Say we have a country whose foreign policy with its neighbors is mostly defined by conquest. In a period of two decades the borders of said nation encompasses hundreds of different cultures and languages, many of whom can't tolerate being close to each other, let alone living within the same political boundaries, and now they are even more angry that they have lost all forms of sovereignty.

The nation has expanded to the point where over 70% of the population is not of the same ancestry as the conqueror and has technology comparable to that of Germany in the 1910's. Assuming this country does not nab any more land for itself, how could it keep itself from imploding in the long run?

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    $\begingroup$ Many empires in history have successfully conquered large lands, and some have been able to hold onto those lands. Examples are Romans, Arabs, Mongols, Russians, British. 1910s, however, make it more difficult in the sense that ideas of humanism already took root and empires can not longer commit genocide in its provinces. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 1:30
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    $\begingroup$ And, to add to @Kingledion's example, also the Ottoman empire in the 2nd half of the 19th century. But, for a counter example, look at the Russian and Chinese empires; both are now thriving "nation"-states. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 1:30
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Thanks for the examples. The Russians did fall apart; consider that almost half the population of the former Soviet Union now lives in bits that aren't Russia. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 1:40
  • $\begingroup$ @kingledion: Some very recently conquered provinces went free, sometimes whether they wanted to or not (see Belorussia and Kazakhstan, who actually wanted to continue the S.U., but were given the boot so that Yeltsin could be president of an independent country). But the "Russian" Federation is still a sprawling empire. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 1:57
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP: " But the "Russian" Federation is still a sprawling empire." For now, anyway :-) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 3:46

3 Answers 3


This is the Austro-Hungarian Empire

Austria-Hungary was an amalgamation of the Duchy of Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary under the Habsburg Dynasty, which ruled as Holy Roman Emperor also from the 1500s.

The Emperor's line came from German stock, which made up 23% of the population (in the 1910 census). In 1848, due to the low population of Germans, the Emperor had to give the Hungarian minority (about 20%) its own Parliment. The Emperor also held a third major dynastic title as kind of Bohemia (Czechs where 13% of the population).

So the 'ruling' people were barely 1/5 of the total population. There was a lot of nationalist resentment at the Germans pushing their language on everyone else. When the Hungarians got their own parliment, the nation became functionally tri-lingual: all administration had to be carried out in German and Hungarian and whatever the local language was (Czech, Croatian, Polish, Ruthenian, etc).

Ultimately, this didn't work out well at all. You mention the 1910s; well Austria-Hungary didn't make it out of the 1910s, dissolving at the end of WWI.

Its Russia too!

For another comparison, the Russian empire of Tsars was peopled by about 44% Russians in the 1897 Census. It too failed due to the stress of WWI, collapsing in revolution in 1917. The various parts went their own way for a while, but eventually everything except Poland was reunited with the Soviet Union by the early 1920s. The Soviet Union, you may have heard, didn't prove to be long term stable either.

And the Ottomans, maybe?

The Ottoman Empire was certainly polyglot in the late 1800s, but by th early 1900s it had lost much of its non-Turkish parts. The official census from 1914 makes it 80% Muslim, but doesn't distinguish between Turks and people who would not consider themselves Turks, such as Albanians, Kurds, and Arabs. In any case, the Turkish population was definitely low in the early 1800s when there were several million people in the Balkans and millions more in Egypt that were part of the Empire.


The time around 1900 was a bad time for polyglot empires. They generally fell apart on their own, and whatever stability they had was wrecked by World War I. None of the highly multi-cultural/multi-lingual empires of Europe survived.

I think it is safe to say that your Empire is doomed, especially if they get pulled into a great power war.


Divide et impera?

This is more or less the scenario the Roman Republic invented that policy for. So you can just copy the solution they used. Roman history is well documented and easy to use as a reference. Extra points because after the Roman Republic successfully integrating Italy and the italic people using this policy, the succeeding Roman Empire went on to rapidly expand even more. Also in stuff related to conquest or military matters copying the Romans is rarely a bad solution.

The basic concept of this policy is that instead of system where the Empire rules its subjects as a group, the Empire takes the time to have one on one relationships with the subject states. The subjects have their own identity, their own relationships, their own problems, their own solutions. They are separate entities with the biggest common thing being subject to the same Empire.

The idea is that the subjects do not form cohesive groups large and powerful enough to challenge the Empire. This may require splitting previous states or coalitions by force. It may require bribery. Either directly by giving money to local leaders or indirectly by giving preferential treatment. It may, and usually does, include banning subjects from having relationships with each other or especially with outsiders. It may include replacing leaders with outsiders or with weaker or more pliant locals to make subjects weaker. Abusive taxation or tribute can be used for the same. You can then give the wealth to local strongmen to make them loyal and the nation weak.

As the above should make clear their are lots of methods. It can be said that one of the key points of divide et impera is to keep up the diversity not only to split potential rebels but to assure that you always have lots of options to deal with issues before they get out of hand. Using a large array of approaches also helps keeping the situation fluid and diverse so that divide et impera keeps working.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 I think this was somehow true also for the British empire. $\endgroup$
    – NofP
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 11:16

Your Empire is a federation/confederation of free democratic ethnic states**.

Through the history, there were very few nation states. The majority of the people were ruled by some other ethnicity.

For instance, consider the large Europian countries in 1900: one can argue that France is the only fully established nation-state. Germany & Italy are very new nation-states, United just a generation ago. While the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia, Ottman Empire, the UK & Spain are multinational (albeit the last two are long-standing and fairly assimilated at this point).

Also, notice that there are few democracies on this list.

So, your country needs to position itself as a liberator - "we do not conquer lands, we free people!".

After the conquest, it should establish democratic, ethnically homogeneous, states with a high degree of autonomy (and influence on the federal government).

The notion of a fully independent nation-state is unknown, and thus it will not be seen as a half-measure, but as an extremely positive development. And, if you conquer a nation-state (or a region that is stelled by the dominant ethnicity of the former country) you can always sell "democracy and the rule of the people".


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