Pre-modern Empires

Thomas T. Allsen

in The Oxford Handbook of World History

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199235810
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Pre-modern Empires

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  • Colonialism and Imperialism


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Empire is regularly defined as a political unit of large extent controlling a number of territories and peoples under a single sovereign authority. Of the three criteria, only one, sovereign authority, is quantified. In the early sixteenth century, maritime Europe, starting on its own path to empire, encountered large imperial regimes across the globe — the Ottoman, Safavid, Mughal, Ming, Aztec, and Inca — each of which had an identifiable genealogy and model. To a meaningful degree, global political history is simply the oscillation between universal empires and multi-state systems. In their expansive modes, empires destroyed and created states and were similarly productive in decline, devolving back into smaller polities, some entirely new and others merely refashioned. Standard imperial policies had profound cultural consequences. Population transfers, garrisons, and colonies produced close encounters, while secure lines of communications and interest in things foreign produced long-distance exchange.

Keywords: empire; sovereign authority; warfare; expansion; maritime Europe; global political history; imperial traditions

Article.  8141 words. 

Subjects: History ; Colonialism and Imperialism

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