, the Russian Empire. However, this does not mean that these states were themselves "empires" in the technical sense. Drawing upon the Latin word imperium, these kingdoms claimed the title of "empire" directly from Rome. For example, the Holy Roman Empire was comprised of various Germanic states, all of whom were Christian, and who were led independently by local princes and in name only comprised a single state; thus the Holy Roman Empire was not centrally controlled, did not comprise of a central "core" and periphery, was not multi-national or multi-ethnic, and was not dominated by a central elite (hence Voltaire's famous remark that the Holy Roman Empire, "was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire."[1])

In 1204, when Constantinople was sacked during the Fourth Crusade, the Crusaders created a Latin Empire in Constantinople, while the descendents of the Byzantine Empire went to Asia Minor and established two smaller empires: the Empire of Nicaea and the Empire of Trebizond. These "empires" were short lived and the region was finally conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1453. It would not be until Peter the Great's crowning in St. Petersburg as Tsar of Russia that Eastern Imperialism would resurface. Likewise, upon the fall of the Holy Roman Empire after the Napoleonic Wars, the Austrian Empire, later reshaped as Austria-Hungary, inherited western imperialism.

There were two attempts by Napoleon I and Napoleon III to seize the Western Imperial claim for France. Western Imperialism would also be usurped in the period of 18711918 by the German Empire. Over time, other monarchies which viewed themselves as greater in size and power than mere kingdoms used the name or its translation. In 1056, King Ferdinand I of Leon, proclaimed himself "Emperor of Spain", beginning the Reconquista. Bulgaria furnishes another example. Europeans came to apply the term "empire" to large non-European monarchies, such as the Empire of China or the Mughal Empire, and to extend it to past polities. The word eventually came to apply loosely to any entity meeting the criteria, whether kings governed or not, even whether a monarchy or not. In some cases synonyms of empire such as tsardom, realm or reich occur.

Empires can accrete around different types of state. They have traditionally originated as powerful monarchies under the rule of a hereditary (or in some cases, self-appointed) emperor, but the empires of Athens, Rome, and Britain developed under democratic auspices. Brazil leapt from colonial to self-declared empire status in 1822. France has twice made the transition from republic to empire.

Historically, most empires came into being as the result of a militarily strong state conquering other states and incorporating them into a larger political union. Typically, a monarchy or an oligarchy rooted in the original core territory would continue to dominate this union. Many ancient empires maintained control of their subject peoples by controlling the supply of a vital resource, usually water; historians refer to such régimes as "hydraulic empires". The introduction of a common religion is often cited as strengthening empires, as occurred (pace Edward Gibbon) with the adoption of Christianity under Constantine I; though many point out that the introduction of Christianity and its strict orthodoxy actually created more problems in Late Antiquity than it solved. Cultural influence played a large part in the survival of the Chinese empire and of its semi-imperial sphere of influence.

An empire can mutate into some other form of polity. Thus the Bernese empire of conquest no longer appears as an empire at all; its territories have become absorbed into the canton of Bern or become cantons or parts of cantons elsewhere in the Swiss Confederation. The Holy Roman Empire, itself in a sense an attempt at re-constitution of the Roman Empire, underwent many transformations in its long history, fissuring extensively, experimenting with federalism, eventually, under the Hapsburgs, re-constituting itself as the Austrian Empire - vastly different in nature and in territory. The former British Empire has spawned a loose multi-national Commonwealth of Nations, and the old French colonial empire has also left traces of its existence in cultural networks and associations. The Soviet Empire leaves behind it the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

An autocratic empire can readily become a republic by means of a coup (Brazil, 1889; Central African Empire, 1979); or it can become a republic with its dominions reduced to a core territory (Germany, 1918–1919; Ottoman Empire, 1918–1923). The breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 provides an example of a multi-ethnic superstate fissuring into multiple constituent or new parts: the republics, kingdoms or provinces of Austria, Hungary, Transylvania, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Czechoslovakia, Ruthenia, Galicia, etc.

Genghis Khan built up the world's largest contiguous land empire, the Mongol Empire, in the early 13th century. It encompassed a huge portion of Eurasia under Mongol rule. The Mongol Empire was governed by specific written code by Genghis Khan called Yasa. The Mongol Empire was governed by kurultai, and there was freedom of religion, tax exemption and extensive trade routes that were nurtured by the Khan. For example, the Mongol Empire provided political stability to the Silk Road.

Other famous empires include the Persian empire. The Persians built several great empires at different periods, so the term Persian empire can seem ambiguous; both pre- and post-Islamic Persia had powerful empires. (Some geographies appear to favour empire-building (Iran, Mesopotamia), while other areas seldom (Mongolia) or never (Iceland) achieve imperial overlordship.

The Macedonians established an extensive land empire under Alexander the Great. Upon his death, this empire split into four separately run kingdoms under the Diadochi. The kingdoms themselves were independent, their territory is overall referred to as the Hellenistic empire, as all kingdoms shared similar influence from Greek and Macedonian influences.

[edit] Colonial empires

Image:World 1898 empires colonies territory.png
Colonial empires at the end of the 19th century

The discovery of the New World provided an opportunity for many European states to embark upon programs of imperialism on a different model, colonization. Under this model (previously trialled in the Old World in the Canary Islands and in Ireland), subject states became de jure subordinate to the imperial state, rather than de facto as in earlier empires. This led to a good deal of resentment in the client states, and therefore probably to the demise of this system by the early- to mid-twentieth century.

The heyday of imperialism, the 19th century, coincided with a boom in the setting up of empires: from Haiti, France and Austria through Mexico to India and Germany. In contrast, the 20th century saw many empires demolished or dismembered: for example those of Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Italy, France, Britain and the Central African Empire.

One problem with the European imperial model came from arbitrary boundaries. In the interest of expediency, an imperial power tended to carve out a client state based solely on convenience of geography, while ignoring extreme cultural differences in the resulting area. An example of the attendant problems occurred in the Indian sub-continent. Formerly part of the British Empire, when the sub-continent gained its independence it split along cultural/religious lines, producing modern India and the two-part country of Pakistan, which later split yet again resulting in the independence of Bangladesh. [2]

[edit] Modern empire

The concept of "empire" in the modern world, while still present politically, has begun to lose cohesion semantically. The only remaining country nominally ruled by an Emperor, Japan, comprises a constitutional monarchy with a population of approximately 99% ethnic Japanese. Just as absolute monarchies (as opposed to constitutional monarchies) have largely fallen out of favor in modern times, the term "empire" itself may now become somewhat of an anachronism.

The former Soviet Union had many of the criteria of an empire, but nevertheless did not claim to be one, nor was it ruled by a traditional hereditary "emperor" (see Soviet Empire). Nevertheless, historians still occasionally classify it as an empire, if only because of its similarities to empires of the past and its sway over a large multi-ethnic bloc of Eurasia.

Most modern multi-ethnic states see themselves as voluntary federations (Switzerland, for example, or Belgium) or as unions (United Kingdom, European Union), and not as empires. Most have democratic structures, and operate under systems which share power through multiple levels of government that differentiate between areas of federal and provincial/state jurisdiction. Where separatist groups exist, internal and external observers may disagree on whether state action against them represents legitimate law-enforcement against a violent or non-violent fringe group, or state violence to control a broadly unwilling population. A list of multi-ethnic states with ongoing violence by and against separatists might swamp this article, although China, Russia, Indonesia and India distinguish themselves by sheer size.

[edit] List of empires

Main article: List of empires
Historical empires
Early empires
First millennium
Early second millennium
Late second millennium
20th century

* The United Kingdom still has many overseas territories remaining.

*** French Guiana remains an overseas territory of France.

**** The Dutch West Indies remain an overseas territory of the Dutch state to this day.

***** USA still has Insular areas.

[edit] References

[edit] Notes

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[edit] External links

[edit] See also

Forms of Government and Methods of Rule: Autocratic and Authoritarian

Autocratic: Despotism | Dictatorship | Tyranny | Absolute monarchy (Caliphate | Despotate | Emirate | Empire | Imamate | Khanate | Sultanate | Other monarchical titles) | Enlightened absolutism

Other Authoritarian: Military dictatorship (often a Junta) | Oligarchy | Single-party state (Communist state | Fascist(oid) state (e.g. Nazi Germany)) | de facto: Illiberal democracy


ca:Imperi da:Imperium de:Weltreich es:Imperio eo:Imperio fr:Empire gl:Imperio it:Impero he:אימפריה ka:იმპერია lv:Impērija nl:Rijk (staat) ja:帝国 nn:Imperium pl:Imperium pt:Império ru:Империя simple:Empire sl:Imperij vi:Đế quốc tr:İmparatorluk zh:帝国


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