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Concise Essays on Empires

In all ten of my concise essays on empires, I follow an identical format. I look first at the origins of the empire or kingdom – how founder-kings exploited favorable circumstances to their advantage. I then turn to an examination of sources of wealth and power in the ancient world – agriculture, foreign trade, and foreign conquest. I move on to means of control – political organization and religious persuasion – used by ruling elites to retain power and extract wealth from the masses. Next I examine causes of decline of once-powerful states – internal erosion of control followed by foreign incursions by competing enemies. I then summarize the key trends in the aftermath of the selected empires or kingdoms – how successful later groups were in holding on to power and creating wealth. At the end of each essay, I draw lessons for contemporary powers from the experiences of ancient empires and kingdoms. For each concise essay, I have selected twenty maps to assist readers in placing key events in historical and geographical context. 

All of my complete essays on empires, which are more detailed versions of these concise essays, are available online and easily accessible. In addition to text, maps, and illustrations, each of those essays contains a time line, an annotated bibliography, and a description of sites that I visited.

New Kingdom Egypt


Achaemenid Persia

Han and Tang China

Axum Ethiopia

Image by Jens Peter Olesen

Roman Syria

Gupta and Mughal India

Khmer Kingdom in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos

Pagan Burma


Mali and Songhai

Image by Yüksel Göz

Ottoman Turkey

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