15 of the World's Largest and Most Intense Empires
15 of the World’s Largest and Most Intense Empires

15 of the World’s Largest and Most Intense Empires

Larry Holzwarth - November 19, 2020

15 of the World’s Largest and Most Intense Empires
The ill-fated Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. Wikimedia

13. The First and Second Mexican Empires

After leading the revolution against Spain in 1821 and gaining Mexico’s independence, Agustin de Iturbide rallied popular support for a constitutional monarchy as the new form of government. In May, 1822, he used demonstrations to elevate himself to the title of Emperor of Mexico. The lands he ruled included modern-day Mexico, and most of the Southwest United States from Texas to California, as far north as today’s southern border of Oregon. Iturbide summoned the Mexican Congress, had himself elected as Emperor, dissolved the Congress and ruled by Imperial decree. The next year, having lost the support of the army and the people, largely due to a corrupt bureaucracy and a bankrupt treasury, he reconvened Congress and offered his abdication. Congress accepted, and Mexico became a republic.

In 1863, French Emperor Napoleon III intervened in Mexico, allied with Mexican conservatives, to create the Second Mexican Empire. In terms of land area, the Second Empire was much smaller than its predecessor, with the United States having control of the former Mexican territories north of the Rio Grande, and all of California above the Baja Peninsula. Napoleon installed Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of the House of Habsburg as Emperor of Mexico. Maximilian had the support of the Mexican Conservatives and upper classes, but not of the people. French troops occupied Mexico to protect French interests. The United States, embroiled in the Civil War, could do little to oppose the French violation of the longstanding Monroe Doctrine.

In the end, Mexican nationalists defeated the French troops, and the end of the Civil War brought American support of Mexican revolutionaries. Napoleon withdrew his troops beginning in 1866, offering Maximilian safe passage. Maximilian chose to remain and fight for his throne, by then seen as illegitimate even by many conservatives. He sent his wife, Empress Charlotte, to Europe to persuade Napoleon to continue his support. Political pressure from the United States, and an American naval blockade of Mexican ports, forced the French emperor to demur. Maximilian, betrayed by a cabal of his own generals, was captured, tried for treason, and executed by firing squad in June, 1867. With its emperor died the Second Mexican Empire.

15 of the World’s Largest and Most Intense Empires
Francis II & I, the last Holy Roman Emperor and first Emperor of Austria. Wikimedia

14. The Catholic Church created the Holy Roman Empire as an extension of the defunct Roman Empire

On Christmas Day, 800 CE, Pope Leo III bestowed upon Charlemagne, King of the Franks, the title of Emperor, its first appearance in Western Europe since the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire. The newly created Holy Roman Empire extended, by divine right of kings, to the legitimate emperors of Rome, according to its adherents. The individual bearing the title of Holy Roman Emperor became the “king of kings” among Europe’s monarchs, with supreme authority over disputes among the Catholic rulers, answerable directly to the Pope. At least, in theory. The title remained with Charlemagne’s heirs until the late ninth century, when a series of religious wars led to it being held by Italian royal houses.

The intent of the throne was a unification of the Germanic and Italian kingdoms, duchies, principalities, electorates, and other dynastic states into a system more reflective of those of Western Europe. By the time of the Reformation, the throne of the Holy Roman Emperor was filled by the concurrence of a majority of the various rulers of the numerous states. Political compromises and resistance of the states over which the Emperor held authority limited his power. So did the waning influence of the papacy on Europe’s political affairs. By the mid-16th century the Holy Roman Emperor no longer received his crown from the hand of the pope.

In 1756, French writer and philosopher Francois Marie Arouet, known by his nom de plume Voltaire, wrote, “The Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire”. By then, the throne was in the hands of the Austrian Habsburgs. At the end of the 18th century the King of Austria styled himself as Emperor Francis II by virtue of his holding the title of Holy Roman Emperor. As King of Austria he reigned as Francis I. Francis II dissolved the Holy Roman Empire after his military defeat at the hands of Napoleon, though he retained his imperial title by creating the Austrian Empire in 1806. The Holy Roman Empire lasted over 1,000 years, with each of its rulers being male, and Roman Catholic.

15 of the World’s Largest and Most Intense Empires
The advanced Mughal Empire created vast wealth on the Indian Subcontinent long before the arrival of the Europeans. Wikimedia

15. The Mughal Empire created living standards in India which exceeded those of Europe

Created via military conquest for the most part, the Mughal Empire on the Indian Subcontinent ruled over numerous cultures and religions with relative tolerance. It lasted over three centuries, though in the final century of its existence the British Raj curtailed it significantly. The Empire gained massive wealth through taxes, primarily on agriculture. It coined a stable and regulated currency, using bullion imported in exchange for agricultural products, raw materials, manufactures, and textiles. By the early 18th century, the standards of living in Mughal exceeded that of Great Britain, which exceeded that of the rest of Europe. Nor were most laborers looked down upon, as usually occurred in Britain and elsewhere.

Militarily the Mughal made advances in the use of gunpowder based weapons, including rockets. Shipbuilding became a major industry, Indian shipyards built vessels for their European trading partners. Cotton became an important cash crop, and finished cotton piece goods evolved into one of India’s largest exports under the Mughal. European demand for Mughal products created a trade imbalance, forcing the Europeans, particularly the Dutch, British, and Spanish, to make up the difference in gold bullion. Gradually, European occupation of and control of Mughal lands led to the decline of the empire, as the companies controlled production and prices based on their needs and profit lines.

The heyday of the Mughal Empire came to an end before the establishment of the British Raj, from internal pressures, warfare, and gradually declining administration. Though vestiges of it remained in British India, by the end of the 18th century the East India Company controlled most of what remained. Standards of living for the natives dropped as the British Empire absorbed the Mughal Empire, though India’s great wealth remained, transferred into British pockets. Today, the advances of India under the Mughal emperors can be seen throughout India in art and architecture. Among its many achievements is the Taj Mahal in Agra, numerous temples and mosques, and the veritable symbol of Indian music, the sitar.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Who were the Mongols?” Erin Blakemore, National Geographic. June 21, 2019

“The Spanish Empire”. Article, The Latin Library. Online

“The Sad, Dark End of the British Empire”. Richard Halloran, Politico Magazine. August 26, 2014

“The Ottoman Empire (1301-1922)”. Article, BBC Religions. September 4, 2009. Online

“The Russian Empire and the World 1700-1917: The geopolitics of expansion and containment”. John P. LeDonne. 1997

“French Colonies”. Article, Global Security. Online

“Qing Dynasty”. Article, Travel China Guide. Online

“Napoleon Bonaparte and the Legacy of the French Revolution”. Martyn Lyons. 1994

“A Companion to the Roman Empire”. David S. Potter, ed. 2009

“The Making of Modern Japan”. Marius B. Jansen. 2002

“The Inca Empire: Children of the Sun”. Article, Ancient Civilizations. Online

“The Dutch East India Company: Expansion and Decline”. Femme S. Gaastra. 2003

“Maximilian, Mexico, and the Invention of Empire”. Kristine Ibsen. 2010

“The Holy Roman Empire”. Friedrich Heer. 1967

“The Passing of Empire: The Mughal Case”. M. Athar Ali, Journal of Modern Asian Studies. 1975