Contemplating how great civilizations rise and fall through maps

It’s Map Monday. For a change of pace, let’s take a look at empires throughout history. There have been many empires, or civilizations, that have risen and fallen since humans – and so far that’s been men – first started exerting their power on each other. Some empires have lasted for thousands of years. The civilizations that developed under the rule of these empires spread languages, culture, scientific discoveries, architecture, and religion to the people within their boundaries and beyond. Their influence has persisted, in many cases for thousands of years after their demise.

And what brought about their demise? In nearly every case, it appears to have been one of four factors: disease (sometimes introduced by a would-be conqueror), climate change/natural disaster, wars, or socioeconomic collapse.

I am going to share what The Top Ten website calls the ten greatest civilizations, determined by a popular vote they ran. Some would probably choose other candidates (the Spanish empire, for example) but it’s as good a list as any. Let’s take a look at the dates during which these empires flourished and the territory they encompassed. I’ve listed them in order of dates. You can see more detail on the maps by clicking on them and zooming in.

Ancient Egypt             3150 BC – 30 BC
Egypt was the first country to be unified and ruled by law. Its many inventions influenced those who followed, including the Greeks and then the Romans.

 

Mayan Empire           2000 BC – 1540 AD
It’s worth remembering that the Mayans did not have any influences from neighbours, unlike the civilizations that sprung up around the Mediterranean and Asia. Everything they did they figured out on their own, which included architecture, astronomy, and mathematics.

 

Greek Empire           800 BC – 146 BC (some aspects until 600 AD)
Ancient Greece is remembered for its philosophy, art, and architecture rather than its military might. When Alexander the Great took over so much new territory, he was smart in respecting the culture and languages of the local peoples and bringing their leaders on board to strengthen the expanding empire.

 

Persian Empire           550 BC – 330 BC
The first king of the Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great, is known for his fair and equitable treatment of all his subjects. It was rare if unheard of then and hasn’t changed all that much since. Persia brought their subjects many innovations, from an intricate architectural style to irrigation.

 

Chinese Empire         221 BC – 1912 AD
Through several dynasties, China has brought many innovations, from gunpowder and the compass to silk and movable type. They built the Silk Road to enable trade between China and India and beyond.

 

Roman Empire         27 BC – 476 AD (some aspects until 1453 AD)
The Romans stand out for their building prowess, building of all types: roads, grand buildings like the Coliseum and the Parthenon, and aqueducts. The Roman arch changed the way we think about architecture.

 

Islamic Golden Age       786 AD – 1258 AD
During the Islamic Golden Age many new contributions were made to mathematics, astronomy, science, and early medicine.

 

Mongol Empire       1206 AD – 1368 AD
Genghis Khan brought a writing system to Mongolia that is still used. Although ruthless, the Mongols did bring stability to a large region of Asia. They helped spread ideas and reopened the Silk Road.

 

British Empire    1583 AD – 1997 AD (mostly by the end of the 1960s)
The largest empire the world has ever seen. “The empire upon which the sun never sets.” At one point, of course, it included the east coast of what is now the United States as well. English is one of two official languages in India because of the British presence, not to mention the only official language of many other countries formerly part of the Empire.

 

United States of America      1776 AD – ?
This one surprised me a bit, even though their global influence has certainly been paramount, especially from 1941 until now (or until recently at least). It surprised me because people don’t usually use the term “empire” when referring to the United States. However, when I googled “America empire map” up popped plenty of maps, typically using the term “American imperialism”. They have made important contributions to the advancement of science and technology, new forms of music and film, and have furthered the expansion of the use of English as a global language.

From 2007

 

Image credits: commons.wikimedia.org, Pinterest, Reddit.com, MapPorn.com

 

 

 

 

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20 Responses to Contemplating how great civilizations rise and fall through maps

  1. jane tims says:

    Well, I don’t see the empire of Jane. All these empires are based on political models. There are also ’empires’ of religion, artistic influence, economics, cyberstuff. The difficulty is that their conquests have been of hearts and minds and, perhaps, wallets. I don’t know what I am talking about but there is more than one way to draw a boundary!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Hmm, I’m not sure where you’re headed with this either, Jane. This post is about world empires (and their maps) that have had their day in the sun, and are well-researched and written about by archeologists and historians. The ones presented were selected by a large informal vote of favourites. The voters all seemed to understand the common definition. Perhaps you could write a post about alternative views of the definition of an empire, or civilization!

  2. Roy McCarthy says:

    Fascinating as always Jane. The Romans in Britain left a great legacy which was more or less buried and forgotten. As to the USA, its influence today extends much further than boots on the ground with its tax reach to all corners of the globe, its omnipresent surveillance techniques etc. This continues despite its dope of a leader.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Roy. Great comment about the tax reach in particular. Many people don’t realize how far-reaching that is. At the moment Their leader of whom you speak is trying to get rid of the “citizenship by birth” law, while they currently have in place a retroactive law that says that if you were born there but never lived there for more than a few days, or if one of your parents is American but you weren’t born there, you still are considered to be an American as far as paying taxes is concerned. Their remaining influence can only be by guns and money, because they’ve given up any pretense of moral authority or liberal democracy of late. Let’s both stay in our relatively peaceful little nooks!

  3. My Grandmother had a small ceramic globe with that map (above) painted on it, with the inscription ‘The Sun never sets on the British Empire’………….. alas it finally did!!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I’ve never seen a globe marking the British Empire, but until the 60s most school classrooms in Canada (not in Quebec!) had world maps pinned on the front wall with all the countries of the British Empire shaded in pink. I don’t think many Canadians these days would say “alas” about that changing, but the now-Commonwealth countries do form a large, diverse, and impressive group.

  4. Dr B says:

    I’m not sure by what stretch of the imagination the USA has had or has an empire. Or, by what definition of “empire” the USA currently has one? However, at least 50% of the uk population think that the USA rule us and maybe that’s what the graphic is showing because having a military base on our tiny island has no bearing.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Lol. Couldn’t agree more, Dr B. You have opened a door that I probably shouldn’t go through, but what the heck. I have thought for a long time that the US’s finest hour was behind it and that, just based on the level of US reality TV shows, its unfettered capitalism and indefensible levels of inequality, its standing as a world leader was in decline. And that was before the last 3.5 years! So when I saw the US on this top ten list, I took notice. As I said in my post, the maps all come up when you google American empire, although it’s more suitably referred to as American imperialism. I was dumbfounded enough to see Canada as a light blue member of their “empire” before I realized that the shadings mostly (but not in all cases) refers to military bases. I presume the idea is that it shows the extent of their influence as of 2007. I did consider putting their end date as 2016! 😏 If not then, it seems that COVID has become their swan song. Thanks for raising your point. 😊

      • Dr B says:

        Well said! It would be easy to feel outraged as an Englishman that the uk is considered part of an American empire and therefore ruled by “another monarchy or sovereign state. But hey, people of my generation learned to laugh our socks off at such preposterous posturing. No personal offence meant 👍🍷

        • Jane Fritz says:

          I know what you mean. I’m pretty sure people in many countries would take offense at being included in this map, Canadians included. That’s why I decided to include it once I saw it on that top ten list, to get people thinking. Let’s see if anyone takes offense besides us!

  5. Thanks Jane, nice to have a relook at History and realize the empires come and empires go. One thing I noticed, it appears the Persian and Greek empires appear very similar in area and timing? I had learned it was Alexander the Great who defeated the Persians thus ending their rule and really expanding the Greek world. So by my reckoning the dates on this map are incorrect and should probably read 550 BC –330 BC?

  6. sandomina says:

    Fantastic information.

  7. rAnother example of your outstanding research abilities, and patience !

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