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What were the most powerful countries throughout history?


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Yvan Testu, reads "Foreign Affairs" magazine 读《外交事务》杂志
To speak of a Country throughout History is an anachronism since only Empires existed throughout History


The concept of country ( Nation state ) started to be implemented during the second half of the XIX century with a high production of countries with the dissolution of the German, Austro Hungarian and Ottoman empires


An another round after WW II created nations in Africa and in Indochina with the dissolution of the french and the british empires and finally in Central Asia with the dissolution of USSR.


So empires can be ranked by their overreach List of largest empires or by the infrastructure they left


My favorite is extremely overlooked


The (First) Persian Empire


The Achaemenid Persian Empire was founded by Cyrus the Great around 550 B.C.E., who went by the title of King of Kings (Shahanshah). Although the Persian Empire came to an inglorious end at the hands of Alexander the Great in 330 B.C.E., it had a lasting legacy on the subsequent development of world civilizations and future empires. Indeed, the Persian Empire was a pivotal empire because it was the first true empire that set the standard of what it meant to be an empire for future ones.


The Persian Empire existed at a unique time in history, when most of the oikumene, or civilized, settled, populated world was concentrated in or near the Middle East. As a result, the Persian Empire, which dominated most of the Middle East, ruled over a greater percentage of the world’s population than any other empire in history. Indeed, in 480 B.C.E., the empire had a population of approximately 49.4 million people, which was 44 percent of the global population at that time. The Persian Empire was the first empire to connect multiple world regions, including the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, India, Europe, and the Mediterranean world. It jumpstarted the concept of empires in places like Greece and India.


Such a large empire could only have been put together by military might, and the Persian Empire’s military achievements were significant, though they are often forgotten by its sudden demise at the hands of Alexander’s armies. Various Persian campaigns succeeded at subjugating most of the world’s advanced civilizations at the time including the Babylonians, Lydians, Egyptians, and the northwestern Hindu region of Gandhara, in today’s Pakistan. It should not be forgotten that, notwithstanding exaggeration and misinterpretation, the Persians believed that they achieved their goals in Greece and that more Greeks lived in the empire than not. The Persian Empire ushered in a period of harmony and peace in the Middle East for two hundred years, a feat that has seldom been replicated.


The Persian Empire’s legacy to the world in terms of imperial ideas include the use of a network of roads, a postal system, a single language for administration (Imperial Aramaic), autonomy for various ethnicities, and a bureaucracy. The Persian religion, Zoroastrianism, influenced the development of key concepts like free will and heaven and hell in Abrahamic religions through Judaism.



Christopher Gilmore, Undergraduate in History, lifelong history buff 历史本科生,终生历史爱好者

21st century - United States, People’s Republic of China, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, Republic of India, Republic of France (Iran, Pakistan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and others are up and comers)


Late 20th century - United States, Soviet unx, United Kingdom, Republic of France, People’s Republic of China


Early 20th century - United Kingdom, Germany (both the Kaiserreich and Third Reich), United States, Republic of France, Russia (sort of), Japan


19th century - United Kingdom, France (particularly the Napoleonic Empire), Russia, Prussia (Germany after 1871), Austria, United States (only after the American Civil War)


China, the Ottoman Empire, Spain, the Greek-speaking Byzantines, various Indian dynasties (Mughal and Gupta), and the various Islamic caliphates all enjoyed considerable periods under the sun beforehand (Imperial China’s was very lengthy). At the time of the Spanish arrival the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan in North America may have been the world’s largest city, while many African civilisations (Mali and Ethiopia/Aksum, amongst others) were famed for their wealth and power.


2000 years ago -


Roman Republic/Empire and Han Dynasty of China
Similar size, similar population, little knowledge of each other (both considered themselves to be the only global superpower)


Other honourable mentions: Babylon, Summer and Akkad (modern-day Iraq), Persia and Medes (modern-day Iran), Egypt (Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom and Ptolemaic Dynasty), amongst many, many others.



Jafar Isbarov, Skeptic skeptic, pseudo-pseudointellectual, reverse-ambivert
These are my personal picks, in no particular order:


1. The First Persian Empire (Achaemenid Empire)
Usually considered first of the great empires, Persian Empire was found by Cyrus I. Filling the gap formed by fall of Media, it grew with astonishing speed and quickly surpassed the previous superpower, Media, both in power and magnitude.


2.Abbasid Caliphate.
Unlike Christianity, Islam was born into desert full of tribes fighting each other. It possessed the unifying power Constantine looked for in Christianity, and eventually ended up uniting the whole Peninsula, originating a devastating power. Rest is, you know, Arabs vs everybody.


与基督教不同的是,伊斯兰教诞生于充满部落斗争的沙漠中。 它拥有君士坦丁在基督教中的统一力量,最终统一了整个半岛,产生了毁灭性的力量。 剩下的就是,你知道的,阿拉伯人 VS 所有人。

3.British Empire.
This is what you do when you combine greed, power, rationality, immense opportunity, and luck. Yes, you end up with a giant controlling 1/4 of the world.


4.Ottoman Empire.
Turks had many successful states throughout the history. But their last attempt was the most successful one, I guess. I mean, their history is sometimes like a video game on amateur level.


5.Roman Empire.
What can I say about a nation which created one of the most enduring kingdoms; went on to be the most successful republic in history; converted it to the most powerful empire.EVER.


P.S: I didn’t add empires like Mongols, Alexander etc. as they lacked systemic government; never possessed control over these territories for long amount of time. They were more like long-lasting war campaigns actually.

P.S: 我没有添加像蒙古人、亚历山大等帝国那样的,因为他们缺乏系统性的政府,从来没有长时间控制过这些领土。他们更像是长期的战争战役。


Roger H Werner, former Prinicipal Investigator 前Prinicipal调查员
The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000, by Paul Kennedy, first published in 1987, explores the politics and economics of the Great Powers from 1500 to 1980 and the reason for their decline. Beginning in 1500 we have The Ottoman Empire, the Spanish-Austrian Hapsburg Empire, the Portuguese Empire, the Dutch Empire, the British Empire, and the United States.


Before 1500, the situation becomes murky because there were so many ‘great powers’ at the regional level. There was of course The short lived Mongol Empire in the 13th and 14th centuries CE.


The Timurid Empire and its immediate successor the Mughal Empire controlled lands extending from the Tigris River north to the Caucasus Mountains, Afghanistan, much of central Asia, and parts of Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey. The Mughal empire lost most of its western lands but managed to control most of the Indian subcontinent including Bengal


In the early 7th century CE, 622 CE), Arab armies left the Hijaz and over the next 200 years conquered land extending from the Indus River in the east to the southern borders of Byzantium including Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Tunis, Algeria, Morocco, and the Iberian Peninsula. These lands were united under the first Caliphates. After roughly 900 CE, various parts of the original Caliphate began to break into separate secular territories as the power of the various Caliphates weakened.


The Romano-Byzantine Empire lasted from the founding of the Republic on 21 April 753. It was divided into Eastern and Western Halves by the Emperor Diocletian in 272 CE. The western Roman Empire fell in 476 CE but the Eastern Empire lasted for another 1,000 years to 1453.


The Maurya Empire began in 322 BCE and extended its rule from east of the Ganges Delta including most of India to the west side of the Indus River pushing back Alexander’s satraps. It survived to 180 CE


Before the majesty of Rome was the short lived Empire of Alexander I of Macedonian in the late 4th century BCE. He controlled an area extending from the Adriatic Sea in the west to the Hindus River in the east, and from the southern oceans to the mountains and Black and Caspian seas on the North.


Before Alexander Hellenistic empire, there was the Persian Empire that control parts of Greece and most of the lands conquered by Alexander from the 7th century to the early 4th century BCE.
Before the Persians there were a series of empires in the Fertile Crescent but they were never as large as Persian controlled lands. These empires rose and fell from roughly 3100 BCE to the early 7th century BCE, many occurring simultaneously including the Egyptians, Sumarians, Babylonians, Hitittes, Asyrians, Hebrews, and several others. Perhaps the oldest and most long lived power was the Harappan Civilization in the Indus River Valley from 3100 to 1100 BCE.


I don’t care to speculate which was the most powerful because they existed at different times in different places, used different tactics. Let’s just say that these were the most powerful empires in their respective locations for their time. From a practical point of view, the strongest power the world has ever seen is the US. Never a serious colonial power, it developed its lands into a united country and by the late 20th century once the only nation capable of projecting both nuclear and non-nuclear power by air, sea, and land anywhere in the world with 48 hours.
The central thesis behind the Rise and Fall of the Great powers was always strategic over reach.


I’m sure I’ve left out a few powers but therein lies the problem. There have been so many large empires in world history. i never mention the Quing Empire in China or some of its earlier empires. Nor empires in Sourtheast Asia or west Africa. They probably should be noted.



Michael A. Johnson, B.A. History & Sub-Saharan Africa, Northern Kentucky University 历史&撒哈拉以南非洲,北肯塔基大学
I would say the obvious one is China. China throughout history was the most powerful nation on Earth. There is a reason the time between 1839 to 1949 is called the “Century of Humiliation” in Chinese history. It was an unprecedented thing for the Chinese to be “inferior” to another nation. China even in its periods of being conquered such as with the Yuan Dynasty or the Qing Dynasty by foreigners. These foreigners would adopt Chinese culture and thinking as being the superior method of civilization.


*edits and additions to come*


Ignoring the strange addition of the USA seeing its only little over 250 years old, and has only been economically powerful since the 1880-90s and a military power since 1945.



Cesar Contreras
Very good answers all around, so I just want to bring to your attention the first global Superpower, who held the world in a fist for 150 years: The Spanish Empire of the Renaissance:
They opened the sea routes to the far away lands and, alongside the Portuguese (who were part of the Spanish crown for a good portion of these 150 years btw) created the first empire where the Sun never stopped shining. Emperor Carlos I was the first Sun King, before Louis XIV actually! Additionally, her Tercios crushed all opposition in Europe and the Mediterranean during those years and were heralded as the Roman Legions reborn.

他们开辟了通往遥远陆地的海上航线,与葡萄牙人一道(这150年的大部分时间里,他们是西班牙王室的一部分)创造了第一个太阳从未停止照耀的帝国。皇帝卡洛斯一世是第一个太阳王,在路易十四之前 ! 此外,在那些年里,她的大方阵粉碎了欧洲和地中海的所有反对势力,并被宣告为罗马军团的重生。


George Etteridge, Amateur historian- emphasis on amateur. 业余历史学家-强调一下是业余。
Ancient History- Persia
despite being humiliated by the Greeks a few times, the Persians were a force to be reckoned with during ancient times and conquered a vast empire for the time.


Not-Quite-As-Old-But-Still-Ancient history-Rome and Han China.
Both of these empires dominated their respective regions, and there was quite a lot of similarities between them. There was contact, but not very much, and they between them ruled most of the human population at the time.


Middle Ages- Mongols
The Mongol horde swept through Asia and into Europe with a strange mix of modern ideas (such as meritocracy and religious freedom) and utter brutality. However, their empire in its furtherst extent did not last long and fragmented as soon as Genghis Khan died.


Early Colonial Period- Spain
Spain managed to complete it’s reconquista the same year Colombus discovered America for them, and they spent the next century carving an empire out of south America, blowing away indigenous Empires such as the Aztec and Inca with superior technology and carting their gold back to Spain (if they did not get attacked by English Privateers) Spain was not only a dominant colonial power but a powerful European one too, because it owned places such as Belgium and the Netherlands (then called the Spanish Netherlands)

西班牙成功地完成了收复失地这一任务,同年,哥伦布发现了美洲,他们花了一个世纪的时间,在南美建立了一个帝国,将阿兹特克和印加等本土帝国消灭,用高超的技术,把他们的黄金运回西班牙(如果他们没有遭到英国私掠船的袭击) ,西班牙不仅是一个统治性的殖民国家,而且也是一个强大的欧洲国家,因为它拥有比利时和荷兰这样的地方(当时被称为西班牙的荷兰)

Late Colonial-Britain
A combination of the industrial revolution and the most powerful Navy the world had ever seen up to that point allowed Britain to absolutely dominate the 19th Century. it used these powers sometimes for good (West Africa Squadron and the abolition of Slavery) and it sometimes… didn’t. This domination lasted right up until the First World War, and allowed the British to carve out the largest empire ever seen.


Modern- USA and Soviet unx
These two were the big superpowers of the 20th century, their ideological divide fuelling distrust and a nuclear arms race that could have wiped each other (and everyone else) off the map. However, the USA won the cold war and is still a superpower though it is being Challenged by China, while Russia is not a superpower any more in the same way the US is, but it is still pretty powerful and capable of giving other nations a bad day.



Thomas Musselman
Nation-states or “countries” are a modern development. For much of history there were none in most areas of the world; sometimes there were empires and sometimes just regional kings, war-lords, chieftains and the like. You can get lists of empires in any world history book; with the rise of nation-states some of them took on empires, some of them teamed up to do so, and some did their best to avoid interaction with them.
The “most powerful” usually were only that re: limited areas, and borders and self-identity changed often, so while we talk about “China” the land area with that name now has had many rulers, some from elsewhere who invaded, and sometimes many at once, each with a different number of square miles in their domain. In addition sometimes they had the ability to demand “tribute” from independent powers they did not directly control.
Sometimes you had impressive population levels in cities (e.g. the Incas and Aztecs) but whose “power” was proved limited when outsiders with horses, guns, and steel arrived. Sometimes you had impressive levels of intellectual inquiry (e.g. Muslim Spain) but the same horrible domination by one group over others as has been common in history everywhere until recently. You can also have a “power” with economic might but not military or vice versa, or with cultural influence but little else. Egypt, e.g. has had cultural influence in the Arab world but little else for quite some time. Russia still has nuclear power but its cultural influence has fallen rapidly with the death of communism. Cuba has had cultural influence in music and dance but little else. Ancient Israel and Greece, of course, had massive cultural power but since Alexander the Great little other power.

民族国家或“国家”是现代发展出的概念。在历史的大部分时间里,世界上大部分地区都没有这一说法,有时是帝国,有时只有地区国王,军阀,首领之类的。你可以在任何一本世界历史书中获得帝国的名单 ; 随着民族国家的崛起,其中一些国家开始了建立起帝国,其中一些国家联合起来,一些国家为了避免与他们的接触而竭尽所能。
“最强大的”通常只是: 有Re限的区域,边界和自我认同经常发生变化,所以当我们谈论“中国”时,这个名字的土地上有许多统治者,一些来自其他地方入侵的人,有时一次性会有多个,每一个都占据不同的区域。此外,有时他们也有能力从他们没有直接控制的独立力量中要求"朝贡"。



Kun Wang, studied at The University of Liverpool (2016) 在利物浦大学学习(2016)
U.K. had the largest land in the history, which is 3367km2, the second is Mongolia which is 3287 km2.

Qing dynasty had the largest proportion population in the history, which is 36.6% in 1820. The second is Han dynasty which is 33.1% in 1BC.

USA had the biggest GDP ratio in history in 1944, which is 38.1%. Qing dynasty has 32.9% GDP of the world in 1820. However, there is another statement which said that Song Dynasty had over 60% GDP in 1124.


The duration
The Byzantine empire last 1058 years which is the longest duration in the history. The second is Holy Roman Empire which last 844 years.


Comprehensive ranking
If each of the top 4 country is rated as 100, than Mongolia empire can get 279 point and U.K. can get 258 point. So Mongolia empire can be seen as the strongest country in the history.

如果前四个国家的排名都是100 蒙古帝国可以获得279分,英国可以获得258分。因此,蒙古帝国可以被视为历史上最强大的国家。


Ravi Bhardwaj, Designer at Tech Mahindra (2016-present) Mahindra科技公司设计师
Great Britain, won many countries
USSR or Russia
Somewhere or the other if you will surf the history the descxtion keep coming up.

英国 胜过许多国家

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